Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Harp of Perthshire
A Collection of Songs, Ballads, and other Poetical Pieces chiefly by Local Authors with notes Explanatory, Critical, and Biographical by Robert Ford (1893)


It has been remarked by more than one writer whose attention has been led to the subject that Perthshire has not produced any one who, in the loftier sense of the word, may be described as a great poet. And this is no doubt true. But, verily, there is only one shire in all Scotland that can, with uplifted head, claim for itself such rare distinction. And if Perthshire has not produced a Robert Burns, or any poet that may be ranked within measurable distance of the “glorious Ayrshire ploughman,” the County, methinks, that can name as its own the gifted lady of Gask, who, next to the National Poet, has given more songs of enduring fame to the world than any other single singer that Scotland has seen; the County that gave birth to, and nurtured the early genius of Robert Nicoll, of Tullybeltane; James Stewart, of Dunkeld; Charles Spence, of Rait; and many another singer of scarcely less merit that might be named; whose scenes of natural beauty, and types of female loveliness, have attracted the Muse of nearly every poet of note in the land—as witness the Perthshire songs of Burns, Scott, Hogg, and Tannahill —has distinct claims to consideration in the matter of its Poets and Poetry.

The home poets of Perthshire, indeed, as we hope this work will satisfactorily demonstrate, have neither been few in respect of numbers, nor contemptible in regard to merit. Reviewing them in their chronological sequence, as the reader will find examples of their work arranged in the succeeding pages, from the time of Gavin Douglas, of Dunkeld, down to the present day, we discover a galaxy of authors of whom any County or district may be reasonably proud, and such a large number of songs and poems of more than parochial fame, the most of them by Perthshire writers, as will more than justify the publication of a work such as is here presented. Following the illustrious Bishop of Dunkeld, who flourished in the end of the fifteenth and in the beginning of the sixteenth centuries, and in addition to “ The Palace of Honour,” and 11 King Hart,” and other works of a strikingly original and highly poetical character, “gave,” as Scott in Marmion reminds us, “ rude Scotland Virgil’s page,” we find Henry Adamson, the author of “The Muses Threnodie,” whose writings in 1637 attracted the favourable notice of Drummond of Hawthornden, who recommended their publication, because, as he said, “longer to conceal them will be to wrong your Perth of her due honour, who deserveth no less of you than that she should be thus blazoned and registrate to posterity.” Next comes into view Alexander Robertson, of Struan, with his curious medley of verses, serious and satiric—the great “ Struan ”—who fought under Dundee at Killiecrankie, under Mar at Sheriffmuir, and under Prince Charlie at Culloden; who is followed by the Rev. John Barclay, the founder of the Bereans, a native of Muthill, who wrote a rhymed version of the Psalms, and is the reputed author of one of the various ballads extant which celebrate the historic battle of Sheriffmuir. Then comes David Malloch, or Mallet, of the same fertile district, with his imperishable song of “ The Birks of Invermay,” and his beautiful and pathetic ballad of “ William and Margaret,” the latter of which, on its original publication in Aaron Hill’s Plain Dealer, in 1724, set literary London positively by the ears. A few years later we discover Dugald Buchanan, of Bal-quhidder, the well known Gaelic poet, who is followed by Duncan Ban Macintyre, still dear to Breadalbane and the hills of Glenorchy; Andrew Sharpe, of Bridgend, the author of “ Corunna’s Lone Shore,” and Alexander Campbell, of Tombea, editor of Albyris Anthology, and the author of “ Row weel, my Boatie, row week” Following these in their course we are brought down towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the lyric muse of Robert Burns was making glorious the very hill tops of Scotland, and the “Flower of Strath-earn ”—as yet unseen—was blossoming into song in the “Auld House” of Gask, and surreptitiously adding to the “Land o’ the Leal,” the “Laird o’ Cockpen,” and many of her finest lyrics. And now comes into view Charles Spence, of Raitt, with his songs of “The Twa Bumbees ” and “ Linn Magray,” etc., who is followed by David Drummond and his “Bonnie Lass o’ Leven-side;” William Clyde, with “ St. Johnstoun’s Bells;” David Webster, with “Tak’ it, Man, Tak’ it;” James Beattie, of Leetown, with his poems of “The Spring Lark,” and “ The Rainbow,” and other songs of delicate beauty and tender emotion. Next we see James Stewart, of Dunkeld, with his graphic and clever character songs of “Our Little Jock,” “Fouscanhaud,” and “ The Tailor o’ Monzie; ” and William Wilson, of Crieff, with “ Jean Linn,” and “ Auld Johnny Graham.”

Now we catch a glimpse of the bright morning star of Tully beltane—Robert Nicoll—with his “ Bonnie Bessie Lee,” “The Folk o’ Ochtergaen,” “The Toun where I was Born,” and many other familiar songs and poems. At his elbow is his younger brother, William, with one or two thoughtful pieces. Then comes David Millar, with his long and loving poem of “The Tay ; ” Caroline Oliphant, the younger; dear old Mrs. Sandeman, of Bonskeid and Springland—worthy grand-niece of the authoress of “ The Land o’ the Leal ”—with her good and gifted daughter, Mrs. Barbour, recently deceased, and still more highly gifted grandson, the late Rev. Robert W. Barbour, each with songs of exalted fancy, richly imbued with spiritual suggestiveness.

