Regarding the earliest printed appearance of the song (i.e. tune and lyrics together), the late ballad scholar Bruce Olson wrote that “Bremner published it as a single sheet song with music, c 1770” (i.e. the date is an informed guess). We give below the version published in 1803 in the sixth and final volume of The Scots Musical Museum, where it appears as Song 544 under the title Wha wadna be in love &c.

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Here are the Museum lyrics in full, with their original spelling and punctuation:


Wha wadna be in love

Wi’ bonny Maggy Lawder

A piper met her gaun to Fife,

And spier’d what was’t they ca’d her

Right scornfully she answer’d him

Begone, you hallanshaker;

Jog on your gate, you bladderskate

My name is Maggie Lawder.

Maggy, quoth he, and by my bags,

I’m fidging fain to see you [thee];

Sit down by me, my bonny bird,

In troth I winna steer thee:

For I’m a piper to my trade,

My name is Rob the Ranter;

The lasses loup as they were daft

When I blaw up my chanter.

Piper, quoth Meg, hae you your bags,

Or is your drone in order?

If you be Rob, I’ve heard of you,

Live you upo’ the border?

The lasses a’, baith far and near,

Have heard of Rob the Ranter;

I’ll shak my foot wi’ right good will,

Gif you’ll blaw up your chanter.

Then to his bags he flew with speed,

About the drone he twisted,

Meg up, and wallop’d o’er the green,

For brawly cou’d she frisk it.

Weel done, quoth he; Play up, quoth she:

Weel bob’d, quoth Rob the Ranter;

’Tis worth my while to play indeed,

When I hae sic a dancer.

Weel hae you play’d your part, quoth Meg,

Your cheeks are like the crimson;

There’s nane in Scotland plays sae weel,

Since we lost Habbie Simpson.

I’ve liv’d in Fife, baith maid and wife,

These ten years and a quarter;

Gin you should come to Enster fair,

Spier ye for Maggy Lawder.

There is considerable variety of detail between texts. An excellent, and more idiomatic, rendition is on Dick Gaughan’s website:

Also of interest are broadside versions on the National Library of Scotland and Bodleian Library websites, including these two with large illustrations, the first apparently a poor copy of the second:


Others with vignette illustrations or text only are:




Note the physical impossibility of the bagpipes depicted in the illustrations (the song is no more accurate, with its references to “bags” in the plural), and the assumption that Rob, being Scottish and a piper, would be in Highland dress.

The lyric is generally attributed to Francis Sempill of Beltrees (Renfrewshire), son of Sir Robert Sempill, author of The Piper of Kilbarchan, the famous elegy on Habbie Simpson who is mentioned in the last stanza of the present song. On the attribution, Norman Buchan (101 Scottish Songs, 1964) summarises the situation:

“Francis Sempill has had attributed to him, in addition to Maggie Lauder, the roistering and outrageous song, The Blythesome Brida’. His authorship of both these songs has been disputed, mainly because it is based on the unconfirmed claims of his grandchildren.”

The respective dates of Robert and Francis Sempill (or Semple) are given in The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (ed. Tom Scott, 1970) as 1595-1660 and 1616-1685, all with question marks. Given that the present lyric’s earliest appearance with a confirmed date is, according to Olson, as late as 1776, in David Herd’s Ancient and modern Scottish songs, heroic ballads, etc., and that a completely different lyric was published in 1723 and alluded to in the following years, it may be that tradition has credited Francis with the authorship of the wrong lyric.

This is the 1723 lyric, as transcribed by Bruce Olson from A Collection of Old Ballads Vol. 2, London, 1723, where it is included among the Scottish songs:


There liv’d a Lass in our Town,

Her name was Moggy Lawder,

And She would fain have plaid the Loon,

But durst not tell her father;

Now She’s forgot her Father’s fear,

And on the same did venture,

And afterwards as you shall hear,

A Lad did oft frequent her.

Now Moggy Lawder on a Day,

A Barber Lad did meet her,

Both Joy and Heart to her did say,

And kindly he did greet her:

My dear let me get thee with Bearn,

And Ise shall be it’s Father,

And you’ll be Mother of the same,

My bonny Moggy Lawder.

