Page:Merry Muses of Caledonia.djvu/34

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

( xxviii )

The tombstones of Burns's contemporaries are in the valley; his is set upon an hill and cannot be hid.

In treating of the text, no attempt has been made to trace the authorship of the various compositions save by the evidence contained in the notes. We do not believe in the infallibility of any man's Burns instinct, nor can any just judgment be based on the shifting sand of "the power exhibited in some of the pieces." Neither can any of the compositions be rightly ascribed to Burns for the sole reason that they cannot be traced further back than his period. He dug in fallow ground and filled his notebook for the most part from oral recital of what had passed from ear to ear during many generations. We therefore leave the reader to draw his own conclusions with regard to the extent of Burns's contributions to the "clandestine literature" which is here reprinted as it appeared in the "mean-looking volume" published in Dumfries a few years after his death. Whether or not the dishonourable miscreant who purloined the Poet's manuscript collection from his over-confiding widow, adhered strictly to the text, or corrupted and added to it like his enterprising successors, is a question which cannot now be answered with certainty.

In conclusion, we may thus summarise the discussion:

I. It may be held proved that Burns formed a collection of old Scots songs of a ribald nature for his own use and the amusement of the Crochallan Club.

II. He was aware of its value as a historical and literary curiosity, and treasured it as similar records have been preserved in all languages; yet he was keenly alive to the necessity of keeping it from the gaze of the merely curious and prurient-minded.