Comin Thro The Rye – Burns

Comin' Thro' The Rye - Burns

History of Comin Tho the Rye

Comin’ Through the Rye is a song which attained a considerable amount of popularity, whose origin has been a matter of dispute. Though commonly regarded as of Scots origin, a claim has been made for it as an English production. So far as can be gathered at this distance of time the facts are these:

A song beginning:

If a body meet a body going to the fair
If a body kiss a body need a body care

was sung in pantomime performed at the Royal Circus in the season of 1795-96. The song was sung by a Mrs. Henley, and the pantomime was named ‘Harlequin Mariner.’ The musical part was composed and arranged by J. Sanderson, and the dialogue by a Mr. Cross, the two being accustomed to collaborate in such pieces.

William Chappell asserts in ‘Popular Music of the Olden Time,’ that James Johnson, the editor of the ‘Scots Musical Museum,’ took the song for his fifth volume (1797) from the English source, and turned it into a Scottish form by the alteration of some words, as:

Gin a body meet a body comin’ thro’ the rye
Gin a body kiss a body need a body cry

It may be mentioned that the English version was entered at Stationer’s Hall, by Broderip & Wilkinson, the London music publishers, on June 29, 1796.

Mr. John Glen, a man with a unique knowledge of Scottish musical bibliography, maintains in his ‘Early Scottish Melodies,’ 1900, that the alteration has been made from Scotch into English, and not vice versa. He says John Watlen, and Edinburgh musician and music publisher, had already issued the Scotch version in his series of ‘Old Scots Songs,’ commenced in August 1793, and published at intervals of two months. The song in question is in the 8th number, thus appearing (or being due to appear) in August 1794.

The conclusion is founded on much evidence is that the song and air had been current in Scotland in one or more forms, not altogether refined, before Cross and Sanderson invented their pantomime of 1796, and that Cross, very judiciously, altered the words from the Scotch form, made additions, and by so doing produced a satisfactory song for an English audience. Additionally on the old sheet music it was noted that ‘Sanderson simply claimed to have adapted the tune.’ The title of the old music sheet runs:

If a Body meet a Body, sung by Mrs. Henley at the Royal Circus. In the favorite new Pantomime called Harlequin Mariner. The music adapted by J Sanderson: the words by Mr. Cross…Longman, Clementi & Co., 26 Cheapside.’

In ‘The Musical Repository,’ Glasgow, 1799, there is a fourth verse to the original song of a not over refined cast.

The song and tune, both Scotch and English versions, having obtained great popularity, many versions and parodies became current. One was ‘If a Body loves a Body,’ sung by Mrs. Franlin about 1801-2. Another song to the air which was much sung about the end of the 18th century was ‘O dinna ask me gin I lo’e ye.’

In Johnson’s ‘Museum,’ (1797) two ‘setts’ of the song are given, the first described ‘as written for this work by Robert Burns.’ In an early music sheet published probably before Johnson’s version, are the same two sets marked as “Modern Sett’ and ‘Original Sett.’ This sheet was published by N. Stewart Y Co., 37 South Bridge Street, Edinburgh.

It is quite obvious that to find the original source of the time we have to turn to the early Scotch reels and strathspeys. The ofrm and phrasing is common both to ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and to ‘Comin’ Though the Rye.’ ‘The Miler’s Daughter,’ or, as it is sometimes called, ‘The Miller’s Wedding,’ in Bremmer’s ‘Reels and Country Dances,’ 1759, and Angus Cumming’s ‘Old Highland Reels,’ 1780, and elsewhere, may be called an original to either. Some other reels having from necessity, the ‘syncopated snap’ characteristic of the strathspey reel, might also be called prototypes.

Comin Thro the Rye Lyrics

If a body meet a body comin’ thro’ the rye
If a body kiss a body, need a body cry


Ev’ry lassie has her laddie
Nane, they say ha’e I
Yet a’ the lads they smile on me
When comin’ thro’ the rye

Second Verse

If a body meet a body comin’ frae the town
If a body greet a body need a body frown