Dr Daiches , whose introduction was the most valuable feature of the book, was one of the world’s leading authorities on Burns. He was perhaps best known to the majority of people through his lively contributions to radio and television discussion programmes. Students of literature knew him as a lecturer in English at Cambridge and one who had held senior academic appointments in America, eventually founding the Department of English at the new University of Sussex, and as the author of many important books on aspects of English literature.
Two years later I purchased the Ballatis of Luve, an important anthology produced by Professor John McQueen at the Edinburgh University Press. This brought together some of the best lyrics of courtly love written by Scottish poets and musicians during the course of the fifteen and early sixteenth centuries. There were some Scottish versions of versions of lyrics by Englishmen- Chaucer, Lydgate and Wyatt, but at the core of the anthology was the love poetry of Alexander Scott, (c.1515 to c.1583). In an historical and critical introduction, Professor McQueen examined the development and eventual decline of the Scottish love lyric from the beginning of the 15th Century until the end of the personal reign of Mary Queen of Scots.
As well as giving new biographical information on several of the poets represented, he discussed the relationship of the Scottish lyric to English verse and to the art music of the 16th century, particularly that associated with the Augustinian canons and with the Chapel Royal at Stirling, the social and political relevance of the lyric and the general effect of the Reformation on Scottish culture. Indeed, he shows us quite clearly that the troubled reign of Mary Queen of Scots occurred in the midst of a Reformation movement which, though it may have been both historically inevitable and desirable, went too far and had far reaching consequences, both social and artistic, which actually went a long way to destroying Scottish culture and civilisation.
Sir Richard Maitland (1496–1586) was a statesman and poet of some distinction. He was proud of the accomplishment of Scottish letters but he certainly shared an additional impulse with his younger contemporaries and fellow-collectors, George Ballantyne (1545–c.1608) and the musician Thomas Wode, Vicar of St Andrews (ob.1592), to preserve something of an already suppressed culture which they felt to be in danger of complete extinction. The Reformation had a more distinct effect on music than poetry and they had a sense of the loss of a deeper, richer past. This was particularly strong in Wode. The technicalities of musical theory also figure prominently and functionally in the works of Robert Henryson (c. 1420 to c.1490), William Dunbar (c. 1460 to 1513) and Gavin Douglas (1475 to 1522).
In the course of the 16th century it becomes more possible to provide biographical details of individual authors and the importance of professional musicians as writers of words as well as music becomes more and more obvious. C S Lewis in his “The Oxford History of English Literature” makes an appreciative reference to Sir John Fethy (c.1480-1570),who was a poet as well as a composer. “It must not be supposed,” he says, ”that Dunbar dominates the minor poets completely. In the beautiful lyric by Fethy the poignancy of the refrain ” Cauld, caul culis the lufe that kendillis our het” depends on a quality of rhythm which is quite unlike Dunbar’s”. This difference of rhythm is certainly related to the fact Fethty was a musician and composer of distinction, a song-writer. Thomas Wode notes that this man was ”the first organeist that ever brought in Scotland the curious new fingering and playing on organs and yit it is mair nor three score yeiris since he cum hame”.
Robert Burns was to reverse the trend against the decline in music and song in Scotland and set us on a more enlightened path. But it was to be in the tradition of a Scot in Ulster that the apotheosis of song-writing was to be achieved. Van Morrison O.B.E., born George Ivan Morrison on 31st August, 1945 in East Belfast is the modern successor of those singer-songwriters and musicians in our country, from ancient and medieval to more modern times. His live performances are both inspired and transcendental while his studio albums are widely viewed as among the greatest ever made. His music is a mix of folk, blues, jazz, soul and gospel with Ulster-Scots, Celtic and pre-Celtic or Cruthinic influences, the sum of which is better than the parts, and he is widely considered as one of the most unusual and influential vocalists of all time. I was delighted when he invited me to the award of his OBE because of his interest in my books, and look on his work as at least equal if not superior to that of Robert Burns. For me he is the greatest Bard that Ireland has ever produced.