Volume V, song 493, page 509 - 'Could aught of Song' -...
Volume V, song 493, page 509 - 'Could aught of Song' - Scanned from the 1853 edition of the 'Scots Musical Museum', James Johnson and Robert Burns (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1853)
Verse 1: 'Could aught of song declare my pains, Could artful numbers move thee, The muse should tell in labor'd strains, O Mary how I love thee. They who but feign a wounded heart, May teach the lyre to languish; But what avails the pride of art, When wastes the soul with anguish.'
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.
Johnson has attributed this particular song to Burns. Although it is possible Burns did write 'Could aught of Song', Johnson's notes have not always proved to be accurate. In many instances he neglected to acknowledge Burns for songs he did write, and often credited him with writing songs that he merely collected or revised for the 'Museum'. At times, this has led to much confusion and uncertainty as to what works can be rightly attributed to Burns. Finally, Glen (1900) believed the melody to be 'an Anglo-Scottish one by Dr Samuel Howard'. He further suggested that 'The modulation in the first strain seems too academic for a Scottish melody.'