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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 11


THE ENTRANCE TO THE DOMAIN OF COILSFIELD--COILSFIELD MAINS --KING COIL’S GRAVE AND WHAT WAS FOUND IN AND NEAR IT--THE CASTLE O’ MONTGOMERY--”HIGHLAND MARY”--“HIGHLAND MARY’S THORN” AND ASSOCIATIONS--FROM COILSFIELD TO TARBOLTON--THE VILLAGE--BURNS--AN OLD INN--THE DEBATING CLUB AND DANCING SCHOOL--THE OLD HALL, ETC.

“The banks and braes and streams around
The Castle o’ Montgomery”

are of the most romantic description, and replete with poetical associations--in fact, the foliage-draped road in which the chief entrance to the estate is situated is sylvan in the extreme, and irresistibly fascinating in the eyes of those who feel that they

---------”tread
Where Coila’s Bard harmonic sung,
And mark with awe around them spread
Those scenes which once inspired his tongue.”

Admiration for the genius of Burns, and a love of everything associated with his name, cause me to pause and ultimately tap at the door of a circular thatch-covered cot which stands in a shady nook by the wayside, as if guarding the gate of the drive which winds through the domain of Coilsfield and terminates near the village of Tarbolton. The summons was unheeded, for the goodwife had “thrawn the key in the door” while doing an errand, but a passing country-girl, whose face beamed with health and good humour, came to my assistance and answered my queries in a very amusing and coquettish manner. “Heelan’s Mary’s Thorn--div I ken it? O aye! brawly that! It’s yont the big house there, an’ an auld stump it is an’ no worth gaun aff yer gait to see, but I suppose ye’ll be keen to get a glower at it? “I should like very much.” “Weel, weel, then--gang through the gate an’ haud straight on till ye come to the big hoose an’ ye’ll see it on yer richt hand a wee bit ayont it. The family’s fraw hame, an’ gin ye’re no seen, naebody ‘ill sae ocht to you.” Not very much likely, thought I. “King Coil’s grave? O aye! it’s in the park at the back of o’ Coilsfield Mains--the farmhouse ‘mang the trees owre yonder; but there’s nocht to see aboot it either but a pickle trees an’ an wheen auld stanes, but gin ye ha’ve a notion o’ gaun to it, yer best plan ‘ll be to gang alang the road an’ up to the farm, an’ when ye’ve seen the grave gang through the slap an’ doon the brae to the thorn. It’s no ill to fin’.” After some further conversation, I held along the really beautiful road for a short distance and turned up the avenue to Coilsfield Mains, fairly charmed with the scene and the music of the woods.

‘Ye sweet birds of summer that sing from the brakes;
Ye larks that the blue vaulting skim,
How the bound of the heart to your melody wakes;
‘Twas your sires that gave rapture to him.”

Passing the farm-steading I entered a grass park and directed my steps to a cluster of trees that a stripling pointed to, and found in their midst a mound surmounted by three large pieces of rock intersected with moderately-sized boulders. And this is the grave of “Old King Coil, the merry old soul,’ of nursery celebrity, and I, sitting down on the top of the tumuls. Well, it does not amount to much after all, and if it ever contained the remains of the monarch, then it is true indeed that

“The glories of our birth and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings--
Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.”

Unvarying tradition points to this spot as the resting-place of one Coil, or Coilus, a king of the Britons, who is said to have fallen in a bloody battle which he fought with Fergus I., King of Scots, in a field in the vicinity which bears the name of “The Dead Men’s Holm,” and in which pieces of ancient armour and fragments of bones have from time to time been unearthed by the plough. This, and the fact that a brooklet close to its is named the “bloody burn,” and that the district of Kyle, as antiquaries affirm, derives its name from him, in a measure proves that the tradition has some foundation, or at least that an important battle was at some period of our country’s history fought near the place indicated. Buchanan, the historian, who wrote about 1570, affirms that Coilus lived three hundred and twenty-five years before the Christian era, and in Bleau’s “Atlas”--a work published in the middle of the seventeenth century--the battle is mentioned at some length; but, on the other hand, Chalmers, the antiquary, scouts the whole story, and modern historians look upon the monarch as a fictitious personage, for the reason that the date assigned him is anterior to the period of genuine history.

