Sic a Wife as Willie had

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X:1 T:Sic a Wife as Willie had M:C L:1/8 R:Air N:”Old” B:Gow – Sixth Collection of Strathspey Reels (1822) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:F F2 FG (BA) GF|G2G2 _e2 dc|B2~B2 _e2 dc|B2 (_E2G2B2)| F2 FG (BA) (GF)|G2A2 f2 ed|~c2 dc TB2 cB|A2(F2A2c2):| |:f2fe f2c2|(fe) (fg) f2 cd|_e2 e2 {f}e2 dc|B2 (_E2G2B2)| F2 FG BA GF|G2A2 f2 ed|~c2 dc TB2 cB|A2 (F2A2c2):||

SIC A WIFE AS WILLIE HAD. AKA - "Willie Wastle," "Willie Wastle Dwalt on Tweed." AKA and see "Eight Men of Muidart (1)." Scottish, Air (whole time). F Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. “Old” says Gow, referring to the tune to which Poet Robert Burns wrote words for, "Eight Men of Muidart (1)." His poem “Sic a Wife as Willie had” was originally written to it, but also has been set to the melody "Tibbie Fowler o' the Glen."

Willie Wastle dwalt on Tweed,
The spot they ca'd it Linkumdoddie;
Willie was a wabster gude,
Cou'd stown a clue wi' ony bodie;
He had a wife was dour and din,
O Tinkler Madgie was her mither;
Sic a wife as Willie had,
I wadna gie a button for her!

Burns composed the cutting verses in the kitchen of Crook Inn in the Scottish Borders in 1792, while traveling between Edinburgh and Dumfries. They lampooned the ugly wife of his close friend, weaver Willie Wastle, pointing out rather crudely all her blemishes and referring to her rotten teeth and how her chin and nose threatened each other.

A response was written in the form of a story by Berwick-on-Tweed writer John Mackay Wilson (1804-1835) in his book Tales of the Borders and Scotland (in several volumes, published 1834-40), whose stories were very popular in their time. His "Willie Wastle's Account of His Wife," is based on the poem by Burns and is told by a fictional Willie himself. It begins with a couplet from the poem, then:

"It was a very cruel dune thing in my neebor, Robert Burns, to mak a sang aboot my wife and me,” said Mr. William Wastle, as he sat with a friend over a jug of reeking toddy, in a tavern near the Bridge-end in Dumfries, where he had been attending the cattle market; "I didna think it was neebor-like," he added; "indeed it was a rank libel upon baith her and me; and I took it the worse, inasmuch as I always had a very high respect for Maister Burns. Though he said that I 'dwalt on Tweed,' and that I 'was a wabster,' yet everybody kenned wha the song was aimed at. Neither did my wife merit the description that has been drawn o' her; for, although she was nae beauty, and hand a face like a wax-doll, yet there were thousands o' waur looking women to be met wi' than my Kirsty...

Alan Cunningham, in his Life of Burns had this to say of Willie and his wife:

He was a farmer, who lived near Burns, at Ellisland. She was a very singular woman--tea, she said, would be the ruin of the nation; sugar was a sore evil; wheaten bread was only fit for babies; earthenware was a pickpocket; wooden floors were but fit for threshing upon; slated roofs, cold; feathers good enough for fowls. In short, she abhorred change: and whenever anything new appeared-- such as harrowers with iron teeth--'Ay! ay!' she would exclaim, 'ye'll see the upshot!' Of all things modern she disliked china the most--she called it 'burnt clay,' and said 'it was only for for handling' the Brooklyn o' stinkin' weeds,' as she called tea. On one occasion, an English dealer in cups and saucers asked so much for his wares, that he exasperated a peasant, who said, 'I canna purchase, but I ken ane that will. Gang there' said he, point to the house of Willie's wife, 'dinna be blate or burd-moothed; ask a guid penny--she has the siller!' Away went the poor dealer, spread out his wares before her, and summed up all by asking a double price. A blow from her crummock was his instant reward, which not only fell upon his person, but damaged his china. 'I'll learn ye,' quoth she, as she heard the saucers jingle, 'to come wi' yer brasent English face, and yer bits o' burnt clay to me!' She was an unlovely dame--her daughters, however, were beautiful.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Johnson (Scots Musical Museum, vol. 4), 1792; p. 389. Gow (Sixth Collection of Strathspey Reels), 1822; p. 31.

Recorded sources: -Culburnie Records CUL , Aladair Fraser, Muriel Johnstone & Natalie Haas – “Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, vol. 2” ().

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