James Taylor of Elgin’s Strathspeys & Reels

I found in an old Edinburgh bookshop, an early 19th century bound album of printed and manuscript music. It is a companion volume to one I already own, being in the same distinctive quarter leather binding and with the same name inscribed inside the front cover: Miss Mc. Arthur

This second volume has very little Scottish music in it, unlike the first volume. But one thing caught my eye; this nice collection of Scottish tunes published by James Taylor, Teacher of Music, Elgin.

The title page:

The dedication, to Lady Dunbar of Northfield:

Page 1: Lady Dunbar of Northfield’s Favourite; Lady Cumming of Altyre’s Strathspey; James B Dunbar’s Strathspey. All composed by Sir Archibald Dunbar, Bart, of Northfield.

Page 2: Mrs Hay of Westertown’s Strathspey; Lady Dick Lauder’s Strathspey; Miss Cumming Bruce, a Strathspey, all composed by the same.

Page 3: Miss Grant of Grant’s Strathspey; Mrs Warden of Parkhill, a strathspey; Miss Dunbar’s Strathspey, all composed as above.

Page 4: Miss Margaret Dunbar’s Strathspey; Mrs Cumming Bruce’s Strathspey; Lady Dunbar of Boath’s Strathspey, composed as above.

Page 5: Lieut. Dunbar (22nd Regt) Reel; Northfield House, Duffus, a Strathspey; Lady Penuel Grant’s Strathspey, all composed by James Taylor

Page 6: Miss E Grant, Lossymouth’s Reel; Mrs Brodie of Brodie’s Strathspey; Mr Brodie of Brodie’s Reel, all by JT.

Page 7: Mrs Gordon of Abergeldie’s Strathspey; Mrs Dr Gordon, Elgin, a Reel; Mrs Skinner of Drumin’s Strathspey; all by JT.

Page 8: Miss Catherine Stewart of Desky’s Reel; Miss Brander of Springfield, a Strathspey; A Lament for Mrs Tulloch, Kirkmichael; all by JT

Page 9: Miss Coull of Ashgrove, a Strathspey, by JT; Mrs Foljambe, Elgin, a Strathspey, by JT; Sir Archd. Dunbar Bart. of Northfield’s Strathspey, by a Lady.


Page 10: Miss Catherine Forsyth’s Reel, by a Lady; Mr Marshall’s Strathspey Edinburgh, by R McDonald; Mr Marshall’s Reel Edinr. by R McD

Page 11: Mrs McLeod of Delvey’s Strathspey, by R McD; Miss McLeod of Delvey’s Strathspey, by R McD; The Elgin Academy, a Strathspey, by an Old Pupil

Page 12: Leiut. Dunbar 22nd Regiments Waltz, by a Lady; A Set of Scots Quadrilles

Page 13:

page 14:

Page 15: The Surly Gallope, by a Young Lady; Mrs G Forbes, Ashgrove, a Strathspey, by a Lady

Page 16: The Earl of Fife’s Birth Day, a Strathspey by JT; The Pearl, a Strathspey by JT.


If you click on a page image you will be able to view it much larger. Let me know if you play or perform any of these tunes.

3 thoughts on “James Taylor of Elgin’s Strathspeys & Reels”

  1. I have a reel called “Miss Dunbar”, from a manuscript of Stephen Grier, Co. Leitrim, Ireland, written down in 1883. It is not one of the tunes above, but may be from the same composer. I can send you a copy, if you are interested, and you may be able to help me find out more about the tune.

  2. Your blog about the above is very interesting. I had a similar experience when I too found a book, back in 2008, a 1793 Vol II of Robert Burns “Poems chiefly In The Scottish dialect” with the signature “Miss Dunbar of Boath” inside this.
    I have since researched her and her family and social circle, and have had some of my findings published in ‘The Burns Chronicle’.
    Almost all of the people mentioned in the tunes in the book you found, are related in some way to, or were friends of my ‘Miss Helen Dunbar of Boath’, and I’ll be interested to study some of these further. If you ever come across any other tunes pertaining to the ‘Dunbars of Boath’ (particularly Miss Helen Dunbar of Boath), I would be very interested to see these (kirsten.easdale@gmail.com)

    You may also be interested in the following tunes by donald Grant which I found in the ‘Highland Collection’ and recorded in Edinburgh in 2012, along with Rod Paterson, Gregor Lowrey, Marc Duff and Pete Clark.
    https://soundcloud.com/bring-in-the-spirit/miss-dunbar-of-boath-set

