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Title: Robert Burns
Author: Shairp, John Campbell, 1819-1885
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Robert Burns" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.

[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected,
all other inconsistencies are as in the original.
Author's spelling has been maintained.
Missing page numbers correspond to blank pages.]

                         ROBERT BURNS


                       PRINCIPAL SHAIRP,



                   MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited



                    _All rights reserved_

                  _First Edition April 1879_

     _Reprinted December 1879, 1883, 1887, 1895, 1902, 1906_



  Youth in Ayrshire                                        1


  First Winter in Edinburgh                               42


  Border and Highland Tours                               60


  Second Winter in Edinburgh                              79


  Life at Ellisland                                       94


  Migration To Dumfries                                  135


  Last Years                                             155


  Character, Poems, Songs                                188

 INDEX                                                   209

ROBERT BURNS.                                                      (p. 001)



Great men, great events, great epochs, it has been said, grow as we
recede from them; and the rate at which they grow in the estimation of
men is in some sort a measure of their greatness. Tried by this
standard, Burns must be great indeed, for during the eighty years that
have passed since his death, men's interest in the man himself and
their estimate of his genius have been steadily increasing. Each
decade since he died has produced at least two biographies of him.
When Mr. Carlyle wrote his well-known essay on Burns in 1828, he could
already number six biographies of the Poet, which had been given to
the world during the previous thirty years; and the interval between
1828 and the present day has added, in at least the same proportion,
to their number. What it was in the man and in his circumstances that
has attracted so much of the world's interest to Burns, I must make
one more attempt to describe.

If success were that which most secures men's sympathy, Burns would
have won but little regard; for in all but his poetry his was a    (p. 002)
defeated life--sad and heart-depressing to contemplate beyond the
lives even of most poets.

Perhaps it may be the very fact that in him so much failure and
shipwreck were combined with such splendid gifts, that has attracted
to him so deep and compassionate interest. Let us review once more the
facts of that life, and tell again its oft-told story.

It was on the 25th of January, 1759, about two miles from the town of
Ayr, in a clay-built cottage, reared by his father's own hands, that
Robert Burns was born. The "auld clay bigging" which saw his birth
still stands by the side of the road that leads from Ayr to the river
and the bridge of Doon. Between the banks of that romantic stream and
the cottage is seen the roofless ruin of "Alloway's auld haunted
kirk," which Tam o' Shanter has made famous. His first welcome to the
world was a rough one. As he himself says,--

               A blast o' Janwar' win'
                    Blew hansel in on Robin.

A few days after his birth, a storm blew down the gable of the
cottage, and the poet and his mother were carried in the dark morning
to the shelter of a neighbour's roof, under which they remained till
their own home was repaired. In after-years he would often say, "No
wonder that one ushered into the world amid such a tempest should be
the victim of stormy passions." "It is hard to be born in Scotland,"
says the brilliant Parisian. Burns had many hardships to endure, but
he never reckoned this to be one of them.

His father, William Burness or Burnes, for so he spelt his name, was a
native not of Ayrshire, but of Kincardineshire, where he had been
reared on a farm belonging to the forfeited estate of the noble    (p. 003)
but attainted house of Keith-Marischal. Forced to migrate thence at
the age of nineteen, he had travelled to Edinburgh, and finally settled
in Ayrshire, and at the time when Robert, his eldest child, was born,
he rented seven acres of land, near the Brig o' Doon, which he
cultivated as a nursery-garden. He was a man of strict, even stubborn
integrity, and of strong temper--a combination which, as his son remarks,
does not usually lead to worldly success. But his chief characteristic
was his deep-seated and thoughtful piety. A peasant-saint of the old
Scottish stamp, he yet tempered the stern Calvinism of the West with
the milder Arminianism more common in his northern birthplace. Robert,
who, amid all his after-errors, never ceased to revere his father's
memory, has left an immortal portrait of him in _The Cotter's Saturday
Night_, when he describes how

               The saint, the father, and the husband prays.

William Burness was advanced in years before he married, and his wife,
Agnes Brown, was much younger than himself. She is described as an
Ayrshire lass, of humble birth, very sagacious, with bright eyes and
intelligent looks, but not beautiful, of good manners and easy
address. Like her husband, she was sincerely religious, but of a more
equable temper, quick to perceive character, and with a memory stored
with old traditions, songs, and ballads, which she told or sang to
amuse her children. In his outer man the poet resembled his mother,
but his great mental gifts, if inherited at all, must be traced to his

Three places in Ayrshire, besides his birthplace, will always be
remembered as the successive homes of Burns. These were Mount      (p. 004)
Oliphant, Lochlea (pronounced Lochly), and Mossgiel.

MOUNT OLIPHANT.--This was a small upland farm, about two miles from
the Brig o' Doon, of a poor and hungry soil, belonging to Mr.
Ferguson, of Doon-holm, who was also the landlord of William Burness'
previous holding. Robert was in his seventh year when his father
entered on this farm at Whitsuntide, 1766, and he had reached his
eighteenth when the lease came to a close in 1777. All the years
between these two dates were to the family of Burness one long sore
battle with untoward circumstances, ending in defeat. If the hardest
toil and severe self-denial could have procured success, they would
not have failed. It was this period of his life which Robert
afterwards described, as combining "the cheerless gloom of a hermit
with the unceasing moil of galley-slave." The family did their best,
but a niggard soil and bad seasons were too much for them. At length,
on the death of his landlord, who had always dealt generously by him,
William Burness fell into the grip of a factor, whose tender mercies
were hard. This man wrote letters which set the whole family in tears.
The poet has not given his name, but he has preserved his portrait in
colours which are indelible:--

               I've noticed, on our Laird's court-day,
               An' mony a time my heart's been wae,
               Poor tenant bodies, scant o' cash,
               How they maun thole a factor's snash;
               He'll stamp an' threaten, curse and swear,
               He'll apprehend them, poind their gear,
               While they maun stan', wi aspect humble,
               And hear it a', an' fear an' tremble.

In his autobiographical sketch the poet tells us that, "The farm
proved a ruinous bargain. I was the eldest of seven children, and  (p. 005)
my father, worn out by early hardship, was unfit for labour. His
spirit was soon irritated, but not easily broken. There was a freedom
in the lease in two years more; and to weather these two years we
retrenched expenses, and toiled on." Robert and Gilbert, the two
eldest, though still boys, had to do each a grown man's full work. Yet
for all their hardships these Mount Oliphant days were not without
alleviations. If poverty was at the door, there was warm family
affection by the fireside. If the two sons had, long before manhood,
to bear toil beyond their years, still they were living under their
parents' roof, and those parents two of the wisest and best of
Scotland's peasantry. Work was no doubt incessant, but education was
not neglected--rather it was held one of the most sacred duties. When
Robert was five years old, he had been sent to a school at Alloway
Mill, and when the family removed to Mount Oliphant, his father
combined with four of his neighbours to hire a young teacher, who
boarded among them, and taught their children for a small salary. This
young teacher, whose name was Murdoch, has left an interesting
description of his two young pupils, their parents, and the household
life while he sojourned at Mount Oliphant. At that time Murdoch
thought that Gilbert possessed a livelier imagination, and was more of
a wit than Robert. "All the mirth and liveliness," he says, "were with
Gilbert. Robert's countenance at that time wore generally a grave and
thoughtful look." Had their teacher been then told that one of his two
pupils would become a great poet, he would have fixed on Gilbert. When
he tried to teach them church music along with other rustic lads, they
two lagged far behind the rest. Robert's voice especially was
untuneable, and his ear so dull, that it was with difficulty he could
distinguish one tune from another. Yet this was he who was to      (p. 006)
become the greatest song-writer that Scotland--perhaps the world--has
known. In other respects the mental training of the lads was of the
most thorough kind. Murdoch taught them not only to read, but to
parse, and to give the exact meaning of the words, to turn verse into
the prose order, to supply ellipses, and to substitute plain for
poetic words and phrases. How many of our modern village schools even
attempt as much? When Murdoch gave up, the father himself undertook
the education of his children, and carried it on at night after
work-hours were over. Of that father Murdoch speaks as by far the best
man he ever knew. Tender and affectionate towards his children he
describes him, seeking not to drive, but to lead them to the right, by
appealing to their conscience and their better feelings, rather than
to their fears. To his wife he was gentle and considerate in an
unusual degree, always thinking of her ease and comfort; and she
repaid it with the utmost reverence. She was a careful and thrifty
housewife, but, whenever her domestic tasks allowed, she would return
to hang with devout attention on the discourse that fell from her wise
husband. Under that father's guidance knowledge was sought for as hid
treasure, and this search was based on the old and reverential faith
that increase of knowledge is increase of wisdom and goodness. The
readings of the household were wide, varied, and unceasing. Some one
entering the house at meal-time found the whole family seated, each
with a spoon in one hand and a book in the other. The books which Burns
mentions as forming part of their reading at Mount Oliphant surprise us
even now. Not only the ordinary school-books and geographies, not only
the traditional life of Wallace and other popular books of that    (p. 007)
sort, but The Spectator, odd plays of Shakespeare, Pope (his Homer
included), Locke on the Human Understanding, Boyle's Lectures,
Taylor's Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin, Allan Ramsay's works,
formed the staple of their reading. Above all there was a collection
of songs, of which Burns says, "This was my _vade mecum_. I pored over
them driving my cart, or walking to labour, song by song, verse by
verse; carefully noting the true tender or sublime, from affectation
and fustian, I am convinced I owe to this practice much of my
critic-craft, such as it is!" And he could not have learnt it in a
better way.

There are few countries in the world which could at that time have
produced in humble life such a teacher as Murdoch and such a father as
William Burness. It seems fitting, then, that a country which could
rear such men among its peasantry should give birth to such a poet as
Robert Burns to represent them. The books which fed his young
intellect were devoured only during intervals snatched from hard toil.
That toil was no doubt excessive. And this early over-strain showed
itself soon in the stoop of his shoulders, in nervous disorder about
the heart, and in frequent fits of despondency. Yet perhaps too much
has sometimes been made of these bodily hardships, as though Burns's
boyhood had been one long misery. But the youth which grew up in so
kindly an atmosphere of wisdom and home affection, under the eye of
such a father and mother, cannot be called unblest.

Under the pressure of toil and the entire want of society, Burns might
have grown up the rude and clownish and unpopular lad that he has been
pictured in his early teens. But in his fifteenth summer there came to
him a new influence, which at one touch unlocked the springs of    (p. 008)
new emotions. This incident must be given in his own words:--"You
know," he says, "our country custom of coupling a man and woman
together as partners in the labours of the harvest. In my fifteenth
summer my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than
myself. My scarcity of English denies me the power of doing her
justice in that language, but you know the Scottish idiom. She was a
bonnie, sweet, sonsie lass. In short, she, altogether unwittingly to
herself, initiated me in that delicious passion, which, in spite of
acid disappointment, gin-horse prudence, and book-worm philosophy, I
hold to be the first of human joys here below! How she caught the
contagion I cannot tell.... Indeed I did not know myself why I liked
so much to loiter behind with her, when returning in the evening from
our labours; why the tones of her voice made my heartstrings thrill
like an Æolian harp; and especially why my pulse beat such a furious
ratan when I looked and fingered over her little hand, to pick out the
cruel nettle-stings and thistles. Among her love-inspiring qualities,
she sung sweetly; and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted
giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme. I was not so presumptuous as to
imagine that I could make verses like printed ones, composed by men
who read Greek and Latin; but my girl sung a song which was said to be
composed by a country laird's son, on one of his father's maids with
whom he was in love; and I saw no reason why I might not rhyme as well
as he; for, excepting that he could shear sheep, and cast peats, his
father living in the moorlands, he had no more scholar-craft than
myself. Thus with me began love and poetry."

The song he then composed is entitled "Handsome Nell," and is the  (p. 009)
first he ever wrote. He himself speaks of it as very puerile and
silly--a verdict which Chambers endorses, but in which I cannot agree.
Simple and artless it no doubt is, but with a touch of that grace
which bespeaks the true poet. Here is one verse which, for directness
of feeling and felicity of language, he hardly ever surpassed:--

               She dresses aye sae clean and neat,
                   Baith decent and genteel,
               And then there's something in her gait
                   Gars ony dress look weel.

"I composed it," says Burns, "in a wild enthusiasm of passion, and to
this hour I never recollect it but my heart melts, my blood sallies at
the remembrance."

LOCHLEA.--Escaped from the fangs of the factor, with some remnant of
means, William Burness removed from Mount Oliphant to Lochlea in the
parish of Tarbolton (1777), an upland undulating farm, on the north
bank of the River Ayr, with a wide outlook, southward over the hills
of Carrick, westward toward the Isle of Arran, Ailsa Craig, and down
the Firth of Clyde, toward the Western Sea. This was the home of Burns
and his family from his eighteenth till his twenty-fifth year. For a
time the family life here was more comfortable than before, probably
because several of the children were now able to assist their parents
in farm labour. "These seven years," says Gilbert Burns, "brought
small literary improvement to Robert," but I can hardly believe this
when we remember that Lochlea saw the composition of _The Death and
Dying Words of Poor Mailie_, and of _My Nannie, O_, and one or two more
of his most popular songs. It was during those days that Robert,   (p. 010)
then growing into manhood, first ventured to step beyond the range of
his father's control, and to trust the promptings of his own social
instincts and headlong passions. The first step in this direction was
to go to a dancing school, in a neighbouring village, that he might
there meet companions of either sex, and give his rustic manners "a
brush," as he phrases it. The next step was taken when Burns resolved
to spend his nineteenth summer in Kirkoswald, to learn mensuration and
surveying from the schoolmaster there, who was famous as a teacher of
these things. Griswold, on the Carrick coast, was a village full of
smugglers and adventurers, in whose society Burns was introduced to
scenes of what he calls "swaggering riot and roaring dissipation." It
may readily be believed that with his strong love of sociality and
excitement he was an apt pupil in that school. Still the mensuration
went on till one day, when in the kail-yard behind the teachers house,
Burns met a young lass, who set his heart on fire, and put an end to
mensuration. This incident is celebrated in the song beginning--

               Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns
               Bring Autumn's pleasant weather,--

"the ebullition," he calls it, "of that passion which ended the school
business at Kirkoswald."

From this time on for several years, love making was his chief
amusement, or rather his most serious business. His brother tells us
that he was in the secret of half the love affairs of the parish of
Tarbolton, and was never without at least one of his own. There was
not a comely girl in Tarbolton on whom he did not compose a song, and
then he made one which included them all. When he was thus inly    (p. 011)
moved, "the agitations of his mind and body," says Gilbert, "exceeded
anything of the kind I ever knew in real life. He had always a
particular jealousy of people who were richer than himself, or had
more consequence. His love therefore rarely settled on persons of this
description." The jealousy here noted, as extending even to his loves,
was one of the weakest points of the poet's character. Of the ditties
of that time, most of which have been preserved, the best specimen is
_My Nannie, O_. This song, and the one entitled _Mary Morison_ render
the whole scenery and sentiment of those rural meetings in a manner at
once graphic and free from coarseness. Yet, truth to speak, it must be
said that those gloaming trysts, however they may touch the imagination
and lend themselves to song, do in reality lie at the root of much
that degrades the life and habits of the Scottish peasantry.

But those first three or four years at Lochlea, if not free from
peril, were still with the poet times of innocence. His brother
Gilbert, in the words of Chambers, "used to speak of his brother as at
this period, to himself, a more admirable being than at any other. He
recalled with delight the days when they had to go with one or two
companions to cut peats for the winter fuel, because Robert was sure
to enliven their toil with a rattling fire of witty remarks on men and
things, mingled with the expressions of a genial glowing heart, and
the whole perfectly free from the taint which he afterwards acquired
from his contact with the world. Not even in those volumes which
afterwards charmed his country from end to end, did Gilbert see his
brother in so interesting a light as in these conversations in the
bog, with only two or three noteless peasants for an audience."

While Gilbert acknowledges that his brother's love-makings were at (p. 012)
this time unceasing, he asserts that they were "governed by the
strictest rules of virtue and modesty, from which he never deviated
till he reached his twenty-third year." It was towards the close of
his twenty-second that there occurs the record of his first serious
desire to marry and settle in life. He had set his affections on a
young woman named Ellison Begbie, daughter of a small farmer, and at
that time servant in a family on Cessnock Water, about two miles from
Lochlea. She is said to have been not a beauty, but of unusual
liveliness and grace of mind. Long afterwards, when he had seen much
of the world, Burns spoke of this young woman as, of all those on whom
he ever fixed his fickle affections, the one most likely to have made
a pleasant partner for life. Four letters which he wrote to her are
preserved, in which he expresses the most pure and honourable feelings
in language which, if a little formal, is, for manliness and
simplicity, a striking contrast to the bombast of some of his later
epistles. Songs, too, he addressed to her--_The Lass of Cessnock
Banks_, _Bonnie Peggy Alison_, and _Mary Morison_. The two former are
inconsiderable; the latter is one of those pure and beautiful
love-lyrics, in the manner of the old ballads, which, as Hazlitt says,
"take the deepest and most lasting hold on the mind."

            Yestreen, when to the trembling string,
              The dance gaed thro' the lighted ha',
            To thee my fancy took its wing,
              I sat, but neither heard nor saw:
            Tho' this was fair, and that was braw,
              And yon the toast of a' the town,
            I sigh'd, and said amang them a',
              "Ye are na Mary Morison."

            Oh, Mary, canst thou wreck his peace,                  (p. 013)
              Wha for thy sake wad gladly die;
            Or canst thou break that heart of his,
              Whase only faut is loving thee?
            If love for love thou wilt na gie,
              At least be pity to me shown;
            A thought ungentle canna be
              The thought o' Mary Morison.

In these lines the lyric genius of Burns was for the first time
undeniably revealed.

But neither letters nor love-songs prevailed. The young woman, for
some reason untold, was deaf to his entreaties, and the rejection of
this his best affection fell on him with a malign influence, just as
he was setting his face to learn a trade which he hoped would enable
him to maintain a wife.

Irvine was at that time a centre of the flax-dressing art, and as
Robert and his brother raised flax on their farm, they hoped that if
they could dress as well as grow flax, they might thereby double their
profits. As he met with this heavy disappointment in love just as he
was setting out for Irvine, he went thither downhearted and depressed,
at Midsummer, 1781. All who met him at that time were struck with his
look of melancholy, and his moody silence, from which he roused
himself only when in pleasant female society, or when he met with men
of intelligence. But the persons of this sort whom he met in Irvine
were probably few. More numerous were the smugglers and rough-living
adventurers with which that seaport town, as Kirkoswald, swarmed.
Among these he contracted, says Gilbert, "some acquaintance of a freer
manner of thinking and living than he had been used to, whose society
prepared him for over-leaping the bonds of rigid virtue which had
hitherto restrained him." One companion, a sailor-lad of wild life (p. 014)
and loose and irregular habits, had a wonderful fascination for Burns,
who admired him for what he thought his independence and magnanimity.
"He was," says Burns, "the only man I ever knew who was a greater fool
than myself, where woman was the presiding star; but he spoke of
lawless love with levity, which hitherto I had regarded with horror.
_Here his friendship did me a mischief._"

Another companion, older than himself, thinking that the religious
views of Burns were too rigid and uncompromising, induced him to adopt
"more liberal opinions," which in this case, as in so many others,
meant more lax opinions. With his principles of belief, and his rules
of conduct at once assailed and undermined, what chart or compass
remained any more for a passionate being like Burns over the
passion-swept sea of life that lay before him? The migration to Irvine
was to him the descent to Avernus, from which he never afterwards, in
the actual conduct of life, however often in his hours of inspiration,
escaped to breathe again the pure upper air. This brief but disastrous
Irvine sojourn was brought to a sudden close. Burns was robbed by his
partner in trade, his flax-dressing shop was burnt to the ground by
fire during the carousal of a New Year's morning, and himself,
impaired in purse, in spirits, and in character, returned to Lochlea
to find misfortunes thickening round his family, and his father on his
death-bed. For the old man, his long struggle with scanty means,
barren soil, and bad seasons, was now near its close. Consumption had
set in. Early in 1784, when his last hour drew on, the father said
that there was one of his children of whose future he could not think
without fear. Robert, who was in the room, came up to his bedside  (p. 015)
and asked, "O father, is it me you mean?" The old man said it was.
Robert turned to the window, with tears streaming down his cheeks, and
his bosom swelling, from the restraint he put on himself, almost to
bursting. The father had early perceived the genius that was in his
boy, and even in Mount Oliphant days had said to his wife, "Whoever
lives to see it, something extraordinary will come from that boy." He
had lived to see and admire his son's earliest poetic efforts. But he
had also noted the strong passions, with the weak will, which might
drive him on the shoals of life.

MOSSGIEL.--Towards the close of 1783, Robert and his brother, seeing
clearly the crash of family affairs which was impending, had taken on
their own account a lease of the small farm of Mossgiel, about two or
three miles distant from Lochlea, in the parish of Mauchline. When
their father died in February, 1784, it was only by claiming the
arrears of wages due to them, and ranking among their father's
creditors, that they saved enough from the domestic wreck, to stock
their new farm. Thither they conveyed their widowed mother, and their
younger brothers and sisters, in March, 1784. Their new home was a
bare upland farm, 118 acres of cold clay-soil, lying within a mile of
Mauchline village. Burns entered on it with a firm resolution to be
prudent, industrious, and thrifty. In his own words, "I read farming
books, I calculated crops, I attended markets, and, in short, in spite
of the devil, the world, and the flesh, I should have been a wise man;
but the first year from unfortunately buying bad seed--the second,
from a late harvest, we lost half our crops. This overset all my
wisdom, and I returned like the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was
washed to her wallowing in the mire." Burns was in the beginning   (p. 016)
of his twenty-sixth year when he took up his abode at Mossgiel, where
he remained for four years. Three things those years and that bare
moorland farm witnessed,--the wreck of his hopes as a farmer, the
revelation of his genius as a poet, and the frailty of his character
as a man. The result of the immoral habits and "liberal opinions"
which he had learnt at Irvine were soon apparent in that event of
which he speaks in his _Epistle to John Rankine_ with such unbecoming
levity. In the Chronological Edition of his works it is painful to
read on one page the pathetic lines which he engraved on his father's
headstone, and a few pages on, written almost at the same time, the
epistle above alluded to, and other poems in the same strain, in which
the defiant poet glories in his shame. It was well for the old man
that he was laid in Alloway Kirkyard before these things befell. But
the widowed mother had to bear the burden, and to receive in her home
and bring up the child that should not have been born. When silence
and shame would have most become him, Burns poured forth his feelings
in ribald verses, and bitterly satirized the parish minister, who
required him to undergo that public penance which the discipline of
the Church at that time exacted. Whether this was a wise discipline or
not, no blame attached to the minister, who merely carried out the
rules which his Church enjoined. It was no proof of magnanimity in
Burns to use his talent in reviling the minister, who had done nothing
more than his duty. One can hardly doubt but that in his inmost heart
he must have been visited with other and more penitential feelings
than those unseemly verses express. But, as Lockhart has well observed,
"his false pride recoiled from letting his jovial associates know  (p. 017)
how little he was able to drown the whispers of the still small voice;
and the fermenting bitterness of a mind ill at ease within himself
escaped--as may be often traced in the history of satirists--in angry
sarcasms against those who, whatever their private errors might be,
had at least done him no wrong." Mr. Carlyle's comment on this crisis
of his life is too weighty to be omitted here. "With principles
assailed by evil example from without, by 'passions raging like
demons' from within, he had little need of sceptical misgivings to
whisper treason in the heat of the battle, or to cut off his retreat
if he were already defeated. He loses his feeling of innocence; his
mind is at variance with itself; the old divinity no longer presides
there; but wild Desires and wild Repentance alternately oppress him.
Ere long, too, he has committed himself before the world; his
character for sobriety, dear to a Scottish peasant as few corrupted
worldlings can even conceive, is destroyed in the eyes of men; and his
only refuge consists in trying to disbelieve his guiltiness, and is
but a refuge of lies. The blackest desperation gathers over him,
broken only by the red lightnings of remorse." Amid this trouble it
was but a poor vanity and miserable love of notoriety which could
console itself with the thought

               The mair they talk, I'm kent the better,
                    E'en let them clash.

Or was this not vanity at all, but the bitter irony of self-reproach?

This collision with the minister and Kirk Session of his parish, and
the bitter feelings it engendered in his rebellious bosom, at once
launched Burns into the troubled sea of religious controversy that was
at that time raging all around him. The clergy of the West were divided
into two parties, known as the Auld Lights and the New Lights.     (p. 018)
Ayrshire and the west of Scotland had long been the stronghold of
Presbyterianism and of the Covenanting spirit; and in Burns's day--a
century and a half after the Covenant--a large number of the ministers
still adhered to its principles, and preached the Puritan theology
undiluted. These men were democratic in their ecclesiastical views,
and stout protestors against Patronage, which has always been the
bugbear of the sects in Scotland. As Burns expresses it, they did
their best to stir up their flocks to

               Join their counsel and their skills
                    To cowe the lairds,
               An' get the brutes the power themsels
                    To chuse their herds.

All Burns's instincts would naturally have been on the side of those
who wished to resist patronage and "to cowe the lairds," had not this
his natural tendency been counteracted by a stronger bias drawing him
in an opposite direction. The Auld Lights, though democrats in Church
politics, were the upholders of that strict church discipline under
which he was smarting, and to this party belonged his own minister,
who had brought that discipline to bear upon him. Burns, therefore,
naturally threw himself into the arms of the opposite, or New Light
party, who were more easy in their life and in their doctrine. This
large and growing section of ministers were deeply imbued with
rationalism, or, as they then called it, "common-sense," in the light
of which they pared away from religion all that was mysterious and
supernatural. Some of them were said to be Socinians or even pure Deists,
most of them shone less in the pulpit, than at the festive board.  (p. 019)
With such men a person in Burns's then state of mind would readily
sympathize, and they received him with open arms. Nothing could have
been more unfortunate than that in this crisis of his career he should
have fallen into intimacy with those hard-headed but coarse-minded
men. They were the first persons of any pretensions to scholarly
education with whom he had mingled freely. He amused them with the
sallies of his wit and sarcasm, and astonished them by his keen
insight and vigorous powers of reasoning. They abetted those very
tendencies in his nature which required to be checked. Their
countenance, as clergymen, would allay the scruples and misgivings he
might otherwise have felt, and stimulate to still wilder recklessness
whatever profanity he might be tempted to indulge in. When he had let
loose his first shafts of satire against their stricter brethren,
those New Light ministers heartily applauded him; and hounded him on
to still more daring assaults. He had not only his own quarrel with
his parish minister and the stricter clergy to revenge, but the
quarrel also of his friend and landlord, Gavin Hamilton, a county
lawyer, who had fallen under Church censure for neglect of Church
ordinances, and had been debarred from the Communion. Burns espoused
Gavin's cause with characteristic zeal, and let fly new arrows one
after another from his satirical quiver.

The first of these satires against the orthodox ministers was _The Twa
Herds, or the Holy Tulzie_, written on a quarrel between two brother
clergymen. Then followed in quick succession _Holy Willie's Prayer_,
_The Ordination_, and _The Holy Fair_. His good mother and his brother
were pained by these performances, and remonstrated against them. But
Burns, though he generally gave ear to their counsel, in this      (p. 020)
instance turned a deaf ear to it, and listened to other advisers. The
love of exercising his strong powers of satire and the applause of his
boon-companions, lay and clerical, prevailed over the whispers of his
own better nature and the advice of his truest friends. Whatever may
be urged in defence of employing satire to lash hypocrisy, I cannot
but think that those who have loved most what is best in Burns' poetry
must have regretted that these poems were ever written. Some have
commended them on the ground that they have exposed religious pretence
and Pharisaism. The good they may have done in this way is perhaps
doubtful. But the harm they have done in Scotland is not doubtful, in
that they have connected in the minds of the people so many coarse and
even profane thoughts with objects which they had regarded till then
with reverence. Even _The Holy Fair_, the poem in this kind which is
least offensive, turns on the abuses that then attended the
celebration of the Holy Communion in rural parishes, and with great
power portrays those gatherings in their most mundane aspects. Yet, as
Lockhart has well remarked, those things were part of the same
religious system which produced the scenes which Burns has so
beautifully described in _The Cotter's Saturday Night_. Strange that
the same mind, almost at the same moment, should have conceived two
poems so different in spirit as _The Cotter's Saturday Night_ and _The
Holy Fair_!

I have dwelt thus long on these unpleasant satires that I may not have
again to return to them. It is a more welcome task to turn to the
other poems of the same period. Though Burns had entered on Mossgiel
resolved to do his best as a farmer, he soon discovered that it was
not in that way he was to attain success. The crops of 1784 and    (p. 021)
1785 both failed, and their failure seems to have done something
to drive him in on his own internal resources. He then for the first
time seems to have awakened to the conviction that his destiny was to
be a poet; and he forthwith set himself, with more resolution than he
ever showed before or after, to fulfil that mission. Hitherto he had
complained that his life had been without an aim; now he determined
that it should be so no longer. The dawning hope began to gladden him
that he might take his place among the bards of Scotland, who,
themselves mostly unknown, have created that atmosphere of minstrelsy
which envelopes and glorifies their native country. This hope and aim
is recorded in an entry of his commonplace book, of the probable date
of August, 1784:--

"However I am pleased with the works of our Scotch poets, particularly
the excellent Ramsay, and the still more excellent Fergusson, yet I am
hurt to see other places of Scotland, their towns, rivers, woods, and
haughs, immortalized in such celebrated performances, while my dear
native country,--the ancient bailieries of Carrick, Kyle, and Cunningham,
famous both in ancient and modern times for a gallant and warlike race
of inhabitants--a country where civil, and particularly religious
liberty, have ever found their first support, and their last asylum--a
country, the birthplace of many famous philosophers, soldiers, and
statesmen, and the scene of many important events recorded in Scottish
history, particularly a great many of the actions of the glorious
Wallace, the saviour of his country--yet we have never had one Scotch
poet of any eminence to make the fertile banks of Irvine, the romantic
woodlands and sequestered scenes of Ayr, and the heathy mountainous
source and winding sweep of Doon, emulate Tay, Forth, Ettrick,     (p. 022)
Tweed. This is a complaint I would gladly remedy; but, alas! I am far
unequal to the task, both, in native genius and in education. Obscure
I am, obscure I must be, though no young poet nor young soldier's
heart ever beat more fondly for fame than mine."

Though the sentiment here expressed may seem commonplace and the
language hardly grammatical, yet this extract clearly reveals the
darling ambition that was now haunting the heart of Burns. It was the
same wish which he expressed better in rhyme at a later day in his
_Epistle to the Gude Wife of Wauchope House_.

               E'en then, a wish, I mind its power,
               A wish that to my latest hour
                 Shall strongly heave my breast,
               That I for poor Auld Scotland's sake
               Some usefu' plan or beuk could make,
                 Or sing a sang at least.
               The rough burr-thistle, spreading wide
                 Amang the bearded bear,
               I turn'd the weeder-clips aside,
                 An' spar'd the symbol dear.

It was about his twenty-fifth year when he first conceived the hope
that he might become a national poet. The failure of his first two
harvests, 1784 and '85, in Mossgiel may well have strengthened this
desire and changed it into a fixed purpose. If he was not to succeed
as a farmer, might he not find success in another employment that was
much more to his mind?

And this longing so deeply cherished, he had, within less than two
years from the time that the above entry in his diary was written,
amply fulfilled. From the autumn of 1784 till May 1786 the fountains
of poetry were unsealed within, and flowed forth in a continuous
stream. That period so prolific of poetry that none like it ever   (p. 023)
afterwards visited him, saw the production not only of the satirical
poems already noticed, and of another more genial satire, _Death and
Dr. Hornbook_, but also of those characteristic epistles in which he
reveals so much of his own character, and of those other descriptive
poems in which he so wonderfully delineates the habits of the Scottish

Within from sixteen to eighteen months were composed, not only seven
or eight long epistles to rhyme-composing brothers in the neighbourhood,
David Sillar, John Lapraik, and others, but also, _Halloween_, _To a
Mouse_, _The Jolly Beggars_, _The Cotter's Saturday Night_, _Address
to the Deil_, _The Auld Farmer's Address to his Auld Mare_, _The
Vision_, _The Twa Dogs_, _The Mountain Daisy_. The descriptive poems
above named followed each other in rapid succession during that
spring-time of his genius, having been all composed, as the latest
edition of his works shows, in a period of about six months, between
November, 1785, and April, 1786. Perhaps there are none of Burns'
compositions which give the real man more naturally and unreservedly
than his epistles. Written in the dialect he had learnt by his
father's fireside, to friends in his own station, who shared his own
tastes and feelings, they flow on in an easy stream of genial happy
spirits, in which kindly humour, wit, love of the outward world,
knowledge of men, are all beautifully intertwined into one strand of
poetry, unlike anything else that has been seen before or since. The
outward form of the verse and the style of diction are no doubt after
the manner of his two forerunners whom he so much admired, Ramsay and
Fergusson; but the play of soul and power of expression, the natural
grace with which they rise and fall, the vividness of every image, (p. 024)
and transparent truthfulness of every sentiment, are all his own. If
there is any exception to be made to this estimate, it is in the
grudge which here and there peeps out against those whom he thought
greater favourites of fortune than himself and his correspondents. But
taken as a whole, I know not any poetic epistles to be compared with
them. They are just the letters in which one friend might unbosom
himself to another without the least artifice or disguise. And the
broad Doric is so pithy, so powerful, so aptly fitted to the thought,
that not even Horace himself has surpassed it in "curious felicity."
Often, when harvests were failing and the world going against him, he
found his solace in pouring forth in rhyme his feelings to some
trusted friend. As he says in one of these same epistles,--

               Leeze me on rhyme! it's aye a treasure,
               My chief, amaist my only pleasure,
               At hame, a-fiel', at wark, at leisure,
                    The Muse, poor hizzie!
               Tho' rough an' raploch be her measure,
                    She's seldom lazy.

Of the poems founded on the customs of the peasantry, I shall speak in
the sequel. The garret in which all the poems of this period were
written is thus described by Chambers:--"The farmhouse of Mossgiel,
which still exists almost unchanged since the days of the poet, is
very small, consisting of only two rooms, a but and a ben as they are
called in Scotland. Over these, reached by a trap stair, is a small
garret, in which Robert and his brother used to sleep. Thither, when
he had returned from his day's work, the poet used to retire, and seat
himself at a small deal table, lighted by a narrow skylight in the roof,
to transcribe the verses which he had composed in the fields. His  (p. 025)
favourite time for composition was at the plough. Long years afterwards
his sister, Mrs. Begg, used to tell how when her brother had gone
forth again to field work, she would steal up to the garret and search
the drawer of the deal table for the verses which Robert had newly

In which of the poems of this period his genius is most conspicuous it
might not be easy to determine. But there can be little question about
the justice of Lockhart's remark, that "_The Cotter's Saturday Night_
is of all Burns's pieces the one whose exclusion from the collection
would be most injurious, if not to the genius of the poet, at least to
the character of the man. In spite of many feeble lines, and some
heavy stanzas, it appears to me that even his genius would suffer more
in estimation by being contemplated in the absence of this poem, than
of any other single poem he has left us." Certainly it is the one
which has most endeared his name to the more thoughtful and earnest of
his countrymen. Strange it is, not to say painful, to think that this
poem, in which the simple and manly piety of his country is so finely
touched, and the image of his own religious father so beautifully
portrayed, should have come from the same hand which wrote nearly at
the same time _The Jolly Beggars_, _The Ordination_, and _The Holy

During those two years at Mossgiel, from 1784 to 1786, when the times
were hard, and the farm unproductive, Burns must indeed have found
poetry to be, as he himself says, its own reward. A nature like his
required some vent for itself, some excitement to relieve the pressure
of dull farm drudgery, and this was at once his purest and noblest
excitement. In two other more hazardous forms of excitement he was by
temperament disposed to seek refuge. These were conviviality and   (p. 026)
love-making. In the former of these, Gilbert says that he indulged
little, if at all, during his Mossgiel period. And this seems proved
by his brother's assertion that during all that time Robert's private
expenditure never exceeded seven pounds a year. When he had dressed
himself on this, and procured his other necessaries, the margin that
remained for drinking must have been small indeed. But love-making--that
had been with him, ever since he reached manhood, an unceasing
employment. Even in his later teens he had, as his earliest songs
show, given himself enthusiastically to those nocturnal meetings,
which were then and are still customary among the peasantry of
Scotland, and which at the best are full of perilous temptation. But
ever since the time when, during his Irvine sojourn, he forsook the
paths of innocence, there is nothing in any of his love-affairs which
those who prize what was best in Burns would not willingly forget. If
here we allude to two such incidents, it is because they are too
intimately bound up with his life to be passed over in any account of
it. Gilbert says that while "one generally reigned paramount in
Robert's affections, he was frequently encountering other attractions,
which formed so many underplots in the drama of his love." This is
only too evident in those two loves which most closely touched his
destiny at this time.

From the time of his settlement at Mossgiel frequent allusions occur
in his letters and poems to flirtations with the belles of the
neighbouring village of Mauchline. Among all these Jean Armour, the
daughter of a respectable master-mason in that village, had the chief
place in his affections. All through 1785 their courtship had
continued, but early in 1786 a secret and irregular marriage, with (p. 027)
a written acknowledgment of it had to be effected. Then followed the
father's indignation that his daughter should be married to so wild
and worthless a man as Burns; compulsion of his daughter to give up
Burns, and to destroy the document which vouched their marriage;
Burns's despair driving him to the verge of insanity; the letting
loose by the Armours of the terrors of the law against him; his
skulking for a time in concealment; his resolve to emigrate to the
West Indies, and become a slave-driver. All these things were passing
in the spring months of 1786, and in September of the same year Jean
Armour became the mother of twin children.

