1825 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe

Allan Cunningham to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, 10 March 1825; Letters from and to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharp (1888) 2:331-32.



27 LOWER BELGRAVE PLACE, 10 MARCH 1825.

DEAR SIR,

Your letter was a very pleasant and very welcome one, and ought to have been long ago acknowledged. But the leisure which daily business allows me is so little that I can only spare an evening hour or two to the pen, and those hours have of late been the property of seven evil spirits of the press, whose nightly call is "Copy, copy!" and who rival in tyranny and clamour the drudging devils of old Michael Scott. I feel much flattered by your allusions to my little Scottish stories; and I may say in return, that I am glad that the pen of the Kirkpatricks has added of late to the fame which they acquired of old by the sword. I am an enthusiast about our district heroes, and many a pang has been mine on beholding the descendants of those who once held rule in Nithsdale figuring as fools and horse-racers — you wot who. I am a fellow-parishioner with the Kirkpatricks. I am a Keir-man; and I was once, too, their fellow-soldier. It is now some eighteen years ago since I looked into the faces of Thomas and Roger, and was pleased to think I could trace some of the heroism and mildness of the tutelar heroes of Nithsdale.

I have still a few curious fragments of old free song, which I shall not use, though I had intended to trim and prune and starch them to correspond with the standard delicacy of the year of grace 1825. I shall select half-a-dozen of the most modest of these and send you, when my present collection is completed. I have ever endeavoured to preserve whatever gave me a lively and original picture of Scottish life, and bore the peculiar stamp of our northern spirit upon it. In this graphic power and life-like animation, our old songs are surpassingly excellent, every line is an image and every verse a story. Our late lyrics have fallen sadly away from this peculiar beauty — little original genius has come into song since the death of Burns. I still think many valuable fragments might be found of ancient song — the names of our airs, for instance, often supply us with lines from our lost lyrics; and if we were to note down every proverbial phrase and every line of song as they rose on our memory, we would soon make a small volume. Know you ought of a song the name of which still lingers with us — "The bonniest lass in a' the warl'"? I shall give you one verse, with the hope that you may find another:—

The bonniest lass in a' the warl,
Came to see me unsent for;
She broke her shins on my bed stock,
But she gat the thing she cam' for.

Or know you ought of an old sweet and modest song which began thus?—

My love she's like the morning star,
And's up afore the sun.

I could ask you an hundred questions, and for every question give you an old verse. Where did you find that truly admirable song,

Stand about, ye fisher jauds,
And gie my goun room?

With the hope of hearing from you soon, I remain, dear sir, yours very respectfully,
ALLAN CUNNINGHAM.