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Mary of Argyle

[ Roud 12904 ; Bodleian Roud 12904 ; Charles Jeffries, Sidney Nelson]

Bob Hart sang Bonny Mary of Argyll at home in Snape, Suffolk, on 8 July 1969 to Rod and Danny Stradling. This recording was included in 1998 on his Musical Traditions album A Broadside. Rod Stradling noted in the accompanying booklet:

I would have thought this was a fairly well-known song, but Roud has only 22 instances, and the only other named singer is Henry Burstow of Horsham, Sussex, who had a vast repertoire of over 400 songs listed in the book he wrote, Reminiscences of Horsham, 1911.

Just about every Scots broadside printer issued it though; it’s in many Scottish chapbooks c.1825, and was recorded by Harry Lauder on at least 3 occasions: 18 February 1916, Victor 45126; 5 March 1926 HMV D-1229; 7 December 1926, Victor 4002/Zonophone GO-74.

The song is said to have been written by two Englishmen, Charles Jeffries (words) and Sidney Nelson (music). Kilgarriff gives ‘c.1855’ as the date of composition, but it must have been before 1825 when the song appears on dated broadsides. Mary was Margaret ‘Mary’ Campbell b.1766 in Dunoon, d.1786. She was one of Burns’ girlfriends, the so-called ‘Highland Mary’ of his poems, (since when was Dunoon in the Highlands?) who may, repeat may, have died in childbirth. When her tomb was opened c.1930 the remains of a new-born child were found. But there were also several other people’s remains in the tomb.

Iona Fyfe sang Mary of Argyle in 2015 on her EP The First Sangs.

Steve Turner sang Mary of Argyle on his 2018 Tradition Bearers CD Late Cut, attributing it to Robert Burns:

Gina le Faux tells the story of her grandfather singing this lovely song by Robert Burns to her as a child—not always when he was sober by all accounts! I seem to be one of the few who didn’t learn it at school and was honoured when she gave me the music saying she thought it was a song I would enjoy singing. Not only is it a wonderful love song but it is about love in older years—not a commonly considered subject for song writers.


Bob Hart sings Bonny Mary of Argyll

I have heard the mavis singing
Its lovesong to the morn.
I have seen the dewdrops falling
From the rose that’s newly born.
But a sweeter song has cheered me
At the evening’s gentle close,
I have seen an eye still brighter
Than the dewdrops on the rose.
’Twas thy voice, my gentle Mary,
And thy winning artless smile
That has made this world an Eden
Bonny Mary of Argyll

Though thy voice may lose its sweetness,
Thine eye its brightness too,
Though thy feet may lose their swiftness
And thine hair its bonny hue.
Still, to me shalt thou be dearer
Than all the world shall own.
I have loved thee for thy beauty,
But not for that alone.
I have watched thy heart, dear Mary,
And its goodness was the while
That has made thee mine for ever
Bonny Mary of Argyll