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Robert Burns Lives!
Far Famíd RABí: Scottish Labouring-Class Poets Writing in the Shadow of Robert Burns, 1785-1792 By Corey E. Andrews

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

We welcome back to the pages of Robert Burns Lives! a good friend and dedicated scholar, Dr. Corey Andrews.  Over the years, Iíve had several offers to write a preface or introduction to a book or two but refused because there were no footnotes to substantiate the works, something I feel very strongly about. Corey has provided 81 footnotes on his paper, an excellent and thorough read by themselves! Burns scholarship has improved tremendously over the last 10-plus years, and it is because Burnsians like Corey write well and credit the people whose work they reference.  I hope you enjoy his article, I did! (FRS: 3.18.15)

Far Famíd RABí: Scottish Labouring-Class Poets Writing
in the Shadow of Robert Burns, 1785-1792
By Corey E. Andrews

Much of Robert Burns's mystique from the very beginning derived from the instantaneous fame that surrounded the publication of his Kilmarnock edition of Poems (1786). His renown sprung from reports of the poet's 'genius, evident in his great facility with distinctly 'Scottish' language and subject matter.1 The label 'heaven-taught ploughman' became permanently affixed to Burns, implying prodigious inspiration springing 'naturally' from the mind of an uneducated farmer.2 Burns was, of course, much more complicated than his publicity, and many commentators (then and now) have questioned the extent to which he himself was involved in manipulating the facts of his life to match the contours of his celebrity.3 The results of such critical inquiry have left Burns sufficiently demystified and reveal him to have been well aware of the marketing value of his 'heaven-taught ploughman' persona. In all of his writing (both prose and poetry), Burns was a shrewd judge of the proclivities of his multiple audiences, able to craft his style and approach to meet their specific needs. In fact, the protean nature of Burns's personae makes him in some respects a particularly modern writer, whose ability to inhabit various selves for specific purposes is inherently relatable to current readers who may have lost a taste for eighteenth-century 'genius'.4

What has been less remarked upon is the perception of Burns by fellow labouring-class poets in Scotland, particularly their feelings of kinship with their famous 'brother' poet.5 Although they are sometimes mentioned in connection with Burns, few critics have taken much notice of their works. For instance, John Lapraik, a recipient of three early verse epistles from Burns, is remembered now (if at all) as one of many labouring-class poets wishing to quickly cash in on the current fad for Scots verse. After being fąted in Edinburgh, Burns had little use for former cronies like Lapraik on the whole. In his correspondence, Burns expressed irritation with such poets constantly reaching out to him for help, frequently asking for his public recognition of their verse or subscriptions to their publications. In a letter to his patron Frances Dunlop from 4 March 1789, Burns claimed that 'my success has encouraged such a shoal of ill-spawned monsters to crawl into public notice, under the title of Scots Poets, that the very term, Scots Poetry, borders on the burlesque'.6 The reason for his repudiation of 'Scots poets' has been the subject of much speculation, but it is safe to say that Burns's own ambivalence about being labeled a labouring-class poet influenced his treatment of those in his class who wished to follow his example.7

However, more so than shared nationality (which played its part), shared class status induced many 'Scots poets' to respond directly to Burns, imitating the verse epistles that he wrote to other poets. They staked a claim on their famous 'brother' poet, derived from their strong feelings of kinship based upon the common experiences of living and working in rural Scotland. Regardless of his attempts to control it, Burns's fame was expressly invitational to such poets, representing a communal poetics whose characters and places had a local habitation and a name. Burns recognized this himself, understanding that 'rhyming' was an important part of oral Scottish culture often kept alive only in local places.8 However, despite class and national affiliation, no labouring-class Scottish poet achieved the public recognition and vivid afterlife afforded to Burns, concretized in the nineteenth century with Burns Clubs and Burns Day celebrations. Even James Hogg, who quite openly declared himself as Burns's successor, achieved literary repute in a quite different fashion than his famed predecessor.9 Casting a dark shadow over Scottish verse, Burns may have doomed the efforts of those labouring-class poets who wrote after him, forcing them to change their style and approach or be labeled a poor imitation of a great 'genius'.

What did writing in Burns's shadow entail exactly' How exactly did labouring-class poets assess his influence upon their writing' A closer look at their poetry reveals that they were much less admiring than it appears on the surface, offering more complex and nuanced responses than have been previously considered. Some went so far as to question the nature of their kinship with the 'heaven-taught ploughman', interrogating the applicability of his fame to others in the same class and place. Indeed, such questions remain worth asking: why Burns alone and not other labouring class poets' Is 'genius' a sufficient explanation, even now' If not, how can we account for the continuing neglect of an ample and important body of work, written by men and women originating from the same social, cultural, and national milieux as Burns' We may have more to learn about the experiences of the Scottish labouring class from such poets than from Burns himself.

The Mentor: John Lapraik (1727-1807)

Before he became famous, Burns often saw fellow labouring-class poets as friends and mentors. Burns's elder by thirty-two years, John Lapraik served as the younger poet's first (self-appointed) mentor; Maurice Lindsay notes that 'Lapraik was one of a number of local poets who provided Burns in his early days with a necessary literary environment'.10 In fact, Lapraik received three verse epistles that were composed in 1785, when Burns was twenty-six years old. Burns had evidently heard a song composed by Lapraik entitled 'When I Upon Thy Bosom Lean' at a local dance; upon the basis of this sole specimen of Lapraik's writing, Burns sought to befriend this would-be mentor.11 His first verse epistle addresses Lapraik as an 'old Scotch bard', hailing him as 'an unknown frien' to whom the poet 'prays excuse' in writing.12 His praise of this 'old Scotch bard' is high indeed, for he links him with such noted poetic predecessors as Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. Indeed, he declares the work of all three to be 'lear enough' (83) for an aspiring poet such as himself.13 Thinking back to his first encounter with Lapraik's song, Burns asks himself, 'Can this be Pope, or Steele, / Or Beattie's wark?' (21-22).14 He reports his surprise upon learning that the song was written by 'an odd kind of chiel / About Muirkirk' (23-24).15 Remarking that 'I winna blaw about myself' (91), Burns announces that he is 'nae Poet, in a sense, / But just a Rhymer like by chance' (49-50). He further contrasts poets and 'rhymers', stating that he 'hae to Learning nae pretence' (51).16 A credo that would become indelibly associated with the soon-to-be famous young poet provides a memorably concise definition of his purpose in 'rhyming'. He declaims, 'Gie me a spark o' Nature's fire, / That's a' the learning I desire / '. My Muse, tho' hamely in attire, / May touch the heart' (73-74, 77-78). The poet hopes to meet Lapraik at Mauchline Race or Mauchline Fair to 'hae a swap o' rhyming-ware / Wi' ane anither' (107-108), and the first epistle ends with the request for 'twa lines frae you' (129), humbly besought by 'your friend and servant' (132).

Three weeks later, presumably upon receipt of Lapraik's 'twa lines', Burns replied with a much less enthusiastic epistle, beginning with complaints that he has been 'forjesket [exhausted] sair, with weary legs' from 'rattlin the corn out-owre the rigs'.17 His 'awkwart Muse' has failed him, for 'I would na write' (11-12).18 He calls her a 'tapetless, ramfeezl'd hizzie'19 who is 'saft at best an' something lazy' (12-13). Regardless, Burns forces himself to reply to Lapraik, stating that 'before I sleep a wink, / I vow I'll close it' (33-34). Starting at the eighth stanza and concluding with the eighteenth, Burns offers an audacious, irreverent lesson from a young man in his 'sax an' twentieth simmer' (55) to the elder poet. Thus begins one of Burns's legendary screeds against the privileged gentry, filled with his characteristic class-based hostility and recrimination. He advises Lapraik not to 'envy the city-gent' (61) who is 'purse-proud, big wi' cent per cent' (63) and abuses his authority as a Baillie. He attacks the 'paughty, feudal Thane, / Wi' ruff'ld sark an' glancing cane / Wha thinks himself nae sheep-shank bane, / But lordly stalks' (67-70). He even appeals to God, ordering the deity to 'turn me, if Thou please, adrift, / Thro' Scotland wide; / Wi' cits nor lairds I wadna shift, / In a' their pride' (75-78). He concludes his expostulation on class division by asserting, in memorable lines again, that 'the social, friendly, honest man, / Whate'er he be, / 'Tis he fulfils great Nature's plan, / And none but he' (87-90). The epistle ends with anticipation for the continued friendship of these two 'followers o' the ragged Nine' (92), who are exhorted to 'reach their native, kindred skies, / And sing their pleasures, hopes an' joys, / In some mild sphere' (104-106).

