Volume I, song 032, page 33 - 'Fairest of the Fair' -...
Volume I, song 032, page 33 - 'Fairest of the Fair' - Scanned from the 1853 edition of the 'Scots Musical Museum', James Johnson and Robert Burns (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1853)
Verse 1: 'O Nannie, wilt thou gang wi' me, nor sigh to leave the flaunting town; Can silent glens have charms for thee, the lowly cot, and russet gown./ Nae langer drest in silken sheen, Nae langer deck'd wi' jewels rare. Say, can'st thou quit each courtly scene, Where thou was fairest of the fair, Where thou was fairest of the fair.'
The 'Scots Musical Museum' is the most important of the numerous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections of Scottish song. When the engraver James Johnson started work on the second volume of his collection in 1787, he enlisted Robert Burns as contributor and editor. Burns enthusiastically collected songs from various sources, often expanding or revising them, whilst including much of his own work. The resulting combination of innovation and antiquarianism gives the work a feel of living tradition.
Unfortunately, there appears to be nothing known about the tune that accompanies this song. The song itself, however, is described by Glen (1900) as a 'Scottified copy of Bishop Percy's beautiful song'. Burns denounced the inclusion of this song in the 'Museum', claiming that 'It is too barefaced to take Dr Piercy's (sic) charming song, and by the means of transposing a few English words into Scots, to offer to pass it for a Scots song. - I was not acquainted with the editor untill the 1st volume was nearly finished, else, had I known in time, I would have prevented such an impudent absurdity.' Burns's involvement with the 'Museum' began when the first volume was in its final stages of preparation.