The Life of Robert
Burns in the South, West and North
BURNS, ere leaving Edinburgh, had got acquainted with James
Johnson, an engraver, who was already projecting his "Museum of Scottish Songs,"
with their appropriate tunes, to which the Poet became a contributor, sending him
"Green Grows the Rashes" and "Young Peggy blooms the fairest Lass."
He left Edinburgh 5th May, 1787, along with Ainslie, for Berrywell, near
Dunse, where the father of the latter, land-steward to Lord Douglas, resided. He travelled
on horseback, and had just mounted when a letter was shot into his hand from Dr. Blair
(which will be found in the Correspondence). It is kind, but formal and stilted. It
recommends Burns to take time and leisure to mature and improve his talents, "for on
any second production you give to the world your fate as a poet will very much
depend." Burns laughed, thrust the letter into his pocket, and exclaimed, "Thank
you, doctor; but whiles a man’s first book, like his first bairn, is his best."
It was, in fact, Burns’ first and last book. he was constantly adding to it, and new
editions of it were issued, but no supplementary volume ever appeared in his lifetime.
Perhaps the moment when Burns mounted his horse for the South
may be called his completed culmination. He was leaving Edinburgh triumphant in literary
success, and outwardly unstained, respected, and beloved by several circles—leaving
it a free, unfettered man, with a little money in his pocket, a kindred spirit by his
side, the lands of Scottish romance and poetry before him, and the blue sky of early
summer above him, reflecting the joy of his bosom; and he felt with George Herbert as if
"There was no month but May."
Ayrshire, with all its sorrows and humiliations, was far
distant. And yet now and then as he rode gaily along, and, like the Canterbury Pilgrims,
carolled as he pursued his way, his prophetic soul might whisper to him that, though the
main wing of the storm was scattered—
"The sullen rear
Was, with its stored thunder, labouring up."
He was carrying his temperament, his pride, his passions, as
well as his genius and his prestige, with him to the South; and if with the latter there
was great glory, with the former there was danger equally great. He was ostensibly in this
journey a farmer in search of a farm; less ostensibly, he was a "Coelebs in search of
a wife," and we find him more than once on the point of finding, or rather being
found of, one. But his matrimonial destiny did not lie—perhaps it had been better had
it lain—in the South.
We quote here the "Journal" as far as Carlisle, and
append a few remarks:-
"Left Edinburgh (May 5, 1787)—Lammermuir hills
miserably dreary, but at times very picturesque. Langtonedge, a glorious view of the
Merse; reach Berrywell. Old Mr. Ainslie an uncommon character—his hobbies,
agriculture, natural philosophy, and politics. In the first he is unexceptionably the
clearest-headed, best-informed man I ever met with; in the other two, very intelligent. As
a man of business he has uncommon merit, and by fairly deserving it has made a very decent
independence. Mrs. Ainslie, an excellent, sensible, cheerful, amiable old woman. (The
account of the Ainslie family is not more flattering than we believe true. Of
Rachel’s fate we know nothing, but that lie died in single blessedness. Her brother
Robert had several daughters and a son. His eldest daughter was very beautiful, and
married, we believe, a Dr. Farquhareon of Edinburgh. His younger, Esther, married the Rev.
John Robertson, Secession minister of Dunse. She had been originally engaged to Swinton of
Swinton., Berwickshire, who died before marriage. Before marriage she kept the house of
Douglas Ainslie of Cairnbank, near Dunse, who was a writer, and factor for many estates in
the county, made a great deal of money, ard left it partly to Esther and partly to a
nephew, Sir Douglas Ainslie, whose only child is now Mrs. Grant Duff. Chambers says that
Robert Ainslie, whom he met often, always spoke of Burns with the greatest affection, as
the finest felkw as well as the greatest genius he ever knew) Miss Ainslie—her person
a little embonpoint, but handsome; her face, particularly her eyes, full of sweetness and
good-humour; she unites three qualities rarely to be found together—keen, solid
observation; sly witty observation and remark ; and the gentlest, most unaffected female
modesty. Douglas, a clever, fine, promising young fellow. The family - meeting with their
brother, my compagnon ole voyage, very charming —particularly the sister. The whole
family remarkably attached to their menials Mrs. A. full of stories of the sagacity and
sense of the little girl in the kitchen. Mr. A. high in the praises of an African, his
house-servant; all his people old in his service. Douglas’s old nurse came to
Berrywell yesterday to remind them of its being his birthday.
"A Mr. Dudgeon, (Dudgeon was the author
of the once popular song—" Up amang yon cliffy rocks.") a poet at times, a
worthy, remarkable character - natural penetration, a great deal of information, some
genius, and extreme modesty.
"Sunday (May 6)—Went to church at
Dunse—Dr. Bowmaker, a man of strong lungs and pretty judicious remark; but
ill-skilled in propriety, and altogether unconscious of his want of it.
"Monday (May 7)—Coldstream —
went over to England—Cornhill—-glorious river Tweed—clear, and majestic
"Dine at Coldstream (It was at
Coldstream that the famous scene described by Ainslie occurred. .Ainslie suggested that
they should cross the Tweed, and then Burns could say he had been in England. They did so,
and were walking slowly along, when suddenly Burns, to Mr. Ainslie’s great surprise,
threw off his hat, knelt down, and lifted up his hands and in an attitude and tones of the
greatest enthusiasm, looking the while back to Scotland, proceeded to repeat the last
stanzas in the "Cottars Saturday Night ) with Mr. Ainslie and Mr. Foreman; beat Mr.
F. in a dispute about Voltaire. Tea at Lennel House with Mr. Brydone. Mr. Brydone a most
excellent heart, kind, joyous, and benevolent, but a good deal of the French
indiscriminate complaisance—from his situation, past and present, an admirer of
everything that bears a splendid title or that possesses a large estate. Mrs. Brydone a
most elegant woman in her person and manners, the tones of her voice remarkably sweet; my
reception extremely flattering. Sleep at Coldstream.
"Tuesday (May 8) — Breakfast at
Kelso—charming situation of Kelso—flne bridge over the Tweed—enchanting
views and prospects on both sides of the river, particularly the Scotch side ; introduced
to Mr. Scott of the Royal Bank, an excellent, modest fellow—fine situation of
it—ruins of Roxburgh Castle—a holly-bush growing where James II. of Scotland was
accidentally killed by the bursting of a cannon. A small old religious ruin and a fine old
garden planted by the religious, rooted out and destroyed by an English Hottentot—a
maitre d’Hotel of the duke’s, a Mr. Cole. Climate and soil of Berwickshire, and
even Roxburghshire, superior to Ayrshire—bad roads. Turnip and sheep husbandry, their
great improvements. Mr. M’Dowal at Caverton Mill, a friend of Mr. Ainslie’s,
with whom I dined to-day, sold his sheep, ewe and lamb together, at t\ve guineas a piece.
Wash their sheep before shearing—seven or eight pounds of washing wool in a fleece
— low markets, consequently low rents — fine lands not above sixteen shillings a
Scotch acre—magnificence of farmers and farm-houses. Come up Teviot and up Jed to
Jedburgh to lie, and so wish myself a good-night.
Wednesday (May 9)—Breakfast with Mr.
—— in Jedburgh—a squabble between Mrs. ——, a crazed, talkative
slattern, and a sister of her’s, an old maid, respecting a Relief minister. Miss
gives Madam the lie and Madam, by way of revenge, upbraids her that she laid snares to
entangle the said minister, then a widower, in the net of matrimony. Go about two miles
out of Jedburgh to a roup of parks—meet a polite soldier-like gentleman, Captain
Rutherford, who had been many years through the wilds of America, a prisoner among the
Indians. Charming, romantic situation of Jedburgh, with gardens, orchards, &c.,
intermingled among the houses— fine old ruins—a once magnificent cathedral and
strong castle. All the towns here have the appearance of old, rude grandeur, but the
people extremely idle—Jed, a fine romantic little river.
