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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XLIX


BURNS IN DUMFRIES -SKETCH OF THE POET AS HE FIRST APPEARED IN THE BURGH-MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF THE INHABITANTS AT THAT PERIOD: THEIR POLISH, CONVIVIALITY, AND TORYISM-BURNS'S CONNECTION WITH THE DUMFRIES PUBLIC LIBRARY-HE GETS HIMSELF INTO TROUBLE ON ACCOUNT OF HIS POLITICS-HE FALLS INTO DISFAVOUR-HIS PECUNIARY CIRCUMSTANCES WHEN AN INHABITANT OF THE TOWN.

TOWARDS the close of 1791, Dumfries could number among its citizens a man who had already made some noise in the world, and who came to be recognized as one of Scotland's most illustrious sons. His figure was remarkable ; so that even a cursory observer must have at once seen that it was the outward framework of an extraordinary individual. Five feet ten in height, firmly built, symmetrical, with more of the roughness of a rustic than the polish of a fine gentleman, there was a something in his bearing that bespoke conscious pre-eminence; and the impress thus communicated was confirmed by his swarthy countenance, every lineament of which indicated mental wealth and power: the brow broad and high; the eyes like orbs of flame; the nose well formed, though a professional physiognomist would have said that it was deficient in force; the mouth impassioned, majestic, tender, as if the social affections and poetic muse had combined to take possession of it; and the full, rounded, dimpled chin, which made the manly face look more soft and lovable. When this new denizen of the Burgh was followed from his humble dwelling in Bank Street to some favourite friendly circle where the news of the day or other less fugitive topics were discussed, his superiority became more apparent. Then eye and tongue exercised an irresistible sway: the one flashing with emotional warmth and the light of genius-now scathing with its indignant glances, anon beaming with benignity and love ; the other tipped with the fire of natural eloquence, reasoning abstrusely, declaiming finely, discoursing delightfully, satirizing mercilessly, or setting the table in a roar with verses thrown off at red heat to annihilate an unworthy sentiment, or cover some unlucky opponent with ridicule. Need it be said that these remarks apply to Robert Burns?

His first appearance in Dumfries was on the 4th of June, 1787, two months after the second edition of his poems had been published. He came, on invitation, to be made an honorary burgess; neither the givers nor the receiver of the privilege dreaming, at that date, that he was destined to become an inhabitant of the town. All honour to the Council that they thus promptly recognized the genius of the poet. Provost William Clark, shaking hands with the newly-made burgess, and wishing him joy, when he presented himself in the veritable blue coat and yellow vest that Nasmyth has rendered familiar, would make a good subject for a painter able to realize the characteristics of such a scene. The burgess ticket granted to the illustrious stranger bore the following inscription:-" The said day, 4th June, 1787, Mr. Robert Burns, Ayrshire, was admitted burgess of this Burgh, with liberty to exercise and enjoy the whole immunities and privileges thereof as freely as any other does, may, or can enjoy; who being present, accepted the same, and gave his oath of burgess-ship to his Majesty and the Burgh in common form." Whilst tenant of Ellisland, a farm about six miles distant from Dumfries, Burns became, by frequent visits to it, familiarly known to the inhabitants. Soon after Martinmas, 1791, accompanied by Bonnie Jean, he took up a permanent residence_ in the Burgh, and there spent the remainder of his checkered life; so that Dumfries became henceforth inseparably associated with his latest years. He had just seen thirty-one summers when he entered upon the occupancy of three small apartments of a second floor on the north side of Bank Street (then called the Wee Vennel). After residing there about eighteen months he removed to a self-contained one-story house of a higher grade in Mill Street, which became the scene of his untimely death, in July, 1796.

What varying scenes of weal and woe, of social enjoyments, of literary triumphs, of worldly misery and moral loss, were crowded within the Dumfries experiences of the illustrious poet! There he suffered his severest pangs, and also accomplished many of his proudest achievements. If the night watches heard at times his sorrowful plaint, and the air of the place trembled for a moment with his latest sigh, it long burned and breathed with the immortal products of his lyre; and when the striking figure we have faintly sketched lay paralyzed by death, its dust was borne to old St. Michael's, and the tomb of the national bard became a priceless heritage to the town for ever.