It would be well if we might believe that the story of his betrothal
to Highland Mary was, as Lockhart seems to have thought, previous to
and independent of the incidents just mentioned. But the more recent
investigations of Mr. Scott Douglas and Dr. Chambers have made it too
painfully clear that it was almost at the very time when he was half
distracted by Jean Armour's desertion of him, and while he was writing
his broken-hearted _Lament_ over her conduct, that there occurred, as
an interlude, the episode of Mary Campbell. This simple and
sincere-hearted girl from Argyllshire was, Lockhart says, the object
of by far the deepest passion Burns ever knew. And Lockhart gives at
length the oft-told tale how, on the second Sunday of May, 1786, they
met in a sequestered spot by the banks of the River Ayr, to spend one
day of parting love; how they stood, one on either side of a small
brook, laved their hands in the stream, and, holding a Bible between
them, vowed eternal fidelity to each other. They then parted, never
again to meet. In October of the same year Mary came from Argyllshire,
as far as Greenock, in the hope of meeting Burns, but she was      (p. 028)
there seized with a malignant fever which soon laid her in an early

The Bible, in two volumes, which Burns gave her on that parting day,
has been recently recovered. On the first volume is inscribed, in
Burns's hand, "And ye shall not swear by My Name falsely, I am the
Lord. Levit. 19th chap. 12th verse;" and on the second volume, "Thou
shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine
oath. Matth. 5th chap. 33rd verse." But the names of Mary Campbell and
Robert Burns, which were originally inscribed on the volumes, have
been almost obliterated. It has been suggested by Mr. Scott Douglas,
the most recent editor who has investigated anew the whole incident,
that, "in the whirl of excitement which soon followed that Sunday,
Burns forgot his vow to poor Mary, and that she, heart-sore at his
neglect, deleted the names from this touching memorial of their secret

Certain it is that in the very next month, June, 1786, we find Burns,
in writing to one of his friends about "poor, ill-advised, ungrateful
Armour," declaring that, "to confess a truth between you and me, I do
still love her to distraction after all, though I won't tell her so if
I were to see her." And Chambers even suggests that there was still a
third love interwoven, at this very time, in the complicated web of
Burns's fickle affections. Burns, though he wrote several poems about
Highland Mary, which afterwards appeared, never mentioned her name to
any of his family. Even, if there was no more in the story than what
has been here given, no wonder that a heart like Burns, which, for all
its unsteadfastness, never lost its sensibility, nor even a sense of
conscience, should have been visited by the remorse which forms the
burden of the lyric to Mary in heaven, written three years after.  (p. 029)

               See'st thou thy lover lowly laid?
               Hear'st thou the pangs that rend his breast?

The misery of his condition, about the time when Highland Mary died,
and the conflicting feelings which agitated him, are depicted in the
following extract from a letter which he wrote probably about October,
1786, to his friend Robert Aiken:--

"There are many things that plead strongly against it [seeking a place
in the Excise]: the uncertainty of getting soon into business; the
consequences of my follies, which perhaps make it impracticable for me
to stay at home; and, besides, I have been for some time pining under
secret wretchedness, from causes which you pretty well know--the pang
of disappointment, the sting of pride, with some wandering stabs of
remorse, which never fail to settle on my vitals like vultures, when
attention is not called away by the calls of society or the vagaries
of the Muse. Even in the hour of social mirth, my gaiety is the
madness of an intoxicated criminal under the hands of the executioner.
All these reasons urge me to go abroad, and to all these reasons I
have only one answer--the feelings of a father. This, in the present
mood I am in, overbalances everything that can be laid in the scale
against it. You may perhaps think it an extravagant fancy, but it is a
sentiment which strikes home to my very soul; though sceptical in some
points of our current belief, yet I think I have every evidence for
the reality of a life beyond the stinted bourne of our present existence:
if so, then how should I, in the presence of that tremendous Being,
the Author of existence, how should I meet the reproaches of those who
stand to me in the dear relation of children, whom I deserted in   (p. 030)
the smiling innocency of helpless infancy? Oh, Thou great unknown
Power! Thou Almighty God! who hast lighted up reason in my breast, and
blessed me with immortality! I have frequently wandered from that
order and regularity necessary for the perfection of Thy works, yet
Thou hast never left me nor forsaken me...."

       *       *       *       *       *

"You see, sir, that if to know one's errors were a probability of
mending them, I stand a fair chance; but, according to the reverend
Westminster divines, though conviction must precede conversion, it is
very far from always implying it."

This letter exhibits the tumult of soul in which he had been tossed
during the last six months before it was written. He had by his own
conduct wound round himself complications from which he could not
extricate himself, yet which he could not but poignantly feel. One
cannot read of the "wandering stabs of remorse" of which he speaks,
without thinking of Highland Mary.

Some months before the above letter was written, in the April of the
same year, at the time when he first fell into trouble with Jean
Armour and her father, Burns had resolved to leave his country and
sail for the West Indies. He agreed with a Mr. Douglas to go to
Jamaica and become a book-keeper on his estate there. But how were
funds to be got to pay his passage-money? His friend Gavin Hamilton
suggested that the needed sum might be raised, if he were to publish
by subscription, the poems he had lying in his table-drawer.

Accordingly, in April, the publication of his poems was resolved on.
His friends, Gavin Hamilton of Mauchline, Aiken and Ballantyne of Ayr,
Muir and Parker of Kilmarnock, and others--all did their best to   (p. 031)
get the subscription lists quickly filled. The last-named person put
down his own name for thirty-five copies. The printing of them was
committed to John Wilson, a printer in Kilmarnock, and during May,
June, and July of 1786, the work of the press was going forward. In
the interval between the resolution to publish and the appearance of
the poems, during his distraction about Jean Armour's conduct,
followed by the episode of Highland Mary, Burns gave vent to his own
dark feelings in some of the saddest strains that ever fell from
him--the lines on _The Mountain Daisy_, _The Lament_, the Odes to
_Despondency_ and to _Ruin_. And yet so various were his moods, so
versatile his powers, that it was during that same interval that he
composed, in a very different vein, _The Twa Dogs_, and probably also
his satire of _The Holy Fair_. The following is the account the poet
gives of these transactions in the autobiographical sketch of himself
which he communicated to Dr. Moore:--

"I now began to be known in the neighbourhood as a maker of rhymes.
The first of my poetic offspring that saw light was a burlesque
lamentation of a quarrel between two reverend Calvinists; both of them
were _dramatis personæ_ in my _Holy Fair_. I had a notion myself, that
the piece had some merit; but to prevent the worst, I gave a copy of
it to a friend who was fond of such things, and told him that I could
not guess who was the author of it, but that I thought it pretty
clever. With a certain description of the clergy as well as the laity,
it met with a roar of applause.

"_Holy Willie's Prayer_ next made its appearance, and alarmed the Kirk
Session so much, that they held several meetings to look over their
spiritual artillery, if haply any of it might be pointed against   (p. 032)
profane rhymers. Unluckily for me, my wandering led me on another
side, within point-blank shot of their heaviest metal. This is the
unfortunate incident which gave rise to my printed poem, _The Lament_.
This was a most melancholy affair, which I cannot yet bear to reflect
on, and had very nearly given me one or two of the principal
qualifications for a place among those who have lost the chart and
mistaken the reckoning of Rationality.

"I gave up my part of the farm to my brother, and made what little
preparation was in my power for Jamaica. But, before leaving my
native country for ever, I resolved to publish my poems. I weighed my
productions as impartially as was in my power; I thought they had
merit; and it was a delicious idea that I should be called a clever
fellow, even though it should never reach my ears--a poor
negro-driver, or perhaps a victim to that inhospitable clime, and gone
to the world of spirits! I can truly say, that _pauvre inconnu_ as I
then was, I had pretty nearly as high an idea of my works as I have at
this moment, when the public has decided in their favour....

"I threw off about six hundred copies, of which I got subscriptions
for about three hundred and fifty. My vanity was highly gratified by
the reception I met with from the public; and besides, I pocketed, all
expenses deducted, nearly twenty pounds. This sum came very
seasonably, as I was thinking of indenting myself, for want of money,
to procure a passage. As soon as I was master of nine guineas, the
price of wafting me to the torrid zone, I took a steerage passage in
the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde, for

               Hungry ruin had me in the wind.

"I had been for some days skulking from covert to covert, under    (p. 033)
all the terrors of a jail, as some ill-advised people had uncoupled
the merciless pack of the law at my heels. I had taken the last
farewell of my friends; my chest was on the way to Greenock; I had
composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia, '_The
gloomy night is gathering fast_,' when a letter from Dr. Blackwood to
a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening up new prospects
to my poetic ambition."

It was at the close of July while Burns was, according to his own
account, "wandering from one friend's house to another," to avoid the
jail with which he was threatened by Jean Armour's father, that the
volume appeared, containing the immortal poems (1786). That Burns
himself had some true estimate of their real worth is shown by the way
in which he expresses himself in his preface to his volume.

Ushered in with what Lockhart calls, a "modest and manly preface," the
Kilmarnock volume went forth to the world. The fame of it spread at
once like wild-fire throughout Ayrshire and the parts adjacent. This
is the account of its reception given by Robert Heron, a young
literary man, who was at that time living in the Stewartry of
Kirkcudbright:--"Old and young, high and low, grave and gay, learned
or ignorant, were alike delighted, agitated, transported. I was at
that time resident in Galloway, contiguous to Ayrshire, and I can well
remember how even ploughboys and maid-servants would have gladly
bestowed the wages they earned most hardly, and which they wanted to
purchase necessary clothing, if they might procure the works of
Burns." The edition consisted of six hundred copies--three hundred and
fifty had been subscribed for before publication, and the remainder
seems to have been sold off in about two mouths from their first   (p. 034)
appearance. When all expenses were paid, Burns received twenty pounds
as his share of the profits. Small as this sum was, it would have more
than sufficed to convey him to the West Indies; and, accordingly, with
nine pounds of it he took a steerage passage in a vessel which was
expected to sail from Greenock at the beginning of September. But from
one cause or another the day of sailing was postponed, his friends
began to talk of trying to get him a place in the Excise, his fame was
rapidly widening in his own country, and his powers were finding a
response in minds superior to any which he had hitherto known. Up to
this time he had not associated with any persons of a higher grade
than the convivial lawyers of Mauchline and Ayr, and the mundane
ministers of the New Light school. But now persons of every rank were
anxious to become acquainted with the wonderful Ayrshire Ploughman,
for it was by that name he now began to be known, just as in the next
generation another poet of as humble birth was spoken of as The
Ettrick Shepherd. The first persons of a higher order who sought the
acquaintanceship of Burns were Dugald Stewart and Mrs. Dunlop of
Dunlop. The former of these two was the celebrated Scotch metaphysician,
one of the chief ornaments of Edinburgh and its University at the
close of last and the beginning of this century. He happened to be
passing the summer at Catrine, on the Ayr, a few miles from Burns's
farm, and having been made acquainted with the poet's works and
character by Mr. Mackenzie, the surgeon of Mauchline, he invited the
poet and the medical man to dine with him at Catrine. The day of this
meeting was the 23rd of October, only three days after that on which
Highland Mary died. Burns met on that day not only the professor   (p. 035)
and his accomplished wife, but for the first time in his life dined
with a live lord--a young nobleman, said to have been of high promise,
Lord Daer, eldest son of the then Earl of Selkirk. He had been a
former pupil of Dugald Stewart, and happened to be at that time his
guest. Burns has left the following humorous record of his own
feelings at that meeting:--

            This wot ye all whom it concerns,
            I, Rhymer Robin, alias Burns,
                  October twenty-third,
            A ne'er to be forgotten day,
            Sae far I sprachled up the brae [clambered],
                  I dinner'd wi' a Lord.

                 *       *       *       *       *

            But wi' a Lord! stand out my shin,
            A Lord,--a Peer, an Earl's Son!
                  Up higher yet my bonnet!
            And sic a Lord! lang Scotch ells twa,
            Our Peerage he o'erlooks them a',
                  As I look o'er a sonnet.

            But oh for Hogarth's magic power!
            To show Sir Bardie's willyart glower [bewildered],
                  And how he stared and stammered,
            When goavan, as if led in branks, [moving stupidly],
            And stumpin' on his ploughman shanks,
                  He in the parlour hammered.

            I sidling sheltered in a nook,
            An' at his Lordship steal't a look
                  Like some portentous omen;
            Except good sense and social glee,
            An' (what surprised me) modesty,
                  I marked nought uncommon.

            I watched the symptoms o' the great,
            The gentle pride, the lordly state,
                  The arrogant assuming;
            The fient a pride, nae pride had he,
            Nor sauce, nor state, that I could see,
                  Mair than an honest ploughman.

From this record of that evening given by Burns, it is interesting (p. 036)
to turn to the impression made on Professor Stewart by this their
first interview. He says,--

"His manners were then, as they continued ever afterwards, simple,
manly, and independent; strongly expressive of conscious genius and
worth, but without anything that indicated forwardness, arrogance, or
vanity. He took his share in conversation, but not more than belonged
to him; and listened with apparent attention and deference on subjects
where his want of education deprived him of the means of information.
If there had been a little more of gentleness and accommodation in his
temper, he would, I think, have been still more interesting; but he
had been accustomed to give law in the circle of his ordinary
acquaintance, and his dread of anything approaching to meanness or
servility rendered his manner somewhat decided and hard. Nothing
perhaps was more remarkable among his various attainments than the
fluency, and precision, and originality of his language, when he spoke
in company; more particularly as he aimed at purity in his turn of
expression, and avoided, more successfully than most Scotchmen, the
peculiarities of Scottish phraseology."

Burns parted with Dugald Stewart, after this evening spent with him in
Ayrshire, to meet him again in the Edinburgh coteries, amid which the
professor shone as a chief light.

Not less important in the history of Burns was his first introduction
to Mrs. Dunlop of Dunlop, a lady who continued the constant friend of
himself and of his family while she lived. She was said to be a lineal
descendant of the brother of the great hero of Scotland, William
Wallace. Gilbert Burns gives the following account of the way in   (p. 037)
which his brother's acquaintance with this lady began.

"Of all the friendships, which Robert acquired in Ayrshire or
elsewhere, none seemed more agreeable to him than that of Mrs. Dunlop
of Dunlop, nor any which has been more uniformly and constantly
exerted in behalf of him and his family, of which, were it proper, I
could give many instances. Robert was on the point of setting out for
Edinburgh before Mrs. Dunlop heard of him. About the time of my
brother's publishing in Kilmarnock, she had been afflicted with a long
and severe illness, which had reduced her mind to the most distressing
state of depression. In this situation, a copy of the printed poems
was laid on her table by a friend; and happening to open on _The
Cotter's Saturday Night_, she read it over with the greatest pleasure
and surprise; the poet's description of the simple cottagers operating
on her mind like the charm of a powerful exorcist, expelling the demon
_ennui_, and restoring her to her wonted inward harmony and
satisfaction. Mrs. Dunlop sent off a person express to Mossgiel,
distant fifteen or sixteen miles, with a very obliging letter to my
brother, desiring him to send her half a dozen copies of his poems, if
he had them to spare, and begging he would do her the pleasure of
calling at Dunlop House as soon as convenient. This was the beginning
of a correspondence which ended only with the poet's life. Nearly the
last use he made with his pen was writing a short letter to this lady
a few days before his death."

The success of the first edition of his poems naturally made Burns
anxious to see a second edition begun. He applied to his Kilmarnock
printer, who refused the venture, unless Burns could supply ready
money to pay for the printing. This he could not do. But the       (p. 038)
poems by this time had been read and admired by the most cultivated
men in Edinburgh, and more than one word of encouragement had reached
him from that city. The earliest of these was contained in a letter
from the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, to whom Mr. Laurie, the kindly and
accomplished minister of Loudoun, had sent the volume. This Mr. Laurie
belonged to the more cultivated section of the Moderate party in the
Church, as it was called, and was the friend of Dr. Hugh Blair,
Principal Robertson, and Dr. Blacklock, and had been the channel
through which Macpherson's fragments of Ossian had first been brought
under the notice of that literary circle, which afterwards introduced
them to the world. The same worthy minister had, on the first
appearance of the poems, made Burns' acquaintance; and had received
him with warm-hearted hospitality. This kindness the poet
acknowledged, on one of his visits to the Manse of Loudoun, by leaving
in the room in which he slept a short poem of six very feeling
stanzas, which contained a prayer for the family. This is the last

               When soon or late they reach that coast,
                 O'er life's rough ocean driven,
               May they rejoice, no wanderer lost,
                 A family in heaven!

As soon as Mr. Laurie received the letter from Dr. Blacklock, written
on the 4th September, in which warm admiration of the Kilmarnock volume
was expressed, he forwarded it to Burns at Mossgiel. The result of it
fell like sunshine on the young poet's heart; for as he says, "The
doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared
to hope." The next word of approval from Edinburgh was a highly
appreciative criticism of the poems, which appeared in a number    (p. 039)
of _The Edinburgh Magazine_ at the beginning of November. Up till this
time Burns had not abandoned his resolution to emigrate to the West
Indies. But the refusal of the Kilmarnock printer to undertake a new
edition, and the voices of encouragement reaching him from Edinburgh,
combining with his natural desire to remain, and be known as a poet,
in his native country, at length made him abandon the thought of
exile. On the 18th November we find him writing to a friend, that he
had determined on Monday or Tuesday, the 27th or 28th November, to set
his face toward the Scottish capital and try his fortune there.

At this stage of the poet's career, Chambers pauses to speculate on
the feelings with which the humble family at Mossgiel would hear of
the sudden blaze of their brother's fame, and of the change it had
made in his prospects. They rejoiced, no doubt, that he was thus
rescued from compulsory banishment, and were no way surprised that the
powers they had long known him to possess had at length won the
world's admiration. If he had fallen into evil courses, none knew it
so well as they, and none had suffered more by these aberrations.
Still, with all his faults, he had always been to them a kind son and
brother, not loved the less for the anxieties he had caused them. But
the pride and satisfaction they felt in his newly-won fame, would be
deep, not demonstrative. For the Burns family were a shy, reserved
race, and like so many of the Scottish peasantry, the more they felt,
the less they would express. In this they were very unlike the poet,
with whom to have a feeling and to express it were almost synonymous.
His mother, though not lacking in admiration of her son, is said to
have been chiefly concerned lest the praises of his genius should make
him forget the Giver of it. Such may have been the feelings of     (p. 040)
the poet's family.

What may we imagine his own feeling to have been in this crisis of his
fate? The thought of Edinburgh society would naturally stir that
ambition which was strong within him, and awaken a desire to meet the
men who were praising him in the capital, and to try his powers in
that wider arena. It might be that in that new scene something might
occur which would reverse the current of his fortunes, and set him
free from the crushing poverty that had hitherto kept him down.
Anyhow, he was conscious of strong powers, which fitted him to shine,
not in poetry only, but in conversation and discussion; and, ploughman
though he was, he did not shrink from encountering any man or any set
of men. Proud, too, we know he was, and his pride often showed itself
in jealousy and suspicion of the classes who were socially above him,
until such feelings were melted by kindly intercourse with some
individual man belonging to the suspected orders. He felt himself to
surpass in natural powers those who were his superiors in rank and
fortune, and he could not, for the life of him, see why they should be
full of this world's goods, while he had none of them. He had not yet
learned--he never did learn--that lesson, that the genius he had
received was his allotted and sufficient portion, and that his wisdom
lay in making the most of this rare inward gift, even on a meagre
allowance of the world's external goods. But perhaps, whether he knew
it or not, the greatest attraction of the capital was the secret hope
that in that new excitement he might escape from the demons of remorse
and despair which had for many months been dogging him. He may have
fancied this, but the pangs which Burns had created for himself    (p. 041)
were too deep to be in this way permanently put by.

The secret of his settled unhappiness lay in the affections that he
had abused in himself and in others who had trusted him. The course he
had run since his Irvine sojourn was not of a kind to give peace to
him or to any man. A coarse man of the world might have stifled the
tender voices that were reproaching him, and have gone on his way
uncaring that his conduct--

                    Hardened a' within,
               And petrified the feeling.

But Burns could not do this. The heart that had responded so feelingly
to the sufferings of lower creatures, the unhoused mouse, the shivering
cattle, the wounded hare, could not without shame remember the wrongs
he had done to those human beings whose chief fault was that they had
trusted him not wisely but too well. And these suggestions of a
sensitive heart, conscience was at hand to enforce--a conscience
wonderfully clear to discern the right, even when the will was least
able to fulfil it. The excitements of a great city, and the loud
praises of his fellow-men might enable him momentarily to forget, but
could not permanently stifle inward voices like these. So it was with
a heart but ill at ease, bearing dark secrets he could tell to no one,
that Burns passed from his Ayrshire cottage into the applause of the
Scottish capital.

CHAPTER II                                                         (p. 042)


The journey of Burns from Mossgiel to Edinburgh was a sort of
triumphal progress. He rode on a pony, lent him by a friend, and as
the journey took two days, his resting-place the first night was at
the farm-house of Covington Mains, in Lanarkshire, hard by the Clyde.
The tenant of this farm, Mr. Prentice, was an enthusiastic admirer of
Burns' poems, and had subscribed for twenty copies of the second
edition. His son, years afterwards, in a letter to Christopher North,
thus describes the evening on which Burns appeared at his father's
farm:--"All the farmers in the parish had read the poet's then
published works, and were anxious to see him. They were all asked to
meet him at a late dinner, and the signal of his arrival was to be a
white sheet attached to a pitchfork, and put on the top of a corn-stack
in the barn-yard. The parish is a beautiful amphitheatre, with the
Clyde winding through it--Wellbrae Hill to the west, Tinto Hill and
the Culter Fells to the south, and the pretty, green, conical hill,
Quothquan Law, to the east. My father's stack-yard, lying in the
centre, was seen from every house in the parish. At length Burns
arrived, mounted on a borrowed _pownie_. Instantly was the white flag
hoisted, and as instantly were seen the farmers issuing from their (p. 043)
houses, and converging to the point of meeting. A glorious evening, or
rather night, which borrowed something from the morning, followed, and
the conversation of the poet confirmed and increased the admiration
created by his writings. On the following morning he breakfasted with
a large party at the next farm-house, tenanted by James Stodart; ...
took lunch with a large party at the bank in Carnwath, and rode into
Edinburgh that evening on the _pownie_, which he returned to the owner
in a few days afterwards by John Samson, the brother of the immortal

This is but a sample of the kind of receptions which were henceforth
to await Burns wherever his coming was known. If such welcomes were
pleasing to his ambition, they must have been trying both to his
bodily and his mental health.

Burns reached Edinburgh on the 28th of November, 1786. The one man of
note there with whom he had any acquaintance was Professor Dugald
Stewart, whom, as already mentioned, he had met in Ayrshire. But it
was not to him or to any one of his reputation that he first turned;
but he sought refuge with John Richmond, an old Mauchline acquaintance,
who was humbly lodged in Baxter's Close, Lawnmarket. During the whole
of his first winter in Edinburgh, Burns lived in the lodging of this
poor lad, and shared with him his single room and bed, for which they
paid three shillings a week. It was from this retreat that Burns was
afterwards to go forth into the best society of the Scottish capital,
and thither, after these brief hospitalities were over, he had to
return. For some days after his arrival in town, he called on no
one--letters of introduction he had none to deliver. But he is said to
have wandered about alone, "looking down from Arthur's Seat,       (p. 044)
surveying the palace, gazing at the castle, or looking into the
windows of the booksellers' shops, where he saw all books of the day,
save the poems of the Ayrshire Ploughman." He found his way to the
lowly grave of Fergusson, and, kneeling down, kissed the sod; he
sought out the house of Allan Ramsay, and, on entering it, took off
his hat. While Burns is thus employed, we may cast a glance at the
capital to which he had come, and the society he was about to enter.

Edinburgh at that time was still adorned by a large number of the
stars of literature, which, although none of those then living may
have reached the first magnitude, had together made a galaxy in the
northern heavens, from the middle till the close of last century. At
that time literature was well represented in the University. The Head
of it was Dr. Robertson, well known as the historian of Charles V.,
and as the author of other historic works. The chair of Belles Lettres
was filled by the accomplished Dr. Hugh Blair, whose lectures remain
one of the best samples of the correct and elegant, but narrow and
frigid style, both of sentiment and criticism, which then flourished
throughout Europe, and nowhere more than in Edinburgh. Another still
greater ornament of the University was Dugald Stewart, the Professor
of Moral Philosophy, whose works, if they have often been surpassed in
depth and originality of speculation, have seldom been equalled for
solid sense and polished ease of diction. The professors at that time
were most of them either taken from the ranks of the clergy, or
closely connected with them.

Among the literary men unconnected with the University by far the
greatest name, that of David Hume, had disappeared about ten years (p. 045)
before Burns arrived in the capital. But his friend, Dr. Adam Smith,
author of _The Wealth of Nations_, still lingered. Mr. Henry Mackenzie,
'The Man of Feeling,' as he was called from his best known work, was
at that time one of the most polished as well as popular writers in
Scotland. He was then conducting a periodical called the _Lounger_,
which was acknowledged as the highest tribunal of criticism in
Scotland, and was not unknown beyond it.

But even more influential than the literary lights of the University
were the magnates of the Bench and Bar. During the eighteenth century
and the earlier part of the nineteenth, the Scottish Bar was recruited
almost entirely from the younger sons of ancient Scottish families. To
the patrician feelings which they brought with them from their homes
these men added that exclusiveness which clings to a profession
claiming for itself the highest place in the city where they resided.
Modern democracy has made rude inroads on what was formerly something
of a select patrician caste. But the profession of the Bar has never
wanted either then or in more recent times some genial and original
spirits who broke through the crust of exclusiveness. Such, at the
time of Burns's advent, was Lord Monboddo, the speculative and
humorous judge, who in his own way anticipated the theory of man's
descent from the monkey. Such, too, was the genial and graceful Henry
Erskine, the brother of the Lord Chancellor of that name, the pride
and the favourite of his profession--the sparkling and ready wit who,
thirteen years before the day of Burns, had met the rude manners of
Dr. Johnson with a well-known repartee. When the Doctor visited the
Parliament House, Erskine was presented to him by Boswell, and was
somewhat gruffly received. After having made his bow, Erskine      (p. 046)
slipped a shilling into Boswell's hand, whispering that it was
for the sight of his _bear_!

Besides these two classes, the occupants of the Professorial chair and
of the Bar, there still gathered every winter in Edinburgh a fair
sprinkling of rank and beauty, which had not yet abandoned the
Scottish for the English capital. The leader at that time in gay
society was the well-known Duchess of Gordon,--a character so
remarkable in her day that some rumour of her still lives in Scottish
memory. The impression made upon her by Burns and his conversation
shall afterwards be noticed.

Though Burns for the first day or two after his arrival wandered about
companionless, he was not left long unfriended. Mr. Dalrymple, of
Orangefield, an Ayrshire country gentleman, a warm-hearted man, and a
zealous Freemason, who had become acquainted with Burns during the
previous summer, now introduced the Ayrshire bard to his relative, the
Earl of Glencairn. This nobleman, who had heard of Burns from his
Ayrshire factor, welcomed him in a very friendly spirit, introduced
him to his connexion, Henry Erskine, and also recommended him to the
good offices of Creech, at that time the first publisher in Edinburgh.
Of Lord Glencairn, Chambers says that "his personal beauty formed the
index to one of the fairest characters." As long as he lived he did
his utmost to befriend Burns, and on his death, a few years after this
time, the poet, who seldom praised the great unless he respected and
loved them, composed one of his most pathetic elegies.

It was not, however, to his few Ayrshire connexions only, Mr. Dalrymple,
Dugald Stewart, and others, that Burns was indebted for his introduction
to Edinburgh society. His own fame was now enough to secure it.    (p. 047)
A criticism of his poems, which appeared within a fortnight after
his arrival in Edinburgh, in the _Lounger_, on the 9th of December,
did much to increase his reputation. The author of that criticism was
The Man of Feeling, and to him belongs the credit of having been the
first to claim that Burns should be recognized as a great original
poet, not relatively only, in consideration of the difficulties he had
to struggle with, but absolutely on the ground of the intrinsic
excellence of his work. He pointed to his power of delineating manners,
of painting the passions, and of describing scenery, as all bearing
the stamp of true genius; he called on his countrymen to recognize
that a great national poet had arisen amongst them, and to appreciate
the gift that in him had been bestowed upon their generation. Alluding
to his narrow escape from exile, he exhorted them to retain and to
cherish this inestimable gift of a native poet, and to repair, as far
as possible, the wrongs which suffering or neglect had inflicted on
him. The _Lounger_ had at that time a wide circulation in Scotland,
and penetrated even to England. It was known and read by the poet
Cowper, who, whether from this or some other source, became acquainted
with the poems of Burns within the first year of their publication. In
July, 1787, we find the poet of _The Task_ telling a correspondent
that he had read Burns's poems twice; "and though they be written in a
language that is new to me ... I think them, on the whole, a very
extraordinary production. He is, I believe, the only poet these
kingdoms have produced in the lower rank of life since Shakespeare (I
should rather say since Prior), who need not be indebted for any part
of his praise to a charitable consideration of his origin, and     (p. 048)
the disadvantages under which he has laboured." Cowper thus endorses
the verdict of Mackenzie in almost the same language.

It did not however require such testimonials, from here and there a
literary man, however eminent, to open every hospitable door in
Edinburgh to Burns. Within a month after his arrival in town he had
been welcomed at the tables of all the celebrities--Lord Monboddo,
Robertson, the historian, Dr. Hugh Blair, Dugald Stewart, Dr. Adam
Ferguson, The Man of Feeling, Mr. Fraser Tytler, and many others. We
are surprised to find that he had been nearly two months in town
before he called on the amiable Dr. Blacklock, the blind poet, who in
his well-known letter to Dr. Laurie had been the first Edinburgh
authority to hail in Burns the rising of a new star.

How he bore himself throughout that winter when he was the chief lion
of Edinburgh society many records remain to show, both in his own
letters and in the reports of those who met him. On the whole, his
native good sense carried him well through the ordeal. If he showed
for the most part due respect to others, he was still more bent on
maintaining his respect for himself; indeed, this latter feeling was
pushed even to an exaggerated independence. As Mr. Lockhart has
expressed it, he showed, "in the whole strain of his bearing, his
belief that in the society of the most eminent men of his nation he
was where he was entitled to be, hardly deigning to flatter them by
exhibiting a symptom of being flattered." All who heard him were
astonished by his wonderful powers of conversation. These impressed
them, they said, with a greater sense of his genius than even his
finest poems.

With the ablest men that he met he held his own in argument, astonishing
all listeners by the strength of his judgment, and the keenness    (p. 049)
of his insight both into men and things. And when he warmed on
subjects which interested him, the boldest stood amazed at the flashes
of his wit, and the vehement flow of his impassioned eloquence. With
the "high-born ladies" he succeeded even better than with the "stately
patricians,"--as one of those dames herself expressed it, fairly
carrying them off their feet by the deference of his manner, and the
mingled humour and pathos of his talk.

It is interesting to know in what dress Burns generally appeared in
Edinburgh. Soon after coming thither he is said to have laid aside his
country clothes for "a suit of blue and buff, the livery of Mr. Fox,
with buckskins and top-boots." How he wore his hair will be seen
immediately. There are several well-known descriptions of Burns's
manner and appearance during his Edinburgh sojourn, which, often as
they have been quoted, cannot be passed by in any account of his life.

Mr. Walker, who met him for the first time at breakfast in the house
of Dr. Blacklock, says, "I was not much struck by his first
appearance. His person, though strong and well-knit, and much superior
to what might be expected in a ploughman, appeared to be only of the
middle size, but was rather above it. His motions were firm and
decided, and, though without grace, were at the same time so free from
clownish constraint as to show that he had not always been confined to
the society of his profession. His countenance was not of that elegant
cast which is most frequent among the upper ranks, but it was manly
and intelligent, and marked by a thoughtful gravity which shaded at
times into sternness. In his large dark eye the most striking index of
his genius resided. It was full of mind.... He was plainly but properly
dressed, in a style midway between the holiday costume of a        (p. 050)
farmer and that of the company with which he now associated. His black
hair without powder, at a time when it was generally worn, was tied
behind, and spread upon his forehead. Had I met him near a seaport, I
should have conjectured him to be the master of a merchant vessel....
In no part of his manner was there the slightest affectation; nor
could a stranger have suspected, from anything in his behaviour or
conversation, that he had been for some months the favourite of all
the fashionable circles of the metropolis. In conversation he was
powerful. His conceptions and expressions were of corresponding
vigour, and on all subjects were as remote as possible from
commonplaces. Though somewhat authoritative, it was in a way which
gave little offence, and was readily imputed to his inexperience in
those modes of smoothing dissent and softening assertion, which are
important characteristics of polished manners.

"The day after my first introduction to Burns, I supped with him at
Dr. Blair's. The other guests were few, and as they had come to meet
Burns, the Doctor endeavoured to draw him out, and to make him the
central figure of the group. Though he therefore furnished the
greatest proportion of the conversation, he did no more than what he
saw evidently was expected. From the blunders often committed by men
of genius Burns was unusually free; yet on the present occasion he
made a more awkward slip than any that are reported of the poets or
mathematicians most noted for absence of mind. Being asked from which
of the public places he had received the greatest gratification, he
named the High Church, but gave the preference as a preacher to the
colleague of our worthy entertainer, whose celebrity rested on his
pulpit eloquence, in a tone so pointed and decisive as to throw    (p. 051)
the whole company into the most foolish embarrassment!" Dr. Blair,
we are told, relieved their confusion by seconding Burns's praise. The
poet saw his mistake, but had the good sense not to try to repair it.
Years afterwards he told Professor Walker that he had never spoken of
this unfortunate blunder, so painful to him had the remembrance of it

There seems little doubt from all the accounts that have been
preserved, that Burns in conversation gave forth his opinions with
more decision than politeness. He had not a little of that mistaken
pride not uncommon among his countrymen, which fancies that gentle
manners and consideration for others' feelings are marks of servility.
He was for ever harping on independence, and this betrayed him into
some acts of rudeness in society which have been recorded with perhaps
too great minuteness.

Against these remarks, we must set the testimony of Dugald Stewart,
who says,--"The attentions he received from all ranks and descriptions
of persons would have turned any head but his own. I cannot say that I
perceived any unfavourable effect which they left on his mind. He
retained the same simplicity which had struck me so forcibly when
first I saw him in the country, nor did he seem to feel any additional
self-importance from the number and rank of his new acquaintance. He
walked with me in spring, early in the morning, to the Braid Hills,
when he charmed me still more by his private conversation than he had
ever done in company. He was passionately fond of the beauties of
nature; and he once told me, when I was admiring a distant prospect in
one of our morning walks, that the sight of so many smoking cottages
gave a pleasure to his mind which none could understand who had    (p. 052)
not witnessed, like himself, the happiness and worth which they
contained.... The idea which his conversation conveyed of the powers
of his mind exceeded, if possible, that which is suggested by his
writings. All his faculties were, as far as I could judge, equally
vigorous, and his predilection for poetry was rather the result of his
own enthusiastic and impassioned temper, than of a genius exclusively
adapted to that species of composition. I should have pronounced him
fitted to excel in whatever walk of ambition he had chosen.... The
remarks he made on the characters of men were shrewd and pointed,
though frequently inclining too much to sarcasm. His praise of those
he loved was sometimes indiscriminate and extravagant.... His wit was
ready, and always impressed with the marks of a vigorous understanding;
but, to my taste, not often pleasing or happy."

While the learned of his own day were measuring him thus coolly, and
forming their critical estimates of him, youths of the younger
generation were regarding him with far other eyes. Of Jeffrey, when a
lad in his teens, it is recorded that one day in the winter of
1786-87, as he stood on the High Street of Edinburgh, staring at a man
whose appearance struck him, a person at a shop door tapped him on the
shoulder and said, "Aye, laddie, ye may weel look at that man. That's
Robbie Burns." This was the young critic's first and last look at the
poet of his country.

But the most interesting of all the reminiscences of Burns, during his
Edinburgh visit, or indeed, during any other time, was the day when
young Walter Scott met him, and received from him that one look of

This is the account of that meeting which Scott himself gave to    (p. 053)
Lockhart: "As for Burns, I may truly say, '_Virgilium vidi tantum_.'
I was a lad of fifteen when he came to Edinburgh. I saw him one day at
the late venerable Professor Adam Fergusson's. Of course we youngsters
sat silent, looked and listened. The only thing I remember which was
remarkable in Burns's manner, was the effect produced upon him by a
print of Bunbury's, representing a soldier lying dead on the snow, his
dog sitting in misery on one side,--on the other, his widow, with a
child in her arms. These lines were written beneath:--

            Cold on Canadian hills, or Minden's plain,
            Perhaps that parent wept her soldier slain,--
            Bent o'er the babe, her eye dissolved in dew,
            The big drops mingling with the milk he drew,
            Gave the sad presage of his future years,
            The child of misery baptized in tears.

"Burns seemed much affected by the print: he actually shed tears. He
asked whose the lines were, and it chanced that nobody but myself
remembered that they occur in a half-forgotten poem of Langhorne's,
called by the unpromising title of The Justice of Peace. I whispered
my information to a friend present, who mentioned it to Burns, who
rewarded me with a look and a word, which though of mere civility, I
then received with very great pleasure. His person was strong and
robust; his manner rustic, not clownish; a sort of dignified plainness
and simplicity. His countenance was more massive than it looks in any
of the portraits. I would have taken the poet, had I not known who he
was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school,--the
_douce gudeman_ who held his own plough. There was a strong expression
of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think,
indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large,    (p. 054)
and of a dark cast, which glowed (I say literally glowed) when he
spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a
human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time."