The emergence of key Burnsian themes in these two epistles suggests the high esteem Burns held for Lapraik, from whom he seeks both acceptance and confirmation of his ideas. The third epistle continues in the same vein, offering an appraisal of social customs from the vantage point of the labouring class. Though less inspired than the previous two and never published during Burns's lifetime, the third epistle gets to the heart of the matter without preamble. The primary link between Burns and Lapraik is as much the experiences of work and conviviality as the fraternity of poets. Burns writes, 'May Boreas never thresh your rigs, / Nor kick your rickles aff their legs, / Sendin' the stuff o'er muirs an' haggs / Like drivin' wrack'.20 Like his vision of Lapraik working in the fields, Burns asserts that 'I'm bizzie too, and skelpin' at it' (13-14).21 As in the second epistle, he offers excuses for delay in responding, noting that 'it's now twa month that I'm your debtor' (19). For the first time we get a sense of Burns's opinion of Lapraik's poetic reply to his previous epistles, which he deems 'your braw, nameless, dateless letter' (20).22 While engaging in some good-humoured flyting, Burns offers a retort to Lapraik's 'abusin' me for harsh ill nature / On holy men' (21-22). He writes, 'While deil a hair yourself ye're better, / But mair profane' (23-24). As he had in the previous epistles, Burns engages in class-based antagonism (directed here against the 'kirk-folk') that extends into a theory of poetics shared presumably by Lapraik. Stating 'let the kirk-folk ring their bells, / Let's sing about our noble sels' (25-26), Burns continues by selecting 'browster wives an' whiskie stills' (29) as the muses who inspire poets like himself and Lapraik.23 The last four stanzas of the epistle extend yet another invitation to meet, drink, and rhyme. Such an occasion can only occur 'if the beast and branks [bridles] be spar'd / Till kye [cow] be gaun without the herd, / An a' the vittel in the yard' (37-39). Should work permit, then, Burns might finally have the opportunity to meet Lapraik. He writes, 'Then muse-inspirin' aqua-vitĎ / Shall make us baith sae blythe an' witty / Till ye forget ye're auld an' gutty [gluttonous]' (43-45). He signs off with the self-appellation, 'RAB the RANTER' (54). This epistle is the last record of Burns's encounters with his poetic mentor Lapraik, whom he met only twice in 1785 and whose work he no longer promoted after his own success.24

In Contemporaries of Burns (1840), James Paterson recounts a telling anecdote about Burns's reaction to reading Lapraik's verse epistle. Lapraik had sent his son to Burns's farm to deliver his father's reply, where the boy found Burns sowing the fields. Upon reading Lapraik's poem, Burns was said to have become so engrossed that he let go of the sheet holding the grain. Paterson notes that 'it was not until he stopped reading that he discovered the loss he had sustained'.25 Though highly improbable, the story at least highlights Burns's respect for Lapraik at this early stage in his career. Only one example of Lapraik's epistolary verse to Burns survives; it appears in his Poems on Several Occasions (1788), printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock.26 By this time, Burns had already achieved great success throughout Britain with the Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions of his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Burns had included the epistles to Lapraik in both editions, with the date of composition included in the titles. Following the example of the young poet who had initiated their verse correspondence, Lapraik hoped to share in the public acclaim afforded to rural Scottish poets writing primarily in Scots. His life up to this point was replete with misfortune and adversity; after succeeding his father in managing a considerable family estate, Lapraik had been forced to sell and found himself confined for debt in 1785. After the birth of their fifth child, his first wife had died. Following his second marriage, he had to provide for fourteen children in very straitened circumstances. He gained a measure of security in 1796 when he opened a public house in Muirkirk, where he served as the village postmaster as well. However, as would be the fate of many labouring-class aspirants who sought to be recognized as the 'next Burns', fame was not to be for Lapraik.27

In his verse epistle, Lapraik offers an intriguingly ambiguous self-representation as an elder poet of Burns, with much hesitancy about appearing in print for the first time. At 117 lines, Lapraik's epistle to Burns is one of the longer poems in his collection. Throughout the poem Lapraik stresses his connection to Burns, frequently describing his writing as 'rhyming' in the manner of the younger poet. However, he contrasts his work repeatedly with that of Burns, with whom he feels kinship but whose talents he believes far surpass his own. When comparing his 'rhyming' to Burns's poetry, Lapraik senses little connection between their efforts in verse. He writes, 'O far fam'd RAB! my silly Muse, / That thou sae prais'd langsyne, / When she did scarce ken verse by prose, / Now dares to spread her wing'.28 Unlike his protāgā, Lapraik began to write 'unconscious of the least desert, / Nor e'er expecting fame' (7). Instead he had written only to 'divert' himself 'wi' jingling worthless rhyme' (8). The reasons he lists for the need for such diversion are characteristic of both his class and personal history. Feeling 'unco griev'd and wae' (10), Lapraik reflects that 'Fortune, fickle Joe! / Had kick'd me o'er the brae!' (11-12). Rhyming then was not only for enjoyment, but was also a tool to 'drive away despair' (16) when the poet 'was amaist half-drown'd / Wi' dolefu' grief and care' (13-14). Lapraik has a rather more mature view of verse than Burns in his epistles, where poetry is consistently described as simply rhyming for pleasure. In fact, Lapraik's emerging self-portrait in his epistle is quite at odds with the young poet's perceptions of his mentor, whose character Burns had imagined largely through class-based assumptions.

Lapraik recounts his thoughts on meeting the younger Burns, employing imagery and allusion to describe his ambivalent feelings about his own work. He writes:
When I met a chiel like you,

Sae gi'en to mirth an' fun,
Wha lik'd to speel [climb] Parnassus' hill
An' drink at Helicon,
I'd aiblins [perhaps] catch a wee bit spark
O' his Poetic fire,
An' rhyme awa like ane half-mad,
Until my Muse did tire. (17-24)

While the allusions to Parnassus and Helicon suggest that Lapraik may not have been as 'uneducated' as he makes himself out to be later in the epistle, they also point to an essential difference between the two poets that Lapraik himself recognizes. It is important to recall that Lapraik's epistle is directed to 'far-fam'd RAB' in 1788, not 'RAB the RANTER' from 1785. This is stressed in his admission that Burns had praised his poetry 'langsyne', revealing not only that Lapraik was well-aware of Burns's publicity but also that he knew the poet before he became famous. Such reminders find their way into the verse of other labouring-class poets writing to Burns, insinuating connectivity through class status. In addition, Lapraik's diction echoes that used by Burns to describe his own poetic process like 'spark' and 'Poetic fire'. This is not his own method, Lapraik confesses. Prior to meeting Burns, Lapraik states that 'it ne'er ran in my head, / To trouble Mankind with / My dull, insipid, thowless [listless, ineffectual] rhyme, / And stupid, senseless stuff' (29-32). Whatever change might have occurred to transform such 'dull, insipid, thowless rhyme' into worthy verse must be attributed to the influence of Burns, for his 'kind Muse, wi' friendly blast, / First tooted up my fame' (33-34). Lapraik's use of the word 'fame' should be regarded with skepticism at this point, decidedly surrounded by quotation marks. He continues by describing how his 'lang forgotten name' (36) must be defended in order to prevent 'the ill-natur'd warld' from calling 'RAB BURNS a liar' (39-40). Thus, he feels considerable pressure to perform, commenting that Burns 'says I can sing fu' weel, / An' through the warld has sent it' (41-42). Accordingly, Lapraik exhorts himself to 'rhyme a hearty blaud, / Though I should aye repent it' (43-44).29