Dr. Burnside says of his parishioners, at the time when Burns became one of them:-"In their private manners they are social and polite; and the town, together with the neighbourhood a few miles around it, furnishes a society amongst whom a person with a moderate income may spend his days with as much enjoyment, perhaps, as in any part of the kingdom whatever." Other evidence tends to show that the society of the Burgh was more intellectual than that of most other towns of the same size in Scotland. Soon after Burns came to reside in it, various circumstances combined to make it more than at any former period, perhaps, a gay and fashionable place of resort. A theatre was opened, which received liberal patronage from the upper classes of the neighbourhood; several regiments were at intervals stationed in the Burgh, the officers of which helped to give an aristocratic tone to its society; and the annual races in October always drew a concourse of nobles, squires, and ladies fair to the County town.
The Theatre was opened for the first time on the evening of Saturday the 29th of September, 1792, under the management of Mr. Williamson, from the Theatre-Royal, Haymarket, London, assisted by Mr. Sutherland, from the theatre of Aberdeen ; "when," says the Dumfries Weekly Journal, [The Journal was owned and edited by Provost Jackson; and it is to his grandson, Mr. Robert Comrie of Largs, that we are indebted for the passages quoted from it.] "the united elegance and accommodation of the house reflected equal honour on the liberality and taste of the proprietors, and design and execution of the artists, and conspired with the abilities of the performers in giving universal satisfaction to a crowded and
polite audience. In a word, it is allowed by persons of the first taste and opportunities, that this is the handsomest provincial theatre in Scotland." It is added that Mr. Boyd was the architect of the building, and that the scenery was from the pencil of Nasmyth.

How the rein was given to fashionable dissipation and animal enjoyment, during the racing season, in these exuberant days, is graphically described by the Journal. " The entertainments of the hunting, races, balls, and assemblies, by the Caledonian and the Dumfries and Galloway Hunts, being now over (October 30th, 1792), we embrace the earliest opportunity of informing the public that they have been conducted with the utmost propriety and regularity, and, we believe, have given general satisfaction. The sports of the field in the morning were equal to the wishes of the gentlemen of the chase; the diversions of the turf through the day afforded the highest satisfaction, not only to those immediately interested, but to thousands of spectators; and the performances of the stage in the evening gave high entertainment to crowds of genteel people collected at the Theatre. Lady Hopetoun's box on Thursday evening, being the play asked by the Caledonian Hunt, exhibited an assemblage of nobility rarely to be seen in one box in the theatres of the metropolis. Besides, the noblemen and gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt had drawn together almost all the genteel families in the three southern counties of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, and Wigtown; and we believe it may be safely affirmed that there never was on any occasion such an assemblage of people distinguished for their rank, fortune, and elegance of manners, seen in this place, or perhaps in any provincial town in Scotland. Besides the daily entertainments at the ordinaries, there was a ball and supper given by each of the Caledonian and Dumfries Hunts, which for the number and distinguished rank of the company, the splendour of the dresses, the elegance and sumptuousness of the entertainments, the richness and variety of the wines, exceeded every thing of the kind ever seen here."

