Tam Lin Balladry

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Complaynt of Scotland

Author unknown

Introduction To Complaynt of Scotland

The Complanynt of Scotland is an anonymous political text written around 1549 or 1550, often attributed to Robert Wedderburn, although there is some dispute over this. The text part of the political history of Scotland, a manuscript written in opposition to the unification of Scotland and England that was being pursued by England at the time. In the manuscript, a personification of Scotland, Dame Scotia, argues for Scotland to retain its identity, and in this context, cites aspects of Scottish culture as defense for remaining separate.

From the Preliminary Dissertation

text from pages 231

XIV. The Tale of the Young Tamlene. This seems to have been originally a romance of Faery, and was probably converted, by popular tradition, into a historical ballad, which is still preserved and published in Scott's Minstrelsy of the Border. Fragments of it first appeared in Herd's Scottish Songs, 1776, and Johnson'' Museum, under the titles Kertonha Tam Lyn.

text from pages 273-276

The historical songs, were a species of short romances, which seem frequently to have been introduced, for the sake of variety, into those more extended poems which were recited by fyttes or cantos. Even the long romances seem to have been chaunted to particular tunes ; for the tune of old Gray Steel is mentioned ; and the metrical romance of Roswall and Lilian was very lately sung, to a particular tune, in Edinburgh. In the Complaynt, various musical airs, accommodated to popular dances, are mentioned, which derive their names from historical songs or metrical romances, as John Enmstrangis Dance, Robene Hude, and probably Thom of Lyn, which I imagine to be only a local pronunciation of Tamlene, enumerated among the romances. The fragment of Tamlene, printed in Johnson's Scotish Museum, is entitled "Tam Lin" and it is extremely probable that both forms of the word are corruptions of Thomalin or Tomlin, a name which occurs in the enumeration of rustic names in the Pleugh Song, a strange medley in Forbes Aberdeen Cantus.

  • "And if it be your proper will,
    Gar call your hynds all you till ;
  • Ginkin and Willkin,
    Hankin and Rankin,
    Tarbute and Tomlin. "


The tale of the Young Tamlene, is alluded to in another medley in the same Cantus, where the name is made Thomlin.

  • "The pypers drone was out of tune,
    Sing Young Thomlin
    Be merry, be merry, and twise so merrie,
    With the light of the moon. "
The air of Tamlene, is extremely similar to that of "The Jew's Daughter." The Bace of Voragon, is probably another instance of the metrical romance, adapted to a musical air. Voragon may be a corruption of Veruagu, or Ferragus, a romance which seems to have been popular both in Britain and Ireland. In the list of songs which were popular in Scotland at the period when the Complaynt was composed, we find few which are still extant ; and as no very ancient sets of Scotish airs exist, it is impossible to determine, with absolute certainty, whether those songs which are still preserved, were originally chaunted to their modern airs. Musical airs generally receive their denominations from the songs which are adapted to them j and as various songs are often adapted to the same tune, the air receives its name from the most popular. Hence, the various names which some tunes have in different districts, and the frequent changes of the name of the same tune. Many of the songs of Burns, are adapted to airs which are known to have existed long before that admirable poet Was born, though they do not appear in any collection of musical tunes ; yet, it may be presumed, that in a few years these airs will be generally known by the names of the songs which he has has adapted to them. But simple melodies are less injured by tradition, than the songs to which they belong. Music is an universal language, which speaks, in the same intelligible tone, to all ages and denominations of men. The peasant feels that its voice is addressed to the various emotions of his heart. It soothes the uneasiness of his soul ; it alleviates the fatigue of labour, and amuses the tiresomeness of solitude. He learns to love the airs with which he has often been delighted in his infancy ; and the pleasureable associations with which they are connected, increase with the number of his years. The peasant may change a tune, from the inaptitude of his ear, but he is no musical composer, to alter or mangle the airs with which he is acquainted. He has not learned his favourite airs from a music-master, or in a scientific manner ; but he has acquired them in his infancy, in the bosom of his family ; and, in their tones, he hears the voice of his mother, of his sister, of his youthful love. There is no fibre of his heart which does not vibrate to some of his well known strains : — you cannot improve them to him, you cannot restore him the tones of affection, which he loses by any alteration. Even if he has heard those martial airs which celebrated the deeds of his ancestors, sung by their descendants, his Own relations, who are no more ; would he change these rude barbarous strains, for the most delectable harmony which ever flowed to the enraptured ear of mortals ? No ! The peasant will not change or modify his ancient musical airs, till you drive him into civilized life, and obliterate the ancient tradition. This is no picture of fancy; I recollect thetime, when I should have thought a person guilty of kind kind of sacrilege, who should have changed the ancient airs of Johnie Armstrong, or the Gude Wallace, The airs of most Scotish tunes, which are still chaunted in the pastoral districts of Scotland, are much more simple than the sets which are' found in collections, and which have passed under the hand of a composer. This seems to me to be a strong argument for their antiquity.

From the Complaynt of Scotland

section of text from page 98-99, from a list of Scottish songs

... the tail of floremond of albanye that sleu the dragō be the see, the tail of syr valtir the bald leslye, the tail of the pure tynt, claryades and maliades, Arthour of litil bertangze, robene hude and litil ihone, the meruellis of mādiueil, the tayl of the zōg tamlene, and of the bald braband, the ryng of the roy Robert, syr egtir and syr gryme, beuis of southamtonn, the goldin targe, the paleis of honour, the tayl quhou acteon vas trāformit in ane hart, and syne slane be his auen doggis, the tayl of Pirramus and tesbe, the tail of the amours of leander and hero, ...

(bolding mine. Text most likely means "The Tale of the Song of Tamlene" - ed)

section of text from page 101-103, from a list of Scottish dances

Nor ludius that vas the fyrst dansar of rome culd nocht hef bene comparit to thir scheiphirdis, it vas ane celest recreation to behald ther lycht lopene, galmouding stendling, bakuart & forduart, dansand base dansis, pauuans, galzardis turdions, braulis, and branglis, buffons vitht mony vthir lycht dancis the quhilk ar ouer prolixt to be rehersit zit nochtheles i sal rehers sa mony as my ingyne can put in memorie in the fyrst thai dancit al cristyn mennis dance, the northt of scotland, huntis vp, the comount entray, lang plat fut of gariau, Robene hude, thom of lyn, freris al, ennyrnes, the loch of slene, the gosseps dance, leuis grene, makky, the speyde, the flail the lammes vynde, soutra, cum kyttil me naykyt vantounly, schayke leg, fut befor gossep Rank at the rute, baglap and al, ihonne ermistrangis dance, the alman haye, the bace of voragon, dangeir, the beye, the dede dance, the dance of kylrynne, the vod and the val, schaik a trot, than quhen this dansing vas dune, tha departit and past to cal there scheip to ther scheip cottis thai bleu vp there bagpipis than the bel veddir for blythtnes bleyttit rycht fast and the rammis raschit there heydis to gyddir than the laif of ther fat flokkis follouit on the fellis baytht zouis and lammis kebbis and dailis, gylmyrs and dilmondis, and mony herueist hog, than i departit fra that companye and i entrit in ane onmauen medou the quhilk abundit vitht al sortis of holisum flouris gyrsis and eirbis maist conuenient for medycyn in the fyrst i sau ane erb callit barba aaron quhilk vas gude remeid for emoroyades of the fundament,

(Bolding mine. - ed)

Site Notes

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Added to site October 2014