The Book of Scottish Song/The Deil cam' Fiddlin'

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The Book of Scottish Song  (1843)  edited by Alexander Whitelaw
The Deil cam' Fiddlin'

The Deil cam' Fiddlin'.

[The old name of the tune now called "The Deil's awa' with the Exciseman," was "The Hemp-dresser," and it can be traced as far back as the middle of the 17th century. The verses of Burns are generally said to have been an extempore effusion, at a meeting of his brother excisemen in Dumfries. It is a curious fact that the original in the poet's hand is written on a piece of excise paper, ruled on the back with red lines. Lockhart's account of the composition of the song differs from others. According to him, it was composed on the shores of the Solway, while the poet and a party of his brother excisemen were engaged in watching the motions of a suspicious-looking brig, which had put in there, and which, it was supposed, was engaged in smuggling. The day following that on which she was first seen, the vessel got into shallow water, and it was then discovered that the crew were numerous, and not likely to yield without a struggle. Lewars accordingly was despatched to Dumfries for a party of dragoons, and another officer proceeded on a similar errand to Ecclefechan, leaving Burns with some men under his orders, to watch the brig and prevent landing or escape. "Burns," says Lockhart, "manifested considerable impatience while thus occupied, being left for many hours in a wet salt-marsh with a force which he knew to be inadequate for the purpose it was meant to fulfil. One of his comrades hearing him abuse his friend Lewars in particular, for being slow about his journey, the man answered that he also wished the devil had him for his pains, and that Burns in the meantime would do well to indite a song upon the sluggard; Burns said nothing; but after taking a few strides by himself among the reeds and shingle, rejoined his party, and chanted to them this well-known ditty."]

The deil cam' fiddlin' through the toun,
And danced awa' wi' the exciseman;
And ilka auld wife cried, Auld Mahoun,
I wish you luck o' the prize, man.
The deil's awa', the deil's awa',
The deil's awa' wi' the exciseman;
He's danced awa', he's danced awa',
He's danced awa' wi' the exciseman!

We'll mak' our maut, we'll brew our drink,
We'll laugh, sing, and rejoice, man;
And mony braw thanks to the meikle black deil,
That danced awa' wi' the exciseman.
There's threesome reels, there's foursome reels,
There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man;
But the ae best dance e'er cam' to the land,
Was, The deil's awa' wi' the exciseman.