War, Empire, Slavery:

Radicalism in the work of Robert Tannahill

  

Robert Tannahill was born in Paisley, Scotland, in June 1774 and drowned himself there in May 1810. All of his adult life he worked as a weaver but in his last twelve years he wrote over seventy poems, one hundred songs and a play.

 

 

Tannahill is probably best known for his song ‘The Braes o’ Balquither’. It has mutated over the years into ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ having ‘passed through the hands’ of many other singers and folk song collectors – Tannahill’s opening lines are ‘Let us go, lassie go/ Tae the Braes o’ Balquhither’ and his final stanza contains the phrase ‘wild mountain thyme’. It became ‘Will ye go, Lassie go’ or ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’ at the hands of Francis McPeake of Belfast and was recorded by his family in the 1950s. An interesting comparison can be made between the lyric of Francis McPeake and that of Tannahill. This is Tannahill’s second stanza:

 

I will twine thee a bower,

By the clear siller fountain,

And I’ll cover it o’er

Wi’ the flowers o’ the mountain;

I will range through the wilds,

And the deep glens sae dreary,

And return wi’ their spoils,

To the bower o’ my deary.[1]

 

And this is Francis McPeake’s written in 1947:

 

I will build my love a tower

Near yon cool crystal fountain;

And on it I will place

All the flowers of the mountain.

Will ye go lassie go?

And we’ll all go together,

To pluck wild mountain thyme

All around the bloomin’ heather.

Will ye go lassie go?

 

It is in this incarnation that the song is currently popular and that it remains so is a reflection of the strength of Tannahill’s version. Given that the locality the lyric refers to is the burial place of Rob Roy McGregor (1671-1734), it is possible that the tune goes back some time before 1740. Tannahill’s lines are suggestive of McGregor’s life so it is possible Tannahill had him in mind when he wrote:

I will range through the wilds,

    An’ the deep glens sae dreary,

An’ return wi’ their spoils,

    Tae the bow’r o’ my deary.[2]

 

According to the Scottish folk song collector Jack Campin an earlier lyric, very different from Tannahill’s, was published by John Hamilton in 24 Scots Songs in 1796.[3] Robert Burns put the lyric ‘Peggy Allison’ to the tune and later R. A. Smith modified the tune in the light of Tannahill’s lyric, giving the modified tune the title, ‘The Three Carles o’ Buchanan’.

Hamish Henderson has hinted at the political nature of this type of pastoral song lyric:

‘The Braes o’ Balquhidder’ is Tannahill’s contribution to a well-established genre in European folk-song. It is the call of the town-bred boy to his girl to have a country holiday, and enjoy sex and scenery ‘where glad innocence reigns’. The best of these songs have a wonderful and often poignant lyric freshness - especially those composed at the time the Industrial Revolution was turning many of our towns into smoky hell-holes.[4]

 

Throughout the nineteenth century Tannahill was categorised as a writer of ideologically neutral pastoral songs in which he brought scenes from nature and the Scottish countryside to life by virtue of his delicate lyrics. Other aspects of his work have been almost totally ignored in terms of critical engagement.[5] There are strong political threads running through much of his poetry, his play (entitled The Soldier’s Return) and his songs. He often considers the issues of war, slavery and patronage; he also espouses a consistent philosophical view (derived in part from Burns) which attacks the over valuing of wealth and power in comparison with the worth of human beings. Tannahill was consistently critical of merchants, the wealthy and inhuman practices he seen as connected to the expansion of capitalism. He saw relationships between empire and war, and that these were also related to the new emphasis on the cash nexus as a determinant of human relationships. In this sense he took a view of the world that was far more radical than the picture painted of him as a neutral pastoral lyricist.