The accuracy of the tradition will ever remain a matter dispute; but that it is not wholly a myth is evident from the following interesting narrative which appeared in the Ayr Observer:--”On the evening of the 29th May, 1837, in presence of several gentlemen, the two large stones were removed. The centre of the mound was found to be occupied by boulder stones, some of them of considerable size. When the excavators had reached the depth of about four feet, they came on a flag-stone of a circular form, about three feet in diameter. The light had now failed, and rain began to fall in torrents; but the interest excited was too intense to admit of delay; candles were procured, all earth and rubbish cleared away, and the circular stone carefully lifted up. The seclusion of the spot, the beauty of the surrounding lawn and trees, the eager countenances of the spectators, and above all, the light and voices rising from the grave, in which there had been darkness and silence (as supposed) for upwards of two thousand years, rendered the scene which at this time presented itself at Coil’s tomb a very remarkable one. Under the circular stone was first a quantity of dry, yellow-colored, sandy clay; then a small flag-stone laid horizontally, covering the mouth of an urn, filled with the white-colored burnt bones. In removing the dry clay by which the urn was surrounded, it was discovered that a second urn, less indurate in its texture, so frail as to fall to pieces when touched, had been placed close to the principal urn. Next day the examination of the mound was resumed, and two more urns filled with bones were found. Of these urns, one crumbled into dust as soon as the air was admitted; the other was raised in a fractured state. Under flat stones, several small heaps of bones were observed, not contained in urns, but carefully surrounded by the yellow colored clay mentioned above. The urns, in shape, resemble flower pots. The principal urn is 7 7/8 inches in height, 7 7/8 inches in diameter, 3/8 of an inch thick. It has none of those markings supposed to have been made by the thumb nail of often to be observed on sepulchral urns, and it has nothing of ornament except an edging or projecting part about half an inch from the top. No coins, armour, or implements of any description could be found. The discovery of these urns renders it evident that at a very remote period, and while the practice of burning the dead still prevailed-- that is to say, before the introduction of Christianity--some person or persons of distinction had been deposited there. The fact of sepulchral urns having been found in the very spot where, according to an uninterrupted tradition and the statements of several historians, King Coil had been laid, appears to give to the traditionary evidence, and to the state- ments of the early Scottish historians (except with respect to the date), a degree of probability higher than they formerly possessed.”

“In 1796, while some of the labourers about Coilsfield were digging a marl pit in the vicinity of the grave, they came upon a curiously carved stone, a drawing of which Colonel Montgomery (afterwards Earl of Eglinton) caused to be sent to the museum of the Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh, where it still remains. Professor Wilson, in his ‘Pre historic Period,’ written chiefly from the remains of antiquity contained in the museum of the society, gives an etching of this stone…………….. It is worthy of remark that the symbolic slab was not found in the tumulus, but in amarl pit at some distance, where an urn was at the same time dug up, a drawing of a portion of which was also sent by Colonel Montgomerie to the Society of Antiquaries. If the battle happened between the Britons, Scots, and Picts, as Buchanan tells us, the symbolic cist slab may have covered he remains of some Pictish or Scottish chief, though more probably Pictish, as these stones are chiefly to be found in the Pictish division of the country, or where colonies of the Picts are known once to have existed.”* Musing on

“Names once famed, now dubious or forgot,
And buried ‘midst the wreck of things which were,”

I strolled across the field to the fence which separates it from the grounds surrounding Coilsfield House--or “the Castle o’ Montgomery,” as it is poetically termed by Burns-- and in the absence of convenient entrance, vaulted across the barrier and threaded a narrow path along a grassy sward which leads to the graveled walk in front of the mansion. The verdant carpeting was thickly strewn with wild flowers, and above was a delightful canopy formed of the interlaced branches of trees through which the screened sunlight softly fell.

The mansion is an elegant modern building with a portico at the front entrance, but on the whole gloomy and deserted in appearance. It is delightfully situated on a high embankment of the Fail, a rivulet whose music joins in chorus with the song of the birds singing you know not where, but everywhere, in the bosky woods in which it is embosomed.

The lands of Coilsfield were purchased from the Eglinton family by the present proprietor, William Orr, Esq., “who changed his name to Paterson, in compliance with the will of a relative, which name only he now bears. By the same will be was bound to call the estate, purchased with Mr. Paterson’s funds, Montgomerie, which is according now the name of Coilsfield.”

