« AnteriorContinuar »
make honourable mention of before, has been consulted on this subject, but as was to be anticipated, found wanting.
Again we enter upon debateable ground. Jean Adam, who was born at Cartsdyke, probably about the beginning of last century, and died in the town's hospital of Glasgow, on the 3d April 1755, disputes along with William Julius Mickle, translator of Camoen's Lusiad, the honour of writing the song, There's nae Luck about the House. Every particular in the life of this lady of any consequence at all, and the whole arguments for and against her claim to the song in question, are embodied in two well written papers of the Visitor *, to which we beg leave to refer. This writer concludes by giving it to Mickle, and pronouncing Jean Adam incapable of such a performance. His reasons, though on the whole, strong and plausible, are not such as to produce entire conviction. What his argument mainly rests on against Jean Adam, is the tame and prosaic and religious description of her other poetical miscellanies t, so woefully contrasted, as they undoubtedly are, to. the natural simplicity and beauty of this song ;-her never having attempted to write any thing else in the Scotish language, and the age of the song itself, which according to Burns, first began to be hawked through the streets in 1771 or 1772, which places it out of her day, or making it ten years older, would have to be written long after she had quitted her poetical labours. His argument for Mickle, hinges on that writer's genius_his having given a copy of the song to his wife, as one of his own productions--there being found in his papers, an imperfect or rude sketch of it--its age as given above, which would fix its composition in his twenty-fifth or twenty-eighth year, and having written other songs wherein Scotish words occur, and one of which is written in the same measure.
We may remark, that it is often found, all arguments tending to prove this or that song to have belonged to a particular author, when drawn from a knowledge of what he hath written, and the complexion and power of his genius, are very fre
* The Visitor, or Literary Miscellany, Original and selected; printed for John Turner, Greenock, 1818. This little periodical contains more good stuff in its pages, than is generally to be found in publications of a similar description.
+ Miscellany Poems. By Mrs. Jane Adams in Crawfurdsdyke. Glas. gow 1734, Ilmo.
quently altogether nugatory and inept. The general strain of Mickle's poetry and bent of his genius seem to be as directly opposed to the nature of song, as what Jean Adam's, from ought that appears, has been. All inferences therefore, drawn from this source on either side, we would deem unsound, and ought to be dismissed. For it frequently happens, that an indifferent writer in other respects, has by changing his subject, and in a happy moment, produced something that shames, by its excellence, all that he hath written before or will write again. In the same way, an author celebrated for some great performance, does not always succeed in every effort he makes, if that be somewhat out of the track he has been accustomed to tread, and a miscarriage and a blot on his genius is the consequence. It may be added, that a large portion of Scotish Song is neither the work of professed and celebrated poets, nor gentlemen, nor scholars, but owes its being to obscure rhymsters, humble individuals, and folks who have lived and died undistinguished by literary acquirements or general talent; and, excepting in one or two solitary instances, have never attempted to versify in the world. Many songs are floating about in the mouths of people, unknown beyond the parish in which they fere composed, and many which have gained popularity are without a father, because they may have acquired it without the autbor's knowledge ; or if he was aware of that circumstance, prudence or modesty may have withheld him from reaping the honour by an avowal; or they may have risen into notice long after their author had ceased to be.
This song, therefore, may as well be considered the production of Mrs. Adam as of Mr. Mickle. It may have been composed in her youth; but the character of piety she had acquired amongst her patrons, may have prevented her from being guilty of so much incongruity as publishing so hearty a lilt amongst the meek-faced children of her devotional muse. It is said she recited it in her life time as her own, and from her recitation, a copy might have found its way to the streets. Mickle, a man of tåste, either hearing it there, or procuring an imperfect copy, might have set to the correction of it. And as no one appeared to claim it, he, on the score of those very corrections and improvements, may have been induced to bring forward his own title of self-appropriation, imagining that in
this case, as materiam superabat opus, he was fully authorised to do so. If, however, Mr. M's. emendations were nothing more than a few orthographical ones, or occasionally the sub stitution of one phrase for another, few will be inclined to think that his conduct in this matter was either honourable or just. He had obtained enough of celebrity by other performances, without requiring to be indebted to the song of a poor and unassuming woman, composed in the joyous simplicity and fullness of her heart, for any portion of. or addition to that fame which he already enjoyed through exertions altogether his own
The great evidence of the song belonging to Jean Adam, is, however, derived from the song itselt. There are many Jittle indications of its being from a female land: no man could think in the same way, or rattle over so volubly the contents of the wardrobe, or arrangements in the kitchen, for the gudeman's home coming as in the song. But the strongest of all arguments in Jean's favour, is the local allusion contained in the song itself, which we imagine will sufficiently establish her claims to it, and at the same time prove to the world, that our assertion of her right to do so, is neither fanciful nor unfounded.