Key to much of Tannahill’s work was his response to the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (1793-1815). Like Thomas Paine, Tannahill saw war as a ‘system’ and empire, whether Napoleonic or British, as based on the maintenance of a state of perpetual war.[6] He was cynical with regard to the peace negotiations entered into by the short-lived Whig administration in 1806. In August that year he wrote to his friend James King:

[…] it is hard to say what we may expect from the present negotiations not knowing whether they wish peace at all, or if it is some political shuffle.[7]

 

The war with France threw up of huge amount of poetry and song in Scotland and Britain. Much of this writing was highly patriotic and virulently anti-French. While Tannahill was prone to moments of anti-Napoleonic sentiment his response to the war was complex and thoughtful. In writing about the war with France he chose to concentrate on the abstract problem of war rather than openly take sides. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence in Tannahill’s extant writing to suggest that he opposed the war with France, even if that opposition was expressed in a circumscribed manner by which he avoided the charge of traitor and the disapproval of ‘worthies’ both local and national: ‘To oppose the war was to subject oneself to accusations of treason and the violence of “Church and King” mobs’.[8]

Tannahill’s clearest statement on the Napoleonic wars is probably that given in his ‘Epistle’ of 14th March 1808, addressed to the poet and weaver Robert Allan of Kilbarchan:  

How fares my worthy friend, the Bard?

Be peace and honour his reward,

May every ill that gars us fyke,

Ill webs, toom pouches and sic like,

And ought that would his spirit bend,

Be ten miles distant from my friend.

Alas! this wicked endless War,

Rul’d by some vile, malignant star,

Has sunk poor Britain low indeed,

Has robb’d Industry o’ her bread,

And dash’d the sair-won cog o’ crowdy,

Frae mony an honest eident body,

While genius dying thro’ neglect,

Sinks down amidst the general wreck.

  Just like twa cats tied tail to tail,

They worry at it tooth and nail,

They girn, they bite in deadly wrath,

And what is’t for? for nought in faith![9]

 

The ‘wicked endless war’ has been going on much too long for no good cause and the best that can be done is to live as peacefully as one can at a personal level.

Tannahill’s attitude to British party politics is not made explicit in his work but there is no reason to suggest it differs from his well documented mistrust of authority, whether in the form of the mercantile class, the King, the church or patrons. Indeed, his position with regard to patronage was one of the few cases where he was unambiguously clear and consistent in his rejection of it:

Rich Gripus pretends he’s my patron and friend,

   That at all times to serve me he’s willing,

But he looks down so sour on the suppliant poor,

   That I’d starve ere I’d ask him one shilling.[10]

 

Elsewhere he writes:

 

I ne’er, as yet, hae found a patron,

For, scorn be till’t! I hate a’ flatt’rin

Besides I never had an itchin’

To slake about a great man’s kitchen,

An’ like a spaniel, lick his dishes,

An’ come an’ gang just to his wishes;[11]

         

For Tannahill, the war has by 1808 become driven by the imperial ambitions of France and Britain, and is only of benefit to those in positions of power. Astonishingly, as he continues his ‘Epistle to Robert Allan’ from the line, ‘And what is’t for? for nought in faith!’, Tannahill argues that Britain faces every prospect of being defeated by Napoleon and would be better withdrawing from war in Europe:

But Lourie’s [France is] raised to sic degree,

John [Britain] would be wise to let him be;

Else aiblins, as he’s wearin’ aul’,

Frank yet may tear him spawl fae spawl,         

For wi’ the mony chirts he’s gotten,

I fear his constitution’s rotten.

 

The final couplet above is difficult to decipher; whether this is referring to Britain’s (John Bull’s) unwritten constitution as defined in 1688 or to the French Civil Code (Napoleonic Code) is impossible to tell. ‘Chirts’ could mean charts, which fails to throw clearer light on the meaning, or it could mean hugs, squeezes or being squirted upon. If chirts means squeezes then it could mean that France has squeezed Britain so hard that the British constitutional settlement is worthless, and this would chime somewhat with the use of the phrase ‘spawl frae spawl’ (limb from limb) as an extended metaphor regarding the physical state of John Bull’s body. We are then given the following short stanza where Tannahill makes no distinction between any of the warring parties in Europe and it must be assumed that Britain is included amongst these “bullying” parties:

        

     But while the bullying blades o’ Europe

Are boxing ither to a syrup,

Let’s mind oursel’s as weel’s we can,

An live in peace, like man and man,

An’ no cast out and fecht like brutes,

Without a cause for our disputes.[12]

 

This suggests that Tannahill saw the war as a conflict with no benefits for the majority of Europeans. The effects of war and blockade were also destabilising to the weaving economy, giving Tannahill an economic reason for his anti-war standpoint as suggested by the earlier line, ‘Ill webs, toom pouches and sic like’.

