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The Scottish Nation

BARNARD, Lady Anne, (born Lindsay,) authoress of the beautiful and touching ballad of ‘Auld Robin Gray,’ was the eldest daughter of the fifth earl of Balcarres, by his Countess Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Dalrymple of Castleton, knight, an account of whom will be found under the BALCARRES branch of the Lindsays. She was born on the 8th of December, 1750. Her youth was chiefly spent at her father’s seat in Fife, varied by occasional visits to Edinburgh. At her mother’s house in that city she became, in early life, acquainted with all the men of character and distinction of the day in the Scottish metropolis, among whom were Hume the historian, Henry Mackenzie, the author of ‘The Man of Feeling’ Lord Monboddo, and other eminent literary men of that period. When Dr. Johnson visited Edinburgh in 1773, she also had an opportunity of becoming known to him. Later in life she and her sister Lady Margaret, who had been married while very young to a gentleman named Fordyce, resided together in London, her sister being then a window. Her nephew, Col. Lindsay of Balcarres, mentions that her hand was sought in marriage by several of the fist men of the land, as her friendship and confidence were by the most distinguished women, but her heart had never been captured, and she remained single till 1793, when she married Andrew Barnard, Esq., the son of the bishop of Limerick, an accomplished but not wealthy gentleman, younger than herself, whom she accompanied to the Cape of Good Hope, when he went out as colonial secretary under Lord Macartney. The journals of her residence at the Cape, and excursions into the interior country, illustrated with drawings and sketches of the scenes described, are preserved among the family MSS. in the library of Lord Balcarres. A few extracts from them, remarkable for a style at once lively and graphic, are printed in the third volume of the ‘Lives of the Lindsays.’ Nine years afterwards she returned to Scotland, Her husband died at the Cape, in 1807, without issue, and, after his death, Lady Anne, and her sister Lady margaret, again resided together in Berkeley Square, London, till the latter was married, for the second time, in 1812, to Sir James Burgess. Of Lady margaret, who was celebrated alike for her personal charms and mental accomplishments, an account has been given under the BALCARRES branch of the Lindsays.

      Among their familiar guests and friends in London were Burke, Sheridan, Wyndham, Dundas, and the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV. The attachment of the latter to Lady Anne Barnard continued unabated during life. “I recollect,” says her nephew, Colonel Lindsay, “George IV. sending for her to come and see him when he was very ill. He spoke most affectionately to her, and said, ‘Sister Anne (the appellation he usually gave her). I wished to see you, to tell you that I love you, and wish you to accept this golden chain for my sake, – I may never see you again.’” The Ballad of ‘Auld Robin Gray’ was written by Lady Anne in 1771, when in her twenty-first year, soon after her sister’s first marriage, and consequent departure from the family home. Notwithstanding the popularity to which it immediately attained, being translated into almost every European language, the real author of it long remained unknown, and it was claimed by more than one person, and in particular by a clergyman residing on the coast. It was not till about two years before her death that Lady Anne publicly acknowledged the authorship of this simple and celebrated ballad. In ‘the Pirate,’ which appeared in 1823, the author of Waverley compared the condition of Minna to that of Jeanie Gray, “the village-heroine in Lady Anne Lindsay’s beautiful ballad,” and quoted the second verse of the continuation, or second part. This induced Lady Anne to write to Sir Walter Scott, and confide its history to him. From her characteristic letter, dated July 8, 1823, the following are interesting extracts: “Robin Gray, so called from its being the name of the old herd at Balcarres, was born soon after the close of the year 1771. My sister Margaret had married, and accompanied her husband to London, I was melancholy and endeavoured to amuse myself by attempting a few poetical trifles. There was an English Scotch melody of which I was passionately fond, Sophy Johnstone, who lived before your day, used to sing it to us at Balcarres. She did not object to its having improper words, though I did. I longed to sing old Sophy’s air to different words and give to its plaintive tones some little history of virtuous distress in humble life, such as might suit it While attempting to effect this in my closet, I called to my little sister, now Lady Hardwicke, who was the only person near me, ‘I have been writing a ballad, my dear; I am oppressing my heroine with many misfortunes. I have already sent her Jamie to sea, and broken her father’s arm, and made her mother fall sick, and given her auld Robin Gray for a lover; but I wish to load her with a fifth sorrow within the four lines, poor thing! Help me to one! – ‘Steal the cow, sister Anne,’ said the little Elizabeth. The cow was immediately lifted by me, and the song completed. At our fireside, and amongst our neighbours, ‘Auld Robin Gray’ was always called for. I was pleased in secret with the approbation it met with; but such was my dread of being suspected of writing anything, perceiving the shyness it created in those who could write nothing, that I carefully kept my own secret. – Meantime, little as this matter seems to have been worthy a dispute, it afterwards became a party question between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. “Robin Gray’ was either a very ancient ballad, composed, perhaps, by David Rizio, and a great curiosity, or a very modern matter, and no curiosity at all. I was persecuted to avow whether I had written it or not, – where I had got it. Old Sophy kept my counsel, and I kept my own, in spite of the gratification of seeing a reward of twenty guineas offered in the newspapers to the person who should ascertain the point past a doubt, and the still more flattering circumstance of a visit from Mr. Jerningham, secretary to the Antiquarian Society, who endeavoured to entrap the truth from me in a manner I took amiss. Had he asked me the question obligingly, I should have told him the fact distinctly and confidently. The annoyance, however, of this important ambassador from the antiquaries, was amply repaid to me by the noble exhibition of the ‘Ballat of auld Robin Gray’s Courtship,’ as performed by dancing dogs under my window. It proved its popularity from the highest to the lowest, and gave me pleasure while I hugged myself in my obscurity.” The following were the words with which Lady Anne closed the interview with Mr. Jerningham, after having a very fine tune put to it by a doctor of music, (the Rev. William Leeves, rector of Wrington, who died in 1828, ages 80); was sung by youth and beauty for five years and more, had a romance composed from it by a man of eminence, was the subject of a play, of an opera, and of a pantomime, was sung by the united armies in America, acted by Punch, and afterwards danced by dogs in the street – but never more honoured than by the present investigation.” The old air is now only retained to the first verse. It belonged to a song of no great delicacy, called ‘The Bridegroom greits when the sun gaes down.”