The local allusion that we mean occurs in these lines :
And see him come ashore. Now we submit, that none except those who liave been bred up in a seaport, would ever have thought of particularizing so minutely, the very spot to which it will be necessary to go for the affectionate purpose of seeing the gudeman come ashore. Those educated in landward towns would have had no specialities wbatever, but discoursed loosely in generalities, and talked of the beach or of the seaside, without condescending on any one particular place of it where the gladsome meeting will take place. But the quay to those living in maritime towns, is in fact the centre of all interest, and (pardon the pun) is in good verity the master key to many of their most pleasing associations, remembrances, tender affections, regrets or joys. Hence it becomes an object of no little moment in the mind's eye, and more and more assumes the character of a' dominant and all-pervading Hlea.one ready to rise uppermost, and engross attention when any of those agitating concerns of life connected with the lappiness or wretchedness of the individual are about to happen. Cartsdyke, or Crawfurdsdyke, the place where Jean Adam was born, although now the eastern suburb of Greenock, has still its little quay and fleet of small craft, while its inhabitants are to this day more or less seafaring people. This one little circumstance, trivial as it may appear to many, is nevertheless in our opinion quite decisive of the question at issue, and will also appear so to every one who can rightly decipher the work. ing of the human mind, and estimate the influence which habit, and those associations which grow up from peculiarities of local situations, and modes of living, exert over its most intimate ideas, feelings, and opinions. In speaking thus, we do not arrogate to ourselves more discernment than what seems to be the portion of those who have maintained and ably defended a contrary opinion; they no doubt must have had good grounds to walk on before they advanced it; and we seek them not to relinquish it until they discard for a moment hearsay stories, of what this old woman said to t'other old woman about what another old one told to nobody knows whom—and throw aside blotted or corrected M. S. S. at least for a time-and calmly sit down to an investigation and comparison of the intellectual complexions of the two claimants, so far as these may be ascertained from their respective works, or guessed from their condition in life, sex, education, habits, and local circumstances. And then let them say in the sincerity of their hearts, which of the two is the likelier to be the author. It requires no prophetic powers to predict, that a general acquiescence in the decision we have already pronounced must eventually follow.
With the earlier and the later poets of this County, we have now done. It only remains with us, before closing this essay, to notice those of our own day; they are not many, and will not detain us long. It might be more methodical to mention them in their chronological order as hitherto; but in so abbreviated and imperfect a sketch as is purposed to be given, this is a matter of indifference. Those who again take up the sub. ject, and treat it at more length may, and it is proper and natural they should do otherwise.
From the time of Jean Adam, to that in which we are made familiar with the names of Wilson and Tannahill, Renfrewshire
was without any song writers. It is true, there were some songs written by inhabitants of Paisley, which are either forgotten, or if not so, are but seldom, if at all sung by those, who can say any thing regarding their authors. There is one we have ourselves heard from John Wilson late bar-officer of the Sheriff Court, and well known through the town, by the title of the Philosopher, which should not be omitted. The subject was quite of a local cast, namely the prohibition issued by the inagistrates against the away-taking of peat, feal, and divot, from the town's moss. It was to the tune of the battle of Sheriffmuir, and was, withal, a thing of some humour. But perhaps it was much indebted to our philosopher, for the animated way in which he was wont to sing it, for a blyther old man than be was not to be found in three counties. He died at the advanced age of 87, in April 1818, and with him was buried the memory of many a good anecdote, and merry serap of an old catch. According to him, it was a tape weaver, and boon companion of his own, wbo composed it. There is another song written, as we have heard by one John Robertson, in 1793, which still keeps its ground amongst the musical amateurs of Paisley. It is styled the Toom meal pock, and though of a political cast, and homely enough, both in sentiment and expression, it is not al. together destitute of point, and may be worth while printing, were directions at same time given to the singer, when, and how he should imitate the shaking of an empty bag.
After merely mentioning the names of Archibald Fyfe and James Scadlock, as versifiers of some little merit, our labours will be aptly terminated with those of Wilson and Tannahill.
The poems of Fyfe, and some few critical essays, were published shortly after his death, in 1806; those of Scadlock, in the present year. As both of these little volumes have short biographical sketches of their respective authors prefixed, to wbich access may easily be liad, we shall pass them over without coininent.
We ought in this place to have also noticed Ebenczer Picken, a native of Paisley, whose poems were published at Edinburgh, 1813, in two small 8vo volumes. Of the author, some particulars will be found in the periodical work mentioned below",
* The Weavers' Magazine and Literary Companion, Vol. II. No. XI. p.199. Paisley, published and pruted by J. Neilson.