Trad. reworked by Burns
Tune: Cam Ye Ower Frae France?
First in print 1803, Scots Musical Museum
Robin shure in hairst,
I shure wi him,
Fient a heuk had I,
Yet I stack by him
I gaed up to Dunse,
To warp a wab o’ plaiden,
At his daddie’s yett,
Wha met me but Robin
Was na Robin bauld,
Tho’ I was a cottar,
Play’d me sic a trick
An me the Eller’s dochter!
Robin promis’d me
A’ my winter vittle,
Fient haet he had but three
Goos feathers and a whittle
Cottar: person living in a “cot” and bound to work the farmer’s land
Eller: Elder, official of the church
Fient a: not one
Fient haet: not a thing
Goos feathers: quills
Shure: sheared, cut corn
Stack: stuck, stayed
Sangschule’s first tutor, Christine Kydd, brought this song to Sangschule on a recent return visit. It is a traditional song reworked by Burns. It first appeared in The Scots Musical Museum (Vol.6 no. 543). He sent it to his lawyer friend Robert Ainslie in 1789 saying in letter 295 of The Complete Letters of Robert Burns:
“I am still catering for Johnson’s publication (The Scots Musical Museum) and among others, I have brushed up the following old favorite (sic) Song a little, with a view to your worship. – I have only altered a word here and there; but if you like the humour of it, we shall think of a Stanza or two to add to it.”
According to The Canongate Burns (2003), he mentioned “goos feathers” or quills and a “whittle” or knife because these were the implements used by a lawyer and Ainslie was a law student when Burns met him. The point of dedicating the song to Ainslie was to put it in “the imagined voice of the lower-class woman impregnated and betrayed by his then lawyer friend.”
According to The School of Scottish Studies Occasional Papers Series Number 2 produced by Katherine Campbell and Emily Lyle in 2000, a chapbook version of the song was known to have existed with an “indecent line” for which Burns has substituted “Goos feathers and a whittle” and a last verse which he suppressed.
Emily Lyle credits John Morris of the National Library of Scotland with tracking down a chapbook (L.C. 2823:36), matching this description. Adding in another traditional verse which Burns quoted in a letter to Ainslie (130) “As I gaed up to Dunse”, she offers a “form that is probably much like one which Burns knew”:
Robin shure in haerst / I shure wi him,
Fient a heuk had I / Yet I stack by him
I gaed up to Dunse, / to warp a wab o’ plaiden
At my father’s yeat / Wha met me but Robin?
As I gaed up to Dunse / To warp a pickle yarn,
Robin, silly body, / He gat me wi’ bairn.
Wasna Robin bauld, / Be’t I was a Cottar
To play sic a trick, / And me the El’er’s douchter?
Robin promis’d me / A’ my winter’s victual,
Fient a haet had he, / But twa trumps and a whistle. (reference to male genitalia)
Now I’m Robin’s bride,/ Free frae kirk-fok’s (sic) bustle;
Robin’s a’ my ain, / Wi’s twa trumps and a whistle.
The change Burns made from the girl meeting Robin at the girl’s father’s gate to meeting him at Robin’s father’s gate helps to identify Burns’ “Robin” with Robert Ainslie whose father did live near Duns.
The Canongate Burns tells us that “even more ironically, Burns was simultaneously using Ainslie as a go-between to the similarly pregnant May Cameron: ‘Please call at the Ja’ Hogg mentioned, and send for the wench and give her ten or twelve shillings, but don’t for Heaven’s sake meddle with her as a Piece. – I insist on this, on your honor: and advise her out to some country friends. – You may not like the business, but I tax your friendship thus far. Call immediately, or at least as soon as it is dark, for God’s sake, lest the poor soul be starving.”
The tune used in The Scots Musical Museum is often called “Cam ye ower frae France” but this was not the tune Burns had in mind, according to Katherine Campbell in the School of Scottish Studies paper, and “may originally have been an instrumental air.” Burns’ choice was the tune published in Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion – “Rob Shear’d in Hairst”.”