Lest it should be thought that the local journalist, from a feeling of partiality, should be overcolouring the picture, let us see how it looked in the eyes of a comparative stranger. It so happened that Robert Heron, the topographical writer and historian; visited Dumfries in the very week of these festivities, and put upon record his impressions of the Burgh. [Observations made in a Journey through the Western Counties of Scotland, by R. Heron, 1792, vol. ii., pp. 72-76.] " It is perhaps," he says, "a place of higher gaiety and elegance than any other town in Scotland of the same size. The proportion of the inhabitants who are descended of respectable families, and have received a liberal education, is greater here than in any other town in this part of the island. These give, by consequence, a more elevated and polished tone to the manners and general character of this city. The manner of living which prevails here, is rather showy than luxurious. To be esteemed genteel, not to sit down to a board overloaded with victuals, is the first wish of every one." After sketching at greater length, in the same style, the normal condition of the Burgh, he goes on to describe its holiday aspect. "Both the Dumfries and Galloway and the Caledonian Hunts," he says, "were assembled here at this time. Every inn and alehouse was crowded with guests. In the mornings the streets presented one busy scene of hair-dressers, milliners' apprentices, grooms and valets, carriages driving and bustling backwards and forwards. In the forenoon almost every soul, old and young, high and low, master and servant, hastened out to follow the hounds or view the races. At the return of the crowd they were all equally intent, with the same bustle and the same ardent animation, on the important concerns of appetite. The bottle, the song, the dance, and the card table, endeared the evening and gave social converse power to detain and to charm till the return of morn. Dumfries of itself could not afford ministers of pleasure enough for so great an occasion. There were waiters, pimps, chairmen, hair-dressers, and ladies-the priests and priestesses from all those more favourite haunts where Pleasure ordinarily holds her court. Not only all the gayer part of the neighbouring gentry were on this occasion assembled in Dumfries; but the members of the Caledonian Hunt had repaired hither from Edinburgh, from England, and from the more distant counties of Scotland. The gay of the one sex naturally draw together the gay and the elegant of the other. There was such a show of female beauty and elegance as, I should suppose, few country towns, whether in Scotland or England, are likely to exhibit on any similar occasion."

A gay, refined, intellectual town enough, truly; and quite suitable, therefore, as a place of sojourn for Burns, the sentimental bard. But inasmuch as it was fashionable, aristocratic, courtly, given up in no small measure to the idolatry of rank, and fanatically afraid of any thing that could be called ungenteel or democratic, it was no congenial home for the man who dared to say:

"Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
W ha struts, and stares, and a' that :
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
His riband, star, and a' that:
The man of independent mind,
He looks and laughs at a' that!"

In another respect, the town was but too congenial to the poet's tastes and habits. "John Barleycorn," to use his own metaphor, bore potential sway within it. "The curse of country towns," says Robert Chambers, "is the partial and entire idleness of large classes of the inhabitants. There is always a cluster of men living on competencies, and a greater number of tradesmen whose shop duties do not occupy half their time. Till a very recent period, dissipation in greater or less intensity was the rule, and not the exception, amongst these men; and in Dumfries, sixty years ago, this rule held good." [Life and Works of Burns, vol. iii., p. 209.] Thrown into company of this kind, sought after and lionized by all casual visitors, is it at all wonderful that a man of Burns's temperament should have often indulged too deeply? It was no disgrace then, for either lords or commoners to fall drunk below the bacchanalian board. More's the pity that poor Burns, so supreme in many things, was not superior to the jovial drinking customs of his day. Had he lived in a discreeter age, he would have been a better and happier man. Whilst the Burgh had its full share of jovial fellows, who habitually caroused and sang, in a doubtful attempt "to drive dull care away," and called the marvellous gauger, nothing loath, to their assistance, he had frequent opportunities, which he willingly embraced, of breathing a purer atmosphere, and enjoying a higher communion than theirs. Burns was a man of many moods; he was mirthful and gloomy by turns : the pride and paragon of a refined circle at Woodley Hall, Friars' Carse, or Mavis Grove, one day; and on some not distant night, the hero of a merry group, fuddling madly in the Globe tavern, singing in all tipsy sincerity the challenge of his own rollicking song:

"Wha last frae aff his chair shall fa',
He is the king amang us three."

The poet often sank deeply in the mire; but he did not wallow in it. In spite of all that has been said to the contrary, we feel justified in stating that he never became habitually intemperate, or a lover of the bottle for its own sake. His extreme sociality often led him into excess: none can tell how often he drained the intoxicating cup in order to purchase a momentary forgetfulness of his disappointments and his cares.

Dumfries had ceased to be the Whig town which it was during the troubles of 1745. Provost Staig was an inveterate Tory: the councillors and other leading men were, with few exceptions, of the same political creed. When a cry arose in favour of Parliamentary reform, the municipal body voted addresses to the King against it, and brimful of devoted loyalty; and when news of the French Revolution reached the town, it excited a general feeling of alarm. The Provost and his colleagues looked upon the British Constitution as perfection itself, and their reverence for it was only equalled by their horror at the doings of the French democracy. In the following extracts from the Dumfries Journal, we find the loyal, anti-democratic, and orthodox condition of the town faithfully mirrored. "On Tuesday, June 4th, 1793 [King George the Third's birth-day], an unusual display of loyalty eminently manifested itself through all ranks of people in this place. In addition to what we observed last week, it is but justice to notice the ardent loyalty of the rising generation, who, having procured two effigies of Tom Paine, paraded with them through the different streets of this Burgh; and at six o'clock in the evening consigned them to the bonfires, amid the patriotic applause of the surrounding crowd." After a general description of the enthusiastic mode in which the anniversary of his Majesty's birth-day was celebrated that year, special notice is taken by the sympathizing journalist of the proceedings in which the gentlemen of the Loyal Native Club [Burns's impromptu satire on the club is well known:-

Ye true, loyal natives, attend to my song;
In uproar and riot rejoice the night long:
From envy and hatred your corps is exempt,
But where is your shield from the darts of contempt.]

manifested "their attachment to the best of sovereigns on this joyous day." This association, formed on the 18th of January, 1793, "for Preserving Peace, Liberty, and Property, and for Supporting the Laws and Constitution of the Country," included among its members many influential inhabitants - their president being Commissary Goldie, and their secretary, Mr. Francis Shortt, town clerk. " A few ladies," we are told, "on the morning of the auspicious day brought bandeaux of blue satin ribbon embroidered by themselves with the words 'God Save the King!" which were presented in their name by the president to the members, and worn all day by the latter round their hats. "The club met at three o'clock afternoon, in the King's Arms Tavern, and after partaking of an elegant dinner, no less than fourteen loyal and well-adapted toasts were drank; and a fifteenth bumper toast of `God bless every branch of the Royal Family" was given by way of finale to this species of toasts. The club also drank bumpers to the loyal town of Dumfries, and to the magistrates; and in like manner to each of the ladies who had contributed so obligingly and attentively to the decoration of the members. At six o'clock the club adjourned in a body to the Town hall, where they joined in the loyal and distinguished rejoicings which took place there in the evening. At eight o'clock they went to the assembly, and wore their bandeaux across their breasts."

Burns did not, like most of his fellow-townsmen, deplore the French Revolution; on the contrary, he heartily sympathized with it, and was not the man to conceal his sentiments on any question at the dictate of prudence. "He was," says Lockhart, "the standing marvel of the place; his toasts, his jokes, his epigrams, his songs, were the daily food of conversation and scandal; and he, open and careless, and thinking he did no great harm in saying and singing what many of his superiors had not the least objection to hear and applaud, soon began to be considered among the local admirers of the good old King and his minister, as the most dangerous of all the apostles of sedition, and to be shunned accordingly." [Life of Burns, pp. 211-12.] A curious and characteristic illustration of the way in which the poet gave vent to his political views, may here be recorded. A public library was opened in the Burgh, towards the close of 1792; and Burns, who had assisted in establishing it, was admitted a member on the 5th of March, 1793; the minute of the proceedings stating that the Committee had, "by a great majority, resolved to offer him a share of the library free of the usual admission money (10s. 6d.), out of respect and esteem for his merits as a literary man." Reciprocating this kindness, Burns, on the 30th of the same month, presented four books to the library" Humphrey Clinker," "Julia de Roubigne," " Knox's History of the Reformation," and "De Lolme on the British Constitution."

The last-named volume contained a frontispiece portrait of the author, the back of which displayed these words, written in the poet's bold, upright hand:-" Mr. Burns presents this book to the library, and begs they will take it as a creed of British liberty till they find a better.-R. B." Very simple, innocent words in themselves; but awfully daring at that time, and excessively imprudent when proceeding from a Government officer. Burns, on reflection, quailed before the danger he had thus rashly incurred; and, hurrying next morning to the house of Provost Thomson, with whom the books had been left, lie expressed an anxious desire to see De Lolme, as lie was afraid he had written something upon it "which might bring him into trouble." On the volume being produced, he, before leaving the room, pasted the fly-leaf to the back of the engraving, in order to seal up his seditious secret; but any one holding the double leaf up to the light may easily find it out, the volume being still in the library, and its value immeasurably enhanced by this inscription. [In the same library (now the property of the Dumfries and Maxwelltown Mechanics' institute) there is another book, the thirteenth volume of Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of Scotland, which reveals another glimpse of the poet in Dumfries. Under the head "Balmaghie," a notice is given of several martyred Covenanters belonging to that parish, and the rude yet expressive lines engraved on their tombstones are quoted at length. The pathos of the simple prose statement, and the rugged force of the versification, seem to have aroused the fervid soul of Burns; for there appears, in his bold hand-writing, the following verse pencilled on the margin by way of foot-note:

"The Solemn League and Covenant
Now brings a smile, now brings a tear;
But sacred Freedom, too, was theirs:
If thou'rt a slave indulge thy sneer."

We had occasion, in December, 1859, to consult this volume; and, on discovering the lines, recognized the poet's caligraphy at once, and had no difficulty in concluding that they constituted the first rough draft of his well-known epigram in praise of the League and the Covenant, quoted in a preceding chapter. The matured lines are usually represented as an impromptu rebuke by Burns to some, scoffer at the Covenant; but this precious holograph demonstrates the real circumstances under which they were originated.]

Burns identified himself by more than rash words with the democrats across the Channel. A vessel engaged in the contraband traffic from the Isle of Man having entered the Solway, was watched by a party of Excise officers, including the poet. She became fixed in the shallows; but her crew were so numerous and well armed that the party durst not attempt her capture unaided; and Mr. Lewars, the poet's friend and brother exciseman, was sent to Dumfries for a guard of dragoons. Burns, with a few men under his orders, was meanwhile left on the look-out in a wet salt marsh; and as the time passed thus wearily away, Lewars was blamed by the impatient watchers for his seeming tardiness, one of them going so far as to wish that the devil had him in his keeping. Burns saw a humorous ingredient in the irreverent desire, and in a few minutes expanded it into the well-known ditty, " The Deil's awa wi' the Exciseman," with which he diverted his colleagues till Lewars arrived with the soldiers. Our poet could, when occasion required, play the part of Captain Sword as well as Captain Pen. Putting himself at the head of the force, he waded sword in hand to the vessel's side, and was the first to board her and call upon her smuggling crew to surrender in the King's name. Though outnumbering the assailing party, they quietly submitted. The vessel was condemned, and, with all her arms and stores, sold at Dumfries.

Had the matter ended here, the poet's services might have secured his promotion; but unfortunately he sinned them all away, by purchasing four of the captured carronades, and sending them, with a eulogistic epistle, as a present to the French Convention. The carronades and letter were intercepted at Dover; and forthwith the Commissioners of Excise ordered an inquiry to be made into the conduct of their officer. Burns, in a letter to his patron, Mr. Graham of Fintry, stated that he was "surprised, confounded, and distracted" on hearing of the threatened investigation. He warmly repudiated the interpretation put upon his behaviour, declared his devout attachment " to the British Constitution on Revolution principles;" and closed with the touching appeal: " I adjure you to save me from that misery which threatens to overwhelm me; and which, with my latest breath, I will say I have not deserved."

It was long believed that the poet's official prospects were utterly blighted by the inquiry; and that, as a consequence, he became more dissipated and reckless. Some of his biographers have gone further, and attributed his early death to the same cause; but what says Burns's superior in the Dumfries Excise district-Mr. Findlater? In a letter on the subject, that gentleman says--"I may venture to assert that when Burns was accused of a leaning to democracy, and an inquiry into his conduct took place, he was subjected in consequence thereof to no more than perhaps a verbal or private caution to be more circumspect in future. Neither do I believe his promotion was thereby affected, as has been stated. That, had lie lived, would, I have every reason to think, have gone on in the usual routine. His good and steady friend, Mr. Graham, would have attended to this. What cause, therefore, was there for depression of spirits on this account? or how should he have been hurried thereby to a premature grave? I never saw his spirit fail till lie was borne down by the pressure of disease and bodily weakness; and even then it would occasionally revive, and, like an expiring lamp, emit bright flashes to the last."