Ninety-four years ago Coilsfield House was the residence of Colonel Hugh Montgomery--not a very remarkable fact certainly, but then in this gentleman’s service, in the capacity of dairymaid, was a Highland girl, named Mary Campbell, who won the affections of Burns, and who has been vouchsafed an immortality which rivals that of any other heroine of song, for the verses in her praise are justly ranked among the most finished efforts of her lover’s muse. This attachment has been described as the purest and most elevated ever formed by Burns, and its object as “a sweet, sprightly blue-eyed creature, of a firmer modesty and self-respect than too many of the other maidens he had addressed.” This may be, but tradition (which is seldom wholly incorrect) has it hat she was neither graceful nor feminine, but was a coarse-featured, ungainly country lass, which may possibly be conformable to truth, for his brother Gilbert tells us that he was somewhat of an amorist, and that “when he selected any one out of sovereignty of his good pleasure to whom he should pay his particular attention, she was instantly invested with a sufficient stock of charms out of the plentiful stores of his own imagination; and there was often a great dissimilar- tude between his fair captivator as she appeared to others and as she seemed when invested with the attributes he gave her.”

The history of “Highland Mary”--as she is poetically termed--is wrapt in considerable mystery, but thanks to Robert Chambers and others, a few facts have been rescued from oblivion. She appears to have been the daughter of a sailor in a revenue cutter, who had his residence at Campbeltown, and to have spent her early years n the family of the Rev. David Campbell of Loch Ranza (a relative of her mother), in the island of Arran. In early womanhood she was induced to come t Ayrshire and take a situation as a domestic servant, but her movements on her arrival could never be traced. However, it is almost a certainty that she was serving the family of Burn’s friend, Gavin Hamilton, writer, Mauchline, in 1784, and removed to Coilsfield in 1785.

After fifty yards from Coilsfield House I paused before an aged but shattered and decayed thorn which grows by the side of the drive leading to the Tarbolton entrance of the domain. The stately trees by which it is guarded overlook a steep bank clothed with verdure and dense masses of shrubs which screen the rippling Fail as it gurgles on to mingle its water with winding Ayr. There is nothing remarkable about the appearance of the thorn, nothing to attract attention, yet curiously enough its rotten moss-grown trunk is chipped and hacked, and its remaining limb disfigured with rude initials and gashed which wanton relic-hunters have inflicted with pocket knives. What is the cause of all this? and why is the grass round about it trampled and bare? Well, tradition states that it is the identical tree beneath which Robert Burns took the last farewell of his sweet Highland Mary.

“How sweetly bloomed the gay green birk,
How rich the hawthorn’s blossom,
As underneath the fragrant shade,
I clasped her to my bosom!
The golden hours, on angel wings,
Flew o’er me and my dearie:
For dear to me as light and life,
Was my sweet Highland Mary.

“Wi’ mony a vow, and lock’d embrace,
Our parting was fu’ tender;
And, pledging aft to meet again,
We tore ourselves asunder;
But, oh! fell death’s untimely frost,
That nipt my flower sae early!
Now green’s the sod and cauld’s the clay,
That wraps my Highland Mary!”

In all likelihood the tradition is correct, for the position of the thorn and its nearness to the mansion makes it more than probable that the parting took place beneath its shade--in  fact, Burns was by far too great a gallant to part from his mistress at any great distance from her home.

The parting took place on the evening of “the second Sunday of May,” 1786. In a note to “the Highland lassie,” Burns gives us a little insight into this episode. He says-- “My Highland lassie was a warm-hearted, charming young creature as ever blest a man with generous love. After a pretty long tract of the most ardent reciprocal attachment, we met by appointment on the second Sunday of May in a sequestered spot on the banks of the Ayr, where we spent the day in taking a farewell before she should embark for the West Highlands to arrange matters among her friends for our projected change of life. At the close of autumn she crossed the sea to meet me at Greenock, where she had scarce landed when she was seized with a malignant fever before I could even hear of her illness.”

