ltho’ it be acknowledged, that our Scots tunes have not lengthened variety of musick, yet they have an agreeable gaiety and natural sweetness, that make them acceptable wherever they are known, not only among our selves, but in other countries. They are for the most part so chearful, that on hearing them well play’d or sung, we find a difficulty to keep our selves from dancing. What further adds to the esteem we have for them, is their antiquity, and their being universally known. Mankind’s love for novelty would appear to contradict this reason; but will not, when we consider, that for one that can tolerably entertain with vocal or instrumental musick, there are fifty that content themselves with the pleasure of hearing, and singing without the trouble of being taught: now, such are not judges of the fine flowrishes of new musick imported from Italy and elsewhere, yet will listen with pleasure to tunes that they know, and can join with in the chorus. Say that our way is only an harmonious speaking of merry, witty, or soft thoughts, after the poet has dress’d them in four or five stanzas; yet undoubtedly these must relish best with people, who have not bestowed much of their time in acquiring a taste for that downright perfect musick, which requires none, or very little of the poet’s assistance.
My being well assured, how acceptable new words to known good tunes would prove, engaged me to the making verses for above sixty of them, in this and the second volume: about thirty more were done by some ingenious young gentlemen, who were so well pleased with my undertaking, that they generously lent me their assistance; and to them the lovers of sense and musick are obliged for some of the best songs in the collection. The rest are such old verses as have been done time out of mind, and only wanted to be cleared from the dross of blundering transcribers and printers; such as, The Gaberlunzie-man, Muirland Willy, &c. that claim their place in our collection, for their merry images of the low character.
This ninth edition in eight years, and the general demand for the book by persons of all ranks, wherever our language is understood, is a sure evidence of its being acceptable. My worthy friend Dr. Bannerman tells me from America,
Nor only do your lays o’er Britain flow,
Round all the globe your happy sonnets go;
Here thy soft verse, made to a Scottish air,
Are often sung by our Virginian fair.
Camilla’s warbling notes are heard no more,
But yield to Last Time I came o’er the moor;
Hydaspes and Rinaldo both give way
To Mary Scot, Tweed-side and Mary Gray.
From this and the following volume, Mr. Thomson (who is allowed by all, to be a good teacher and singer of Scots songs) cull’d his Orpheus Caledonius, the musick for both the voice and flute, and the words of the songs finely engraven in a folio book, for the use of persons of the highest quality in Britain, and dedicated to her royal highness, now her majesty our most gracious queen. This by the by I thought proper to intimate, and do my self that justice which the publisher neglected; since he ought to have acquainted his illustrious list of subscribers, that the most of the songs were mine, the musick abstracted.
In my compositions and collections, I have kept out all smut and ribaldry, that the modest voice and ear of the fair singer might meet with no affront; the chief bent of all my studies being, to gain their good graces: and it shall always be my care, to ward off these frowns that would prove mortal to my muse.
Now, little books go your ways; be assured of favourable reception wherever the sun shines on the free-born chearful Briton; steal your selves into the ladies bosoms. Happy volumes! you are to live too as long as the song of Homer in greek and english, and mixt your ashes only with the odes of Horace. Were it but my fate, when old and rufled, like you to be again reprinted, what a curious figure would I appear on the outmost limits of time, after a thousand editions? happy volumes! you are secure, but I must yield; please the ladies, and take care of my fame.
In hopes of this, fearless of coming age,
I’ll smile thro’ life; and when for rhime renown’d,
I’ll calmly quit the farce and giddy stage,
And sleep beneath a flow’ry turf full sound.