Page:Merry Muses of Caledonia.djvu/11

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INTRODUCTORY AND CORRECTIVE




APART from his genius, Robert Burns is the most prominent figure of his time in the history of the ballad and song literature of Scotland. The extent, variety, and accuracy of his knowledge in this particular walk is the more remarkable when it is considered that few facilities existed in his day for the study of the subject; and these were, moreover, so fragmentary and loosely connected as to be almost valueless. In fact, the literature of Scottish song can scarcely be said to have made a beginning till after the second decade of the eighteenth century, when Allan Ramsay gave an impetus to the native lyric, which, continued through the Jacobite period, reached its culmination in the era of Burns, and can scarcely be said to have yet expended itself. The ancient Scots "Makaris" eschewed the lyric as unworthy of their muse; and at a later period the clergy set their faces steadfastly to destroy the indigenous growth of song by the substitution of "gude and godlie ballates," which, whatever may be thought of them otherwise, served the good end of preserving the old titles and measures. Cropped at the surface, the national poesy struck its roots into the subsoil and became a wilding of bye-paths and shady places, of vigorous growth, rank, and luxuriant. There Burns found it; tended, pruned, engrafted, and transplanted it; till, from the corrupting