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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 15


MAUCHLINE--THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE BOX-MAKING TRADE--NANSE TANNOCK’S HOUSE--THE HOUSE IN WHICH BURNS LIVED AFTER THE MARRIAGE--GAVIN HAMILTON’S HOUSE--THE PARISH CHURCH--THE KIRK-YARD--THE HOLY FAIR--JOHN DOO AND POOSIE NANSIE--THE PUBLIC GREEN AND MARTYRS’ STONE: A WORD ABOUT THEM--AN ANECDOTE OF BURNS AND JEAN ARMOUR --THE AULD MANSE AND WHO WAS SEEN IN ITS HAUNTED ROOM --THE HAGGIS.

MAUCHLINE is situated in a beautiful district, and although somewhat scattered and irregularly built is a town of neat appearance and considerable bustle.  Like many places in the shire it owes its origin to its church and priority, of which the tower behind the burying ground is the remnant.  “In 1510 a charter, erecting Mauchline into a free burgh of barony, was granted by James IV.; and by the act of 1606 it will be observed that Mauchline was again constituted a free burgh of barony.  The charters, however, are said to have been destroyed at the burning of the Register Office in Edinburgh, upwards of a hundred years ago, and they have never been renewed.”* Otherwise, there is nothing of historical interest connected with the place.  The weaving of cotton goods at one time formed the chief support of the inhabitants, but, alas! that trade has received an irreparable shock, and the sound of the shuttle is no longer heard in the streets. The staple industry at present is the manufacture of fancy ornaments, snuff boxes, card cases, &c.  It is curious how this industry originated, and still more so how it has developed itself, and mad Mauchline known throughout Great Britain, America, and the Continent of Europe.  A French gentleman, on a visit to Sir Alexander Boswell at Auchinleck House, having the misfortune to bread a handsome curiously-hinged snuff-box, sent it to the late Mr Wyllie, the village watch-maker, to be repaired.  During the process, the workman into whose hands it was given inadvertently allowed some solder to run into the joint, and consequently rendered it useless.  To remedy the mishap he taxed his ingenuity, and tried every possible means to remove the obstruction, but without success.  Latterly he succeeded in making an instrument that answered the purpose so well that the difficulty was overcome, and the hinge put in working order.  Being pleased with his success in repairing, the workman--a Mr Crawford--next conceived the idea of making a fac simile of the Frenchman’s box and presenting it to Sir Alexander.  The magical or secret hinge taxed his mechanical skill, but by the aid of the instrument he had made he succeeded in imitating it, and that so well that ordered flowed in, and the manufacture of such boxes became his sole occupation.  To monopolise the trade, both master and man kept the formation of the hinge a secret, and that for twelve years; but a misunderstanding arising between them, they separated, and each carried on the box-making business on his own account. Crawford settled in Cumnock, and introduced the trade there; but, having employed a watchmaker to make a hinge-forming instrument like unto what he made himself, its use was suspected, and the secret in a short time ceased to be private: one firm after another sprang up in neighbouring towns until the industry assumed considerable proportions. On this hinge--of  which a bed-redden Laurencekirk cripple named Steven is said to have been the inventor--the fancy wood trade in Mauchline is founded; but the honour of its introduction belongs to the late Andrew Smith, a genius who, though bred a stone-mason, raised himself by energy, self-culture, and perseverance to a very respectable position. Having, like others, discovered the secret of the snuff-box hinge, he put it to practical use, and opened a small manufactory in the village, in which he employed three men as box-makers.  This venture proving a success, Andre took his brother William into partnership, and his business habits, combined with his own creative genius, did much to make the industry the staple of the place.  It is now fully sixty years since this species of manufacture was introduced into Mauchline, but during that period it has undergone many changes, and snuff-boxes are now the least of its products--beautifully-fashioned articles or ornament and use being turned out in great variety.  The trade is so far developed by the application of steam and mechanical science that an article can now be purchased for a couple of shillings which at one time would have cost as many pounds.  There are at present three factories in the place, and close on 400 people find constant employment in them.

When residing in Mossgiel, Burns found many attractions in Mauchline, not the least of which were the lasses, the Masonic Lodge, the debating society, and the delusive pleasures of the ale-house.  But at this stage it will be as well to resume the narrative and call attention to what is deemed worthy of regard.

The walk from Mossgiel to Mauchline proved pleasant and enjoyable.  Upon entering the town I passed up a long street of clean, comfortable dwelling-houses, and in a very short time arrived in what may be appropriately termed the Cross, but not without being honored with many a “glower” from chatty village belles, gossiping wives, and garrulous dames of one description and another who idled at doors in the seemingly earnest discussion of some all-important subject.  Many of the houses in the vicinity of the local centre are modern; but one old-fashioned thoroughfare which branches off it and steals between two rows of venerable thatched cottages is of peculiar interest, being associated with the Poet’s name. Accosting a middle-aged man, he kindly, and in a somewhat self-satisfied maner, pointed to an old house on the left, in which there is at present a tinsmith’s shop, and said, “This was Nanse Tannock’s place, and that two-storeyed red-stone building on the other side is the one in which Burns began housekeeping with his Jean; that is the auld Kirk yard in  which the ’Holy Fair’ was held, and yonder is the house in which Gavin Hamilton lived, and the window of the office in  which Burns and Jean were married.”  What was at one time the howf of Nanse Tannock is a rickety thatched building of two stories, with a wooden stair going up from the street door to the upper apartments--which, by the bye, have an entrance into a small yard adjoining the burying-ground, which was at one time unenclosed.  Nothing remains to indicate this judicious ale wife’s residence but the nails which secured her signboard above the door, and these are pointed to as objects of curiosity by the residents--a circumstances certainly which indicates that the most is made of everything pertaining to the poet.

It is pretty evident that Burns frequented Nanse Tannock’s change-house, and that its walls have often rung with the laughter which followed his sallies of wit.  In it he promised to drink the health (“nine times a week”) of those M.P.’s who would devise some scheme to remove the “curst restriction on aqua vitae;” but when Nanse heard of it she is reported to have said “that he might be a very clever lad, but he certainly was regardless, as, to the best of her belief he had never taken three half-munchkins in her house in all his life.”  This may be, but facts are very much against her. The Rev. P. Hately Waddell says--”Mrs Nelly Martin or Miller, who died December 22, 1858, aged 92, and was originally sweetheart to the Poet’s brother William, was intimately acquainted also with the Poet himself, and confirmed in the most earnest and emphatic manner, as if living ever again in his society the scenes of her youth, the rumours of the extraordinary gift of eloquence with which he was even then endowed.  According to her account, to escape from his tongue, if once entangled by it, was almost an impossibility. ‘He was unco, by-ordinar engaging’ in his talk.’  For which reason he was an invaluable visitor at the change-house, where Nanse Tannock had a Jesuitical device of her own for detaining him.. Nanse carried a huge leather pouch at her side, slung from her wait (as old Scotch land-ladies used to do), filled with keys, pence, ‘change’ and et ceteras.  When application for Burns was made at her door--as was often the case, ‘for atweel he was uncolie in demand’-- by personal friends of his or rivals of her own--’Is Rab here? or ‘Is Mossgiel her?’--Nanse would thrust her hand into her capacious leather pouch, and, jingling ostentatiously among keys and coppers, would solemnly and fraudulently declare ‘that he wasna there (in her pouch) that night!’ --Rab, in reality, being most probably engaged at the very moment in rehearsing his last poetical effusion, ‘The Holy Fair’ or ‘The Twa Herds,’ to an ecstatic audience in the par- lour.”  The same writer goes on to say that it was in Nanse Tannock’s parlour that “the first reading of ‘The Holy Fair’ took place, when there were present Robert and his sweet-heart, Jean Armour; William and his sweetheart, Nelly Miller; and ‘anither lad or twa and their sweethearts.  Robin himself’ was in unco glee. He kneelit until a chair in the middle o’ the room, wi’ his elbows on the back o’t, and read owre “The Holy Fair” frae a paper i’ his han’ I never saw himself’ in sic glee.’  It must be observed, however, that both the quantity and the quality of ‘refreshment’ on this, as on other similar occasions, were very moderate indeed--‘three ha’ penny yill, twa or three bottles for the company’ being the average reckoning, with a glass or two of whisky at most…….Miss Brown, Mauchline, states that her father well remembered Robert Burns, and has seen him frequently at Nanse Tannock’s after his marriage, carrying his eldest son aloft on his hand, balancing and tossing the child in paternal pride towards the kitchen ceiling.  Very beautiful indeed is this homely picture; and Jean herself undoubtedly would be there.”