*

The campaign for the abolition of slavery was ongoing during Tannahill’s lifetime. He took an abolitionist position and, as he did with war, linked the issue of slavery with empire. In 1805 Tannahill wrote an appreciation of Thomas Campbell’s Pleasures of Hope addressing these issues. Though The Pleasures of Hope is extremely long, it was a poem which made both an impression and Campbell’s reputation:

“The rapture of April, 1799,” says a writer in the Quarterly Review, “on the first appearance of The Pleasures of Hope, was very natural. Burns had lately died. Cowper was sunk in hopeless insanity, soon to be released. […] The moment was fortunate.”[13]

 

In stark contrast to Campbell’s epic, Tannahill’s poem runs to only two stanzas:

 

Lines,

on the “Pleasures of Hope”

 

How seldom ’tis the Poet’s happy lot

T’ inspire his readers with the fire he wrote:

To strike those chords that wake the latent thrill,

And wind the willing passions to his will.

Yes, Campbell, sure that happy lot is thine,

With fit expression ¾ rich from Nature’s mine ¾

Like old Timotheus, skilful plac’d on high,

To rouse revenge, or soothe to sympathy.

Blest Bard! who chose no paltry, local theme,

Kind Hope through wide creation is the same.

 

Yes, Afric’s sons shall one day burst their chains,

Will read thy lines and bless thee for thy pains;

Fame yet shall waft thy name to India’s shore,

Where, next to Brahma, thee they will adore;

And Hist’ry’s page, exulting in thy praise,

Will proudly hand thee down to future days:

Detraction foil’d, reluctant quits her grip,

And carping Envy silent bites her lip.[14]

 

What we see in Tannahill’s ‘Lines’ is not only an admirer of Campbell but someone open to radical ideas. He strongly approves of the general humanitarian principles and internationalism of outlook to which Campbell gave voice. It is interesting that Tannahill penned his ‘Lines, On The Pleasures of Hope’ in 1805, the same year that his friend William McLaren made his passionate, anti-imperialist speech at the first meeting of the Paisley Burns Club. Campbell is a ‘Blest Bard! who chose no paltry, local theme’, and McLaren in his address to the Burns Club describes imperialists as ‘rich with the spoils of a ravaged country, and clotted with the blood of an innocent people’.[15]  So while the Paisley Burns Club was a ‘local’ organisation, McLaren made clear its commitment to a Burnsian conception of mankind the world over being brothers. Although, as Tannahill argues in his poem of appreciation for Campbell, ‘Afric’s sons’ have not yet ‘burst their chains,’ Tannahill’s ‘Lines’ are in thorough agreement with Campbell’s sentiments in The Pleasures of Hope in its totality. Tannahill agreed with Campbell’s view of European imperialist polices in Africa and India as having dire consequences for the inhabitants of these continents. Campbell singles out the Congo as the location of particularly shameful acts, and even today that country is robbed of its resources and many of its people enslaved.[16] Both Campbell and Tannahill are making bold political statements, there is nothing ‘muted’ here.[17] Campbell states:

Did peace descend, to triumph and to save,

When freeborn Britons crossed the Indian wave?

Ah, no! -- to more than Rome’s ambition true,

The Nurse of Freedom gave it not to you!

She the bold route of Europe’s guilt began,

And, in the march of nations, led the van![18]

 

