Volume VI, song 586, page 606 - 'There was a bonie lass' -...
Volume VI, song 586, page 606 - 'There was a bonie lass' - Scanned from the 1853 edition of the 'Scots Musical Museum', James Johnson and Robert Burns (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1853)
'There was a bonie lass, and a bonie, bonie lass, And she lo'ed her bonie laddie dear; Till wars loud alarms tore her laddie frae her arms, Wi' monie a sigh and a tear Over sea, over shore, where the cannons loudly roar; He still was a stranger to fear: And nocht could him quail, or his bosom assail, But the bonie lass he lo'ed sae dear.'
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.
It is thought this song was written by Robert Burns in 1795. It tells the story of two young lovers who are separated by war. The 'bonie laddie' of the song travels 'Over sea, over shore' to fight 'where the cannons loudly roar'. Whilst it is not clear which war is being referred to, it is most likely the French Wars. As to the tune, Glen (1900) was less than impressed with this composition, describing it as 'feeble'.