While men of the upper ranks, old and young, were thus receiving their
impressions, and forming their various estimates of Burns, he, we may
be sure, was not behind-hand in his reflections on them, and on himself.
He had by nature his full share of that gnawing self-consciousness
which haunts the irritable tribe, from which no modern poet but Walter
Scott has been able wholly to escape. While he was bearing himself
thus manfully to outward appearance, inwardly he was scrutinizing
himself and others with a morbid sensitiveness. In the heyday of his
Edinburgh popularity, he writes to Mrs. Dunlop, one of his most
trusted friends, what he repeats to other correspondents, that he had
long been at pains to take a true measure of himself and to form a
just estimate of his powers: that this self-estimate was not raised by
his present success, nor would it be depressed by future neglect; that
though the tide of popularity was now at full flood, he foresaw that
the ebb would soon set in, and that he was prepared for it. In the
same letters he speaks of his having too much pride for servility, as
though there was no third and more excellent way; of "the stubborn
pride of his own bosom," on which he seems mainly to have relied.
Indeed throughout his life there is much talk of what Mr. Carlyle well
calls the altogether barren and unfruitful principle of pride; much
prating about "a certain fancied rock of independence,"--a rock which
he found but a poor shelter when the worst ills of life overtook him.
This feeling reached its height when soon after leaving Edinburgh, (p. 055)
we find him writing to a comrade in the bitterness of his heart that
the stateliness of Edinburgh patricians and the meanness of Mauchline
plebeians had so disgusted him with his kind, that he had bought a
pocket copy of Milton to study the character of Satan, as the great
exemplar of "intrepid, unyielding independence."

If during his stay in Edinburgh, his "irascible humour" never went so
far as this, "the contumely of condescension" must have entered pretty
deeply into the soul of the proud peasant when he made the following
memorable entry in his diary, on the 9th April, 1787. After some
remarks on the difficulty of true friendship, and the hazard of losing
men's respect by being too confidential with friends, he goes on: "For
these reasons, I am determined to make these pages my confidant. I
will sketch every character that any way strikes me, to the best of my
power, with unshrinking justice. I will insert anecdotes and take down
remarks, in the old law phrase, without feud or favour.... I think a
lock and key a security at least equal to the bosom of any friend
whatever. My own private story likewise, my love adventures, my rambles;
the frowns and smiles of fortune on my bardship my poems and fragments,
that must never see the light, shall be occasionally inserted. In
short, never did four shillings purchase so much friendship, since
confidence went first to the market, or honesty was set up for

"There are few of the sore evils under the sun give me more uneasiness
and chagrin, than the comparison how a man of genius, nay, of avowed
worth, is received everywhere, with the reception which a mere ordinary
character, decorated with the trappings and futile distinctions of
fortune, meets: I imagine a man of abilities, his breast glowing   (p. 056)
with honest pride, conscious that men are born equal, still giving
honour to whom honour is due; he meets at a great man's table a Squire
Something or a Sir Somebody; he knows the noble landlord at heart
gives the bard, or whatever he is, a share of his good wishes, beyond,
perhaps, any one at the table; yet how will it mortify him to see a
fellow whose abilities would scarcely have made an eightpenny tailor,
and whose heart is not worth three farthings, meet with attention, and
notice that are withheld from the son of genius and poverty!

"The noble Glencairn has wounded me to the soul here, because I dearly
esteem, respect, and love him. He showed so much attention, engrossing
attention, one day, to the only blockhead at table (the whole company
consisted of his lordship, dunder-pate, and myself), that I was within
half a point of throwing down my gage of contemptuous defiance, but he
shook my hand and looked so benevolently good at parting, God bless
him! though I should never see him more, I shall love him to my dying
day! I am pleased to think I am so capable of gratitude, as I am
miserably deficient in some other virtues."

Lockhart, after quoting largely from this Common-place Book, adds,
"This curious document has not yet been printed entire. Another
generation will, no doubt, see the whole of the confession." All that
remains of it has recently been given to the world. The original
design was not carried on, and what is left is but a fragment, written
chiefly in Edinburgh, with a few additions made at Ellisland. The only
characters which are sketched are those of Blair, Stewart, Creech, and
Greenfield. The remarks on Blair, if not very appreciative, are mild
and not unkindly. There seems to be irony in the praise of Dugald  (p. 057)
Stewart for the very qualities in which Burns probably thought him to
be deficient. Creech's strangely composite character is well touched
off. Dr. Greenfield, the colleague of Dr. Blair, whose eloquence Burns
on an unfortunate occasion preferred to that of his host, alone comes
in for unaffected eulogy. The plain and manly directness of these
prose sketches is in striking contrast to the ambitious flights which
the poet attempts in many of his letters.

Dugald Stewart in his cautious way hints that Burns did not always keep
himself to the learned circles which had welcomed him, but sometimes
indulged in "not very select society." How much this cautious phrase
covers may be seen by turning to Heron's account of some of the scenes
in which Burns mingled. Tavern life was then in Edinburgh, as
elsewhere, more or less habitual in all classes. In those clubs and
brotherhoods of the middle class, which met in taverns down the closes
and wynds of High Street, Burns found a welcome, warmer, freer, more
congenial than any vouchsafed to him in more polished coteries.
Thither convened when their day's work was done, lawyers, writers,
schoolmasters, printers, shopkeepers, tradesmen,--ranting, roaring
boon companions--who gave themselves up, for the time, to coarse
songs, rough raillery, and deep drinking. At these meetings all
restraint was cast to the winds, and the mirth drove fast and furious.
With open arms the clubs welcomed the poet to their festivities; each
man proud to think that he was carousing with Robbie Burns. The poet
the while gave full vein to all his impulses, mimicking, it is said,
and satirizing his superiors in position, who, he fancied, had looked
on him coldly, paying them off by making them the butt of his raillery,
letting loose all his varied powers, wit, humour, satire, drollery,
and throwing off from time to time snatches of licentious song,    (p. 058)
to be picked up by eager listeners,--song wildly defiant of all the
proprieties. The scenes which Burns there took part in far exceeded
any revelries he had seen in the clubs of Tarbolton and Mauchline, and
did him no good. If we may trust the testimony of Heron, at the
meetings of a certain Crochallan club, and at other such uproarious
gatherings, he made acquaintances who, before that winter was over,
led him on from tavern dissipations to still worse haunts and habits.

By the 21st of April (1787), the ostensible object for which Burns had
come to Edinburgh was attained, and the second edition of his poems
appeared in a handsome octavo volume. The publisher was Creech, then
chief of his trade in Scotland. The volume was published by subscription,
"for the sole benefit of the author," and the subscribers were so
numerous that the list of them covered thirty-eight pages. In that
list appeared the names of many of the chief men of Scotland, some of
whom subscribed for twenty--Lord Eglinton for as many as forty-two,
copies. Chambers thinks that full justice has never been done to the
liberality of the Scottish public in the way they subscribed for this
volume. Nothing equal to the patronage that Burns at this time met
with, had been seen since the days of Pope's Iliad. This second
edition, besides the poems which had appeared in the Kilmarnock one,
contained several additional pieces the most important of which had
been composed before the Edinburgh visit. Such were _Death and Doctor
Hornbook_, _The Brigs of Ayr_, _The Ordination_, _The Address to the
Unco Guid_. The proceeds from this volume ultimately made Burns the
possessor of about 500_l._, quite a little fortune for one who, as (p. 059)
he himself confesses, had never before had 10_l._ he could call his
own. It would, however, have been doubly welcome and useful to him,
had it been paid down without needless delay. But unfortunately this
was not Creech's way of transacting business, so that Burns was kept
for many months waiting for a settlement--months during which he could
not for want of money turn to any fixed employment, and which were
therefore spent by him unprofitably enough.

CHAPTER III.                                                       (p. 060)


Some small instalments of the profits of his new volume enabled our
Poet, during the summer and autumn of 1787, to make several tours to
various districts of Scotland, famous either for scenery or song. The
day of regular touring had not yet set in, and few Scots at that time
would have thought of visiting what Burns called the classic scenes of
their country. A generation before this, poets in England had led the
way in this--as when Gray visited the lakes of Cumberland, and Dr.
Johnson the Highlands and the Western Isles. In his ardour to look
upon places famous for their natural beauty or their historic
associations, or even for their having been mentioned in some old
Scottish song, Burns surpassed both Gray and Johnson, and anticipated
the sentiment of the present century. Early in May he set out with one
of his Crochallan club acquaintances, named Ainslie, on a journey to
the Border. Ainslie was a native of the Merse, his father and family
living in Dunse. Starting thence with Ainslie, Burns traversed the
greater part of the vale of Tweed from Coldstream to Peebles, recalling,
as he went along, snatches of song connected with the places he passed.
He turned aside to see the valley of the Jed, and got as far as Selkirk
in the hope of looking upon Yarrow. But from doing this he was     (p. 061)
hindered by a day of unceasing rain, and he who was so soon to become
the chief singer of Scottish song was never allowed to look on that
vale which has long been its most ideal home. Before finishing his
tour, he went as far as Nithsdale, and surveyed the farm of Ellisland,
with some thought already, that he might yet become the tenant of it.

It is noteworthy, but not wonderful, that the scenes visited in this
tour called forth no poetry from Burns, save here and there an
allusion that occurred in some of his later songs. When we remember
with what an uneasy heart Burns left Ayrshire for Edinburgh, that the
town life he had there led for the last six months had done nothing to
lighten--it had probably done something to increase the load of his
mental disquietude,--that in an illness which he had during his tour
he confesses that "embittering remorse was scaring his fancy at the
gloomy forebodings of death," and that when his tour was over, soon
after his return to Edinburgh, he found the law let loose against him,
and what was called a "fugæ" warrant issued for his apprehension,
owing to some occurrence like to that which a year ago had terrified
him with legal penalties, and all but driven him to Jamaica,--when all
these things are remembered, is it to be wondered, that Burns should
have wandered by the banks of Tweed, in no mood to chaunt beside it "a
music sweeter than its own"?

At the close of his Border tour Burns had, as we have seen, visited
Nithsdale and looked at the farm of Ellisland. From Nithsdale he made
his way back to native Ayrshire and his family at Mossgiel. I have
heard a tradition that his mother met him at the door of the small
farm-house, with this only salutation, "O Robbie!" Neither Lockhart
nor Chambers mentions this, but the latter says, his sister,       (p. 062)
Mrs. Begg, remembered the arrival of her brother. He came in unheralded,
and was in the midst of them before they knew. It was a quiet meeting,
for the Mossgiel family had the true Scottish reticence or reserve;
but though their words were not "mony feck," their feelings were
strong. It was, indeed, as strange a reverse as ever was made by
fortune's fickle wheel. "He had left them," to quote the words of
Lockhart, "comparatively unknown, his tenderest feelings torn and
wounded by the behaviour of the Armours, and so miserably poor that he
had been for some weeks obliged to skulk from the sheriff's officers
to avoid the payment of a paltry debt. He returned, his poetical fame
established, the whole country ringing with his praise, from a capital
in which he was known to have formed the wonder and delight of the
polite and the learned; if not rich, yet with more money already than
any of his kindred had ever hoped to see him possess, and with
prospects of future patronage and permanent elevation in the scale of
society, which might have dazzled steadier eyes than those of maternal
and fraternal affection. The prophet had at last honour in his own
country, but the haughty spirit that had preserved its balance in
Edinburgh was not likely to lose it at Mauchline." The haughty spirit
of which Lockhart speaks was reserved for others than his own family.
To them we hear of nothing but simple affection. His youngest sister,
Mrs. Begg, told Chambers, "that her brother went to Glasgow, and
thence sent home a present to his mother and three sisters, namely, a
quantity of _mode_ silk, enough to make a bonnet and a cloak to each,
and a gown besides to his mother and youngest sister." This was the
way he took to mark their right to share in his prosperity. Mrs. Begg
remembers going for rather more than a week to Ayr to assist in    (p. 063)
making up the dresses, and when she came back on a Saturday, her
brother had returned and requested her "to put on her dress that he
might see how smart she looked in it." The thing that stirred his
pride and scorn was the servility with which he was now received by
his "plebeian brethren" in the neighbourhood, and chief among these by
the Armours, who had formerly eyed him with looks askance. If anything
"had been wanting to disgust me completely with Armour's family, their
mean, servile compliance would have done it." So he writes, and it was
this disgust that prompted him to furnish himself, as we have seen he
did, with a pocket copy of Milton, to study the character of Satan.
This fierce indignation was towards the family; towards "bonny Jean"
herself his feeling was far other. Having accidentally met her, his
old affection revived, and they were soon as intimate as of old.

After a short time spent at Mossgiel wandering about, and once, it
would seem, penetrating the West Highlands as far as Inverary, a
journey during which his temper seems to have been far from serene, he
returned in August to Edinburgh. There he encountered, and in time got
rid of, the law troubles already alluded to, and on the 25th of August
he set out, on a longer tour than any he had yet attempted, to the
Northern Highlands.

The travelling companion whom he chose for this tour was a certain Mr.
Nicol, whose acquaintance he seems to have first formed at the Crochallan
club, or some other haunt of boisterous joviality. After many ups and
downs in life Nicol had at last, by dint of some scholastic ability,
settled as a master of the Edinburgh High School. What could have
tempted Burns to select such a man for a fellow-traveller? He was  (p. 064)
cast in one of nature's roughest moulds; a man of careless habits,
coarse manners, enormous vanity, of most irascible and violent temper,
which vented itself in cruelties on the poor boys who were the victims
of his care. Burns compared himself with such a companion to "a man
travelling with a loaded blunderbuss at full cock." Two things only
are mentioned in his favour, that he had a warm heart, and an
unbounded admiration of the poet. But the choice of such a man was an
unfortunate one, and in the upshot did not a little to spoil both the
pleasure and the benefit, which might have been gathered from the

Their journey lay by Stirling and Crieff to Taymouth and Breadalbane,
thence to Athole, on through Badenoch and Strathspey to Inverness. The
return by the east coast was through the counties of Moray and Banff
to Aberdeen. After visiting the county whence his father had come, and
his kindred who were still in Kincardineshire, Burns and his companion
passed by Perth back to Edinburgh, which they reached on the 16th of
September. The journey occupied only two and twenty days, far too
short a time to see so much country, besides making several visits,
with any advantage. During his Border tour Burns had ridden his
Rosinante mare, which he had named Jenny Geddes. As his friend, the
schoolmaster, was no equestrian, Burns was obliged to make his
northern journey in a post-chaise, not the best way of taking in the
varied and ever-changing sights and sounds of Highland scenery.

Such a tour as this, if Burns could have entered on it under happier
auspices, that is, with a heart at ease, a fitting companion, and
leisure enough to view quietly the scenes through which he passed, and
to enjoy the society of the people whom he met, could not have     (p. 065)
failed, from its own interestingness, and its novelty to him, to have
enriched his imagination, and to have called forth some lasting
memorials. As it was, it cannot be said to have done either. There
are, however, a few incidents which are worth noting. The first of
these took place at Stirling. Burns and his companion had ascended the
Castle Rock, to look on the blue mountain rampart, that flanks the
Highlands from Ben Lomond to Benvoirlich. As they were both strongly
attached to the Stuart cause, they had seen with indignation, on the
slope of the Castle hill, the ancient hall, in which the Scottish
kings once held their Parliaments, lying ruinous and neglected. On
returning to their inn, Burns, with a diamond he had bought for such
purposes, wrote on the window-pane of his room some lines expressive
of the disgust he had felt at that sight, concluding with some
offensive remarks on the reigning family. The lines, which had no
poetic merit, got into the newspapers of the day, and caused a good
deal of comment. On a subsequent visit to Stirling, Burns himself
broke the pane of the window on which the obnoxious lines were
written, but they were remembered, it is said, long afterwards to his

Among the pleasantest incidents of the tour was the visit to Blair
Castle, and his reception by the Duchess of Athole. The two days he
spent there he declared were among the happiest of his life. We have
seen how sensitive Burns was to the way he was received by the great.
Resentful as he was equally of condescension and of neglect, it must
have been no easy matter for persons of rank so to adapt their manner
as to exactly please him. But his hosts at Blair Castle succeeded to
admiration in this. They were assisted by the presence at the Castle
of Mr., afterwards Professor, Walker, who had known Burns in       (p. 066)
Edinburgh, and was during that autumn living as a tutor in the Duke's
family. At dinner Burns was in his most pleasing vein, and delighted
his hostess by drinking to the health of her group of fair young
children, as "honest men and bonny lassies"--an expression with which
he happily closes his _Petition of Bruar Water_. The Duchess had her
two sisters, Mrs. Graham and Miss Cathcart, staying with her on a
visit, and all three ladies were delighted with the conversation of
the poet. These three sisters were daughters of a Lord Cathcart, and
were remarkable for their beauty. The second, Mrs. Graham, has been
immortalized as the subject of one of Gainsborough's most famous
portraits. On her early death her husband, Thomas Graham of Balnagown,
never again looked on that beautiful picture, but left his home for a
soldier's life, distinguished himself greatly in the Peninsular War,
and was afterwards known as Lord Lynedoch. After his death, the
picture passed to his nearest relatives, who presented it to the
National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, of which it is now the chief
ornament. All three sisters soon passed away, having died even before
the short-lived poet. By their beauty and their agreeableness they
charmed Burns, and did much to make his visit delightful. They
themselves were not less pleased; for when the poet proposed to leave,
after two days were over, they pressed him exceedingly to stay, and
even sent a messenger to the hotel to persuade the driver of Burns's
chaise to pull off one of the horse's shoes, that his departure might
be delayed. Burns himself would willingly have listened to their
entreaties, but his travelling mate was inexorable. Likely enough
Nicol had not been made so much of as the poet, and this was enough to
rouse his irascible temper. For one day he had been persuaded to   (p. 067)
stay by the offer of good trout-fishing, which he greatly relished,
but now he insisted on being off. Burns was reluctantly forced to

This rapid departure was the more unfortunate because Mr. Dundas, who
held the keys of Scottish patronage, was expected on a visit to Blair,
and had he met the poet he might have wiped out the reproach often
cast on the ministry of the day, that they failed in their duty towards
Burns. "That eminent statesman," as Lockhart says, "was, though little
addicted to literature, a warm lover of his own country, and, in
general, of whatever redounded to her honour; he was, moreover, very
especially qualified to appreciate Burns as a companion; and had such
an introduction taken place, he might not improbably have been induced
to bestow that consideration on the claims of the poet, which, in the
absence of any personal acquaintance, Burns's works ought to have
received at his hands." But during that visit Burns met, and made the
acquaintance of, another man of some influence, Mr. Graham of Fintray,
whose friendship afterwards, both in the Excise business, and in other
matters, stood him in good stead. The Duke, as he bade farewell to
Burns at Blair, advised him to turn aside, and see the Falls of the
Bruar, about six miles from the Castle, where that stream coming down
from its mountains plunges over some high precipices, and passes
through a rocky gorge to join the river Garry. Burns did so, and
finding the falls entirely bare of wood, wrote some lines entitled
_The Humble Petition of Bruar Water_, in which he makes the stream
entreat the Duke to clothe its naked banks with trees. The poet's
petition for the stream was not in vain. The then Duke of Athole was
famous as a planter of trees, and those with which, after the poet's
Petition, he surrounded the waterfall remain to this day.

After visiting Culloden Muir, the Fall of Fyers, Kilravock Castle, (p. 068)
where, but for the impatience of Mr. Nicol, he would fain have
prolonged his stay, he came on to Fochabers and Gordon Castle. This is
Burns's entry in his diary:--"Cross Spey to Fochabers, fine palace,
worthy of the noble, the polite, and generous proprietor. The Duke
makes me happier than ever great man did; noble, princely, yet mild
and condescending and affable--gay and kind. The Duchess, charming,
witty, kind, and sensible. God bless them!"

Here, too, as at Blair, the ducal hosts seem to have entirely
succeeded in making Burns feel at ease, and wish to protract his
visit. But here, too, more emphatically than at Blair, his friend
spoilt the game. This is the account of the incident, as given by
Lockhart, with a few additions interpolated from Chambers:--

"Burns, who had been much noticed by this noble family when in
Edinburgh, happened to present himself at Gordon Castle, just at the
dinner-hour, and being invited to take a place at the table, did so,
without for a moment adverting to the circumstance that his travelling
companion had been left alone at the inn, in the adjacent village. On
remembering this soon after dinner, he begged to be allowed to rejoin
his friend; and the Duke of Gordon, who now for the first time learned
that he was not journeying alone, immediately proposed to send an
invitation to Mr. Nicol to come to the Castle. His Grace sent a
messenger to bear it; but Burns insisted on himself accompanying him.
They found the haughty schoolmaster striding up and down before the
inn-door in a high state of wrath and indignation at, what he
considered, Burns's neglect, and no apologies could soften his mood.
He had already ordered horses, and was venting his anger on the    (p. 069)
postillion for the slowness with which he obeyed his commands. The
poet, finding that he must choose between the ducal circle and his
irascible associate, at once chose the latter alternative. Nicol and
he, in silence and mutual displeasure, seated themselves in the
post-chaise, and turned their backs on Gordon Castle, where the poet
had promised himself some happy days. This incident may serve to
suggest some of the annoyances to which persons moving, like our poet,
on the debatable land between two different ranks of society must ever
be subjected." "To play the lion under such circumstances must," as
the knowing Lockhart observes, "be difficult at the best; but a
delicate business indeed, when the jackals are presumptuous. The
pedant could not stomach the superior success of his friend, and
yet--alas for poor human nature!--he certainly was one of the most
enthusiastic of his admirers, and one of the most affectionate of all
his intimates." It seems that the Duchess of Gordon had some hope that
her friend, Mr. Addington, afterwards Lord Sidmouth and the future
premier, would have visited at Gordon Castle while Burns was there.
Mr. Addington was, Allan Cunningham tells us, an enthusiastic admirer
of Burns's poetry, and took pleasure in quoting it to Pitt and
Melville. On that occasion he was unfortunately not able to accept the
invitation of the Duchess, but he forwarded to her "these memorable
lines--memorable as the first indication of that deep love which
England now entertains for the genius of Burns:"--

            Yes! pride of Scotia's favoured plains, 'tis thine
            The warmest feelings of the heart to move;
            To bid it throb with sympathy divine,
            To glow with friendship, or to melt with love.

            What though each morning sees thee rise to toil,       (p. 070)
            Though Plenty on thy cot no blessing showers,
            Yet Independence cheers thee with her smile,
            And Fancy strews thy moorland with her flowers!

            And dost thou blame the impartial will of Heaven,
            Untaught of life the good and ill to scan?
            To thee the Muse's choicest wreath is given--
            To thee the genuine dignity of man!

            Then to the want of worldly gear resigned,
            Be grateful for the wealth of thy exhaustless mind.

It was well enough for Mr. Addington, and such as he, to advise Burns
to be content with the want of worldly gear, and to refer him for
consolation to the dignity of man and the wealth of his exhaustless
mind. Burns had abundance of such sentiments in himself to bring
forth, when occasion required. He did not need to be replenished with
these from the stores of men who held the keys of patronage. What he
wanted from them was some solid benefit, such as they now and then
bestowed on their favourites, but which unfortunately they withheld
from Burns.

An intelligent boy, who was guide to Burns and Nicol from Cullen to
Duff House, gave long afterwards his remembrances of that day. Among
these this occurs. The boy was asked by Nicol if he had read Burns's
poems, and which of them he liked best. The boy replied, "'I was much
entertained with _The Twa Dogs_ and _Death and Dr. Hornbook_, but I
like best _The Cotter's Saturday Night_, although it made me _greet_
when my father had me to read it to my mother.' Burns, with a sudden
start, looked at my face intently, and patting my shoulder, said,
'Well, my callant, I don't wonder at your _greeting_ at reading the
poem; it made me greet more than once when I was writing it at my
father's fireside.'"...

On the 16th of September, 1787, the two travellers returned to     (p. 071)
Edinburgh. This tour produced little poetry directly, and what it did
produce was not of a high order. In this respect one cannot but
contrast it with the poetic results of another tour made, partly over
the same ground, by another poet, less than twenty years after this
time. When Wordsworth and his sister made their first visit to
Scotland in 1803, it called forth some strains of such perfect beauty
as will live while the English language lasts. Burns's poetic fame
would hardly be diminished if all that he wrote on his tours were
obliterated from his works. Perhaps we ought to except some allusions
in his future songs, and especially that grand song, _Macpherson's
Farewell_, which, though composed several months after this tour was
over, must have drawn its materials from the day spent at Duff House,
where he was shown the sword of the Highland Reiver.

But look at the lines composed after his first sight of Breadalbane,
which he left in the inn at Kenmore. These Lockhart has pronounced
among "the best of his purely English heroics." If so, we can but say
how poor are the best! What is to be thought of such lines as

            Poetic ardours in my bosom swell,
            Lone wandering by the hermit's mossy cell, &c., &c.

Nor less stilted, forced, and artificial are the lines in the same
measure written at the Fall of Fyers.

The truth is, that Burns's _forte_ by no means lay in describing
scenery alone, and for its own sake. All his really inspired descriptions
of it occur as adjuncts to human incident or feeling, slips of
landscape let in as a background. Again, as Burns was never at his
best when called on to write for occasions--no really spontaneous
poet ever can be--so when taken to see much talked-of scenes, and  (p. 072)
expected to express poetic raptures over them, Burns did not answer to
the call.

"He disliked," we are told, "to be tutored in matters of taste, and
could not endure that one should run shouting before him, whenever any
fine object came in sight." On one occasion of this kind, a lady at
the poet's side said, "Burns, have you nothing to say of this?"
"Nothing, madam," he replied, glancing at the leader of the party,
"for an ass is braying over it." Burns is not the only person who has
suffered from this sort of officiousness.

Besides this, the tours were not made in the way which most conduces
to poetic composition. He did not allow himself the quiet and the
leisure from interruption which are needed. It was not with such
companions as Ainslie or Nicol by his side that the poet's eye
discovered new beauty in the sight of a solitary reaper in a Highland
glen, and his ear caught magical suggestiveness in the words, "What!
you are stepping westward," heard by the evening lake.

Another hindrance to happy poetic description by Burns during these
journeys was that he had now forsaken his native vernacular, and taken
to writing in English after the mode of the poets of the day. This with
him was to unclothe himself of his true strength. His correspondent,
Dr. Moore, and his Edinburgh critics had no doubt counselled him to
write in English, and he listened for a time too easily to their
counsel. He and they little knew what they were doing in giving and
taking such advice. The truth is, when he used his own Scottish
dialect he was unapproached, unapproachable; no poet before or since
has evoked out of that instrument so perfect and so varied melodies.
When he wrote in English he was seldom more than third-rate; in    (p. 073)
fact, he was but a common clever versifier. There is but one purely
English poem of his which at all approaches the first rank--the lines
_To Mary in Heaven_.

These may probably have been the reasons, but the fact is certain that
Burns's tours are disappointing in their direct poetic fruits. But in
another way Burns turned them to good account. He had by that time
begun to devote himself almost entirely to the cultivation of Scottish
song. This was greatly encouraged by the appearance of _Johnson's
Museum_, a publication in which an engraver of that name living in
Edinburgh had undertaken to make a thorough collection of all the best
of the old Scottish songs, accompanying them with the best airs, and
to add to these any new songs of merit which he could lay hands on.
Before Burns left Edinburgh for his Border tour, he had begun an
acquaintance and correspondence with Johnson, and had supplied him
with four songs of his own for the first volume of _The Museum_. The
second volume was now in progress, and his labours for this publication,
and for another of the same kind to be afterwards mentioned,
henceforth engrossed Burns's entire productive faculty, and were to be
his only serious literary work for the rest of his life. He therefore
employed the Highland tour in hearing all he could, that had any
bearing on his now absorbing pursuit, and in collecting materials that
might promote it. With this view, when on his way from Taymouth to
Blair, he had turned aside to visit the famous fiddler and composer of
Scotch tunes, Neil Gow, at his house, which is still pointed out, at
Inver, on the Braan water, opposite the grounds of Dunkeld. This is
the entry about him in Burns's diary:--"Neil Gow plays--a short,
stout-built, honest Highland figure, with his grey hair shed on    (p. 074)
his honest social brow; an interesting face marking strong sense,
kind open-heartedness, mixed with unmistrusting simplicity; visit his
house; Margaret Gow." It is interesting to think of this meeting of
these two--the one a Lowlander, the other a Highlander; the one the
greatest composer of words, the other of tunes, for Scottish songs,
which their country has produced.

As he passed through Aberdeen, Burns met Bishop Skinner, a Bishop of
the Scottish Episcopal Church; and when he learnt that the Bishop's
father, the author of the song of _Tulloch-gorum_, and _The Ewie wi'
the crookit horn_, and other Scottish songs, was still alive, an aged
Episcopalian clergyman, living in primitive simplicity in _a but and a
ben_ at Lishart, near Peterhead, and that on his way to Aberdeen he
had passed near the place without knowing it, Burns expressed the
greatest regret at having missed seeing the author of songs he so
greatly admired. Soon after his return to Edinburgh, he received from
old Mr. Skinner a rhyming epistle, which greatly pleased the poet, and
to which he replied,--"I regret, and while I live shall regret, that
when I was north I had not the pleasure of paying a younger brother's
dutiful respect to the author of the best Scotch song ever Scotland
saw, _Tulloch-gorum's my delight_." This is strong, perhaps too strong
praise. Allan Cunningham, in his _Songs of Scotland_, thus freely
comments on it:--"_Tulloch-gorum_ is a lively clever song, but I would
never have edited this collection had I thought with Burns that it is
the best song Scotland ever saw. I may say with the king in my
favourite ballad,--

               I trust I have within my realm,
               Five hundred good as he."

We also find Burns, on his return to Edinburgh, writing to the     (p. 075)
librarian at Gordon Castle to obtain from him a correct copy of a
Scotch song composed by the Duke, in the current vernacular style,
_Cauld Kail in Aberdeen_. This correct copy he wished to insert in the
forthcoming volume of _Johnson's Museum_, with the name of the author

At Perth he made inquiries, we are told, "as to the whereabouts of the
burn-brae on which be the graves of Bessy Bell and Mary Gray." Whether
he actually visited the spot, near the Almond Water, ten miles west of
Perth, is left uncertain. The pathetic story of these two hapless
maidens, and the fine old song founded on it, had made it to him a
consecrated spot.

            O Bessy Bell and Mary Gray!
              They were twa bonny lasses,
            They biggit a bower on yon burn-brae,
              And theekit it owre wi' rashes,

is the beginning of a beautiful song which Allan Ramsay did his best
to spoil, as he did in many another instance. Sir Walter Scott
afterwards recovered some of the old verses which Ramsay's had
superseded, and repeated them to Allan Cunningham, who gives them in
his _Songs of Scotland_. Whether Burns knew any more of the song than
the one old verse given above, with Ramsay's appended to it, is more
than doubtful.

As he passed through Perth he secured an introduction to the family of
Belches of Invermay, that, on crossing the river Earn on his southward
journey, he might be enabled to see the little valley, running down
from the Ochils to the Earn, which has been consecrated by the old and
well-known song, _The Birks of Invermay_.

It thus appears that the old songs of Scotland, their localities,  (p. 076)
their authors, and the incidents whence they arose, were now uppermost
in the thoughts of Burns, whatever part of his country he visited.
This was as intense and as genuinely poetical an interest, though a
more limited one, than that with which Walter Scott's eye afterwards
ranged over the same scenes. The time was not yet full come for that
wide and varied sympathy, with which Scott surveyed the whole past of
his country's history, nor was Burns's nature or training such as to
give him that catholicity of feeling which was required to sympathize
as Scott did, with all ranks and all ages. Neither could he have so
seized on the redeeming virtues of rude and half-barbarous times, and
invested them with that halo of romance which Scott has thrown over
them. This romantic and chivalrous colouring was an element altogether
alien to Burns's character. But it may well be, that these very
limitations intensified the depth and vividness of sympathy, with
which Burns conceived the human situations portrayed in his best

There was one more brief tour of ten days during October, 1787, which
Burns made in the company of Dr. Adair. They passed first to Stirling,
where Burns broke the obnoxious pane; then paid a second visit to
Harvieston near Dollar--for Burns had paid a flying visit of one day
there, at the end of August, before passing northward to the
Highlands--where Burns introduced his friend, and seems to have
flirted with some Ayrshire young ladies, relations of his friend Gavin
Hamilton. Thence they passed on a visit to Mr. Ramsay at Ochtertyre on
the Teith, a few miles west from Stirling. They then visited Sir
William Murray at Ochtertyre in Strathearn, where Burns wrote his
_Lines on scaring some waterfowl in Lock Turit_, and a pretty      (p. 077)
pastoral song on a young beauty he met there, Miss Murray of Lintrose.
From Strathearn he next seems to have returned by Clackmannan, there
to visit the old lady who lived in the Tower, of whom he had heard
from Mr. Ramsay. In this short journey the most memorable thing was
the visit to Mr. Ramsay at his picturesque old country seat, situate
on the river Teith, and commanding, down the vista of its old
lime-tree avenue, so romantic a view of Stirling Castle rock. There
Burns made the acquaintance of Mr. Ramsay, the laird, and was charmed
with the conversation of that "last of the Scottish line of Latinists,
which began with Buchanan and ended with Gregory,"--an antiquary,
moreover, whose manners and home Lockhart thinks that Sir Walter may
have had in his recollection, when he drew the character of Monkbarns.
Years afterwards, in a letter addressed to Dr. Currie, Ramsay thus
wrote of Burns:--"I have been in the company of many men of genius,
some of them poets, but I never witnessed such flashes of intellectual
brightness as from him, the impulse of the moment, sparks of celestial
fire. I never was more delighted, therefore, than with his company two
days _tête-à-tête_. In a mixed company I should have made little of
him; for, to use a gamester's phrase, he did not know when to play
off, and when to play on.... When I asked, whether the Edinburgh
literati had mended his poems by their criticisms, 'Sir,' said he,
'these gentlemen remind me of some spinsters in my country, who spin
their thread so fine, that it is neither fit for weft nor woof."

There are other incidents recorded of that time. Among these was a
visit to Mrs. Bruce, an old Scottish dame of ninety, who lived in the
ancient Tower of Clackmannan, upholding her dignity as the lineal
descendant and representative of the family of King Robert Bruce,  (p. 078)
and cherishing the strongest attachment to the exiled Stuarts. Both of
these sentiments found a ready response from Burns. The one was
exemplified by the old lady conferring knighthood on him and his
companion with the actual sword of King Robert, which she had in her
possession, remarking as she did it, that she had a better right to
confer the title than some folk. Another sentiment she charmed the
poet by expressing in the toast she gave after dinner, "_Hooi Uncos_,"
that is, Away Strangers, a word used by shepherds when they bid their
collies drive away strange sheep. Who the strangers were in this case
may be guessed from her known Jacobite sentiments.

On his way from Clackmannan to Edinburgh he turned aside to see Loch
Leven and its island castle, which had been the prison of the hapless
Mary Stuart; and thence passing to the Norman Abbey Church of
Dunfermline, with deep emotion he looked on the grave of Robert Bruce.
At that time the choir of the old church, which had contained the
grave, had been long demolished, and the new structure which now
covers it, had not yet been thought of. The sacred spot was only
marked by two broad flagstones, on which Burns knelt and kissed them,
reproaching the while the barbarity that had so dishonoured the
resting-place of Scotland's hero king. Then, with that sudden change
of mood, so characteristic of him, he passed within the ancient
church, and mounting the pulpit, addressed to his companion, who had,
at his desire, mounted the cutty stool, or seat of repentance, a
parody of the rebuke, which he himself had undergone some time before
at Mauchline.

CHAPTER IV.                                                        (p. 079)


These summer and autumn wanderings ended, Burns returned to Edinburgh,
and spent there the next five months from the latter part of October,
1787, till the end of March, 1788, in a way which to any man, much
more to such an one as he, could give small satisfaction. The
ostensible cause of his lingering in Edinburgh was to obtain a
settlement with his procrastinating publisher, Creech, because till
this was effected, he had no money with which to enter on the
contemplated farm, or on any other regular way of life. Probably in
thus wasting his time, Burns may have been influenced more than he
himself was aware, by a secret hope that something might yet be done
for him--that all the smiles lavished on him by the great and powerful
could not possibly mean nothing, and that he should be left to drudge
on in poverty and obscurity as before.

During this winter Burns changed his quarters from Richmond's lodging
in High Street, where he had lived during the former winter, to a
house then marked 2, now 30, St. James's Square in the New Town. There
he lived with a Mr. Cruikshank, a colleague of his friend Nicol in the
High School, and there he continued to reside till he left Edinburgh.
More than once he paid brief visits to Nithsdale, and examined     (p. 080)
again and yet again the farm on the Dalswinton property, on which he
had long had his eye. This was his only piece of serious business
during those months. The rest of his time was spent more or less in
the society of his jovial companions. We hear no more during this
second winter of his meetings with literary professors, able advocates
and judges, or fashionable ladies. His associates seem to have been
rather confined to men of the Ainslie and Nicol stamp. He would seem
also to have amused himself with flirtations with several young
heroines, whose acquaintance he had made during the previous summer.
The chief of these were two young ladies, Miss Margaret Chalmers and
Miss Charlotte Hamilton, cousins of each other, and relatives of his
Mauchline friend, Gavin Hamilton. These he had met during the two
visits which he paid to Harvieston, on the river Devon, where they
were living for a time. On his return to Edinburgh he continued to
correspond with them both, and to address songs of affection, if not
of love, now to one, now to another. To Charlotte Hamilton he
addressed the song beginning,--

            How pleasant the banks of the clear winding Devon;

To Miss Chalmers, one with the opening lines,--

            Where, braving angry winter's storms,
            The lofty Ochils rise;

And another beginning thus,--

            My Peggy's face, my Peggy's form.

Which of these young ladies was foremost in Burns's affection, it is
not easy now to say, nor does it much signify. To both he wrote some
of his best letters, and some of not his best verses. Allan        (p. 081)
Cunningham thinks that he had serious affection for Miss Hamilton. The
latest editor of his works asserts that his heart was set on Miss
Chalmers, and that she, long afterwards in her widowhood, told Thomas
Campbell the poet, that Burns had made a proposal of marriage to her.
However this may be, it is certain that while both admitted him to
friendship, neither encouraged his advances. They were better "advised
than to do so." Probably they knew too much of his past history and
his character to think of him as a husband. Both were soon after this
time married to men more likely to make them happy than the erratic
poet. When they turned a deaf ear to his addresses, he wrote: "My
rhetoric seems to have lost all its effect on the lovely half of
mankind; I have seen the day, but that is a tale of other years. In my
conscience, I believe, that my heart has been so often on fire that it
has been vitrified!" Well perhaps for him if it had been so, such
small power had he to guide it. Just about the time when he found
himself rejected, notwithstanding all his fine letters and his verses,
by the two young ladies on Devon banks, he met with an accident
through the upsetting of a hackney coach by a drunken driver. The fall
left him with a bruised limb, which confined him to his room from the
7th of December till the middle of February (1787).

During these weeks he suffered much from low spirits, and the letters
which he then wrote under the influence of that hypochondria and
despondency contain some of the gloomiest bursts of discontent with
himself and with the world, which he ever gave vent to either in prose
or verse. He describes himself as the "sport, the miserable victim of
rebellious pride, hypochondriac imagination, agonizing sensibility,
and Bedlam passions. I wish I were dead, but I'm no like to        (p. 082)
die.... I fear I am something like undone; but I hope for the best.
Come, stubborn Pride and unshrinking Resolution; accompany me through
this to me miserable world! I have a hundred times wished that one
could resign life, as an officer resigns a commission; for I would not
take in any poor wretch by selling out. Lately I was a sixpenny
private, and, God knows, a miserable soldier enough; now I march to
the campaign, a starving cadet--a little more conspicuously wretched."

But his late want of success on the banks of Devon, and his consequent
despondency, were alike dispelled from his thoughts by a new
excitement. Just at the time when he met with his accident, he had
made the acquaintance of a certain Mrs. M'Lehose, and acquaintance all
at once became a violent attachment on both sides. This lady had been
deserted by her husband, who had gone to the West Indies, leaving her
in poverty and obscurity to bring up two young boys as best she might.
We are told that she was "of a somewhat voluptuous style of beauty, of
lively and easy manners, of a poetical fabric of mind, with some wit,
and not too high a degree of refinement or delicacy--exactly the kind
of woman to fascinate Burns." Fascinated he certainly was. On the 30th
December he writes; "Almighty love still reigns and revels in my
bosom, and I am at this moment ready to hang myself for a young
Edinburgh widow, who has wit and wisdom more murderously fatal than
the assassinating stiletto of the Sicilian bandit, or the poisoned
arrow of the savage African." For several months his visits to her
house were frequent, his letters unremitting. The sentimental
correspondence which they began, in which Burns addresses her as
Clarinda, assuming to himself the name of Sylvander, has been      (p. 083)
published separately, and become notorious. Though this correspondence
may contain, as Lockhart says, "passages of deep and noble feeling,
which no one but Burns could have penned," it cannot be denied that it
contains many more of such fustian, such extravagant bombast, as Burns
or any man beyond twenty might well have been ashamed to write. One
could wish that for the poet's sake this correspondence had never been
preserved. It is so humiliating to read this torrent of falsetto
sentiment now, and to think that a man gifted like Burns should have
poured it forth. How far his feelings towards Clarinda were sincere,
or how far they were wrought up to amuse his vacancy by playing at
love-making, it is hard to say. Blended with a profusion of forced
compliments and unreal raptures, there are expressions in Burns's
letters which one cannot but believe that he meant in earnest, at the
moment when he wrote them. Clarinda, it would seem, must have regarded
Burns as a man wholly disengaged, and have looked forward to the
possible removal of Mr. M'Lehose, and with him of the obstacle to a
union with Burns. How far he may have really shared the same hopes it
is impossible to say. We only know that he used again and again
language of deepest devotion, vowing to "love Clarinda to death,
through death, and for ever."

While this correspondence between Sylvander and Clarinda was in its
highest flight of rapture, Burns received, in January or February,
1788, news from Mauchline which greatly agitated him. His renewed
intercourse with Jean Armour had resulted in consequences which again
stirred her father's indignation; this time so powerfully, that he
turned his daughter to the door. Burns provided a shelter for her
under the roof of a friend; but for a time he does not seem to     (p. 084)
have thought of doing more than this. Whether he regarded the original
private marriage as entirely dissolved, and looked on himself as an
unmarried man, does not quite appear. Anyhow, he and Clarinda, who
knew all that had passed with regard to Jean Armour, seem to have then
thought that enough had been done for the seemingly discarded
Mauchline damsel, and to have carried on their correspondence as
rapturously as ever for fully another six weeks, until the 21st of
March (1788). On that day Sylvander wrote to Clarinda a final letter,
pledging himself to everlasting love, and following it by a copy of
verses beginning,--

               Fair empress of the poet's soul,

presenting her at the same time with a pair of wineglasses as a
parting gift.

On the 24th of March, he turned his back on Edinburgh, and never
returned to it for more than a day's visit.

Before leaving town, however, he had arranged three pieces of business,
all bearing closely on his future life. First, he had secured for
himself an appointment in the Excise through the kindness of "Lang
Sandy Wood," the surgeon who attended him when laid up with a bruised
limb, and who had interceded with Mr. Graham of Fintray, the chief of
the Excise Board, on Burns' behalf. When he received his appointment,
he wrote to Miss Chalmers, "I have chosen this, my dear friend, after
mature deliberation. The question is not at what door of fortune's
palace shall we enter in, but what doors does she open for us. I was
not likely to get anything to do. I got this without hanging-on, or
mortifying solicitation; it is immediate bread, and though poor in
comparison of the last eighteen months of my existence, 'tis       (p. 085)
luxury in comparison of all my preceding life."

Next, he had concluded a bargain with Mr. Miller of Dalswinton, to
lease his farm of Ellisland, on which he had long set his heart, and
to which he had paid several visits in order to inspect it.

Lastly, he had at last obtained a business settlement with Creech
regarding the Second Edition of his Poems. Before this was effected,
Burns had more than once lost his temper, and let Creech know his
mind. Various accounts have been given of the profits that now accrued
to Burns from the whole transaction. We cannot be far wrong in taking
the estimate at which Dr. Chambers arrived, for on such a matter he
could speak with authority. He sets down the poet's profits at as
nearly as possible 500_l._ Of this sum Burns gave 180_l._ to his
brother Gilbert, who was now in pecuniary trouble. "I give myself no
airs on this," he writes, "for it was mere selfishness on my part; I
was conscious that the wrong scale of the balance was pretty heavily
charged, and I thought that throwing a little filial piety and
fraternal affection into the scale in my favour, might help to smooth
matters at the grand reckoning." This money was understood by the
family to be the provision due from Robert on behalf of his mother,
the support of whom he was now, that he was setting up for himself,
about to throw on his younger brother. Chambers seems to reckon that
as another 120_l._ must have been spent by Burns on his tours, his
accident, and his sojourn in Edinburgh since October, he could not
have more than 200_l._ over, with which to set up at Ellisland. We see
in what terms Burns had written to Clarinda on the 21st of March. On
his leaving Edinburgh and returning to Ayrshire, he married Jean
Armour, and forthwith acknowledged her in letters as his wife.     (p. 086)
This was in April, though it was not till August that he and Jean
appeared before the Kirk-Session, and were formally recognized as man
and wife by the Church.

Whether, in taking this step, Burns thought that he was carrying out a
legal, as well as a moral, obligation, we know not. The interpreters
of the law now assert that the original marriage in 1786 had never
been dissolved, and that the destruction of the promissory lines, and
the temporary disownment of him by Jean and her family, could not in
any way invalidate it. Indeed after all that had happened, for Burns
to have deserted Jean, and married another, even if he legally could
have done so, would have been the basest infidelity. Amid all his
other errors and inconsistencies, and no doubt there were enough of
these, we cannot but be glad for the sake of his good name that he now
acted the part of an honest man, and did what he could to repair the
much suffering and shame he had brought on his frail but faithful

As to the reasons which determined Burns to marry Jean Armour, and not
another, this is the account he himself gives when writing to Mrs.
Dunlop, one of his most trusted correspondents, to whom he spoke out
his real heart in a simpler, more natural way, than was usual with him
in letter-writing:--

"You are right that a bachelor state would have ensured me more
friends; but, from a cause you will easily guess, conscious peace in
the enjoyment of my own mind, and unmistrusting confidence in
approaching my God, would seldom have been of the number. I found a
once much-loved, and still much-loved, female, literally and truly
cast out to the mercy of the naked elements; but I enabled her to
purchase a shelter;--there is no sporting with a fellow-creature's (p. 087)
happiness or misery. The most placid good-nature and sweetness of
disposition; a warm heart, gratefully devoted with all its powers to
love me; vigorous health and sprightly cheerfulness, set off to the
best advantage by a more than commonly handsome figure: these I think,
in a woman may make a good wife, though she should never have read a
page but the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, nor have danced
in a brighter assembly than a penny pay wedding."

To Miss Chalmers he says:--

"I have married my Jean. I had a long and much-loved fellow-creature's
happiness or misery in my determination, and I durst not trifle with
so important a deposit, nor have I any cause to repent it. If I have
not got polite tittle-tattle, modish manners, and fashionable dress, I
am not sickened and disquieted with the multiform curse of
boarding-school affectation; and I have got the handsomest figure, the
sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and the kindest heart in
the country.... A certain late publication of Scots poems she has
perused very devoutly, and all the ballads in the country, as she has
the finest wood-note wild I ever heard."

There have been many comments on this turning-point in Burns' life.
Some have given him high praise for it, as though he had done a heroic
thing in voluntarily sacrificing himself, when it might have been open
to him to form a much higher connexion. But all such praise seems
entirely thrown away. It was not, as it appears, open to him to form
any other marriage legally; certainly it was not open to him morally.
The remark of Lockhart is entirely true, that, "had he hesitated to
make her his wife, whom he loved, and who was the mother of his children,
he must have sunk into the callousness of a ruffian." Lockhart     (p. 088)
need hardly have added, "or into that misery of miseries, the remorse
of a poet."

But even had law and morality allowed him to pass by Jean,--which they
did not,--would it have been well for Burns, if he had sought, as one
of his biographers regrets that he had not done, a wife among ladies
of higher rank and more refined manners? That he could appreciate what
these things imply, is evident from his own confession in looking back
on his introduction to what is called society: "A refined and
accomplished woman was a being altogether new to me, and of which I
had formed a very inadequate idea." It requires but little knowledge
of the world and its ways to see the folly of all such regrets. Great
disparity of condition in marriage seldom answers. And in the case of
a wayward, moody man, with the pride, the poverty, and the
irregularities of Burns, and the drudging toil which must needs await
his wife, it is easy to see what misery such a marriage would have
stored up for both. As it was, the marriage he made was, to put it at
the lowest, one of the most prudent acts of his life. Jean proved to
be all, and indeed more than all, he anticipates in the letters above
given. During the eight years of their married life, according to all
testimony, she did her part as a wife and mother with the most patient
and placid fidelity, and bore the trials which her husband's irregular
habits entailed on her, with the utmost long-suffering. And after his
death, during her long widowhood, she revered his memory, and did her
utmost to maintain the honour of his name.

With his marriage to his Ayrshire wife, Burns had bid farewell to
Edinburgh, and to whatever high hopes it may have at anytime kindled
within him, and had returned to a condition somewhat nearer to that
in which he was born. With what feelings did he pass from this     (p. 089)
brilliant interlude, and turn the corner which led him back to the
dreary road of commonplace drudgery, which he hoped to have escaped?
There can be little doubt that his feelings were those of bitter
disappointment. There had been, it is said, a marked contrast between
the reception he had met with during his first and second winters in
Edinburgh. As Allan Cunningham says, "On his first appearance the
doors of the nobility opened spontaneously, 'on golden hinges turning,'
and he ate spiced meats and drank rare wines, interchanging nods and
smiles with high dukes and mighty earls. A colder reception awaited
his second coming. The doors of lords and ladies opened with a tardy
courtesy; he was received with a cold and measured stateliness, was
seldom requested to stop, seldomer to repeat his visit; and one of his
companions used to relate with what indignant feeling the poet
recounted his fruitless calls and his uncordial receptions in the good
town of Edinburgh.... He went to Edinburgh strong in the belief that
genius such as his would raise him in society; he returned not without
a sourness of spirit, and a bitterness of feeling."

When he did give vent to his bitterness, it was not into man's, but
into woman's sympathetic ear that he poured his complaint. It is thus
he writes, some time after settling at Ellisland, to Mrs. Dunlop,
showing how fresh was still the wound within. "When I skulk into a
corner lest the rattling equipage of some gaping blockhead should
mangle me in the mire, I am tempted to exclaim, 'What merits has he
had, or what demerit have I had, in some previous state of existence,
that he is ushered into this state of being with the sceptre of rule,
and the keys of riches in his puny fist, and I am kicked into the
world, the sport of folly, or the victim of pride?... Often as I   (p. 090)
have glided with humble stealth through the pomp of Princes Street, it
has suggested itself to me, as an improvement on the present human
figure, that a man, in proportion to his own conceit of his own
consequence in the world, could have pushed out the longitude of his
common size, as a snail pushes out his horns, or as we draw out a

This is a feeling which Burns has uttered in many a form of prose and
verse, but which probably never possessed him more bitterly than when
he retired from Edinburgh. Many persons in such circumstances may have
felt thoughts of this kind pass over them for a moment. But they have
felt ashamed of them as they rose, and have at once put them by. Burns
no doubt had a severer trial in this way than most, but he never could
overcome it, never ceased to chafe at that inequality of conditions
which is so strongly fixed in the system in which we find ourselves.

It was natural that he should have felt some bitterness at the changed
countenance which Edinburgh society turned on him, and it is easy to
be sarcastic on the upper ranks of that day for turning it; but were
they really so much to blame? There are many cases under the present
order of things, in which we are constrained to say, "It must needs be
that offences come." Taking men and things as they are, could it well
have been otherwise?

First, the novelty of Burns's advent had worn off by his second winter
in Edinburgh, and, though it may be a weakness, novelty always counts
for something in human affairs. Then, again, the quiet decorous men of
Blair's circle knew more of Burns's ways and doings than at first, and
what they came to know was not likely to increase their desire for (p. 091)
intimacy with him. It was, it seems, notorious that Burns kept that
formidable memorandum-book already alluded to, in which he was
supposed to sketch with unsparing hand, "stern likenesses" of his
friends and benefactors. So little of a secret did he make of this,
that we are told he sometimes allowed a visitor to have a look at the
figures which he had sketched in his portrait-gallery. The knowledge
that such a book existed was not likely to make Blair and his friends
more desirous of his society.

Again, the festivities at the Crochallan Club and other such haunts,
the habits he there indulged in, and the associates with whom he
consorted, these were well known. And it was not possible that either
the ways, the conversation, or the cronies of the Crochallan Club
could be welcomed in quieter and more polished circles. Men of the
Ainslie and Nicol stamp would hardly have been quite in place there.

Again--what is much to the honour of Burns--he never in the highest
access of his fame, abated a jot of his intimacy and friendship
towards the men of his own rank, with whom he had been associated in
his days of obscurity. These were tradesmen, farmers, and peasants.
The thought of them, their sentiments, their prejudices and habits, if
it had been possible, their very persons, he would have taken with
him, without disguise or apology, into the highest circles of rank or
of literature. But this might not be. It was impossible that Burns
could take Mauchline with its belles, its Poosie-Nansies and its
Souter Johnnies, bodily into the library of Dr. Blair or the
drawing-room of Gordon Castle.

A man, to whom it is open, must make his choice; but he cannot live at
once in two different and widely sundered orders of society. To    (p. 092)
no one is it given, not even to men of genius great as that of
Burns, for himself and his family entirely to overleap the barriers
with which custom and the world have hedged us in, and to weld the
extremes of society into one. To the speculative as well as to the
practically humane man, the great inequality in human conditions
presents, no doubt, a perplexing problem. A little less worldly pride,
and a little more Christian wisdom and humility, would probably have
helped Burns to solve it better than he did. But besides the social
grievance, which though impalpable is very real, Burns had another
more material and tangible. The great whom he had met in Edinburgh,
whose castles he had visited in the country, might have done something
to raise him at once above poverty and toil, and they did little or
nothing. They had, indeed, subscribed liberally for his Second
Edition, and they had got him a gauger's post, with fifty or sixty
pounds a year, that was all. What more could they, ought they to have
done? To have obtained him an office in some one of the higher
professions was not to be thought of, for a man cannot easily at the
age of eight-and-twenty change his whole line and adapt himself to an
entirely new employment. The one thing they might have combined to do,
was to have compelled Dundas, or some other of the men then in power,
to grant Burns a pension from the public purse. That was the day of
pensions, and hundreds with no claim to compare with Burns's were then
on the pension list: 300_l._ a year would have sufficed to place him
in comfort and independence, and could public money have been better
spent? But though the most rigid economist might not have objected,
would Burns have accepted such a benefaction, had it been offered?
And if he had accepted it, would he not have chafed under the      (p. 093)
obligation, more even than he did in the absence of it? Such questions
as these cannot but arise, as often as we think over the fate of
Burns, and ask ourselves, if nothing could have been done to avert it?
Though natural, they are vain. Things hold on their own course to
their inevitable issues, and Burns left Edinburgh, and set his face
first towards Ayrshire, then to Nithsdale, a saddened and embittered

CHAPTER V.                                                         (p. 094)


"Mr. Burns, you have made a poet's not a farmer's choice." Such was
the remark of Allan Cunningham's father, land-steward to the laird of
Dalswinton, when the poet turned from the low-lying and fertile farm
of Foregirth, which Cunningham had recommended to him, and selected
for his future home the farm of Ellisland. He was taken by the
beautiful situation and fine romantic outlook of the poorest of
several farms on the Dalswinton estate which were in his option.
Ellisland lies on the western bank of the river Nith, about six miles
above Dumfries. Looking from Ellisland eastward across the river, "a
pure stream running there over the purest gravel," you see the rich
holms and noble woods of Dalswinton. Dalswinton is an ancient historic
place, which has even within recorded memory more than once changed
its mansion-house and its proprietor. To the west the eye falls on the
hills of Dunscore, and looking northward up the Nith, the view is
bounded by the heights that shut in the river towards Drumlanrig, and
by the high conical hill of Corsincon, at the base of which the infant
stream slips from the shire of Ayr into that of Dumfries. The
farmsteading of Ellisland stands but a few yards to the west of the
Nith. Immediately underneath there is a red scaur of considerable  (p. 095)
height, overhanging the stream, and the rest of the bank is covered
with broom, through which winds a greensward path, whither Burns used
to retire to meditate his songs. The farm extends to upwards of a
hundred acres, part holm, part croft-land, of which the former yielded
good wheat, the latter oats and potatoes. The lease was for nineteen
years, and the rent fifty pounds for the first three years, seventy
for the rest of the tack. The laird of Dalswinton, while Burns leased
Ellisland, was Mr. Patrick Millar, not an ordinary laird, but one well
known in his day for his scientific discoveries. There was no proper
farm-house or offices on the farm--it was part of the bargain that
Burns should build these for himself. The want of a house made it
impossible for him to settle at once on his farm. His bargain for it
had been concluded early in March (1788); but it was not till the 13th
of June that he went to reside at Ellisland. In the interval between
these two dates he went to Ayrshire, and completed privately, as we
have seen, the marriage, the long postponement of which had caused him
so much disquiet. With however great disappointment and chagrin he may
have left Edinburgh, the sense that he had now done the thing that was
right, and had the prospect of a settled life before him, gave him for
a time a peace and even gladness of heart, to which he had for long
been a stranger. We can, therefore, well believe what he tells us,
that, when he had left Edinburgh, he journeyed towards Mauchline with
as much gaiety of heart, 'as a May-frog, leaping across the
newly-harrowed ridge, enjoying the fragrance of the refreshed earth
after the long-expected shower.' Of what may be called the poet's
marriage settlement, we have the following details from Allan

"His marriage reconciled the poet to his wife's kindred: there was (p. 096)
no wedding portion. Armour was a respectable man, but not opulent. He
gave his daughter some small store of plenishing; and, exerting his
skill as a mason, wrought his already eminent son-in-law a handsome
punch-bowl in Inverary marble, which Burns lived to fill often, to the
great pleasure both of himself and his friends.... Mrs. Dunlop bethought
herself of Ellisland, and gave a beautiful heifer; another friend
contributed a plough. The young couple from love to their native
county ordered their furniture from a wright in Mauchline; the
farm-servants, male and female, were hired in Ayrshire, a matter of
questionable prudence, for the mode of cultivation is different from
that of the west, and the cold humid bottom of Mossgiel bears no
resemblance to the warm and stony loam of Ellisland."

When on the 13th June he went to live on his farm, he had, as there
was no proper dwelling-house on it, to leave Jean and her one
surviving child behind him at Mauchline, and himself to seek shelter
in a mere hovel on the skirts of the farm. "I remember the house
well," says Cunningham, "the floor of clay, the rafters japanned with
soot, the smoke from a hearth-fire streamed thickly out at door and
window, while the sunshine which struggled in at those apertures
produced a sort of twilight." Burns thus writes to Mrs. Dunlop, "A
solitary inmate of an old smoky spence, far from every object I love
or by whom I am beloved; nor any acquaintance older than yesterday,
except Jenny Geddes, the old mare I ride on, while uncouth cares and
novel plans hourly insult my awkward ignorance and bashful inexperience."
It takes a more even, better-ordered spirit than Burns' to stand such
solitude. His heart, during those first weeks at Ellisland,        (p. 097)
entirely sank within him, and he saw all men and life coloured by his
own despondency. This is the entry in his commonplace book on the
first Sunday he spent alone at Ellisland:--"I am such a coward in
life, so tired of the service, that I would almost at any time, with
Milton's Adam, 'gladly lay me in my mother's lap, and be at peace.'
But a wife and children bind me to struggle with the stream, till some
sudden squall shall overset the silly vessel, or in the listless
return of years its own craziness reduce it to wreck."

The discomfort of his dwelling-place made him not only discontented
with his lot, but also with the people amongst whom he found himself.
"I am here," he writes, "on my farm, but for all the pleasurable part
of life called social communication, I am at the very elbow of
existence. The only things to be found in perfection in this country
are stupidity and canting.... As for the Muses, they have as much idea
of a rhinoceros as a poet."

When he was not in Ayrshire in bodily presence, he was there in
spirit. It was at such a time that looking up to the hills that divide
Nithsdale from Ayrshire, he breathed to his wife that most natural and
beautiful of all his love-lyrics,--

            Of a' the airts the wind can blaw
              I dearly like the west,
            For there the bonnie lassie lives,
              The lassie I lo'e best.

His disparagement of Nithsdale people, Allan Cunningham, himself a
Dumfriesshire man, naturally resents, and accounts for it by supposing
that the sooty hovel had infected his whole mental atmosphere. "The
Maxwells, the Kirkpatricks, and Dalzells," exclaims honest Allan, "were
fit companions for any man in Scotland, and they were almost his   (p. 098)
neighbours; Riddell of Friars Carse, an accomplished antiquarian,
lived almost next door; and Jean Lindsay and her husband, Patrick
Miller, the laird of Dalswinton, were no ordinary people. The former,
beautiful, accomplished, a writer of easy and graceful verses, with a
natural dignity of manners which became her station; the latter an
improver and inventor, the first who applied steam to the purposes of
navigation." But Burns's hasty judgments of men and things, the result
of momentary feeling, are not to be too literally construed.

He soon found that there was enough of sociality among all ranks of
Dumfriesshire people, from the laird to the cotter, indeed, more than
was good for himself. Yet, however much he may have complained, when
writing letters to his correspondents of an evening, he was too manly
to go moping about all day long when there was work to be done. He
was, moreover, nerved to the task by the thought that he was preparing
the home that was to shelter his wife and children. On the laying of
the foundation-stone of his future house, he took off his hat and
asked a blessing on it. "Did he ever put his own hand to the work?"
was asked of one of the men engaged in it. "Ay, that he did, mony a
time," was the answer, "if he saw us like to be beat wi' a big stane,
he would cry, 'Bide a wee,' and come rinning. We soon found out when
he put to his hand, he beat a' I ever met for a dour lift."

During his first harvest, though the weather was unfavourable, and the
crop a poor one, we find Burns speaking in his letters of being
industriously employed, and binding every day after the reapers. But
Allan Cunningham's father, who had every opportunity of observing,
used to allege that Burns seemed to him like a restless and        (p. 099)
unsettled man. "He was ever on the move, on foot or on horseback. In
the course of a single day he might be seen holding the plough,
angling in the river, sauntering, with his hands behind his back, on
the banks, looking at the running water, of which he was very fond,
walking round his buildings or over his fields; and if you lost sight
of him for an hour, perhaps you might see him returning from Friars
Carse, or spurring his horse through the hills to spend an evening in
some distant place with such friends as chance threw in his way."
Before his new house was ready, he had many a long ride to and fro
through the Cumnock hills to Mauchline, to visit Jean, and to return.
It was not till the first week of December, 1788, that his lonely
bachelor life came to an end, and that he was able to bring his wife
and household to Nithsdale. Even then the house at Ellisland was not
ready for his reception, and he and his family had to put up for a
time in a neighbouring farm-house called the Isle. They brought with
them two farm-lads from Ayrshire, and a servant lass called Elizabeth
Smith, who was alive in 1851, and gave Chambers many details of the
poet's way of life at Ellisland. Among these she told him that her
father was so concerned about her moral welfare that, before allowing
her to go, he made Burns promise to keep a strict watch over her
behaviour, and to exercise her duly in the Shorter Catechism; and that
both of these promises he faithfully fulfilled.

The advent of his wife and his child in the dark days of the year kept
dulness aloof, and made him meet the coming of the new year (1789)
with more cheerful hopes and calmer spirits than he had known for
long. Alas, that these were doomed to be so short-lived!

On New Year's morning, 1789, his brother Gilbert thus              (p. 100)
affectionately writes to the poet: "Dear Brother,--I have just
finished my New Year's Day breakfast in the usual form, which
naturally makes me call to mind the days of former years, and the
society in which we used to begin them; and when I look at our family
vicissitudes, 'through the dark postern of time long elapsed,' I
cannot help remarking to you, my dear brother, how good the God of
seasons is to us, and that, however some clouds may seem to lower over
the portion of time before us, we have great reason to hope that all
will turn out well." On the same New Year's Day Burns addressed to
Mrs. Dunlop a letter, which, though it has been often quoted, is too
pleasing to be omitted here. "I own myself so little a Presbyterian,
that I approve set times and seasons of more than ordinary acts of
devotion for breaking in on that habituated routine of life and
thought, which is so apt to reduce our existence to a kind of
instinct, or even sometimes, and with some minds, to a state very
little superior to mere machinery. This day--the first Sunday of
May--a breezy, blue-skied noon some time about the beginning, and a
hoary morning and calm sunny day about the end, of autumn--these, time
out of mind, have been with me a kind of holiday.... We know nothing,
or next to nothing of the substance or structure of our souls, so
cannot account for those seeming caprices in them, that we should be
particularly pleased with this thing, or struck with that, which on
minds of a different cast makes no extraordinary impression. I have
some favourite flowers in spring, among which are the mountain-daisy,
the harebell, the fox-glove, the wild-brier rose, the budding birch,
and the hoary hawthorn, that I view and hang over with particular
delight. I never hear the loud, solitary whistle of the curlew in a
summer noon, or the wild mixing cadence of a troop of gray plovers (p. 101)
in an autumnal morning, without feeling an elevation of soul like the
enthusiasm of devotion or poetry. Tell me, my dear friend, to what can
this be owing? Are we a piece of machinery, which, like the Æolian
harp, passive, takes the impression of the passing accident? Or do
these workings argue something within us above the trodden clod? I own
myself partial to such proofs of those awful and important realities--a
God that made all things--man's immaterial and immortal nature--and a
world of weal or woe beyond death and the grave!"

On reading this beautiful and suggestive letter, an ornithologist
remarked that Burns had made a mistake in a fact of natural history.
It is not the 'gray plover,' but the golden, whose music is heard on
the moors in autumn. The gray plover, our accurate observer remarks,
is a winter shore bird, found only at that season and in that habitat,
in this country.

It was not till about the middle of 1789 that the farm-house of
Ellisland was finished, and that he and his family, leaving the Isle,
went to live in it. When all was ready, Burns bade his servant, Betty
Smith, take a bowl of salt, and place the Family Bible on the top of
it, and, bearing these, walk first into the new house and possess it.
He himself, with his wife on his arm, followed Betty and the Bible and
the salt, and so they entered their new abode. Burns delighted to keep
up old-world _freits_ or usages like this. It was either on this
occasion, or on his bringing Mrs. Burns to the Isle, that he held a
house-heating mentioned by Allan Cunningham, to which all the
neighbourhood gathered, and drank, "Luck to the roof-tree of the house
of Burns!" The farmers and the well-to-do people welcomed him gladly,
and were proud that such a man had come to be a dweller in their   (p. 102)
vale. Yet the ruder country lads and the lower peasantry, we are told,
looked on him not without dread, "lest he should pickle and preserve
them in sarcastic song." "Once at a penny wedding, when one or two
wild young lads quarrelled, and were about to fight, Burns rose up and
said, 'Sit down and ----, or else I'll hang you up like potatoe-bogles
in sang to-morrow.' They ceased, and sat down as if their noses had
been bleeding."

The house which had cost Burns so much toil in building, and which he
did not enter till about the middle of the year 1789, was a humble
enough abode. Only a large kitchen, in which the whole family, master
and servants, took their meals together, a room to hold two beds, a
closet to hold one, and a garret, coom-ceiled, for the female
servants, this made the whole dwelling-house. "One of the windows
looked southward down the holms; another opened on the river; and the
house stood so near the lofty bank, that its afternoon shadow fell
across the stream, on the opposite fields. The garden or kail-yard was
a little way from the house. A pretty footpath led southward along the
river side, another ran northward, affording fine views of the Nith,
the woods of Friars Carse, and the grounds of Dalswinton. Half-way
down the steep declivity, a fine clear cool spring supplied water to
the household." Such was the first home which Burns found for himself
and his wife, and the best they were ever destined to find. The months
spent in the Isle, and the few that followed the settlement at
Ellisland, were among the happiest of his life. Besides trying his
best to set himself to farm-industry, he was otherwise bent on
well-doing. He had, soon after his arrival in Ellisland, started   (p. 103)
a parish library, both for his own use and to spread a love of
literature among his neighbours, the portioners and peasants of
Dunscore. When he first took up house at Ellisland, he used every
evening when he was at home, to gather his household for family
worship, and, after the old Scottish custom, himself to offer up
prayer in his own words. He was regular, if not constant, in his
attendance at the parish church of Dunscore, in which a worthy
minister, Mr. Kirkpatrick, officiated, whom he respected for his
character, though he sometimes demurred to what seemed to him the too
great sternness of his doctrine.

Burns and his wife had not been long settled in their newly-built
farm-house, when prudence induced him to ask that he might be
appointed Excise officer in the district in which he lived. This
request Mr. Graham of Fintray, who had placed his name on the Excise
list before he left Edinburgh, at once granted. The reasons that
impelled Burns to this step were the increase of his family by the
birth of a son in August, 1789, and the prospect that his second
year's harvest would be a failure like the first. He often repeats
that it was solely to make provision for his increasing family that he
submitted to the degradation of--

            Searching auld wives' barrels,--
              Och, hon! the day!
            That clarty barm should stain my laurels,
              But--what 'ill ye say?
            These movin things, ca'd wives and weans,
            Wad move the very hearts o' stanes.

That he felt keenly the slur that attached to the name of gauger is
certain, but it is honourable to him that he resolved bravely to
endure it for the sake of his family.

"I know not," he writes, "how the word exciseman, or the still     (p. 104)
more opprobrious gauger, will sound in your ears. I, too, have seen
the day when my auditory nerves would have felt very delicately on
this subject; but a wife and children are things which have a
wonderful power in blunting this kind of sensations. Fifty pounds a
year for life, and a provision for widows and orphans, you will allow,
is no bad settlement for a poet."

In announcing to Dr. Blacklock his new employment, he says,--

            But what d'ye think, my trusty fier,
            I'm turned a gauger--peace be here!
            Parnassian queans, I fear, I fear,
                        Ye'll now disdain me!
            And then my fifty pounds a year
                        Will little gain me.

                 *       *       *       *       *

                        Ye ken, ye ken
            That strang necessity supreme is
                        'Mang sons o' men.
            I hae a wife and twa wee laddies,
            They maun hae brose and brats o' duddies;
            Ye ken yoursels my heart right proud is,
                        I need na vaunt,
            But I'll sned besoms, thraw saugh woodies,
                        Before they want.

He would cut brooms and twist willow-ropes before his children should
want. But perhaps, as the latest editor of Burns' poems observes, his
best saying on the subject of the excisemanship was that word to Lady
Glencairn, the mother of his patron, "I would much rather have it said
that my profession borrowed credit from me, than that I borrowed it
from my profession."

In these words we see something of the bitterness about his new    (p. 105)
employment, which often escaped from him, both in prose and verse.
Nevertheless, having undertaken it, he set his face honestly to the
work. He had to survey ten parishes, covering a tract of not less than
fifty miles each way, and requiring him to ride two hundred miles a
week. Smuggling was then common throughout Scotland, both in the shape
of brewing and of selling beer and whiskey without licence. Burns took
a serious yet humane view of his duty. To the regular smuggler he is
said to have been severe; to the country folk, farmers or cotters, who
sometimes transgressed, he tempered justice with mercy. Many stories
are told of his leniency to these last. At Thornhill, on a fair day,
he was seen to call at the door of a poor woman who for the day was
doing a little illicit business on her own account. A nod and a
movement of the forefinger brought the woman to the doorway. "Kate,
are you mad? Don't you know that the supervisor and I will be in upon
you in forty minutes?" Burns at once disappeared among the crowd, and
the poor woman was saved a heavy fine. Another day the poet and a
brother gauger entered a widow's house at Dunscore and seized a
quantity of smuggled tobacco. "Jenny," said Burns, "I expected this
would be the upshot. Here, Lewars, take note of the number of rolls as
I count them. Now, Jock, did you ever hear an auld wife numbering her
threads before check-reels were invented? Thou's ane, and thou's no
ane, and thou's ane a'out--listen." As he handed out the rolls, and
numbered them, old-wife fashion, he dropped every other roll into
Jenny's lap. Lewars took the desired note with becoming gravity, and
saw as though he saw not. Again, a woman who had been brewing, on
seeing Burns coming with another exciseman, slipped out by the back
door, leaving a servant and a little girl in the house. "Has       (p. 106)
there been ony brewing for the fair here the day?" "O no, sir, we hae
nae licence for that," answered the servant maid. "That's no true,"
exclaimed the child; "the muckle black kist is fou' o' the bottles o'
yill that my mither sat up a' nicht brewing for the fair."... "We are
in a hurry just now," said Burns, "but when we return from the fair,
we'll examine the muckle black kist." In acts like these, and in many
another anecdote that might be given, is seen the genuine
human-heartedness of the man, in strange contrast with the
bitternesses which so often find vent in his letters. Ultimately, as
we shall see, the exciseman's work told heavily against his farming,
his poetry, and his habits of life. But it was some time before this
became apparent. The solitary rides through the moors and dales that
border Nithsdale gave him opportunities, if not for composing long
poems, at any rate for crooning over those short songs in which mainly
his genius now found vent. "The visits of the muses to me," he writes,
"and I believe to most of their acquaintance, like the visits of good
angels, are short and far between; but I meet them now and then as I
jog through the hills of Nithsdale, just as I used to do on the banks
of Ayr."

Take as a sample some of the varying moods he passed through in the
summer and autumn of 1789. In the May-time of that year an incident
occurs, which the poet thus describes:--"One morning lately, as I was
out pretty early in the fields, sowing some grass-seeds, I heard the
burst of a shot from a neighbouring plantation, and presently a poor
little wounded hare came hirpling by me. You will guess my indignation
at the inhuman fellow who could shoot a hare at this season, when all
of them have young ones. Indeed there is something in the business of
destroying, for our sport, individuals in the animal creation that (p. 107)
do not injure us materially, which I could never reconcile to my ideas
of virtue." The lad who fired the shot and roused the poet's
indignation, was the son of a neighbouring farmer. Burns cursed him,
and being near the Nith at the time, threatened to throw him into the
river. He found, however, a more innocent vent for his feelings in the
following lines:--

            Inhuman man! curse on thy barbarous art,
              And blasted be thy murder-aiming eye!
              May never pity soothe thee with a sigh,
            Nor ever pleasure glad thy cruel heart!

            Go live, poor wanderer of the wood and field,
              The bitter little that of life remains:
              No more the thickening brakes and verdant plains
            To thee shall home, or food, or pastime yield.

            Seek, mangled wretch, some place of wonted rest,
              No more of rest, but now thy dying bed!
              The sheltering rushes whistling o'er thy head,
            The cold earth with thy bloody bosom prest.

            Perhaps a mother's anguish adds its woe;
              The playful pair crowd fondly by thy side;
              Ah! helpless nurslings, who will now provide
            That life a mother only can bestow!

            Oft as by winding Nith, I, musing, wait
              The sober eve, or hail the cheerful dawn,
              I'll miss thee sporting o'er the dewy lawn,
            And curse the ruffian's aim, and mourn thy hapless fate.

This, which is one of the best of the very few good poems which Burns
composed in classical English, is no mere sentimental effusion, but
expresses what in him was a real part of his nature--his tender feeling
towards his lower fellow-creatures. The same feeling finds         (p. 108)
expression in the lines on _The Mouse_, _The Auld Farmer's Address to
his Mare_, and _The Winter Night_, when, as he sits by his fireside,
and hears the storm roaring without, he says,--

            I thought me on the ourie cattle,
            Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
                          O' wintry war.
            Or thro' the drift, deep-lairing, sprattle,
                          Beneath a scaur.
            Ilk happing bird, wee helpless thing,
            That in the merry months o' spring,
            Delighted me to hear thee sing,
                          What comes o' thee?
            Whare wilt then cow'r thy chittering wing,
                          And close thy e'e?

Though for a time, influenced by the advice of critics, Burns had
tried to compose some poems according to the approved models of
book-English, we find him presently reverting to his own Doric, which
he had lately too much abandoned, and writing in good broad Scotch his
admirably humorous description of Captain Grose, an Antiquary, whom he
had met at Friars Carse:--

            Hear, Land o' Cakes, and brither Scots,
            Frae Maidenkirk to Johnnie Groats--
            If there's a hole in a' your coats,
                                I rede you tent it:
            A chield's amang you, takin' notes,
                                And, faith, he'll prent it.

            By some auld, houlet-haunted biggin,
            Or kirk deserted by its riggin,
            It's ten to ane ye'll find him snug in
                                Some eldritch part,
            Wi' deils, they say, Lord save's! colleaguin'
                                At some black art.

            It's tauld he was a sodger bred,                       (p. 109)
            And ane wad rather fa'n than fled;
            But now he's quat the spurtle-blade,
                                And dog-skin wallet,
            And taen the--Antiquarian trade,
                                I think they call it.

            He has a fouth o' auld nick-nackets;
            Rusty airn caps, and jinglin' jackets,
            Wad haud the Lothians three in tackets,
                                A towmont gude
            And parritch-pats and auld saut-backets,
                                Before the Flood.

                 *       *       *       *       *

            Forbye, he'll shape you aff fu' gleg
            The cut of Adam's philibeg;
            The knife that nicket Abel's craig
                                He'll prove you fully,
            It was a faulding jocteleg
                                Or lang-kail gullie.

The meeting with Captain Grose took place in the summer of 1789, and
the stanzas just given were written probably about the same time. To
the same date belongs his ballad called _The Kirk's Alarm_, in which
he once more reverts to the defence of one of his old friends of the
New Light school, who had got into the Church Courts, and was in
jeopardy from the attacks of his more orthodox brethren. The ballad in
itself has little merit, except as showing that Burns still clung to
the same school of divines to which he had early attached himself. In
September we find him writing in a more serious strain to Mrs. Dunlop,
and suggesting thoughts which might console her in some affliction
under which she was suffering. "... In vain would we reason and
pretend to doubt. I have myself done so to a very daring pitch; but
when I reflected that I was opposing the most ardent wishes, and   (p. 110)
the most darling hopes of good men, and flying in the face of all
human belief, in all ages, I was shocked at my own conduct."

That same September Burns, with his friend Allan Masterton, crossed
from Nithsdale to Annandale to visit their common friend Nicol, who
was spending his vacation in Moffatdale. They met and spent a night in
Nicol's lodging. It was a small thatched cottage, near Craigieburn--a
place celebrated by Burns in one of his songs--and stands on the
right-hand side as the traveller passes up Moffatdale to Yarrow,
between the road and the river. Few pass that way now without having
the cottage pointed out, as the place where the three merry comrades
met that night.

"We had such a joyous meeting," Burns writes, "that Mr. Masterton and
I agreed, each in our own way, that we should celebrate the business,"
and Burns's celebration of it was the famous bacchanalian song,--

            O, Willie brewed a peck o' maut,
            And Bob and Allan cam to pree.

If bacchanalian songs are to be written at all, this certainly must be
pronounced "The king amang them a'." But while no one can withhold
admiration from the genius and inimitable humour of the song, still we
read it with very mingled feelings, when we think that perhaps it may
have helped some topers since Burns's day a little faster on the road
to ruin. As for the three boon-companions themselves, just ten years
after that night, Currie wrote, "These three honest fellows--all men
of uncommon talents--are now all under the turf." And in 1821, John
Struthers, a Scottish poet little known, but of great worth and some
genius, thus recurs to Currie's words:--
                                                                   (p. 111)
  Nae mair in learning Willie toils, nor Allan wakes the melting lay,
  Nor Rab, wi' fancy-witching wiles, beguiles the hour o' dawning day;
  For tho' they were na very fou, that wicked wee drap in the e'e
  Has done its turn; untimely now the green grass waves o'er a' the three.

_Willie brewed a Peck o' Maut_ was soon followed by another
bacchanalian effusion, the ballad called _The Whistle_. Three lairds,
all neighbours of Burns at Ellisland, met at Friars Carse on the 16th
of October, 1789, to contend with each other in a drinking-bout. The
prize was an ancient ebony whistle, said to have been brought to
Scotland in the reign of James the Sixth by a Dane, who, after three
days and three nights' contest in hard drinking, was overcome by Sir
Robert Laurie, of Maxwelton, with whom the whistle remained as a
trophy. It passed into the Riddell family, and now in Burns's time it
was to be again contested for in the same rude orgie. Burns was
appointed the bard to celebrate the contest. Much discussion has been
carried on by his biographers as to whether Burns was present or not.
Some maintain that he sat out the drinking-match, and shared the deep
potations. Others, and among these his latest editor, Mr. Scott
Douglas, maintain that he was not present that night in body, but only
in spirit. Anyhow, the ballad remains a monument, if not of his
genius, at least of his sympathy with that ancient but now happily
exploded form of good fellowship.

This "mighty claret-shed at the Carse," and the ballad commemorative
of it, belong to the 16th of October, 1789. It must have been within a
few days of that merry-meeting that Burns fell into another and very
different mood, which has recorded itself in an immortal lyric. It
would seem that from the year 1786 onwards, a cloud of melancholy  (p. 112)
generally gathered over the poet's soul toward the end of each autumn.
This October, as the anniversary of Highland Mary's death drew on, he
was observed by his wife to "grow sad about something, and to wander
solitary on the banks of Nith, and about his farmyard in the extremest
agitation of mind nearly the whole night. He screened himself on the
lee-side of a corn-stack from the cutting edge of the night wind, and
lingered till approaching dawn wiped out the stars, one by one, from
the firmament." Some more details Lockhart has added, said to have
been received from Mrs. Burns, but these the latest editor regards as
mythical. However this may be, it would appear that it was only after
his wife had frequently entreated him, that he was persuaded to return
to his home, where he sat down and wrote as they now stand, these
pathetic lines:--

            Thou lingering star, with lessening ray,
              That lovest to greet the early morn,
            Again thou usherest in the day
              My Mary from my soul was torn.
            O Mary! dear departed shade!
              Where is thy place of blissful rest?
            See'st thou thy lover lowly laid?
              Hear'st thou the groans that rend his breast?

That Burns should have expressed, in such rapid succession, the height
of drunken revelry in _Willie brewed a Peck o' Maut_ and in the ballad
of _The Whistle_, and then the depth of despondent regret in the lines
_To Mary in Heaven_, is highly characteristic of him. To have many moods
belongs to the poetic nature, but no poet ever passed more rapidly
than Burns from one pole of feeling to its very opposite. Such a poem
as this last could not possibly have proceeded from any but the    (p. 113)
deepest and most genuine feeling. Once again, at the same season, three
years later (1792), his thoughts went back to Highland Mary, and he
poured forth his last sad wail for her in the simpler, not less
touching song, beginning--

            Ye banks, and braes, and streams around
              The castle o' Montgomery!
            Green be your woods, and fair your flowers,
              Your waters never drumlie;
            There simmer first unfauld her robes,
              And there the langest tarry;
            For there I took the last Fareweel
              O' my sweet Highland Mary.

It would seem as though these retrospects were always accompanied by
special despondency. For, at the very time he composed this latter
song, he wrote thus to his faithful friend, Mrs. Dunlop:--

"Alas! who would wish for many years? What is it but to drag existence
until our joys gradually expire, and leave us in a night of misery,
like the gloom which blots out the stars, one by one from the face of
heaven, and leaves us without a ray of comfort in the howling waste?"

To fits of hypochondria and deep dejection he had, as he himself tells
us, been subject from his earliest manhood, and he attributes to
overtoil in boyhood this tendency which was probably a part of his
natural temperament. To a disposition like his, raptures, exaltations,
agonies came as naturally as a uniform neutral-tinted existence to
more phlegmatic spirits. But we may be sure that every cause of
self-reproach which his past life had stored up in his memory tended
to keep him more and more familiar with the lower pole in that
fluctuating scale.

Besides these several poems which mark the variety of moods which  (p. 114)
swept over him during the summer and autumn of 1789, there was also a
continual succession of songs on the anvil in preparation for
Johnson's _Museum_. This work of song-making, begun during his second
winter in Edinburgh, was carried on with little intermission during
all the Ellisland period. The songs were on all kinds of subjects, and
of all degrees of excellence, but hardly one, even the most trivial,
was without some small touch which could have come from no hand but
that of Burns. Sometimes they were old songs with a stanza or two
added. Oftener an old chorus or single line was taken up, and made the
hint out of which a new and original song was woven. At other times
they were entirely original both in subject and in expression, though
cast in the form of the ancient minstrelsy. Among so many and so
rapidly succeeding efforts, it was only now and then, when a happier
moment of inspiration was granted him, that there came forth one song
of supreme excellence, perfect alike in conception and in expression.
The consummate song of this summer, 1789, was _John Anderson my Jo,
John_, just as _Auld Lang Syne_ and _The Silver Tassie_ had been those
of the former year.

During the remainder of the year 1789 Burns seems to have continued
more or less in the mood of mind indicated by the lines _To Mary in
Heaven_. He was suffering from nervous derangement, and this, as usual
with him, made him despondent. This is the way in which he writes to
Mrs. Dunlop on the 13th December, 1789:--

"I am groaning under the miseries of a diseased nervous system--a
system, the state of which is most conducive to our happiness, or the
most productive of our misery. For now near three weeks I have been so
ill with a nervous headache, that I have been obliged for a time to
give up my Excise-books, being scarce able to lift my head, much   (p. 115)
less to ride once a week over ten muir parishes. What is man?..."

And then he goes on to moralize in a half-believing, half-doubting
kind of way, on the probability of a life to come, and ends by
speaking of or rather apostrophizing Jesus Christ in a strain which
would seem to savour of Socinianism. This letter he calls "a
distracted scrawl which the writer dare scarcely read." And yet it
appears to have been deliberately copied with some amplification from
an entry in his last year's commonplace book. Even the few passages
from his correspondence already given are enough to show that there
was in Burns's letter-writing something strained and artificial. But
such discoveries as this seem to reveal an extent of effort, and even
of artifice, which one would hardly otherwise have guessed at.

In the same strain of harassment as the preceding extract, but
pointing to another and more definite cause of it, is the following,
written on the 20th December, 1789, to Provost Maxwell of Lochmaben:--

"My poor distracted mind is so torn, so jaded, so racked and
bedevilled with the task of the superlatively damned, to make one
guinea do the business of three, that I detest, abhor, and swoon at
the very word business, though no less than four letters of my very
short surname are in it." The rest of the letter goes off in a wild
rollicking strain, inconsistent enough with his more serious thoughts.
But the part of it above given points to a very real reason for his
growing discontent with Ellisland.

By the beginning of 1790 the hopelessness of his farming prospects
pressed on him still more heavily, and formed one ingredient in the
mental depression with which he saw a new year dawn. Whether he did
wisely in attempting the Excise business, who shall now say? In    (p. 116)
one respect it seemed a substantial gain. But this gain was accompanied
by counterbalancing disadvantages. The new duties more and more
withdrew him from the farm, which, in order to give it any chance of
paying, required not only the aid of the master's hand, but the
undivided oversight of the master's eye. In fact, farming to profit
and Excise-work were incompatible, and a very few months' trial must
have convinced Burns of this. But besides rendering regular farm
industry impossible, the weekly absences from home, which his new
duties entailed, had other evil consequences. They brought with them
continual mental distraction, which forbade all sustained poetic
effort, and laid him perilously open to indulgences which were sure to
undermine regular habits and peace of mind. About this time (the
beginning of 1790), we begin to hear of frequent visits to Dumfries on
Excise business, and of protracted lingerings at a certain _howff_,
place of resort, called the Globe Tavern, which boded no good. There
were also intromissions with a certain company of players then
resident in Dumfries, and writings of such prologues for their
second-rate pieces, as many a penny-a-liner could have done to order
as well. Political ballads, too, came from his pen, siding with this
or that party in local elections, all which things as we read, we feel
as if we saw some noble high-bred racer harnessed to a dust-cart.

His letters during the first half of 1790 betoken the same restless,
unsatisfied spirit as those written towards the end of the previous
year. Only we must be on our guard against interpreting his real state
of mind too exclusively from his letters. For it seems to have been
his habit when writing to his friends to take one mood of mind,    (p. 117)
which happened to be uppermost in him for the moment, and with which
he knew that his correspondent sympathized, and to dwell on this so
exclusively that for the moment it filled his whole mental horizon,
and shut out every other thought. And not this only, which is the
tendency of all ardent and impulsive natures, but we cannot altogether
excuse Burns of at times half-consciously exaggerating these momentary
moods, almost for certain stage effects which they produced. It is
necessary, therefore, in estimating his real condition at any time, to
set against the account, which he gives of himself in his letters, the
evidence of other facts, such as the testimony of those who met him
from time to time, and who have left some record of those interviews.
This I shall now do for the first half of the year 1790, and shall
place, over against his self-revelations, some observations which show
how he at this time appeared to others.

An intelligent man named William Clark, who had served Burns as a
ploughman at Ellisland during the winter half-year of 1789-90,
survived till 1838, and in his old age gave this account of his former
master: "Burns kept two men and two women servants, but he invariably
when at home took his meals with his wife and family in the little
parlour." Clark thought he was as good a manager of land as most of
the farmers in the neighbourhood. The farm of Ellisland was moderately
rented, and was susceptible of much improvement, had improvement been
then in repute. Burns sometimes visited the neighbouring farmers, and
they returned the compliment; but that way of spending time was not so
common then as now. No one thought that the poet and his writings
would be so much noticed afterwards. He kept nine or ten milch     (p. 118)
cows, some young cattle, four horses, and several pet sheep: of the
latter he was very fond. During the winter and spring-time, when not
engaged in Excise business, "he sometimes held the plough for an hour
or two for him (W. Clark), and was a fair workman. During seed-time,
Burns might be frequently seen at an early hour in the fields with his
sowing sheet; but as he was often called away on business, he did not
sow the whole of his grain."

This old man went on to describe Burns as a kindly and indulgent
master, who spoke familiarly to his servants, both at home and
a-field; quick-tempered, when anything put him out, but quickly
pacified. Once only Clark saw him really angry, when one of the lasses
had nearly choked one of the cows by giving her potatoes not cut small
enough. Burns's looks, gestures, and voice were then terrible. Clark
slunk out of the way, and when he returned, his master was quite calm
again. When there was extra work to be done, he would give his
servants a dram, but he was by no means _over-flush_ in this way.
During the six months of his service, Clark never once saw Burns
intoxicated or incapable of managing his business. The poet, when at
home, used to wear a broad blue bonnet, a long-tailed coat, drab or
blue, corduroy breeches, dark blue stockings, with _cootikens_ or
gaiters. In cold weather he would have a plaid of black and white
check wrapped round his shoulders. The same old man described Mrs.
Burns as a good and prudent housewife, keeping everything neat and
tidy, well liked by her servants, for whom she provided good and
abundant fare. When they parted, Burns paid Clark his wages in full,
gave him a written character, and a shilling for a _fairing_.

In the summer or autumn of the same year, the scholarly Ramsay of  (p. 119)
Ochtertyre in the course of a tour looked in on Burns, and here is the
record of his visit which Ramsay gave in a letter to Currie. "Seeing
him pass quickly near Closeburn, I said to my companion, 'That is
Burns.' On coming to the inn the hostler told us he would be back in a
few hours to grant permits; that where he met with anything seizable,
he was no better than any other gauger; in everything else that he was
perfectly a gentleman. After leaving a note to be delivered to him on
his return, I proceeded to his house, being curious to see his Jean. I
was much pleased with his 'uxor Sabina qualis,' and the poet's modest
mansion, so unlike the habitation of ordinary rustics. In the evening
he suddenly bounced in upon us, and said, as he entered, 'I come, to
use the words of Shakespeare, _stewed in haste_.' In fact, he had
ridden incredibly fast after receiving my note. We fell into
conversation directly, and soon got into the _mare magnum_ of poetry.
He told me he had now gotten a subject for a drama, which he was to
call _Rob McQuechan's Elshin_, from a popular story of Robert Bruce
being defeated on the water of Cairn, when the heel of his boot having
loosened in his flight, he applied to Robert MacQuechan to fit it,
who, to make sure, ran his awl nine inches up the king's heel. We were
now going on at a great rate, when Mr. Stewart popped in his head,
which put a stop to our discourse, which had become very interesting.
Yet in a little while it was resumed, and such was the force and
versatility of the bard's genius, that he made the tears run down Mr.
Stewart's cheeks, albeit unused to the poetic strain. From that time
we met no more, and I was grieved at the reports of him afterwards.
Poor Burns! we shall hardly ever see his like again. He was, in truth,
a sort of comet in literature, irregular in its motions, which did (p. 120)
no good, proportioned to the blaze of light it displayed."

It seems that during this autumn there came a momentary blink in
Burns's clouded sky, a blink which alas never brightened into full
sunshine. He had been but a year in the Excise employment, when,
through the renewed kindness of Mr. Graham of Fintray, there seemed a
near prospect of his being promoted to a supervisorship, which would
have given him an income of 200_l._ a year. So probable at the time
did it seem, that his friend Nicol wrote to Ainslie expressing some
fears that the poet might turn his back on his old friends when to the
pride of applauded genius was added the pride of office and income.
This may have been ironical on Nicol's part, but he might have spared
his irony on his friend, for the promotion never came.

But what had Burns been doing for the last year in poetic production?
In this respect--the whole interval between the composition of the
lines _To Mary in Heaven_, in October, 1789, and the autumn of the
succeeding year, is almost a blank. Three electioneering ballads,
besides a few trivial pieces, make up the whole. There is not a line
written by him during this year which, if it were deleted from his
works, would anyway impair his poetic fame. But this long barrenness
was atoned for by a burst of inspiration which came on him, in the
fall of 1790, and struck off at one heat the matchless _Tale of Tam o'
Shanter_. It was to the meeting already noticed of Burns with Captain
Grose, the antiquary, at Friars Carse, that we owe this wonderful
poem. The poet and the antiquary suited each other exactly, and they
soon became

            Unco pack and thick thegither.

Burns asked his friend when he reached Ayrshire to make a drawing  (p. 121)
of Alloway kirk, and include it in his sketches, for it was dear to
him because it was the resting-place of his father, and there he
himself might some day lay his bones. To induce Grose to do this,
Burns told him that Alloway kirk was the scene of many witch stories
and weird sights. The antiquary replied, "Write you a poem on the
scene, and I'll put in the verses with an engraving of the ruin."
Burns having found a fitting day and hour, when "his barmy noddle was
working prime," walked out to his favourite path down the western bank
of the river.

The poem was the work of one day, of which Mrs. Burns retained a vivid
recollection. Her husband had spent most of the day by the river side,
and in the afternoon she joined him with her two children. He was
busily engaged _crooning to himsel_; and Mrs. Burns, perceiving that
her presence was an interruption, loitered behind with her little ones
among the broom. Her attention was presently attracted by the strange
and wild gesticulations of the bard, who was now seen at some
distance, agonized with an ungovernable access of joy. He was reciting
very loud, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, those animated
verses which he had just conceived,--

            Now Tam! O Tam! had thae been queans,
            A' plump and strappin' in their teens.'

"I wish ye had seen him," said his wife; "he was in such ecstasy that
the tears were happing down his cheeks." These last words are given by
Allan Cunningham, in addition to the above account, which Lockhart got
from a manuscript journal of Cromek. The poet having committed the
verses to writing on the top of his sod-dyke above the water,      (p. 122)
came into the house, and read them immediately in high triumph at the

Thus in the case of two of Burns's best poems, we have an account of
the bard as he appeared in his hour of inspiration, not to any
literary friend bent on pictorial effect, but from the plain narrative
of his simple and admiring wife. Burns speaks of _Tam o' Shanter_ as
his first attempt at a tale in verse--unfortunately it was also his
last. He himself regarded it as his master-piece of all his poems, and
posterity has not, I believe, reversed the judgment.

In this, one of his happiest flights, Burns's imagination bore him
from the vale of Nith back to the banks of Doon, and to the weird
tales he had there heard in childhood, told by the winter firesides.
The characters of the poem have been identified; that of Tam is taken
from a farmer, Douglas Graham, who lived at the farm of Shanter, in
the parish of Kirkoswald. He had a scolding wife, called Helen
McTaggart, and the tombstones of both are pointed out in Kirkoswald
kirkyard. Souter Johnnie is more uncertain, but is supposed, with some
probability, to have been John Davidson, a shoemaker, who lies buried
in the same place. Yet, from Burns's poem we would gather that this
latter lived in Ayr. But these things matter little. From his
experience of the smuggling farmers of Kirkoswald, among whom "he
first became acquainted with scenes of swaggering and riot," and his
remembrance of the tales that haunted the spot where he passed his
childhood, combined with his knowledge of the peasantry, their habits
and superstitions, Burns's imagination wove the inimitable tale.

After this, the best poetic offspring of the Ellisland period, Burns
composed only a few short pieces during his tenancy of that farm.  (p. 123)
Among these, however, was one which cannot be passed over. In January,
1791, the Earl of Glencairn, who had been his first, and, it may be
almost said, his only real friend and patron among the Scottish
peerage, died at the early age of forty-two, just as he returned to
Falmouth after a vain search for health abroad. Burns had always loved
and honoured Lord Glencairn, as well he might,--although his
lordship's gentleness had not always missed giving offence to the
poet's sensitive and proud spirit. Yet on the whole he was the best
patron whom Burns had found, or was ever to find among his countrymen.
When then he heard of the earl's death, he mourned his loss as that of
a true friend, and poured forth a fine lament, which concludes with
the following well-known lines:--

            The bridegroom may forget the bride,
              Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
            The monarch may forget the crown,
              That on his head an hour has been;
            The mother may forget the child,
              That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
            But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
              And a' that thou hast done for me.

Burns's elegies, except when they are comical, are not among his
happiest efforts. Some of them are frigid and affected. But this was
the genuine language of sincere grief. He afterwards showed the
permanence of his affection by calling one of his boys James

A few songs make up the roll of the Ellisland productions during 1791.
One only of these is noteworthy--that most popular song, _The Banks o'
Doon_. His own words in sending it to a friend are these:--"March,
1791. While here I sit, sad and solitary, by the side of a fire,   (p. 124)
in a little country inn, and drying my wet clothes, in pops a poor
fellow of a sodger, and tells me he is going to Ayr. By heavens! say I
to myself, with a tide of good spirits, which the magic of that sound,
'Auld Toon o' Ayr,' conjured up, I will send my last song to Mr.

Then he gives the second and best version of the song, beginning

            Ye flowery banks o' bonnie Doon,
              How can ye blume sae fair?
            How can ye chant, ye little birds,
              And I sae fu' o' care!

The latest edition of Burns's works, by Mr. Scott Douglas, gives three
different versions of this song. Any one who will compare these, will
see the truth of that remark of the poet, in one of his letters to Dr.
Moore, "I have no doubt that the knack, the aptitude to learn the
Muses' trade is a gift bestowed by Him who forms the secret bias of
the soul; but I as firmly believe that excellence in the profession is
the fruit of industry, attention, labour, and pains; at least I am
resolved to try my doctrine by the test of experience."

The second version was that which Burns wrought out by careful
revision, from an earlier one. Compare, for instance, with the verse
given above, the first verse as originally struck off,--

            Sweet are the banks, the banks of Doon,
              The spreading flowers are fair,
            And everything is blythe and glad,
              But I am fu' of care.

And the other changes he made on the first draught are all in the  (p. 125)
way of improvement. It is painful to know, on the authority of Allan
Cunningham, that he who composed this pure and perfect song, and many
another such, sometimes chose to work in baser metal, and that
song-ware of a lower kind escaped from his hands into the press, and
could never afterwards be recalled.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Burns told Dr. Moore that he was resolved to try by the test of
experience the doctrine that good and permanent poetry could not be
composed without industry and pains, he had in view other and wider
plans of composition than any which he ever realized. He told Ramsay
of Ochtertyre, as we have seen, that he had in view to render into
poetry a tradition he had found of an adventure in humble life which
Bruce met with during his wanderings. Whether he ever did more than
think over the story of Rob McQuechan's Elshin, or into what poetic
form he intended to cast it, we know not. As Sir Walter said, any poem
he might have produced on this subject would certainly have wanted
that tinge of chivalrous feeling which the manners of the age and the
character of the king alike demanded. But with Burns's ardent
admiration of Bruce, and that power of combining the most homely and
humorous incidents with the pathetic and the sublime, which he
displayed in _Tam o' Shanter_, we cannot but regret that he never had
the leisure and freedom from care, which would have allowed him to try
his hand on a subject so entirely to his mind.

Besides this, he had evidently, during his sojourn at Ellisland,
meditated some large dramatic attempt. He wrote to one of his
correspondents that he had set himself to study Shakespeare, and
intended to master all the greatest dramatists, both of England    (p. 126)
and France, with a view to a dramatic effort of his own. If he
had attempted it in pure English, we may venture to predict that he
would have failed. But had he allowed himself that free use of the
Scottish dialect of which he was the supreme master, especially if he
had shaped the subject into a lyrical drama, no one can say what he
might not have achieved. Many of his smaller poems show that he
possessed the genuine dramatic vein. _The Jolly Beggars_, unpleasant
as from its grossness it is, shows the presence of this vein in a very
high degree, seeing that from materials so unpromising he could make
so much. As Mr. Lockhart has said, "That extraordinary sketch, coupled
with his later lyrics in a higher vein, is enough to show that in him
we had a master capable of placing the musical drama on a level with
the loftiest of our classical forms."

Regrets have been expressed that Burns, instead of addressing himself
to these high poetic enterprises, which had certainly hovered before
him, frittered away so much of his time in composing for musical
collections a large number of songs, the very abundance of which must
have lessened their quality. And yet it may be doubted whether this
urgent demand for songs, made on him by Johnson and Thomson, was not
the only literary call to which he would in his circumstances have
responded. These calls could be met by sudden efforts, at leisure
moments, when some occasional blink of momentary inspiration came over
him. Great poems necessarily presuppose that the original inspiration
is sustained by concentrated purpose and long-sustained effort; mental
habits, which to a nature like Burns must have at all times been
difficult, and which his circumstances during his later years rendered
simply impossible. From the first he had seen that his farm would  (p. 127)
not pay, and each succeeding year confirmed him in this conviction. To
escape what he calls "the crushing grip of poverty, which, alas! I
fear, is less or more fatal to the worth and purity of the noblest
souls," he had, within a year after entering Ellisland, recourse to
Excise work. This he did from a stern sense of duty to his wife and
family. It was, in fact, one of the most marked instances in which
Burns, contrary to his too frequent habit, put pride in his pocket,
and sacrificed inclination to duty. But that he had not accepted the
yoke without some painful sense of degradation, is shown by the
bitterness of many of his remarks, when in his correspondence he
alludes to the subject. There were, however, times when he tried to
take a brighter view of it, and to persuade himself, as he says in a
letter to Lady Harriet Don, that "one advantage he had in this new
business was the knowledge it gave him of the various shades of
character in man--consequently assisting him in his trade as a poet."
But, alas! whatever advantages in this way it might have brought, were
counteracted tenfold by other circumstances that attended it. The
continual calls of a responsible business, itself sufficient to occupy
a man,--when divided with the oversight of his farm, overtasked his
powers, and left him no leisure for poetic work, except from time to
time crooning over a random song. Then the habits which his roving
Excise life must have induced were, even to a soul less social than
that of Burns, perilous in the extreme. The temptations he was in this
way exposed to, Lockhart has drawn with a powerful hand. "From the
castle to the cottage, every door flew open at his approach; and the
old system of hospitality, then flourishing, rendered it difficult
for the most soberly inclined guest to rise from any man's board   (p. 128)
in the same trim that he sat down to it. The farmer, if Burns was seen
passing, left his reapers, and trotted by the side of Jenny Geddes,
until he could persuade the bard that the day was hot enough to demand
an extra libation. If he entered an inn at midnight, after all the
inmates were in bed, the news of his arrival circulated from the
cellar to the garret; and ere ten minutes had elapsed, the landlord
and all his guests were assembled round the ingle; the largest
punch-bowl was produced, and,--

            Be ours to-night--who knows what comes to-morrow?

was the language of every eye in the circle that welcomed him. The
highest gentry of the neighbourhood, when bent on special merriment,
did not think the occasion complete unless the wit and eloquence of
Burns were called in to enliven their carousals."

It can readily be imagined how distracting such a life must have been,
how fatal to all mental concentration on high objects, not to speak of
the habits, of which it was too sure to sow the seeds. The frequent
visits to Dumfries, which his Excise work entailed, and the haunting
of the Globe Tavern, already spoken of, led to consequences, which
more than even deep potations, must have been fatal to his peace.

His stay at Ellisland is now hastening to a close. Before passing,
however, from that, on the whole the best period of his life since
manhood, one or two incidents of the spring of 1791 must be mentioned.
In the February of that year Burns received from the Rev. Archibald
Alison, Episcopalian clergyman in Edinburgh, a copy of his once famous,
but now, I believe, forgotten, _Essay on Taste_, which contained   (p. 129)
the authorized exposition of that theory, so congenial to Scotch
metaphysics, that objects seem beautiful to us only because our minds
associate them with sensible objects which have previously given us
pleasure. In his letter to the author, acknowledging the receipt of
his book, Burns says, "I own, sir, at first glance, several of your
propositions startle me as paradoxical: that the martial clangour of a
trumpet had something in it vastly more grand, heroic, and sublime
than the twingle-twangle of a Jew's-harp; that the delicate flexure of
a rose-twig, when the half-blown flower is heavy with the tears of the
dawn, was infinitely more beautiful and elegant than the upright stub
of a burdock; and that from something innate and independent of all
association of ideas--these I had set down as irrefragable orthodox
truths until perusing your book shook my faith." These words so pierce
this soap-bubble of the metaphysicians, that we can hardly read them
without fancying that the poet meant them to be ironical. Dugald
Steward expressed surprise that the unschooled Ayrshire ploughman
should have formed "a distinct conception of the general principles of
the doctrine of association;" on which Mr. Carlyle remarks, "We rather
think that far subtler things than the doctrine of association had
been of old familiar to him."

In looking over his letters at this time (1791), we are startled by a
fierce outburst in one of them, apparently apropos of nothing. He had
been recommending to the protection of an Edinburgh friend a
schoolmaster, whom he thought unjustly persecuted, when all at once he
breaks out: "God help the children of Dependence! Hated and persecuted
by their enemies, and too often, alas! almost unexceptionally, received
by their friends with disrespect and reproach, under the thin disguise
of cold civility and humiliating advice. Oh to be a sturdy savage, (p. 130)
stalking in the pride of his independence, amid the solitary wilds of
his deserts, rather than in civilized life helplessly to tremble for a
subsistence, precarious as the caprice of a fellow-creature! Every man
has his virtues, and no man is without his failings; and curse on that
privileged plain-speaking of friendship which, in the hour of my
calamity, cannot reach forth the helping-hand without at the same time
pointing out those failings, and apportioning them their share in
procuring my present distress.... I do not want to be independent that
I may sin, but I want to be independent in my sinning."

What may have been the cause of this ferocious explosion there is no
explanation. Whether the real source of it may not have lain in
certain facts which had occurred during the past spring, that must
have rudely broken in on the peace at once of his conscience and his
home, we cannot say. Certainly it does seem, as Chambers suggests,
like one of those sudden outbursts of temper which fasten on some mere
passing accident, because the real seat of it lies too deep for words.
Some instances of the same temper we have already seen. This is a
sample of a growing exasperation of spirit, which found expression
from time to time till the close of his life.

Let us turn from this painful subject, to one of the only notices we
get of him from a stranger's hand during the summer of 1791. Two
English gentlemen, who were travelling, went to visit him; one of whom
has left an amusing account of their reception. Calling at his house,
they were told that the poet was by the river-side, and thither they
went in search of him. On a rock that projected into the stream, they
saw a man employed in angling, of a singular appearance. He had a cap
of fox's skin on his head, a loose great coat fixed round him by a (p. 131)
belt, from which depended an enormous Highland broadsword. It was
Burns. He received them with great cordiality, and asked them to share
his humble dinner--an invitation which they accepted. "On the table
they found boiled beef, with vegetables and barley broth, after the
manner of Scotland. After dinner the bard told them ingenuously that
he had no wine, nothing better than Highland whiskey, a bottle of
which he set on the board. He produced at the same time his punch-bowl,
made of Inverary marble; and, mixing it with water and sugar, filled
their glasses and invited them to drink. The travellers were in haste,
and, besides, the flavour of the whiskey to their southern palates was
scarcely tolerable; but the generous poet offered them his best, and
his ardent hospitality they found impossible to resist. Burns was in
his happiest mood, and the charm of his conversation was altogether
fascinating. He ranged over a variety of topics, illuminating whatever
he touched. He related the tales of his infancy and youth; he recited
some of his gayest and some of his tenderest poems; in the wildest of
his strains of mirth he threw in some touches of melancholy, and
spread around him the electric emotions of his powerful mind. The
Highland whiskey improved in its flavour; the marble bowl was again
and again emptied and replenished; the guests of our poet forgot the
flight of time and the dictates of prudence; at the hour of midnight
they lost their way to Dumfries, and could scarcely distinguish it
when assisted by the morning's dawn. There is much naïveté in the way
the English visitor narrates his experience of that 'nicht wi' Burns."

Mr. Carlyle, if we remember aright, has smiled incredulously at    (p. 132)
the story of the fox-skin cap, the belt, and the broadsword. But of
the latter appendage this is not the only record. Burns himself
mentions it as a frequent accompaniment of his when he went out by the

The punch-bowl here mentioned is the one which his father-in-law had
wrought for him as a marriage-gift. It was, when Chambers wrote his
biography of Burns, in the possession of Mr. Haistie, then M.P. for
Paisley, who is said to have refused for it three hundred guineas--"a
sum," says Chambers, "that would have set Burns on his legs for ever."

This is the last glimpse we get of the poet in his home at Ellisland
till the end came. We have seen that he had long determined if
possible to get rid of his farm. He had sunk in it all the proceeds
that remained to him from the sale of the second edition of his poems,
and for this the crops he had hitherto reaped had given no adequate
return. Three years, however, were a short trial, and there was a good
time coming for all farmers, when the war with France broke out, and
raised the value of farm produce to a hitherto unknown amount. If
Burns could but have waited for that!--but either he could not, or he
would not wait. But the truth is, even if Burns ever had it in him to
succeed as a farmer, that time was past when he came to Ellisland.
Independence at the plough-tail, of which he often boasted, was no
longer possible for him. He could no more work as he had done of yore.
The habits contracted in Edinburgh had penetrated too deeply. Even if
he had not been withdrawn from his farm by Excise duties, he could
neither work continuously himself, nor make his servants work.
"Faith," said a neighbouring farmer, "how could he miss but fail?  (p. 133)
He brought with him a bevy of servants from Ayrshire. The lasses
did nothing but bake bread (that is, oat-cakes), and the lads sat by
the fireside and ate it warm with ale." Burns meanwhile enjoying
himself at the house of some jovial farmer or convivial laird. How
could he miss but fail?

When he had resolved on giving up his farm, an arrangement was come to
with the Laird of Dalswinton by which Burns was allowed to throw up
his lease and sell off his crops. The sale took place in the last week
in August (1791). Even at this day the auctioneer and the bottle
always appear side by side, as Chambers observes; but then far more
than now-a-days. After the roup, that is the sale, of his crop was
over, Burns, in one of his letters, describes the scene that took
place within and without his house. It was one which exceeded anything
he had ever seen in drunken horrors. Mrs. Burns and her family
fortunately were not there to witness it, having gone many weeks
before to Ayrshire, probably to be out of the way of all the pain that
accompanies the breaking up of a country home. When Burns gave up his
lease, Mr. Miller, the landlord, sold Ellisland to a stranger, because
the farm was an outlying one, inconveniently situated, on a different
side of the river from the rest of his estate. It was in November or
December that Burns sold off his farm-stock and implements of
husbandry, and moved his family and furniture into the town of
Dumfries, leaving at Ellisland no memorial of himself, as Allan
Cunningham tells us, "but a putting-stone with which he loved to
exercise his strength, and 300_l._ of his money, sunk beyond
redemption in a speculation from which all had augured happiness."

It is not without deep regret that even now we think of Burns's    (p. 134)
departure from this beautiful spot. If there was any position on earth
in which he could have been happy and fulfilled his genius, it would
have been on such a farm--always providing that it could have given
him the means of a comfortable livelihood, and that he himself could
have guided his ways aright. That he might have had a fair opportunity,
how often one has wished that he could have met some landlord who
could have acted towards him, as the present Duke of Buccleuch did
towards the Ettrick Shepherd in his later days, and have given a farm
on which he could have sat rent-free. Such an act, one is apt to
fancy, would have been honourable alike to giver and receiver. Indeed,
a truly noble nature would have been only too grateful to find such an
opportunity put in his way of employing a small part of his wealth for
so good an end. But the notions of modern society, founded as they are
so entirely on individual independence, for the most part preclude the
doing and the receiving of such favours. And with this social feeling
no man was ever more filled than Burns.

CHAPTER VI.                                                        (p. 135)


A great change it must have been to pass from the pleasant holms and
broomy banks of the Nith at Ellisland to a town home in the Wee Vennel
of Dumfries. It was, moreover, a confession visible to the world of
what Burns himself had long felt, that his endeavour to combine the
actual and the ideal, his natural calling as a farmer with the
exercise of his gift as a poet, had failed, and that henceforth he
must submit to a round of toil, which, neither in itself nor in its
surroundings, had anything to redeem it from commonplace drudgery. He
must have felt from the time when he first became Exciseman, that he
had parted company with all thought of steadily working out his ideal,
and that whatever he might now do in that way must be by random
snatches. To his proud spirit the name of gauger must have been gall
and wormwood, and it is much to his credit that for the sake of his
wife and children he was content to undergo what he often felt to be a
social obloquy. It would have been well for him if this had been the
only drawback to his new calling. Unfortunately the life into which it
led him, exposed him to those very temptations which his nature was
least able to withstand. If social indulgence and irregular habits had
somewhat impaired his better resolves, and his power of poetic     (p. 136)
concentration, before he left Ellisland, Dumfries, and the society
into which it threw him, did with increased rapidity the fatal work
which had been already begun. His biographers, though with varying
degrees of emphasis, on the whole agree, that from the time he settled
in Dumfries, "his moral course was downwards."

The social condition of Dumfries at the time when Burns went to live
in it was neither better nor worse than that of other provincial towns
in Scotland. What that was, Dr. Chambers has depicted from his own
youthful experience of just such another country town. The curse of
such towns, he tells us, was that large numbers of their inhabitants
were either half or wholly idle; either men living on competences,
with nothing to do, or shopkeepers with their time but half employed;
their only amusement to meet in taverns, soak, gossip, and make stupid
personal jokes. "The weary waste of spirits and energy at those
soaking evening meetings was deplorable. Insipid toasts, petty
raillery, empty gabble about trivial occurrences, endless disputes on
small questions of fact, these relieved now and then by a song,"--such
Chambers describes as the items which made up provincial town life in
his younger days. "A life," he says, "it was without progress or
profit, or anything that tended to moral elevation." For such dull
companies to get a spirit like Burns among them, to enliven them with
his wit and eloquence, what a windfall it must have been! But for him
to put his time and his powers at their disposal, how great the
degradation! During the day, no doubt, he was employed busily enough
in doing his duty as an Exciseman. This could now be done with less
travelling than in the Ellisland days, and did not require him as
formerly to keep a horse. When the day's work was over, his small  (p. 137)
house in the Wee Vennel, and the domestic hearth with the family
ties gathered round it, were not enough for him. At Ellisland he had

            To make a happy fire-side clime,
              For weans and wife,
            Is the true pathos and sublime
              Of human life.

But it is one thing to sing wisely, another to practise wisdom. Too
frequently at nights Burns's love of sociality and excitement drove
him forth to seek the companionship of neighbours and drouthy cronies,
who gathered habitually at the Globe Tavern and other such haunts.
From these he was always sure to meet a warm welcome, abundant
appreciation, and even flattery, for to this he was not inaccessible,
while their humble station did not jar in any way on his social
prejudices, nor their mediocre talents interfere with his love of
pre-eminence. In such companies Burns no doubt had the gratification
of feeling that he was, what is proverbially called, cock of the walk.
The desire to be so probably grew with that growing dislike to the
rich and the titled, which was observed in him after he came to
Dumfries. In earlier days we have seen that he did not shrink from the
society of the greatest magnates, and when they showed him that
deference which he thought his due, he even enjoyed it. But now so
bitter had grown his scorn and dislike of the upper classes, that we
are told that if any one named a lord, or alluded to a man of rank in
his presence, he instantly "crushed the offender in an epigram, or
insulted him by some sarcastic sally." In a letter written during his
first year at Dumfries, this is the way he speaks of his daily
occupations:--"Hurry of business, grinding the faces of the        (p. 138)
publican and the sinner on the merciless wheels of the Excise, making
ballads, and then drinking and singing them; and over and above all,
correcting the press of two different publications." But besides these
duties by day, and the convivialities by night, there were other calls
on his time and strength, to which Burns was by his reputation
exposed. When those of the country gentry whom he still knew were in
Dumfries for some hours, or when any party of strangers passing
through the town, had an idle evening on their hands, it seems to have
been their custom to summon Burns to assist them in spending it; and
he was weak enough, on receiving the message, to leave his home and
adjourn to the Globe, the George, or the King's Arms, there to drink
with them late into the night, and waste his powers for their
amusement. Verily, a Samson, as has been said, making sport for

To one such invitation his impromptu answer was--

            The king's most humble servant, I
              Can scarcely spare a minute;
            But I'll be with you by-and-by,
              Or else the devil's in it.

And this we may be sure was the spirit of many another reply to these
ill-omened invitations. It would have been well if, on these
occasions, the pride he boasted of had stood him in better stead, and
repelled such unjustifiable intrusions. But in this, as in so many
other respects, Burns was the most inconsistent of men.

From the time of his migration to Dumfries, it would appear that he
was gradually dropped out of acquaintance by most of the Dumfriesshire
lairds, as he had long been by the parochial and all other         (p. 139)
ministers. I have only conversed with one person who remembered in his
boyhood to have seen Burns. He was the son of a Dumfriesshire baronet,
the representative of the House of Redgauntlet. The poet was
frequently in the neighbourhood of the baronet's country seat, but the
old gentleman so highly disapproved of "Robbie Burns," that he forbade
his sons to have anything to do with him. My informant, therefore,
though he had often seen, had never spoken to the poet. When I
conversed with him, his age was nigh four score years, and the one
thing he remembered about Burns was "the blink of his black eye." This
is probably but a sample of the feeling with which Burns was regarded
by most of the country gentry around Dumfries. What were the various
ingredients that made up their dislike of him, it is not easy now
exactly to determine. Politics most likely had a good deal to do with
it, for they were Tories and aristocrats, Burns was a Whig and
something more. Though politics may have formed the chief, they were
not probably the only element in their aversion. Yet though the
majority of the county families turned their backs on him, there were
some with which he still continued intimate.

These were either the few Whig magnates of the southern counties,
whose political projects he supported by electioneering ballads,
charged with all the powers of sarcasm he could wield; or those still
fewer, whose literary tastes were strong enough to make them willing,
for the sake of his genius, to tolerate both his radical politics and
his irregular life. Among these latter was a younger brother of
Burns's old friend, Glen Riddel, Mr. Walter Riddel, who with his wife
had settled at a place four miles from Dumfries, formerly called
Goldie-lea, but named after Mrs. Riddel's maiden name, Woodley     (p. 140)
Park. Mrs. Riddel was handsome, clever, witty, not without some
tincture of letters, and some turn for verse-making. She and her
husband welcomed the poet to Woodley Park, where for two years he was
a constant and favourite guest. The lady's wit and literary taste
found, it may be believed, no other so responsive spirit in all the
south of Scotland. In the third year came a breach in their
friendship, followed by a savage lampoon of Burns on the lady, because
she did not at once accept his apology; then, a period of
estrangement. After an interval, however, the Riddels forgave the
insult, and were reconciled to the poet, and when the end came, Mrs.
Riddel did her best to befriend him, and to do honour to his memory
when he was gone.

It ought perhaps to have been mentioned before, that about the time of
Burns's first settling at Dumfries, that is towards the close of 1791,
he paid his last visit to Edinburgh. It was occasioned by the news
that Clarinda was about to sail for the West Indies, in search of the
husband who had forsaken her. Since Burns's marriage the silence
between them seems to have been broken by only two letters to Clarinda
from Ellisland. In the first of these he resents the name of
"villain," with which she appears to have saluted him. In the second
he admits that his past conduct had been wrong, but concludes by
repeating his error and enclosing a song addressed to her in the most
exaggerated strain of love. Now he rushed to Edinburgh to see her once
more before she sailed. The interview was a brief and hurried one, and
no record of it remains, except some letters and a few impassioned
lyrics which about that time he addressed to her. The first letter is
stiff and formal, as if to break the ice of long estrangement. The
others are in the last strain of rapturous devotion--language      (p. 141)
which, if feigned, is the height of folly; if real, is worse. The
lyrics are some of them strained and artificial. One, however, stands
out from all the rest, as one of the most impassioned effusions that
Burns ever poured forth. It contains that one consummate stanza in
which Scott, Byron, and many more, saw concentrated "the essence of a
thousand love-tales,"--

            Had we never loved so kindly,
            Had we never loved so blindly;
            Never met, or never parted,
            We had ne'er been broken-hearted.

After a time Mrs. M'Lehose returned from the West Indies, but without
having recovered her truant husband. On her return, one or two more
letters Burns wrote to her in the old exaggerated strain--the last in
June, 1794--after which Clarinda disappears from the scene.

Other Delilahs on a smaller scale Burns met with during his Dumfries
sojourn, and to these he was ever and anon addressing songs of fancied
love. By the attentions which the wayward husband was continually
paying to ladies and others into whose society his wife could not
accompany him, the patience of "bonny Jean," it may easily be
conceived, must have been severely tried.

It would have been well, however, if stray flirtations and Platonic
affections had been all that could be laid to his charge. But there is
a darker story. The facts of it are told by Chambers in connexion with
the earlier part of the Dumfries period, and need not be repeated
here. Mrs. Burns is said to have been a marvel of long-suffering and
forgivingness; but the way she bore those wrongs must have touched her
husband's better nature, and pierced him to the quick. When his calmer
moments came, that very mildness must have made him feel, as       (p. 142)
nothing else could, what self-reproach was, and what

            Self-contempt bitterer to drink than blood.

To the pangs of that remorse have, I doubt not, been truly attributed
those bitter outpourings of disgust with the world and with society,
which are to be found in some of his letters, especially in those of
his later years. Some samples of these outbreaks have been given, more
might easily have been added. The injuries he may have received from
the world and society, what were they compared with those which he
could not help feeling that he had inflicted on himself? It is when a
man's own conscience is against him that the world looks worst.

During the first year at Dumfries, Burns for the first time began to
dabble in politics, which ere long landed him in serious trouble.
Before this, though he had passed for a sort of Jacobite, he had been
in reality a Whig. While he lived in Edinburgh he had consorted more
with Whigs than with Tories, but yet he had not in any marked way
committed himself as a partisan. The only exception to this were some
expressions in his poetry favourable to the Stuarts, and his avowed
dislike to the Brunswick dynasty. Yet, notwithstanding these, his
Jacobitism was but skin deep. It was only with him, as with so many
another Scot of that day, the expression of his discontent with the
Union of 1707, and his sense of the national degradation that had
followed it. When in song he sighed to see _Jamie come hame_, this was
only a sentimental protest against the existing order of things. But
by the time he came to Dumfries the day of Jacobitism was over,    (p. 143)
and the whole aspect of the political heavens seemed dark with
coming change. The French Revolution was in full swing, and vibrations
of it were felt in the remotest corners of Europe. These reached even
to the dull provincial towns of Scotland, and roused the pot-house
politicians with whom Burns consorted, at the Globe and other taverns,
to unwonted excitement. Under this new stimulus, Burns's previous
Jacobitism passed towards the opposite, but not very distant, extreme
of Jacobinism. At these gatherings we may easily imagine that, with
his native eloquence, his debating power, trained in the Tarbolton
Club, and his ambition to shine as a public speaker, the voice of
Burns would be the loudest and most vehement. Liberty, Equality,
Fraternity, these were words which must have found an echo in his
inmost heart. But it was not only the abstract rights of man, but the
concrete wrongs of Scotland that would be there discussed. And wrongs
no doubt there were, under which Scotland was suffering, ever since
the Union had destroyed not only her nationality, but almost her
political existence. The franchise had become very close--in the
counties restricted to a few of the chief families--in the boroughs
thrown into the hands of the Baillies, who were venal beyond
conception. It was the day, too, of Henry Dundas. A prominent member
of the Pitt administration, he ruled Scotland as an autocrat, and as
the dispenser of all her patronage. A patriotic autocrat no doubt,
loving his country, and providing well for those of her people whom he
favoured--still an autocrat. The despotism of Dundas has been
pictured, in colours we may well believe sufficiently strong, by Lord
Cockburn and others bent on inditing the Epic of Whiggery, in which
they and their friends should figure as heroes and martyrs. But
whatever may be said against Dundas's régime, as a permanent       (p. 144)
system, it must be allowed that this was no time to remodel it when
England was face to face with the French troubles. When the tempest is
breaking over the ship, the captain may reasonably be excused for
thinking that the moment would be ill chosen for renewing cordage or
repairing timbers. Whatever may have been right in a time of quiet, it
was not unnatural that the Pitt administration should postpone all
thoughts of reform, till the vessel of the State had weathered the
storm which was then upon her.

Besides his conviction as to public wrongs to be redressed, Burns had,
he thought, personal grievances to complain of, which, as is so often
seen, added fuel to his reforming zeal. His great powers, which he
believed entitled him to a very different position, were
unacknowledged and disregarded by the then dispensers of patronage.
Once he had been an admirer of Pitt, latterly he could not bear the
mention of his name. Of the ministry, Addington, we have seen, was
fully alive to his merits, and pressed his claims on Pitt, who himself
was quite awake to the charm of Burns's poetry. The Premier, it is
said, "pushed the bottle on to Dundas, and did nothing,"--to Dundas,
too practical and too prosaic to waste a thought on poets and poetry.
Latterly this neglect of him by public men preyed on the spirit of
Burns, and was seldom absent from his thoughts. It added force, no
doubt, to the rapture with which he, like all the younger poets of the
time, hailed the French Revolution, and the fancied dawn of that day,
which would place plebeian genius and worth in those high places,
whence titled emptiness and landed incapacity would be at length
thrust ignominiously down.

Burns had not been more than three months in Dumfries, before he   (p. 145)
found an opportunity of testifying by deed his sympathy with the
French Revolutionists. At that time the whole coast of the Solway
swarmed with smuggling vessels, carrying on a contraband traffic, and
manned by men of reckless character, like the Dirk Hatteraick of _Guy
Mannering_. In 1792, a suspicious-looking brig appeared in the Solway,
and Burns, with other excisemen, was set to watch her motions. She got
into shallow water, when the gaugers, enforced by some dragoons, waded
out to her, and Burns, sword in hand, was the first to board her. The
captured brig "Rosamond," with all her arms and stores, was sold next
day at Dumfries, and Burns became the purchaser of four of her guns.
These he sent, with a letter, to the French Legislative Assembly,
requesting them to accept the present as a mark of his admiration and
sympathy. The guns with the letter never reached their destination.
They were, however, intercepted by the Custom-House officers at Dover,
and Burns at once became a suspected man in the eye of the Government.
Lockhart, who tells this incident, connects with it the song, _The
Deil's awa' wi' the Exciseman_, which Burns, he said, composed while
waiting on the shore to watch the brig. But Mr. Scott Douglas doubts
whether the song is referable to this occasion. However this may be,
the folly of Burns's act can hardly be disputed. He was in the employ
of Government, and had no right to express in this way his sympathy
with a movement, which, he must have known, the Government, under whom
he served, regarded, if not yet with open hostility, at least with
jealous suspicion. Men who think it part of their personal right and
public duty unreservedly to express, by word and deed, their views on
politics, had better not seek employment in the public service.    (p. 146)
Burns having once drawn upon himself the suspicions of his superiors,
all his words and actions were no doubt closely watched. It was found
that he 'gat the Gazetteer,' a revolutionary print published in
Edinburgh, which only the most extreme men patronized, and which after
a few months' existence was suppressed by Government. As the year 1792
drew to a close, the political heaven, both at home and abroad, became
ominously dark. In Paris the king was in prison, the Reign of Terror
had begun, and innocent blood of loyalists flowed freely in the
streets; the republic which had been established was threatening to
propagate its principles in other countries by force of arms. In this
country, what at the beginning of the year had been but suspicion of
France, was now turned to avowed hostility, and war against the
republic was on the eve of being declared. There were uneasy symptoms,
too, at home. Tom Paine's _Rights of Man_ and _Age of Reason_ were
spreading questionable doctrines and fomenting disaffection. Societies
named Friends of the People were formed in Edinburgh and the chief
towns of Scotland, to demand reform of the representation and other
changes, which, made at such a time were believed by those in power to
cover seditious aims. At such a crisis any government might be
expected to see that all its officers, from the highest to the lowest,
were well affected. But though the Reign of Terror had alarmed many
others who had at first looked favourably on the Revolution in France,
Burns's ardour in its cause was no whit abated. He even denounced the
war on which the ministry had determined; he openly reviled the men in
power; and went so far in his avowal of democracy that at a social
meeting, he proposed as a toast, "Here's the last verse of the     (p. 147)
last chapter of the last Book of Kings." This would seem to be but one
specimen of the freedom of political speech in which Burns at this
time habitually indulged,--the truculent way in which he flaunted
defiance in the face of authority. It would not have been surprising,
if at any time the Government had ordered inquiry to be made into such
conduct, much less in such a season of anxiety and distrust. That an
inquiry was made is undoubted; but as to the result which followed it,
there is uncertainty. Some have thought that the poet received from
his superiors only a slight hint or caution to be more careful in
future. Others believed, that the matter went so far that he was in
serious danger of dismissal from his post; and that this was only
averted by the timely interposition of some kind and powerful friends.
That Burns himself took a serious view of it, and was sufficiently
excited and alarmed, may be seen from two letters which he wrote, the
one at the time of the occurrence, the other soon after it. It was
thus that in December, 1792, he addressed Mr. Graham of Fintray, the
same person whose good offices had at first obtained for the poet his
appointment, and whose kindness never failed him while he lived:--

"Sir,--I have been surprised, confounded, and distracted by Mr.
Mitchell, the collector, telling me that he has received an order from
your Board, to inquire into my political conduct, and blaming me as a
person disaffected to Government.

"Sir, you are a husband and a father. You know what you would feel to
see the much-loved wife of your bosom, and your helpless, prattling
little ones turned adrift into the world, degraded and disgraced from
a situation in which they had been respectable and respected, and left
almost without the necessary support of a miserable existence.     (p. 148)

"Alas! sir, must I think that such soon will be my lot! and from the
dark insinuations of hellish, groundless envy, too! I believe, sir, I
may aver it, and in the sight of Omniscience, that I would not tell a
deliberate falsehood, no, not though even worse horrors, if worse can
be, than those I have mentioned, hung over my head; and I say, that
the allegation, whatever villain has made it, is a lie! To the British
Constitution, on revolution principles, next after my God, I am most
devoutly attached. You, sir, have been much and generously my
friend.--Heaven knows how warmly I have felt the obligation, and how
gratefully I have thanked you. Fortune, sir, has made you powerful,
and me impotent--has given you patronage, and me dependence. I would
not, for my single self, call on your humanity; were such my insular,
unconnected situation, I would despise the tear that now swells in my
eye. I would brave misfortune--I could face ruin, for at the worst
Death's thousand doors stand open; but the tender concerns that I have
mentioned, the claims and ties that I see at this moment, and feel
around me, how they unnerve courage and wither resolution! To your
patronage, as a man of some genius, you have allowed me a claim; and
your esteem, as an honest man, I know is my due. To these, sir, permit
me to appeal; by these may I adjure you, to save me from that misery
which threatens to overwhelm me, and which--with my latest breath I
will say it--I have not deserved. R. B."

That this appeal was not without effect may be gathered from a letter
on this same affair, which Burns addressed on the 13th April, 1793, to
Mr. Erskine, of Mar, in which he says one of the supervisors-general,
a Mr. Corbet, "was instructed to inquire on the spot, and to       (p. 149)
document me that my business was to act, _not to think_: and that,
whatever might be men or measures, it was for me to be _silent_ and

Much obloquy has been heaped upon the Excise Board--but on what
grounds of justice I have never been able to discover--for the way in
which they on this occasion dealt with Burns. The members of the Board
were the servants of the Government, to which they were responsible
for the conduct of all their subordinates. To have allowed any of
their subordinates to set themselves up by word or deed in opposition
to the Ministry, and especially at such a crisis, was inconsistent
with the ideas of the time as to official duty. And when called on to
act, it is hard to see how they could have done so with more leniency
than by hinting to him the remonstrance which so alarmed and irritated
the recipient of it. Whatever may be said of his alarm,--his irritation,
if perhaps natural, was not reasonable. No man has a right to expect
that, because he is a genius, he shall be absolved from those rules of
conduct, either in private or in public life, which are held binding
on his more commonplace brethren. About the time when he received this
rebuke, he wrote to Mrs. Dunlop, "I have set, henceforth, a seal on my
lips as to these unlucky politics." But neither his own resolve nor
the remonstrance of the Excise Board seem to have weighed much with
him. He continued at convivial parties to express his feelings freely,
and at one of these, shortly after he had been rebuked by the Excise
Board, when the health of William Pitt was drunk, he followed it by
craving a bumper "to the health of a much better man--General
Washington." And on a subsequent occasion, as we shall see, he brought
himself into trouble by giving an injudicious toast. The           (p. 150)
repression brought to bear on Burns cannot have been very stringent
when he was still free to sport such sentiments. The worst effect of
the remonstrance he received seems to have been to irritate his
temper, and to depress his spirits by the conviction, unfounded though
it was, that all hope of promotion for him was over.

But amid all the troubles entailed on him by his conduct, domestic,
social, and political, the chief refuge and solace which he found, was
in exercising his gifts of song. All hope of his ever achieving a
great poem, which called for sustained effort, was now over. Even
poems descriptive of rustic life and characters, such as he had
sketched in his Ayrshire days--for these he had now no longer either
time or inclination. His busy and distracted life, however, left him
leisure from time to time to give vent to his impulses, or to soothe
his feelings by short arrow-flights of song. He found in his own
experience the truth of those words of another poet,--

                    They can make who fail to find
            Short leisure even in busiest days,
            Moments to cast a look behind,
            And profit by those kindly rays,
            Which through the clouds will sometimes steal,
            And all the far-off past reveal.

Such breaks in the clouds he eagerly waited for, and turned every
golden gleam to song.

It may be remembered that while Burns was in Edinburgh he became
acquainted with James Johnson, who was engaged in collecting the Songs
of Scotland in a work called the _Musical Museum_. He had at once
thrown himself ardently into Johnson's undertaking, and put all his
power of traditional knowledge, of criticism, and of original
composition at Johnson's disposal. This he continued to do through (p. 151)
all the Ellisland period, and more or less during his residence in
Dumfries. To the _Museum_ Burns from first to last gratuitously
contributed not less than one hundred and eighty-four songs original,
altered, or collected.

During the first year that Burns lived in Dumfries, in September,
1792, he received an invitation from Mr. George Thomson, to lend the
aid of his lyrical genius to a collection of Scottish melodies, airs,
and words, which a small band of musical amateurs in Edinburgh were
then projecting. This collection was pitched to a higher key than the
comparatively humble _Museum_. It was to be edited with more rigid
care, the symphonies and accompaniments were to be supplied by the
first musicians of Europe, and it was to be expurgated from all leaven
of coarseness, and from whatever could offend the purest taste. To
Thomson's proposal Burns at once replied, "As the request you make to
me will positively add to my enjoyment in complying with it, I shall
enter into your undertaking with all the small portion of abilities I
have, strained to their utmost exertion by the impulse of

"If you are for English verses, there is, on my part, an end of the
matter. Whether in the simplicity of the ballad, or the pathos of the
song, I can only hope to please myself in being allowed at least a
sprinkling of our native tongue.... As to remuneration, you may think
my songs either above or below price; for they shall be absolutely the
one or the other. In the honest enthusiasm with which I embark in your
undertaking, to talk of money, wages, fee, hire, &c., would be
downright prostitution of soul."

In this spirit he entered on the enterprise which Thomson opened   (p. 152)
before him, and in this spirit he worked at it to the last, pouring
forth song after song almost to his latest breath. Hardly less
interesting than the songs themselves, which from time to time he sent
to Thomson, were the letters with which he accompanied them. In these
his judgment and critical power are as conspicuous, as his genius and
his enthusiasm for the native melodies. For all who take interest in
songs and in the laws which govern their movement, I know not where
else they would find hints so valuable as in these occasional remarks
on his own and others' songs, by the greatest lyric singer whom the
modern world has seen.

The bard who furnished the English songs for this collection was a
certain Dr. Wolcot, known as Peter Pindar. This poetizer, who seems to
have been wholly devoid of genius, but to have possessed a certain
talent for hitting the taste of the hour, was then held in high
esteem; he has long since been forgotten. Even Burns speaks of him
with much respect, "The very name of Peter Pindar is an acquisition to
your work," he writes to Thomson. Well might Chambers say, "It is a
humiliating thought that Peter Pindar was richly pensioned by the
booksellers, while Burns, the true sweet singer, lived in comparative
poverty." Hard measure has been dealt to Thomson for not having
liberally remunerated Burns for the priceless treasures which he
supplied to the Collection. Chambers and others, who have thoroughly
examined the whole matter, have shown this censure to be undeserved.
Thomson himself was by no means rich, and his work brought him nothing
but outlay as long as Burns lived. Indeed once, in July, 1793, when
Thomson had sent Burns some money in return for his songs, the bard
thus replied:--

"I assure you, my dear sir, that you truly hurt me with your       (p. 153)
pecuniary parcel. It degrades me in my own eyes. However, to return it
would savour of affectation; but, as to any more traffic of that
debtor and creditor kind, I swear, by that honour which crowns the
upright statue of _Robert Burns's Integrity_, on the least motion of
it, I will indignantly spurn the by-pact transaction, and from that
moment commence entire stranger to you. Burns's character for
generosity of sentiment and independence of mind, will, I trust long
outlive any of his wants which the cold, unfeeling ore can supply; at
least I will take care that such a character he shall deserve."

This sentiment was no doubt inconsistent, and may be deemed Quixotic,
when we remember that for his poems Burns was quite willing to accept
all that Creech would offer. Yet one cannot but honour it. He felt
that both Johnson and Thomson were enthusiasts, labouring to embalm in
a permanent form their country's minstrelsy, and that they were doing
this without any hope of profit. He too would bear his part in the
noble work; if he had not in other respects done full justice to his
great gifts, in this way he would repay some of the debt he owed to
his country, by throwing into her national melodies the whole wealth
and glory of his genius. And this he would do, "all for love and
nothing for reward." And the continual effort to do this worthily was
the chief relaxation and delight of those sad later years. When he
died, he had contributed to Thomson's work sixty songs, but of these
only six had then appeared, as only one half-volume of Thomson's work
had then been published. Burns had given Thomson the copyright of all
the sixty songs; but as soon as a posthumous edition of the poet's
works was proposed, Thomson returned all the songs to the poet's
family, to be included in the forthcoming edition, along with      (p. 154)
the interesting letters which had accompanied the songs. Thomson's
collection was not completed till 1841, when the sixth and last volume
of it appeared. It is affecting to know that Thomson himself, who was
older than Burns by two years, survived him for more than five-and-fifty,
and died in February, 1851, at the ripe old age of ninety-four.

CHAPTER VII.                                                       (p. 155)


During those Dumfries years little is to be done by the biographer but
to trace the several incidents in Burns's quarrel with the world, his
growing exasperation, and the evil effects of it on his conduct and
his fortunes. It is a painful record, but since it must be given, it
shall be with as much brevity as is consistent with truth.

In July, 1793, Burns made an excursion into Galloway, accompanied by a
Mr. Syme, who belonging, like himself, to the Excise, admired the
poet, and agreed with his politics. Syme has preserved a record of
this journey, and the main impression left by the perusal of it is the
strange access of ill-temper which had come over Burns, who kept
venting his spleen in epigrams on all whom he disliked, high and low.
They visited Kenmure, where lived Mr. Gordon, the representative of
the old Lords Kenmure. They passed thence over the muirs to Gatehouse,
in a wild storm, during which Burns was silent and crooning to himself
what, Syme says, was the first thought of _Scots wha hae_. They were
engaged to go to St. Mary's Isle, the seat of the Earl of Selkirk, but
Burns was in such a savage mood against all lords, that he was with
difficulty persuaded to go thither, though Lord Selkirk was no Tory,
but a Whig, like himself, and the father of his old friend, Lord   (p. 156)
Daer, by this time deceased, who had first convinced him that a lord
might possibly be an honest and kind-hearted man. When they were once
under the hospitable roof of St. Mary's Isle, the kindness with which
they were received appeased the poet's bitterness. The Earl was
benign, the young ladies were beautiful, and two of them sang Scottish
songs charmingly. Urbani, an Italian musician who had edited Scotch
music, was there, and sang many Scottish melodies, accompanying them
with instrumental music. Burns recited some of his songs amid the deep
silence that is most expressive of admiration. The evening passed very
pleasantly, and the lion of the morning had, ere the evening was over,
melted to a lamb.

_Scots wha hae_ has been mentioned. Mr. Syme tells us that it was
composed partly while Burns was riding in a storm between Gatehouse
and Kenmure, and partly on the second morning after this when they
were journeying from St. Mary's Isle to Dumfries. And Mr. Syme adds
that next day the poet presented him with one copy of the poem for
himself, and a second for Mr. Dalzell. Mr. Carlyle says, "This
Dithyrambic was composed on horseback; in riding in the middle of
tempests over the wildest Galloway moor, in company with a Mr. Syme,
who, observing the poet's looks, forebore to speak--judiciously
enough,--for a man composing Bruce's address might be unsafe to trifle
with. Doubtless this stern hymn was singing itself, as he formed it,
through the soul of Burns, but to the external ear it should be sung
with the throat of the whirlwind."

Burns, however, in a letter to Mr. Thomson dated September, 1793,
gives an account of the composition of his war-ode, which is difficult
to reconcile with Mr. Syme's statement. "There is a tradition      (p. 157)
which I have met with in many places in Scotland," he writes, "that
the old air, _Hey, tuttie taitie_ was Robert Bruce's march at the
battle of Bannockburn. This thought, in my yesternight's evening walk,
warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of liberty and
independence, which I threw into a kind of Scottish ode, fitted to the
air, that one might suppose to be the gallant royal Scot's address to
his heroic followers on that eventful morning." He adds, that "the
accidental recollection of that glorious struggle for freedom,
associated with the glowing ideas of some struggles of the same
nature, _not quite so ancient_, roused my rhyming mania." So _Bruce's
Address_ owes its inspiration as much to Burns's sympathy with the
French Republicans as to his Scottish patriotism. As to the intrinsic
merit of the ode itself, Mr. Carlyle says, "So long as there is warm
blood in the heart of Scotchmen or man, it will move in fierce thrills
under this war-ode, the best, we believe, that was ever written by any
pen." To this verdict every son of Scottish soil is, I suppose, bound
to say, Amen. It ought not, however, to be concealed that there has
been a very different estimate formed of it by judges sufficiently
competent. I remember to have read somewhere of a conversation between
Wordsworth and Mrs. Hemans, in which they both agreed that the famous
ode was not much more than a commonplace piece of school-boy
rhodomontade about liberty. Probably it does owe not a little of its
power to the music to which it is sung, and to the associations which
have gathered round it. The enthusiasm for French Revolution
sentiments, which may have been in Burns's mind when composing it, has
had nothing to do with the delight with which thousands since have
sung and listened to it. The Poet, however, when he first          (p. 158)
conceived it was no doubt raging inwardly, like a lion, not only
caged, but muzzled with the gag of his servitude to Government. But
for this, what diatribes in favour of the Revolution might we not have
had, and what pain must it have been to Burns to suppress these under
the coercion of external authority. Partly to this feeling, as well as
to other causes, may be ascribed such outbursts as the following,
written to a female correspondent, immediately after his return from
the Galloway tour:

"There is not among all the martyrologies that ever were penned, so
rueful a narrative as the lives of the poets. In the comparative view
of wretches, the criterion is not what they are doomed to suffer, but
how they are formed to bear. Take a being of our kind, give him a
stronger imagination, and a more delicate sensibility, which between
them will ever engender a more ungovernable set of passions than are
the usual lot of man; implant in him an irresistible impulse to some
idle vagary, ... in short, send him adrift after some pursuit which
shall eternally mislead him from the paths of lucre, and yet curse him
with a keener relish than any man living for the pleasures that lucre
can purchase; lastly, fill up the measure of his woes by bestowing on
him a spurning sense of his own dignity--and you have created a wight
nearly as miserable as a poet." This passage will recall to many the
catalogue of sore evils to which poets are by their temperament
exposed, which Wordsworth in his Leech-gatherer enumerates.

                              The fear that kills,
            And hope that is unwilling to be fed;
            Cold, pain, and labour, and all fleshly ills;
            And mighty poets in their misery dead.

In writing that poem Wordsworth had Burns among others prominently (p. 159)
in his eye. What a commentary is the life of the more impulsive poet
on the lines of his younger and more self-controlling brother! During
those years of political unrest and of growing mental disquiet, his
chief solace was, as I have said, to compose songs for Thomson's
Collection, into which he poured a continual supply. Indeed it is
wonderful how often he was able to escape from his own vexations into
that serener atmosphere, and there to suit melodies and moods most
alien to his own with fitting words.

Here in one of his letters to Thomson is the way he describes himself
in the act of composition. "My way is--I consider the poetic sentiment
correspondent to my idea of the musical expression; then choose my
theme; begin one stanza; when that is composed, which is generally the
most difficult part of the business, I walk out, sit down now and
then, look out for objects in nature around me that are in unison and
harmony with the cogitations of my fancy and workings of my bosom;
humming every now and then the air with the verses I have framed. When
I feel my Muse beginning to jade, I retire to the solitary fireside of
my study, and there commit my effusions to paper; swinging at
intervals on the hind legs of my elbow-chair, by way of calling forth
my own critical strictures as my pen goes on." To this may be added
what Allan Cunningham tells us. "While he lived in Dumfries he had
three favourite walks; on the Dock-green by the river-side; among the
ruins of Lincluden College; and towards the Martingdon-ford, on the
north side of the Nith. This latter place was secluded, commanded a
view of the distant hills, and the romantic towers of Lincluden, and
afforded soft greensward banks to rest upon, within sight and      (p. 160)
sound of the stream. As soon as he was heard to hum to himself, his
wife saw that he had something in his mind, and was prepared to see
him snatch up his hat, and set silently off for his musing-ground.
When by himself, and in the open air, his ideas arranged themselves in
their natural order--words came at will, and he seldom returned
without having finished a song.... When the verses were finished, he
passed them through the ordeal of Mrs. Burns's voice, listened
attentively when she sang; asked her if any of the words were
difficult; and when one happened to be too rough, he readily found a
smoother; but he never, save at the resolute entreaty of a scientific
musician, sacrificed sense to sound. The autumn was his favourite
season, and the twilight his favourite hour of study."

Regret has often been expressed that Burns spent so much time and
thought on writing his songs, and, in this way, diverted his energies
from higher aims. Sir Walter has said, "Notwithstanding the spirit of
many of his lyrics, and the exquisite sweetness and simplicity of
others, we cannot but deeply regret that so much of his time and
talents was frittered away in compiling and composing for musical
collections. There is sufficient evidence that even the genius of
Burns could not support him in the monotonous task of writing
love-verses, on heaving bosoms and sparkling eyes, and twisting them
into such rhythmical forms as might suit the capricious evolutions of
Scotch reels and strathspeys." Even if Burns, instead of continual
song-writing during the last eight years of his life, had concentrated
his strength on "his grand plan of a dramatic composition" on the
subject of Bruce's adventures, it may be doubted whether he would have
done so much to enrich his country's literature as he has done by the
songs he composed. But considering how desultory his habits        (p. 161)
became, if Johnson and Thomson had not, as it were, set him a congenial
task, he might not have produced anything at all during those years.
There is, however, another aspect in which the continual composition
of love-ditties must be regretted. The few genuine love-songs,
straight from the heart, which he composed, such as _Of a' the Airts_,
_To Mary in Heaven_, _Ye Banks and Braes_, can hardly be too highly
prized. But there are many others, which arose from a lower and
fictitious source of inspiration. He himself tells Thomson that when
he wished to compose a love-song, his recipe was to put himself on a
"regimen of admiring a beautiful woman." This was a dangerous regimen,
and when it came to be often repeated, as it was, it cannot have
tended to his peace of heart, or to the purity of his life.