Tannahill gives Campbell his full, unequivocal, support. Tannahill’s lines ‘And Hist’ry’s page, exulting in thy praise/ Will proudly hand thee down to future days’, are of great significance because they highlight the fact that the whole of stanza two envisages a ‘future’ free from British imperialism for both India and Africa. To argue for such a future at a time when the historical trajectory of British capitalism was to seek a replacement for the lost American colonies and expand the empire is nothing other than radical. Subsequent key strands of British identity were formed out of the early nineteenth-century colonial experience and for Tannahill to challenge the future of the British empire was to challenge that historical pathway. Regardless of how circumspect Tannahill may be in his use of Campbell as a figure through which to express a future free of imperialism and slavery, it is a bold and radical act to imagine such a future. Tannahill’s argument here (echoing Campbell) moves beyond the sentimental disapproval of the African slave trade very common in the poetry of the time, and makes a connection between the circumstances of Africa and India, suggesting that these continents are entitled to run their own affairs. To say ‘Afric’s sons shall one day burst their chains’ is highly significant for a poet who was an intensely local writer. It is to recognise that human beings in one locality are entitled to the same rights as those in another locality. His statement that ‘Hope through wide creation is the same’ is confirmation of this. Regardless of whether one lived in Africa, India, Europe or the Americas, ‘Hope’ was seen by Tannahill as a positive force with which to deal with life’s travails at close quarters and was equally distributed throughout humanity as a quality that could lead to social change. There were slaves of African origin dispersed throughout the world and India was largely under the economic and political control of the British. ‘Kind Hope’ could help folk in India and Africa, indeed those living under slavery anywhere, imagine a different and better future for themselves, just as it could for Campbell and Tannahill. Although slave-owning had been made illegal by Court of Session ruling in Scotland in 1778, the trade in slaves was legal when Tannahill wrote ‘Lines on The Pleasures of Hope’ in 1805. And while slavery was abolished in Britain in 1807 the struggle for its ultimate abolition continues, making it difficult to argue with Campbell or Tannahill on the need for ‘Hope’ as a precious emotional and spiritual resource that can help us ‘burst’ the ‘chains’ of slavery.

Tannahill’s printer Stephen Young (1807 edition), printed an anti-slavery tract in 1804.[19] Written by Reformed Presbyterian Pastor Alexander M’Leod, resident in New York, it is unequivocally anti-slavery but engages in arcane theological and some humanist philosophical arguments.[20] I do not think this approach could have held the popular imagination in anything like the way a song or poem can, and like ‘Peter Pindar’ (Dr Wolcot) and Cowper, Tannahill put his ‘Lines’ forward in a forthright manner in the cause of human progress.

By this time a fairly large body of anti-slavery poetry had been written and published. Cowper’s popular and powerful ‘The Negro’s Complaint’ had been in circulation for almost twenty years: ‘with his other anti-slavery ballads it was set to music and sung in the streets’.[21] Pindar’s ‘Azid’ was published in the Scots Magazine of August 1795 and is written in a quasi-Creole style. It would be extremely surprising if Tannahill was not aware of these works. Burns, Wordsworth, James Thompson, William Shenstone, Thomas Moore and numerous others have contributed lines of poetry and song in the anti-slavery cause: while anti-slavery poetry is ‘a diverse, complex and nuanced body of work… certain themes, images, character types, and narrative trajectories do recur again and again’[22] and in this sense Tannahill is far from wholly original.

*

The last piece Tannahill is known to have written was ‘Why Unite to Banish Care’. On Thursday 15th May 1810, he left a copy at the house of composer R. A. Smith:

Two days before his death he showed me several poetical pieces of a most strange texture, and in the afternoon of the same day he called on me again, requesting me to return him a song that had been left for my perusal. I had laid it past in a music book and was unable to find it at the time. It was his last production and he seemed to be much disappointed when, after a long search, I could not procure it for him.[23]

 

       Original Song 

         Air - - “Sons of Momus”

 

Why unite to banish Care?

Let him come our joys to share;

Doubly blest our cup shall flow,

When it soothes a brother’s wo;

’Twas for this the pow’rs divine

Crown’d our board with generous wine.

 

Far be hence the sordid elf

Who’d claim enjoyment for himself;

Come the hardy seaman, lame,

The gallant soldier, robb’d of fame;

Welcome all who bear the woes

Of various kind, that merit knows

 

Patriot heroes, doom’d to sigh,

Idle ’neath Corruption’s eye;

Honest tradesmen, credit-worn,

Pining under fortune’s scorn;

Wanting wealth, or lacking fame,

Welcome all that worth can claim

 

Come, the hoary-headed sage,

Suff’ring more from want than age;

Come, the proud, though needy Bard,

Starving ’midst a world’s regard:

Welcome, welcome, one and all

That feel, on this unfeeling ball.[24]

 

This is a highly democratic and humanist lyric: a cry from the heart, in the name of community and equality. It is one Tannahill’s finest song lyrics and has little to do with the neutral pastoralism so many critics have been keen to impose on his work.

