Volume VI, song 551, page 570 - 'O once I lov'd' - Scanned...
Volume VI, song 551, page 570 - 'O once I lov'd' - Scanned from the 1853 edition of the 'Scots Musical Museum', James Johnson and Robert Burns (Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1853)
Verse 1: 'O once I lov'd a bonnie lass, An' aye I love her still an' whilst that virtue warms my breast I'll love my handsome Nell.'
The 'Scots Musical Museum' is the most important of the numerous eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections of Scottish song. When the engraver James Johnson started work on the second volume of his collection in 1787, he enlisted Robert Burns as contributor and editor. Burns enthusiastically collected songs from various sources, often expanding or revising them, whilst including much of his own work. The resulting combination of innovation and antiquarianism gives the work a feel of living tradition.
Burns met Nellie Kirkpatrick (1760-1820), the inspiration for and subject of this song, when he was harvesting at the age of 15. He described her as a 'bonie, sweet, sonsie lass' and later claimed she had initiated him in the arts of love. Nellie had a favourite song which Burns felt inspired to compose lyrics for. This song is the resulting work and allegedly his first ever set of lyrics. The tune was supposed to have been called 'I am a man unmarried', but there is no longer any evidence of this tune. Oddly the tune published in the 'Museum' is thought to be a different and much older tune.