"Dine with Captain Rutherford—the
captain a polite fellow, fond of money in his fanning way; showed a particular respect to
my bardship—his lady, exactly a proper matrimonial second part for him. Miss
Rutherford, a beautiful girl.
"Return to Jedburgh-—wa]k up Jed with some ladies,
to be shown Love Lane and Blackburn, two fairy scenes. Introduced to Mr. Potts, writer, a
very clever fellow and Mr. Somerville, the clergyman of the place, a man and a gentleman,
but sadly addicted to punning. The walking party of ladies, Mrs. —— and Miss
—— her sister, before mentioned. .N.B.—These two appear still more
comfortably ugly and stupid, and bore me most shockingly. Two Miss —— tolerably
agreeable. Miss Hope, a tolerably pretty girl, fond of laughing and fun. Miss Lindsay, a
good-humoured, amiable girl; rather short et embonpoint, but handsome, and extremely
graceful; beautiful hazel eyes, full of spirit, and sparkling with delicious moisture ; an
engaging face, un tout ensemble that speaks her of the first order of female minds; her
sister, a bonnie, strappin’, rosy, sonsie lass. Shake myself loose, after several
unsuccessful efforts, of Mrs. and Miss —, and, somehow or other, get hold of Miss
Lindsay’s arm. My heart is thawed into melting pleasure after being so long frozen up
in the Greenland bay of indifference, amid the noise and nonsense of Edinburgh. Miss seems
very well pleased with my bardship’s distinguishing her; and after some slight
qualms, which I could easily mark, she sets the titter round at defiance, and kindly
allows me to keep my hold; and when parted by the ceremony of my introduction to Mr.
Somerville, she met me half, to resume my situation. Nota Bene.— The poet within a
point and a half of being—— in love; I am afraid my bosom is still nearly as
much tinder as ever.
"The old, cross - grained, Whiggish, ugly, slanderous
Miss—— , with all the poisonous spleen of a disappointed, ancient maid, stops me
very unseasonably to ease her bursting breast, by falling abusively foul on the Miss
Lindsays, particularly on my Dulcinea; I hardly refrain from cursing her to her face for
daring to mouth her calumnious slander on one of the finest pieces of the workmanship of
Almighty Excellence! Sup at Mr. ——‘s; vexed that the Miss Lindsays are not
of the supper party, as they only are wanting. Mrs. ——and Miss still improve
infernally on my hands.
"Set out next morning for Wauchope, the seat of my
correspondent, Mrs. Scott—breakfast by the way with Dr. Elliot, an agreeable,
good-hearted, climate-beaten old veteran, in the medical line, now retired to a romantic,
but rather moorish place, on the banks of the Rule—he accompanies us almost to
Wauchope; we traverse the country to the top of Bochester, the scene of an old encampment,
and Woolee Hill.
"Wauchope.—Mr. Scott exactly the figure and face
commonly given to Sancho Panza; very shrewd in his farming matters, and not unfrequently
stumbles on what may be called a strong thing rather than a good thing. Mrs. Scott all the
sense, taste, intrepidity of face, and bold, critical decision, which usually distinguish
female authors. Sup with Mr. Potts—agreeable party. Breakfast next morning with Mr.
Somerville—the bruit of Miss Lindsay and my bardship, by means of the invention and
malice of Miss —— Mr. Somerville sends to Dr. Lindsay, begging him and family to
breakfast if convenient, but at all events to send Miss Lindsay; accordingly, Miss Lindsay
only comes. I find Miss Lindsay would soon play the devil with me; I met with some little
flattering attentions from her. Mrs. Somerville, an excellent, motherly, agreeable woman,
and a fine family. Mr. Ainslie and Mrs. S —, junr., with Mr. ——, Miss
Lindsay, and myself, go to see Esther [Easton], a very remarkable woman for reciting
poetry of all kinds, and sometimes making Scotch doggerel herself—she can repeat by
heart almost everything she has ever read, particularly Pope’s ‘Homer’ from
end to end; has studied Euclid by herself; and, in short, is a woman of very extraordinary
abilities. On conversing with her, I find her fully equal to the character given of her.
She is very much flattered that I send for her, and that she sees a poet who has put out a
book, as she says. She is, among other things, a great florist, and is rather past the
meridian of once celebrated beauty.
"I walk in Esther’s garden with Miss Lindsay, and
after some little chit-chat of the tender kind, I presented her with a proof print of my
nob, which she accepted with something more tender than gratitude. She told me many little
stories which Miss —— had retailed concerning her and me with prolonging
pleasure—God bless her I Was waited on by the magistrates, and presented with the
freedom of the burgh.
"Took farewell of Jedburgh, with some melancholy,
disagreeable sensations. Jed, pure be thy crystal streams, and hallowed be thy sylvan
banks! Sweet Isabella Lindsay, may peace dwell in thy bosom, uninterrupted except by the
tumultuous throbbings of rapturous love! That love-kindling eye must beam on another, not
on me; that graceful form must bless another’s arms, not mine!
"Kelso.—Dine with the Farmers’ Club—all
gentlemen, talking of high matters; each of them keeps a hunter from £30 to £50 value,
and attends the fox-huntings in the county. Go out with Mr. Ker, one of the club, and a
friend of Mr. Ainslie’s, to lie. Mr. Ker, a most gentlemanly, clever, handsome
fellow, a widower with some fine children; his mind and manner astonishingly like my dear
old friend Robert Muir in Kilmarnock; everything in Mr. Ker’s most elegant; he offers
to accompany me in my English tour. Dine with Sir Alexander Don, a pretty clever fellow,
but far from being a match for his divine lady. A very wet day. . . .. Sleep at Stodrig
again, and set out for Melrose; visit Dryburgh, a fine old ruined abbey; still bad
weather; cross Leader, and come up Tweed to Melrose; dine there, and visit that far-famed,
glorious ruin; come to Selkirk, up Ettrick; the whole country hereabout, both on Tweed and
Ettrick, remarkably stony.
14).—Come to Inverleithen, a famous spa, and in the vicinity of the palace of
Traquair, where, having dined, and drank some Galloway-whey, I here remain till to-morrow;
saw Elibanks and Elibraes, on the other side of the Twced.
Tuesday.—Drank tea yesternight at Pirn with Mr.
Horsburgh. Breakfasted to-day with Mr. Ballantyne of Hollylee. Proposal for a four-horse
team, to consist of Mr. Scott of Wauchope, Fittieland; Logan of Logan, Fittiefur;
Ballantyne of Hollylee, Forewynd; Horsbnrgh of Horsburgh. Dine at a country inn, kept by a
miller, in Earlston, the birthplace and residence of the celebrated Thomas a
Rhymer—saw the ruins of his castle—come to Berrywell.
"Wednesday.—Dine at Dunse with the Farmers’
Club —company, impossible to do them justice— Rev. Mr. Smith, a famous punster,
and Mr. Meikle, a celebrated mechanic, and inventor of the thrashing-mill. Thursday,
breakfast at Berrywell, and walk into Dunse to see a famous knife made by a cutler there,
and to be presented to an Italian prince. A pleasant ride with my friend Mr Robert Ainslie
and his sister to Mr. Thomson’s, a man who has newly commenced farmer, and has
married a Miss Patty Grieve, formerly a flame of Mr. Robert Ainslie’s. Company, Miss
Jacky Grieve, an amiable sister of Mrs. Thomsons, and Mr. Hood, an honest, worthy,
facetious farmer in the neighbourhood.
"Friday—Ride to Berwick—an idle town, rudely
pieturesque. Meet Lord Errol in walking round the walls; his lordship’s flattering
notice of me. Dine with Mr. Clunzie, merchant; nothing particular in company or
conversation. Come up a bold shore, and over a wild country, to Eyemouth; sup and sleep at
"Saturday.—Spend the day at Mr. Grieve’s; made
a royal-arch mason of St. Abb’s Lodge. Mr. William Grieve, the eldest brothers a
joyous, warm-hearted, jolly, clever fellow—takes a hearty glass, and sings a good
song. Mr. Robert, his brother and partner in trade, a good fellow, but says little. Take a
sail after dinner. Fishing of all lands pays tithes at Eyemouth.