Mr. Cromek tells that “their adieu was performed with those simple and striking ceremonials which rustic sentiment has devised to prolong tender emotions and to impose awe. The lovers stood on each side of a purling brook--they layed their hands in the limpid stream--and holding a Bible between them pronounced their vows to be faithful to each other.” As already stated, they exchanged Bibles, but what became of that which Burns received was never known; the half-Bibles present to Mary are, as the reader will remember, preserved in the monument on the banks of Doon. Mary appears to have left Ayrhsire about WhitSunday, 1786, and to have spent the summer at her father’s house in Campbeltown, but whether she made arrangement for the “projected change in life,” Burns speaks of there is no evidence to show. Robert Chambers thinks that she had agreed to accept a situation in Glasgow in the family of a Colonel M’Ivor, and that she was proceeding thither when she sickened and died. He also mentions as a tradition that her friends believed her illness to be caused by the cast of an evil eye, and at their suggestion her father went to a spot where two burns meet, selected seven smooth stones, boiled them in milk, and gave it to her to drink. She was buried in the West Kirkyard of Greenock. Her resting-place is marked by a handsome monument, the cost of which (£100) was raised by subscription.

In a little work entitled “Much about Kilmalcolm,” by Alexander S. Gibb, there is an interesting traditional narrative, entitled “A Story of Greenock,” which may interest the reader. It was originally told many years ago by a worthy soul named Johnnie Blair, and refers to Highland Mary. Of course, it may be taken for what it is worth. He says:-- “While I was looking at the country side, the river, and Greenock down the water’s edge, and hearkening to the whirr o’ the moor fowl as they settled in a black flock on the farmer’s stooks, I saw a braw buxom lass coming down the Kilmalcolm Road. She was a well-faur’d dame, wi’ cheeks like roses. She had on a tartan shawl, and was carrying some things wi’ her. I offered to help her to carry them, which she gladly assented to, for she was tired wi’ a long journey. She had come frae Ayshire, she said, and got a drive to Kilmalcolm, and was gaun firt to Jamie Macpherson, where her folk belonged. I kent Jamie as weel’s I ken you, Davie; we were gude cronies and gude neebors. Twa or three days after this I chanced to forgather wi’ Jamie. ‘Man, John,’ says he to me, ’ye;re aye speaking about books and poetry; ye’ll come doun by the nicht an’ I’ll let you see some richt poems.’ I gaed doun by accordingly, an’ got a sicht o’ the book he spak o’. It was a volume o’ poems by Robert Burns, printed at Kilmarnock. ’It was Mary Campbell, Jean’s cousin,’ Jean explained, ’wha brought the book wi’ her fraw Ayr; it’s just new out, you see. She’s awa to Argyle to see her friends, and she’s coming back in a week or twa to be married. And wha do you think till?’ I said I couldna guess. ’Well, it’s juist to the chiel wha made that book. She said he had been fechtin’ wi’ the ministers, and was thinking o’ gaun awa to the West Indies; but she didna care, she was willing to gang wi’ him.’ Jamie read a lot o’ the poems ower, and we held at them till twal o’clock. Jamie said he didna a’thegither like the way the chiel spak o’ the kirks, but he thocht ’the lassie micht help to haud him straight; and he sudna be the man to mak’ strife among sweethearts.’ He let’s see a wee sang the lass
had brocht wi’ her, beginning--

‘Will ye gang to the Indies, my Mary,
And leave auld Scotland’s shore?’

which Mary had shown as a great secret to his wife, and which was written upon herself. Mary returned across the Firth the week after. It was a cold, rainy, muggy day that she had got to cross and she had gotten a dreadful chill. The fever was then raging in Greenock, for ye kne wi’ our houses a’ hauled heighten, an’ the ill water we had then, and the foulair that hangs about our wynds and closes, we never hardly want fever. Puri Mary anyway took it; whether it was thechill she had gotten, or the foul air of Minch Callop Close,baith heighten that brocht it on I canna say, but Mary sickened and grew worse day by day. Jamie Macpherson’s wife nursed her like a sister; a doctor was called in, but  nothing wad do. Her time was come. Jamie’s wife tell’d me a’ aboot it. She lay in a wee room aff the kitchen; there was a chest o’ drawers an’ a clock in’t’ three or four stuffed birds, and a picture of a naval battle between French and British; also, twa models of ships. There was a wee window that neither opened up nor down; but the air outside was that foul wi’ vapors that it was maybe better it didna. Nae doubt, to her coming out o’ the country, the close air that the dwellers’ lungs had got used to wad no be beneficial. Man, I whiles think that thae fevers are juist brocht on by the air a’thegither. Whiles the poor sufferer was a wee raivell’d; whiles she repeated verses out o’ the Bible, ane in particular--”Thou shalt nor forswear thyself, but shall perform unto the Lord thine oaths;’ ad ance she cried out, ’O for a drink o’ caller water!’ but it was thocht at the time that water was ill for fevers. But afore she died she was quite sensible, an’ said to her cousin Jean, ’If it had been God’s will I wad hae like to be Robert Burns’ wife; but I ken I’m deein’ an’ I’m quite willing.’ ’Dinna speak that way, Mary’ said Jean, ’or ye’ll break my heart; ye’ll get better yet, lassie, for a’ this.’ But she did not get better;  an’ the night following her spirit took its flicht from this world of sin and misery, to the great sorrow of all her friends, and, was kent some years after, to that of her admirer, Robert Burns. Ye ken his sang ’Highland Mary’ was written about her, and ither sangs o’ his, gin I could mind them.”