The remainder of the epistle recounts Lapraik's efforts to 'rhyme a hearty blaud', with self-conscious imitation of Burnsian conceits like the Muse in his 'Vision'; here the 'hizzy' is reluctant to help Lapraik, whom she says has 'turn'd auld an' stiff' (52). She accuses him of having 'clean gane out o' tune' (58), adding that 'the folk's a' laughin at you' (62). Lapraik responds defiantly, declaring that he will follow Burns's example and 'try to rhyme for bread / And let the warld be clashin' (72-73).30 Yet uncertainty and ambivalence interject such self-confident assertions, finding expression in almost every stanza. Having expressed pride at having 'rhym'd away, / 'Till I hae made a Book o't' (78-79), he immediately states that he is 'weel aware' that the 'greatest part' of his readers 'will look upon't as senseless stuff, / And me's a crazy fool' (82-85). Lapraik seems to have forgotten entirely about Burns here, and the epistolary nature of the poem falters into anxious pondering. He writes, 'Whether I've done right or wrang, / I leave the warld to guess' (88-89). His concern over his lack of education surfaces, leading him to admit that 'a book scarce e'er I read, / Save ance or twice the Bible' (92-93). He states that 'what the learned folk ca' grammar, / I naething ken about it' (94-95). Lapraik's admissions on the whole ring true, where Burns's do not; Lapraik's life as a labourer severely limited the time and opportunity he needed to develop his craft. This is a key facet of labouring-class verse, one that is much less evident in Burns's poetry than in that of his peers like Lapraik.31 It is telling, of course, that Lapraik did not even begin to write until he was in prison for debt.32 Lapraik states his situation plainly: 'Maist my life has just been spent / (Which to my cost I feel) / In fetchin fair wi' luckless brutes, / Till they kick'd up my heel' (98-101). Such statements'defensive and self-deprecatory, angry yet resigned'speak to Lapraik's age and experience and suggest his sense of the chasm separating his literary efforts from Burns's. He wishes his 'guid frien' RAB' (102) continued success ('may the Laurels on your head / Ay flourish fresh and green' [112-113]), ending with a pledge of lasting friendship''While I can write, or speak, or think, / I am your frien' sincere!' (116-117). Throughout his epistle Lapraik observes that not only is he unlike his 'brother' poet in his age and talent, but that both write at the behest of different Muses. Burns's may be 'awkwart', but she has led her follower to the heights of fame. Lapraik's 'silly Muse' can only hope to emulate the success of her sister, yet even to her follower, the outlook is grim. So it proved to be for one of Burns's early poetic mentors. He outlived Burns by eleven years but never published another book.

The Friend: David Sillar (1760-1830)

Burns wrote quite differently in epistles addressed to friends. David Sillar, a close personal friend and aspiring poet, was the recipient of two early verse epistles from Burns, one of which was published in the Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions. Sillar was only a year younger than Burns, and he grew up near the poet in Tarbolton. Like Burns, he was also the son of a tenant farmer, receiving a rudimentary education in parish school before turning entirely to labouring in the fields. James Paterson suggests that 'like Burns, he was a son of toil ' and the similarity of fortune may not have been without its effect in cementing the friendship which obtained betwixt the rustic aspirants for poetic fame'.33 Diction notwithstanding, Paterson makes a good point in highlighting the competitive nature of this friendship between two apparent equals. Burns may have had a superior tutor in John Murdoch, yet Sillar aspired to be an educator. He served briefly as a teacher at the parish school in Spittalside, before unsuccessfully trying to open his own school. His friendship with Burns extended to membership in the same social club, the Tarbolton Bachelors Club; he also belonged to the Mauchline Debating Society with Gilbert Burns, Robert's brother.34 Sillar spent enough time with Burns to provide future biographers with intriguing details about the poet's early life, such as the niceties of his dress ('he wore the only tied hair in the parish ' and his plaid ' was of a particular colour, I think fillemot') and his 'facility in addressing the fair sex'. Unlike Burns, he was willing to take more personal financial risks in his youth, trying (again unsuccessfully) to become a grocer in 1783. Maurice Lindsay observes that Sillar's enterprise likely failed 'because he was devoting too much time to versifying'. Like Lapraik, Sillar was inspired by Burns's fame and published his Poems in 1789, printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock. As Lapraik's venture at success failed, so too did Sillar's. He went bankrupt soon after, only regaining financial security upon the death of an uncle; thereafter he served on the Irvine Town Council and helped to found the Irvine Burns Club in 1827.35

As he had demonstrated with his epistles to Lapraik, Burns valued his friends greatly; his verse epistles to Sillar address him as a 'brother' poet, treating him with respect and comradeship. In the first epistle, published in the Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions, Burns lays the groundwork for his own emergent poetics, focused particularly upon one's purpose in composition and the desired results of writing. At eleven stanzas, it is a fairly lengthy epistle, devoted initially to establishing kinship with Sillar through oppositional class rhetoric. Familiar Burnsian refrains appear throughout, including his oft-stated contempt for 'Great-folk' and their 'cursed pride' as well as his pleasure in 'Nature's charms' with fellow 'Commoners of air' like Sillar.36 The 'brother poets' not only share love of verse, repeatedly described as 'rhyming', but also the experience of hard work. Both young men 'drudge and drive thro' wet and dry, / Wi' never-ceasing toil' (72-73). This is as much a source of brotherhood as rhyming, creating kinship through equalizing labour. This leads Burns to ask Sillar, 'Think ye, are we less blest than they, / Wha scarcely tent [heed] us in their way, / As hardly worth their while''(74-75). Exclamatory denunciations follow of those who 'in haughty mood, / GOD's creatures they oppress' (77-78), the privileged few who seem 'baith careless, and fearless, / Of either Heaven or Hell' (81-82). For readers of the later Burns, this is premonitory of his class-based anger at the privileged few who do not understand that 'rank is but the guinea's stamp' and that 'a man's a man for a' that'. However, an interesting twist in the poem's argument occurs at this point, where Burns advises his friend to 'let us cheerful acquiesce; / Nor make our scanty Pleasures less, / By pining at our state' (85-87). His diction'especially the verb 'acquiesce', coupled with 'cheerful''represents a decidedly quietist sentiment that is unusual for Burns. This is clearly not the voice of the poet who later wrote 'Is there for honest poverty', the Scottish Marseillaise.37 The last four stanzas are casual and personal, detailing Sillar's affections for Meg (his 'dearest part') and Burns's for 'my darling Jean' (107-108). Class-based rhetoric disappears entirely in these final exclamatory lines which (almost entirely in English) describe how Jean's 'name inspires my style' (141). Friendship pales before the poet's love, which is 'the life blood streaming thro' my heart' (116).

Burns's second epistle is less overwrought, offering congenial advice and mock recrimination to Sillar about his disregard for the Muse. Having heard that 'the Muse ye hae negleckit', Burns avers that 'gif it's sae, ye sud be licket [thrashed] / Until ye fyke [fidget]'.38 However, Burns confesses that he too is on 'Parnassus brink, / Rivan the words tae gar [make] them clink' (19-20).39 He further admits that he has tried to write 'Whyles daez't wi' love, whyles daez't wi' drink, / Wi' jads or masons' (21-22).40 More braggadocio follows, with Burns claiming kinship with 'a' the thoughtless sons o' man' and 'the Bardie clan' (25-26).41 He describes his verse as 'puir, silly, rhymin' clatter' (5), yet he states that 'it's ay a treasure, / My chief, amaist my only pleasure, / At hame, a-fiel, at wark or leisure' (38-39). As is the case with his other verse epistles, Burns focuses upon himself throughout, expressing his difficulties in reconciling his desires to 'rhyme' with the hard facts of his life 'at hame, a-fiel, at wark'. In this epistle, the pretense of Sillar as auditor is almost entirely incidental, for this 'brother' poet reappears only in the final stanza. After his mild flyting of Sillar in the third stanza, Burns exhorts Sillar to 'haud tae the Muse' (43). Although 'the warl' may play you [monie] a shavie' (44), Burns claims that 'the Muse, she'll never leave ye, / Tho' e'er sae puir' (45-46).42 There is a measure of insincerity in these lines. James Kinsley claims that this epistle was written before the publication of the Kilmarnock edition, noting the presence of biographical details in the poem that seem to point to Burns's troubles in the spring of 1786.43 That may be so, but it is worth noting that Burns did not think highly enough of this epistle to publish it in the Edinburgh edition. By 1788, Burns's feelings of triumphal competitiveness may have led him to ignore his poorly-regarded 'brother' poet. Once his fame was secure, Burns had little use for former friends like Sillar, to whom he wrote only three letters. The first two letters express thinly-veiled irritation at being obliged to purchase copies of Sillar's Poems, while the last letter is written in response to news of Sillar's financial 'misfortune'. Burns flatly informs Sillar that 'it is not in my power to give you assistance', concluding that 'I trust your many rich & powerful friends will enable you to get clear'.44 This terse brush-off would be the last contact between the former close friends.

Burns's second epistle only found its way into print in Sillar's Poems (1789), where it is given pride of place as the first poem in the volume. Sillar's verse reply reveals his thorough immersion in Burns's poetry; without reference to the 'Epistle to Davie', Sillar's 'Epistle to R. Burns' would be indecipherable. He alludes not only to this poem, but he attempts to situate Burns within the continuum of Scots poets that he would also like to join. Composed after Burns's success in Edinburgh, Sillar's response takes pain to contextualize his relationship to his famed 'brother' poet, beginning with mention of the recognition granted to Burns by 'Reekie's Bards'.45 He seeks to remind Burns of his former friend, 'Dainty Davie' who had been dubbed 'ace o' hearts' (4-5). Joining in the acclaim being bestowed upon his friend (though Sillar remarks that 'I ne'er was muckle gi'en to praisin' [7]), he affirms that 'in solid reason, / Your kintra reed / Plays sweet as ROBIN FERGUSSON', / Or his on Tweed' (9-12).46 This conclusion is nothing new, of course, and it was sought self-consciously by Burns in his verse and correspondence.47 Nevertheless, Sillar's diction is worth noting, particularly his resolute description of Burns's 'kintra reed'. As with other labouring-class poets who would write directly to Burns (whether friends or strangers), connections through place are as central as those established through work. Sillar is implicitly reminding Burns of his origins, with which Sillar is as familiar as the contents of the Kilmarnock edition. In the third and fourth stanzas, Sillar praises 'The Twa Dogs', 'The Holy Fair', and 'The Vision', all which have strong rural locales as settings. Like Lapraik, he seems eager to praise his friend for his success, but the form used by Sillar is intriguing in comparison. Ever self-conscious and self-deprecatory, Lapraik had described Burns's fame with a degree of amazement that led him to habitually denigrate his own poetic efforts. Sillar, however, displays a self-confidence borne from familiarity with the poet, who has been sufficiently demystified through years of friendship. Sillar's praise is enunciatory, declaimed with the authority of an equal, a 'brother' poet. He writes, 'Let Coila's plains wi' me rejoice, / An' praise the worthy Bard, whose lays / Their worth an' beauty high doth raise / To lasting fame' (19-22).

Burns's 'lasting fame' requires a ceremony, though, where the current monarchs must be deposed: 'Brave RAMSAY now an' FERGUSSON, / Wha hae lang time fill'd the Throne / O' Poetry, may now ly down / Quiet i' their urns' (25-28). Sillar declares Burns to be 'king of singers i' the West' (32), since 'fame, in justice, gies the crown / To Coila's Burns' (29-30).48 The remainder of the epistle offers a vivid glimpse of Sillar's mind, where envy lurks in the background and motivates him to lecture his friend on the vagaries of fame. He declares that 'your fame's secur'd', only to remind him to 'tak tent an' keep a guard: / For envy's tryin' / To blast your fame' (37-41). Regardless of Sillar's intentions here, he was correct about this threat to Burns's fame. It did not take the Edinburgh literati long before they began to actively question the propriety of the 'heaven-taught ploughman' in their midst.49 Sillar goes on to warn Burns that 'tho the tout o' fame may please you, / Letna the flatt'rin' ghaist o'erheeze you' (43-44).50 It is difficult to surmise upon what authority exactly Sillar makes these statements, but the rest of the epistle continues in the same manner. He notes that 'great numbers on this earthly ba'' perish and are 'straught forgot' (49, 52), adding the aside''Forbid that ever this should fa' / To be your lot' (53-54). These last three stanzas finally disclose Sillar for what he truly thinks he is: a 'brother' poet entitled to the same recognition afforded to his friend. He confesses that 'I ever had an anxious wish; / Forgive me, Heav'n! if 'twas amiss, / That fame in life my name would bless' (55-57). He seeks to remind Burns of the obligations of friendship, particularly coming from such a one who has witnessed his sudden rise to fame. The last stanza implicitly reminds Burns (called 'auld Frien' an' Neebor' [67]) of these obligations. The first line reminds Burns that 'your Muse forgetna weel to feed her' (68). The final four lines expresses the muted hope that runs throughout the epistle, which Sillar can barely keep from surfacing; he advises Burns to 'steer thro' life wi' birr [force, enthusiasm] an' vigour, / To win a horn, / Whase soun' shall reach ayont [beyond] the Tiber, / Mang ears unborn' (69-72).51 To Sillar, Burns owes his fellow labouring-class poets an opportunity to also 'win a horn' and speak to 'ears unborn'.

As with Lapraik's wishes in his epistle, Sillar's desire for fame was met with disappointment and financial disaster. Like Lapraik, he too outlived Burns (by thirty-four years) but never published another book. Maurice Lindsay remarks that Burns 'found the literary companionship of Sillar and Lapraik necessary for the development of his own poetic gifts'.52 Hans Hecht concurs, suggesting that Burns 'felt that he himself, in common ['] with men like Sillar [and] Lapraik ['] was in the grip of a national literary tradition, and that the masters from whom they had learned their speech and style were his masters too'.53 However, once he was famous, Burns effectively forgot about his former friend and mentor. He did little to promote the work of his 'brother' poets, beyond subscribing for their works; in fact, as he became more intimate with the Scottish elite in Edinburgh and elsewhere, he actively distanced himself from former confreres like Lapraik and Sillar. Publishing their works with the same printer as Burns, echoing his diction and subject matter, seeking to find a national audience in addition to a local'in all respects, Lapraik and Sillar desired to win the recognition afforded to their more talented counterpart. That their efforts were crowned with bankruptcy and indifference underscores the considerable risks involved for labouring-class poets seeking to express themselves in print. Burns's fame with the Kilmarnock edition was the anomaly, for even personal friends and mentors of the poet could not surmount prejudicial judgments of literary value used to dismiss the efforts of labouring-class poets. Burns's difference'particularly evident in the extensive intertextuality of his poetry, studded with allusions to contemporary literary figures and movements'is precisely the degree to which he would not affiliate himself with the class into which he was born.54 His shabby treatment of fellow poets like Lapraik and Sillar indicate his inability to come to terms with his own class identity, as well as express his desire to escape classification altogether. This is a key reason he embraced the 'heaven-taught ploughman' persona, for the notion of 'genius' stressed the anomalous character that distinguished (and isolated) him from his peers. Ironically enough, his followers would cherish this facet of their hero's identity, finding his 'genius' to be a source of deep kinship and hoping to continue the work he had begun. As with Lapraik and Sillar, they would discover that the reception awaiting them would not match their expectations.

The Follower: Janet Little (1759-1813)

Among the first 'sister' poets to respond to Burns was Janet Little, a fellow labouring-class poet connected to him through mutual friend and patron Frances Dunlop. Born the same year as Burns, Little was known as the 'Scotch Milkmaid', and her Poetical Works (1792) was published in Kilmarnock by John Wilson. Like Lapraik and Sillar, she also wrote epistolary verse to Burns, yet he never replied to her poems or letters.55 Writing of Little in The Contemporaries of Burns, Paterson offers an assessment of her work and character that is typical of his day: 'The casual reader might probably glance over the poems of Janet Little without discovering anything attractive; but there are many of the pieces not destitute of merit, while all are unexceptionable in point of morality, and bear evidence of a cultivated, well-regulated mind'.56 In addition, Paterson remarks that Little 'was remarkable for modesty of demeanour, and entirely free from the egotism of authorship'.57 Despite her lack of 'egotism', Little felt a strong kinship to Burns, evidenced throughout her poetry and letters.58 In a letter to Burns from 12 July 1789, Little confesses that she is 'somewhat in love with the Muses, though I cannot boast of any favours they have deigned to confer upon me'. However, despite her feelings about her own verse, Little admits that the fact that Burns is a fellow labouring-class poet prompted her to write directly to him after having read his poetry. She writes, 'As I had the pleasure of perusing your poems, I felt a partiality for the author, which I should not have experienced had you been in a more dignified station'. This 'partiality' leads her to ask him to extend the same license to her in return, a request that she is careful to qualify:

I hope you will pardon my boldness in this: my hand trembles while I write to you, conscious of the unworthiness of what I would most earnestly solicit, viz. your favour and friendship; yet, hoping you will show yourself possessed of much generosity and good nature as will prevent your exposing what may justly be found liable to censure in this measure.59

Seeking to join Burns as a follower of the Muses, Little hopes to benefit from Burns's 'favour' as well as example. As Leith Davis has noted, 'Little shares with Burns a desire to contest the dominance of the upper class and the hegemony of English letters'. However, as becomes more apparent when examining her poetic tributes, Little recognizes that her gender may likely prevent Burns from accepting her work without 'censure'. Of this gender inequality, Davis observes that 'even though, like Burns, Little is Scottish and of a lower class, she can never occupy the position Burns does'.60 In this respect, Little differs greatly from Lapraik and Sillar, both of whom benefit from gender bias in their personal/convivial appeals to Burns.