"Sanday (May 20). —A Mr. Robertson, brewer at
Ednam, sets out with us to Dunbar.
"The Miss Grieves very good girls. My hardship’s heart got a brush from
"Mr. William Grieve’s attachment to the family-circle; so fond, that when
he is out, which, by the by, is often the case, he cannot go to bed till he sees if all
his sisters are sleeping well. Pass the famous Abbey of Coldingham, and Pease-bridge. Call
at Mr. Sheriffs, where Mr. A. and I dine. Mr. S. talkative and conceited. I talk of love
to Nancy the whole evening, while her brother escorts home some companions like himself.
Sir James Hall of Dunglass, having heard of my being in the neighbourhood, comes to Mr.
Sheriff’s to breakfast ; takes me to see his fine scenery on the stream of
Dunglass—Dunglass the most romantic sweet place I ever saw—Sir James and his
lady a pleasant happy couple. He points out a walk for which he has an uncommon respect,
as it was made by an aunt of his, to whom he owes much.
"Miss — will accompany me to Dunbar, by way of
making a parade of me as a sweetheart of hers among her relations. She mounts an old
cart-horse, as huge and as lean as a house; a rusty old side-saddle without girth or
stirrup, but fastened on with an old pillion-girth——herself as fine as hands
could make her, in cream-coloured riding-clothes, hat and feather, &c. I, ashamed of
my situation, ride like the devil, and almost shake her to pieces on old Jolly—get
rid of her by refusing to call at her uncle’s with her.
"Passed through the most glorious corn country I ever
saw till I reach Dunbar, a neat little town. Dine with Provost Fall, an eminent merchant,
and most respectable character, but undescribable, as he exhibits no marked traits. Mrs.
Fall a genius in painting; fully more clever in the fine arts and sciences than my friend
Lady Wauchope, without her consummate assurance of her own abilities. Call with Mr.
Robinson (whom, by the by, I find to be a worthy, much respected man, very modest; warm,
social heart, which with less good sense than his would be, perhaps, with the children of
prim precision and pride, rather inimical to that respect which is man’s due from
man)—with him I call on Miss Clarke, a maiden, in the Scotch phrase, guid enough, but
no brent new; a clever woman, with tolerable pretensions to remark and wit, while time had
blown the blushing bud of bashful modesty into the flower of easy confidence. She wanted
to see what sort of raree show an author was; and to let him know that though Dunbar was
but a little town, yet it was not destitute of people of parts.
"Breakfast next morning at Skateraw, at Mr. Lee’s,
a farmer of great note. Mr. Lee, an excellent, hospitable, social fellow, rather
oldish—warm-hearted and chatty—a most judicious, sensible farmer. Mr. Lee
detains me till next morning. Company at dinner; my rev, acquaintance, Dr. Bowmaker, a
rattling old fellow. Two sea lieutenants; a cousin of the landlord’s, a fellow whose
looks are of that kind which deceived me in a gentleman at Kelso, and have often deceived
me : a goodly handsome figure and face, which incline one to give them credit for parts
which they have not. Mr. Clarke a much cleverer fellow, but whose looks a little cloudy,
and his appearance rather ungainly, with an everyday observer may prejudice the opinion
against him. Dr. Brown, a medical young gentleman from Dunbar, a fellow whose face
and’ manners are open and engaging. Leave Skateraw for Dunse text day, along with
Collector ——, a lad of slender abilities, and bashfully diffident to an extreme.
"Found Miss .Ainslie—the amiable, the sensible, the
good-humoured, the sweet Miss Ainslie — all alone at Berrywell. Heavenly Powers, who
know the weakness of human hearts, support mine! What happiness must I see, only to remind
me that I cannot enjoy it!
"Lammermuir Hills, from East Lothian to Dunse, very
wild. Dine with the Farmers’ Club at Kelso. Sir John Hume and Mr. Lumsden there; but
nothing worth remembrance when the following circumstance is considered: I walk into Dunse
before dinner, and out to Berrywell in the evening with Miss Ainslie; how well-bred, how
frank, how good she is! Charming RacheI! may thy bosom never be wrung by the evils of this
life of sorrows, or by the villany of this world’s sons!
"Thursday (May 24).—Mr. Ker and I set out to dinner
at Mr. Hood’s, on our way to England. "I am taken extremely ill with strong
feverish symptoms, and take a servant of Mr. Hood’s to watch me all night;
embittering remorse scares my fancy at the gloomy forebodings of death. I am determined to
live for the future in such a manner as not to be scared at the approach of death; I am
sure I could meet him with indifference, but for ‘the something beyond the
grave.’ Mr. Hood agrees to accompany us to England if we will wait till Sunday.
"Friday.—I go with Mr. Hood to see a roup of an
unfortunate farmer’s stock; rigid economy and decent industry, do you preserve me
from being the principal dramatis personna in such a scene of horror! "Meet my good
old friend Mr. .Ainslie, who calls on Mr. Hood in the evening to take farewell of my
hardship. This day I feel myself warm with sentiments of gratitude to the Great Preserver
of men, who has kindly restored me to health and strength once more. "A pleasant walk
with my young friend Douglas Ainslie—a sweet, modest, clever young fellow.
"Sunday (May 27).—Cross Tweed, and traverse the
moors through a wild country till I reach Alnwick— Alnwick Castle, a seat of the Duke
of Northumberland, furnished’ in a most princely manner. A Mr. Wilkin, agent of his
Grace’s, shows us the house and policies. Mr. Wilkin a discreet, sensible, ingenious
"Monday.—Come, still through by-ways, to Warkworth,
where we dine. Hermitage an old castle. Warkworth situated very picturesquely, with Coquet
Island, a small rocky spot, the seat of an old monastery, facing it a little in the sea,
and the small but romantic river Coquet running through it. Sleep at Morpeth, a pleasant
enough little town, and on next day to Newcastle. Meet with a very agreeable sensible
fellow, a Mr. Chattox, who shows us a great many civilities, and who dines and sups with
"Wednesday.—Left Newcastle early in the morning,
and rode over a fine country to Hexham to breakfast; from Hexham to Wardrew, the
celebrated spa, where we slept. Thursday (May 31).—Reach Longtown to dine, and part
there with my good friends, Messrs. Hood and Ker. A tiring day in Longtown. I am
uncommonly happy to see so many young folks enjoying life. I come to Carlisle. (Meet a
strange enough romantic adventure by the way, in falling in with a girl and her married
sister. The girl, after some overtures of gallantry on my side, sees me a little cut with
the bottle, and offers to take me in for a Gretna-green affair. I, not being quite such a
gull as she imagines, make an appointment with her, by way of vine la bagatelle, to hold a
conference on it when we reach town. I meet her in town, and give her a brush of caressing
and a bottle of cider; but finding herself un peu trompee in her man, she sheers off).
Next day (June 1) I meet my good friend Mr. Mitchell, and walk with him round the town and
its environs, and through his printing-works, &c.—four or five hundred people
employed, many of them women and children. Dine with Mr. Mitchell, and leave Carlisle.
Come by the coast to Annan. Overtaken on the way by a curious old fish of a shoemaker, and
miner from Cumberland mines."
From Carlisle he went to Annan, and then to Dumfries and
Dalswinton, where he saw some of Patrick Miller’s farms, but as yet took none of
them. He came thence by Sanquhar to Mauchiline, and reached Mossgiel and his relatives on
the 9th June, all at once, as if he had dropped from the clouds. Their words were quiet
and few; their emotions too deep for their words or tears. "Oh, Robert!" his
mother exclaimed. What these words said, and what they left unsaid! How often they had all
"O for him back again,
We wish we had him back again!"