With a lingering look at “the Castle o’ Montgomery’ and the old thorn tree, I passed down the drive and began to walk briskly in the direction of Tarbolton. On my left was a beautiful lawn studded her and there with fine specimens of natural wood, and on my right a highly romantic scene, through which the Fail glided

“Wi’ bickering, dancing dazzle,”

as if anxious to escape from the shade of the trees on its banks and gain the open glade in the distance. Passing through a dilapidated gateway I entered a shady avenue, and in the course of twenty minute arrived at the ancient village, which stands on some rising ground, and occupies a place in the heart of one of the sweetest localities in the west of Scotland. It is a quaint little place, chiefly consisting of one long street, from which short thoroughfares branch, but, with the exception of weaving and the manufacture of fancy woodwork, no trades are carried on save what are incidental to all rural settlements. The population last census was 829, but it has considerably diminished, very many individuals, and in some instances whole families, having been compelled to remove to the large centres of industry to procure employment. Tarbolton contains three places of worship, a Mechanics’ Institute, and a handsome school, which is more than adequate to the requirements of the community. It is governed by two bailies and twelve councilors, who are elected annually, and was created a burgh of barony by Charles II. in 1671.

Although Tarbolton is an ancient village, there is nothing of historical interest connected with it, and it is only on account of it having been a favourite resort of our poet when residing in the farm of Lochlea that it has become famous. It was the scene of several of his early amours, and in it he spent some of the happiest hours of his brief life. Thirty years ago the sojourner experienced little difficulty in meeting and conversing with people in this village who had known the bard; but now they are all gone, and with his associates and boon companions rest from their labours in the churchyard. However, it is gratifying to note the pride some middle-aged people take in telling that their grand-fathers “kenned Rabbie weel, an’ ran wi’ him I’ their young days.” They appear gratified to identity their “forebeers” with his name, and have it in their power to relate anecdotes of him and them. The following extract from David Sillar’s account of the poet when he frequented the village will be of interest:--”His social disposition easily procured him acquaintances; but a certain satirical seasoning, with which he and all poetical genius are in some degree influenced, while it set the rustic circle in a roar, was not unaccompanied by its kindred attendant, suspicious fear………He wore the only tied hair in the parish; and in church his plaid, which was of a particular colour, I think fillemot, he wrapped in a particular manner round his shoulders…………… After the commencement of my acquaintance with the bard we frequently met upon Sunday’s at church, when , between sermons, instead of going with our friends or lasses to the inn, we often took a walk in the fields. In these walks I  have frequently been struck by his facility in addressing the fair sex; many times when I have been bashfully anxious how to express myself, he would have entered into conversation with them with the greatest ease and freedom; and it was generally a deathblow to our conversation, however agreeable, to meet a female acquaintance. Some of the few opportunities of a noontide walk that a country life affords her laborious sons, he spent on the banks of the river, or in the woods, in the neighbourhood of Stair, a situation, peculiarly adapted to the genius of a rural bard. Some book he always carried and read when not otherwise employed.”

The an artery of the village possesses a very rural appearance, being lined on either side with unassuming dwellings, most of which are of one storey and thatch-roofed. At the Cross--a rather confined place of the kind--there is an old-fashioned two-storied house that to all appearance has seen better days. The signboard above its door intimates that Jmes M’Connachie retails spirits, porter, and ales in the interior; but there is something of a deeper interest associated with it. It was the principal inn in the village when our Poet resided in the farm of Lochlea, and was kept by John Richard, who was an intimate friend of the bard. In a hall attached to this house Burns often “presided o’er the sons of light,” and “spent the festive night” with the “brethren of the mystic tie.” In it he took his tearful farewell of the fraternity, and bade them “a heart-warm fond adieu” when about to proceed to Jamaica. When Robert Chambers visited Tarbolton he conversed with a shoemaker named John Lees, who recollected the parting. “Burns,” he said, “came in buckskin breeks, out of which he would always pull the other shilling for the other bowl, till it was five in the morning. An awful’ night that.”