Sweet-heart to him she says indeed,

And so did fall a weeping,

I’m wearied with my Maidenhead

While I have it in keeping:

But if thou’lt true and trusty be,

As I am Moggie Lawder,

Ise then will give it unto thee,

But do not tell my Father.

For if my Father hear he same,

Right fore he will abuse me,

But I think long to try the Game,

Therefore I’ll not refuse thee:

But first protest to marry me,

To be my Baby’s Father,

And be a Husband unto me,

Bonny Moggy Lawder.

My Dear says he indeed I am,

Unto my Trade a Shaver,

And there is not a living Man,

Can call me a Deceiver;

Yea surely I will marry thee,

And be thy Baby’s Father,

And thou shalt be a Wife to me,

My bonny Moggie Lawder.

And then to her he gave a Kiss,

Saying, Dear, how shall I please thee,

Be sure I will do more than this,

And of thy troubles ease thee:

And all along upon her Back,

He laid poor Moggy Lawder,

Gave her a Scope upon her dope,

She durst not tell her Father.

With Kisses and Embraces then,

In Peace and Love they parted,

And did appoint another time,

To meet there loving hearted:

And with a merry Heart’s content,

With what the Lad had gave her,

Rejoycing homeward as she went

She sung the jolly Shaver.

But now the Seed that late was sown,

Is become a springing,

And she is melancholly grown,

And has left off her singing:

And often in her Heart could wish,

That she had been a Callder,

For Edinburgh is filled with

The talk of Moggie Lawder.

Olson found appearances of Maggie’s tune in seven ballad operas between 1729 and 1734; he writes:

“The tune is given as “Moggy Lawther” in The Quaker’s Opera, 1729, (where all but the leading and last two notes are dotted eighth and sixteenth pairs) and “Moggy Lawther on a day” in The Beggar’s Wedding, 1729. This last title is from the second verse of the song, and shows what song was known to Londoners by that title. In 1730 the tune appeared in the ballad opera Patie and Peggie, and in A. Craig's A Collection of Scots Tunes. The tune also appeared in four later ballad operas, The Highland Fair, 1731; Achilles, 1733; The Decoy, 1733; and The Whim, 1734. It is subsequently found in several Scottish tune collections.”

(source: )

The description given by Olson of the tune in The Quaker’s Opera (1729) matches Jack Campin’s transcription of Maggy Lawder from Joseph Mitchell’s The Highland Fair ,1731:

(source: )

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There are obvious differences between this and the tune familiar from the Museum, but they are small compared to the distance between the two lyrics; comparing these, it is easy to see how the Lamentation would disappear almost without trace once Wha Wadna be in love &c. was in circulation, and how the better song must almost certainly be the later one. The situation recalls that of the classic songs of Robert Burns, whose best lyrics have totally eclipsed those of his predecessors. For instance, it is extremely unlikely that we will ever hear Ramsay’s

My Patie is a lover gay,

His mind is never muddy

rather than Burns’

It was upon a Lammas night

When corn riggs are bonie

On the subject of Maggie Lauder, Burns himself wrote: “This old song, so pregnant with Scottish na´vetÚ and energy, is much relished by all ranks, notwithstanding its broad wit and palpable allusions.—Its language is a precious model of imitation: sly, sprightly, and forcibly expressive.—Maggie’s tongue wags out the nicknames of Rob the Piper, with all the careless lightsomeness of unrestrained gaiety.”


The tune in Volume 6 of the Museum (above) has the same basic melodic outline as most instrumental versions (one very different version is also given in the FIDDLE section here). The tune also occurs in Volume 1 of the Museum as the melody for an unrelated and justly forgotten lyric, The Joyful Widower, Song No. 98.

