BURNS, Robert (1759-1796). Scottish national poet.
Autograph Manuscript (seven words and eight bars of music) of the song 'Wha is that at my bower door', 1 page 4to (oblong - from a larger sheet), c. 1787-1796. A further four bars of music at the top of the sheet are probably also in Burns's hand, but not the sixteen bars on the verso. Overall browned and with a little chipping to the lower margin.
When James Johnson, an Edinburgh engraver, conceived the idea of publishing the comprehensive collection of Scottish songs which was to become the six-volume Scots Musical Museum he enlisted the help of Burns who enthusiastically collected the works of others and provided many new songs of his own. Virtually all the poetry Burns wrote between 1787-1792 was sent to his friend Johnson for inclusion in the Museum. His contribution totalled over two hundred songs.
The first volume of the Museum appeared in May 1787 and by the end of that year, Burns had become the unacknowledged literary editor (he wrote the prefaces for volumes II-IV), with Stephen Clark as musical editor. Although the idea had been Johnson's, Burns was the driving force behind the project. The first four volumes appeared in his lifetime (volume II in March 1788, III in February 1790, and IV in August 1792). Just weeks before his death, Burns was writing words of encouragement to Johnson and asking for the proofs of the fifth volume. However, Burns did not live to see it completed; volume V was published in December 1796, followed by volume VI in 1803.
The present manuscript is illustrated in The Life of Robert Burns, by Catherine Carswell, 1930, facing page 416. It was then in the possession of Miss B.F.C. Adamson of Stranraer. Accompanying the manuscript is a handwritten inscription from the back of an old frame with a pasted slip, apparently from a catalogue, numbered '906' and indicating that it had been lent, evidently for exhibition, by John Adamson.
Autograph music by Burns is extremely scarce. This example is evidently quite complete, offering the title (or first line) and the entire tune, with the autograph direction 'Lively'.
The image links to a larger or more detailed version.