Conspicuous among a number who follow each other in rapid succession towards the middle of the current century, there is discovered just behind Alexander Maclagan, the author of “A Cronie o’ Mine,” and “ Hurrah for the Thistle,” the giant form of the Rev. George Gilfillan, the one eloquent expounder of mysterious “Night;” Dr. Charles Mackay, author of “Cheer Boys, Cheer,” who was a native of Perth ; the late Sir William Stirling Maxwell, of credit and renown, for many years the County’s able representative in Parliament; the Rev. Dr. J. R. Macduff, of Bonhard, a voluminous writer in prose and verse ; Dr. John Anderson, the revered and gifted minister of Kinnoull; the Rev. Dr. William Blair, of Dunblane; the late Peter Norval, of Coilace; D. H, Saunders, of Blairgowrie, the well known “ Christian Democrat; ” Duncan Macgregor Crerar, familiarly known as “ The Breadalbane Bard,” for many years resident in America; the Rev. Peter Anton, of Kilsyth, who is a native of thb Carse of Gowrie; James Ferguson, of Stanley (“Nisbet Noble”); and many more.

From among those we have named, it will be seen there are not less than a dozen who enjoy a literary reputation that is co-extensive with the language in which they wrote and sang: while of the others, with the forty to fifty more, notice of whom will be found in the body of the work, it may, we think, be said without prejudice or fear of contradiction, that they have each produced something worthy of at least local preservation.

The anonymous muse has also made contributions to Perthshire literature, which cannot be overlooked in a popular collection; some of them being of great beauty, and not a few possessing considerable historic interest. And the inclusion of the more prominent of these— “The Weary Coble o’ Cargill,” “Bessie Bell and Mary Gray,” “Killiecrankie,” the various ballads celebrating the Battle of Sheriffmuir, and “The Lass o’ Gowrie,” etc., with the notes which accompany them—may prove to many readers not the least interesting feature in the book.

In addition to all these, we have embraced, in a separate department, the more notable Perthshire songs of Burns, Scott, Hogg, and Tannahill, and others, because, by reason of their own inherent merit, as well as the subjects they variously celebrate, they have come to be esteemed as essentially a part and parcel of our local literature. Much more might have been included; many more local authors might have found representation in the work; and many more poems and songs by outside writers, bearing upon local subjects, might have found admittance. To make, however, anything like an exhaustive collection of the poetry of Perthshire, not one, but a number of volumes would be required. At the same time, we think it will be generally admitted that all that is best and of most vital interest in the poetical literature of our beautiful and well beloved County has found a place in these pages.

The. work of collecting and arranging the material has been to ourselves, in large measure, a labour of love, and we look for our reward mainly in the pleasure which we anticipate the book will afford to natives of Perthshire at home and abroad, many of whom have manifested the keenest interest in the progress and completion of the undertaking.

In the matter of size and general construction only may the present work be said to be uniform with its illustrious prototype, The Harp of Renfrewshire. The first series of that earlier work, which rose under the capable hand of William Motherwell, contains many poems and songs which have no connection with Renfrewshire, either in the matter of subject or authorship; but here not a single verse will be found that has not a claim to a place in the volume by the one good reason or the other. Perhaps a higher uniformity of merit could have been maintained had we chosen to ransack Scottish literature for gems wherewith to adorn the brow of our native County; but we preferred to “pick and wale” only among such effusions as belong to Perthshire by titular or native right. And herein lies the chief value of the book to those whom we expect to be moved by it. It is all our own; and is the first earnest attempt to afford a fairly comprehensive and popular representation of the poetry of the richly song-favoured and restricted district to which the title applies. The selections are not all of equal merit (this were next to impossible in a work of the kind), but a fair standard of excellence has been set up, and, we think, has been honourably maintained throughout. Such differences in quality as will be found existing, may be compared to the beauty of one flower, or the stately elegance of one tree, as contrasted with another, and will give a charm of variety to the work, which perhaps a stricter uniformity of tone and colour would fail to yield.

If into these pages, forsooth, we have been able to gather an abundant harvest of poesy—much of it, too, of excellent quality—and we think we have—it is surely not more than might be expected from the field that has yielded the crop. Perthshire is rich beyond measure in such scenery as is best calculated to inspire the beholder to articulate song. “Among all the provinces in Scotland,” says Sir Walter Scott, “if an intelligent stranger were asked to describe the most varied and the most beautiful, it is probable he would name the County of Perth. . . . The most picturesque, if not the highest, hills are to be found here. The rivers find their way out of the mountainous region by the wildest leaps, and through the romantic passes connecting the Highlands with the Lowlands. ... Its lakes, woods, and mountains may vie in beauty with any that the Highland tour exhibits ; while Perthshire contains, amidst this romantic scenery, and in some places, in connection with it, many fertile and habitable tracts which may vie with the richness of merry England herself.”

“‘Behold the Tiber!’ the vain Roman cried, Viewing the ample Tay from Baiglie’s side; But where’s the Scot that would the vaunt repay, And hail the puny Tiber for the Tay ’”

Now, enough by the way of preface. We will be joining the reader here and there in the notes throughout the volume, and for a more lengthened period in the biographical notices at the close. Until that longer meeting he will form many new friendships, and revive a good many old ones, and, we hope, will spend many a pleasant half-hour.

Our thanks are due, and are gratefully recorded, to the various authors and publishers who have readily granted permission to make extracts from copyright works, and to the ladies and gentlemen who have furnished books and manuscripts for the purpose of making selections.

To Miss Stewart, the sole surviving niece of Lady Nairne—who at the advanced age of ninety-eight is, happily, still hale and well—we have to express our special thanks. It is to her kindly disposition that the reader, as well as the publisher and editor, is indebted for the facsimile of the original MS. of “The Land o’ the Leal.”

Robert Ford.
Glasgow, 1893.

You can download this book here in pdf format

Return to our Perthshire page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus