"Maxwelton's braes are bonnie Where early fa's the dew, And it's there that Annie Laurie Gied me her promise true." The singer describes all of Annie's beautiful and wondrous traits, concluding, "And for bonny Annie Laurie I wad lay me doon and dee."
Legends about this song are much more common than verifiable facts. The story is that William Douglas (who allegedly wrote the poem) fell in love with Annie Laurie, a member of a rival clan some time between 1685 and 1705. The poem is said to have been published at the time, but (according to Fuld) no printing prior to Sharpe's has been found.
The tune is almost certainly the work of Lady John Scott, and was published in 1835. Spaeth thinks she wrote the words as well, but Scott was born in 1810, and admitted herself that the first verse was older, and the second also based on ancient materials. At most, Scott deserves credit for the third verse.
Dr. William Mahar claims this is one of the six most popular songs of the Civil War era. I've no idea what his evidence for this was; I've never seen it mentioned in any Civil War history. - RBW
Murray Shoolbraid lists various sources for the song, broken out by the tune-types, the "old" tune and the Scott tune. Shoolbraid lists the following as versions of the "old" tune:
? Wm. Douglas of Fingland, c. 1700.
Sharpe _ Ballad Book_ (1824), no. xxxvii (reprint, p. 108).
Ford _Song Histories_ (1900), 24.
SSCA (1870), 45; BSS (1875), 438.
Chambers _SSPB_ 309 (+ music); Ross _CSS_ (1887), 369; Crockett _Minstrelsy of the Merse_ (1893), 213.
Shoolbraid adds, "How old this 'old' version is is a good question. Lady John Scott told Moffat that it was written (i.e. forged) by Allan Cunningham, who imposed other fabrications on poor Cromek. The 2nd stanza derives from the old version of 'John Anderson,' in the Merry Muses, and A.C. certainly had access to a copy. Sharpe's first printing (1823) is pretty late for a song of 1700.
For the Scott tune, Shoolbraid lists
Ford _Song Histories_ (1900), 28.
SS I.4 (+ m.); BSS (1875), 439; Wood's _Songs of Scotland_ III.24 (+ m.); Gleadhill 80 (+ m.); Crockett _Minstrelsy of the Merse_ (1893), 213 (tune [by Lady John Scott] previously used by her for the ballad of "Kempy Kaye"). Ross CSS (1887), 369. B&F 20 (+ m.); Allan's Sc. Songs, 11 (+ m.), anonymous (merely subtitled "The Favourite Scotch Ballad, as sung by Jenny Lind"). Dun & Thomson VMS III.89 (+ m.) (anon.).
The tune [by the authoress] is in Manson (1846), II.151.
Other words include Crawford's "My Mary Dear."
Shoolbraid summarizes the data thus:
"There are two texts to consider, that of the 'original,' and that of Lady John Scott. The first seems to appear for the first time in Sharpe's Ballad Book of 1824, though it has been asserted that it appeared in an Edinburgh newspaper in the early 18th century. That original was reprinted in Allan Cunningham's collection of Scottish songs [The Songs of Scotland, Ancient and Modern (1825), vol. III p.256], where he tells us he found it in Sharpe.
Lady JS found it in Cunningham, and noticed that a tune of hers previously intended to suit the old ballad of Kempy Kaye would fit this very nicely - with a little polishing. She altered the first stanza, altered the second some more, and made a completely new third; sang it to her hosts, and it was approved. This was in 1834 or 1835. Later she published it along with others of her composition to raise money for widows and orphans of soldiers killed in the Crimea. It became very popular, being sung by Jenny Lind, among others, but she withheld acknowledgement of the authorship until February 1890, when she confessed in a letter to the Dumfries Standard.
"Lady John Scott's version is the familiar one referred to by Spaeth et al. The original, credited to Douglas, cannot be traced any farther back than Sharpe. It is not impossible that it lurks in a corner of some obscure paper [and we must remember that not every issue is extant]; but the authoress herself is said to have told Moffat that it was a forgery by Allan Cunningham. If this is true, we can see where AC got it: the second verse derives from an old version of 'John Anderson, My Jo,' to be found in The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1799-1800), and Cunningham certainly has access to a copy. AC was quite a practised forger: he gulled Cromek into publishing the Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song (1810), most of which seems to be by AC himself.
"Robert Ford (Song Histories, 1900, 23-31) goes into some detail on all this, reproducing a letter written by a descendant of the Anna Laurie of the song, by which the story of its original composition is made clear; it is to be assumed that the writer got her facts right, at least in regard to family tradition. One way out of the impasse is to say that Moffat misunderstood Lady John Scott's reference to Cunningham, and that the tradition about Douglas is true; notwithstanding the problems about Cunningham's unreliability and the long interval between composition and publication by Sharpe. Lady John, after all, did not find the Sharpe copy; the only other alternative, that Cunningham planted it on Sharpe, is very unlikely. On the whole, therefore, I give the palm to Douglas, though I admit the story is still a bit mirky." - MS, (RBW)