It is significant that Tannahill was buried in the cemetery of Paisley’s West Relief Church. He was not all that keen on church attendance and from the evidence given in a letter to James Barr written on Christmas Eve 1809, had a personal preference for the sermons of his acquaintance, minister at Paisley Abbey, Robert Boog:

save to hear Mr Boog preach I consider it only an unbefitting passing of time to go to any other of our¾ no- I have gone rather far, and will stop.[25]

 

Given Tannahill’s satirical treatment of Kirk Elders and Anti-Burghers in his work, his attendance at these sermons more than likely reflects his personal knowledge and respect for Boog as a poet and man of books and learning, rather than a specific adherence to any particular doctrine of Presbyterianism.

However, the West Relief Church was a venue for radical discussion and they did ‘Welcome, welcome, one and all’ six years after Tannahill’s death, when a large meeting was held to discuss the ‘present Distresses of the County’. At this meeting Mr J. Wilkinson gave the first speech in a debate that was couched in highly Painite terms:

Let us, my fellow Countrymen, instruct our children in their rights; let us inspire them with the love of sacred liberty— Let us teach them that all privilege is founded on exclusion; that government originates from, and its nature ought to be subservient, to the welfare and happiness of the people.

 

In the same speech Wilkinson lambasted the British press – while paraphrasing Pope’s ‘Dunciad’ – for its pro-monarchist and anti-Bonaparte bias:

[W]e hear now from the venal scribblers of the British press only about the divine right of kings, the liberty of Europe (meaning the freedom from the more generous thraldom of Napoleon,) and their “right divine to govern mankind wrong” Legitimate succession, social order, &c…[26]

 

From December 1792 with the publication of the anonymous, anti-French and anti-radical pamphlet, The Paisley Weaver’s Letter to his Neighbours and Fellow Tradesmen, there was a concerted campaign in the British press which conflated the French Revolution with Jacobinism, atheism and treason. Indeed, that same month Isaac Cruikshank (1756-1811) produced his cartoon, Wha Wants Me?, in which Thomas Paine is depicted as a font of ‘atheism’, ‘treachery’, ‘misery’, ‘famine’, and other undesirable social phenomena.[27] Both Paine and Thomas Muir were often labelled ‘Jacobins’ and traitors in the British press although in fact they sided with the Girondins, against the Jacobins, in their opposition to the death sentence imposed on Louis XVI.

From the early 1790s until as late as the 1830s, British government propaganda and the press denounced as a ‘Jacobin’ almost anyone who took a mildly anti-government stance. Throughout Tannahill’s adult life those who supported such views as ‘the sovereignty of the people’, electoral reform, lower-taxes, or higher wages for tradesmen, were often labelled as dangerous radicals and traitors in publications such as The Anti-Jacobin and The Glasgow Courier.[28] Tannahill’s gentle mocking of judges, the King, the uncharitable, the wealthy and the church in his poetry, and his persistence in writing about (and from the viewpoint of) working people, ordinary soldiers and sailors, and the poor in his songs does put him on the side of a progressive, humanist political outlook. His absolute insistence that wealth does not confer on any individual greater value as a human being than anybody else and that poverty does not diminish the value of a human being is, for the particular time he was writing, a radical insistence upon the principle of equality of human worth. Whether or not his perseverance with this principle stems from the influence of writers such as Ramsay, Burns, Pope and Thomas Moore; from Presbyterian radicalism, Painite republicanism, Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, or some combination of these, does not really matter. It is an argument for the dignity, human rights and respect for the humanity of all on this ‘unfeeling ball’. For Tannahill to argue consistently in favour of the principle of equality in his poetry and song at a time when that principle was under enormous attack from the British state highlights his integrity as human being and artist. It is fitting that he was buried in May 1810, in the churchyard where six years later, Mr J. Wilkinson made his long forgotten radical speech in support of the welfare of the poor and ‘sovereignty of the people’.          

Bibliography

 

Manuscript Sources

 

Tannahill, Robert, Letter to James Barr, 24th December, 1809, (Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, MS Robertson, 1/34).

 

Tannahill, Robert, Letter to James King, 3rd August 1806, (National Library of Scotland, MS 582 fol. 681).

 

Tannahill, Robert, Letter to James King, 4th June, 1809, (Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, MS Robertson, 1/24).

