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Burns and Highland Mary
By William Wye Smith (A Canadian Borderer)


I MADE a specialty, a good many years ago, of the story of Burns and Highland Mary. My sketches were printed in the papers, and in one instance formed the chief part of a neat little volume, edited by some fervid Scotsman. Here is a glance at some of my researches.

In the winter of 1885-6 I stayed all night in the house of old John Brown, a lineal descendant of John Brown the carrier, inhumanly slain by Claverhouse. This was in the township of Caledon, not many miles from the town of Orangevillei, Ontario. Next morning I walked to the farm of the late William Anderson, a nephew of Mary Campbell, Burns’s “Highland Mary.” Anderson was then deceased; but the farm was occupied by two sons and a daughter.

Mary Campbell had but one sister, Annie. She would be twelve years old when Mary died in 1786. Mary would be twenty or twenty-two. Annie married, on 6th August, 1792, Mr James Anderson, a mascn and builder, she being then eighteen. This William Anderson was one of her sona Annie had two daughters, “Mary” and “Annie.” Mary was said hv everybody to lie a “perfect likeness” of Highland Mary. She became a Mrs Robertson. I obtained a daguerreotype of this “Highland Mary the Second,” hoping to get a glimpse of the style of feature possessed by her famous aunt and namesake. But she had become a sober middle-aged woman before Hie “sun-pic-tures” came in. So, then, I got a photo of her daughter, who was said to be an exact likeness of what her mother had been.

A son-in-law of Annie Campbell wrote me that Highland Mary was medium size, reddish complexion, blue eyes. Her hair, as we know, was golden, and the Andersons all spoke of her as gentle and retiring in disposition. Indeed, her mother spoke of her as “an angel in the house.”

The pocket Bible, in two vols., which Burns gave to Highland Mary as a parting gift, came into the possession of her sister Annie. Some years after she said to her two daughters, “Here, lassies, is ane o’ thae Bibles to ilk o’ ye; and when ye get marriet ye can sell them for eneuch to buy a chest o’ drawers!”

William Anderson, before he started for America, bought the Bibles from his sisters for £5 each. They told their children “it was on the condition that the Bibles should never go out of the Anderson family,” and the man who married one of these girls wrote me that, “but for that condition, William Anderson never would have got the Bibles.” So he came to America, a young, souple mason-lad, with £200 in his pocket. Like all the young Scotsmen I ever knew who had money with them, he went about from one place to another till his money was gone, and then he settled down. He “took up” a wild lot (100 acres) at the foot of what is called “Caledon Mountain,” the place I mentioned at the beginning. He had married a sister of J. C. Becket, the Montreal printer—they had come over in the same ship. And he wrote to Becket, “If he thought, it would be wrong for him to sell the Burns Bibles? for he was reduced to his last half-crown.” Becket got Mr Weir and a few other Scots to help him, and made up a hundred dollars and sent it to Anderson and got the Bibles, with the lock of golden hair. They sent them to the Provost of Ayr in March, 1840. Matthew Turnbull, the brother-in-law (from whose house Anderson went out to go to America), told me that he and his wife did not believe in the reality of the Bibles coming to Ayr—thought it was some sham copy—and went “once-errand” to see for themselves. But when they saw them “it was all right.” Only, he thought the hair had faded a little since it left his house so many years before

I was pleased to find these relations of Highland Mary and to share the hospitality of the oomfortable log house, from which had gone forth those priceless volumes.


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