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Jacobite Songs and Ballads of Scotland
From 1688 to 1746 by Charles MacKay LL.D. (1861)


The groundwork of the following selection from the Jacobite Songs and Ballads of Scotland, is a little volume published by Messrs. Griffin and Co. of Glasgow, in the year 1829, under the title of “Jacobite Minstrelsy—with notes illustrative of the text—and containing historical details in relation to the House of Stuart from 1640 to 1784.” Ten years previously the Ettrick Shepherd had published his first series of “Jacobite Relics,” and had followed up the subject in 1821, by a second volume. Hogg’s collection, though interesting, was untrustworthy. He made no distinction between "the Cavaliers and the Jacobites, and none between English, Scottish, and Irish songs, though his volumes purported to contain only Scottish Relics. In addition to this, he admitted many modern songs and ballads —even some written by himself—into a collection which could have but little value, unless it justified its title. To inflate into two volumes a work that would have been greatly better in one, he added seventy-eight “Whig songs” that had no proper place in a Jacobite collection; and worse than all, he admitted effusions that had no more reference to Jacobitism, or the cause of the Stuarts, than to the siege of Troy. Among many that might be cited are the well known South Sea Ballad, “In London stands a famous hill,” and the equally well known lines—

“There was a Presbyterian cat,
Was hunting for his prey.
And in the house he catched a mouse
Upon the Sabbath day.”

An idea of the Shepherd’s humour, as well as of his editorial fitness for his task may be gathered not only from the character of the pieces he admitted into his book, but from the notes which he appended to them. With regard to “The Devil’s in Stirling,” he says, “This ballad appears from its style to be of English original—the air is decidedly so; but as I jot it among a Scots gentleman's MS., and found that it had merit, I did not choose to exclude it.” In a note to “Freedom’s Farewell,” he says, “I inserted this song on account of its stupendous absurdity.” Of his own song, “Donald Macgillavry,” which he inserted as a genuine relic, he says, “This is one of the best songs that ever was made." To another—“The Thistle of Scotland”—he appends the note—“This is a modern song, and the only one that is in the volume to my knowledge. It had no right to be here, for it is a national, not a Jacobite song; but I inserted it out of a whim to vary the theme a little!”

The collection published by Messrs. Griffin, was of much greater value, and less pretension, and was conscientiously and carefully edited by the late Robert Malcolm of Glasgow. As it did not profess to be exclusively devoted to the Jacobitism of Scotland, but included that of the British Isles in general, it admitted a few English as well as Irish effusions; but these were not in sufficient number to give anything like an .adequate idea of the character, either of the English or the Irish Jacobite Muse of the period.

The design of the present volume—more limited than that of either of its predecessors—was to collect the Jacobite Minstrelsy of Scotland only. The task of the Editor was principally confined to the elimination of the Cavalier ballads and songs—most of them of a date half or quarter of a century earlier than the Revolution of 1688, when Jacobitism became the name of a party in the State—and of the few English and Irish ballads that had found their way among the Scottish ones. He also endeavoured to distinguish the songs and ballads produced by the Jacobite bards and rhymers who were contemporaries of the actors in the two Rebellions of 1715 and 1745, and who witnessed the events which they celebrated or deplored—from the posthumous Jacobitism of such poets as Burns, Scott, Allan Cunningham and others, written three-quarters of a century afterwards. These effusions—good or bad, pathetic or humorous—are arranged chronologically; and all the modem Jacobitism—most of it written by men who had no sympathy with the cause, but who saw the beauty of its sentimental side as a vehicle for poetry—is inserted as an Appendix.

Several ancient songs and ballads, not included in other collections, appear in this; and although the volume does not claim to be a complete and exhaustive gathering of all the poetical disjecta membrae of the Jacobite sentiment of the last century—for such a work would be both voluminous and wearisome,— it will, the Editor believes, be found to afford a fair and sufficient history of the time, as written by contemporary singers, at a period when the ballad and song performed more important functions than they do now, and supplied both to the urban and the rural population, the literary and political element now provided by newspapers and leading articles. A volume of English Jacobite Minstrelsy collected upon the same principle, might be found equally if not more curious, as a contribution to the history of an important struggle long happily ended.

London, September 1860.

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