    MISS DUNBAR OF BOATH SET (Burns / Grant)
    All of the pieces in this set (3 tunes and 1 song) are titled for relatives or close friends of Miss Helen Dunbar of Boath (1775-1835) – all of whom, had close connections with Robert Burns (1759-1796).
    Helen was born into an old noble and well connected family. She spent most of her life at Boath House in Auldearn and in her later years, she lived in Forres. Described by geologist and writer, Hugh Miller (1802-1856) as “a literary lady of the high type of the last age….She possessed…a singular buoyancy of spirits, which years and frequent illness had failed to depress; and her interest in nature and in books remained as high….Her mind was imbued with literature, and stored with literary anecdote: she conversed with elegance, giving interest to whatever she touched; and, though she seemed never to have thought of authorship in her own behalf, she wrote pleasingly and with great facility, in both prose and verse.”
    Helen was part of a literary circle and supported new writing in the Highlands. She also left several philanthropic bequests in her will, to further female education in the Nairn and Forres area.

    The 3 fiddle tunes in this set were all written by Donald Grant (c.1760 – c.1835), the Elgin fiddler-composer and dancing master. These tunes were first published in 1790 in “A Collection of Strathspeys, Reels Jigs etc.” . The collection was dedicated to his patron Mrs Colonel Grant of Grant. The Grants were near neighbours and close family friends of Helen’s family, and it is highly probable that she herself danced to Donald’s fiddle playing at Castle Grant gatherings.
    The Highland Music Trust reprinted Donald Grant’s Collection in 2005, within their “Highland Collections” http://www.heallan.com/highland.html
    The song is by Burns, and was first published by James Johnson in 1788, in The Scots Musical Museum, Vol. 2 ( No.194).

    LADY DUNBAR OF BOATH’S STRATHSPEY (D. Grant)
    Helen’s mother Lady Dunbar of Boath,, was born Jane Burnett of Kemney (b.1739). She became Lady Dunbar of Boath on marrying Alexander, Baron of Boath, at Auldearn. Jane was reputed to be a great beauty, in her day.

    MRS ROSE OF KILRAVOCK’S JIGG (D. Grant)
    Mrs Elizabeth Rose of Kilravock (1747 – 1815) was a close friend of Helen and her mother Jane, and the head of their literary circle. She was also the cousin of Henry MacKenzie (1745-1831), “The Man of Feeling” (first pub. 1771) and Burns’ first Edinburgh reviewer. Burns dined with the Roses at Kilravock on 2 occasions during his highland tour of 1787.

    RATTLIN ROARIN WILLIE (Burns)
    An old traditional song, to which Robert Burns added a last verse. First published in James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (Edinburgh 1788), Vol.II No. 194. Burns says of this, “The last stanza of this song is mine: it was composed out of compliment to one of the worthiest fellows in the world, William Dunbar Esq, writer to the signet Edinburgh, and Colonel of the Crochallan Corps – a club of wits who took that title at the time of raising the Fencible regiments. RB.” The ‘Crochallan’ part of the title came from the innkeeper of the Anchor Close tavern (where the Crochallan Fencibles met), Dawney Douglas loved the old Gaelic air ‘Cro Chalien’ (Colin’s Cattle). William Dunbar of Boath W.S. (c.1740 – 1807) was Helen’s uncle, and also grew up at Boath house. http://www.kirsteneasdale.co.uk/Kirsten_Easd…_dunbar.html

    MRS GRANT OF LAGGAN’S FAVOURITE (D. Grant)
    Mrs Anne MacVicar Grant (1755 – 1838) had many popular books published during her lifetime, including “Letters From The Mountains” (1806), which featured correspondence to some of her friends, including Miss Dunbar of Boath.
    Anne Grant was also a correspondent of Mr George Thompson (1757-1851), and several of her contributions appeared in Thompson’s ‘Select collections’, alongside those of Robert Burns – coincidentally, she translated, or as she says in a letter to Helen, “transfused (for translate, I could not)” “Crochallan”, from the Gaelic, for Thompson. Anne also visited Jean Armour at her house in Dumfries in 1820, and gave a much quoted, and favourable description of Burns’ widow. archive.org/stream/cu3192410550…2up/search/dumfries
    Several of Mrs Grant’s poems were addressed to Helen Dunbar, and the following is an extract from “To Miss Dunbar of Boath” taken from “The Highlanders and Other Poems” (1803).
    “Helen by every sympathy allied,
    By love of virtue and by love of song,
    Compassionate in youth, and beauty’s pride,
    To thee those grateful artless lays belong,
    For warmly in thy heart the flame of friendship glows,
    And sweetly from thy lips the voice of comfort flows.”

    1. Hello Kirsten, thanks for your message. I’m in St Andrews, you are welcome to come here and look through the two “Miss MacArthur” volumes if you wish. They both have hundreds of items like this.

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