Textual Editing: History of the Gentle Shepherd and the sources

Research output: Contributions to conferencesPaper



Ramsay claimed it was John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera that inspired him to transform the play into a ballad opera complete with 21 songs (Laing.II.212: B24A, p. 42 fol 2-4), but the earlier 5-act play version also included 4 songs: the love duet between Patie and Peggy, a song sung by Maud, a rousing drunken number sung by Bauldy and in the finale: ‘Corn Riggs’. They even appear in his 1724 manuscript (GB-En: MS 15972).

Some of these tunes, such as ‘Corn Riggs’ are found in several early Scottish manuscript sources including the Balcarres Lute book, Margaret Sinkler’s music book and the Gairdyn MS. But we have also found several of the tunes printed in John and Henry Playford publications including The Dancing Master, Apollo’s Banquet and Collection of Original Scottish Tunes, and Thomas D’Urfey’s Pills to Purge. Some tunes, such as ‘The Bonny Grey Eye’d Morn’ even appear in Gay’s Beggar’s Opera. However, it isn’t easy to choose one authoritative example of what might have been in Ramsay’s head, since neither the manuscript or print sources include lyrics.

That being said, those who were in Ramsay’s circle did include music notation in their London ballad opera publications. Theophilus Cibber, who shortened The Gentle Shepherd to a 2-act ballad opera called Patie and Peggy (1730) publicly thanked Ramsay in his preface, and prints 13 of the 22 songs with music notation and underlaid lyrics. Ramsay’s friend Joseph Mitchell also included several of the songs in his ballad opera The Highland Fair (1731). What’s more intriguing is that these two publications are produced by the same printer, John Watt, who used the same plate with the music notation for both these publications.

Though later editions are often used as authoritative examples of “Ramsay’s music”, Ramsay had no hand in their production (see Purser, 2009). In fact, it wasn’t until 1758 (the year of Ramsay’s death) that the printer Robertson produced a Gentle Shepherd edition with music notation. This edition has similar issues to Stuart. Often the lyrics do not easily fit to the tune and notation is taken from popular fiddle books of the day. The 1788 Foulis edition provides a more complete musical arrangement of the songs including the melody line, underlaid lyrics and a bass part, but in a similar way to the 1758, there are a number of inconsistencies when compared to each other and musical sources contemporary to Ramsay. The team have taken the decision to (where possible) gather pre-1758 sources for tunes found in The Gentle Shepherd and in doing so, we have for the first time, a range of musical sources that reflect the types of tunes in circulation during Ramsay’s lifetime.


Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 7 Feb 2019
EventTextual Editing - Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Feb 20197 Feb 2019


WorkshopTextual Editing
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom