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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 5


NEWTON-UPON-AYR--THE CONSTITUTION OF THE BURGH--THE CHURCH AND ITS PASTORS--THE AULD AND NEW BRIGS OF AYR--WAS BURNS A PROPHET?--THE HIGH STREET OF AYR--THE SITE OF THE TOLBOOTH--THE OLD CHURCH AND GRAVE-YARD--PROVOST BALLANTYNE--ROBERT AIKEN--HEROES OF "THE KIRK’S ALARM"--THE MARTYRS’ STONE--A CURIOUS EPITAPH--DAFT RAB HAMILTON.

The situation of Newton-upon-Ayr is not striking, nor is its neighbourhood remarkable for beauty. Although containing a population of 4686 souls, and forming part of the Parliamentary burgh of Ayr, it has few manufactures and little traffic, and as to its buildings, they are of such a common-place description that a rambler might stray though its streets without harboring a wish to linger on his way. The constitution of the burgh, however, is of some interest on account of it being only paralleled by Prestwick, but when it was created cannot, at this date, be ascertained with certainty, its original charter being lost. Notwithstanding this, tradition states, and the freeman affirm, that the lands were conferred by Robert the Bruce upon forty-eight individuals who disintuited themselves at the battle of Bannockburn. This may, or may not have been, but it is certain that the privileges enjoyed by the burghers in early times were renewed by a charter from James VI., which empowered the community--as the forty-eight participators are termed--to grant feus and divide amongst themselves the lands acquired by their ancestors, and also to elect two bailies, one treasurer, and six councillors.

Each lot or freedom extends to about six acres of arable land, and the right of succession is limited to direct descent. For instance, a son succeeds to his father; and a widow, not having a son, enjoys the property of her husband as long as she lives, but daughters are excluded from benefit, and the consequence is that freedoms frequently revert to the community. These, however, are not retained, but disposed of to the most respectable and industrious inhabitants of the burgh, and in this manner the commune has been kept in existence. At this date many of the freedoms have been disposed of, and the privileges which the charter conferred are of no practical utility, but notwithstanding, the freeman are still the superiors, and meet frequently to transact business.

Wallacetown adjoins Newton, and is also part of the Paralimentary burgh of Ayr. It originated toward the end of the last century, and is entirely build on ground feued from the Wallaces of Craigie.

The church, and ancient churchyard of Newton, are hid from view by the Council Chambers--an odd-like building which stands near the centre of Main Street--but they afford no inducement to the rambler to linger by them. The church, however, although obscurely situated, has gained a kind of celebrity on account of the number of ordinations which have taken place in it since the Disruption, and the fact that many of its clergymen have risen to eminence. For instance, the Rev. Dr, Caird, Principal of Glasgow University, was its minister for some time; as also, the Rev. John Stuart of St. Andrew’s Edinburgh; the Rev. Dr. George Burns of Glasgow Cathedral; the Rev. Dr. Wallace, formerly of Greyfriars, Edinburgh, and now editor of the Scotsman; the Rev. John McLeod (cousin of the lamented Dr Norman); and others equally deserving of notice.

From Newton I passed through Wallacetown and sought the Auld Brig o’ Ayr--a ponderous old-fashioned structure of four lofty arches, whose weed-covered buttresses and solid architecture have, according to general belief, witnessed the passage of six hundred ears and the many changes which  have followed in their train. A pretty little legend has it that the old pile was erected by two maiden ladies named Lowe to prevent the annual loss of life which ensued from the crossing of a ford near the spot it occupies, and that the chief incitement to the praiseworthy act was the melancholy circumstance of a young man to whom one of them was betrothed having perished while attempting to cross the stream during a flood. Be this as it may, two faded effigies which tradition points to as theirs may still be seen on the inside of the eastern parapet, and also the time-worn figures "1, 2, 5, 2" which possibly denote the year in which the edifice was constructed. This legend may be an historical fact, but the annals of the venerable structure are few and fail to record it.

Although early occurrences associated with the venerable piles are unchronicled, many a regal, many a warlike, and many a devotional cavalcade has doubtless defiled across its narrow path in times passed away, when it formed the principal if not the only means of communication between the northern and southern banks of the Ayr in the district; but a truce to speculation.

About 1785 the ancient bridge began to display such symptoms of decay that the magistrates of Ayr had it examined, and the result was, that it was pronounced no longer capable of withstanding the strain of heavy traffic. At first they thought of taking it down, but after considerable deliberation and negotiation, an Act of Parliament was obtained which empowered them to build a new bridge, and place a toll upon it, to refund the money expended on its construction. In May, 1786, the first stone of this structure was laid, but it was not until November, 1788, that the last was imbedded and the whole work finished.

Mr. John Ballantyne, banker, Ayr, a very warm friend, and a sincere admirer of the poetical and personal merits of Robert Burns, was Provost during the time of its erection, and took a deep interest in its progress. He generously offered to advance the necessary funds to print a second edition of the poet’s works. This, and many another kindness, seem to have been fully appreciated by Burns, for in a letter to his earliest Ayr patron--Robert Aiken--he says:-- "I would detest myself as a wretch if I thought I were capable in a very long life of forgetting the honest, warm, and tender delicacy with which he (Mr Ballantye) enters into my interests." Poets have seldom more to give than a song, and at this most unfortunate and vexatious period of his existence Burns had little else. However, as a mark of his esteem and gratitude, he inscribed to him the clever dialogue in which he makes the old and new bridges hurl all the opprobrious epithets at each other a poet’s fancy could command, and thereby rescued his name from oblivion. "The Brigs of Ayr" is one of our poet’s happiest efforts, but little did he think when he penned it that he had put a prophesy into the mouth of the presiding genii of the old bridge which would be fulfilled to the letter before a century rolled into the vortex of eternity. Mark the language. The hour is midnight, and

"The Goth is stalking round with anxious search,
Spying the time-worn flaws in every arch,"

when his "new-come neebor"--in course of erection some hundred and fifty yards farther down the stream--catches his eye.

"Wi’ thieve less sneer to see his modish mien,
He, doun the water, gies him thus guid-e’en:--

AULD BRIG.

"I doubt na, frien’, ye’ll think ye’re nae sheep-shank,
Ance ye were streekit o’er frae bank to bank,
But gin ye be a brig as auld as me,
Though faith, that day I doubt ye’ll never see,
There’ll be, if that day come, I’ll wad a boddle,
Some fewer whigmaleeries in your noodle.

NEW BRIG

"Auld Vandal, ye but show your little mense,
Just much about it wi’ your scantie sense;
Will your poor narrow footpath of a street,
Where twa wheelbarrows tremble when they meet,
Your ruined, formless bulk o’ stane and lime,
Compare wi’ bonnie brigs o’ modern time?
There’s men o’ tast wad tak the Ducat stream,
Though they should cast the very sark and swim,
Ere they wad grate their feelings wi’ the view
O’ sic an ugly Gothic hulk as you."

AULD BRIG.

"Conceited gowk, puffed up wi’ windy pride!
This mony a year I’ve stood the flood and tide;
And through wi’ crazy eild I’m sair forfairn,
I’ll be a Brig when ye’re a shapeless cairn!
As yet ye little ken about the matter,
But twa-three winters will inform ye better.
When heavy, dark, continued, a’-day rains,
Wi’ deepening deluges o’erflow the plains;
When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,
Or stately Lugar’s mossy foundations boil,
Or where the Greenock winds his moorland course,
Or haunted Garpal draws his feeble source,
Aroused by blustering winds and spotting thows,
In mony a torrent down his snaw-broo rowes;
While crashing ice, borne on the roaring spate,
Sweeps dams, and mills, and brigs ‘ to the gate;
And from Glenbuck down to the Ratton-Key
Auld Ayr is just one lengthened tumbling sea--
Then down ye’ll hurl, deil nor ye never rise!
And dash the gumlie jaups to the pouring skies,
A lesson sadly teaching to your cost,
That Architecture’s noble art is lost!"

It came to pass as the Auld Brig predicted. The "conceited gowk" is no more, and another equally handsome bridge is "steekit o’er fraw bank to bank" in its stead. In March, 1877, its masonry was found to be so rent and insecure that it was condemned, and ordered to be taken down, but it was not until the 5th of November same year that it was reduced to "a shapeless cairn." Then, its parapets and packing being removed, the arches were blown up with dynamite, and in the presence of a vast concourse of spectators assembled to witness its overthrow, it fell into the bed of the river, a shattered, formless mass of masonry.

Reader, do not smile at the writer’s enthusiasm when he tell you that he not only crossed and re-crossed the Old Bridge, bur curiously examined everything about it, and what is more, leaned over the weather-worn parapet and watched the water gliding from beneath the massive arches. He took a strange delight in doing so, for to be where the admired bard of his country found a theme for his muse gives one a more lively and vivid conception of the man, and a clearer insight into his master mine.

Despite the boast of the ancient edifice, its many good qualities are so far impaired that it is only traversed by foot-passengers now, but notwithstanding, it appears quite capable of bearing such "aboon the broo," and most likely will perform the degenerate duty for many, many long years and that too despite the assaults of time and the blustering wintry torrents which in the course of nature may lash themselves into foam against its buttresses.

After lingering by the celebrated edifice, I traversed a narrow, old-fashioned lane and entered the High Street--a well-paved thoroughfare containing man large shops and other places of business, and not a few buildings belonging to a former age. An observant pedestrian finds much to interest him in a bustling town, and objects to engage attenion are not wanting in "the auld toon o’ Ayr." Indeed, it will amply repay any person who has time to leisurely examine it, and although its store of antiquities is not great, yet they are worth hunting up and interesting when found.

For instance, I had proceeded but a short distance along this, the chief artery of the town, when my attention was attracted by a dumpy, ill-proportioned statue of the hero Wallace, peering in serio-comic fashion from a niche in the side wall of a corner tenement, which is said to occupy the site of the Tolbooth or prison-house in which "Scotia’s ill-requited chief" languished after killing Lord Percy’s steward. Blind Harry narrates the circumstances in "Buke Secund" of his metrical life of Wallace, and states that he was brought so low by damp and disease while immured that the gaoler during one of his visits considered him dead, and had him tossed over the prison wall like so much carrion. According to the minstrel, the gaoler’s mistake was the means of preserving the patriot’s life, for being found by "his first nurse," he was conveyed to her residence in Newton and concealed until health and strength were regained.

There are many curious old buildings in the vicinity of the tenement containing the statue referred to, but none more so than those situated in an adjacent alley named Isle  Lane. One especially, which appears to have been the town residence of some noble family, carries on as far back as the Elizabethan period.

Entering Kirk Port, a narrow, but respectable lane branching off High Street nearly opposite Newmarket Strett, I soon arrived at the gate of the quaint burying-place surrounding the old Parish Church, a venerable building of considerable interest, which stands on the site of the Grey Friars’ Convent, an ecclesiastical edifice alluded to in a former chapter. The appearance of the Churchyard is very striking as you enter it from the peculiarly porched gateway which guards the entrance. Before you is the green uneven sward studded with memorials of the departed, and a little way off the church, a very plain, rude looking building with a jutting aisle which bears date 1654. An interesting fact connected with this place of worship is, that Oliver Cromwell contributed a sum of money toward defraying the expense of its erection when he sacrilegiously turned the historic church of Saint John (then the only place of worship in Ayr) into an armory and built a portion of a fortification upon its burying-ground.

After surveying the exterior of this curious structure I entered by a door which was fortunately standing ajar and began to examine the interior without let or hindrance, for the place was entirely deserted. My footfalls echoed strangely through the vacant building, and the "dim religious light" which streamed through the stained glass windows had a solemnizing effect upon me, but I reverently advanced and leisurely examined the surroundings. Although neither remarkable for beauty nor style of architecture, yet it is much to be regretted that the interior of this old church has been at various times altered so as quite to have changed its character. Indeed "Improvement" have been carried on to such a degree that its ancient appearance is entirely obliterated by the introduction of "whigmaleeries" which newfangled notions have suggested. It has three galleries, or lofts, which are designed the merchants’, the trades’, and the sailors’. That of the sailors had the model of a full-rigged ship hanging in front of it, but like every other characteristic feature, it is improved out of sight. On either side of the pulpit are large windows filled with stained glass of rich and interesting design. One is a memorial of John Welsh and William Adair, ministers of the church in olden times. The design illustrates the preaching of John the Baptist and the announcement of the Navitiy by the angel to the shepherds of Bethlehem. One half of the other window is a memorial of Lady Jane Hamilton, and other half is inscribed to Charles Dalrymple Gairdner. The Scriptural groups are delineated and wrought out with remarkable success, and the rich coloring, relieved by blending shades of white glass, sheds a mellow pure light upon the interior. The rest of the church need not detain us long. Besides these brittle, but brilliantly coloured memorials of good men, there are several monumental tablets on the walls which will repay examination, and also a fine organ behind the neatly fitted up pulpit.

After viewing the interior of the church, I began an interesting ramble through the churchyard, and there scanned the memorial stones of several men who were friends and associates of Burns, and others who have gained a kind of celebrity by being alluded to in his poetry. For instance, close to the southern wall of the church aisle rest the remains of the gentleman to whom the poet inscribed "the Brigs of Ayr." The tablet which marks the spot bears the following inscription:--"IN MEMORY OF JOHN BALLANTYNE, ESQR., OF CASTLEHILL, BANKER INAYR, WHO DIED 15TH JULY, 1812, AGED 68." Judging from records on two old stones at the foot of the grave, the secluded nook seems to have been the burying-place of the Ballantynes for several generations. Robert Chambers sums up this gentleman’s character in few words. He says:--"There could not have been a nobler instance of benevolence and manly worth than that furnished by Provost Ballantyne. His hospitable mansion was known far and wide, and he was the friend of every liberal measure." Robert Aiken, the poet’s earliest Ayr patron, rests near the worthy Provost; and within a railed enclosure by the side of the church are the graves of Drs. Dalrymple and M’Gill, the well-known heroes of "The Kirk’s Alarm." The following is inscribed on the monumental slabs to their memory:--

"TO THE MEMORY OF THE REV. WILLIAM DALRYMPLE, D.D., MINISTER OF AYR, WHO DIED THE 28TH OF JANY., 1814, IN THE 91ST YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND THE 68TH OF HIS MINISTRY; AND OF SUSANNA HUNTER, HIS WIFE, WHO DIED THE 29TH NOVR., 1809, AGED 83. ALSO, OF THEIR CHILDREN ELIZABETH, M’CRAE, AND CHARLOTTE, WHO DIED INFANTS. OF RAMSAY, WHO DIED IN HER TENTH YEAR. OF JAMES, THEIR ONLY SON, WHO DIED IN HIS TWENTIETH YEAR. OF SUSANNA, WHO DIED 2ND JANY., 1817, INT HER 60TH YEAR; AND OF SUANNA HUNTER STEWART, THEIR GRANDDAUGHTER, WHO DIED IN HER 12TH YEAR."

"TO THE MEMORY OF THE REVEREND WILLIAM M’GILL, D.D, THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED BY THE MAGISTRATES OF AYR, IN TESTIMONY OF THE SENSE WHICH THEY AND THE COMMUNITY THEY REPRESENT RETAIN OF HIS DISTINQUISHED WORTH IN THE DISCHARGE OF THE PASTORAL DUTIES OF THIS PARISH FOR A PERIOD OF 46 YEARS. HEAVEN CALLED HIM HENCE ON THE 30TH DAY OF MARCH, 1807, IN THE 76TH YEAR OF HIS AGE."

Dr. Dalrymple was senior, and Dr. M’Gill junior minister of the parish church of Ayr, and during the long period of their joint incumbency--forty-six years--the utmost corduality existed between them.

Dr. Dalrymple is said to have been a man of extraordinary benevolence and worth, and many strange anecdotes are related regarding the philanthropic traits of his character, but it was more than hinted during his lifetime that his views regarding the Trinity were not altogether orthodox. Burns possibly had this in mind when he penned the following stanza regarding him:--

"D’rymple mild, D’rymple mild,
Through your heart’s like a child,
And your life like the new-driven snaw;
Yet that winna save ye,
Auld Satan must have ye,
For preaching that three’s and twa."

As Dr. M’Gill raised the "heretic blast" which gave Burns the key-note of the celebrated satire "The Kirk’s Alarm," a somewhat fuller notice may be accorded him.. He was born at Carsenestock, in the parish of Penninghame, Wigtownshire, on the 11th July, 1731, and was early destined for the Church of Scotland. After receiving a preparatory education at the parish school, he entered the Glasgow University, and in due time was fitted for the ministry. Shortly after being licensed, the preached several times to the congregation of the Parish Church of Ayr during a vacancy in the second charge, and gave such universal satisfaction that at their earnest solicitation he was inducted to the living on the 22nd October, 1761. Some two years after his settlement he married Elizabeth Dunlop, a niece of his colleague Dr. Dalrymple--ad lady of a somewhat capricious temperament, who had a small fortune of £700; but the sum being placed in the Douglas and Heron bank, it was unhappily lost when that unfortunate concern collapsed in 1772. To eke out his slender official income he received boarders into his house, and many country families whose sons were attending Ayr Academy availed themselves of the privilege of placing them under his excellent supervision. His life may be said to have passed without incident until the year 1786. The he published a theological work entitled--A Practical Essay of the Death of Jesus Christ, in two parts; containing (1), the History; (2), the Doctrine of His Death. This bulky octavo volume of 550 pages is dedicated to his colleague, the Rev. William Dalrymple, D.D.; but it no sooner made its appearance than it was denounced as a heretical publication. It was said to favour Arian and Socinian doctrine, and declared contrary to the standard theology of the Church of Scotland. It was attacked by the clergy and laity, and replied to by pamphleteers. Indeed, many zealots in blind enthusiasm did their utmost to crush the writer, and stifle freedom of thought in matters of religion. Amid all this commotion, Dr. M’Gill remained silent, and never so much as deigned to explain or defend the opinions which the work contained until "Pebbles frae the water fit"--as Burns terms the Rev. William Pebbles, D.D., minister of Newton-upon-Ayr--published a sermon which he preached in commemoration of the Revolution of the 5th November, 1788. In this he spoke disparagingly of Dr. M’Gill and his work, and declared that "with one hand he was receiving the privileges of the church, while with the other he was endeavoring to plunge the keenest poignard into her heart"--a most unworthy charge certainly. War was now declared between hitherto warm friends. Dr. M’Gill at once replied by publishing the sermon which he delivered on the 5th November, and along with it an appendix, in which he defended what he had written and severely censured his accuser. Up to this time the Presbytery exercised a prudent forbearance and took no notice of the controversy, but the instant is assumed such a flagrant form steps were taken to vindicate the standards of the church, and the case was laid before the Presbyterial Court of Ayr in April, 1789--exactly three years after the publication of the essay. Dr. M’Gill adhered to the opinions expressed in the work, and continued to defend them, but ultimate an elaborate report was drawn up which stated that the work contained heretical doctrines which were entirely opposed to the standards of the church. Afterwards the case was laid before the Synod which met in Glasgow on the 13th April, 1790; but, to the surprise of everybody, the Doctor requested that no further proceedings should take place, apologized, and gave an explanation of his views which entirely satisfied the assembled divines and ended the discussion.

The memory of this ecclesiastical squabble would have perished had not the satire of the bard rescued it from the oblivion which shrouds many a similar rupture. He had a keen relish for such conflicts, and doubtless watched this one with deep interest, for his noble nature rebelled against the gloomy Calvinism of his day. He wrote "The Kirk’s Alarm" in the very heat of the dissension and circulated it in manuscript amongst his friends. In a letter to John Logan, Es1., which contained a copy of the satire, and shows in what direction his sympathies ran, he says "If I could be of any service to Dr. M’Gill I would do it, though it should be at a much greater expense than irritating a few bigoted priests; but as I am afraid serving him in his present embarass is a task too hard for me;" and a letter to his friend, Robert Graham of Fintry, containing another copy, he makes use of the following language regarding the persecuted doctor: "I think you must have heard of Dr. M’Gill, one of the clergymen of Ayr, and his heretical book. God help him, poor man! Though he is one of the worthiest, as well as one of the ablest of the whole priesthood of the Kirk of Scotland, in every sense of that ambiguous term, yet the poor doctor and his numerous family are in imminent danger of being thrown out to the mercy of the winter winds."

This was the only eventful chapter in the life of Dr. M"Gill. Besides his "Practical Essay on the Death of Jesus Christ," he published various detached sermons, but none of them seem to have attracted much attention. Robert Chambers states that "he was a Socinian in principle, through not a desciple of Socinius, none of whose works he had ever read. In his personal and domestic character he was a strange mixture of simplicity and stoicism. He seldom smiled, but often set the table in a roar by his quaint remarks. He was inflexibly regular in the distribution of time: he studied so much every day, and took his walk at the same hour in all kinds of weather. He played golf a whole twelvemonth without the omission of a single week day, except the three on which there are religious services at the time of the communion. His views of many of the dispensations of Providence were widely different from those of the bulk of society. A friend told him of an old clergyman, an early companion of his own, who, having entered the pulpit in his canonicals, and on being about to commence service, fell back and expired in a moment. Dr. M’Gill clapped his hands together, and said-- ‘That was very desirable; he lived all the days of his life.’"

Besides stones commemorating contemporaries of Burns, there are others of engrossing interest. One to the memory of the local martyrs mentioned in last chapter, who died for principle during the era of the Persecution, bears the following inscription:--"HERE LIES THE CORPSE OF JAMES SMITH, ALEXANDER M’MILLAN, JAMES M’MILLAN, JOHN STEART, GEORGE M’KIRTNY, JNO. GRAHAM, AND JOHN MUIRHEAD, WHO SUFFERED MARTYRDOME AT AIR 27TH DECR., 1666, FOR THEIR ADHEREANCE TO THE WORD OF GOD AND SCOTLAND’S REFORMATION. "THIS SMALL TRIBUTE TO THE ABOVE WAD DONE BY THE INCORPORATE TRADES OF AIR, ANNO DOMIN, 1814. "FOR THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL BE KEEPIT IN EVERLASING REMEMBERANCE.

"Here lie seven martyrs for our Covenants,
A sacred number of triumphant saints,
Pontius M’Adam th’ unjust sentence past;
What is his own the world will know at last.
And Herod Drummond caus’d their heads affix,
Heaven keep a record of the fifty-six.
Boots, thumbing, gibbit were in fashion then,
Lord let us never see such days again."

Close to the above stone is another to the memory of a Robert Cairns, shipmaster, Ayr, which bears the following quaint rhyme:--

"Though Boreas’ blasts and heaving waves
Has tost me to and fro,
Yet at the last of God’s decree
I harbour here below,
Where at an anchor I do rest
With many of our fleet,
Hoping for to set sail again
Our Admiral Christ to meet."

Before taking leave of the old church and its graveyard, a few anecdotes of Daft Rab Hamilton--a character of much local notoriety who was known the length and breadth of the shire, may be related. Although long dead, his face and figure are familiar to old people. He is described as having been an odd-like personage above the ordinary height and about sixty years of age--that was about the period of his death. He walked with a stoop and limped along with a shuffling gait, he was in no way particular, for it depended very much upon chance and charity as to how he was clothed. He usually wore a battered and almost crownless hat, which he pressed down so far on his head that the upper portion of his face was all but concealed--a circumstance which caused him to blink and look upwards as if striving to peer through its rim. Although imbecile, he was quick at repartee, and often more pointed than pleasant in his remarks, but, upon the whole, inoffensive and harmless, even when "half seas over;" for he dearly lo’ed the whiskey, and would, it is said, have drunk a painful of water were he certain of securing a glass of the coveted liquid at the bottom. "Gude ale," he was not averse to, but "sour thing" he was extremely fond of, and drank amazing quantities when chance afforded.

In spite of his penchant for drink, Rab regularly attended church. He generally sat on the pulpit stair, and reverently listened to "the Godly Maister Peebles" of the Newton, for in his estimation he was the best of preachers. On one occasion, however, he was persuaded to attend the Old Church of Ayr, and took up his position on the pulpit stair, as was his custom in what he termed his ain kirk. By some means he failed to catch the number of the psalm given out, and in his eagerness to procure the place he thrust his head through the stair rail to make the necessary enquiry at some people below. All went well; he got the information, but unfortunately, having put his head through a wide place of the rail and allowed his neck to slip down into a narrow place, he found himself fast, and although he rugged and tugged neither backward nor forward could he get. Ultimately, to the great amusement of the congregation, he yelled out "Murder! murder! a man a-hanging in the house of God this day. Oh! that I sud hae left my ain guid, godly minister to come an’ listen to an auld blether like you." Being assisted from his novel position, he picked up his hat and shuffled off, muttering that better could not have happened him for coming to hear the drones o’ the auld kirk. Some time after the occurrence, Mr Auld asked him the reason of the disturbance, and having heard Rab’s explanation said, "Never mind, Robert, come again and here me preach." "Na, na," quoth he,"ye dinna preach, ye only read." Auld smiled.

On another occasion he was met by the same gentleman and asked how he was getting on. "O brawly," replied Rab, as he blinked from under the broken rim of his hat, "but I had an unco queer dream lat nicht." "A dream?" said Mr Auld, "and what was it about, Robert?" "Atweel, sir," said he with a grin, "I thocht I was dead, an’ that I was at the door o’ heaven rappin’ to get in, an’ whan the door was opened the angel said, ‘Whaur are ye fae?’ ‘Frae the toon o’ Ayr,’ says I. ‘An’ what kirk did ye gang to?’ says he. ‘To that o’ the godly Maister Peebles o’ the Newton,’ said I. ‘Ay, ay,’ said the angel, ‘come awa’ in then, for there hasna been a body here frae the auld kirk o’ Ayr sin’ the days o’ the gude Maister Walch.’" Having thus delivered himself, Rab hilched away, leaving Mr Auld to draw whatever conclusion he pleased. This dream became a favourite one and a source of profit to Rab, for he was often called upon to relate it. Once he was stopped on the New Bridge by a fop,who prevailed upon him to do so. While going on with the rehearsal, the would-be wit interrupted him at the word Heaven, and asked--"But what news from hell?" "Manm" said Rab, as he laid his hand on his interrogator’s shoulder, "they’re expecting you there every day."

