Page:Merry Muses of Caledonia.djvu/32

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( xxvi )

Wordsworth, the poet, who in 1816 perused a printed copy of the "Merry Muses" (very likely the Dumfries edition), expressed his opinion of its reputed authorship in the following words:—[1]

"He must be a miserable judge of poetical compositions who can for a moment fancy that such low, tame, and loathsome ribaldry can possibly be the production of Burns. With the utmost difficulty we procured a slight perusal of the abominable pamphlet alluded to. The truth is (and we speak on the best authority the country can produce), there is not one verse in that miscellany that ever was publicly acknowledged by Burns, nor is there above a single page that can be traced to his manuscript."

On the subject, Henley says:—

"He was made welcome (in Edinburgh) by the ribald, scholarly, hard-drinking wits and jinkers of the Crochallan Fencibles, for whose use and edification he made the unique and precious collection now called the 'Merry Muses of Caledonia.' "

This is surprisingly just but scarcely correct. The first purpose of the "collection" was for Burns's own use when providing purified versions of the old songs for Johnson and Thomson. What the same authority says of the Ainslie letter of March 3rd, 1788, cannot be passed over without comment:—

"The original," says Henley, "must be read, or the reader will never wholly understand what manner of man the writer was."

We say at once that such a letter should not have been preserved by any friend of Burns, far less by an intimate friend like Ainslie. But the covert inference is neutralised in great degree by the undisputable fact that Burns was married to Jean Armour two years

  1. Lockhart's Life of Burns—Appendix; London: Geo. Bell & Sons; 1892.