The house in which Burns resided is nearly opposite that  of Nanse Tannock.  It is a substantial two-storied thatched building containing several apartments.  The one up stairs on the left is that in which the Poet and his darling Jean spent their honeymoon--a fact which induces many visitors to call and stare with a kind of reverence at the walls of the room and at the set-in-bed in which the happy pair slept; indeed some strangers--but more especially American-- are so enthusiastic that they beg pieces of the wood, and several, I was informed, were so foolish as to get into it altogether.

Holding along a path which skirts the churchyard wall, and winds round the back row what was the residence of Gavin Hamilton, the early friend and patron of the poet, I crossed a rude bridge which spans a trickling narrow stream at the base of the hoary remnant of the priority already mentioned, and after some little difficulty entered a shady lane.  This  brought me to the gate of the neatly laid out grounds which front the now celebrated and almost classic abode which is quaint and old-fashioned in appearance and highly picturesque from its situation.

Gavin Hamilton was a legal practitioner of high respectaability, and is described as having been a “man of spirit and intelligence--generous, affable, and enlightened.”  Gilbert Burns says--”The farm of Mossgiel, at the time of our coming to it, was the property of the Earl of Loudoun, but was held in tack by Mr. Gavin Hamilton, writer in Mauchline, from whom we had our bargain; who had thus an opportunity of knowing and showing a sincere regard for my brother before he knew he was a poet.  The Poet’s estimation of him, and the strong outlines of his character, may be collected from the dedication to this gentleman.  When the publication was begun, Mr. H. entered very warmly into its interests and promoted the subscription very extensively.” It is almost unnecessary to add that he and Burns were on the most intimate terms, and that he had the poet’s warmest sympathy when subjected to the petty annoyances of the kirk-session for digging a few potatoes in his garden on a Sabbath morning.  In his office--which is still shown--Burns was married to Jean Armour, not in a ceremonial way, but according to the law of the land and as surely as if the contract had received the sanction of a benchful of bishops.  It appears from the session record that the ceremony was performed on the 3rh August, 1788, and also that the poet generously gave a guinea to the poor of the parish on being told that it was customary for the bridegroom to pay a small fine when an irregular marriage was contracted.  This room is also memorable as that in which “The Calf” was committed to paper.  Burns called on his friend one day when going to church, and finding him suffering from gout, jocularly promised to return and give him the text.  He did so, and the humorous satire was the result.

Upon leaving what is commonly termed “Gavin Hamilton’s house,” I found my way to the gate of the churchyard, which is close by, and luckily found it open.  The church is a handsome edifice in the Gothic style, with a turreted square tower ninety feet in height.  It occupies the site of the old barn-looking building in which “Daddy Auld” held forth. Hew Ainslie describes it in his Pilgrimage to the Land of Burns as having been as ugly an old lump of consecrated stone as ever cumbered the earth.  “It seems,” he says, (“if one might judge by the arched lintels that attempted to peep through the rough plaster to have been set up by Gothic hands; and if so, Presbyterianism has really been tolerably successful in beating it into its favourite model--a barn.  The interior is, if possible, more dismal.  Cold, damp, dark, and dirty, looking dissolution, and smelling decay, and a fitter place one could hardly imagine for crying ‘tidings of damnation’ in.  Besides the ground floor in contains two wonderful looking things called lofts.  One stretches from the east gable down into the body of the kirk; the other sticks out from the wall opposite the pulpit, supported by two wooden pegs, which gives it quite the dangerous look of that cunning engine, the mouse trap.  Beneath this queer canopy, Jasper pointed out the “cutty stool” where Burns sat when ‘Mess John, beyond expression, fell foul o’ him; ‘But,’ said the bellman, ‘tho’ that’s the bit whar he sat, it’s no the seat. It’s been made into a twa-armed chair, for behoof o’ a society here wha haud his birthday.’”

It is stated in Spottiswood’s Church History that George Wishart, the celebrated martyr of the Scottish Reformation, was invited to preach in Mauchline Church in 1554.  “On his arriving at the place it was found that the Sheriff of Ayr, an enemy to the new faith, had placed a guard of soldiers in the church to keep him out. Some of the country people offered to force an entrance for him, but he would not suffer them, saying: ‘It is the word of peace I preach unto you; the blood of no man shall be shed for it this day; Christ, is as mighty as the fields as in the church; and he himself, when in the flesh, preached oftener in the desert and upon the sea shore than in the temple of Jerusalem.’  Then walking along to the edge of the moor, on the south side of Mauchline, he preached for three hours and upwards to the multitude that flocked about him.”

