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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 8


THE MONUMENT ON THE BANK OF DOON--ITS EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL APPEARANCE--RELICS OF THE POET--HIGHLAND MARY’S BIBLE--SCENERY--THE STATUES OF TAM o’ SHANTER AND SOUTER JOHNNY--THE SCHEME FOR ERECTING THE MONUMENT AND HOW IT ORIGINATED--LAYING THE FOUNDATION STONE--MR. BOSWELL’S ADDRESS, ETC.

The grounds surrounding the Monument on the banks of Doon, although barely an acre in extent, are quite paradisiacal in appearance, being beautifully laid off and well stocked with shrubs and choice flowers.  The tribute to the Poet’s memory is situated in the centre, and towers far above its surroundings, being sixty feet high.  The basement, which is triangular in form, contains a small chamber and supports a circle of nine fluted columns thirty feet in height which bear up a copula crowned by three inverted dolphins and a gilt tripod.  Altogether, it is a handsome piece of masonry and worthy of the object to which it is devoted.

After conversing with the courteous superintendent, I entered the circular chamber in the basement of the pile which was literally crowded with visitors intently examining relics of the poet that are preserved in glass cases.  On a table lay a ponderous ledger or “Visitors’ book,” round which a knot were gathered anxiously waiting to add their names to the many thousands its pages contained; but from it my eye wandered round the apartment, and rested on a well-executed portrait of Burns from the celebrated paining by Naismyth, and also upon several spirited sketches illustrating happy passages in his poems.  These adorned the walls, but a masterpiece of art, in the form of a bust of Burns, arrested universal attention by its life-like appearance. It is a souvenir of the genius of the late Patrick Pars, R.S.A., a Scottish sculptor of considerable merit, who died on the threshold of Fame’s temple.  These in themselves are very interesting, but the “Burns relicts” are more attractive by far, and in consort with other enthusiasts I looked upon them with feelings akin to veneration.  The following is a list of the most noteworthy:--The Bible presented by Burns to “Highland Mary;” “Bonnie Jean’s (Mrs. Burns’) wedding ring, presented by Mrs. Hutchinson, a grand-daughter of the poet; two rings, containing portions of the hair of Burns and his devoted wife, presented by their son, James G. Burns; two drinking-glasses presented by Burns to Clarinda; a snuff-box made from the rafters of “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk,” and a caup said to have been used by the “randie, gangrel bodies” who frequented the establishment of Poosie Nancy. Beside these, there is a copy of the original Kilmarnock edition of Burn’s poems, and one of the Edinburgh edition; but the greatest literary curiosities are those in the German and French languages.  There are also to be seen a letter from Burns to Captain Millar of Dalswinton, and fac similes of the MSS. of “Scots wha hae,” and “The Jolly Beggars.” The bible which the poet presented to his “Highland lassie” when they parted for ever on the banks of the Ayr, consists of two small volumes, and bears the following in his unmistakeable handwriting:--Vol. I.--”And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, I am the Lord.  Levit. 19th chap. 12th verse.” In the centre of the opposite fly-leaf there is a mystical Free Mason mark.  Vol. II.--”Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oath.  Matth. 5th ch. 33d verse.”  On the tope of the opposite fly-leaf are “Robert,” and two indistinct words, which possibly are Burns and Mossgiel.

The history of this Bible is somewhat singular. After Mary’s death, her father forbade the name of her lover to be mentioned in the family. Her mother, however, was more relenting, and with fond memories of her child treasured the volumes, and shortly before her own demise, which occurred in Greenock in 1828, presented them to her daughter, a Mrs. Anderson; but from her they passed from one sister to another, and ultimately came into the possession of her son, William Anderson, mason, Renton, Dumbartonshire.  In 1834 he emigrated to Canada and took the volumes with him. For a long time thereafter all traces of them were lost; but being accidentally heard of by a few patriotic Scots in  Montreal, 

These records dear of transports past”

were purchased for £25, and generously sent to the old country to be placed in the Monument with the memorials mentioned above.

From the chamber in which the relics are preserved a narrow stair leads to a platform within the prestile.  When I

emerged from it I found several visitors, leaning on the balustrade upon which the columns rest intently gazing upon the extensive and highly-interesting landscape which comes within the range of vision from the elevated position.  I also found myself leaning on the stone work and as deeply engrossed with the matchless views as any one, for in whatever direction the eye turned it rested on objects consecrated by the Poet’s genius and upon scenery unsurpassed for richness and beauty.  I could have “gazed myself away,” as Wordsworth has it, but the afternoon was well spent, and to guard against being “catch’s wi’ warlocks in the mirk,” I descended with the intention of taking a turn through the grounds before leaving.

While admiring the flowers and neatly-bordered walks, I stumbled on a grotto containing “Tam o’ Shanter” and “Souter Johnny”--two life-sized stone figures from the chisel of the late James Thom, an amateur sculptor of some celebrity, who traveled and exhibited them in the principal towns of Great Britain and Ireland, before being deposited where they now are.  The figures, which are natural and life-like, are represented sitting in chairs with a can of “reaming swats” between them which appear to be of divine quality, for as Tammie holds his bumper, the very smile on his face would make one believe that he was about to pronounce the old toast,”Here’s to ye.”  Johnnie looks quite pleased also, and in every way as jolly and happy as his prototype, “Laird M’Pherson,” was when in the flesh.  The “Laird” was a Symington cobbler whom Thom modeled so cleverly that an urching from the village was nearly frightened out of his wits when he first peered in at the grotto door.

Before leaving the Monument, a word may be said about in inauguration.  The honour of originating the scheme for its erection is wholly due to the late Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck--a gentleman who was not only an enthusiastic admirer of the bard, but a poet of decided merit, and a patriot who took a deep interest in everything connected with the weal of his native land.  He knew how the Scottish heart beat towards Burns, and in the belief that an appeal for funds to erect a memorial for him on the banks of classic Doon would be heartily responded to, he ventured to call a public meeting in Ayr for the purpose of having his proposal taken into consideration.  The day came, and the hour of meeting arrived, but not a single individual but Mr Boswell (his title was not then conferred upon him) and a friend put in an appearance, so utterly regardless seemed the community about the matter.  This was disheartening enough, but it did not damp the enthusiasm of Boswell, for he believed with his friend that the matter only required to be known and Scotchmen in all parts of the globe would give it countenance. With due formality, the same friend voted him to the chair and proposed that a subscription should be commenced for the purpose of raising a monument to the poet Burns on the banks of Doon.  It is needless to say that the resolution met with no opposition.  A minute of the proceedings being signed by the chairman, the meeting broke up.  The friends next advertised in the public journals that such a meeting had been duly called, and that said resolution had been unanimously carried at it.  £1600 was soon collected, and with this sum it was resolved to commence building the memorial.  On the anniversary of the poet’s birthday, the following year (1820), a great demonstration--in which large deputations from all the Masonic lodges in Ayrshire took part--was held in honour of the laying of the foundation stone.  The day was anything but favorable for the occasion, but despite the inclemency of the weather the procession with music playing and banners flying marched from Ayr to the site--and where could there have been a more appropriate one found?  An extensive circle being formed round it, the stone was laid with Masonic honors by Mr Alexander Boswell; and within a cavity were deposited the coins of the realm, the local newspapers, and a brass plate bearing the following inscription:--”By the favour of Almightly God, on the twenty-fifth day of January, A.D. MDCCCXX, of the era of Masonry 5820, and in the sixtieth year of the reign of our beloved Sovereign George the Third, His Royal Highness, George Prince of Wales, being Regent of the United Kingdom, and a munificent subscriber to the edifice, the foundation stone of this monument, erected by public subscription in honour of the genius of Robert Burns, the Ayrshire poet, was laid by Alexander Boswell, Esq., Auchinleck, M.P., Worshipful Depture-Grand Master of the Most Ancient Mother Lodge of Kilwinning (attended by all the mason lodges in Ayrshire) according to the ancient usages of masonry. Thomas Hamilton, jr., Edinburgh, architect.  John Connell, jr., builder and contractor.”  At the conclusion of the ceremony the Grand Master delivered the following brief but beautiful oration:--

“BRETHREN,--May corn, wine, and oil abound; may all that is useful and ornamental be cultivated amongst us; and may all that can invigorate the body or enliven the soul shed their blest influence on our native land.  We have at length assembled to pay a grateful, although a tardy, tribute to the genius of ROBERT BURNS, our Ayshire poet and the bard of Coila.  There surely lives not the man so dull, so flinty, or phlegmatic, who could witness this event without emotion.But to those whose heart-strings have thrilled responsive to the chords of the poet’s lyre--whose bosoms have swelled, like his,  with love and friendship, with tenderness and sympathy, have glowed with patriotism, or panted for glory--this hour must be an hour of exultation.  Whether we consider the time, the place, or the circumstance, there is enough to interest in each; but these combined, and at once in operation on our feelings and our fancies--his muse, alas! is mute, who could alone have dared to paint the proud breathings of such an assembly at such a moment.  When we consider the time, we cannot forget that this day is the anniversary of that which gave our poet  to the light of Heaven.  Bleak is the prospect around us; the wood, the hawthorn, and ’the birken shaw,’ are leafless; not a thrush has yet essayed to clear the furrowed brow of winter; but this we know shall pass away, give place, and be succeeded by the buds of spring and the blossoms of summer.  Chill and cheerless was our poet’s natal day; but soon the wild flowers of poesy sprung as it were beneath his boyish tread; they opened as he advanced, expanded as he matured, until he revelled in all the richness of luxuriance.  Poverty and disappointment hung frowning around him, and haunted his path; but soothed and charmed by the fitful visits of his native muse, and crowned, as in a vision, with the holly wreath, he wantoned in a fairy land, the bright creation of hisown vivid and enrapt imagination.  His musings have been our delight.  Men of the loftiest talents and of tastes the most refined have praised them--men of strong and swelling but untutored intellect have admired them--the poet of the heart is the poet of mankind.  When we consider the place, let us remember that these very scenes which we now look upon, awakened in his youthful breast that animating spark which burst upon the world in a blaze of inspiration.  In yonder cottage he first drew breath.  In that depository of the lowly dead sleeps the once humble now immortal model of the cottage life--there rests his pious father--and there it was his fond and anxious wish that his dust should have been mingled with the beloved and kindred ashes.  Below us flows the Doon, the classic Doon, but made classic by his harmony; there gliding through the woods, and laving his banks and braes, he rolls his clear and ’far-fetch’d waters’ to the ocean. Before us stand the ruins of Kirk Alloway, shrouded in all the mystic imagery with which it is enveloped by his magic spells--Kirk Alloway!  to name it is enough.  If, then, the time and place are so congenial with our fond impressions, the circumstances which have enabled us to carry into effect this commemoration of our bard must give delight to every enthusiastic mind.  In every region where our language is heard, the songs of Burns give rapture--and from every region, and from climes the most remote, the votive offerings have poured in to aid our undertaking; and the edifice, which we have now begun shall stand a proud and lasting testimony of the world’s admiration.  Not on the banks of Doon alone, or hermit Ayr, or the romantic Lugar, echo repeats the songs of Burns; but amidst the wild forests of Columbia, and scorching plains of Hindostan--on the banks of the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, and the Ganges, his heart-touching melodies float upon the breeze.  This monument rises like a pile cairn over our warriors of old--each man casts a stone; and in honour of him, the son of a cottar, and himself a plougman, our Prince, with the true feeling of true greatness, and more illustrious by this act of generosity, pays here his tribute at the shrine of genius.  May the work prosper; and when happily completed, then may it tell to future generations that the age which could produce a Burns was rich also in those who could appreciate his talents, and who, while they felt and owned the power of his muse, have honoured his name.”

After the applause which followed this eloquent speech has subsided, the Rev. Hamilton Paul of Broughton closed the proceedings with an appropriate prayer, and with three hearty cheers the assemblage commenced the return journey to the town.

Towards evening the Grand Lodge was “opened” in the King’s Arms Hall, and many patriotic toasts were proposed and heartily responded to, but the toast of the evening was “The Admirers of Burns.”  When proposing it, the Grand Master (Mr Boswell) mentioned some particulars regarding the subscriptions raised for the erection of the Monument, and, amongst other things, said that its success was in a great measure due to the exertions of Sir James Shaw and William Fairlie of London, for they had remitted large sums in furtherance of the undertaking which they had been instrumental in collecting in London, America, and the East Indies, where, he affirmed, a greater enthusiasm prevailed in favour of Burns and his writings than in his native country.  After the toast had been duly honored, the Grand Master sang the following song which he had composed for the occasion:--

“Vain thought!  but had Burns ever witnessed a meeting
Of souls so congenial, and warm’d with such fire,
The wild flow of fancy in ecstasy greeting,
Ah! what might have been the bold notes of his lyre? 

As rays by reflection are doubled and doubled,
His bosom had swelled to your cheering reply,
Soft sympathy soothing the heart that was troubled,
A smile for his mirth, for his sorrow a sigh. 

Admir’d but unaided, how dark was his story,
His struggles we know, and his efforts we prize;
From murky neglect, as the flame bursts to glory,
He rose, self-embalm’d, and detraction defies.

A ploughman he was: would that smiles of false favour
Had never decoyed him from home and his team,
And taught all his hopes and his wished to waver,
And snatching reality, left him a--dream. 

To rank and to title, due deference owing,
We bow, as befitting society’s plan;
But judgment awaken’d, and sympathy glowing,
We pass all distinctions, and rest upon--man.

And from the poor hind, who, his day’s task completed,
With industry’s pride to his hovel returns,
To him who in royalty’s splendour is seated,
If soul independent be found, ‘twas in Burns. 

His birthrigh, his muse! like the lark in the morning,
How blithely he caroll’d in praise of the fair;
With Nature enraptured and artifice scorning,
How sweet were his notes on the banks of the Ayr!

And near to that spot where his kindred dust slumbers,
And mark’d by the bard on the tablets of fame,
And near the thatch’d roof where he first lisp’d his numbers,
We’ll raise a proud tribute to honour his name.” 

On the 4th of July, 1823, Mr Fullarton of Skeldon--in
presence of a vast assemblage of Freemasons and subscribers
--placed the tripod on the summit of the Monument, and
pronounced it finished.  He afterwards delivered an appropriate address. 

“But what to us the sculptor’s art,
His funeral columns, wreaths, and urns?
Wear we not graven on our heart,
The name of ROBERT BURNS?”


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