Annotation:Parson Boasts of Mild Ale (The)

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PARSON BOASTS OF MILD ALE, THE (Moleann an Ministert an Minleanna). Irish, Air (9/8 time, "gaily"). G Major (O'Neill/1915: G Minor (O'Neill/1850). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB. The air is of unknown provenance, despite it's appearance in Thompson's A Select Collection of Original Irish Airs vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1814), and was set to an older song that began "We'll make a bed in the barn". Researcher Paul de Grae finds the song itself was written by Alexander Boswell (1775-1822), son of Dr Johnson’s biographer, and the author of the Scots songs “Jenny's Bawbee” and “Jenny Dang the Weaver (1),” set to the older air. Paul quotes James Cuthbert Hadden, in his book George Thomson: The Friend of Burns: His Life and Correspondence (1898, 220-221), who writes:

The next air sent to Boswell is that of "We'll make a bed in the barn," which Thomson thinks would be "a famous vehicle for a drinking-song, the description of a harvest home, or kirn, or any rural merry-making that may have come under your observation." He feels sure that, furnished as it is with Haydn's symphonies and accompaniments, Boswell will be "perfectly charmed" with it. But Boswell is not charmed. He does not think much of the air; "it is vulgar, although the author of The Creation might draw harmony from any source." The nationality of the air is uncertain, and so, "as few people sing more than one stanza," Boswell sends "an English, an Irish, and a Scotch stanza, which your vivacious friends may take ad libitum." He must add that "the measure is most execrably cramp and creates a troublesome change of accent." If it were not so he would "send some other words of a more general nature, not so peculiarly fitted for topers." The song is that beginning, "The parson boasts of mild ale," which Thomson prints, without the Scotch stanza, in the first volume of his Irish collection [in 1814].

The song ”The Parson Boasts of Mild Ales” was arranged for violin, ‘cello and piano by Haydn in 1803 (Hob XXX1b/61), and published in Thompson's Select Collection, a volume in which every song save this one was set by Ludwig von Beethoven. Boswell's lyric begins:

The parson boasts of mild ale,
The squire of old October,
But little their boasts avail
If guests trudge homewards sober.
To drink's my dear delight,
With boon boys and good liquor;
The squire is a thirsty wight,
But nought can quench the vicar.

So turn the kilderkin up,
In winter and in summer,
Go cool thyself with a cup,
Or warm thee with a rummer.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: O'Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915; No. 15, p. 17. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903; No. 384, p. 67. Thompson (A Select Collection of Original Irish Airs, vol. 1), Edinburgh, 1814; No. 30, p. 70.

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