And here, back again, "rantin’, rovin’
Robin" was once more. He called next on the Armours, and was received, he thought,
with an excess of servility which disgusted him. He saw his little daughter, too, and of
course Jean, with whom he again became intimate. His letters written this month to James
Smith and William Nicol show him in a wretched state of mind—satiated with success,
sick of Edinburgh and its eclat, worn out, probably, with the fatigues, and ashamed of the
occasional excesses of his journey, intensely dissatisfied with the friends of Jean, if
still in a manner enamoured of Jean herself, and gloomily pondering the uncertainties of
the future—altogether in a fitting mocd for committing suicide, or buying a copy of
Milton to study the character of that great personage Satan! He chose, and it was safer
surely, the latter alternative. Even Daddie Auld or Black Jock might have thought it
better for Burns to purchase the devil’s simulacrum than to go to himself!
Restless and unhappy, he did not remain long at this time in
Mauchline; he disappeared as suddenly as he had arrived, going—some say to Edinburgh,
others only to Glasgow—and re-appearing in a short time, having first sent home a lot
of dresses of mode silk to his relatives. Mrs. Begg was sent to Ayr to assist in making
them up for herself and her mother; and when she returned he had come back, and insisted
on her putting her dress on that he might see how well she looked in it. For them at least
he had no feelings but respect and affection, and how considerate as well as kind was this
conduct on his part! It was either on this journey, or shortly afterwards, that he paid a
flying visit to the West Highlands, and in passing he might see the relatives and the
grave of Highland Mary. "Come like shadows, so depart," seems to have been his
motto at this time. How he went to Inveraray we know not, but we find him there in huge
wrath at being rejected from the castle by the Duke, and writing on the window the
" Whoe’r he be that sojourns here,
I pity much his case,
Unless he come to wait upon
The Lord their God, his Grace.
There‘s naething here but Highland pride,
And Highland scab and hunger:
If Providence has sent me here,
‘Twas surely in an anger."
We are reminded here of.Alexander Smith, who once in a letter
to us contrasted very humorously two visits of his to the western metropolis of the
Highlands. In the first he lodged in the "worst inn’s worst room" for some
eighteen-pence, in a bed where he found himself never less alone than when alone; and in
the second, after he had become famous, he was lodged like a prince in the grand mansion
of the MacCallummore, and handed down the Duchess to dinner. Burns made only one visit to
Inveraray. Thence he "recoiled into the wilderness," and reached Arrochar
through a country whose "savage streams tumble down savage mountains, thinly
overspread with savage flocks, which starvingly support savage inhabitants." On his
way back he met with some "savage hospitality" to
boot; and in riding, half seas over, a race with a Highlander
who was wholly so, he and his famous mare, Jenny Geddes, came to the ground, and the bard
was terribly bruised. In the too hospitable house at Lochlomond he is thought to have
composed his lines on a "Highland Welcome." He tells his correspondent, in the
same letter in which he records his misadventure5 of a flirtation he was carrying on with
a lady of good condition, but somewhat distant and cold to him when he approached the
consummation of the matter. Of this lady little is known, except that nothing came of the
affair, and that she was from Ayrshire. He returned in July to Mossgiel. While staying
there he wrote an "Elegy" on the death of John MacLeod, Younger, of Raasay, with
whose family Burns had become acquainted in Edinburgh, indited his famous autobiographical
letter to Dr. Moore, and another "Elegy," on the death of Sir James Hunter
Blair, an Ayrshire squire, and member of the banking house of Sir William Forbes. After he
reached Edinburgh he inclosed this in a copy of verses which he wrote there to Miss
Ferrier, afterwards Mrs. General Graham, a sister to Miss Ferrier—author of
"Marriage," "The Inheritance," and "Destiny," three
excellent Scotch novels—and aunt to the illustrious Professor Ferrier. Burns came to
town on the 7th August; it was possibly on this transit that he had the grand reception at
Covington Mains. He had need of it to maintain his spirits, for he was now again in a sad
scrape. We said he had left Edinburgh outwardly unstained, but there was a girl in that
city named Jenny Clow who bore him a child, and Chambers record that a writ of In
meditatione fuqoe, bearing date August 15, was issued against him, on which he had
defiantly written some indecorous old verses. This serves to explain still more fully the
gloomy state of his mind at Mossgiel, which he vainly sought to drown in the dissipation
of the Highlands. If Burns sinned, he suffered; he was what old divines used to call a
"sensible sinner." If his iniquities were much greater than those of other men,
his remorse was infinitely deeper and stronger while it endured. If he did not sip at the
cup of corruption, but drank of it deep and large, deeper and larger still were his
draughts of the cup of misery and shame—yea, he wrung out the bitter dregs withal!
Burns had other business to do in Edinburgh, to transact with
Creech, and to prepare for a new tour. Richmond had taken in another lodger, and Burns did
not reside with him at this time, but with Willie Nicol, for whom he cherished a warm
regard. Nicol was a coarse, irascible savage, with learning, wit, and talent, but without
genius or taste; warm-hearted and friendly to his friends, furious and implacable to his
foes; one of those men over whose graves friends feel thankful that they have escaped the
Gallows! His conduct to Adam, the gentle and learned Rector of the High School—well
known for his writings on Roman Antiquities, &c., better known, perhaps, for his
exclamation, as he lay dying, "It is getting dark; you may go home, boys
"—was distinguished by a rancorous and persevering cruelty. To Burns he was an
uncongenial, troublesome, and dangerous associate; yet some coarse element in the
poet’s nature attraeted him to Nicol, and he chose him as his companion in his
We quote, as formerly, the account by Burns
himself, down to September 16, when he again arrived in Edinburgh, appending, as before, a
"(Saturday), 25th August, 1787.—I
leave Edinburgh for a northern tour, in company with my good friend, Mr Nicol, whose
originality of humour promises me much entertainment. Linlithgow—a fertile improved
country —West Lothian. The more elegance and luxury among the farmers, I always
observe, in equal proportion, the rudeness and stupidity of the peasantry. This remark I
have made all over the Lothians, Merse, Roxburgh, &c. For this, among other reasons, I
think that a man of romantic taste, a ‘Man of Feeling,’ will be better pleased
with the poverty, but intelligent minds of the peasantry in Ayrshire (peasantry they are
all below the Justice of Peace), than the opulence of a club of Merse farmers, when at the
same time he considers the Vandalism of their plough-folks, &c. I carry this idea so
far, that an undisclosed, half-improven country is to me actually more agreeable, and
gives me more pleasure as a prospect, than a country cultivated like a garden. Soil about
Linlithgow light and thin. The town carries the appearance of rude, decayed grandeur
— charmingly rural, retired situation. The old royal Palace a tolerably fine, but
melancholy ruin, sweetly situated on a small elevation, by the brink of a loch. Shown the
room where the beautiful injured Mary Queen of Scots was born—a pretty good old
Gothic church. The infamous stool of repentance standing, in the old Romish way, on a
"What a poor pimping business is a
Presbyterian place of worship; dirty, narrow, and squalid; stuck in a corner of old popish
grandeur such as Linlithgow, and much more Melrose! Ceremony and show, if judiciously
thrown in, absolutely necessary for the bulk of mankind, both in religious and civil
matters. Dine. Go to my friend Smith’s at Avon printfield; find nobody but Mrs.
Miller, an agreeable, sensible, modest, good body, as useful, but not so ornamental, as
Fielding’s Miss Western—not rigidly polite a Ia Francais, but easy, hospitable,
"An old lady from Paisley, a Mrs.
Lawson, whom I promise to call for in Paisley; like old Lady W[auchope], and still more
like Mrs. C——, her conversation is pregnant with strong sense and just remark,
but, like them, a certain air of self-importance, and a duresse in the eye, seem to
indicate, as the Ayrshire wife observed of her cow, that "she had a mind o’ her
"Pleasant view of Dunfermline, and the
rest of the fertile coast of Fife, as we go down to that dirty, ugly place,
Borrowstounness: see a horse-race, and call on a friend of Mr. Nicol’s, a Bailie
Cowan, of whom I know too little to attempt his portrait. Come through the rich carse of
Falkirk to pass the night. Falkirk nothing remarkable, except the tomb of Sir John the
Graham, over which, in the succession of time, four [three] stones have been placed.