Besides, Burns, the very year before he died, actually officiated as a supervisor; and there is every reason to conclude that he would soon have been permanently promoted to that rank, had not death intervened. Whilst we think that the charge against the Excise Board, of neglecting or ill-using Burns, is undeserved, we are decidedly of opinion that the treatment he received from the superiors of the Board and the Government of the day was infamous. It was a disgrace to them, and must ever be a source of the deepest regret to all admirers of the poet, that they allowed a few random specks of disaffection to rise tip between them and the lustre of his genius; and that, too, when it was pervaded and intensified by the purest patriotism. When the war between Britain and France broke out, in 1793, Burns joined a volunteer company that was formed in Dumfries; and, according to the testimony of his commanding officer, Colonel De Peyster, he faithfully discharged his soldierly duties, and was the pride of the corps, whom he made immortal by his verse, especially by the vigorous address beginning:-

"Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?
Then let the loons beware, sir;
There's wooden walls upon our seas,
And volunteers on shore, sir.
The Nith shall run to Corsincon,
And Criffel sink in Solway,
Ere we permit a foreign foe
On British ground to rally!"

Burns was the laureate of the company, "and in that capacity," says Lockhart, "did more good service to the Government of the country, at a crisis of the darkest alarm and danger, than perhaps any one person of his rank and station, with the exception of Dibdin, had the power or the inclination to render."

"His `Poor and Honest Soger,'" says Allan Cunningham, "laid hold at once on the public feeling; and it was everywhere sung with an enthusiasm which only began to abate when Campbell's `Exile of Erin' and `Wounded Huzzar' were published. Dumfries, which sent so many of her sons to the wars, rung with it from port to port; and the poet, wherever he went, heard it echoing from house and hall. I wish this exquisite and useful song, with 'Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,' the `Song of Death,' and `Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?' - all lyrics which enforce a love of country, and a martial enthusiasm into men's breasts-had obtained some reward for the poet. His perishable conversation was remembered by the rich to his prejudice: his imperishable lyrics were rewarded only by the admiration and tears of his fellow-peasants."

In the spring of 1793, Burns addressed the following letter "To the Hon. the Provost, Bailies, and Town Council of Dumfries." "Gentlemen,-The literary taste and liberal spirit of your good town has so ably filled the various departments of your schools, as to make it a very great object for a parent to have his children educated in them. Still, to me, a stranger, to give my young ones that education I wish, at the High School, fees which a stranger pays will bear hard upon me. Some years ago, your good town did me the honour of making me an honorary burgess. Will you allow me to request that this mark of distinction may extend so far as to put me on the footing of a real freeman of the town in the schools? If you are so very kind as to grant my request, it will certainly be a constant incentive to me to strain every nerve where I can officially serve; and will, if possible, increase that grateful respect with which I have the honour to be, gentlemen, &c., - ROBERT BURNS." ["As to Burns," says Mr. Carruthers of Inverness, writing to us on the 27th of January, 1866, "I have one scrap for you. You will most likely print the short letter which the poet addressed to the Provost, Bailies, and Town Council of Dumfries, respecting the education of his children. The original draft of the letter, in Burns's hand-writing, is in the British Museum; and when there lately, I copied a part of it which was omitted in publication. After the second paragraph of the printed letter, ending with the words, 'put me on the footing of a real freeman of the town' of Dumfries, there occurs this passage:- 'That I may not appear altogether unworthy of the favour, allow me to state to you some little services I have lately clone a branch of your revenue-the two pennies exigible on foreign ale vended within your limits. In this rather neglected article of your income, I am ready to show that within these last few weeks my exertions have secured for you of those duties nearly the sum of ten pounds; and in this, too, I am the only one of the Excise (except Mr. Mitchell, whom you pay for his trouble) who took the least concern in the business.' It will be worth your while seeing," continues Mr. Carruthers, " if the letter is preserved among the Town Council papers, whether Burns himself omitted the above passage (which is certainly not in good taste), or whether it was thrown out by Currie." We have been unable to discover the original, and suspect that the interesting question raised by our esteemed correspondent must continue to remain unanswered.] The request was at once complied with, to the great gratification of the poet, who was devotedly attached to his children, and desirous above all things to give them a liberal education. " In the bosom of his family," says Mr. Gray, one of the teachers in the Academy, "he spent many a delightful hour in directing the studies of his eldest son, a boy of uncommon talents. I have frequently found him explaining to this youth, then not more than nine years of age, the English poets from Shakspeare to Gray; or storing his mind with examples of heroic virtue, as they live in the pages of our most celebrated English historians. I would ask any person of common candour, if employments like these are consistent with habitual drunkenness."