In three poems about Burns in her Poetical Works, Little represents the poet in a decidedly ambiguous fashion, coupling appreciation with sly irony. On the surface Burns appears as a heroic forerunner blazing the path for other labouring-class poets who seek an audience in the literary marketplace. In her poem 'On a Visit to Mr. Burns', Little begins by setting the scene for her encounter with the 'great' poet: 'Is't true' or does some magic spell / My wond'ring eyes beguile' / Is this the place where deigns to dwell / The honour of our isle'' Upon meeting the 'honour of our isle', Little exuberantly describes her vision of 'the charming BURNS, the Muse's care, / Of all her sons the pride' (5-6). She confides that 'this pleasure oft I've fought to share, / But been as oft deni'd' (7-8). There is both sincerity and disbelief in Little's description of Burns at this point in the poem. Upon meeting this 'brother' poet and 'son' of the Muses, Little's speaker feels excitement but also a degree of resentment. Though she now has the 'pleasure' of seeing Burns, a pleasure that has often been 'denied' to her, she has at the same time been denied the 'pleasure' of the Muses' care, a care that has been liberally bestowed upon Burns. Such sentiments echo Lapraik's epistle to Burns, revealing submerged frustrations facing followers of the 'heaven-taught ploughman'. Thus, although he may share nationality and class status with her, Burns also represents the gendered boundaries of literary success that make him a daunting figure to a 'sister' poet like Little. Valentina Bold has argued that 'Little seems to have felt resentment'if not to Burns himself, to the double standards she faced as a woman peasant poet'.61

This resentment informs her poetic representation of Burns in this poem, highlighting the unfair advantages he enjoyed due to his gender. At the same time, there is a distinctly ironic dimension to the scene of this imagined encounter between Little and Burns.62 Debilitated by a broken leg, Burns receives his visitor in silence and serves as the subject of an impromptu homily: 'No cheering draught, with ill unmix'd, / Can mortals taste below; / All human fate by heav'n is fix'd, / Alternate joy and wo' (25-28). As Davis argues, 'Little has the last (and only) spoken words in the encounter, as Burns is enveloped by the tears and moral judgments conventionally attributed to women'.63 Little's rhetorical strategy in the poem is to represent Burns as an approachable, 'all too human' figure whose physicality debunks his mythic persona. Little's speaker affirms that ''Tis real now, no vision here / Bequeaths a poignant dart; / I'll view the poet ever dear' (13-15). Little's final stanza sketches this encounter, with Burns serving as the object of the speaker's sentimental gaze: 'With beating breast I view'd the bard; / All trembling did him greet: / With sighs bewail'd his fate so hard, / Whose notes were ever sweet' (29-32). Speculating on Little's intention in thus representing Burns, Margery Palmer McCulloch claims that 'the rhetorical questioning, exaggerated imagery and hint of breathlessness ' overtly suggest hero worship on the part of the imaginary speaker, while at the same time ironically subverting this'.64

Little offers more overt criticism of Burns in her poem, 'Given to a Lady, who asked me to Write a Poem'. With its allusions to gender and class in the title alone, the poem anatomizes the literary marketplace and its limited opportunities for labouring-class women poets. Little begins with the example of Burns:

A ploughman chiel, Rab Burns his name,
Pretends to write; an' thinks nae shame
To souse his sonnets on the court;
An' what is strange, they praise him for't.
Even folks, wha're of the highest station,
Ca' him the glory of our nation. (114, lines 21-26)

Little's diction is instructive, with considerable double-voiced ambiguity: a ploughman who 'pretends' to write, who 'souses' his sonnets upon the 'court', and who is called 'the glory of the nation' by people of 'the highest station'.65 Against this unbelievable example, Little offers herself: 'But what is more surprising still, / A milkmaid must tak up her quill; / An' she will write, shame fa' the rabble!' (27-29)

The speaker's verve is further contrasted with Burns's example, and he is increasingly regarded with disbelief as well as admiration.

Imagining Burns's process of composition, Little's speaker describes the poet in an incredulous tone, voicing her amazement about his 'ease' in writing:

Yet Burns, I'm tauld, can write wi' ease,
An a' denominations please;
Can wi' uncommon glee impart
A usefu' lesson to the heart;
Can ilks [each] latent thought expose,
An' Nature trace whare'er she goes;
Of politics can talk wi' skill,
Nor dare the critics blame his quill. (35-42)

Addressing her auditor, the 'lady' who has asked her to write, Little's speaker contrasts her efforts with those of the 'ploughman chiel': 'But then a rustic country quean / To write'was e'er the like o't seen'' (43-44).66 She continues by remarking upon the apparent futility of her writing, especially its ability to 'reform': 'Does she, poor silly thing, pretend / The manners of our age to mend'' (51-52). Considering the political import of such passages, Moira Ferguson has suggested that Little 'saturates her poems with coiled messages and concerns, some overt, some submerged, due to her status as a woman from the laboring class who aims to enter the public arena of letters'.67 Little's diction in the above passage offers one such 'coiled' concern about the different public receptions offered to poets who happen to be 'milkmaids' rather than 'ploughmen'. In this respect, her difficulties surmount those of her 'brother poets' Lapraik and Sillar, whose reception focused almost entirely upon their class status without reference to their gender.

The occasion for the last Burns-related poem in Little's collection, 'An Epistle to Mr. Robert Burns', concerns the meaning of the poet's success for Scottish poets writing in his shadow. In this case, Little writes directly to Burns, discussing his poetry and celebrity in the same epistolary format as Lapraik and Sillar. As in her previous poems, Little analyzes the sources of Burns's poetic achievement in relative terms, analyzing how and why he became so famous for his verse. In addition, like Sillar, she situates Burns's achievements within the continuum of Scottish poetry, making critical assessments of his place in this canon. She writes,

Fairfa' the honest rustic swain,
The pride o' a' our Scottish plain;
Thou gi'es us joy to hear thy strain,
And notes sae sweet;
Old Ramsay's shade, reviv'd again,
In thee we greet. (160, lines 1-6)

Using the language of pastoral, Little envisions Burns as an 'honest, rustic swain' whose artless simplicity harkens back to the poetry of Ramsay.68 As she had claimed in 'Given to a Lady', Scottish readers are eager to return to this simpler strain of national poetry: 'To hear thy song, all ranks desire; / Sae well thou strik'st the dormant lyre' (13-14). Suggesting that Scots of all ranks can appreciate Burns's nationalist verse, Little both valorizes and delimits the scope and measure of his body of work. Burns's poetry is expressly valued for being Scottish poetry, perhaps even more than upon account of its own exceptional merits. In this respect, her appeal to Burns differs greatly from the gender- and class-based approaches of her 'brother' poets Lapraik and Sillar.

As Sillar had displayed in his epistle to Burns, Little also displays a thorough knowledge of Burns's works, with particular attention to his representations of women. She writes that

When slighted love becomes thy theme,
An' women's faithless vows you blame,
With so much pathos you exclaim,
In your Lament,
But glanc'd by the most frigid dame,
She wad relent. (31-36)

Little's awareness of Burns's poetic artifice'the 'faithless vows' and 'pathos' he often employed in his representation of women'blunts the apparent complicity of her depiction of the 'most frigid dame'. Using a common sentimental vocabulary, Little underscores women's roles in Burns's imagined poetic encounters, particularly those which revolve around women's active participation in such scenes. Moira Ferguson has claimed that 'Little questions Burns' relationship with women by obliquely critiquing power-based gender relations in seemingly benign conventional lyrics and poems'.69 In another context, she argues that 'Little's personal feelings for Burns complicate her text'.70 Davis has countered that Little's personal interest in Burns is immaterial, finding instead that 'Little's attraction [is] to Burns's poetic and national reputation'.71

This last point is evident in Little's epistle, when she compares her literary skill with Burns's, to her own apparent disadvantage: 'The daisy too, you sing wi' skill; / An' weel ye praise the whisky gill. / In vain I blunt my feckless quill, / Your fame to raise' (37-40). Describing her 'quill' as 'feckless' is not an admission that she lacks literary talent as much as it is an assertion that 'sister poets' like herself do not possess the cultural cachet to praise with authority.72 She depicts Burns as a 'plough-boy' in a bitter contest with paragons of English criticism such as Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, and Samuel Johnson:

Did Addison or Pope but hear,
Or Sam, that critic most severe,
A plough-boy sing, wi' throat sae cleare,
They, in a rage,
Their works wad a' in pieces tear
An' curse your page. (43-48)

In contrast to the heroic victory of the 'ploughboy' who leaves his English critics 'in a rage', Little describes her own efforts to praise Burns as destined to fail:

If I should strain my rupy throat,73
To raise thy praise wi' swelling note,
My rude, unpolish'd strokes wad blot
Thy brilliant shine,
An' ev'ry passage I would quote
Seems less sublime. (59-54)

However, as McCulloch attests, the very poem itself stands as a vocal protest to such an admission: 'she has indeed praised him with skill and with an appreciative understanding of the features which make his poetry outstanding as well as the traditions which nurtured him'.