Upon one occasion a character from Glasgow named "Daft Jamie" paid a visit to Ayr, and having met with and found a kindred spirit in the redoubtable Rab, they agreed, being equally daft, to splice their odd coppers and celebrate their meeting with a drink of ale. Being "unco thick an’ pack heftier," they repaired to a public house and called for a quart; but when the foaming tankard was placed before them Rab laid hold of it and drank the contents without taking a breath. "There!" said he, as he placed the can on the table with a triumphant flourish, "there! that’s the Ayr fashion." "An there!" cried the astonished companion, as he picked up the empty measure and struck him a stounding blow on the head, "that’s the Glasgow fashion;" and I suppose Rab thought it an odd one, but he afterwards apologized by saying that he would not have drunk the ale had he not been desirous of seeing the bonnie wee flower at the bottom.

Once when immured in the Poorhouse, Rab listened attentively to a local clergyman asking a blessing on the meager breakfast set before the paupers. He said nothing, but seemingly thought much, for when it was concluded he edged up to the divine and dryly said--"Deed, sir, I ay thocht there was a blessing wi’ the purishoose parritch, for when I tak a spoonfu’ oot the hole aye fills up again."

Rab was very fond of money, and would have done anything for it. The offer of a coin generally caused him to smile all over; and its proper value he was fully alive to, as was shown one day when a gentlemen present a six-pence and penny and old him to select whichever he pleased. Rab looked, smiled blandly, and said--"I’ll no be greedy, I’ll tak the little ane."

Waggery and poetry are often combined, and in Rab Hamilton they were not apart, for he had the reputation of being a maker of verses in a small way. It was glorious fun for the boys when they caught him on the street to compel him to jump over a straw or sing a song of his own composing. The poor fellow generally preferred the leap, but if there was no alternative he would whine, groan deeply, and cry--"Oh! de boys, de boys; oh! de boys," and then drawl away in a nasal manner at one of his favourite ditties. One was a kind of squib on a tailor who had offended him, and was entitled--"Ye ninth part o’ a man." The following humorous fragment of this satire is remembered by a venerable friend of the writer who knew Rab and appreciated this drollery:--

"Once upon a time a tailor neat an’ fine
Spied a louse on his left shouther bane;
He took up his shears and clippit of its ears;
The house gi’ed a road, an the tailor took the door;
But he cam back wi’ speed when he thocht the louse was deid:
Hit it ower the back wi’ an elwand,
An’ the tailor drew stitch again, again.

Noo the tailor being crouse that he had killed a louse,
Jumped up an doon the floor, up an’ doon the floor,
Crying-’I kill a louse, I kill a louse’
And what can a poor tailor do more?"

"Blackguard Jamie Jellie," as another of Rab’s rhymes was styled, was composed on a small grocer who attempted to raise the price of meal during a period of great scarcity, but unfortunately it is irrecoverable, as also "Oswald’s Cavalrie," a strain composed in praise of the deed of the Ayshire Yeomanry, who were at the time under the command of Oswald of Auchincruive. The poor demented creature’s life was a hard one. He preferred to roam about and pick a precarious livelihood rather than submit to the restraint of the poorhouse. The foxes had holes and the birds of the air nests, but Rab had no fixed place of residence; he slept anywhere, and was in every sense of the word a child of chance. One night he might pass in a stable among straw, another in a hay-rick, or out of the way corner. Some days he fared sumptuously, and picked up many savory scraps, and occasional waughts o’ "sour yill," but there were others again when he scarce broke his fast. He was the only child of an excise officer, and was "born with a want." His father died when he was a stripling, and his mother--to whom, it is said, was ardently attached--died some years afterwards. After the latter event here was no one to look after him, and he became a homeless wanderer, going hither and thither through the country as fancy directed.

After a contemplative ramble through this highly interesting churchyard, I passed through its quaint-looking porched gateway, and continued my journey.


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