The link between Bob Dylan and an 18th century advocate

The link between Bob Dylan and an 18th century advocate

Bob Dylan and David Dalrymple

A new exhibition in the members’ reading room at the Faculty of Advocates explores the connection between the Faculty, Bob Dylan and a 17th century Scottish ballad.

The display was written by Alistair Johnson, of the Advocates Library, and has its roots in a casual glance through a newspaper.

Alistair, a folk music fan, said: “I was in a cafe and opened my paper and saw an article about the Bob Dylan song, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. I read the lyrics and it immediately struck me that he had based the song on an old traditional Scottish ballad, Lord Randall.

“The ballad has murder as a theme, and Dylan’s song is about nuclear holocaust, but it is very much in the same style of asking questions at the beginning of the verses.

“I knew that someone else had written a ballad based on Lord Randall – the 18th Century lawyer, David Dalrymple, who became a member of Faculty in 1748 and was elevated to the Bench in 1766, taking the title of Lord Hailes. His work was called Edward and there can be little doubt that the ballad is Dalrymple’s recreation of Lord Randall.”

Edward was included in Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, a collection of English and Scottish traditional ballads published in 1765 which found much favour in Germany. The writer, Goethe, was so impressed by the quality of the songs that he adopted the ballad style in more than 160 poems. The ballad which made the deepest impression was Edward and Goethe recited it at dinner parties.

Composers such as Schubert and Brahms arranged settings of Edward. Brahms was so taken by the ballad that he wrote two arrangements of it.

Alistair concluded: “The exhibition shows how writers and musicians can take something old - in this case a ballad - and turn it into something modern and contemporary. You can see the resemblance but it is not the same.”

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