      Sir Walter Scott printed in 1824, in a thin quarto volume for the Bannatyne club, a revised version of ‘Auld Robin Gray,’ and two continuations by the authoress, sent to him by her ladyship at his request for the purpose. The preface contains her letter to him, explanatory of the origin of the ballad. The second part was written many years after the first, at the request of the countess, her mother, who often said, “Annie! I with you would tell me how that unlucky business of Jeanie and Jamie ended.” It is far inferior to the first, although it has touches that are both beautiful and characteristic. In it auld Robin falls sick, confesses that it was he who stole the cow, in order to oblige Jeanie to marry him, then leaving all his wealth to his widow, dies, and Jamie of course is at last married to his Jeanie. Writing to her ladyship subsequently, Sir Walter Scott says: “I have sometimes wondered how many of our best songs have been written by Scotchwomen of rank and condition. The Hon. Mrs. Murray (Miss Baillie of Jerviswood born), wrote the very pretty Scots song,

                        ‘An ‘twere not my heart’s light I wad die,’ –

Miss Elliot, of Minto, the verses to the ‘Flowers of the Forest,’ which begin

                        ‘I have heard a lilting,’ & c.

Mrs. Cockburn composed other verses to the same tune,

                        ‘I have seen the smiling of fortune beguiling,’ & c.

Lady Wardlaw wrote the glorious old ballad of ‘Hardyknute:’ – Place ‘Auld Robin[ at the head of this list, and I question if we masculine wretches can claim five or six songs equal in elegance and pathos out of the long list of Scottish minstrelsy.”

      Lady Anne Barnard died 6th May, 1825, in her 74th year. “Her face,” says Mr. Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, “was pretty, and replete with vivacity; her figure light and elegant; her conversation lively; and, like the rest of her family, peculiarly agreeable. Though she had wit, she never said ill-natured things to show it; she gave herself no airs either as a woman of rank, or as the authoress of Auld Robin Gray.” “Her stores of anecdote,” says her relative Lord Lindsay, “on all subjects and of all persons, her rich fancy, original thought, and ever-ready wit, rendered her conversation delightful to the last, while the kindness of her heart, – a very fountain of tenderness and love, – always overflowing, and her sincere but unostentatious piety, divested that wit of the keenness that might have wounded – it flashed, but it was summer lightning.” His lordship has given ample extracts from her lively and interesting sketches of the home-circle of her youth in the second volume of his ‘Lives of the Lindsays,’ a work from whence have been derived most of the materials for this notice.

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