At one time “tent preachings” and common fairs were held in the churchyard of Mauchline, but it has undergone an alteration for the better, and is now enclosed by a high wall, and compares favorably with the best kept village burying-grounds in the shire. After inspecting the church, I began to stray among the grass-covered graves, and conjure up the scene so graphically described by the poet--a by no means difficult task when one is acquainted with the incidents of The Holy Fair and remaining landmarks. The back of Gaving Hamilton’s house forms parts of the boundary.  A little further along, the upper portion of Nanse Tannock’s house, and two or three old rickets, serve the same purpose; but the first has the accommodations of a back door which, in the good dame’s time, opened into the courtyard, and through which droves of drouthy saints poured,

“To gie the jars and barrels
A lift that day.” 

In front, the Cowgate retains a streak or two of its original appearance, for the house which Poosie Nansie occupied is but little changed, and that in which Jean Armour’s father lived has undergone no very great alteration.  The same, however, cannot be said of “the holy spot,” for it is thickly studded with modern tombstones, and very few specimens of ancient sculpture are to be met with.  Despite this it is interesting to ramble among the hillocks and scan the memorials of individuals who were associates of the bard or themes of his muse.  Entering a gravelled walk that winds round the church, I turned to the left, and at a short distance from the tower paused before a plain upright stone which bears the following inscription:--”IN MEMORY OF A.D.J. JOHN MORRISON, OF THE 104TH REGIMENT, WHO DIED AT MAUCHLINE, 16TH APRIL, 1804, IN THE 80TH YEAR OF HIS AGE.  ALSO, HIS DAUGHTER, MARY, THE POET’S BONNIE MARY MORRISON, WHO DIED 29TH JUNE, 1791, AGED 20; AN DHIS SECOND SPOUSE, ANN THOMLIESON, WHO DIED SEPTEMBER, 1831, AGED 76.”  So this is the resting place of the amiable girl who made such an impression on the youthful poet’s heart when attending the dancing school at Tarbolton, thought I, and yet she is pronounced unknown.  The song in Mary’s honour was a juvenile production, but notwithstanding it is considered to be the most pathetic of the poet’s love effusions.

“Oh Mary, at they window be,
It is the wished, the trusted hour!
Those smiles and glances let me see,
That make the miser’s treasure poor.
How blithely wad I bid the stoure,
A weary slave frae sun to sun,
Could I the rich reward secure,
The lovely Mary Morison.” 

A little to the south of the church “Holy Willie’s weel-worn clay” has “at’en up its last abode.” Nothing marks the spot, but the best and most enduring memorial of this individual is his well-known prayer; it will survive the wreck on many things, and keep his memory green when obliteration has wiped the inscription off every stone in the yard.  The holy man was no better than the poet said he was: that he was an arrant hypocrite the events of his life testify.  After being convicted of pilfering money from the church offerings, his morals did not improve, and he ultimately ended his days in a roadside ditch, having been jolted out of a cart which was conveying him and other inebriates home from a country fair.  The carter--who appears not to have been altogether compos mentis himself--never missed Willie, or knew of the accident, until the dead body of the unfortunate man was discovered next morning. So ended the life of a practical dissembler; but, unfortunately, specimens of his class are not rare, for individuals are still to be found who

“-----display to congregations wide,
Devotion’s every grace, except the heart.”

A short distance from Willie’s narrow bed the remains of Nanse Tannock and Racer Jess are stowed away under the sward.  The first died in comfortable circumstances, and, like a judicious browster wife, maintained to the last that Burns never drank twa half-munchkins in her house in a’ his life, and that what he stated in his poems was just a wheen “leein’ blethers.”  Perhaps she was right after all, for it is evident--at least to the writer--that he exercised the poetic license in the matter of dram-drinking.  Jess, poor lass, closed her mortal race somewhat suddenly on the 15th February, 1813. She was the daughter of Poosie Nansie, a dame of whom something will be presently said, and was remarkable for her pedestrian powers and the running of errands: hence her cognomen.