"Sunday, August 26.—Camelon, the
ancient metropolis of the Picts, now a small village in the neighbourhood of Falkirk.
Cross the Grand Canal to Carron.
"Pass Dunipace, a place laid out with
fine taste; a charming amphitheatre bounded by Denny village, and pleasant seats down the
way to Dunipace. The Carron, running down the bosom of the whole, makes it one of the most
charming little prospects I have seen.
"Dine at Auchinbowie Mr. Monro, an
excellent worthy old man; Miss Monro, an amiable, sensible, sweet young woman, much
resembling Mrs. Grierson. Come to Bannockburn. Shown the old house where James III.
finished so tragically his unfortunate life. The field of Bannockburn the hole where
glorious Bruce set his standard. Here no Scot can pass uninterested. I fancy to myself
that I see my gallant, heroic countrymen, coming o’er the hill and down upon the
plunderers of their country, the murderers of their fathers ; noble revenge and just hate
glowing in every vein, striding more and more eagerly as they approach the oppressive,
insulting, bloodthirsty foe! I see them meet in gloriously-triumphant congratulation on
the victorious field, exulting in their heroic royal leader, and rescued liberty and
independence! Come to Stirling.
"Monday.—Go to Harvieston. Go to
see Caudron Linn, and Rumbling Brig, and Deil’s MilL Return in the evening.
"Supper—Messrs. Doig, the
schoolmaster; Bell; and Captain Forrester of the castle. Doig, a queerish figure, and
something of a pedant; Bell, a joyous fellow, who sings a good song; Forrester, a merry,
swearing kind of man, with a dash of the sodger.
"Tuesday morning.—Breakfast with Captain Forrester;
Ochil Hills; Devon River ; Forth and Teith; Allan River; Strathallan, a fine country, but little improved; Cross Earn to Crieff;
Dine and go to Aberuchil; cold reception at Aberuchul; a most romantically pleasant ride
up Earn, by Auchtertyre and Comrie, to Aberuchil; Sup at Crieff.
"Wednesday morning.—Leave Crieff; Glen
Almond; Almond River; Ossian’s grave; Loch Fruoch; Glenquaich; Landlord and landlady
remarkable characters; Taymouth, described in rhyme; meet the lion. Charles Townshend.
"Thursday.—Come down Tay to Dunkeld; Glenlyon House ; Lyon River ;
Druid’s Temple ; three circles of stones, the outermost sunk, the second has thirteen
stones remaining, the innermost has eight, two large detached ones like a gate, to the
south-east ; say prayers in it; pass Taybridge; Aberfeldy, described in rhyme; Castle
Menzies layer; Dr. Stewart. Sup.
[Burns diverged at Stirling to the valley of the Devon, leaving Nicol behind him for a
day. He went there to visit Mrs Chalmers, the mother of Margaret Chalmers (afterwards Mrs.
Lewis Hay), an Edinburgh acquaintance and special friend of Burns, who had met her at Dr.
Blacklock’s—to whom she commended herself by her fine voice. Margaret was now in
Edinburgh; but her mother was at Harvieston, on a visit to Mrs. Hamilton the stepmother of
Gavin Hamilton, Burns’ Ayrshire friend. She was residing with Mr. Tait of Harvieston
(the Archbishop of Canterbury is sprung from this family) presiding over his establishment
till his daughter grew up. Her daughter, Charlotte Hamilton, was here also. Mr. Tait was a
widower, and his deceased wife had been sister to Mrs. Chalmers and Mrs. Hamilton. Miss
Mackenzie, an older sister of Margaret Chalmers, was here too, with her mother. It was
altogether an interesting group and if Burns regretted the absence of his musical friend,
Margaret Chalmers, it was more than made up by the presence of Charlotte Hamilton. This
"Loveliest flower on the banks of the Devon"
had been once
"A sweet bud on the brass of the Ayr."
She was the younger sister of Gavin Hamilton; she is described by the poet (see his
Correspondance)in more than usually ardent terms, and not merely his first
rapturous expressions, but his allusions to her in his subsequent writings, and notably
the fact that a little before his death he wrote a song his last song, about her, seem to
prove that he cherished her as an ideal on his mind ever afterwards, and that even in that
" Her dear idea gave relief and solace to his breast."
He accompanied her and her friends to the well-known Caldron Lion, on the Devon. He
describes it in very general, and by no means enthusiastic terms; yet, he says he spent at
it one of the happiest days he ever spent in his life. In fact, he thought more of her
than the scenery, was fairly caught, and but for the unsettled state of his prospects, and
perhaps her youth, might have proposed. At all events he left Harvieston for Stirling on
the evening of that eventful day with a full, perhaps a sad and sore heart. Wewill
find him inher company afterwards: but it was love at first sight, and like many
of Burns’ loves, was doomed to disappointment. The editor of the excellent Kilmarnock
edition says it was Margaret Chalmers on whom Burns wrote his last song but it is quite
enough to say in reply that, while Margaret Chalmers was not that delightful day with the
poet on the Devon, Charlotte Hamilton was. Besides, he calls her "fairest maid;"
but Margaret Chalmers had no chance with Charlotte for beauty. Though never professed
lovers, they became intimate friends but that some estrangement occurred between them is
evident from an expression in the song—
" Prithee leave that frown aside,
And smile as thou wert wont to do"-
and also from the fact that Miss Hamilton burnt all the letters which had passed
between her and Burns. and many of Margaret Chalmers’ too. More of her and her
husband Adair, in a little. Bums, everybody knows, wrote on her the beautiful song—
"How pleasant the banks of the clear windieg Devon," &c.
At Stirling Burns, angry at the ruinous state of the old hall of the Scottish
Parliament under the Stuarts. wrote some verses reflecting on the House of Hanover, which
gave great offence and provoked some indignant comments—
"Here Stuarts once in triumph reigned.
And laws for Scotland’s weal ordained;
But now unroofed their palace stands,
Their sceptre’s swayed by other hands.
The injured Stuart line is gone,
A race outlandish fill their throne——
An idiot race, to honour lost,
Who know them best despise them most."
He, himself, afterwards broke the pane.]
"Friday.—Walk with Mrs. Stewart and Beard to Birnam top; fine prospect down
Tay; Craigie barns Hills; hermitage on the Bran Water, with a picture of Ossian; breakfast
with Dr. Stewart; Neil Gow plays; a short, stout-built, honest Highland figure, with his
grayish hair shed on his honest social brow, an interesting face, marking strong sense,
kind open - heartedness, mixed with unmistrusting simplicity ; visit his house ; Marget
"Ride up Tummel River to Blair; Fascally. a beautiful
romantic nest; wild grandeur of the Pass of Killiecrankie; visit the gallant Lord
"Blair; sup with the Duchess; easy and happy from the manners of the family;
confirmed in my good opinion of my friend Walker.
"Saturday (Sept. 1)—Visit the scenes round Blair— fine, but
spoiled with bad taste; Tilt and Garry rivers; Falls on the Tilt; heather seat ride in
company with Sir William Murray arid Mr. Walker to Loch Tummel; meanderings of the
Rannoch, which runs through quondam Struan Robertson’s estate from Loch Rannoch to
Loch Tummel; dine at Blair. Company —General Murray; Captain Murray, an honest tar;
Sir William Murray, an honest, worthy man, but tormented with the hypochondria; Mrs.
Graham, belle et aimable; Miss Cathcart; Mrs. Murray, a painter; Mrs. King; Duchess
and fine family, the Marquis, Lords James, Edward, and Robert; Ladies Charlotte, Emilia,
and children dance; sup; Mr. Graham of Fintry.