 

Tannahill, Robert, Letter to Robert Allan, in verse, 14th March, 1808, (Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, MS Robertson, 1/13).

 

Tannahill, Robert, “Original Song”, [“Why Unite to Banish Care”], (Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, MS Robertson, 1/51.

 

 

Other Sources

 

Amnesty, “Democratic Republic of the Congo”, website: web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr620102003, (Accessed 23/1/06).

 

Anonymous, Paisley Weaver’s Letter to his Neighbours and Fellow Tradesmen, The, (Paisley(?), 20th Dec. 1792).

 

Bennett, Betty, ed., British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism: 1793-1815, (New York, 1976).

 

Brown, Mary Ellen, “Robert Tannahill as a Local Poet”, The Paisley Poets: A critical reappraisal of their work and reputation, Stuart James and Gordon McCrae, eds., (Paisley, 1993), pp. 25-36.

 

Brown, Robert, Paisley Burns Clubs, (Paisley, 1893).

 

Campbell, Thomas, The Complete Poetic Works of Thomas Campbell, Epes Sargent, ed., (Boston, 1859).

 

Campin, Jack, More Scarce Songs, website: http://www.csufresno.edu/folklore/Olson/SONGTXT2.HTM#BRAESBAL                        (Accessed, 17/9/05).

 

Henderson, Hamish, Alias MacAlias, (Edinburgh, 1992).

 

Lee, Debbie, Slavery and the Romantic Imagination, (Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 196-221.

 

M’Leod, Alexander, Negro Slavery - Unjustifiable, (Glasgow, 1804).

 

Paine, Thomas, The Thomas Paine Reader, Foot and Kramnick, eds., (London, 1987).

 

Richardson, Alan, ed., Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation, Vol. 4, (London, 1999).

 

Smith, R. A., cited in William Motherwell, “Essay on the poets of Renfrewshire”, The Harp of Renfrewshire, Motherwell, ed., (Glasgow, 1820), pp. XXXVI-XXXVII.

 

Tannahill, Robert, Poems, Songs and Correspondence of Robert Tannahill: with Life and Notes, David Semple, ed., (Paisley, 1876).

 

Tannahill, Robert, The Soldier’s Return: A Scottish Interlude in two acts; with other Poems and Songs, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, (Paisley, 1807).

 

Tannahill, Robert, The Songs and Poems of Robert Tannahill, Alexander Reekie, ed., (Paisley, 1911).

 

Wilkinson, J., Report of the Meeting, held in the Relief Church, Paisley, On Saturday 5th October, 1816, To consider the present Distresses of the County, their Causes, and probable Remedies, (Paisley, 1816).

 

 

 Notes

 


[1] Robert Tannahill, “The Braes o’ Balquither”, Poems, Songs and Correspondence, Semple ed., (Paisley, 1876), p. 238.

[2] Robert Tannahill, “The Braes o’ Balquither”, Poems, Songs and Correspondence, Semple ed., (Paisley, 1876), p. 238.

[3] Jack Campin, http://www.csufresno.edu/folklore/Olson/SONGTXT2.HTM#BRAESBAL

Accessed, 17/9/05.

Lyric as published in 1796 given on Campin’s website -

 

The Braes o' Bowhether.

 

Now the day's growin' lang lass,

an' sweet shines the weather,

an' we'll owre a' the hills,

to the Braes o' Bowhether.

Amang the Glens an' Rashy dens,

I'll prize thee without measure,

Within my arms, wi' a' thy charms,

I'll clasp my lovely treasure,

In sweetest Love, our time will move,

wi' mair than earthly pleasure;

By the little limpid streams,

On the Braes o' Bowhether.

 

An' I'll ay loe thee dearly,

Ilk day wes' forgather,

Syne we'll row on the fog,

By the Braes o' Bowhether;

To Pipe or Flute, when time will suit,

We'll dance like ony feather,

An', skip the knowes where Claver grows,

or stray amang the Heather;

Ay free frae strife in sic a life,

There, weary shall we never,

By the limpid little streams,

On the Braes o' Bowhether.

 

[4] Hamish Henderson, Alias MacAlias, (Edinburgh, 1992), p. 281.

