Johnson, James (d.1811) (DNB00)

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JOHNSON, JAMES (d. 1811), Scottish engraver and publisher, is said to have been a native of Ettrick (Wilson, Reminiscences of Old Edinburgh, i. 280). He is first heard of as an engraver and music-seller in Edinburgh, where he published ‘The Scots Musical Museum’ (6 vols. 1787–1803), an extensive collection of Scottish melodies and songs. Burns, who corresponded largely with Johnson, and had a strong personal regard for him, contributed to it 184 pieces; of these some were original, including many of his best lyrics, while others were alterations of old ballads or copies of them. Most of the prefaces to the different volumes were written by Burns, and it may be said that he edited the work. ‘Perhaps you may not find your account lucratively in this business,’ Burns wrote to Johnson, ‘but you are a patriot for the music of your country, and I am certain posterity will look on themselves as highly indebted to your public spirit.’ In another letter the poet describes Johnson as ‘a good, worthy, honest fellow.’ In the Edinburgh subscription list, opened after Burns's death for the benefit of his family, the name of ‘James Johnson, engraver,’ is set down for 4l. There is no record of his having paid Burns anything for his work on the ‘Museum.’ The arrangements of the airs (of which there were six hundred) were prepared for the ‘Museum’ chiefly by Stephen Clarke of Edinburgh. The airs had no introductory or concluding symphonies, and nothing was added in harmony except a figured bass for the harpsichord. The ‘Museum’ was reprinted from the original plates in 1839 (6 vols.) and 1853 (4 vols.) These editions contain copious notes and illustrations by Stenhouse, Laing, and C. K. Sharpe. Johnson died in Edinburgh, 26 Feb. 1811. According to the obituary in the ‘Scots Magazine,’ he was ‘the first who attempted to strike music upon pewter, whereby a great saving is made in the charge of that article.’ He left a widow in indigent circumstances, for whom a public appeal was made in March 1819.

[Scots Magazine, 1811, p. 318; Works of Burns by W. Scott Douglas, 6 vols. Edinb. 1879; notes in reprint editions of the Museum.]

J. C. H.