Annotation:Willie was a Wanton Wag

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X:1 T:Will was a wanton Wag M:C| L:1/8 B:Daniel Wright – Aria di Camera (London, 1727, No. 70) N:”being A Choice Collection of Scotch, Irish & Welsh Airs N:for the Violin and German Flute by the following masters N:Mr. Alex. Urquahart of Edinburgh, Mr. Dermot O'Connar of Limrick N:Mr. Hugh Edwards of Carmarthen” F: Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:D F2A2A2B2|d3e d2A2|F2A2A2f2|e2d2B4| F2A2A2B2|dcde d2A2|F2A2A2d2|B2d2 D4|| F2a2e2f2|Td3e f2 (ed)|fg a2a2 gf|e2d2 TB4| a3g f2e2|Td3 e f2g2|a2A2A2 f2|e2f2 d4||

WILLIE WAS A WANTON WAG. AKA - "Willy was a Wanton Wag." AKA and see “Clare's Dragoons,” “Constitution March.” Scottish; Air, Strathspey, Polka or Scots Measure. USA, New England. C Major (Thomson): D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Thomson): AABB (McGlashan, Miller & Perron, Kerr): AABBCCDDEEFF (Oswald): AABBCCDDEEFFGGHH (McGibbon). The instrumental version of the tune appears several 18th century publications and manuscripts, and can be found in James Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion, vol. 5 (1760), Neil Stewart’s Select Collection of Scots English Irish and Foreign Airs Jiggs & Marches (1788) , the McLean Collection published by James Johnson in Edinburgh in 1772 (pp. 24-25), and Robert Riddel's 1794 Scotch, Galwegian, and Border Tunes (set by James Clark). The first publication however (according to A. Fleischmann), was in Daniel Wright’s Aria Di Camera: A Choice Collection of Scotch, Irish, and Welsh Airs (London, 1727, No. 70), followed by an appearance in William Thomson's Orpheus Caledonius (1733). A few years later it was heard as the air to a song in James Ralph’s ballad opera The Fashionable Lady, or Harlequin's Opera (1730, Air 20). Edinburgh fiddler and writing master biography:David Young, in his MacFarlane Manuscript of 1740 ("Written for the use of Walter Mcfarlan of that ilk"), included the tune with numerous variation sets attributed to William Forbes of Disblair (1661-1740).

Poet Allan Ramsay (1686-1758) printed the song version of "Willie was a Wanton Wag" in his Tea Table Miscellany, and attributed it to "W.W." It is historically thought (by Stenhouse and others) that the intials refer to William Walkinshaw of Renfrewshire, an attribution poet Robert Burns as mentions as having heard. However, there may not have been an individual of that name in the family. David Laing thought it more probably was written by Lieutenant William Hamilton (d. 1751) of Gilberfield, Lanarkshire, whose sobriquet was "Wanton Willie" (W.W.), a friend and correspondent of Ramsay and himself a writier of Scottish verse. Ramsay's version begins:

Willie was a wanton wag,
The blithest lad that e'er I saw;
At bridals still he bore the brag,
And carry'd aye the gree awa:
His doublet was of Zetland shag,
And wow! but Willie he was braw,
And at his shoulder hung a tag,

He was a man without a clag,
His heart was frank without a flaw;
And aye whatever Willie said,
It was hidden as a law.
His boots they were made of the jag,
When he went to the weapon-shaw,
Upon the green nane durst him brag,
The fiend a ane amang them a'.

Poet Robert Burns (1759 - 1796) wrote a song ("There was a lass") to the tune of "Bonnie Jean" and sent it to his publisher Thomson for his collection. Thomson printed the song in his Scottish Songs (p. 40) but declined Burns' suggestion of the air and instead adapted it to the tune of "Willie was a wanton wag." Burns' heroine was Miss Jean Macmurdo (afterwards Mrs. Crawford) eldest daughter of John Macmurdo, Esq. of Drumlanrig. "I have not painted her," said the poet, "in the rank which she holds in life, but in the dress and character of a cottager"[1]. Burns' words begin:

There was a lass, and she was fair!
At kirk and market to be seen
When a' our fairest maids were met,
The fairest maid was bonnie Jean.

And ay she wrought her country wark,
And ay she sang sae merrilie :
The blythest bird upon the bush
Had ne'er a lighter heart than she.

The song was one of the Scottish songs arranged by Classical composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) for Scottish publisher George Thomson [JHW. XXXII/1 no. 4, Hob. XXXIa no. 4]. It was the original tune for the American campaign song “Jefferson and Liberty” penned by ornithologist-painter Alexander Wilson. In early American collections it can be found as “Constitution March,” while in Ireland it is a song air and polka called “Clare'e Dragoons/The Clare Dragoons.”

Additional notes

Printed sources : - Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 1), 1782; p. 17. James Johnson (Scots Musical Museum), Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 3), c. 1880’s; No. 378, p. 42. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 4), c. 1880's; No. 60, p. 9. McGlashan (Collection of Scots Measures), 177?; p. 6. McGibbon (Scots Tunes, Book 1) c. 1746; p. 12 (includes variation sets). Miller & Perron (101 Polkas), 1978; No. 19. Oswald (Caledonian Pocket Companion, Book V), 1760; p. 24. Edward Riley (Riley Flute Melodies vol. 2), New York, 1817; No. 140, p. 42. William Thomson (Orpheus Caledonius, vol. 2), 1733; No. 26, p. 105. Daniel Wright (Aria di Camera), London, 1727; No. 70.

See also listing at :
See a standard notation transcription of the melody from David Young's MacFarlane Manuscript (c. 1740) [1]

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  1. Alexander Whitelaw, The Book of Scottish Song, 1843, p. 40.