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Fraser's Scottish Annual
Scottish Song


By Daniel Clark, M.D., Toronto

SCOTLAND stands pre-eminent in the number of its lyrics. The temperament of its people, the grandeur of its scenery, the patriotic ardor of its peasantry and the deep emotional and intense devotional elements in the warp and woof of the Scottish nature were and are conditions favorable to the production of a lineage of song writers. The dramatic and the epic were not equal in power and variety to the work in this line of its southern neighbors. It is worthy of note that sustained efforts of this poetic form have not been super excellent as a rule among northern nations. The bards of olden times played on the harp and sang of love, of martial glory and wailed requiems over departed warriors in extemperaneous verse which took an abiding form as literature and became widely diffused among the peasantry. No doubt songs and music existed in Scotia long ages prior to the period of written history and before the era of Ossian. The minstrelsy of the North was transmitted by vocal utterance through many generations of men in an increasing stream in the course of centuries and analagous to the latter period in aspiration, sentiment and harmony. Occasionally generations would pass without the minstrel and his lays until some national crisis would arise, such as the war of Independence, when bards sprang into existence whose war songs called to field and combat like the clarion notes of a trumpet. We all know the potency of lyrics set to appropriate. music in rousing nations against tyranny and wrong. There is a great deal of truth in the famous saying "The song writer is more powerful than the lawgiver." The Marseillaise, that great hymn of freedom, when sung in the streets of Paris was more feared by French tyrants than were legions of armed men. The inspiring, the martial, the pathetic and the defiant in it often set up rebellion and anarchy. During the first revolution, Carlyle says whole armies and great multitudes sang it "with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of death, of despot and of devil." That song alone roused the populace to fury and madness. Napoleon I. had laid the German nation at his feet dispirited and disheartened, but the battle songs of Arndt and Korner roused the national and patriotic spirit to such an extent as to enable it to throw off the yoke of the bloody tyrant.

We know how the Celtic-Irish were fired into rebellion in 1798 largely by the martial strains of Shan Van Vocht and how the Fenians rose in insurrection setting the country in turmoil, causing bloodshed, to the notes of "The Red above the Green," "God Save Ireland," and "The Wearing of the Green." The native Boers are singing with effect the hymn songs written by local bards in the Transvaal.

It is astonishing what hold the Jacobite songs still have upon the Scottish people and how much they help to keep alive the attachment of the Highlanders to the unworthy but handsome Prince Charlie, the last of the unfortunate Stewart line of ancestry. The sentiment survives in lyrics the dynasty which evoked it just as did the songs of Beranger in laudation of Bonaparte. The songs of Dibdin warmed the hearts of the British sailors in storm, in calm, and in battle. They actually in their stirring measures were a powerful factor in quelling mutiny by an appeal to the love of home and country. No one can measure the untold influence that Campbell's "Ye Marinet's of England," ''The Battle of the Baltic," and ''Men of England," had in the tempest of conflict at that stormy period of British history. Many a lad joined the navy in being stirred by such strains as "A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea," and ''The Bonnie Bark of Allan Cunningham." It has been truly said that next to the Bible, Scottish song has influenced the nation. The Scot and his descendants in every clime hold in pleasant memory from the cradle to the grave the literature of which they are so proud and which was poured into willing ears from the time mothers sang over them cradle songs.

They cling to its among the noblest elements of national life. ''Auld Lang Syne" helps to bind into brotherhood in every stanza of that fraternal song. So much does it meet the feelings of all that other, nationalities sing it with equal fervor to a heather born son or daughter of Scotland. It has a universal application and response in its vibrations. It thrills the human soul and fills it with kindred and brotherly emotion although the versification is so simple and halting. The same may be said of such songs as "We're a' John Tamson's Bairns," "The Land o' the Leal," of the Baroness Nairne, which is hymnal in its sentiment.

The historical features of Scottish song and the circumstances which evoked them have yet to be written by some master mind. As Rogers in his ''Scottish Minstrel" says, ''It ebbed and flowed as did the changes in national life, being as it were verbal photographs of the times." An impetus was given to it in the period of James I. after his English captivity. This sovereign was distinguished for his skill in poetry and music. His writings were graceful and were often tinctured with a colouring of wit and irony. His royal successors encouraged this form of literature even if not expert themselves. James IV. bestowed favors on "Henry the Minstrel," and on the poet Dunbar. It is not to be forgotten that James the V. wrote the well known songs "The Gaberlunzie Man,'' and ''The Jolly Beggars," and James VI. of Scotland, although a weakling in mans' ways, got a reputation as a writer of verses in Latin and English. At that period a more than local reputation was made by Barbour, Gavin Douglas and Sir David Lyndsav. Gavin Douglas wrote a passable translation of Virgil's Eneid.

After the Union many bards wrote in English and Latin and as a result the vernacular was partially ignored. Allan Ramsay to some extent restored it. He was greatly assisted in this way by such song writers as Mrs. Allison Cockburn, Jane Elliot of Minto, Sir John Clerk, Dr. Austn, Dr. Geddes, Alex. Ross and others.

A grand and new star arose in the poetic firmament a century ago in the person of Robert Burns. Scottish song then reached its climax. He so struck the chord of the Scottish lyre, that its vibrations were felt in every bosom. The songs of Caledonia, under the influence of his matchless power became celebrated throughout the world. He purified the elder minstrelsy and by a few but effective touches removed its fading aspects. "He could glide like dew into the fading bloom of departed song and refresh it into beauty and fragrance." The same might be said of Baroness Nairne. The robust and patriotic songs of Scott interspersed in his epics. The mystic ballads of Joanna Baillie. The sweet melodies of Allan Cunningham. The tenderness of Tannahill. The martial strains of Campbell. The tinge of pastoral beauty and simplicity in Hogg. And imagery and simplicity of Riddell, Motherwell, Ballan Lyne, Blackie and Allan, stamp their songs as the best of their kind now extant.

A pleasing feature of Scottish song is the tendency of the poets to rapturously sing of the beauties of nature. The scenery of the country has had doubtless much to do with this bias. Its snow capped and misty mountain tops; its heathery hills; its bosky dells; its wimpling burns; its gowany leas; its rocky and majestic shores on which the oceans have sung by their tempestuous waves the grand oratorios and anthems of nature throughout the ages of time, all have inspired the poetic pen in a matchless way.
Did a reader know nothing of Scotland, its poetic literature alone would show that the sweet singers were luxuriating in the beautiful and the true of charming nature in its stern and its tender exuberance.


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