Disappointing Frances Dunlop, Burns never replied to Little's poetry or letters. McCulloch offers three likely scenarios that would explain his disinterest (or disinclination to respond): 'Burns, for his part, kept his distance. Perhaps he had had too many labouring-class poets trying to follow in his footsteps; perhaps he felt that whatever uses women might have, writing poetry was not among them; or perhaps he just did not like Little's poems'.74 Frances Dunlop wrote angrily to Burns after he dismissed Little's poetry in her presence:

Methinks I hear you ask me with an air that made me feel as I had got a slap in the face, if you must read all the few lines I had pointed out to your notice in poor Jenny's book. How did I upbraid my own conceited folly at that instant that I had ever subjected one of mine to so haughty an imperious critic! I never liked so little in my life as at that moment the man whom at all others I delighted to honour ' I then felt for Mrs Richmond [Janet Little], for you, and for myself, and not one of the sensations were such as I would wish to cherish in remembrance.75

Ferguson has argued that Little had to maintain a positive relationship with Burns, stating that 'given Burns's popularity, even a fantasy of opposition to the local hero was scarcely allowed'.76 Davis also suggests that 'Little promotes Burns's position as national poet for Scotland; indeed, she recognizes that she has benefited from his popularizing of the Scottish language'.77 Like her 'brother' poets, Little did not benefit from his example in the long run. Although she 'sold nearly 800 copies [of Poetical Works] to just over 650 subscribers, among whom were Burns and James Boswell',78 it was to be her only published literary work during her lifetime.79 She lived the remainder of her life as a dairy superintendent at Loudoun Castle and outlived Burns by seventeen years.


Like her 'brother poets' Lapraik and Sillar, Little discovered that her feelings of kinship with Burns were largely illusory. As Burns became more successful, he abandoned his ties to former friends, mentors, and would-be 'brother' and 'sister' poets. His complex ambivalence about his own origins may have been at the root of this behavior, but it is clear that Burns was frequently at pains to distinguish himself in direct opposition to other labouring-class poets in Scotland. This complicates our understanding of Burns's politics, for it forces us to reassess the poet's real feelings about class identity or 'rank', beyond what we find in the poetry and songs. As in the debates surrounding Burns's thoughts about slavery, there is considerable grey area when confronting his views of class status, particularly his own.80 Recent criticism has raised the question of whether Burns was actually labouring-class,81 but the fact remains that for his readers and contemporaries, he was first and foremost a 'ploughman'. Regardless of whether he was 'Heaven-taught', he was primarily identified by readers and critics as a labourer who just happened to be a poet. For other labourers like Lapraik, Sillar, and Little, there was a legitimate question to be asked: why Burns and not themselves' If he could achieve literary fame almost overnight, why couldn't they' Declaring Burns to be a 'genius' (whether then or now) obfuscates the real issues facing labouring-class poets in eighteenth-century Scotland, especially concerning their usage of the modes and forms of mainstream literature. Burns's 'genius' resided in his mastery of such literary discourse, which elevated readers' perceptions of his talent. His poor treatment of writers from his own class suggests that he was conscious of the continuing need to distinguish himself by maintaining his distance from former compatriots. This not only speaks ill of Burns personally, but more importantly, it reveals the overwhelming odds faced by labouring-class poets like Lapraik, Sillar, and Little to achieve recognition in the literary marketplace. Writing in Burns's shadow was a thankless enterprise, one which needs to be reevaluated for the insights into literary success and failure provided by his 'brother' and 'sister' poets.

For the next wave of Scottish labouring-class poets like James Hogg, this obstacle would be overcome by fluency in multiple genres such as fiction and periodical essays; in addition, Hogg's poetic voice expressed itself in different modes like the epic that were never explored by Burns. Hogg's success in a sense repudiates the limitations of the 'heaven-taught ploughman' persona, providing a more expansive model for labouring-class writers searching for recognition. As with Lapraik, Sillar, and Little, Hogg saw his relationship to his famous brother poet in terms of mutual class status, with much emphasis placed on the shaping roles of work and place. However, where Burns had attempted to distinguish himself outside of class boundaries through self-representation as an inspired 'genius' aloof and distinct from his community, Hogg's ability to integrate himself with mainstream Scottish literary culture attests to his greater success in promoting a less divisive model for labouring-class writers to emulate. That Hogg chose the local 'Ettrick' to prefix his 'shepherd' displays his strong awareness of his native place and its roots in inspiring his work. In this respect, Hogg was greater than his great predecessor Burns, for he did not rely on external reports of 'genius' for literary fame but instead relied upon a powerful sense of kinship and connection to the community. For labouring-class poets after him, Hogg's example would prove to be more compelling than that of 'far-fam'd RAB', which is a fine irony indeed.


1 For discussion of Burns's relationship to eighteenth-century theories of genius, see Corey E. Andrews, 'The Genius of Scotland: Robert Burns and his Critics, 1796-1828', The International Journal of Scottish Literature 6 (2010), 1-16; Tim Burke, 'Labour, Education and Genius', in Fickle Man: Robert Burns in the 21st Century, ed. by Johnny Rodger and Gerard Carruthers (Dingwall, Ross-shire: Sandstone, 2009), pp. 13-24; and Ronnie Young, 'Genius, Men, and Manners: Burns and Eighteenth-Century Scottish Criticism', Scottish Studies Review 9, (2008), 129-47. On the perception of Burns as a 'genius', see Thomas Crawford, 'Burns, Genius, and Major Poetry', in Love and Liberty: Robert Burns, a Bicentenary Celebration, ed. by Kenneth Simpson (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1997), pp. 341-53.

2 For a good survey of Burns's early critical reviews, see Robert Burns: The Critical Heritage, ed. by Donald A. Low (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974), pp. 63-75. Henry Mackenzie's review in The Mirror was responsible for the label 'Heaven-taught ploughman'; see Low, pp. 67-70. For a detailed analysis of this label, see Kenneth Simpson, 'Robert Burns: 'Heaven-taught ploughman''', in Burns Now, ed. by Kenneth Simpson (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1994), pp. 70-91.

3 See, for instance, the skeptical review by John Logan in The English Review (February 1787), reprinted in Low, Burns: The Critical Heritage, pp. 76-77.

4 For a lucid overview of Burns's modernity and continuing relevance, see Robert Crawford, The Bard: Robert Burns, a Biography (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2009), pp. 3-14.

5 The term 'brother' poet originates from Burns's 'Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet', a poem that will be discussed in greater detail later in this essay. For discussion of verse written about Burns from all class backgrounds, see G. Ross Roy, ''The Mair They Talk, I'm Kend the Better': Poems about Robert Burns to 1859', in Simpson, Love and Liberty, pp. 53-68.

6 Letters of Robert Burns, ed. J. Delancey Ferguson and G. Ross Roy, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), I, pp. 381-82. Hereafter cited as Burns, Letters, by volume and page number.

7 Burns's class status is discussed in Nigel Leask, Robert Burns and Pastoral: Poetry and Improvement in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Oxford: OUP, 2010), pp. 15-23. See also Valentina Bold, 'Inmate of the Hamlet: Burns as Peasant Poet', in Simpson, Love and Liberty, pp. 43-52.

8 For more on Burns's relationship to oral Scottish culture (particularly his song-collecting project), see Carol McGuirk, Robert Burns and the Sentimental Era (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1985), pp. 120-48, and Kirsteen McCue, 'Burns's Songs and Poetic Craft', in The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns, ed. by Gerard Carruthers (Edinburgh: EUP, 2009), pp. 74-85.