The debating club and dancing school in which Burns took an active part were also held in this house. In the “History of the rise, proceedings, and regulations” of the club, I find that the first meeting was held in the house of John Richard, upon the evening of the 11th of November, 1780, commonly called Hallowe’en, and that Robert Burns was chosen president for the night. The club met every fourth Monday night to debate questions raised by the members; and as no one was allowed to spend more than three- pence at one sitting, the potations must have been scant indeed. The poet and his brother Gilbert continued members till they left the parish.

When attending the dancing school, Burns made sad havoc among “the Tarbolton lasses,” or rather they made sad havoc of him. To one reigning predominant in his affections at the time, he addressed the beautiful song of “Mary Morison.”

“Yestreen when to the trembling string
The dance gaed through the lighted ha’,
To thee my fancy took its wing--
I sat, but neither heard nor saw.
Though this was fair, and that was braw,
And yon the toast of a’ the town,
I sighed, and said among them a’
Ye are na Mary Morison.”

Mrs Begg, the poet’s sister, had a vivid recollection of the dancing school. Robert Chambers says: “There could not well be any objection on his father’s part to his acquiring this accomplishment (dancing), for Gilbert and the two eldest sisters, Agnes and Annabelle, besides their ploughman, Willie Miller, all attended likewise……………On a practicing ball occurring, Burns paid Willie’s expenses, that he might have Janet Brown as a partner, so as to enable the bard to have as his partner some other lass who was then reigning in his affections.”

Being anxious to see the interior of this humble hostel, I entered, and was cordially received by the landlady, a lively little Irishwoman, but learned nothing beyond the fact that she had heard that Burns frequented the house “in oulden times,” and that he attended the Lodge St. James when it met in a room up stairs. The information was meager indeed, but I felt gratified to be in a place where he had been, and perhaps this caused me to linger longer in the little low-roofed apartment into which I was shown than I otherwise would have done.

Upon leaving the hostel, I sought the back of the premises, ascended an outside stair, and tapped gently at a porched door. It was open by a neatly dressed woman, who invited me in, with all the frankness of an old acquintance, the instant the name of a Kilmarnock friend was mentioned. “So this is the old dancing ahll,” and I, by way of introduction. “’Deed isn’t, and but little altered since Rabbie danced in’t,” said she; “but to make it habitable, a partition was run through it, as you see, an’ noo it serves for baith room an’ kitchen.” “And a comfortable one, too, to all appearance,” I rejoined; “but what proof have you that Burns danced on this floor and presided over the sons of light within these walls?” “Plenty o’ proff,” she replied, smiling --”my great grandfather, John Richard, kept the inn in the front there, in the time of Burns, an’ was weel acquaint wi’ him. Besides, my grandfather, William Dick, ran wi’ Rabbie, and the only wonder is that he’s so mentioned in ony o’ his poems, for he black fitted him to Highland Mary an’a lass in the Bennels ca’d Leezie Paton, who had a wean to him, andto whom he addressed the sang beginning--

>From thee, Eliza, I must go,
And from my native shore;
The cruel fates between us throw
A boundless ocean’s roar.’”

“Really!” I replied, “but the heroine of that song is supposed to have borne the name of Betty Miller--she figured as one of the Masuchline belles.” “That may be,” she sharply answered, “but her name was Paton.” And Paton my friend stuck to, and perhaps she is right after all, for, according to Motherwell, some discrepancy of opinion exists as to the heroine of the song. Cunninghame affirms that she was an Elizabeth Black, who early became acquainted with Burns and made no small impression on his heart, and possessed several love epistles he had addressed to her. Despite this, I have more faith in family tradition than in any printed statement. During the time I remained in the oldhall, my friend entertained me with many anecdotes of “Rabbie,” and showed me a flagstaff which the lodge St. James owned when Burns took an active part in it, and also the Bible of her great grandfather, a curiosity in its way. It bears the following:--”John Richard, his book. God gave him grace to make a good use of it.” I spent a pleasant hour in the snug dwelling, and will not readily forget the hospitality and kindness of the good lady.


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