[Burns, at Blair, again met with Josiah
Walker, who was now acting as tutor in the Duke of Athole’s family. We copy Walkers
account of Burns at the Tilt, by far the best bit contributed by him toIsis
Recollections of the Poet. " On reaching Blair, he sent me notice of his arrival (as
I had been previously acquainted with him), and I hastened to meet him at the inn. The
Duke, to whom he brought a letter of introduction, was from home: but the Duchess, being
informed of his arrival, gave him an invitation to sup and sleep at Athole House. He
accepted the invitation; but as the hour of supper was at some distance, begged I would,
in the interval, be his guide through the grounds. It was already growing dark; yet the
softened though faint and uncertain view of their beauties, which the moonlight afforded
us, seemed exactly suited to the state of his feeling at the time. I had often like
others, experienced the pleasures which arise from the sublime or elegant landscape, but I
never saw those feelings so intense as in Burns. When we reached a rustic hut on the river
‘Tilt, where it is overhung by a woody precipice, from which there is a noble
waterfall, he threw himself on the heathy seat, and gave himself up to a tender,
abstracted, and voluptuous enthusiasm of imagination. I cannot help thinking it might have
been here that he conceived the idea of the following lines, which he afterwards
introduced into his poem on Benny Water, when only fancying such a combination of objects
as were now present to his eye:—
Or by the reaper’s nightly beam
Mild, chequering through the trees,
Rave to my darkly—dashing stream,
Hoarse—swelling on the breeze.’
It was with much difficulty I prevailed on him to quit this spot,
and to be introduced in proper time to supper.
"My curiosity was great to see how he would conduct himself in
company so different from what he had been accustomed to. His manner was unembarrassed,
plain, and firm. He appeared to have complete reliance on his own native good sense for
directing his behaviour. He seemed at once to perceive and to appreciate what was due to
the company and to himself and never to forget a proper respect for the separate species
of dignity belonging to each. He did not arrogate conversation, but, when led into it, he
spoke with ease, propriety, amid manliness. He tried to exert his abilities, because he
knew it was ability alone gave him a title to be there. The Duke’s fine young family
attracted much of his admiration; he drank their healths as ‘ honest men and bonnie
lassies', an idea which was much applauded by the company, and with which he has very
felicitously closed his poem.]
"Come up the Garry; Falls of Bruar;
Dalnacardoch; Dalwhinnie; dine ; snow on the hills seventeen feet deep; no corn from
Lochgarry to Dalwhinnie; cross the Spey, and come down the stream to Pitnain; straths rich
; les environs picturesque ; Craigow Hill; Ruthven of Badenoch; barracks; wild and
magnificent; Rothiemurchie on the other side, and Glenmore ; Grant of Rothiemurchie’s
poetry; told me by the Duke of Gordon; Strathspey, rich and romantic; breakfast at
Aviemore, a wild spot; dine at Sir James Grant’s ;
Lady Grant, a sweet, pleasant body; come through mist and darkness to Dulsie, to lie
"Tuesday.—Findhorn river; rocky banks; come
on to Castle Cawdor, where Macbeth murdered King Duncan; saw the bed in which King Duncan
was stabbed; dine at Kilravock; Mrs. Rose, sen., a true chieftain’s wife; Fort George
"Wednesday.—Loch Ness; Braes of
Ness; General’s Hut; Fall of Fyers; Urquhart Castle and Strath.
"Thursday.—Come over Culloden Muir—reflections
on the field of battle; breakfast at Kilravock; old Mrs. Rose, sterling sense, warm heart,
strong passions, and honest pride, all in an uncommon degree; Mrs. Rose, jun., a little
milder than the mother; this, perhaps, owing to her being younger ; Mr. Grant, minister at
Calder, resembles Mr. Scott at Inverleithen. Mrs. Rose and Mrs. Grant accompany us to
Kildrummie ; two young ladies— Miss Rose, who sang two Gaelic songs, beautiful and
lovely—Miss Sophia Brodie, most agreeable and amiable—both of them gentle,
mild—the sweetest creatures on earth, and happiness be with them
"Dine at Nairn; fall in with a pleasant enough
gentleman, Dr. Stewart, who had been long abroad with his father in the forty-five; and
Mr. Falconer, a spare, irascible, warm-hearted Norland, and a nonjuror; Brodie House to
"Friday (Sept. 7).—Forres; famous
stone at Forres. Mr. Brodie tells me that the muir where Shakspeare lays Macbeth’s
witch-meeting is still haunted, that the country folks wont pass it by night.
"Venerable ruins of Elgin Abbey
(Cathedral), a grander effect at first glance than Melrose, but not near so beautiful.
Cross Spey to Fochabers; fine palace (Gordon Castle, the seat of the Duke of Gordon),
worthy of the generous proprietor; dine. Company :—Duke and Duchess, Ladies Charlotte
and Magdeline, Colonel Abercrombie and Lady, Mr. Gordon, and Mr. —-—--, a
clergyman, a venerable aged figure; the Duke makes me happier than ever great man did;
noble, princely, yet mild, condescending, and affable; gay and kind; the Duchess witty and
sensible —God bless them!
"Come to Cullen to lie; hitherto the
country is sadly poor and unimproven.
"Come to Aberdeen ; meet with Mr.
Chalmers, printer, a facetious fellow; Mr. Ross, a fine fellow, like Professor Tytler; Mr.
Marshall, one of the poetoe minores; Mr. Sheriffs, author of ‘Jamie and Bess,’ a
little decrepit body, with some abilities; Bishop Skinner, a nonjuror, son of the author
of ‘Tullochgorum;’ a man whose mild, venerable manner is the most marked of any
in so young a man. Professor Gordon, a good-natured, jolly-looking professor; Aberdeen a
"Near Stonehive [Stonehaven]," he
says, "the coast a good deal romantic. Meet my relations. Robert Burns, writer in
Stonehire, one of those who love fun, a gill, and a punning joke, and have not a bad
heart—his wife a sweet, hospitable body, without any affectation of what is called
"Tuesday.—Breakfast with Mr. Burns;
lie at Lawrence-kirk; album; library; Mrs. ——, a jolly, frank, sensible,
love-inspiring widow; Howe of the Mearns, a rich, cultivated, but still uninclosed
"Wednesday.—Cross North Esk river
and a rich country to Craigow.
"Breakfast (Sept.13) at Muthie, and sail along that
wild, rocky coast, and see the famous caverns, particularly the Gairiepot; land and dine
at Arbroath; stately ruin of Arbroath Abbey; come to Dundee through a fertile country;
Dundee a low-lying but pleasant town; old steeple; Tay Frith; Broughty Castle, a
finely-situated ruin, jutting into the Tay.
"Friday.—Breakfast with the Miss
Scotts; Miss Bess Scott like Mrs. Greenfield; my bardship almost in love with her; come
through the rich harvests and fine hedge-rows of the Carse of Gowrie, along the romantic
margin of the Grampian Hills to Perth—fine, fruitful, hilly, woody country round
"Saturday Morninq.—Leave Perth;
come up Strathearn to Endermay ; fine, fruitful, cultivated Strath the scene of
‘Bessie Bell and Mary Gray’ near Perth ; fine scenery on the banks of the May;
Mrs. Belshes, gawcie, frank, affable, fond of rural sports, hunting, &c. ; lie at
Kinross; reflections in a fit of the colic.
"Sunday (Sept. 16). —Pass through a
cold, barren country to Queensferry; dine; cross the ferry, and on to Edinburgh."
There are various other rumours floating in
Dundee about Burns. One, although it cannot be exactly credited, is so curious that we are
tempted to relate it. A venerable and singularly worthy old lady, ninety-six years of age,
but in wonderful preservation, insists on it that she remembers Burns. She says she was
then a little girl or "gilpie," doing " chares" in the house of a
farmer, residing in a place, near Dundee, called Clepington; that Burns came to her
master’s house and stopt all night; and that she "washed his sark." Of this
she is perfectly assured, although in 1787, being only four years of age, she could hardly
have been competent to such a feat; and as a gentleman humorously remarked, had been more
likely to have fallen into the washing tub and been drowned. Still it is the one bit of
romance in all her history, and it were cruel to disturb her in her long life-dream.