9 See Douglas Mack, 'Hogg as Poet: A Successor to Burns'', in Simpson, Love and Liberty, pp. 119-127. For more on Hogg's complex poetic indebtedness to Burns, see Valentina Bold, James Hogg: A Bard of Nature's Making (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007) and also Douglas Mack's essay in the present issue.

10 Maurice Lindsay, The Burns Encyclopedia (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980), p. 210.

11 Lapraik's song has a peculiar place in his body of verse. It has an unusually large proportion of English to Scots words, and it is not an original work. Lapraik based it upon magazine verses found in Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine from 14 October 1773; Burns liked Lapraik's version so well that he printed it later in the Scots Musical Museum. However, it is very uncharacteristic of the poems and songs that Lapraik later collected for publication in his Poems (1788). For more on Lapraik, see Lindsay, The Burns Encyclopedia, pp. 209-10.

12 The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, ed. James Kinsley, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), I, 85-89, ll. 5-6. Hereafter cited as Burns, Poems and Songs, with volume, page, and line numbers.

13 Burns's poetic relationship to his Scots predecessors Ramsay and Fergusson is ably discussed in Kenneth Simpson, 'Poetic Genre and National Identity: Ramsay, Fergusson, and Burns', Studies in Scottish Literature 30 (1998), 31-42. See also Douglas Dunn, ''A Very Scottish Kind of Dash': Burns's Native Metric', in Robert Burns and Cultural Authority, ed. by Robert Crawford (Iowa City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1997), pp. 58-85.

14 Burns's references to Pope, Steele, and Beattie are worth close attention. Beattie is the only Scottish writer of the three, and none of them wrote in the vernacular associated with Scottish labouring-class poets. The allusion may be tone-deaf, but at the same time, it underscores Burns's deep engagement with the mainstream British literature of his day (and thus, his clear sense of his difference from labouring-class poets like Lapraik). For a different view of this allusion in the epistle, see Crawford, The Bard, pp. 187-89.

15 Burns's use of 'chiel' to address Lapraik, a man the age of his father, speaks to the young poet's audacity; the word typically refers to a young man, but can also mean 'fellow' (the sense it implies here). All Scots definitions refer to The Concise Scots Dictionary.

16 This assertion was questioned even in Burns's own time, most notably by John Logan; see Low, Burns: The Critical Heritage, pp. 76-77. See also Nicholas Roe, 'Authenticating Robert Burns', in Crawford, Robert Burns and Cultural Authority, pp. 159-79.

17 Burns, Poems and Songs, I, 89-93, ll. 7-8.

18 'Awkwart' implies hostility and/or ill-nature, in addition to awkwardness.

19 This phrase translates as 'numb, confused frivolous woman / woman of bad character'.

20 Burns, Poems and Songs, I,122-123, ll. 7-10. 'Rickles' implies a broken-down person or thing, while 'haggs' refers to brushwood.

21 As a verb, 'skelpin' refers to striking or hitting, as well as throbbing with energy or being vigorously busy.

22 'Braw' as an adjective implies brave, fine, splendid, and worthy.

23 'Browster wives' refer to either landladies or women who brew and/or sell ale. Burns's usage seems to imply all three at once.

24 For more on the relationship of Burns and Lapraik, see Crawford, The Bard, pp. 187-89.

25 James Paterson, The Contemporaries of Burns (Edinburgh, 1840), pp. 25-26.

26 It is worth noting that Lapraik departs from many Scottish labouring-class poets who published books of poetry after the great success of Burns's Kilmarnock edition. Rather than name his volume Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect as many post-Burns poets did, Lapraik picks the more anonymous Poems on Several Occasions.

27 For biographical background on Lapraik, see T.W. Bayne, rev. by Gerard Carruthers, 'John Lapraik (1727-1807)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I describe Lapraik as 'labouring-class' due to his experiences with penury throughout the majority of his life. In fact, he did not begin writing verse until he was imprisoned in 1785. Regardless of his birthright, his life experiences were resolutely those of the Scottish labouring class at the time.

28 Lapraik, Poems (Kilmarnock, 1788), p. 35, ll. 1-4. Hereafter cited in text by line numbers.

29 Lapraik's use of 'blaud' here is intriguing, to say the least. As a noun, it implies damage caused by carelessness; harm or injury; defamation; slapping or striking; or spoiling a child.

30 'Rhyming for bread' is a subtle indicator of Lapraik's awareness of the financial rewards that Burns enjoyed upon the publication of the Edinburgh edition. For discussion of Burns's earnings at this time, see James Mackay, Burns: A Biography (Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1992), pp. 249-301.

31 On the role of education and literary competence in labouring-class verse, see Corey E. Andrews, '"Work Poems": Assessing the Georgic Mode of Eighteenth-Century Working-Class Poetry', Experiments in Genre in Eighteenth-Century Literature, ed.by Sandro Jung (Ghent: Academic Scientific, 2011), pp. 105-33.

32 Paterson mentions that 'at what period he first attempted verse it is impossible to guess' (p. 18), while Bayne and Carruthers suggest that 'confined for a time during 1785 as a debtor, he figured as a prison bard'. Lapraik himself describes the seminal experience of prison in inspiring him to write verse. In his 'Preface' to his Poems, he writes, 'In consequence of misfortunes and disappointments, he was, some years ago, torn from his ordinary way of life, and shut up in Retirement, which at first he found painful and disagreeable. Imagining, however, that he had a kind of turn for Rhyming, in order to support his solitude, he set himself to compose the following pieces, without the least view or design of publishing them' (p. 2). Whether Lapraik had composed verse previous to his 'Retirement' in prison is debatable; it is likely that he had experimented with song prior to 1785. Upon his own testimony, however, it is clear that the enforced 'solitude' of confinement allowed him the time and opportunity to write at greater length and in greater depth.

33 Paterson, p. 39.

34 On the friendship of Burns and Sillars, see Crawford, The Bard, pp. 85-91. For detailed discussion of the Tarbolton Bachelors Club and its significance for Burns's poetic development, see Corey E. Andrews, Literary Nationalism in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Club Poetry (Lewiston: Mellen Press, 2004), pp. 245-54.

35 See Lindsay, The Burns Encyclopedia, pp. 331-33.

36 Burns, Poems and Songs, I, 65-69, 9, 14, 46, 43.

37 See Burns, Poems and Songs, II, 762-63. On Burns's political rhetoric in his verse and songs, see Marilyn Butler, 'Burns and Politics', in Crawford, Robert Burns and Cultural Authority, pp. 86-112.

38 Burns, Poems and Songs, I, 240-41, ll. 15-16.

39 The Scots term 'rivan' in these lines has multiple connotations as a verb. It can mean to tear or rip; to wrench or break into pieces; and to break up untilled ground with the plough. Burns's use of the word seems to encompass these various meanings, especially in linking the difficult work of poetry to an act of labour (ploughing) with which he and Sillar were intimately familiar.

40 'Jad' refers to 'jaud', which is a derogatory term for a worn-out horse; a willful, perverse animal; an old, useless article; or a woman. Burns's use of the term here, when combined with 'masons', highlights the excessively masculinist world of Scottish club life. For more on this element of Burns's club experiences, see Robert Crawford, 'Robert Fergusson's Robert Burns', in Crawford, Robert Burns and Cultural Authority, pp. 1-22. See also Andrews, Literary Nationalism, 256-303.

41 There are multiple meanings of the term 'bardie'. It not only implies a poet (often a strolling singer or vagabond), but also a buffoon, a scurrilous person, or a scolding woman. It appears in thirteen other poems by Burns; see J.B. Reid, A Complete Word and Phrase Concordance to the Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (1889; New York: Burt Franklin, 1969), p. 29.

42 'Play a shavie' is a Scots idiom for playing a trick or prank upon someone.

43 Burns, Poems and Songs, III, 1177. Kinsley remarks that 'this second epistle was written apparently before the publication of the Kilmarnock Poems in July 1786 ' while Burns was at odds with the Armours in the spring of that year'.

44 Burns, Letters, II, 98-99. The previous two letters can be found in Letters, I, 433 and II, 5-6.

45 David Sillar, Poems (Kilmarnock, 1789), p. 53, l. 1. Hereafter cited in text by line numbers.

46 'His on Tweed' refers to Allan Ramsay, who wrote the song 'An' I'll awa' to bonny Tweed-side'.

