The Land O’ The Leal

The Land O’ the Leal sheet music

by Laid Nairn

The Land O' The Leal

History of The Land O’ the Leal (Scots Wha Hae)

In order to understand the history of ‘The Land O’ the Leal’ it is necessary to understand the history of the song ‘Scots Wha Hae’ which ‘Land O’ the Leal’ from which it was derived.

Scots Wha Hae is one of the finest of Scottish National melodies. It is, as proved by the two famous songs sung to it, a tune capable of expressing the greatest pathos, or the most martial sentiments.

The structure of the tune shows that it is of some antiquity, but unfortunately there is no definite evidence of its existence prior to the middle of the 18th century. When Robert Burns wrote his fine song ‘Scots wha hae,’ to the air, he told George Thompson that it was constantly asserted that the tune was played at Bannockburn by the Scots army, hence his adoption of the tune for his verses of which the subject of Bruce’s address to his followers before the battle of Bannockburn.

The letter to Thompson containing the reference is dated September 1793. He says in it, ‘I do not know whether the old air “Hey tuttie taitie” may rank among the number, but with Frazer’s hautboy it has often filled my eyes with tears. There is a tradition, which I have met with in many places of Scotland, that it was Robert Bruce’s march at the battle of Bannockburn. This thought, in my solitary wanderings, warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of Liberty and Independence, which I threw into a kind of Scottish ode fitted to the air that one might suppose to be the gallant Royal Scot’s address to his heroic followers on the eventful morning.’

It may be mentioned that Burns composed the words during a wild thunderstorm while out among the hills of Glen Ken, in Galloway. Burns adds in a postscript to the preceding letter that he showed the air to Urbani who was highly pleased with it, and begged the poet to make soft verses to it.

The poet further says that Clarke’s set of the tune, with his bass, is to be found in the ‘Museum,’ though he is afraid that the air is not what will entitle it to a place in Thomson’s ‘elegant selection.’

In tracing the history of the tune further back, we find the version in Johnson’s ‘Scots Musical Museum,’ 1788, as ‘Hey Tutti Taiti,’ with a couple of songs to the same air. The first, a foolish drinking song begins:

Landlady, count the lawin’
The day is near the dawin’
Ye’re a’ blind drunk, boys
And I’m but jolly fou

The second is a Jacobite song in praise of Charles XII., Kind of Sweden, commencing:

Here’s to the king, Sir

A line in the song explains the apparently nonsensical phrase that gives a title to the air:

When you hear the trumpet sound
Tutti, taitie to the drum

The words are evidently a vocal imitation of a trumpet call.

Upon the line in the first song, ‘The day is near the dawin’,’ has been built up a tissue of fanciful statements which are unsupported by any reasonable conclusion. In Gawin Douglas’ translation of Virgil, 1513, and in other places, a Scottish song is mentioned who first line was ‘Hey now the day dawis.’ In Sibbald’s Chronicle of Scottish Poetry, 1802, this myth is present, probably for the first time. It is there stated that the tune for ‘Hey now the day dawis’ is the same as ‘Hey tutti taiti.’ Stenhouse, in his notes to Johnson’s ‘Museum,’ again promulgates the fiction. The poem ‘Hey now the day dawis’ is found in a contemporary manuscript, and a tune called ‘The day dawis’ is present in the Straloch Manuscript, 1627, which is of quite a different character from the one in question.

Prior to the appearance in Johnson’s ‘Museum’ the tune made its first entry into print in book iii. of Oswald’s ‘Caledonian Pocket Companion.’

Another version is printed, in 1755, in William McGibbons ‘Collection of Scots Tunes,’ Edinburgh.

No copy earlier than these two has up to the present been discovered and although the air is, without doubt, fine, and old, the romantic tradition that it is contemporary with the battle of Bannockburn and has connection with the early Scottish poem ‘Hey the day dawis’ must be dismissed as, at least, improbable.

Reverting to Burns’ song ‘Scots wha hae,’ it was sent by the poet to George Thomson for inclusion in his folio collection of Scottish songs. Thomson, however, with extraordinary blindness failed to see that Burns’ verses brought out all the fine qualities of the tune. He therefore suggested alterations in the metre and begged for its union to the rather feeble air ‘Lewis Gordon.’

It is curious to read Thomson’s letter of September 6, 1793, wherein he ranks the song as ‘the noblest composition of the kind in the Scottish language,’ and speaks of his circle of friends entreating him to find a suitable air, reprobating ‘the dieas of giving it a tune so totally devoid of interest or grandeur as ‘Hey tutti taitie,’ which, he continues, he has never ‘heard any one speak of as worthy of notice.’ He then proceeds to speak of ‘Lewie Gordon’ as ‘an air most happily adapted to your od,’ and submits sundry alterations of lines to fit the tune in question.

Burns appeared to have acquiesced in the suggestion, and united to this tune it appeared in Thomson’s collection, in the third set, issued July 1799.

Qualms of conscience, however, must have troubled Thomson, for in a subsequent number, published in 1801, he gives the song as originally written united to ‘Hey tutti taiti,’ harmonized by Haydn, and a note to the effect that he had ‘examined the air with more particular attention,’ and frankly owned that he has changed his previous opinion. Form that time onward Burns’ words have always been associated with the tune, notwithstanding that music was specially written for the song by William Clarke, an Edinburgh organist, and inserted in the Sixth Volume of the Museum, 1803.

The Land O’ the Leal

As Burns mentioned in his correspondence with Thomson, both Urbani, and Frazer the Edinburgh hautboy player, saw that there were pathetic as well as martial or bacchanalian characteristics in the air, the former urging Burns to write some ‘soft verses to it.’

It appears to have been Lady Nairne who first brought out this particular quality of the melody. About 1800-1805 there was published by gow & Shepherd, 16 Princes Street, Edinburgh, a music sheet with the following title, ‘To the Land of the Leal, tune (Hey tutti taiti) played when Robert Bruce led his troops to Battle at Bannock-Burn.’ The song commences:

I’m wearin’ awa, John
Like snaw wreaths when it’s thaw, John

Appended to this song were the ‘old words,’ i.e., the Jacobit song ‘Weel may we a’ be’ before referred to. The song underwent many changes, and its authorship remained for a great number of years a mystery. In 1837 it appeared in Finlay Dun & Thomson’s ‘Vocal Melodies of Scotland.’ Here the name John was changed to ‘Jean’; the song was then frequently asserted to be by Burns, written on his deathbed and addressed to his wife Jean. It was also sung, slightly altered, in the Waverley drama, ‘The Heart of Midlothian, produced by Scott’s friend D. Terry.

The truth of the matter, as elicited from Lady Nairne when an old lady, is that she was the authoress, and that the song was written in 1798 or late in 1797, upon the death of the baby of a friend of hers, Mrs. Campbell Colquhoun of Killermont. She originally wrote the first line ‘I’m wearing awa’, John,’ but who was the first to change the name into Jean it is now impossible to say; modern versions, however, accept this as the correct form.

The Land O’ the Leal Lyrics

I’m wearin awa’, John, like snaw wreaths in thaw, John
I’m wearin awa’ to the Land o’  the leal
There’s nae sorrow there, John, there’s neight cauld nor care, John
The days aye fair I’ the land o’ the leal.

Second Verse

You’ve been leal an’ true, John, your  tasks ended noe, John
And I’ll welcome you to the land o’ the leal
Then dry your tearful e’e, John, My soul langs to be free, John
And angels beckon me to the land o’ the leal.