Annotation:'Twas within a Furlong of Edinburgh Town

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'TWAS WITHIN A FURLONG OF EDINBURGH TOWN. English, Air and Country Dance Tune (whole time). G Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABBCCDD. The tune was published in Henry Playford's Dancing Master, 9th edition (1696, p. 213) with directions for a longways country dance. It was retained in subsequent editions of the Dancing Master through the 18th and final edition of 1728. It was also published by rival London music publisher John Walsh in his Compleat Country Dancing Master, 1718, 1731, and 1754, and in his Compleat Country Dancing Master, Volume the Fourth (1740). The melody was used as the vehicle for airs in a number of period London ballad operas, including Edward Phillips The Chamber-Maid (1735), William Rufus Chetwood's The Lover's Opera (1729), John Gay's Polly (1729), The Devil to Pay, or the Wives Metamorphos'd (1731), Charles Johnson's The Village Opera (1729), The Footman (1732), John Arthur's The Lucky Discovery, or the Tanner of York (1738), and others. The song remains part of the core repertoire of British traditional music today.

" 'Twas within a furlong of Edinburgh town" is not a Scottish song, despite the title. Johnson (1984) states it was not based on a traditional tune, but rather on a mock Scottish theatre song. The music for “’Twas within a Furlong of Edinbrough Town” has often been credited to English composer Henry_Purcell (1658-1695), just as poet Thomas_D'Urfey is sometimes credited with the lyric, and the two did work together on occasion. However, some sources credit the music to a younger contemporary of Purcell, Jeremiah_Clarke[1] (1674-1707). D'Urfey printed his song of seduction in the first volume of his Wit and Mirth; or, Pills to Purge Melancholy (1719-20), set to Purcell/Clarke's melody, which was first published in Deliciae Musicae, vol. III (1696), under the title "A Scotch Tune" with the alternate title "'Twas within a furlong of Edinburgh town." D'Urfey's first stanza goes:

'Twas within a furlong of Edinborough Town,
In the rosy time of year when the grass was down;
Bonny Jocky blithe and gay,
Said to Jenny making hay,
Let's sit a little (dear) and prattle, 'tis a sultry day.
He long had courted the black-brown maid,
But Jocky was a wag and would ne'er consent to wed,
Which made her Pish and Pooh,
And cry out it will not do,
I cannot, cannot, wonnot, wonnot buckle to.

D'Urfey had more explicit rhymes, but this one centers on a girl who knows full-well that to give into Jockey's persuasion and offer of trinkets in return for her maidenhead would undoubtedly lead to life of prostitution in the big city. She will be with him, she states, but as a wife and not a mistress. A reworking (i.e. sanitized) version of the song with a different melody was printed in James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum, vol. 1 (1787) as "Within a Mile of Edinburgh."

The tune was altered and adapted c. 1736-40 by Charles McLean for a sonata, after Henry Purcell's piece. The title is the first line of Purcell's song.

The tune is mentioned in an odd political tract entitled A Second Tale of a Tub: or the History of Robert Powell, the Puppet-Show-man (1715). A crowd of spectators was present for an organ performance, at the conclusion of which the various factions in the audience began to call for their favorite tunes. Amongst the crowed were:

a parcel of brawny fellows with Mantles about their shoulders, and blew caps about their heads. Next to them sate a company of clownish look’d Fellows with leather breeches, and hob nail’d shoes...the great booby hod nailed fellows whose breeches and lungs seem’d to be of the same leather, cried out for “Cheshire Rounds,” “Roger of Coverley,” “Joan’s Placket,” and “Northern Nancy.” Those with the Blew bonnets had very good voices, and split their Wems in hollowing out—“Bonny Dundee”—“Valiant Jockey,” “Sauny was a Bonny Lad,” and “’Twas within a Furlong of Edinburgh Town.”

Additional notes
Source for notated version : - the McFarlane MS, 1740 (appears as "Edinburgh Town") [Johnson].

Printed sources : - Elias Howe (Musician’s Omnibus Nos. 6 & 7), Boston, 1880-1882; p. 614. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1984; No. 66, pp. 180-182. James Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 4), 1760; p. 32. John Walsh (Complete Country Dancing-Master, Volume the Fourth), London, 1740; No. 37.

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  1. See Cyrus Lawrence Day, The Songs of Thomas D'Urfey, Cambridge (MA.), 1933.