The Flowers of Edinburgh

a miscellany of tunes

Within a Furlong of Edinburgh Town is an "Anglo-Scottish" song, written for the London theatre by Henry Purcell with words by Thomas D'Urfey late in the 17th century. D'Urfey (1653-1723) was a friend of Allan Ramsay's and published more bawdy songs than anyone else in the next 200 years. This one was only mildly suggestive and the words were not one of his better efforts, but the attractive tune was used in many English ballad operas in the early 18th century. In D'Urfey's Wit and Mirth (also known as Pills to Purge Melancholy it is simply titled A Scotch Song. I've also included the earliest version of the tune from a Scottish source, Within a furlong of Edenburgh from Margaret Sinkler's manuscript of 1709. Edinburgh Town extends it into a three-part suite - reel, minuet, jig - in a Baroque style. I've taken it from the McFarlan Manuscript, where it is attributed to "Maclean", presumably Charles MacLean, about whom very little is known except that he probably worked in Edinburgh, went to London in the 1740s, and was dead by the time a collection of his work was published in 1773. Maclean's suite was originally in G minor; the transposition into A minor was David Young's idea. I've given it both ways. The other elaboration of the tune, 'Twas within a Furlong of Edinburgh, is by James Oswald, from the Caledonian Pocket Companion; it shows the rhythmic imagination typical of his best pieces, and isn't easy to play.

Within a Mile of Edinburgh Town is another piece of imitation Scottish music written in England, from a few decades later. It was composed by James Hook in London, to a bowdlerized version of Within a Furlong. The first printed sheet of it tried to pass it off as Oswald's work; ironic considering the number of times Oswald tried to pass his own work off as other people's. This song was a popular hit in the 18th century. It couldn't ever have fooled anybody in Scotland, but has been played here none the less; it was turned into a waltz by Jimmy Shand and into a schottische in Kerr's collection, became the march of the Cameronian Regiment, and was often parodied in the 19th century. The version I've given with the text is Hook's original, from the pseudonymous sheet, intended for the flute; the second is an outlandishly intricate and kitsch setting, as remote from folk music as you can get, from Brewer's tutor for the 5-key clarinet published in London around 1800. The third, which finally makes a Scottish-sounding tune out of it, is from Kerr's Merry Melodies of the 1880s.

The Edinburgh Scots Measure and The Leith Scots Measure are from the Caledonian Pocket Companion. Nobody now knows what kind of dance a "Scots Measure" was. James Oswald composed, renamed or arranged one for every large town in Scotland. There is no way to know what real connection, if any, most of them ever had with the places they were named for.

Mid Lothian comes from from William Campbell's Tenth Collection of around 1795. It's a version of The Countess of Lothian's Reel, which was published in Aird's fifth collection. Auld Reekie, or Hoble about is a jig from Aird's third collection of the 1780s.

Edinburgh is a traditional Welsh hymn, which I have taken from the Llyfr Hymnau a Thonau y Methodistiad Calfinaidd of 1897. It was first published in Caneuon Sion (Songs of Zion) in 1840. It probably has no connection with the city at all except that the hymn arranger, as has been common practice since the Reformation, wanted to name it after a town, and Edinburgh hadn't already been spoken for at the time. Edinbro' March, by Paul Wallace, is from Köhler's Violin Repository of the 1880s. It's a military march in the style of 100 years earlier, nothing like the brass band music of the late 19th century, and I have no idea what may lie behind it.

The Flowers of Edinburgh is known to all Scottish traditional musicians, and is played all over the world, with distinctively different American and Irish versions. The tune has a long and muddled history. It dates from near 1740, may have been written by Oswald though he didn't claim it, and has been attached to several different sets of words, all of them unsingably bad except for Duncan Ban Macintyre's strange selection of it as the melody for one of his masterpieces, Cumha Choire a'Cheathaich, the Lament for the Misty Corrie. There is even a song to it in the Greig-Duncan collection about a woman singing The Flowers of Edinburgh, which begins to recall Lewis Carroll's "the name of the song is called..." gag in Through the Looking Glass. The title has no clear explanation; one theory has it that it was about the young women of Edinburgh, another (from a weirdly-engraved title in Nathaniel Gow's Fourth Repository, as if he'd scraped a longer previous title for it off the plate) that it was dedicated to the city's magistrates, and a third (which I have only encountered orally) that it refers to the smell of the city in the 18th century when chamberpots were tipped out of windows each night, and that the steps of the associated country dance evoke people skipping over fallen turds in the street. Since Oswald wrote a long series of pieces about flowers, my own theory is that the title means literally what it says. The first and least familiar version here is under Oswald's original title, My love's bonny when she smiles on me; I've taken it from the Macfarlan Manuscript, and it may predate any published form of the tune. The second is from Oswald's Caledonian Pocket Companion. The third is from the Brysson/Sharpe manuscript, not as elaborate as Oswald's but not quite a reel either. The fourth is the way it's usually played today, from Kerr's Merry Melodies. The Edinburgh Jigg is a 6/8 adaptation, from Rutherford's 200 Country Dances of 1750.

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Copyright © 2001, Jack Campin