In an out-of-the -way corner of the churchyard,  which appears to be a repository for rubbish, I stumbled across a massive stone tablet.  Having my attention attracted by the name Auld, I set to work and cleared the moss and dirt from the inscription and made out the following: --”THE REVER- END MR. WILLIAM AULD, MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL AT MAUCHLINE, DIED 12TH DECEMBER, 1791, IN THE 50TH YEAR OF HIS MINISTRY, AND THE 81ST OF HIS AGE.”  Little need be said regarding Daddy Auld.  That Burns satirized him, and that he rebuked Burns before the congregation for a certain moral lapse, is well known.  He was a good man, but somewhat over zealous, and doubtless too sever on Gavin Hamilton for digging a few potatoes on the Sabbath; but what else could he be when hounded on by men like Holy Willie?  Holding along the back of the church, I came to the burying-place of the Armour family.  At its head there is a very handsome tombstone, and over the grace a common flag, much worn and scratched, which bears the following faded inscription:--”ELIZABETH RIDDLE, DAUGHTER OF ROBERT BURNS AND JEAN ARMOUR, BORN AT DUMFRIES 21ST NOVEMBER, 1793, DIED AT MAUCHLINE IN THE AUTUMN OF 1795.” A short distance from this buying place there is a humble tombstone to the memory of an obscure Covenanter, which states that ‘HERE LIES INTERRED THE CORPSE OF JAMES SMITH, WHO WAS WOUNDED BY CAPTAIN INGLIS AND HIS DRAGOONS AT THE BURN OF ANN IN KYLE, AND THEREAFTER DIED OF HIS WOUNDS IN MAUCHLINE PRISON, FOR HIS ADHERENCE TO THE WORD OF GOD AND SCOTLAND’S COVENANTED WORK OF REFORMATION.--A.D. 1682.”

Every reader is, or at least should be, aware that Mauchline Churchyard is the scene of The Holy Fair. On it the poet met Fun, his cronie dear, and in “fine remarkin’” put an effectual stop to practices which where a disgrace to Scotland. “Holy Fairs” have happily passed away, but Robert Burns, by his “priest-skelping turns,” and the scathing, withering sarcasm of the poem referred to, caused their explusion, and worked a much needed reformation in the ecclesiastical affairs of Mauchline parish.  In his day, the time appointed for the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper was looked forward to by the peasantry as a kind of festival, and farm servants, when taking “a fee,” were in the habit of making an agreement that they would be allowed to “gang to the preaching” on such an occasion during their period of service.  All this wanted reforming, and it was only a satirist like our poet who could apply the lash and make the victim writhe under every stroke.  This he did; but, to the eternal honour of his name, he never ridicules the ordinance itself, nor utters a sneer at the “worship of God in spirit and in truth.”  No. Although often

“Mislead by Fancy’s meteor ray.”

he had a sincere regard for religion, and believed--in fact, he states in a letter to Mrs Dunlop that  

“’Tis this that streaks our morning bright,
‘Tis this that gilds the horror of our night.
When wealth forsakes us, and when friends are few,
When friends are faithless, or when foes pursue,
‘Tis this that wards the blow or stills the smart,
Disarms affliction or repels his dart,
Within the breast bids purest raptures rise,
Bids smiling conscience spread her cloudless skies.”

Mauchline Holy Fair was an event of no small importance in the district.  People came long distances to be present at it, and while it lasted the public houses did a thriving business.

‘Now but and ben the change-house fills
Wi’ yill-caup commentators,
Here’s crying out for bakes and gills,
And there the pint-stoup clatters;
While thick and thrang, and loud and land,
Wi’ logic and wi’ Scripture,
They raise a din that in the end
Is like to breed a rupture
O’ wrath that day.”

