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versification, and you have omitted a verse in a Song of Sir John Suckling's ; (p. 167.) and in that very pleasing work, your Calendar of Nature, in the lines prefixed to April, from the song of Shakspeare, commonly known by the name of the Cuckoo Song, you have omitted the lines respecting the cuckoo's mocking men, thinking them, I suppose, vulgar and indelicate. If report speak truth, the Edition of Dr. Watts's Songs, “Revised and Altered, by a Lady,” containing alterations of a still more important and extensive nature, (such as can be approved by Christians of only one denomination,) were made by a lady nearly connected with you; and with whom you have frequently been a brother in literary labours.” Mrs. Barbauld, in her Thoughts on the Devotion AL Taste, prefixed to her DEvotion Ai, PIEces, compiled from The Psalms and the Book of Job, says, “It was hoped”—“that it might be of service to the cause of religion, to make a collection of this kind now offered to the public. In this collection, all the Psalms which would bear it are given entire; others, where the connected sense could be preserved with such an omission, have only the exceptionable” parts left out; and a third class is formed of separate passages scattered through several pieces, which are attempted to be formed into regular and distinct odes”. (p. 46.) This is pretty much what I have attempted to do with English Songs in my Collection. I think, therefore, we shall not differ very widely in considering how far it is allowable and expedient to alter productions according to our ideas of propriety. But to leave these preliminary remarks, and proceed to the consideration of the volume itself: I will, however, first observe, that in your ideas of Vocal Poetry or of English Song, it appears to me, Sir, you have taken much too confined a view. Vocal Poetry and vocal Music, as it exists at present in this kingdom, may be considered, first, as Sacred, including the Psalms, Hymns, and Anthems, sung in our Churches, and the Oratorios, performed occasionally in our Churches, at the Theatres during Lent, and sometimes at Concerts. In the second place we may rank Theatrical vocal music, consisting of the Songs sung in Operas and other Dramatic Pieces, the Entertain
* See this work reviewed in The Gu A R D is N or Education. Wol. II. p. 360.
ments of Professional men, as Collins, Dibdin, and others, and the Songs sung at concerts, which are, for the most part, selected from all or most of the preceding descriptions. Next to these may be considered the vocal music of the convivial board, both private parties and public meetings, at which Theatrical and Concert Songs are mostly sung, with others peculiarly adapted to the occasions; and, lastly, the vocal music of the private room, or domestic circle, including all, or most of the former, as may be seen by turning over the Collections to be met with in almost every private house wherein there are any persons who have a taste for music. These are the sources to which I have chiefly applied in forming my Collection of Songs in 3 volumes, and these I have attempted to class, as far as distinction appeared to me to be practicable; but, as the primary object of these Letters is to examine the Songs you have chosen, according to your own selection and arrangement, and the observations you have made upon them, I shall consider each of your classes separately, and then shall make such further remarks as the subject seems to require. I am, Sir, with great respect, your obedient humble Servant, JAMES PLUMPTRE.
Sept. 5, 1810. sI R,
IN conformity with the order which you have yourself observed in your Volume of Vocal Poetry, I shall, in this Letter, make some remarks upon that part of your Essay on Songwriting which relates to Ballads and Pastoral Songs; and shall then proceed to make my observations upon the Ballads and Songs them
selves in the order in which they stand. Your remarks on the Ballad and its properties appear to me in general to be just; but I cannot say that I agree with you in preferring the Ballads of “ Lord Ronald”, (that is what Mr. Walter Scott calls “ Glenfinlas, or Lord Ronald's Coronach,”) and “Cadyow Castle,” from the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,” to those of William and Margaret, Colin and Lucy, and the Hermit of Goldsmith. The particular merits of these pieces I shall consider hereafter; but I will just observe that if “ Glenfinlas” and “Cadyow Castle” surpass the others in vigour of poetry, the others have the advantage of subject. Glenfinlas is calculated only to nourish that love for the marvellous and supernatural to which the human mind is too prone, and Cadyow Castle sets an act of deliberate and bloody revenge in the light of an heroic action. After mentioning these, and adverting to some French metrical pieces, you say, (p. xvii.) that “we are now got beyond the limits of song properly so called, since it is evident that a great number of stanzas, sung to an uniformly repeated simple tune, would be insupportably tedious to modern ears; whence such compositions must be considered as addressed merely to readers, and be referred to the class of minor poetry”. The Ballads of William and Margaret, Colin and Lucy, and the Hermit, have, I believe, been all set to music and sung at Concerts; and though the generality of hearers of songs in this age are not remarkable for giving very long attention to any one subject, yet they will sit to hear some tolerably long productions of this kind, when the words are interesting, the tune simple and pathetic or lively and well adapted to narrative, and the words well articulated. Some of the Songs of Collins and of Mr. Dibdin are nearly,