47 See in particular David Craig, Scottish Literature and the Scottish People, 1680-1830 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1961), pp. 111-138 on the relation of Burns's poetry to the 'communal public' world of vernacular literature. See also L. M. Angus-Butterworth, Robert Burns and the 18th-Century Revival in Scottish Vernacular Poetry (Aberdeen: Aberdeen Univ. Press, 1969), pp. 62-79.

48 'Coila' refers to the name of Burns's Muse in 'The Vision', described there as 'a tight, outlandish hizzie'.

49 On Burns's rocky reception in Edinburgh following the burst of initial enthusiasm, see Crawford, The Bard, pp. 237-90. See also Andrews, Literary Nationalism, pp. 303-05.

50 'O'erheeze' is a neologism coined by Sillar. It literally translates as 'elevate/rise/lift over', but the sense is that Burns should not let the 'flatt'rin' ghaist' [fame] make him think too highly of himself. Sillar is issuing a labouring-class warning to his 'brother' poet here: don't forget where you came from. Burns's treatment of Sillar suggests that he did not enjoy or appreciate this lecture.

51 The reference to the Tiber may allude to classicism, which would be in concert to other allusions to Parnassus and Helicon in the verse epistles. In this respect, Sillar's reference strongly reflects the intertextuality of his epistle with the body of Burns's published work.

52 Lindsay, p. 332.

53 Hans Hecht, Robert Burns: The Man and his Work, trans. Jane Lymburn (Alloway: Ayr Publishing, 1991), p. 78.

54 For discussions of Burns's intertextuality and allusiveness, see Christopher Ricks, Allusions to the Poets (Oxford: OUP, 2004), pp. 43-82; Fiona Stafford, Starting Lines in Scottish, English, and Irish Poetry: From Burns to Heaney (Oxford: OUP, 2001), pp. 43-90; Burns and Other Poets, ed. by David Sergeant and Fiona Stafford (Edinburgh: EUP, 2012).

55 For the critical examination of Janet Little, see Valentina Bold, 'Janet Little 'The Scotch Milkmaid' and 'Peasant Poetry'', Scottish Literary Journal, 20 (1993), 21-30; Leith Davis, 'Gender and Nation in the Work of Janet Little and Robert Burns', Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 38 (1998), 621-45; Moira Ferguson, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: Nation, Class, and Gender (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1995), pp. 91-110; Moira Ferguson, 'Janet Little and Robert Burns: An Alliance with Reservations', Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 24 (1995), 155-74; Susanne Kord, Women Peasant Poets in Eighteenth-Century England, Scotland, and Germany: Milkmaids on Parnassus (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2003), pp. 216-39; and Donna Landry, The Muses of Resistance: Laboring-Class Women's Poetry in Britain, 1739-1796 (Cambridge: CUP, 1990), pp. 217-37.

56 Paterson, p. 3.

57 Ibid., p. 88.

58 Valentina Bold, 'Beyond 'the Empire of the Gentle Heart': Scottish Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century', in A History of Scottish Women's Writing, ed. by Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan (Edinburgh: EUP, 1997), p. 248. Paula R. Feldman remarks of Little that 'her parents were people of modest means, and her formal education was probably minimal' (British Women Poets of the Romantic Era: An Anthology, ed. by Paula R. Feldman [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1997], p. 423). Burns's education was quite different. His tutor John Murdoch introduced him to English literature, among other topics. For more on Burns's educational background, see J. Delancey Ferguson, Pride and Passion: Robert Burns, 1759-1796 (New York: OUP, 1939), pp. 34-78.

59 Feldman, British Women Poets of the Romantic Era, pp. 423-24.

60 Davis, 'Gender and Nation in the Work of Janet Little and Robert Burns', pp. 630, 633.

61 Bold, 'Janet Little 'The Scotch Milkmaid'', p. 25.

62 There is debate about whether this visit actually took place. The incident Little describes (Burns's injury due to a fall from his horse) is accurate, though there is no record of Little's visit, either in her own or Burns's correspondence. I have therefore regarded the incident as an imagined one for lack of proof.

63 Davis, 'Gender and Nation in the Work of Janet Little and Robert Burns', p. 635.

64 McCulloch, 'The Lasses Reply to Mr. Burns: Women Poets and Songwriters in the Lowlands', in Crossing the Highland Line: Cross-Currents in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Writing, ed. by Christopher MacLachlan (Glasgow: ASLS, 2009), p. 141. McCulloch continues by noting that 'Little holds the balance between the mock heroic portrait of the national icon and a genuine non-ironic acknowledgement of his achievement' (p. 142). To Davis, the poem has a cautionary message for Burns himself, warning him 'against pride. In this representation of Burns', Davis suggests, 'his work is both inspired and transmitted by a female figure, while he himself serves as the moral of the story' (p. 636).

65 'Souse' as a verb connotes force, meaning to strike, cuff, or box the ears. On women's use of 'double-voiced' poetic discourse, see Margaret Ann Doody, The Daring Muse: Augustan Poetry Reconsidered (Cambridge: CUP, 1985), pp.199-231.

66 Little's use of 'chiel' here to describe Burns, particularly when linked with 'ploughman', reveals the intertextuality of her poetry with regards to Burns's published work. In this way, her poetic approach is similar to Sillar's in its implications of familiarity. Her description of herself as a 'rustic country quean' is worth notice as well, particularly its emphasis upon place. The word 'quean' also has multiple meanings, including a young or unmarried woman; a female child at the end of her schooldays; a maidservant; a female sweetheart or lass; or a bold, impudent woman or mistress.

67 Ferguson, 'Janet Little and Robert Burns', p. 169.

68 For more on the relationship of Burns and Ramsay, see L.M. Angus-Butterworth, RobertˇBurnsˇand the Eighteenth-Century Revival, pp. 8-9; Thomas Crawford, Burns: A Study of the Poems and Songs (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 205-16; David Daiches, Robert Burns (1950; Glasgow: Humming Earth Press, 2009), pp. 11-37; and Marshall Walker, Scottish Literature Since 1707 (London: Longman, 1996), pp. 68-90.

69 Ferguson, 'Janet Little and Robert Burns', p. 155.

70 See Ferguson, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, p. 91.

71 Davis, p. 634.

72 Ferguson offers a contrary view, arguing that Little's 'commendatory tributes to Robert Burns enhance her own cultural standing' (Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, 91). Given the meagre results of Little's commendatory verse, I find it difficult to maintain this stance.

73 Little's word 'rupy' most likely refers to the Scots word 'roupy', which means coarse, rough, or husky.

74 McCulloch, 'The Lasses Reply to Mr. Burns', pp. 141, 138.

75 Quoted in Feldman, p. 423. Dunlop's display of anger here is a rare instance in her correspondence with Burns and indicates her real disappointment with his treatment of Little, whom she describes as 'one of her own'. In his biography, J. DeLancey Ferguson analyzes the Dunlop-Burns relationship thusly: 'of all his patrons in the upper ranks of society Mrs. Dunlop alone had kept up her interest in him and had appeared to treat him as an equal. Now she unconsciously revealed that she saw no essential difference between his writing and Jenny Little's' (Pride and Passion, p. 159). McCulloch argues that 'despite her championship of Janet Little, Mrs. Dunlop clearly thought that male and female writers were creatures different in kind' ('The Lasses Reply to Mr. Burns', p. 138). Given the extremity of Dunlop's emotional response to Burns's behaviour, however, I tend to think that Dunlop held high promise for Little's work and exhibited genuine dismay at Burns's harsh treatment of the 'milkmaid poet'.

76 Ferguson, Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, p. 106.

77 Davis, p. 629. Ferguson makes the larger claim that 'Burns helped to open Janet Little's eyes to the conditions of her existence' ('Janet Little and Robert Burns', p. 166).

78 Pam Perkins, 'Little, Janetˇ(1759'1813)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

79 In his account of her life, James Paterson printed a selection of Little's poetry that had remained in manuscript until that time.

80 For the discussion of Burns and slavery, see Corey E. Andrews, ' 'Ev'ry Heart Can Feel': Scottish Poetic Responses to Slavery in the West Indies, from Blair to Burns', International Journal of Scottish Literature 4 (2008), 1-22; Gerard Carruthers, 'Robert Burns and Slavery', in Rodger and Carruthers, Fickle Man, pp. 163-75; and Murray Pittock, 'Slavery as a Political Metaphor in Scotland and Ireland in the Age of Burns', in Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture, ed. by Sharon Alker, Leith Davis, and Holly Faith Nelson (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2012), pp. 19-30.

81 See, for example, Leask, Robert Burns and Pastoral, pp. 15-23.

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