(The Sun’s Bright in France) by Allan Cunningham (1784–18 42)
The sun rises bright in France, and fair sets he,
But he has lost the look he had, in my ain countrie
Though gladness comes to many, a sorrow comes to me
As I look o'er the ocean wide tae my ain countrie
It's no my ain ruin that saddens aye my ee
But the love I left in Gallowa wi bonnie bairnies three
My hamely hearth burns bonnie an smiles my sweet Marie
I left my heart behind me, in my ain countrie
The bird wins back tae summertime, and the blossom tae the tree
But I'll win back, no never, tae my ain countrie
I'm leal tae high heaven, that will prove leal tae me
An I will meet ye a' richt soon, frae my ain countrie
This is a post-Jacobite song, one of many written years after the events of the ’45 Rebellion. Following the 1707 act of Union, such songs were a way of affirming a Scottish identity.
Cunningham was brought up at Dalswinton on the Nith, Dumfries-shire, very near to Robert Burns’s farm at Ellisland. Allan claimed to remember, as a 6 year-old child, hearing Burns read Tam O Shanter to his father. He was only twelve when he attended Burns funeral in 1796.
He himself became a prolific and successful writer, counting James Hogg and Walter Scott as friends, though he first worked as an apprentice mason and was clerk of works for a London sculptor until 1841.
However he was also known within Scottish literary circles as “Honest Allan” after he perpetrated “one of the most spectacular frauds of the century.” An English collector, Robert Hartley Cromek was collecting old ballads for his book Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song (1810). Cunningham not only supplied him with the bulk of these old “traditional songs”, he wrote them as well. (The Jacobite Song, William Donaldson)
“The Sun’s Bright In France” appears in Walter Scott’s Jacobite Songs (1888) firmly attributed by Scott to Allan Cunningham – though Scott notes that it was from Cromek’s Remains and that it was credited there, by Cunningham, to a Miss Macartney.
According to John Loesberg, in Traditional Folksongs and Ballads of Scotland (1994) Cunningham “remained a humble individual who had a humble and respectful admiration for Scott and the other great names in Scottish literature of the time.” Cunningham brought out his own edition of Burns’s poems along with a Life of the poet but critics have found that while he expressed warm admiration for Burns and painted a lively picture, his facts were suspect.
Here is the version printed by Scott, which lacks one of the verses we have, and shows how our version has been anglicised:
The Sun’s Bright In France Scott’s Jacobite Songs, 1888:
The sun rises bright in France / And fair sets he;
But he has tint the blithe blink he had / In my ain countrie (lost)
It’s nae my ain ruin / That weets aye my e’e
But the dear Marie I left ahin’, / Wi’ sweet bairnies three
Fu’ bonnily lowed my ain hearth, / and smiled my ain Marie! (burned)
O I’ve left a’ my heart behind, / In my ain countrie!
O I am leal to high heaven, / An’ it’ll be leal to me;
An’ there I’ll meet ye a’ soon, / Frae my ain countrie