New Johnny Cope

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NEW JOHNNY COPE. Scottish, Air or March (cut time). E Minor. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABBCCDDEEFFGGHHIIJJ. Gentleman-amateur fiddler Capt. Robert Riddell of Glenriddell, who resided at Friars' Carse was a friend and companion of Robert Burns, whom the poet met in 1788, shortly after he moved into neighboring Ellisland Farm. The two shared literary and musical interestes, and Burns used some of Riddell's airs for his songs. Riddell attributes the tune to James Clarke (1761-1825), a teacher at Moffat Grammar School (since 1786) and also a friend of Burns. Three year prior to Riddell's 1794 publication, Clarke had been charged with cruelty to his pupils and was dismissed from his position. With considerable help from Burns, Riddell and Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch, Clarke fought his dismissal, traveling to Edinburgh in 1791 to appeal the charges and clear his name. He bore with him a letter of introduction written by Burns to his friend, Mr. Alexander Cunningham, which begins:

Let me interst you, my dear Cunningham, in behalf of the gentleman who give you this. He is Mr. Clarke of Moffat, principal schoolmaster there, and is at present suffering severely under the persecution of one or two powerful individuals of his employers. He is accused of harshness to some perverse dunces that were placed under his care. God help the teacher, if a man of genius and sensibility,--for such is my friend Clarke,--when a blockhead father presents him with his booby son, and insists on having the rays of science lighted up in a fellow's head whose skull is impervious and inaccessible by another means than a positive fracture with a cudgel; a fellow whom, in fact, it savours of impiety to attempt making a scholar of, as he has been marked a blockhead in the book of fate at the almighty fiat of his creator.

Clarke's chief accuser was Mr. Williamson, factor for the Earl of Hopetoun, the principle landowner of the Parish. The case dragged on for some time, pursued legally by the Earl until it was resolved in Clarke's favor later in 1792. The teacher was reinstated, and continued in his position in Moffat until 1794, after which he was offered a more lucrative position at the Burgh School in Forfar. Burns' had loaned Clarke money during his time of need, and when the poet fell on hard times a few years later he asked Clarke to repay him the money. It came back to him in drips and drabs, and was not fully repaid by the time of Burns' death. Clarke, meanwhile, succeeded at Forfar, and at his next appointment as rector of the grammar school of Cupar-Fife, which he held from 1802-1820.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Riddell (Collection of Scotch Galwegian Border Tunes), 1794; p. 36.

Recorded sources:




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