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The notes in bar 7 with diamond heads are given as an easier option in the original, not as “the tune”. It has been stated elsewhere that this version is “the simple tune to the song”, with an accompanying inaccurate transcription of it excising the inconvenient notes and giving the impression that it fits the simple chanter scale. Even if we accept the optional notes, this ignores the problem of the unavailable sharp low leading note and two more notes which lie even further below the chanter range. However, if we transpose the tune to its usual instrumental key of D the correct leading note is available, the optional notes come to the rescue when the tune falls off the bottom of the chanter - and we have two high Bs:

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Wha Wadna be in love &c., or simply Maggie Lauder, introduces names and locations which do not occur in The Scotch Lass's Lamentation. Fife is given as Maggie’s home, though not her place of origin (she has only lived there “These ten years and a quarter”), and if she does not actually live in Enster (Ainster, Anster, Anstruther) itself she will certainly be found at “Enster fair”. Rob’s location is more vague, simply “upo’ the border”. It seems much more likely that the Maggie poet was a native of Fife than of Renfrewshire, familiarity with Robert Sempill’s elegy to Habbie Simpson being widespread. This is definitely the case with Charles Gray, Captain in the Royal Marines, poet and authority on Scottish song, born on the 10th March 1782 at Anstruther-wester, and the author of this short sequel to the song:


The cantie Spring scarce rear’d her head,

And Winter yet did blaud her,

When the Ranter came to Anster fair,

And speir’d for Maggie Lauder;

A snug wee house in the East Green,

Its shelter kindly lent her;

Wi’ canty ingle, clean hearth-stane,

Meg welcomed Rob the Ranter!

Then Rob made bonnie Meg his bride,

And to the kirk they ranted;

He play’d the auld “East Nook o’ Fife;”

And merry Maggie vaunted,

That Hab himsel’ ne’er play’d a spring,

Nor blew sae weel his chanter,

For he made Anster town to ring--

And wha’s like Rob the Ranter?

For a’ the talk and loud reports,

That ever gaed against her,

Meg proves a true and carefu’ wife,

As ever was in Anster;

And since the marriage-knot was tied,

Rob swears he coudna want her;

For he loves Maggie as his life,

And Meg loves Rob the Ranter.

Less interesting than his domestication of Maggie and Rob is that Captain Gray here cements local ownership of what is seemingly a totally fictional tale, to the extent that Maggie’s address is given. A note on the poem tells us that “The East Green of Anstruther is now a low street connecting the town with the adjoining village of Cellardyke. The site of Maggie Lauder's house,--which is said to have been a cot of one storey,--is pointed out in a small garden opposite a tannery, and on the north side of the street.”

(source: The Modern Scottish Minstrel, Vol. 3, Charles Rogers, Edinburgh, 1856, digitised at )

Habbie Simpson is again invoked, and there is possibly even an allusion to the earlier Lamentation at the beginning of the last stanza. It is conveniently forgotten that Maggie is already married (“baith maid and wife”); perhaps she has since been widowed, but this is not mentioned.

In having Rob play “the auld “East Nook o’ Fife””, Captain Gray is simply referring to the most suitably local tune title he knows rather than a tune which can actually be played on the pipes. Familiar to all Scottish fiddlers, and the subject of an instructive anecdote concerning the fiddler Pate Baillie, The East Neuk Of Fife is a fine reel (or rant or country dance), but with a compass of a twelfth even in its simplest versions it will not fit on the chanter without drastic surgery. This should be a health warning to anyone attempting to reconstruct a bagpipe repertoire from tune titles mentioned by poets who are not pipers. (I am of course referring to the relatively limited range of the Highland, Lowland and Border pipes, rather than the 2-octave range of the pastoral and union or uilleann pipes, which can easily accommodate much of the fiddle repertoire.)

It is a strange feature of Maggie’s story that the more it develops as fiction, the more it becomes linked to real places. In its next, most surprising instalment, this paradox is carried to the limits of the poet’s imagination, and the real places are peopled by historical characters and mythological beings.

1.Intro . 2.Songs . 3.Anster Fair . 4.Fiddle . 5.Irish Pipes . 6.Highland Pipes . 7.Northumbrian Smallpipes . 8.Border Pipes . 9.Conclusion

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