The Communion was celebrated in the church, but the churchyard, in which there was a rostrum or moveable pulpit an “a shed to find the showers and screen the country gentry,” presented an animated appearance.  The scene is graphically described by the Poet, but a still more racy picture is given in a pamphlet bearing date 1759, which purports to be A Letter from a Blacksmith to the Ministers and Elders of the Church of Scotland, in which the manner of public worship in that church is considered, its inconveniences and defects pointed out, and methods for removing them humbly proposed.  “At the time of the administration of the Lord’s Supper upon the Thursday, Saturday, and Monday,” says the writer, “we have preaching in the fields near the church.  At first you find a great number of men and women lying together upon the grass; here they are sleeping and snoring, some with their faces towards heaven, others with faces turned downwards, or covered with their bonnets; there you find a knot of young fellows and girls making assignations to go home together in the evening or meet in some alehouse; in another place you see a pious circle sitting round an ale-barrel, many of which stand ready upon carts for the refreshment of the saints. The heat of the summer season, the fatigue of travelling, and the greatness of the crowd naturally dispose them to drink, which inclines some of them to sleep, works up the enthusiasm of others, and contributes not a little to produce those miraculous conversions that sometimes happen at these occasions--in a word, in this sacred assembly there is an odd mixture of religion, sleep, drinking, courtship, and a confusion of sexes, ages, and characters.  When you get a little nearer the speaker, so as to be within reach of the sound though not the sense of the words--for that can only reach a small circle --you will find some weeping and others laughing, some pressing to get nearer the tent or tub in which the parson is sweating, bawling, jumping, and beating the desk; others fainting with the stifling heat, or wrestling to extricate themselves from the crowd; one seems very devout and serious, and the next moment is scolding or cursing his neighbour for squeezing or treading on him; in an instant after his countenance is composed to the religious gloom, and he is groaning, sighing, and weeping for his sins--in a word, there is such an absurd mixture of the serious and comic that were we convened for any other purpose than that of worshipping the God and Governor of Nature the scene would exceed all power of face.”  How like the poet’s description!  From this we know he did not exaggerate, but drew his picture from the life, and poured our the phials of his indignation against the cant and hypocritical humbug of his time.

“Here sits a raw of tittling jades
Wi’ heaving breasts and bare neck,
And there a batch o’ wabster lads
Blackguarding frae Kilmarnock,
For fun this day.

“Here some are thinking on their sins,
And some upon their claes;
Ane curses feet that fyl’d his shins
Anither sighs and prayers;
On this hand sit’s a chosen swatch
Wi’ screwed-up, grace-proud faces;
On that a set o’ chaps at watch,
Thrang winking on the lasses
To chairs that day.

“O happy is that man and blest!
(Nae wonder that it pride him!)
Wha’s ain dear lass that he like best
Comes clinkin’ on the chair back,
He sweetly does compose him;
Which, by degrees, slips around her neck,
An’s loof upon her bosom,
Unkenned that day.

“Now a’ the congregation o’er
Is silent expectation:
For Moodie speels the holy door
Wi’ tidings o’d----tion.
Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
‘Mang sons o’ God present him,
The vera sight o’ Moodie’s face
To’s ain het hame had sent him
Wi fright that day.

“Hear how he clears the points o’ faith
Wi’ rattlin’ an’ wi’ thumpin’!
Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath,
He’s stampin’ an’ he’s jumpin’!
His lengthen’d chin, his turn’d-up snout,
His eldritch squeal and gestures,
Oh, how they fire the heart devout,
Like cantharidian plasters,
On sic a day!”

Opposite the churchyard gate is the street along which “Common Sense too the road” on a certain minister making his appearance at The Holy Fair. At one corner is the house in which “Poosie Nansie” resided, and the entry at which “Racer Jess,” and two or three ladies of questionable virtue, stood “blinking,” while the people were gathering to celebrate “the Fair,” and at the other a substantial building with the following inscribed on its front chimney:--

This is the house, though built anew,
Where Burns came weary frae the plough,
To ha’e a crack wi’ Johnny Doo
On nicht at e en,
Or whiles to taste his mountain dew
Wi’ bonnie Jean.”

Why a house can be the same after being rebuilt is difficult to understand, but I suppose the poet must be awarded the usual license.  The building, however, which occupied the site when Burns walked the streets of Mauchline, was an inn, and if tradition is to be trusted, it was a favourite resort of his.  On the back window of an upper room he scribbled the following amusing epitaph on John Down, the landlord, which was doubtless more truthful than pleasing to that worthy:--

“Here lies Johnny Pidgeon;
What was his religion?
Whae’er desires to ken,
To some ither warl’
Maun follow the carl,
For here Johnny Pidgeon had nane.

“Stron ale was ablution,
Small beer persecution,
A dram was mementi mori;
But a full flowing bowl
Was the joy of his soul,
And port was celestrial glory.”

The gable of Jean Armour’s father’s house adjoined the back of the premises, and Burns, it is said, often sat at the win- dow referred to and conversed with her in the language of the eyes--a language, by the by, which lovers aptly under- stand and appreciate.

The house in which Jean’s parents resided is a lowly thatched cottage, but from the fact that it sheltered her and them, it possesses peculiar interest.

Observing that the house celebrated by the residence of “Poosie Nansie” is “licensed to retail spirits, porter, and ales,” I entered for the double purpose of weetin’ my whistle and seeing the relics in possession of the occupants. I was shown a caup supposed to have been used by the “randie gangrel bodies” who

“held the splore
To drink their orra duddies,” 

and also an old engraving representing the merry crew in the midst of their festivities.

