Percy's Reliques - John Anderson my Jo.

John Anderson my Jo.


            While in England verse was made the vehicle of controversy, and Popery was attacked in it by logical argument, or stinging satire; we may be sure the zeal of the Scottish Reformers would not suffer their pens to be idle, but many a pasquil was discharged at the Romish priests, and their enormous encroachments on property. Of this kind perhaps is the following, (preserved in Maitland's MS. Collection of Scottish poems in the Pepysian Library:)

"Tak a Wobster, that is leill,
And a Miller, that will not steill,
With ane Priest, that is not gredy,
And lay ane deid corpse thame by,
And, throw virtue of thame three,
That deid corpse sall qwyknit be."

            Thus far all was fair: but the furious hatred of Popery led them to employ their rhymes in a still more licentious manner. It is a received tradition in Scotland, that at the time of the Reformation, ridiculous and obscene songs were composed to be sung by the rabble to the tunes of the most favourite hymns in the Latin service. Green sleeves and pudding pies (designed to ridicule the popish clergy) is said to have been one of these metamorphosed hymns; Maggy Lauder was another: John Anderson my Jo was a third. The original music of all these burlesque sonnets was very fine. To give a specimen of their manner, we have inserted one of the least offensive. The reader will pardon the meanness of the composition for the sake of the anecdote, which strongly marks the spirit of the times.

            In the present edition this song is much improved by some new readings communicated by a friend; who thinks by the "seven Bairns," in st. 2d are meant the Seven Sacraments; five of which were the spurious offspring of Mother Church: as the first stanza contains a satirical allusion to the luxury of the popish clergy.

            The adaption of solemn church music to these ludicrous pieces, and the jumble of ideas thereby occasioned, will account for the following fact.-- From the Records of the General Assembly in Scotland, called, The Book of the Universal Kirk, p. 90, 7th July, 1568, it appears, that Thomas Bassendyne, printer in Edinburgh, printed "a psalme buik, in the end whereof was found printit ane baudy sang, called, Welcome Fortunes."[ 1]


JOHN Anderson my jo, cum in as ze gae by,
ze sall get a sheips heid weel baken in a pye;
Weel baken in a pye, and the haggis in a pat;
John Anderson my jo, cum in, and
ze's get that.


"And how doe ze, Cummer? and hove hae ze threven?
And how mony bairns hae
ze?" WOM. "Cummer, I hae seven,"
MAN. Are they to
zour awin gude man?" WOM. Na, Cummer, na;
For five of tham were gotten, quhan he was awa'."


1. See also Biograph. Britan. 1st edit., vol. i. p. 177.



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