Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. III. The Eighteenth Century: Addison to Blake
Critical Introduction by William Minto
Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne (17661845)
[Lady Nairn was born in 1766. Though she lived to an advanced age, dying in 1845, most of her songs were written early in life, soon after the appearance of Burnss poems in 1787. The first and only collected edition of her works appeared in 1869, but for two generations before, songs of her composing had been sung in every Scotch household and concert-room, though the name of the author was unknown. A surprising number of the most familiar Scotch songs, many of them popularly believed to have descended from remote antiquity, were written by Lady NairnThe Land o the Leal, The Laird o Cockpen, Caller Herrin, The Auld House, Hunting-Tower, John Tod, Whall be King but Charlie? Charlie is my darling, Will ye no come back again? Hes ower the hills that I loe weel, I will sit in my wee croo house.]
LIKE another Scotch lady, the authoress of Auld Robin Gray, Miss Oliphant was first moved to song-writing by the desire of rescuing fine old tunes from coarse themes. This is her own account of the beginning of her poetic impulse; she saw, she says, with admiration how Burns was fitting popular melodies with worthy words, and longed to help him in the good work. That this object should have mixed with her poetic impulses is characteristic of her training, but no songs written with or without a moral object were ever more spontaneous in their lyric flow, more free from artificiality. Two great motives may be distinguished in her versesympathy with the life of the common people among whom she moved with old-fashioned familiarity as a radiant comforter and joy-bringer, and sympathy with the chivalrous spirit of Jacobitism, which was the air she breathed in her own family. Her songs contain all that is best and highest in the Jacobite poetry of Scotland,the tender regret that never sinks into wailing, the high-tempered gaiety that bends but will not break, the fiery spirit that reaches forward to victory and never thinks of defeat. It was a misfortune for the Pretender that such a poet-laureate of his cause did not appear till forty years after that cause was hopelessly lost. Lady Nairns Jacobite songsshe did not receive her title till her husbands attainder was removed in 1824were written for the consolation of an aged kinsman who had followed Prince Charlies fortunes in 1745. Her grandfather, Oliphant of Gask, had been out in 1715 as well as 1745, and of her father the Pretender wroteHe is as worthy a subject as I have, and his family never deroged from their principals. The atmosphere of sincere and chivalrous Jacobitism in which she was nurtured accounts in no small measure for the intense air of reality in her songs.