Preface to Original Scottish Airs

“The Orpheus Caledonius” seems to have been the earliest collection in which the favourite Scottish Airs appeared in conjunction with the Songs. It was published about the year 1725, by W. Thomson, London, who republished it, and added a second volume in 1733.

The “Tea-Table Miscellany”, published by the celebrated Allan Ramsay, in 1724 was the first general collection in which the admired Scottish Songs appeared without the Airs, though the poet had brought forward a smaller publication of the Songs some years before. In a separate Work, consisting of six very small books,he also published about 70 of the Airs, with a Bass to each, but whether at the same time with his Miscellany, or after the appearance of “Orpheus Caledonius”, is uncertain.

To the Miscellany, however, the publisher of the “Orpheus Caledonius”, as well as every succeeding Publisher, has been particularly obliged, —most of the songs which have so long been favourites, being found in the Miscellany. These were chiefly written by Ramsay and his friends, for such Scottish Airs as they thought ill-suited with the words, —Airs which must have been popular long before 1724, were collected by Ramsay; and, but for him, it is probable that these admirable specimens of the Native Song of Scotland would have been irretrievable. When, or by whom these were written, was not known even in 1724, from which a considerable antiquity may fairly be inferred; and it is to be presumed that the Airs were at least coeval with the Songs—For the satisfaction of the curious, all the Airs in this Work, which were considered to be old in 1724, are marked in the Index to each volume, as are those known to be modern. Those without any mark are presumed to be modern, though some of them may perhaps be old.

York-Place, Edinburgh, September 1803.

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