Some of the multi-volume projects in Scottish scholarship seem to take for ever to be completed, but this important collection of ballads and folksongs nears its culmination. The eighth and final volume is promised next year.
Meanwhile, volume 7 is the third to be devoted to songs of love and marriage. That there are hundreds of love songs is not surprising. That most of those on married love are unhappy is probably not surprising either: the Scots are good at mocking institutions and fearful that good fortune will turn sour.
The original collection was made early this century by the typical rural duo of a headteacher, Gavin Greig of New Deer, and a minister, James Bruce Duncan of Lynturk, near Alford. Re-publication stems from the revival of interest in folk music, which had never disappeared from the areas in which Greig and Duncan made their collection. Editor Sheila Douglas writes: "They came to realise that, for all their education, they could still learn from the ordinary folk in their own community."
The richness of the tradition is seen in the numerous variants to a song such as "The Wee Cooper o' Fife": his "gentle" but good-for-nothing wife pops up in other versions as a "wicked wife" and a "scaulding wife". So much, indeed, for happy marriage.