J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

“‘Nae Luck aboot the House” in Braintree

Gwen Fries at the Massachusetts Historical Society highlighted how Abigail Adams came to love a particular Scottish song while her husband John was far away in France.

On 13 Dec 1778, after describing lonely winter nights, Adams wrote:
I cannot discribe to you How much I was affected the other day with a Scotch song which was sung to me by a young Lady in order to divert a Melancholy hour, but it had a quite different Effect, and the Native Simplicity of it, had all the power of a well wrought Tradidy. When I could conquer my Sensibility I beg'd the song, and Master Charles has learnt it and consoles his Mamma by singing it to her.
The song, identifiable from the lines that Adams wrote down, was “There’s Nae Luck aboot the House.” It’s traditionally attributed to Jean Adam (1704-1765), a Scottish poet, teacher, and housekeeper. The song had only recently become popular in London, judging by publications.

“There’s Nae Luck aboot the House” was about a wife yearning for her husband to come home from the sea, so no wonder Abigail Adams felt it keenly. Here’s a sampling of the lyrics, including the lines she quoted:
And are ye sure the news is true?
And are ye sure he’s weel?
Is this a time to talk o’ wark?
Ye jades, fling by your wheel!
Is this a time to think o’ wark,
When Colin’s at the door?
Gie me my cloak! I’ll to the quay,
And see him come ashore.
For there’s nae luck about the house,
There’s nae luck ava’;
There’s little pleasure in the house,
When our gudeman’s awa’.
. . .
Sae true his words, sae smooth his speech,
His breath like caller air,
His very foot has music in’t,
When he comes up the stair:
And will I see his face again?
And will I hear him speak?
I’m downright dizzie wi’ the thought,
In troth I’m like to greet!
John Adams responded that he, too, was touched by the song, and it looks like Benjamin Franklin asked to copy it as well.


Diane Mayr said...

Imagine Abigail Adams singing it this way: https://youtu.be/xORr49sWnhE

Don Carleton said...

The Adamses' affection for "Nae Luck aboot the House" is striking, given the strong strain of anti-Scots sentiment in local Whig political culture...