[5] Even as late as 1911 the Tannahill biographer Alexander Reekie argued: “The Revolution settlement was the last word in British politics, and any amendment of its supposed imperfections implied chaos and the wild inferno of French revolutionary reforms. From all this Tannahill stood aloof; it was not his temperament to meddle with such matters”. The Songs and Poems of Robert Tannahill, Alexander Reekie, ed., (Paisley, 1911), p. xxxviii.

[6] Tannahill wrote to his friend James King: “I sympathise with you but can administer little consolation— I see no end of this war system— however, this much to ballance your present situation— The people in Paisley have been so hard-[forc’d] for some years past, that you would not, even here, find all the happiness that you perhaps imagine”. Robert Tannahill, Letter to James King, 4 June 1809, (Glasgow University Library, Special Collections,  MS Robertson 1/24).

[7] Robert Tannahill, Letter to James King, August 3rd 1806, (National Library of Scotland, NLS 582 fol. 681).

[8] Betty Bennett, ed., British War Poetry in the Age of Romanticism: 1793–1815, (New York, 1976), p. 23.

[9] Robert Tannahill, Letter to Robert Allan, 14th March, 1808, (Glasgow University Library, Special Collections, MS Robertson 1/13).

[10] Robert Tannahill, (Paisley, 1807), p. 139.

[11] Robert Tannahill, (Paisley, 1807), p. 106.

[12] Robert Tannahill, Letter to Robert Allan,14th March, 1808, (GUL, Spec Colls., MS Robertson 1/13).

[13] Epes Sargent, “Life of Campbell”, The Complete Poetic Works of Thomas Campbell, ed., Epes Sargent, (Boston, 1859), p. 24.

[14] Robert Tannahill, (Paisley, 1807), p. 99.

[15] WIlliam McLaren, in Brown, Paisley Burns Clubs, (Paisley, 1893), p. 41.

[16] The mining of Coltan, a mineral which is essential for the electronics industry, has caused massive environmental damage and human misery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The wealth accumulated from Coltan mining has been used to fund armies of whatever kind, and brought slavery to the fore as an everyday practice. See United Nations and Amnesty reports from mid 1990s to the present. Amnesty website: web.amnesty.org/library/index/engafr620102003, “Democratic Republic of the Congo”, accessed 23/1/06.  

[17] Mary Ellen Brown argues that in most of Tannahill’s poetry “Other references to the times are more muted”. However, there are occasions when the mute comes off, “Lines, on The Pleasures of Hope” being one example. Mary Ellen Brown, Paisley Poets: a critical reappraisal, James & McCrae, eds., (Paisley, 1993), p. 32.

[18] Thomas Campbell, (Boston, 1859), p. 120.

[19] The only edition of Tannahill’s work printed in his lifetime was The Soldier’s Return with Other Poems and Song: Chiefly in the Scots Dialect, (Paisley, 1807).   

[20] Alexander M’Leod, Negro Slavery - Unjustifiable, (Glasgow, 1804).

[21] Alan Richardson, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation Vol. 4, (London, 1999), p. 74.

[22] Alan Richardson, (London, 1999), p. x. See also Debbie Lee, Slavery and the Romantic Imagination, (Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 196-221.

[23] R. A. Smith, in The Harp of Renfrewshire, ed. Motherwell, (Glasgow, 1820), p. XL.

[24] Robert Tannahill, “Original Song” (GUL Spec. Colls., MS Robertson 1/51).

[25] Robert Tannahill, letter to James Barr, 24th December 1809, GUL Spec Colls. MS Robertson 1/34.

[26] J. Wilkinson, in Report of the Meeting, Held in the Relief Church, Paisley, On Saturday 5th October, 1816, To consider the present Distresses of the County, their causes and probable Remedies, (Paisley, 1816), pp. 6-7. This pamphlet was published by John Neilson.

[27] Cruikshank’s cartoon is reproduced on the front cover of The Thomas Paine Reader, eds., Foot and Kramnick, (London, 1987).

[28] J. Wilkinson, in Report of the Meeting, Held in the Relief Church, (Paisley, 1816), p. 6. The Glasgow Courier was founded in 1791, later edited by William Motherwell, it was extremely pro-monarchy and anti-reform. The Anti-Jacobin appeared weekly from 20th November 1797 to 7th July 1798 under the editorship of William Gifford, its founder was George Canning a colleague of Pitt’s.