DESCRIPTION: MacPherson tells how a woman betrayed him to the Laird o' Grant. He challenges all to a duel in defense of his honor. He breaks his fiddle, "the only friend I hae," rather than see it in bad hands. A rider is coming to reprieve him, so he is hanged early
EARLIEST DATE: 1803 (_Scots Musical Museum_ #114); supposedly first appeared by 1710 (ee NOTES)
KEYWORDS: execution betrayal reprieve fiddle outlaw
Nov 16, 1700 - Execution of James MacPherson
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (13 citations):
Whitelaw-Song, pp. 346-347, "Macpherson's Farewell" (1 text)
GreigDuncan3 697, "MacPherson's Rant" (6 texts, 6 tunes)
Robertson-Porter-Gower #15, pp. 134-135, "MacPherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy 348, "MacPherson's Lament" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ord, pp. 443, "M'Pherson's Farewell" (1 text)
MacSeegTrav 88, "Macpherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 163-169, "Mary Hamilton" (2 texts plus a fragment, with the "C" fragment containing parts of "MacPherson's Lament"; 3 tunes; the tune for the "MacPherson" portion is not given)
Silber-FSWB, p. 205, "MacPherson's Farewell" (1 text)
DT, MACPHER* MACPHER2* MCPHERST
ADDITIONAL: James Kinsley, editor, Burns: Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #196,, pp. 306-307, "McPherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune, from 1788)
Robert Chambers, The Scottish Songs (Edinburgh, 1829), Vol I, pp. 83-85, "MacPherson's Farewell"
James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume II, #114, p. 117 "McPherson's Farewell" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kenneth Norman MacDonald, "The Gesto Collection of Highland Music," 1895 (reprinted 1997 by Llanerch Publishers), p. 107, "MacPherson's Lament" (1 tune, presumably this)
ST K348 (Full)
Jimmy MacBeath, "MacPherson's Lament" (on Lomax43, LomaxCD1743)
Davie Stewart, "MacPherson's Rant" (on Voice08)
cf. "MacPherson's Rant" (subject)
NOTES [302 words]: Legends about MacPherson's death are many. The basic one has it that he played this tune before his death and offered the fiddle to anyone who could play it back for him. None could, so he broke the fiddle rather than leave it in incompetent hands. The (ruins of) the instrument are now said to be in the MacPherson clan museum in Inverness-shire.
That MacPherson was a freebooter seems almost certain -- but only spite could have hung him for his deeds; most of Scotland was the same way!
The earliest reported version of this piece seems to have been Burns's, but (given the variations), it seems certain that several traditional forms are older. - RBW
Chambers: "The old ballad, for which Burns substituted the above beautiful verses, is given in continuation, from Herd's Collection of Scottish Songs ."
If there's an argument to be made for lumping "MacPherson's Lament" and "MacPherson's Rant" it might be GreigDuncan3 697A and 697B, which mix verses of both. I think splitting them is the way to go.
Whitelaw-Song is Burns's "Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong" which Dick has from Scots Musical Museum, 1788, No. 114 (James C Dick, The Songs of Robert Burns (London: Henry Frowde, 1903 ("Digitized by Microsoft")), #311 pp. 292-293). - BS
[Regarding the Earliest Date: Robertson-Porter-Gower mention] a "first appearance in the Margaret Sinkler MS (1710, "McFarsances testment," sic)]. Also they note that a "broadside text composed in 1705 (McPherson's Rant; or the Last Words of James McPherson, Murderer, To Its Own Tune) found its way in part into Herd's Collection of 1776, but was published in full only by Maidment 1859...." since MacPherson was executed in 1700, for my money I'd go for the 1705. They say Rabbie Burns' reworking appeared in 1788. But your mileage might vary :-). - DGE
Last updated in version 5.3
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.