From Dundee he would, after sleeping probably
in the Vault Inn and breakfasting with the Scotts, ride to Perth. He makes a blunder in
his Journal: he says that he came along the romantic margin of the Grampian hills to
Perth; but the hills to the north of the Carse of Gowrie are not the Grampians, but only a
spur from the Sidlaws. From Perth he went to Invermay, or "Endermay," as he
calls it, where lived the Belshes family, to whom he had an introduction, and which was
the scene of the old song, "The Birks of Invermay." We remember the late amiable
and truly gifted Jamieson, United Presbyterian minister of Methven, telling us of a
Perthshire gentleman in Paris who was sitting in his hotel, sad and home-sick, when he
suddenly heard two children singing on the street, "The Birks of Invermay." It
saddened him more at first; but the sadness brought tears, which carried away the sorrow.
Mr. Jamieson did not tell, probably did not know, who the children were, or how they came
there, or their future fate. Burns says, "The scene of Bessie Bell and Mary Gray,
near Perth," but does not say that he visited the traditionary spot, which lies on
the opposite side of the valley from Invermay. He could hardly have seen both places,
dined with the Belshes, and reached Kinross, all in one day. He had a fit of colic at
Kinross, and some serious reflections therewith — perhaps bearing more on the far
past than on this recent journey, which seems to have been one of unmingled and innocent
gratification. He arrived at Edinburgh on the 16th of September.
Returned to the metropolis, Burns threw
himself with great enthusiasm into Johnston’s projected "Museum of Scottish
Song,’ got into a stream of correspondence with old Skinner of
"Tullochgorum" fame, and with still greater ardour wrote letters and sent songs
to his Harvieston friends (Margaret Chalmers having now joined the pleasant party there),
and no doubt inclosing his heart in his epistles. He had wished to see Mr. Miller’s
farms in August; but it was now too late for this, and he determined to spend a portion of
the remaining part of autumn in the north. He went in company with Dr. John
M’Kittrick Adair, to whom he had been introduced by his Ayrshire friends, a physician
afterwards settled in Harrogate. The travellers went by Linlithgow, Carron, and Stirling,
to Harvieston. Adair says in August; but this is evidently a mistake. It must have been
much later in the autumn. At Stirling they met Nicol, and had one joyous night with him.
Burns, whenever he was called to sing, used to repeat a piece of poetry instead. They went
the next day to Mrs. Hamilton’s; Adair remarking rather needlessly that Burns, who
had visited the place last summer, was acquainted with the younger people before. If Burns
had any designs on Charlotte, he must, to use the vulgar expression, have put into
Adair’s hands a stick to break his own head; for he introduced him to her, and he
became speedily her declared admirer, and soon after her accepted lover. They found the
family engaged in a great washing, and in deshabille, but were graciously received; and
after the gentlemen had retired to rest, Mrs. Hamilton, who slept in a room divided from
theirs by a thin partition, overheard them discoursing for a long time ere they slept on
the charms of Charlotte. Detained at Harvieston by heavy storms and floods, after the
weather cleared they spent the time in very pleasant excursions. They revisited the
Cauldron Linn and Rumbling Bridge, the ladies wondering at Burns’ indifference to the
scenery; he, in fact, being more, as upon a former occasion, engrossed in admiring them.
Had he gone alone, he might have been inspired to write something worthy of those
delightful spots. Dr. Adair is quite wrong in saying that Burns had no taste for the
picturesque. But he did not like to he forced to admire, far less to be forced to versify
his admiration. And to him, and probably to Adair, too, metal more attractive was near. He
visited, also, Castle Campbell, or the "Castle of Gloom," and went afterwards to
the two Ochtertyres. The laird of the one in Menteith was Mr. Ramsay, a man of some
literature, fond of poetry, full of antiquarian lore, and afterwards a great friend of Sir
Walter Scott. From hence he rode through Strathallan to the other Ochtertyre in
Strathearn, then, as now, a plain house hung in the midst of a gallery of woods and
gardens, with a placid lake below, and dark mountains rising behind and carrying off the
view toward Loch Turrit—a loch lying dern and dreary under the frowning shadow of
Ben-chonzie and Cair-na-chozie. It is supposed that Burns ~visited Sir William Murray,
partly because he was a cousin and friend of Mr. Graham of Fintry, a Commissioner of
Excise, whom the poet, beginning to look in that direction, was anxious again to meet, or
at least to influence. Burns enjoyed Ochtertyre exceedingly. Sir Williams lady, Lady
Augusta, was a fine-looking woman in the prime of life. We have heard of a farmer on the
estate, after paying his rent at the mansion, brought into the drawing-room to get a glass
of wine, and to see, as a great treat, Lady Augusta, the celebrated beauty. newly married
at the time. He was asked afterwards what he thought of her, and his answer was,
"Toots, she‘s naething to oor Kirsty," his own comely but homely spouse.
Burns visited Loch Turrit, then a much grander solitude than now — unprofaned by
pic-nics, and meet mountain-chamber for the steps of a solitary poet. The tradition (a
small disenchanting one) of the house of Ochtertyre avers, that being a little exhausted
by his walk, which is long, rough, and uphill, he went on returning to the butler’s
room, asked a glass of his best whisky, and wrote, "Blythe, blythe, and merry was
she;" the genuine impulse to write which, however, was given by the sight of Miss
Euphemia Murray of Lintrose, the "Flower of Strathmore," a young cousin of Sir
William’s, a fair-haired, lively girl of eighteen, afterwards married to Mr. Smythe
of Methven Castle. He wrote his lines on scaring wild fowl at Loch Turrit, he tells us in
the Glenriddell MS., during a solitary forenoon’s walk from Oclitertyre House, and
few verses are more characteristic of Burns. Indeed it may be called his Ode to
Independence. The following lines, we venture to say, rushed on his mind in the shadow of
the great silent mountains, and by the side of the lonely lake:-
"Swiftly seek, on clanging wings,
Other lakes and other springs;
And the foe ye cannot brave,
Scorn at least to be his slave."
There are many fine scenes and castles in the
neighbourhood, such as Abercairney, Braco Castle (lying sublime and lonely by its hermit
and homeless stream, and at the termination of that long ridge of sterility and silence,
stretching between Ardoch and Comrie, called the "Lang-side "—a castle
where dwelt a lady, after whom our old teacher, Sir Daniel Sandford, most brilliant of
men, in his youth sighed, and sighed in vain Ardoch being his headquarters during his
hapless courtship), Lawers, Dunira, and Loch Earn ; but we know not if Burns ever visited
any of them. To the magnificent Drummond Castle (which we always think was in Scott’s
eye when he painted "Tullyveolan "), then occupied by Captain Drummond,
afterwards Lord Perth, Burns was not invited, owing to his lines on the inn window at
Stirling, formerly quoted. Lord Perth was at this time a new convert from Jacobitism,
having just got back the forfeited estates of his family again ; and resented the verses
the more on that account, which was rather paltry. So Burns was not asked to visit the
grand old house, throwing its tall, bold shadow westward toward the mountain, Turleum
(which stands directly opposite, with all its fine wave of woods flowing to the very
summit), with the beautiful lake on the north, the long stately avenue (see it described
in "Waverley "), the gorgeous garden, and the green Ochils, terminating the
southern prospect. Burns returned to the other Ochtertyre, after visiting, it is probable
now, the scene of the tragedy of Bessie Bell and Mary Gray, which lay on the estate of Mr.
Graham of Balgown, whom he seems to have called on. In returning to Mr. Ramsay’s, he
must needs pass through Strathallan again.
At his seat (which he could easily have
reached on horseback from Greenloaning in a few hours) Burns remained two days, and Mr.