Poosie Nansie was a Mrs. Gibson, who lodged vagrants and other questionable characters.  The halt, the blind, and the lame found shelter beneath her roof, and her kitchen was not infrequently the scene of frantic mirth and bouts of drunkenness.  Here Burns studied humanity in its lowest forms, and his “Jolly Beggars” in supposed to have been founded on a scene which he witnessed in the establishment. Chambers says--”In company with his friends, John Richmond and James Smith, he dropped accidentally at a late hour into the humble hostelry of Mrs. Gibson………… After witnessing much jollity among a company who by day appeared abroad as miserable beggars, the three young men came away, Burns professing to have been greatly amused with the scenes, but particularly with the gleesome behaviour of an old maimed soldier.  In the course of a few days he recited a part of the poem to Richmond, who informed me that, to the best of his recollection, it contained, in its original complete form, songs by a sweep and a sailor which did not afterwards appear.”

Having strolled to the Cross, I turned up a lane which terminates at the public green--a triangular piece of ground on which the seven annual fairs of the district are held. It is memorable on account of the five martyrs “who suffered for Christ and their adherence to the Covenanted work of Reformation” buried in it, and also for being the spot where Burns had his second interview with Jean Armour.  “There was a race at the end of April,” says Robert Chambers, “and there it was customary for the young men, with little ceremony, to invite such girls as they liked off the street into a humble dancing hall, where a fiddler had taken up his station to give them music.  The payment of a penny for a dance was held by the minstrel as guerdon sufficient.  Burns and Jean happened to be in the same dance, but not as partners, when come confusion and little merriment was exited by his dog tracking his footsteps through the room.  He playfully remarked to his partner that ‘he wished he could get any of the lasses to like him as well as his dog did.’  A short while after, he passed through Mauchline washing green, where Jean, who had overheard the remark, was bleaching clothes.  His dog running over the clothes, the young maiden desired him to call it off, and this led them into conversation.  Archly referring to what had passed at the dance, she asked ‘if he had yet got any of  the lasses to like him as well as his dog did?’  From that time their intimacy commenced.”  Of course, Jean was one of the “Mauchline belles,” and according to the poet’s notion was “the flower o’ them a’.”  After he was married to her, he very sensibly and justly said, that he could easily fancy a more agreeable companion in his journey through life, but had never seen the individual instance.

From the public green I strolled down an avenue and paused before the old manse.  It is a quaint, curiously formed building, and was the residence of the celebrated Daddy Auld. Daddy’s wife was supposed to be a witch, and according to tradition kept queer company--indeed, it is handed down that a servant girl saw the devil warming his hoofs at a fire in one of the rooms.  The old gentleman sat with his tail twisted over his knee, but the moment the maid screamed and let fall the shovel full of fuel she carried, he vanished. Perhaps it was wrong, but I went up and saw “the haunted room,” and the spot where his devilship enjoyed a short respite from  

“Spairgin about the brunstance cootie
To scaud poor wretches,” 

but beheld nothing remarkable, and came away somewhat disappointed, for instead of it being clad with cobwebs and dust, like the haunted chambers we read about, it was scrupulously clean, and wore an air of quiet comfort.

From the old manse, a short walk brought me to Ballochmyle road, and ultimately to the upper end of the Cowgate. Here I again paused, and while thinking on the flight of “Common Sense” from the “Holy Fair,” looked upon a snug thatched cottage with a porched doorway, which stands near some mean buildings a little way down the celebrated thorughfare.  It is pointed to as the house in which Burns composed his exquisite address to ‘a Haggis,” and on this account possesses a peculiar interest in the eyes of those who see a charm in everything associated with the poet’s name.  It was at one time occupied by a Mr. Robert Morrison, a great crony of the poet when he resided at Mossgiel, and it is said that he was in the habit of spending the interval between the church services on the Sabbath-day at this gentleman’s fireside.  On one of these occasions, Mrs. Morrison invited the bard to partake of a haggis “whose hurdies like a distant hill” almost concealed ‘the groaning trencher.”  Having don so to his evident delight and inward satisfaction, he wrote the “address,” and well he might, for a proper haggis is worthy of a “grace as lang’s my arm” at any time.

From Mauchline I pushed on to Ballochmyle, but what was seen and heard there and at Barskimming will be reserved for next chapter.


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