But though not systematically intemperate, his habits were too lax and irregular for the community in which he lived, convivial though it was; and many who disliked him on other grounds magnified his excesses, and made these a pretext for "sending him to Coventry." On one well-known occasion our errant poet received the cut direct from some of the patrician citizens. During an autumnal evening, in 1794, High Street was gay with fashionable groups of ladies and gentlemen, all passing down to attend a County ball in the Assembly Rooms. One man, well fitted to be the cynosure of the party, passed up on the shady side of the thoroughfare, and soon found himself to be doubly in the shade. It was Burns. Nearly all knew him, but none seemed willing to recognize him; till Mr. David M'Culloch of Ardwell, noticing the circumstance, dismounted from the horse on which he rode, politely accosted the poet, and proposed that he should cross the street. "Nay, nay, my young friend," said the bard pathetically; "that's all over now:" and, after a slight pause, he quoted two verses of Lady Grizel Bailie's touching ballad:-

" His bonnet stood niece fu' fair on his brow,
His auld ane looked better than mony ane's new
But now he lets't wear ony way it will hing,
And casts himsel' dowie upon the corn-bing.

"O! were we young, as we aince hae been,
We sud hae been galloping doun on yon green;
And linking it over the lily-white lea;
And werena my heart light I wad dee."

This incident has been adduced as a proof that Burns at this period (admittedly the darkest in his career) had become an object of "universal rejection." Never was there a greater mistake; and it would be even wrong to suppose that the dejection that he felt, and expressed in Lady Bailie's verse, was more than momentary, or otherwise than semi-dramatic. One who is overcome by real heart distress, does not seek to give it vent by measured poetical quotations. Half an hour after the rencontre, Burns and Mr. M'Culloch had some cheerful chit-chat over a glass of punch in the bard's own house -the latter having thoroughly recovered his spirits; and so charming was his discourse, and so sweetly did Bonnie Jean sing some of his recent effusions, that the Laird of Ardwell left the couple with reluctance, to join his fashionable friends in Assembly Street.

Mr. Gray, referring to the poet about this time, states that though malicious stories were circulated freely against him, his early friends gave them no credit, and clung to him through good and bad report. "To the last day of his life," he says, "his judgment, his memory, his imagination, were fresh and vigorous as when he composed the `Cottar's Saturday Night.' The truth is, that Burns was seldom intoxicated. The drunkard soon becomes besotted, and is shunned even by the convivial. Had he been so, he would not long have continued the idol of every party." Burns's circumstances whilst in Dumfries were humble, but not poverty-stricken. His official income was 50, extra allowances usually bringing it up to 10; and his share in fines averaged an additional 10. "Add to all this," says Chambers, "the solid perquisites which he derived from seizures of contraband spirits, tea, and other articles, which it was then the custom to divide among the officers, and we shall see that Burns could scarcely be considered as enjoying less than 90 a year. [Life and Works of Burns, vol. iv., p. 124.]

According to the testimony of the bard's eldest son, given to Mr. Chambers, and amply corroborated by others, the house in Mill Street was of a good order, such as were occupied at that time by the better class of burgesses; and his father and mother led a life that was comparatively genteel. " They always had a maid-servant, and sat in their parlour. That apartment, together with two bedrooms, was well furnished and carpeted; and when good company assembled, which was often the case, the hospitable board which they surrounded was of a patrician mahogany. There was much rough comfort in the house, not to have been found in those of ordinary citizens; for, besides the spoils of smugglers, as above mentioned, the poet received many presents of game and country produce from the rural gentlefolk, besides occasional barrels of oysters from Hill, Cunningham, and other friends in town; so that he possibly was as much envied by some of his neighbours, as he has since been pitied by the general body of his countrymen." [Life and Works of Burns, vol. iv., p. 125.]


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