Ramsay thought his conversation the best he had ever heard. He advised him to write a play
like the "Gentle Shepherd," and also "Scottish Georgics. We doubt if either
of these plans would have exactly suited Burns. He had not much plot-producing skill,
although he had decided dramatic talent, so far as character was concerned. Nor could he
have sustained descriptive enthusiasm, like Thomson, through a long poem. James Graham of
the "Sabbath," who of all Scottish men in the nineteenth century, unless we
except Wilson and Aird, loved Nature most and painted her best—at least, in those
nooks and corners into which she retires, and to which he seemed to have followed her on
his hands and knees—wrote "British Georgics" on this plan; but the book, in
spite of some inimitable touches, totally failed, and is now nearly forgotten. Ramsey told
Burns some traditions about Omeron Cameron (see CORRESPONDENCE), but Chambers wisely adds,
"It was not for Burns, but for that noteless youth he met at Sir Adam
Fergusson’s, to accomplish such feats." Scott’s "plays" are
certainly not feats of genius but of course if he refers to his novels, he is right.
Ramsey more sensibly advised Burns to employ his imagination in the cause of truth and
virtue, and in the main he followed his advice. On the whole, Ramsey did not resemble
certain Edinburgh critics of the time, who reminded Burns of those spinsters in the
country who " span their thread so fine that it was fit for neither weft nor
At Clackmannan he met with a fine old
gentlewoman of ninety, of whom Ramsay had forewarned him—Mrs. Bruce, calling herself
of the blood of the Bruce, tall, dignified, dwelling in the ancient tower of Clackmannan,
which overlooks the Forth, wearing a tartan scarf, and with the white rose of the Stuarts
at her breast. She greatly impressed the imagination of the poet. When he asked her if she
was sprung from the family of Robert Bruce, she replied that Robert Bruce was sprung from
her family! She possessed the helmet and two-handed sword of the hero; and conferring the
order of knighthood with it on Burns and Adair, she said she had a better right to confer
it than some folks. She gave as her first toast after dinner, "Hooi uncos
"—away strangers—a word used by shepherds to direct their dogs to drive
away the sheep. She died in 1791, and the sword and helmet fell into the hands of Lord
Elgin, and in his mansion of Broomhall are still preserved. Her connection, however, with
the Bruce of Bannockburn is not, we believe, founded on fact.
Burns again (it is somewhat obscure in his
Correspondence) visited Harvieston, and found that during his absence Dr. Adair had been
using his time well by pushing his addresses to the beautiful Charlotte. They returned
together to Edinburgh by Kinross and Queens-ferry. He visited Queen Mary’s Isle at
Loch Leven, also Dunfermline Abbey Church, and when he saw the two large flagstones which
mark the grave of Robert Bruce, he knelt down and kissed the spot so sacred to memory. It
is indeed holy ground! A clergyman, who preached there some years ago a public sermon,
says "that he never felt so excited in his life as when remembering as he went on
that the hallowed dust of the Bruce of Bannockburn was beneath his feet I" With
characteristic volatility, however, Burns made Adair ascend the "dutty stool,"
and read him a ludicrous reproof (we once witnessed a similar scene between two clergymen,
now dead, in the parish church of Inverleithen), founded on that he had received in
Ayrshire from Daddie Auld, when he was one of seven (Chambers say flve) who mounted the
seat of shame together.
back to Edinburgh on the 20th October, 1787, ill of a heavy cold he had contracted during
his journey. Here our story parts from Dr. Adair, who returned to England, where he had a
great many fashionable acquaintances, and became a popular physician in Harrogate. He was
married to Charlotte Hamilton on the 16th November, 1789. His lovely wife, who seems to
have been amiable, beautiful, and even gifted (Burns speaks of her "eye beaming with
mind") fell into ill-health and died prematurely in 1806. She had, as we saw
previously, burnt a number of Burns’ and Miss Chalmers’ letters. Dr. Adair
volunteers a statement that his marriage with Charlotte Hamilton was happy, and we do not
deny it. But it were to inquire too curiously if she, far away and hearing sad tales of
her immortal friend, never heaved a sigh, and along with it felt a wish, that she had
"Never met or never parted"
from one who so long and fondly cherished her
memory, and who was yet to see that beauty which he had admired at the Cauldron Linn
glassed to his imagination in the waters of the Black River!
Burns, returned, began again to think of
Dumfriesshire as a place to set up the staff of his rest; but ere he took any definite
step he settled down in Edinburgh for some mouths; lived in the house of William
Cruickshank, one of the High School teachers; and got his daughter Janet, a girl of
twelve, to learn his songs by heart and play them on the piano, and rewarded her for doing
so by writing some beautiful verses in her praise. Jenny Cruickshank, who became a fine
girl, married a Mr. Henderson, a lawyer in Jedburgh; and a lady, her daughter-in-law,
showed Chambers a china punch bowl which Burns, according to tradition, had broken in one
of his bouts in her father’s house in St. James’ Square. (Ah! that measureless
liar, Tradition! If we could believe it, we saw a year or two ago in the North of Scotland
the very china saucer out of which Byron, in one of his boy rages, bit a piece, and there
was the piece, too). He threw himself into Johnson’s plan of collecting songs with
all his heart, and wrote many for him without money and without price. He got into a
correspondence with James Hoy, librarian at Gordon Castle, a great enthusiast in Scottish
song. He received a nice letter from his old master, Murdoch, now in London, and he wrote
regularly to his two Harvieston flames; for he seemed, like Squire Thornhill in the
"Vicar of Wakefield" with Olivia and Sophia Primrose, to have loved them both at
once, although, Mrs Johnstone thinks, he used the one as a stalking-horse to the other,
and that his real affections were centred, like a true poet’s, in the one he never
had a chance of getting— Charlotte. Both were very superior women. Margaret Chalmers
was short in stature; and although her portrait represents a highly-bred, refined, and
dignified face, she had little beauty. But she had great spirit and ability, and whether
loved or not, loving or not, she had undoubtedly much influence on Burns; a refining and
softening influence, so long at least as she was with him. That this would have been
permanent, had they come more closely together, we cannot say. Burns’ manners were
swayed perpetually by his passions, which were terribly strong, and by his impulses, which
were exceedingly capricious. And it is so, we suspect, with most self-taught men of
genius. About this time he visited Dalswinton, but did not instantly take a farm. In a
letter to Miss Chalmers he talks about it and about it, and seems exceedingly uncertain as
to his future prospects. But his Muse has not been idle. He has written a song on
Charlotte, "The Banks of the Devon," and expects she will be highly pleased with
it, and so no doubt she was. He had inscribed some trifling Jacobitish verses to William
Tytler, the well-known defender of Mary Queen of Scots. And he had written a manly letter
to Sir John Whitefoord, one of his Ayrshire patrons, vindicating his own character against
the calumnies by which he had been assailed, especially in reference to the affair with
poor Jean Armour and to his presumed religious opinions. Besides the business of the farm,
Burns had the annoyance of a reluctant and dilatory publisher, who was in no hurry to
settle accounts with him for his very successful poems. Robert Chambers, himself a
publisher, gives a statement of the Creech affair which is not very luminous, and we do
not presume to understand the mystery better than he. He is right, however, when he says
that Burns, instead of getting angry, should have put the affair into the hands of a legal
deputy. But when he speaks of him repairing to Mossgiel, and writing fresh poems in the
style of "Halloween" and "The Cottar’s Saturday Night" he shows a
misapprehension, as he did formerly, of the source of Burns’ inspiration.
"Halloweens" and "Cottar’s Saturday Nights" do not come at the
magic of mere money. Burns’ heart and passions were his muses. His account was not
yet to be settled for four months. In spite of Creech’s delay Burns had now
determined to leave Edinburgh, when another Will-o’-the-wisp shot across his path,
and had well-nigh changed its course for ever and a day.
This comment system requires
you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an
account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or
Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these
companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All
comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator
has approved your comment.