The first half of the year 1794 was a more than usually unhappy time
with Burns. It was almost entirely songless. Instead of poetry, we
hear of political dissatisfaction, excessive drinking-bouts, quarrels,
and self-reproach. This was the time when our country was at war with
the French Republic--a war which Burns bitterly disliked, but his
employment under Government forced him to set "a seal on his lips as
to those unlucky politics." A regiment of soldiers was quartered in
the town of Dumfries, and to Burns's eye the sight of their red coats
was so offensive, that he would not go down the plain-stones lest he
should meet "the epauletted puppies," who thronged the street. One of
these epauletted puppies, whom he so disliked, found occasion to pull
Burns up rather smartly. The poet, when in his cups, had in the
hearing of a certain captain proposed as a toast, "May our         (p. 162)
success in the present war be equal to the justice of our cause." The
soldier called him to account--a duel seemed imminent, and Burns had
next day to write an apologetic letter, in order to avoid the risk of
ruin. About the same time he was involved, through intemperance, in
another and more painful quarrel. It has been already noticed that at
Woodley Park he was a continual guest. With Mrs. Riddel, who was both
beautiful and witty, he carried on a kind of poetic flirtation. Mr.
Walter Riddel, the host, was wont to press his guests to deeper
potations than were usual even in those hard-drinking days. One
evening, when the guests had sat till they were inflamed with wine,
they entered the drawing-room, and Burns in some way grossly insulted
the fair hostess. Next day he wrote a letter of the most abject and
extravagant penitence. This, however, Mr. and Mrs. Riddel did not
think fit to accept. Stung by this rebuff, Burns recoiled at once to
the opposite extreme of feeling, and penned a grossly scurrilous
monody on "a lady famed for her caprice." This he followed up by other
lampoons, full of "coarse rancour against a lady, who had showed him
many kindnesses." The Laird of Friars Carse and his lady naturally
sided with their relatives, and grew cold to their old friend of
Ellisland. While this coldness lasted, Mr. Riddel, of Friars Carse,
died in the spring-time, and the poet, remembering his friend's worth
and former kindness, wrote a sonnet over him--not one of his best or
most natural performances, yet showing the return of his better heart.
During the same spring we hear of Burns going to the house of one of
the neighbouring gentry, and dining there, not with the rest of the
party, but, by his own choice, it would seem, with the housekeeper in
her room, and joining the gentlemen in the dining-room, after the  (p. 163)
ladies had retired. He was now, it seems, more disliked by ladies than
by men,--a change since those Edinburgh days, when the highest dames
of the land had spoken so rapturously of the charm of his

Amid the gloom of this unhappy time (1791), Burns turned to his old
Edinburgh friend, Alexander Cunningham, and poured forth this
passionate and well-known complaint:--"Canst thou minister to a mind
diseased? Canst thou speak peace and rest to a soul tossed on a sea of
troubles, without one friendly star to guide her course, and dreading
that the next surge may overwhelm her? Of late, a number of domestic
vexations, and some pecuniary share in the ruin of these cursed
times,--losses which, though trifling, were what I could ill
bear,--have so irritated me, that my feelings at times could only be
envied by a reprobate spirit listening to the sentence that dooms it
to perdition.--Are you deep in the language of consolation? I have
exhausted in reflection every topic of comfort. A heart at ease would
have been charmed with my sentiments and reasonings; but as to myself,
I was like Judas Iscariot preaching the Gospel.... Still there are two
great pillars that bear us up amid the wreck of misfortune and misery.
The one is composed of a certain noble, stubborn something in man,
known by the names of Courage, Fortitude, Magnanimity. The other is
made up of those feelings and sentiments which, however the sceptic
may deny them, or the enthusiast may disfigure them, are yet, I am
convinced, original and component parts of the human soul, those
senses of the mind--if I may be allowed the expression--which connect
us with, and link us to those awful obscure realities--an all-powerful
and equally beneficent God, and a world to come, beyond death and the
grave. The first gives the nerve of combat, while a ray of hope    (p. 164)
beams on the field: the last pours the balm of comfort into the wounds
which time can never cure."

This remarkable, or, as Lockhart calls it, noble letter was written on
February 25, 1794. It was probably a few months later, perhaps in May
of the same year, while Burns was still under this depression, that
there occurred an affecting incident, which has been preserved by
Lockhart. Mr. David McCulloch, of Ardwell, told Lockhart, "that he was
seldom more grieved, than when, riding into Dumfries one fine summer's
evening, to attend a country ball, he saw Burns walking alone, on the
shady side of the principal street of the town, while the opposite
part was gay with successive groups of gentlemen and ladies, all drawn
together for the festivities of the night, not one of whom seemed
willing to recognize the poet. The horseman dismounted, and joined
Burns, who, on his proposing to him to cross the street, said, 'Nay,
nay, my young friend, that's all over now,' and quoted, after a pause,
some verses of Lady Grizzell Baillie's pathetic ballad:--

            His bonnet stood ance fu' fair on his brow,
            His auld ane looked better than mony ane's new;
            But now he lets 't wear ony way it will hing,
            And caste himsell dowie upon the corn-bing.

            O, were we young, as we ance hae been,
            We suld hae been galloping down on yon green,
            And linking it owre the lily-white lea,--
            And werena my heart light, I wad die.

"It was little in Burns's character to let his feelings on certain
subjects escape in this fashion. He immediately after citing these
verses assumed the sprightliness of his most pleasing manner; and
taking his young friend home with him, entertained him very        (p. 165)
agreeably until the hour of the ball arrived, with a bowl of his usual
potation, and Bonnie Jean's singing of some verses which he had
recently composed."

In June we find him expressing to Mrs. Dunlop the earliest hint that
he felt his health declining. "I am afraid," he says, "that I am about
to suffer for the follies of my youth. My medical friends threaten me
with flying gout; but I trust they are mistaken." And again, a few
months later, we find him, when writing to the same friend, recurring
to the same apprehensions. Vexation and disappointment within, and
excesses, if not continual, yet too frequent, from without, had for
long been undermining his naturally strong but nervously sensitive
frame, and those symptoms were now making themselves felt, which were
soon to lay him in an early grave. As the autumn drew on, his singing
powers revived, and till the close of the year he kept pouring into
Thomson a stream of songs, some of the highest stamp, and hardly one
without a touch such as only the genuine singer can give.

The letters, too, to Thomson, with which he accompanies his gifts, are
full of suggestive thoughts on song, hints most precious to all who
care for such matters. For the forgotten singers of his native land he
is full of sympathy. "By the way," he writes to Thomson, "are you not
vexed to think that those men of genius, for such they certainly were,
who composed our fine Scottish lyrics, should be unknown?"

Many of the songs of that autumn were, as usual, love-ditties; but
when the poet could forget the lint-white locks of Chloris, of which
kind of stuff there is more than enough, he would write as good songs
on other and manlier subjects. Two of these, written, the one in   (p. 166)
November, 1794, the other in January, 1795, belong to the latter
order, and are worthy of careful regard, not only for their excellence
as songs, but also as illustrations of the poet's mood of mind at the
time when he composed them.

The first is this,---

            Contented wi' little, and cantie wi' mair,
            Whene'er I forgather wi' sorrow and care,
            I gie them a skelp as they're creepin' alang,
            Wi' a cog o' gude swats, and an auld Scottish sang.

            I whyles claw the elbow o' troublesome thought;
            But man is a soger, and life is a faught;
            My mirth and gude humour are coin in my pouch,
            And my Freedom's my lairdship nae monarch dare touch.

            A towmond o' trouble, should that be my fa',
            A night o' gude fellowship sowthers it a';
            When at the blythe end o' our journey at last,
            Wha the deil ever thinks o' the road he has past?

            Blind Chance, let her snapper and stoyte on her way;
            Be't to me, be't frae me, e'en let the jade gae:
            Come Ease, or come Travail, come Pleasure or Pain,
            My warst word is--Welcome, and welcome again.

This song gives Burns's idea of himself, and of his struggle with the
world, when he could look on both from the placid, rather than the
despondent side. He regarded it as a true picture of himself; for,
when a good miniature of him had been done, he wrote to Thomson that
he wished a vignette from it to be prefixed to this song, that, in his
own words, "the portrait of my face, and the picture of my mind may go
down the stream of time together." Burns had more moods of mind than
most men, and this was, we may hope, no unfrequent one with him. But
if we would reach the truth, we probably ought to strike a balance (p. 167)
between the spirit of this song and the dark moods depicted in some of
those letters already quoted.

The other song of the same time is the well-known _A Man's a Man for
a' that_. This powerful song speaks out in his best style a sentiment
that through all his life had been dear to the heart of Burns. It has
been quoted, they say, by Béranger in France, and by Goethe in
Germany, and is the word which springs up in the mind of all
foreigners when they think of Burns. It was inspired, no doubt, by his
keen sense of social oppression, quickened to white heat by influences
that had lately come from France, and by what he had suffered for his
sympathy with that cause. It has since become the watchword of all who
fancy that they have secured less, and others more, of this world's
goods, than their respective merit deserves. Stronger words he never

            The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
            The man's the gowd for a' that.

That is a word for all time. Yet perhaps it might have been wished
that so noble a song had not been marred by any touch of social
bitterness. A lord, no doubt, may be a "birkie" and a "coof," but may
not a ploughman be so too? This great song Burns wrote on the first
day of 1795.

Towards the end of 1794, and in the opening of 1795, the panic which
had filled the land in 1792, from the doings of the French
republicans, and their sympathizers in this country, began to abate;
and the blast of Government displeasure, which for a time had beaten
heavily on Burns, seemed to have blown over. He writes to Mrs. Dunlop
on the 29th of December, 1794. "My political sins seem to be       (p. 168)
forgiven me," and as a proof of it he mentions that during the illness
of his superior officer, he had been appointed to act as supervisor--a
duty which he discharged for about two months. In the same letter he
sends to that good lady his usual kindly greeting for the coming year,
and concludes thus:--"What a transient business is life! Very lately I
was a boy; but t' other day I was a young man; and I already begin to
feel the rigid fibre and stiffening joints of old age coming fast o'er
my frame. With all the follies of youth, and, I fear, a few vices of
manhood, still I congratulate myself on having had, in early days,
religion strongly impressed on my mind." Burns always keeps his most
serious thoughts for this good lady. Herself religious, she no doubt
tried to keep the truths of religion before the poet's mind. And he
naturally was drawn out to reply in a tone more unreserved than when
he wrote to most others.

In February of the ensuing year, 1795, his duties as supervisor led
him to what he describes as the "unfortunate, wicked little village"
of Ecclefechan in Annandale. The night after he arrived, there fell
the heaviest snowstorm known in Scotland within living memory. When
people awoke next morning they found the snow up to the windows of the
second story of their houses. In the hollow of Campsie hills it lay to
the depth of from eighty to a hundred feet, and it had not disappeared
from the streets of Edinburgh on the king's birthday, the 4th of June.
Storm-stayed at Ecclefechan, Burns indulged in deep potations and in
song-writing. Probably he imputed to the place that with which his own
conscience reproached himself. Currie, who was a native of Ecclefechan,
much offended, says, "The poet must have been tipsy indeed to abuse
sweet Ecclefechan at this rate." It was also the birthplace of the (p. 169)
poet's friend Nicol, and of a greater than he. On the 4th of December
in the very year on which Burns visited it, Mr. Thomas Carlyle was
born in that village. Shortly after his visit, the poet beat his
brains to find a rhyme for Ecclefechan, and to twist it into a song.

In March of the same year we find him again joining in local politics,
and writing electioneering ballads for Heron of Heron, the Whig
candidate for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, against the nominee of
the Earl of Galloway, against whom and his family Burns seems to have
harboured some peculiar enmity.

Mr. Heron won the election, and Burns wrote to him about his own
prospects:--"The moment I am appointed supervisor, in the common
routine I may be nominated on the collectors' list; and this is always
a business of purely political patronage. A collectorship varies much,
from better than 200_l._ to near 1000_l._ a year. A life of literary
leisure, with a decent competency, is the summit of my wishes."

The hope here expressed was not destined to be fulfilled. It required
some years for its realization, and the years allotted to Burns were
now nearly numbered. The prospect which he here dwells on may,
however, have helped to lighten his mental gloom during the last year
of his life. For one year of activity there certainly was, between the
time when the cloud of political displeasure against him disappeared
towards the end of 1794, and the time when his health finally gave way
in the autumn of 1795, during which, to judge by his letters, he
indulged much less in outbursts of social discontent. One proof of
this is seen in the following fact. In the spring of 1795, a volunteer
corps was raised in Dumfries, to defend the country, while the     (p. 170)
regular army was engaged abroad, in war with France. Many of the
Dumfries Whigs, and among them Burns's friends, Syme and Dr. Maxwell,
enrolled themselves in the corps, in order to prove their loyalty and
patriotism, on which some suspicions had previously been cast. Burns
too offered himself, and was received into the corps. Allan Cunningham
remembered the appearance of the regiment, "their odd but not
ungraceful dress; white kerseymere breeches and waistcoat; short blue
coat, faced with red; and round hat, surmounted by a bearskin, like
the helmets of the Horse Guards." He remembered the poet too, as he
showed among them, "his very swarthy face, his ploughman stoop, his
large dark eyes, and his awkwardness in handling his arms." But if he
could not handle his musket deftly, he could do what none else in that
or any other corps could, he could sing a patriotic stave which
thrilled the hearts not only of his comrades, but every Briton from
Land's-end to Johnny Groat's.

This is one of the verses:--

            The kettle o' the kirk and state
              Perhaps a clout may fail in't;
            But deil a foreign tinkler loan
              Shall ever ca' a nail in't.
            Our fathers' blade the kettle bought,
              And wha wad dare to spoil it;
            By heavens! the sacrilegious dog
              Shall fuel be to boil it!
            By heavens; the sacrilegious dog
              Shall fuel be to boil it!

This song flew throughout the land, hit the taste of the country-people
everywhere, and is said to have done much to change the feelings of
those who were disaffected. Much blame has been cast upon the Tory (p. 171)
Ministry, then in power, for not having offered a pension to Burns. It
was not, it is said, that they did not know of him, or that they
disregarded his existence. For Mr. Addington, afterwards Lord
Sidmouth, we have seen, deeply felt his genius, acknowledged it in
verse, and is said to have urged his claims upon the Government. Mr.
Pitt, soon after the poet's death, is reported to have said of Burns's
poetry, at the table of Lord Liverpool, "I can think of no verse since
Shakespeare's, that has so much the appearance of coming sweetly from
nature." It is on Mr. Dundas, however, at that time one of the
Ministry, and the autocrat of all Scottish affairs, that the heaviest
weight of blame has fallen. But perhaps this is not altogether
deserved. There is the greatest difference between a literary man, who
holds his political opinions in private, but refrains from mingling in
party politics, and one who zealously espouses one side, and employs
his literary power in promoting it. He threw himself into every
electioneering business with his whole heart, wrote, while he might
have been better employed, electioneering ballads of little merit, in
which he lauded Whig men and theories, and lampooned, often
scurrilously, the supporters of Dundas. No doubt it would have been
magnanimous in the men then in power to have overlooked all these
things, and, condoning the politics, to have rewarded the poetry of
Burns. And it were to be wished that such magnanimity were more common
among public men. But we do not see it practised even at the present
day, any more than it was in the time of Burns.

During the first half of 1795 the poet had gone on with his accustomed
duties, and, during the intervals of business, kept sending to Thomson
the songs he from time to time composed.

His professional prospects seemed at this time to be brightening,  (p. 172)
for about the middle of May, 1795, his staunch friend, Mr. Graham of
Fintray, would seem to have revived an earlier project of having him
transferred to a post in Leith, with easy duty and an income of nearly
200_l._ a year. This project could not at the time be carried out; but
that it should have been thought of proves that political offences of
the past were beginning to be forgotten. During this same year there
were symptoms that the respectable persons who had for some time
frowned on him, were willing to relent. A combination of causes, his
politics, the Riddel quarrel, and his own many imprudences, had kept
him under a cloud. And this disfavour of the well-to-do had not
increased his self-respect or made him more careful about the company
he kept. Disgust with the world had made him reckless and defiant. But
with the opening of 1795, the Riddels were reconciled to him, and
received him once more into their good graces, and others, their
friends, probably followed their example.

But the time was drawing near, when the smiles or the frowns of the
Dumfries magnates would be alike indifferent to him. There has been
more than enough of discussion among the biographers of Burns, as to
how far he really deteriorated in himself during those Dumfries years,
as to the extent and the causes of the social discredit into which he
fell, and as to the charge that he took to low company. His early
biographers, Currie, Walker, Heron drew the picture somewhat darkly;
Lockhart and Cunningham have endeavoured to lighten the depth of the
shadows. Chambers has laboured to give the facts impartially, has
faithfully placed the lights and the shadows side by side, and has
summed up the whole subject in an appendix on _The Reputation      (p. 173)
of Burns in his Later Years_, to which I would refer any who desire to
see this painful subject minutely handled. Whatever extenuations or
excuses may be alleged, all must allow that his course in Dumfries was
on the whole a downward one, and must concur, however reluctantly, in
the conclusion at which Lockhart, while decrying the severe judgments
of Currie, Heron, and others, is forced by truth to come, that "the
untimely death of Burns was, it is too probable, hastened by his own
intemperances and imprudences." To inquire minutely, what was the
extent of those intemperances, and what the nature of those
imprudences, is a subject which can little profit any one, and on
which one has no heart to enter. If the general statement of fact be
true, the minute details are better left to the kindly oblivion,
which, but for too prying curiosity, would by this time have overtaken

Dissipated his life for some years certainly had been--deeply
disreputable many asserted it to be. Others, however, there were who
took a more lenient view of him. Findlater, his superior in the
Excise, used to assert, that no officer under him was more regular in
his public duties. Mr. Gray, then teacher of Dumfries school, has left
it on record, that no parent he knew watched more carefully over his
children's education--that he had often found the poet in his home
explaining to his eldest boy passages of the English poets from
Shakespeare to Gray, and that the benefit of the father's instructions
was apparent in the excellence of the son's daily school performances.
This brighter side of the picture, however, is not irreconcilable with
that darker one. For Burns's whole character was a compound of the
most discordant and contradictory elements. Dr. Chambers has well
shown that he who at one hour was the _douce_ sober Mr. Burns, in  (p. 174)
the next was changed to the maddest of Bacchanals: now he was glowing
with the most generous sentiments, now sinking to the very opposite

One of the last visits paid to him by any friend from a distance would
seem to have been by Professor Walker, although the date of it is
somewhat uncertain. Eight years had passed since the Professor had
parted with Burns at Blair Castle, after the poet's happy visit there.
In the account which the Professor has left of his two days' interview
with Burns at Dumfries, there are traces of disappointment with the
change which the intervening years had wrought. It has been alleged
that prolonged residence in England had made the Professor fastidious,
and more easily shocked with rusticity and coarseness. However this
may be, he found Burns, as he thought, not improved, but more
dictatorial, more free in his potations, more coarse and gross in his
talk, than when he had formerly known him.

For some time past there had not been wanting symptoms to show that
the poet's strength was already past its prime. In June, 1794, he had,
as we have seen, told Mrs. Dunlop that he had been in poor health, and
was afraid he was beginning to suffer for the follies of his youth.
His physicians threatened him, he said, with flying gout, but he
trusted they were mistaken. In the spring of 1795, he said to one who
called on him, that he was beginning to feel as if he were soon to be
an old man. Still he went about all his usual employments. But during
the latter part of that year his health seems to have suddenly
declined. For some considerable time he was confined to a sick-bed.
Dr. Currie, who was likely to be well informed, states that this
illness lasted from October, 1795, till the following January. No  (p. 175)
details of his malady are given, and little more is known of his
condition at this time, except what he himself has given in a letter
to Mrs. Dunlop, and in a rhymed epistle to one of his brother

At the close of the year he must have felt that, owing to his
prolonged sickness, his funds were getting low. Else he would not have
penned to his friend, Collector Mitchell, the following request:--

            Friend of the Poet, tried and leal,
            Wha, wanting thee, might beg or steal;
            Alake, alake, the meikle deil
                          Wi' a' his witches
            Are at it, skelpin'! jig and reel,
                          In my poor pouches.

            I modestly fu fain wad hint it,
            That one pound one, I sairly want it;
            If wi' the hizzie down ye sent it,
                          It would be kind;
           And while my heart wi' life-blood dunted,
                          I'd bear't in mind.

                 *       *       *       *       *


            Ye've heard this while how I've been licket
            And by fell death was nearly nicket:
            Grim loun! he gat me by the fecket,
                          And sair me sheuk;
            But by gude luck I lap a wicket,
                          And turn'd a neuk.

            But by that health, I've got a share o't,
            And by that life, I'm promised mair o't,
            My heal and weel I'll take a care o't
                          A tentier way;
            Then fareweel folly, hide and hair o't,
                          For ance and aye.

It was, alas! too late now to bid farewell to folly, even if he    (p. 176)
could have done so indeed. With the opening of the year 1796, he
somewhat revived, and the prudent resolve of his sickness disappeared
with the first prospect of returning health. Chambers thus records a
fact which the local tradition of Dumfries confirms:--"Early in the
month of January, when his health was in the course of improvement,
Burns tarried to a late hour at a jovial party in the Globe tavern.
Before returning home, he unluckily remained for some time in the open
air, and, overpowered by the effects of the liquor he had drunk, fell
asleep.... A fatal chill penetrated his bones; he reached home with
the seeds of a rheumatic fever already in possession of his weakened
frame. In this little accident, and not in the pressure of poverty or
disrepute, or wounded feelings or a broken heart, truly lay the
determining cause of the sadly shortened days of our national poet."

How long this new access of extreme illness confined him seems
uncertain. Currie says for about a week; Chambers surmises a longer
time. Mr. Scott Douglas says, that from the close of January till the
month of April, he seems to have moved about with some hope of
permanent improvement. But if he had such a hope, it was destined not
to be fulfilled. Writing on the 31st of January, 1796, to Mrs. Dunlop,
the trusted friend of so many confidences, this is the account he
gives of himself:--

"I have lately drunk deep of the cup of affliction. The autumn robbed
me of my only daughter and darling child, and that at a distance, too,
and so rapidly as to put it out of my power to pay the last duties to
her. I had scarcely begun to recover from that shock, when I became
myself the victim of a most severe rheumatic fever, and long the   (p. 177)
die spun doubtful; until, after many weeks of a sick-bed, it seems
to have turned up life, and I am beginning to crawl across my room,
and once indeed have been before my own door in the street." In these
words Burns would seem to have put his two attacks together, as though
they were but one prolonged illness.

It was about this time that, happening to meet a neighbour in the
street, the poet talked with her seriously of his health, and said
among other things this: "I find that a man may live like a fool, but
he will scarcely die like one." As from time to time he appeared on
the street during the early months of 1796, others of his old
acquaintance were struck by the sight of a tall man of slovenly
appearance and sickly aspect, whom a second look showed to be Burns,
and that he was dying. Yet in that February there were still some
flutters of song, one of which was, _Hey for the Lass wi' a Tocher_,
written in answer to Thomson's beseeching inquiry if he was never to
hear from him again. Another was a rhymed epistle, in which he answers
the inquiries of the colonel of his Volunteer Corps after his health.

From about the middle of April, Burns seldom left his room, and for a
great part of each day was confined to bed. May came--a beautiful
May--and it was hoped that its genial influences might revive him. But
while young Jeffrey was writing, "It is the finest weather in the
world--the whole country is covered with green and blossoms; and the
sun shines perpetually through a light east wind," Burns was shivering
at every breath of the breeze. At this crisis his faithful wife was
laid aside, unable to attend him. But a young neighbour, Jessie Lewars,
sister of a brother exciseman, came to their house, assisted in    (p. 178)
all household work, and ministered to the dying poet. She was at this
time only a girl, but she lived to be a wife and mother, and to see an
honoured old age. Whenever we think of the last days of the poet, it
is well to remember one who did so much to smooth his dying pillow.

Burns himself was deeply grateful, and his gratitude as usual found
vent in song. But the old manner still clung to him. Even then he
could not express his gratitude to his young benefactress without
assuming the tone of a fancied lover. Two songs in this strain he
addressed to Jessie Lewars. Of the second of these it is told, that
one morning the poet said to her that if she would play to him any
favourite tune, for which she desired to have new words, he would do
his best to meet her wish. She sat down at the piano, and played over
several times the air of an old song beginning thus:--

            The robin cam to the wren's nest,
            And keekit in, and keekit in.

As soon as Burns had taken in the melody, he set to, and in a few
minutes composed these beautiful words, the second of the songs which
he addressed to Jessie:--

            Oh! wert thou in the cauld blast,
              On yonder lea, on yonder lea,
            My plaidie to the angry airt,
              I'd shelter thee, I'd shelter thee.
            Or did misfortune's bitter storms
              Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
            Thy bield should be my bosom,
              To share it a', to share it a.'

            Or were I in the wildest waste,                        (p. 179)
              Sae black and bare, sae black and bare,
            The desert were a paradise,
              If thou wert there, if thou wert there:
            Or were I monarch o' the globe,
              Wi' thee to reign, wi' thee to reign,
            The brightest jewel in my crown
              Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.

Mendelssohn is said to have so much admired this song, that he
composed for it what Chambers pronounces an air of exquisite pathos.

June came, but brought no improvement, rather rapid decline of health.
On the 4th of July (1796) he wrote to Johnson, "Many a merry meeting
this publication (the _Museum_) has given us, and possibly it may give
us more, though, alas, I fear it. This protracting, slow consuming
illness, will, I doubt much, my ever dear friend, arrest my sun before
he has reached his middle career, and will turn over the poet to far
more important concerns than studying the brilliancy of wit or the
pathos of sentiment." On the day on which he wrote these words, he
left Dumfries for a lonely place called Brow on the Solway shore, to
try the effects of sea-bathing. He went alone, for his wife was unable
to accompany him. While he was at Brow, his former friend, Mrs. Walter
Riddel, to whom, after their estrangement, he had been reconciled,
happened to be staying for the benefit of her health in the
neighbourhood. She asked Burns to dine with her, and sent her carriage
to bring him to her house. This is part of the account she gives of
that interview:--

"I was struck with his appearance on entering the room. The stamp of
death was imprinted on his features. He seemed already touching the
brink of eternity. His first salutation was. 'Well, madam, have    (p. 180)
you any commands for the other world?' I replied that it seemed a
doubtful case, which of us should be there soonest, and that I hoped
he would yet live to write my epitaph. He looked in my face with an
air of great kindness, and expressed his concern at seeing me look so
ill, with his accustomed sensibility.... We had a long and serious
conversation about his present situation, and the approaching
termination of all his earthly prospects. He spoke of his death
without any of the ostentation of philosophy, but with firmness as
well as feeling, as an event likely to happen very soon, and which
gave him concern chiefly from leaving his four children so young and
unprotected, and his wife hourly expecting a fifth. He mentioned, with
seeming pride and satisfaction, the promising genius of his eldest
son, and the flattering marks of approbation he had received from his
teachers, and dwelt particularly on his hopes of that boy's future
conduct and merit. His anxiety for his family seemed to hang heavy on
him, and the more perhaps from the reflection that he had not done
them all the justice he was so well qualified to do. Passing from this
subject, he showed great concern about the care of his literary fame,
and particularly the publication of his posthumous works. He said he
was well aware that his death would create some noise, and that every
scrap of his writing would be revived against him to the injury of his
future reputation; that his letters and verses written with unguarded
and improper freedom, and which he earnestly wished to have buried in
oblivion, would be handed about by idle vanity or malevolence, when no
dread of his resentment would restrain them, or prevent the censures
of shrill-tongued malice, or the insidious sarcasms of envy, from
pouring forth all their venom to blast his fame.

"He lamented that he had written many epigrams on persons against  (p. 181)
whom he entertained no enmity, and whose characters he would be sorry
to wound; and many indifferent poetical pieces, which he feared would
now, with all their imperfections on their head, be thrust upon the
world. On this account he deeply regretted having deferred to put his
papers in a state of arrangement, as he was now incapable of the
exertion.... The conversation," she adds, "was kept up with great
evenness and animation on his side. I had seldom seen his mind greater
or more collected. There was frequently a considerable degree of
vivacity in his sallies, and they would probably have had a greater
share, had not the concern and dejection I could not disguise damped
the spirit of pleasantry he seemed not unwilling to indulge.

"We parted about sunset on the evening of that day (the 5th July,
1796), the next day I saw him again, and we parted to meet no more!"

It is not wonderful that Burns should have felt some anxiety about the
literary legacy he was leaving to mankind. Not about his best poems;
these, he must have known, would take care of themselves. Yet even
among the poems which he had published with his name, were some,
"which dying" he well might "wish to blot." There lay among his papers
letters too, and other "fallings from him," which he no doubt would
have desired to suppress, but of which, if they have not all been made
public, enough have appeared to justify his fears of that idle vanity,
if not malevolence, which after his death, would rake up every scrap
he had written, uncaring how it might injure his good name, or affect
future generations of his admirers. No poet perhaps has suffered more
from the indiscriminate and unscrupulous curiosity of editors,     (p. 182)
catering too greedily for the public, than Burns has done.

Besides anxieties of this kind, he, during those last days, had to
bear another burden of care that pressed even more closely home. To
pain of body, absence from his wife and children, and haunting anxiety
on their account, was added the pressure of some small debts and the
fear of want. By the rules of the Excise, his full salary would not be
allowed him during his illness; and though the Board agreed to
continue Burns in his full pay, he never knew this in time to be
comforted by it. With his small income diminished, how could he meet
the increased expenditure caused by sickness? We have seen how at the
beginning of the year he had written to his friend Mitchell to ask the
loan of a guinea. One or two letters, asking for the payment of some
old debts due to him by a former companion, still remain. During his
stay at Brow, on the 12th of July, he wrote to Thomson the following
memorable letter:--

"After all my boasted independence, curst necessity compels me to
implore you for five pounds. A cruel scoundrel of a haberdasher, to
whom I owe an account, taking it into his head that I am dying, has
commenced a process, and will infallibly put me into jail. Do, for
God's sake, send that sum, and that by return of post. Forgive me this
earnestness, but the horrors of a jail have made me half distracted. I
do not ask all this gratuitously; for, upon returning health, I hereby
promise and engage to furnish you with five pounds' worth of the
neatest song-genius you have seen. I tried my hand on Rothemurchie
this morning. The measure is so difficult that it is impossible to
infuse much genius into the lines. They are on the other side.
Forgive, forgive me!"

And on the other side was written Burns's last song beginning,     (p. 183)
"Fairest maid, on Devon banks." Was it native feeling, or inveterate
habit, that made him that morning revert to the happier days he had
seen on the banks of Devon, and sing a last song to one of the two
beauties he had there admired? Chambers thinks it was to Charlotte
Hamilton, the latest editor refers it to Peggy Chalmers.

Thomson at once sent the sum asked for. He has been much, but not
justly, blamed for not having sent a much larger sum, and indeed for
not having repaid the poet for his songs long before. Against such
charges it is enough to reply that when Thomson had formerly
volunteered some money to Burns in return for his songs, the indignant
poet told him that if he ever again thought of such a thing, their
intercourse must thenceforth cease. And for the smallness of the sum
sent, it should be remembered that Thomson was himself a poor man, and
had not at this time made anything by his Collection of Songs, and
never did make much beyond repayment of his large outlay.

On the same day on which Burns wrote thus to Thomson, he wrote another
letter in much the same terms to his cousin, Mr. James Burnes, of
Montrose, asking him to assist him with ten pounds, which was at once
sent by his relative, who, though not a rich, was a generous-hearted

There was still a third letter written on that 12th of July (1796)
from Brow. Of Mrs. Dunlop, who had for some months ceased her
correspondence with him, the poet takes this affecting farewell:--"I
have written you so often, without receiving any answer, that I would
not trouble you again but for the circumstances in which I am.     (p. 184)
An illness which has long hung about me, in all probability will
speedily send me beyond that 'bourn whence no traveller returns.' Your
friendship, with which for many years you honoured me, was a
friendship dearest to my soul. Your conversation, and especially your
correspondence, were at once highly entertaining and instructive. With
what pleasure did I use to break up the seal! The remembrance yet adds
one pulse more to my poor palpitating heart. Farewell!"

On the 14th he wrote to his wife, saying that though the sea-bathing
had eased his pains, it had not done anything to restore his health.
The following anecdote of him at this time has been preserved:--"A
night or two before Burns left Brow, he drank tea with Mrs. Craig,
widow of the minister of Ruthwell. His altered appearance excited much
silent sympathy; and the evening being beautiful, and the sun shining
brightly through the casement, Miss Craig (afterwards Mrs. Henry
Duncan) was afraid the light might be too much for him, and rose to
let down the window-blinds. Burns immediately guessed what she meant,
and regarding the young lady with a look of great benignity, said,
'Thank you, my dear, for your kind attention; but oh! let him shine;
he will not shine long for me.'"

On the 18th July he left Brow, and returned to Dumfries in a small
spring cart. When he alighted, the onlookers saw that he was hardly
able to stand, and observed that he walked with tottering steps to his
door. Those who saw him enter his house, knew by his appearance that
he would never again cross that threshold alive. When the news spread
in Dumfries that Burns had returned from Brow and was dying, the whole
town was deeply moved. Allan Cunningham, who was present, thus
describes what he saw:--"The anxiety of the people, high and low,  (p. 185)
was very great. Wherever two or three were together, their talk
was of Burns, and of him alone. They spoke of his history, of his
person, and of his works; of his witty sayings, and sarcastic replies,
and of his too early fate, with much enthusiasm, and sometimes with
deep feeling. All that he had done, and all that they had hoped he
would accomplish, were talked of. Half-a-dozen of them stopped Dr.
Maxwell in the street, and said, 'How is Burns, sir?' He shook his
head, saying, 'He cannot be worse,' and passed on to be subjected to
similar inquiries farther up the way. I heard one of a group inquire,
with much simplicity, 'Who do you think will be our poet now?'"

During the three or four days between his return from Brow and the
end, his mind, when not roused by conversation, wandered in delirium.
Yet when friends drew near his bed, sallies of his old wit would for a
moment return. To a brother volunteer who came to see him he said,
with a smile, "John, don't let the awkward squad fire over me." His
wife was unable to attend him; and four helpless children wandered
from room to room gazing on their unhappy parents. All the while,
Jessie Lewars was ministering to the helpless and to the dying one,
and doing what kindness could do to relieve their suffering. On the
fourth day after his return, the 21st of July, Burns sank into his
last sleep. His children stood around his bed, and his eldest son
remembered long afterwards all the circumstances of that sad hour.

The news that Burns was dead, sounded through all Scotland like a
knell announcing a great national bereavement. Men woke up to feel the
greatness of the gift which in him had been vouchsafed to their
generation, and which had met, on the whole, with so poor a
reception. Self-reproach mingled with the universal sorrow, as     (p. 186)
men asked themselves whether they might not have done more to cherish
and prolong that rarely gifted life.

Of course there was a great public funeral, in which the men of
Dumfries and the neighbourhood, high and low, appeared as mourners,
and soldiers and volunteers with colours, muffled drums, and arms
reversed, not very appropriately mingled in the procession. At the
very time when they were laying her husband in his grave, Mrs. Burns
gave birth to his posthumous son. He was called Maxwell, after the
physician who attended his father, but he died in infancy. The spot
where the poet was laid was in a comer of St. Michael's churchyard,
and the grave remained for a time unmarked by any monument. After some
years his wife placed over it a plain, unpretending stone, inscribed
with his name and age, and with the names of his two boys, who were
buried in the same place. Well had it been, if he had been allowed to
rest undisturbed in this grave where his family had laid him. But
well-meaning, though ignorant, officiousness would not suffer it to be
so. Nearly twenty years after the poet's death, a huge, cumbrous,
unsightly mausoleum was, by public subscription, erected at a little
distance from his original resting-place. This structure was adorned
with an ungraceful figure in marble, representing, "The muse of Coila
finding the poet at the plough, and throwing her inspiring mantle over
him." To this was added a long, rambling epitaph in tawdry Latin, as
though any inscription which scholars could devise could equal the
simple name of Robert Burns. When the new structure was completed, on
the 19th September, 1815, his grave was opened, and men for a moment
gazed with awe on the form of Burns, seemingly as entire as on the (p. 187)
day when first it was laid in the grave. But as soon as they began to
raise it, the whole body crumbled to dust, leaving only the head and
bones. These relics they bore to the mausoleum, which had been
prepared for their reception. But not even yet was the poet's dust to
be allowed to rest in peace. When his widow died, in March, 1834, the
mausoleum was opened, that she might be laid by her husband's side.
Some craniologists of Dumfries were then permitted, in the name of
so-called science, to desecrate his dust with their inhuman outrage.
At the dead of night, between the 31st of March and the 1st of April,
these men laid their profane fingers on the skull of Burns, "tried
their hats upon it, and found them all too little;" applied their
compasses, registered the size of the so-called organs, and "satisfied
themselves that Burns had capacity enough to compose _Tam o' Shanter_,
_The Cotter's Saturday Night_, and _To Mary in Heaven_." This done,
they laid the head once again in the hallowed ground, where, let us
hope, it will be disturbed no more. The mausoleum, unsightly though it
is, has become a place of pilgrimage whither yearly crowds of
travellers resort from the ends of the earth, to gaze on the
resting-place of Scotland's peasant poet, and thence to pass to that
other consecrated place within ruined Dryburgh, where lies the dust of
a kindred spirit by his own Tweed.

CHAPTER VIII.                                                      (p. 188)


If this narrative has in any way succeeded in giving the lights and
the shadows of Burns's life, little comment need now be added. The
reader will, it is hoped, gather from the brief record of facts here
presented, a better impression of the man as he was, in his strength
and in his weakness, than from any attempt which might have been made
to bring his various qualities together into a moral portrait. Those
who wish to see a comment on his character, at once wise and tender,
should turn to Mr. Carlyle's famous essay on Burns.

What estimate is to be formed of Burns--not as a poet, but as a
man--is a question that will long be asked, and will be variously
answered, according to the principles men hold, and the temperament
they are of. Men of the world will regard him in one way, worshippers
of genius in another; and there are many whom the judgments of neither
of these will satisfy. One thing is plain to every one; it is the
contradiction between the noble gifts he had and the actual life he
lived, which make his career the painful tragedy it was. When,
however, we look more closely into the original outfit of the man, we
seem in some sort to see how this came to be.

Given a being born into the world with a noble nature, endowments  (p. 189)
of head and heart beyond any of his time, wide-ranging sympathies,
intellectual force of the strongest man, sensibility as of the
tenderest woman, possessed also by a keen sense of right and wrong
which he had brought from a pure home--place all these high gifts on
the one side, and over against them a lower nature, fierce and
turbulent, filling him with wild passions which were hard to restrain
and fatal to indulge--and between these two opposing natures, a weak
and irresolute will, which could overhear the voice of conscience, but
had no strength to obey it; launch such a man on such a world as this,
and it is but too plain what the end will be. From earliest manhood
till the close, flesh and spirit were waging within him interminable
war, and who shall say which had the victory? Among his countrymen
there are many who are so captivated with his brilliant gifts and his
genial temperament, that they will not listen to any hint at the deep
defects which marred them. Some would even go so far as to claim
honour for him, not only as Scotland's greatest poet, but as one of
the best men she has produced. Those who thus try to canonize Burns
are no true friends to his memory. They do but challenge the
counter-verdict, and force men to recall facts which, if they cannot
forget, they would fain leave in silence. These moral defects it is
ours to know; it is not ours to judge him who had them.

While some would claim for Burns a niche among Scotland's saints,
others would give him rank as one of her religious teachers. This
claim, if not so absurd as the other, is hardly more tenable. The
religion described by Burns in _The Cotter's Saturday Night_ is, it
should be remembered, his father's faith, not his own. The fundamental
truths of natural religion, faith in God and in immortality, amid  (p. 190)
sore trials of heart, he no doubt clung to, and has forcibly
expressed. But there is nothing in his poems or in his letters which
goes beyond sincere deism--nothing which is in any way distinctively

Even were his teaching of religion much fuller than it is, one
essential thing is still wanting. Before men can accept any one as a
religious teacher, they not unreasonably expect that his practice
should in some measure bear out his teaching. It was not as an
authority on such matters that Burns ever regarded himself. In his
_Bard's Epitaph_, composed ten years before his death, he took a far
truer and humbler measure of himself than any of his critics or
panegyrists have done:---

            The poor inhabitant below
            Was quick to learn and wise to know,
            And keenly felt the friendly glow
                          And softer flame;
            But thoughtless folly laid him low,
                          And stained his name.

            Reader, attend!--whether thy soul
            Soars fancy's flight beyond the pole,
            Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,
                          In low pursuit;
            Know, prudent, cautious self-control
                          Is wisdom's root.

"A confession," says Wordsworth, "at once devout, poetical, and
human--a history in the shape of a prophecy."

Leaving the details of his personal story, and--

                          Each unquiet theme,
            Where gentlest judgments may misdeem,

it is a great relief to turn to the bequest that he has left to    (p. 191)
the world in his poetry. How often has one been tempted to wish that
we had known as little of the actual career of Burns as we do of the
life of Shakespeare, or even of Homer, and had been left to read his
mind and character only by the light of his works! That poetry, though
a fragmentary, is still a faithful transcript of what was best in the
man; and though his stream of song contains some sediment we could
wish away, yet as a whole, how vividly, clearly, sunnily it flows, how
far the good preponderates over the evil.

What that good is, must now be briefly said. To take his earliest
productions first, his poems as distinct from his songs. Almost all
the best of these are, with the one notable exception of _Tam O'
Shanter_, contained in the Kilmarnock edition. A few pieces actually
composed before he went to Edinburgh were included in later editions,
but, after leaving Mossgiel he never seriously addressed himself to
any form of poetry but song-writing. The Kilmarnock volume contains
poems descriptive of peasant life and manners, epistles in verse
generally to rhyming brethren, a few lyrics on personal feelings, or
on incidents like those of the mouse and the daisy, and three songs.
In these, the form, the metre, the style and language, even that which
is known as Burns's peculiar stanza, all belong to the traditional
forms of his country's poetry, and from earlier bards had been handed
down to Burns by his two immediate forerunners, Ramsay and Fergusson.
To these two he felt himself indebted, and for them he always
expresses a somewhat exaggerated admiration. Nothing can more show
Burns's inherent power than to compare his poems with even the best of
those which he accepted as models. The old framework and metres which
his country supplied, he took; asked no other, no better, and into (p. 192)
those old bottles poured new wine of his own, and such wine! What,
then, is the peculiar flavour of this new poetic wine of Burns'
poetry? At the basis of all his power lay absolute truthfulness,
intense reality, truthfulness to the objects which he saw,
truthfulness to himself as the seer of them. This is what Wordsworth
recognized as Burns's leading characteristic. He who acknowledged few
masters, owned Burns as his master in this respect when he speaks of

            Whose light I hailed when first it shone,
                And showed my youth,
            How verse may build a princely throne
                On humble truth.

Here was a man, a son of toil, looking out on the world from his
cottage, on society low and high and on nature homely or beautiful,
with the clearest eye, the most piercing insight, and the warmest
heart; touching life at a hundred points, seeing to the core all the
sterling worth, nor less the pretence and hollowness of the men he
met, the humour, the drollery, the pathos, and the sorrow of human
existence; and expressing what he saw, not in the stock phrases of
books, but in his own vernacular, the language of his fireside, with a
directness, a force, a vitality that tingled to the finger tips, and
forced the phrases of his peasant dialect into literature, and made
them for ever classical. Large sympathy, generous enthusiasm, reckless
abandonment, fierce indignation, melting compassion, rare flashes of
moral insight, all are there. Everywhere you see the strong intellect
made alive, and driven home to the mark, by the fervid heart behind
it. And if the sight of the world's inequalities, and some natural
repining at his own obscure lot, mingled from the beginning, as    (p. 193)
has been said, "some bitternesses of earthly spleen and passion with
the workings of his inspiration, and if these in the end ate deep into
the great heart they had long tormented," who that has not known his
experience may venture too strongly to condemn him?

This prevailing truthfulness of nature and of vision manifested itself
in many ways. First. In the strength of it, he interpreted the lives,
thoughts, feelings, manners of the Scottish peasantry to whom he
belonged, as they had never been interpreted before, and never can be
again. Take the poem which stands first in the Kilmarnock edition. The
Cotter's Dog, and the Laird's Dog, are, as has been often said, for
all their moralizing, true dogs in all their ways. Yet through these,
while not ceasing to be dogs, the poet represents the whole contrast
between the Cotters' lives, and their Lairds'. This old controversy,
which is ever new, between rich and poor, has never been set forth
with more humour and power. No doubt it is done from the peasant's
point of view. The virtues and hardships of the poor have full justice
done to them; the prosperity of the rich, with its accompanying
follies and faults, is not spared, perhaps it is exaggerated. The
whole is represented with an inimitably graphic hand, and just when
the caustic wit is beginning to get too biting, the edge of it is
turned by a touch of kindlier humour. The poor dog speaks of

                              Some gentle master,
            Wha, aiblins thrang a-parliamentin,
            For Britain's guid his saul indentin--

Then Caesar, the rich man's dog, replies,--

                Haith, lad, ye little ken about it:
            For Britain's guid!--guid faith! I doubt it.
            Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him,                 (p. 194)
            An' saying aye or no's they bid him:
            At operas an' plays parading,
            Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading!
            Or, may be, in a frolic daft,
            To Hague or Calais takes a waft,
            To make a tour an' tak a whirl,
            To learn _bon ton_, an' see the worl'.
                Then, at Vienna or Versailles,
            He rives his father's auld entails;
            Or by Madrid he takes the rout,
            To thrum guitars and fecht wi' nowt.

                 *       *       *       *       *

                For Britain's guid! for her destruction!
            Wi' dissipation, feud an' faction.

Then exclaims Luath, the poor man's dog,--

                Hech, man! dear sirs! is that the gate
            They waste sae many a braw estate!
            Are we sae foughten and harass'd
            For gear to gang that gate at last?

And yet he allows, that for all that

            ---- Thae frank, rantin', ramblin' billies,
            Fient haet o' them's ill-hearted fellows.

"Mark the power of that one word, 'nowt,'" said the late Thomas Aird.
"If the poet had said that our young fellows went to Spain to fight
with bulls, there would have been some dignity in the thing, but think
of his going all that way 'to fecht wi' nowt.' It was felt at once to
be ridiculous. That one word conveyed at once a statement of the
folly, and a sarcastic rebuke of the folly."

Or turn to the poem of _Halloween_. Here he has sketched the Ayrshire
peasantry as they appeared in their hours of merriment--painted with a
few vivid strokes a dozen distinct pictures of country lads and    (p. 195)
lasses, sires and dames, and at the same time preserved for ever
the remembrance of antique customs and superstitious observances,
which even in Burns's day were beginning to fade, and have now all but

Or again, take _The auld Farmer's New-year-morning Salutation to his
auld Mare_. In this homely, but most kindly humorous poem, you have
the whole toiling life of a ploughman and his horse, done off in two
or three touches, and the elements of what may seem a commonplace, but
was to Burns a most vivid, experience, are made to live for ever. For
a piece of good graphic Scotch, see how he describes the sturdy old
mare in the plough setting her face to the furzy braes.

            Thou never braing't, an' fetch't, and fliskit,
            But thy auld tail thou wad hae whiskit,
            An spread abreed thy weel-fill'd brisket,
                    Wi' pith an' pow'r,
            Till spritty knowes wad rair't and riskit,
                    An' slypet owre.

To paraphrase this, "Thou didst never fret, or plunge and kick, but
thou wouldest have whisked thy old tail, and spread abroad thy large
chest, with pith and power, till hillocks, where the earth was filled
with tough-rooted plants, would have given forth a cracking sound, and
the clods fallen gently over." The latter part of this paraphrase is
taken from Chambers. What pure English words could have rendered these
things as compactly and graphically?

Of _The Cotter's Saturday Night_ it is hardly needful to speak. As a
work of art, it is by no means at Burns's highest level. The metre was
not native to him. It contains some lines that are feeble, whole
stanzas that are heavy. But as Lockhart has said, in words already
quoted, there is none of his poems that does such justice to the   (p. 196)
better nature that was originally in him. It shows how Burns could
reverence the old national piety, however little he may have been able
to practise it. It is the more valuable for this, that it is almost
the only poem in which either of our two great national poets has
described Scottish character on the side of that grave, deep, though
undemonstrative reverence, which has been an intrinsic element in it.

No wonder the peasantry of Scotland have loved Burns as perhaps never
people loved a poet. He not only sympathized with the wants, the
trials, the joys and sorrows of their obscure lot, but he interpreted
these to themselves, and interpreted them to others, and this too in
their own language made musical, and glorified by genius. He made the
poorest ploughman proud of his station and his toil, since Robbie
Burns had shared and had sung them. He awoke a sympathy for them in
many a heart that otherwise would never have known it. In looking up
to him, the Scottish people have seen an impersonation of themselves
on a large scale--of themselves, both in their virtues and in their

Secondly, Burns in his poetry was not only the interpreter of
Scotland's peasantry, he was the restorer of her nationality. When he
appeared, the spirit of Scotland was at a low ebb. The fatigue that
followed a century of religious strife, the extinction of her
parliament, the stern suppression of the Jacobite risings, the removal
of all symbols of her royalty and nationality, had all but quenched
the ancient spirit. Englishmen despised Scotchmen, and Scotchmen
seemed ashamed of themselves and of their country. A race of literary
men had sprang up in Edinburgh who, as to national feeling, were entirely
colourless, Scotchmen in nothing except their dwelling-place. The  (p. 197)
thing they most dreaded was to be convicted of a Scotticism. Among
these learned cosmopolitans in walked Burns, who with the instinct of
genius chose for his subject that Scottish life which they ignored,
and for his vehicle that vernacular which they despised, and who,
touching the springs of long-forgotten emotions, brought back on the
hearts of his countrymen a tide of patriotic feeling to which they had
long been strangers.

At first it was only his native Ayrshire he hoped to illustrate, to
shed upon the streams of Ayr and Doon, the power of Yarrow, and
Teviot, and Tweed. But his patriotism was not merely local; the
traditions of Wallace haunted him like a passion, the wanderings of
Bruce he hoped to dramatize. His well-known words about the Thistle
have been already quoted. They express what was one of his strongest
aspirations. And though he accomplished but a small part of what he
once hoped to do, yet we owe it to him first of all that "the old
kingdom" has not wholly sunk into a province. If Scotchmen to-day love
and cherish their country with a pride unknown to their ancestors of
the last century, if strangers of all countries look on Scotland as a
land of romance, this we owe in great measure to Burns, who first
turned the tide, which Scott afterwards carried to full flood. All
that Scotland had done and suffered, her romantic history, the manhood
of her people, the beauty of her scenery, would have disappeared in
modern commonplace and manufacturing ugliness, if she had been left
without her two "sacred poets."

Thirdly. Burns's sympathies and thoughts were not confined to class
nor country; they had something more catholic in them, they reached to
universal man. Few as were his opportunities of knowing the        (p. 198)
characters of statesmen and politicians, yet with what "random shots
o' countra wit" did he hit off the public men of his time! In his
address to King George III. on his birthday, how gay yet caustic is
the satire, how trenchant his stroke! The elder, and the younger Pitt,
"yon ill-tongued tinkler Charlie Fox," as he irreverently calls
him--if Burns had sat for years in Parliament, he could scarcely have
known them better. Every one of the Scottish M.P.'s of the time,

            That slee auld-farran chiel Dundas


            That glib-gabbit Highland baron
                                The Laird o' Graham,


            Erskine a spunkie Norlan billie,

--he has touched their characters as truly as if they had all been his
own familiars. But of his intuitive knowledge of men of all ranks,
there is no need to speak, for every line he writes attests it. Of his
fetches of moral wisdom something has already been said. He would not
have been a Scotchman, if he had not been a moralizer; but then his
moralizings are not platitudes, but truths winged with wit and wisdom.
He had, as we have seen, his limitations--his bias to overvalue one
order of qualities, and to disparage others. Some pleading of his own
cause and that of men of his own temperament, some disparagement of
the severer, less-impulsive virtues, it is easy to discern in him.
Yet, allowing all this, what flashes of moral insight, piercing to the
quick! what random sayings flung forth, that have become proverbs in
all lands--"mottoes of the heart"!

Such are--                                                         (p. 199)

            O wad some Power the giftie gie us,
            To see oursel as ithers see us:
            It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
                          An' foolish notion;

Or the much-quoted--

            Facts are chiels that winna ding
              And downa be disputed;


            The heart ay's the part ay
              That makes us right or wrang.

Who on the text, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast
a stone," ever preached such a sermon as Burns in his _Address to the
unco Guid_? and in his epistle of advice to a young friend, what
wisdom! what incisive aphorisms! In passages like these scattered
throughout his writings, and in some single poems, he has passed
beyond all bonds of place and nationality, and spoken home to the
universal human heart.

And here we may note that in that awakening to the sense of human
brotherhood, the oneness of human nature, which began towards the end
of last century, and which found utterance through Cowper first of the
English poets, there has been no voice in literature, then or since,
which has proclaimed it more tellingly than Burns. And then his
humanity was not confined to man, it overflowed to his lower
fellow-creatures. His lines about the pet ewe, the worn-out mare, the
field-mouse, the wounded hare, have long been household words. In this
tenderness towards animals we see another point of likeness between
him and Cowper.

Fourthly. For all aspects of the natural world he has the same     (p. 200)
clear eye, the same open heart that he has for man. His love of nature
is intense, but very simple and direct, no subtilizings, nor refinings
about it, nor any of that nature-worship which soon after his time
came in. Quite unconsciously, as a child might, he goes into the
outward world for refreshment, for enjoyment, for sympathy. Everywhere
in his poetry, nature comes in, not so much as a being independent of
man, but as the background of his pictures of life and human
character. How true his perceptions of her features are, how pure and
transparent the feeling she awakens in him! Take only two examples.
Here is the well-known way he describes the burn in his _Halloween_--

            Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
              As thro' the glen it wimpl't;
            Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays,
              Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't;
            Whyles glitter'd to the nightly rays,
              Wi' bickerin', dancin' dazzle:
            Whyles cookit underneath the brass,
              Below the spreading hazel,
                            Unseen that night.

Was ever burn so naturally, yet picturesquely described? The next
verse can hardly be omitted--

            Amang the brachens on the brae,
              Between her an' the moon,
            The deil, or else an outler quey,
              Gat up an' gae a croon:
            Poor Leezie's heart maist lap the hool;
              Near lav'rock height she jumpit;
            But miss'd a fit, an' in the pool
              Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
                            Wi' a plunge that night

"Maist lap the hool," what condensation in that Scotch phrase!     (p. 201)
The hool is the pod of a pea--poor Lizzie's heart almost
leapt out of its encasing sheath.

Or look at this other picture:--

            Upon a simmer Sunday morn,
              When Nature's face is fair,
            I walked forth to view the corn,
              And snuff the caller air.
            The risin' sun owre Galston muirs
              Wi' glorious light was glintin;
            The hares were hirplin down the furrs,
              The lav'rocks they were chantin
                            Fu' sweet that day.

I have noted only some of the excellences of Burns's poetry, which far
outnumber its blemishes. Of these last it is unnecessary to speak;
they are too obvious, and whatever is gross, readers can of themselves
pass by.

Burns's most considerable poems, as distinct from his songs, were
almost all written before he went to Edinburgh. There is, however, one
memorable exception. _Tam o' Shanter_, as we have seen, belongs to
Ellisland days. Most of his earlier poems were entirely realistic, a
transcript of the men and women and scenes he had seen and known, only
lifted a very little off the earth, only very slightly idealized. But
in _Tam o' Shanter_ he had let loose his powers upon the materials of
past experiences, and out of them he shaped a tale which was a pure
imaginative creation. In no other instance, except perhaps in _The
Jolly Beggars_, had he done this; and in that cantata, if the genius
is equal, the materials are so coarse, and the sentiment so gross, as
to make it, for all its dramatic power, decidedly offensive. It is
strange what very opposite judgments have been formed of the intrinsic
merit of _Tam o' Shanter_. Mr. Carlyle thinks that it might have   (p. 202)
been written "all but quite as well by a man, who, in place of genius,
had only possessed talent; that it is act so much a poem, as a piece
of sparkling rhetoric; the heart of the story still lies hard and
dead." On the other hand, Sir Walter Scott has recorded this verdict:
"In the inimitable tale of _Tam o' Shanter_, Burns has left us
sufficient evidence of his abilities to combine the ludicrous with the
awful and even the horrible. No poet, with the exception of
Shakespeare, ever possessed the power of exciting the most varied and
discordant emotions with such rapid transitions. His humorous
description of death in the poem on Dr. Hornbrook, borders on the
terrific; and the witches' dance in the Kirk of Alloway is at once
ludicrous and horrible." Sir Walter, I believe, is right, and the
world has sided with him in his judgment about _Tam o' Shanter_.
Nowhere in British literature, out of Shakespeare, is there to be
found so much of the power of which Scott speaks--that of combining in
rapid transition almost contradictory emotions--if we except perhaps
one of Scott's own highest creations, the tale of Wandering Willie, in

On the songs of Burns a volume might be written, but a few sentences
must here suffice. It is in his songs that his soul comes out fullest,
freest, brightest; it is as a song-writer that his fame has spread
widest, and will longest last. Mr. Carlyle, not in his essay, which
does full justice to Burns's songs, but in some more recent work, has
said something like this, "Our Scottish son of thunder had, for want
of a better, to pour his lightning through the narrow cranny of
Scottish song--the narrowest cranny ever vouchsafed to any son of
thunder."--The narrowest, it may be, but the most effective, if a man
desires to come close to his fellow-men, soul to soul. Of all forms of
literature the genuine song is the most penetrating, and the most  (p. 203)
to be remembered; and in this kind Burns is the supreme master.
To make him this, two things combined. First, there was the great
background of national melody and antique verse, coming down to him
from remote ages, and sounding through his heart from childhood. He
was cradled in a very atmosphere of melody, else he never could have
sung so well. No one knew better than he did, or would have owned more
feelingly, how much he owed to the old forgotten song-writers of his
country, dead for ages before he lived, and lying in their unknown
graves all Scotland over. From his boyhood he had studied eagerly the
old tunes, and the old words where there were such, that had come down
to him from the past, treasured every scrap of antique air and verse,
conned and crooned them over till he had them by heart. This was the
one form of literature that he had entirely mastered. And from the
first he had laid it down as a rule, that the one way to catch the
inspiration, and rise to the true fervour of song, was, as he phrased
it, "to _sowth_ the tune over and over," till the words came
spontaneously. The words of his own songs were inspired by
pre-existing tunes, not composed first, and set to music afterwards.
But all this love and study of the ancient songs and outward melody
would have gone for nothing, but for the second element, that is the
inward melody born in the poet's deepest heart, which received into
itself the whole body of national song; and then when it had passed
through his soul, sent it forth ennobled and glorified by his own

That which fitted him to do this was the peculiar intensity of his
nature, the fervid heart, the trembling sensibility, the headlong
passion, all thrilling through an intellect strong and keen beyond (p. 204)
that of other men. How mysterious to reflect that the same qualities
on their emotional side made him the great songster of the world, and
on their practical side drove him to ruin! The first word which Burns
composed was a song in praise of his partner on the harvest-rig; the
last utterance he breathed in verse was also a song--a faint
remembrance of some former affection. Between these two he composed
from two to three hundred. It might be wished perhaps that he had
written fewer, especially fewer love songs; never composed under
pressure, and only when his heart was so full he could not help
singing. This is the condition on which alone the highest order of
songs is born. Probably from thirty to forty songs of Burns could be
named which come up to this highest standard. No other Scottish
song-writer could show above four or five of the same quality. Of his
songs one main characteristic is that their subjects, the substance
they lay hold of, belongs to what is most permanent in humanity, those
primary affections, those permanent relations of life which cannot
change while man's nature is what it is. In this they are wholly
unlike those songs which seize on the changing aspects of society. As
the phases of social life change, these are forgotten. But no time can
superannuate the subjects which Burns has sung; they are rooted in the
primary strata, which are steadfast. Then as the subjects are primary,
so the feeling with which Burns regards them is primary too--that is,
he gives us the first spontaneous gush--the first throb of his heart,
and that a most strong, simple, manly heart. The feeling is not turned
over in the reflective faculty, and there artistically shaped,--not
subtilized and refined away till it has lost its power and freshness;
but given at first hand, as it comes warm from within. When he is  (p. 205)
at his best you seem to hear the whole song warbling through his
spirit, naturally as a bird's. The whole subject is wrapped in an
element of music, till it is penetrated and transfigured by it. No one
else has so much of the native lilt in him. When his mind was at the
white heat, it is wonderful how quickly he struck off some of his most
perfect songs. And yet he could, when it was required, go back upon
them, and retouch them line by line, as we saw him doing in _Ye Banks
and Braes_. In the best of them the outward form is as perfect as the
inward music is all-pervading, and the two are in complete harmony.

To mention a few instances in which he has given their ultimate and
consummate expression to fundamental human emotions, four songs may be
mentioned, in each of which a different phase of love has been
rendered for all time--

            Of a' the airts the wind can blaw,

            Ye flowery banks o' bonnie Doon,

            Go fetch to me a pint o' wine;

and that other, in which the calm depth of long-wedded and happy love
utters itself, so blithely yet pathetically,--

            John Anderson, my Jo, John.

Then for comic humour of courtship, there is--

            Duncan Gray cam here to woo.

For that contented spirit which, while feeling life's troubles, yet
keeps "aye a heart aboon them a'," we have--

            Contented wi' little, and cantie wi' mair.

For friendship rooted in the past, there is--                      (p. 206)

            Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

even if we credit antiquity with some of the verses.

For wild and reckless daring, mingled with a dash of finer feeling,
there is _Macpherson's Farewell_. For patriotic heroism--

            Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled;

and for personal independence, and sturdy, if self-asserting,

            A man's a man for a' that.

These are but a few of the many permanent emotions to which Burns has
given such consummate expression, as will stand for all time.

In no mention of his songs should that be forgotten which is so
greatly to the honour of Burns. He was emphatically the purifier of
Scottish song. There are some poems he has left, there are also a few
among his songs, which we could wish that he had never written. But we
who inherit Scottish song as he left it, can hardly imagine how much
he did to purify and elevate our national melodies. To see what he has
done in this way, we have but to compare Burns's songs with the
collection of Scottish songs published by David Herd, in 1769, a few
years before Burns appeared. A genuine poet, who knew well what he
spoke of, the late Thomas Aird, has said, "Those old Scottish
melodies, sweet and strong though they were, strong and sweet, were,
all the more for their very strength and sweetness, a moral plague,
from the indecent words to which many of them had long been set. How
was the plague to be stayed? All the preachers in the land could not
divorce the grossness from the music. The only way was to put      (p. 207)
something better in its stead. This inestimable something better
Burns gave us."

So purified and ennobled by Burns, these songs embody human emotion in
its most condensed and sweetest essence. They appeal to all ranks,
they touch all ages, they cheer toil-worn men under every clime.
Wherever the English tongue is heard, beneath the suns of India, amid
African deserts, on the western prairies of America, among the
squatters of Australia, whenever men of British blood would give vent
to their deepest, kindliest, most genial feelings, it is to the songs
of Burns they spontaneously turn, and find in them at once a perfect
utterance, and a fresh tie of brotherhood. It is this which forms
Burns's most enduring claim on the world's gratitude.

INDEX                                                              (p. 209)

  Adair, Dr., 76.
  Addington, Mr., 69-70, 144, 171.
  _Address to the Deil_, 23.
  _Address to the Unco Guid_, 58, 199.
  Aiken, Robert, 29.
  Ainslie, Mr., 60, 72, 91.
  Aird, Thomas, 194.
  Alison, Rev. A., 128-129.
  Alloway Kirk, 121;
    Kirkyard, 16.
  Alloway Mill, school at, 5.
  _A Man's a Man for a' that_, 167.
  Armour, Jean, 26-27, 62-63, 83-84, 85-88, 141, 160.
  Armour, Mr., 26, 33, 83-84, 96.
  Athole, Duchess of, 65.
  Athole, Duke of, 67.
  _Auld Lang Syne_, 206.
  Auld Lights, The, 18.
  Ayr, river, 27.

  _Banks o' Doon_, 123-124, 161, 205.
  _Bard's Epitaph_, the, 190.
  Begbie, Ellison, 12.
  Begg, Mrs. (Burns's sister), 25, 62.
  Belches of Invermay, The, 75.
  _Birks of Invermay, The_, 75.
  Blacklock, Dr., 38, 48-49, 104.
  Blair Castle, 65, 67.
  Blair, Dr. H., 38, 44, 48, 50-51, 56-57.
  _Bonnie Peggie Alison_, 12.
  _Brigs of Ayr_, 58.
  Brow, 179, 184.
  Brown, Agnes (Burns's mother), 3.
  _Bruar Water, Humble Petition of_, 66-67.
  Bruce, Mrs., of Clackmannan, 77-78.
  Bruce, Robert, 78, 157.
  Burnes, James (Burns's cousin), 183.
  Burness (or Burnes), William (Burns's father), 2-3, 6-7, 14-15.
  Burns, Gilbert, 5, 9-12, 26, 36, 85, 99-100.
  Burns, Mrs. _See_ Armour, Jean.
  Burns, Robert, biographies of, 1;
    birth, 2;
    parentage, 2-3, 6-7, 14-15;
    successive homes:
      Mount Oliphant, 4-9,
      Lochlea, 9-15,
      Mossgiel, 15, 20, 22, 24;
    school-days, 5-7;
    household reading, 6-7;
    early love affairs, 8-10, 12, 26-30;
    youthful dissipation, 10, 13-15;
    Burns as a farmer, 15-16, 20-21, 95, 98-99, 132-133;
    religious controversy, 17-20;
    poetic aspirations, 21;
    two prolific years, 22-26;
    Jean Armour, 26, 27;
    resolves to emigrate, 27, 30, 32, 34;
    Kilmarnock edition of the poems published, 30-34;
    literary earnings, 32, 58-59, 85, 152;
    immediate popularity, 33-34, 37, 39;
    his manners, 36;
    first winter in Edinburgh, 42-59;
    literary and legal lights, 44-46;
    the lion of the season, 48-57;
    his appearance, 49-50, 118, 170;
    tavern life, 57-58;
    second edition of the poems, 58-59;
    Border and Highland tours, 60, 63-78;
    Burns's descriptions of scenery, 71-72;
    disappointing poetic fruits, 73;
    knighted by Mrs. Bruce, 78;
    second winter in Edinburgh, 79-93;
    reasons for his stay, 79;
    hypochondria and despondency, 81;
    Mrs. M'Lehose, 82-84;
    appointment in the excise, 84;
    marriage, 85-88;
    change in the attitude of Edinburgh society, 89-90;
    some reasons for it, 90-92;
    life at Ellisland, 94-134;
    Burns's farm, 95;
    discomfort and despondency, 96-97;
    happiest period of his life, 99, 102;
    house at Ellisland, 101-102;
    as an exciseman, 105-106;
    restlessness and discontent, 113, 115-116;
    _Tam o' Shanter_, 120-122;
    dramatic aspirations, 126;
    gives up his farm, 133;
    migration to Dumfries, 135;
    downward course, 138, 162, 164, 172;
    social discredit, 139, 173;
    politics, 139, 142-149, 161, 168-169, 171;
    friendship with the Liddels, 140, 162, 179-180;
    Mrs. M'Lehose reappears, 140-141;
    relations with Johnson and Thomson, 150-154, 159;
    excursion into Galloway, 156-157;
    an unhappy time, 161-164;
    declining health, 165, 174;
    joins the volunteers, 169-170;
    last illness, 176-179;
    poverty and anxiety, 180-184;
    death, 185;
    Burns's grave, 186-187;
    character, 188, 189.
    As a poet:
      satires, 19-20, 31-32,
      epistles, 23,
      pure landscape not his forte, 71, 72,
      at his best in the Scottish dialect, 73, 151,
      tenderness towards animals, 106-108, 179,
      Bacchanalian songs, 110-112,
      Burns in the hour of inspiration, 121-122,
      elegies, 123,
      circumstance and mental habits forbade long poems, 126,
      love songs, 140-141, 160-161,
      in the act of composition, 159-160,
      piercing insight and large sympathy, 192,
      truthfulness of nature, 193,
      caustic wit, 193,
      the interpreter of Scotland's peasantry, 196,
      the restorer of her nationality, 196-197,
      catholicity, 197-198,
      intense love of nature, 200,
      Burns as a song-writer, 202-206.

  Campbell, Mary. _See_ Highland Mary.
  Carlyle, Thomas, 17, 54, 129, 131-132, 156-157, 169, 202.
  Cathcart, Miss, 66.
  Chalmers, Margaret, 80-81, 84, 87, 183.
  Chambers, Dr., 11, 27, 39 _et passim_.
  Clarinda. _See_ M'Lehose, Mrs.
  Clark, William, 117-118.
  Commonplace Book, Burns's, 55-56, 115.
  _Cotter's Saturday Night, The_, 20, 23, 25, 37, 70, 195.
  Cowper, 47, 48.
  Craig, Mrs., 184.
  Creech, Mr., 56-59, 79, 85, 153.
  Crochallan Club, The, 58, 61, 63, 91.
  Cruikshank, Mr., 78.
  Cunningham, Alexander, 163.
  Cunningham, Allan, 75, 89, 96, 97, 125, 133 _et passim_.
  Currie, Dr., 174.

  Daer, Lord, 35, 156.
  Dalrymple, Mr., 46.
  Dalswinton, 94.
  Davidson, John (Souter Johnnie), 122.
  _Death and Dr. Hornbook_, 23, 58, 70.
  _Death of Poor Mailie, The_, 9.
  _Deil's awa' wi' the Exciseman, The_, 145.
  _Despondency, Ode to_, 31.
  Don, Lady Harriet, 127.
  Doon, Brig of, 2, 3, 4.
  Dumfries, Burns's life at, 135-154;
    social condition of, 136.
  Dundas, Mr. Henry, 67, 92, 143, 171.
  Dunlop, Mrs., 34, 36-37, 96;
    letters to, 54, 86, 89, 96, 100, 109, 113, 114,
      149, 165, 169, 174, 175, 183.

  Ecclefechan, 168-169.
  Edinburgh, Burns's first winter in, 42-59;
    tavern life in, 57-58;
    second winter in, 79-93.
  Eglinton, Lord, 58.
  Ellisland, 56, 61, 80, 85, 89, 94-134.
  Epistles, Burns's, 23-24.
  Erskine, H., 45-46.
  Erskine of Mar, Mr., 148.
  _Essay on Taste_, Alison's, 128-129.

  _Farmer's Address to his Mare_, 23, 108, 195.
  Ferguson, Dr. Adam, 48, 53.
  Fergusson, the poet, 44, 191.
  French Revolution, Burns's sympathy with, 144-146, 157.

  Galloway, Burns's tour in, 155-156.
  "Geddes, Jenny," 128.
  Glencairn, Lady, 104.
  Glencairn, Lord, 46, 56, 123.
  Globe Tavern, the, 116, 128, 137-138, 176.
  Gordon Castle, 68-69.
  Gordon, Duchess of, 46, 69.
  Gordon, Duke of, 68.
  Gow, Neil, 73-74.
  Graham, Douglas (Tam o' Shanter), 122.
  Graham, Mrs., 66.
  Graham of Balnagown, 66.
  Graham of Fintray, Mr., 67, 84, 103, 120, 147, 172.
  Greenfield, Mr., 56-57.
  Grose, Captain, 108-109, 120-121.

  _Halloween_, 23, 194, 200.
  Hamilton, Charlotte, 80-81, 183.
  Hamilton, Gavin, 19, 30, 76, 80.
  Hazlitt, 12.
  Heron of Heron, 169.
  Heron Robert, 33, 57, 58.
  Hemans, Mrs., 157.
  Highland Mary, 27-31, 34, 112-113.
  _Highland Mary, Lament for_, 27, 31-32, 113.
  _Holy Fair, The_, 19-20, 25, 31.
  _Holy Willie's Prayer_, 19, 31.
  Hume, David, 44.

  Irvine, 13-14, 26, 41.

  Jacobitism, Burns's, 142-143.
  Jeffrey, 52, 177.
  _John Anderson my Jo_, 114.
  Johnson, Dr., 45.
  _Johnson's Museum_, 73, 75, 114, 150-151.
  Johnson, the engraver, 73, 150, 179.
  _Jolly Beggars, The_, 23, 25, 126, 201.
  _Justice of Peace_ (Langhorne's), 53.

  Kilmarnock edition of the poems, 30-33, 191.
  Kirkoswald, 10, 13, 122.
  _Kirk's Alarm, The_, 109.

  _Land o' Cakes_, 108-109.
  _Lass of Cessnock Water, The_, 12.
  Laurie, Dr., 38, 48.
  Lewars, Jessie, 178, 185.
  Lewars, Mr., 105.
  Lochlea, 9-15.
  Lockhart, Mr., 20, 27, 48, 62, 67, 87, 127, 145.
  _Lounger, The_, 45, 47.

  M'Culloch, David, 164.
  Mackenzie, H., 45, 48.
  M'Lehose, Mrs., 82-85, 140-141.
  _Macpherson's Farewell_, 71.
  _Mary in Heaven_, 73, 112, 114, 120, 161.
  _Mary Morrison_, 11-12.
  Masterton, Allan, 110.
  Mauchline, 15, 62, 99.
  Maxwell, Provost, 115.
  Mendelssohn, 179.
  Miller of Dalswinton, Mr., 85, 95, 98, 133.
  Milton, 55, 63.
  Mitchell, Collector, 175, 182.
  Monboddo, Lord, 45, 48.
  Moore, Dr., 72, 125.
  Mossgiel, 15, 20, 22, 24, 38, 61.
  _Mountain Daisy, The_, 23, 36.
  Mount Oliphant, 4-9.
  _Mouse, To a_, 23, 108.
  Murdoch, Burns's tutor, 5-7.
  _My Nannie, O_, 9, 11.

  "Nell, Handsome," 7-9.
  New Lights, 18-19, 34, 109.
  "Nicht wi' Burns," a, 130-131.
  Nicol, Mr., 61, 63, 66, 68-70, 72, 91.
  North, Christopher, 42.

  _Of a' the airts_, 161.
  _Oh, wert thou in the cauld blast_, 178.
  _Ordination, The_, 19, 25, 58.

  Paine, Tom, 146.
  Pindar, Peter, 152.
  Poems, Kilmarnock edition, 30-33, 191;
    second edition, 58-59.
  Politics, Burns's part in, 139, 142-149, 161, 169, 171.
  Prentice, Mr., 42.
  Punch-bowl, Burns's, 96, 131-132.

  Ramsay, Allan, 21, 23, 44, 75, 191.
  Ramsay of Ochtertyre, 119, 125.
  _Rankine, Epistle to John_, 16.
  Richmond, John, 43.
  Riddel, Mrs. W., 141, 179-180.
  Riddel of Friars' Carse, 98, 162.
  Riddel, Walter, 139, 162.
  Robertson, Dr., 44-48.
  "Rosamond," the brig, 145.
  _Ruin, Ode to_, 31.

  Samson, John, 43.
  _Scots wha hae_, 155-157, 206.
  Scott-Douglas, Mr., 27-28, 124.
  Scott, Sir W., 52, 54, 75-76, 197.
  Selkirk, Lord, 155.
  Sidmouth, Lord. _See_ Addington, Mr.
  _Silver Tassie_, the, 114.
  Skinner, Bishop, 74.
  Smith, Adam, 45.
  Smith, Betty, 99, 101.
  Songs, Burns's, 202-205.
  Stewart, Dugald, 34-36, 43-44, 46, 51, 56-57.
  Syme, Mr., 154-155, 170.

  _Tam o' Shanter_, 120-122, 125, 191, 201-202.
  Tarbolton, 10.
  Thomson, Geo., 126, 151-153, 156, 161, 165, 171, 177, 182-183.
  Tours, Border and Highland, 60-78.
  _Twa Dogs, The_, 23, 31, 70, 193, 194.
  _Twa Herds, The_, 19.
  Tytler, Mr. Fraser, 48.

  _Vision, The_, 23.

  Walker, Prof., 49, 51, 66, 174.
  Wallace, William, 21, 36, 197.
  Wee Vennel, the, 135, 137.
  _Whistle, The_, 111-112.
  _Willie brewed a peck o' maut_, 110-112.
  Wilson, John (painter), 31.
  _Winter Night, The_, 108.
  Wolcot, Dr. _See_ Pindar, Peter.
  Woodley Park, 140, 162.
  Wordsworth, 71, 157-159, 190.

_Printed by_ R. & R. Clark, Limited, _Edinburgh_.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Robert Burns" ***

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