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Rambles Through the Land of Burns
Chapter 19


Finding Ellisland deserted by man and beast, I went up to the open door of the dwelling house and “cannily keekit ben.”  The apartment was in the utmost confusion, and the scene which met my gaze odd in the extreme.  A young woman, with a handkerchief bound round her head, was decorating the walls with indiscriminate dashed of a white-wash brush, while a portly, pleasant-looking woman, whose features were almost hid in the folds of a sun-bonnet, busied herself among the furniture in an endeavour to put matters straight.  In the midst of all this sat a man deeply engrossed in the contents of a newspaper; but I am sorry to record that he never lifted his eyes off the page nor in any way recognized the presence of a stranger--a breach of good manners certainly which a previous tenant named Robert Burns would never have been guilty of.  The goodwife--for  such I understood the dame in question to be--was communicative enough, and although answers drawn from her were generally monosyllabic, yet they were clear and respectful, and mad some amends for the reserved demeanour of her lord.  Among other things, I learned that the dwelling-house and offices around the courtyard are in the same condition as they were at the time our agricultural Apollo and his bonnie Jean went in and out amongst them.  This in itself was something, and, despite the freezing reception experienced, I felt gratified to stand in a door-way through which those near and dear to his had often passed, and look upon walls which sheltered him from the blast and upon a floor of stone which echoed the tread of his manly footstep.  Having it proven in this particular instance that a conversation cannot be carried on between a less number of person than two, I withdrew, and commenced an exploration, during which imagination and a previous knowledge of the premises supplied what the occupants declined to communicate.  The farmstead of Ellisland is situated on the verge of a high cliff or scaur overlooking the Nith, and commands a prospect which no sordid-minded farmer would care to look upon.  The dwelling-house is a humble but commodious one-storied building, and the offices attached to it are a commonplace description, and appear--with the exception of a barn--to have been erected since the poet’s day.

When Burns entered on the farm (Whitsunday, 1788), the dwelling-house was in a ruinous condition--a circumstance which compelled him to leave his Jean in Mauchline until he got one in readiness for her reception.  This was built by his brother-in-law, and according to Allan Cunningham, the poet had to “perform the duty of superintending the work; to dig the foundations, collect the stones, seek the sand, cart the lime, and see that all was performed according to the specifications,” and, I may add, the plan he had drawn out.  During the progress of the work he lodged with the outgoing tenant in a hovel which was pervious to every blast that blew and every shower that fell; but more of it by and by.

When Burns fixed on Ellisland, the shrewd factor remarked that he had made a good choice as a poet but a bad one as a farmer.  From what I saw of its soil he was correct, for it is perfectly astonishing that he ever thought of devoting his time to its cultivation.  He was in the habit of saying that after a shower had fallen a newly-rolled field reminded him of a paved street, but I can assure the reader that one turned over with the plough has a closer resemblance to a macadamized road dug with a pick-axe than anything yet witnessed--in fact, such a mixture of boulders and loam is rarely to be met with beyond the precincts of a dried up water-course.  There is nothing under cultivation to equal it in Ayshire; nevertheless, with the present system of agriculture, excellent crops are grown on it, and the tenant can pay more than four times the rent Burns did when he tilled its acres, and that too with less difficulty.[Burns paid £50 a year, the present tenant pays £230.] 

When straying about the steading I entering the barnyard, and leaning on my stick mused.  Here, thought I, is the veritable spot where the poet, in an agony of soul, composed the sublime ode “To Mary in Heaven.”

“Thou lingering star, with lessening ray,
That lov’st to greet the early morn,
Again thou usherest in the day
My Mary  from my soul was torn.

Oh Mary! dear departed shade!
Where is thy place of blissful rest?
Seest thou thy lover lowly laid?
Hear’st thou the groans that rend his breast?

That sacred hour can I forget?
Can I forget the hallowed grove,
Where by the winding Ayr we met,
To live one day of  parting love!

Eternity will not efface
Those records dear of transports past;
Thy imagine at our last embrance,
Ah! little though we ‘twas our last!”

Although married to his Jean--and all the world knows he loved her--he could not forget Mary Campbell, nor “the golden hours” he spent with her in “the hallowed grove” on the banks of the “gurgling Ayr.”  No, though “green was the sod and cold the clay” which wrapt her form, he cherished her memory; an don the third anniversary of her death--a few days after the carnival mentioned in the last chapter--”as the twilight deepened he appeared to grow ‘very sad about something,’ and at length wandered out into the barnyard, to which his wife, in her anxiety for his health, followed him, entreating him in vain to observe that frost had set in, and to return to the fireplace.  On being again and again requested to do so, he always promised compliance, but still remained where he was, striding up and down slowly and contemplating the sky, which was singularly clear and starry.  At last Mrs Burns found him stretched on a mass of straw, with his eyes fixed on a beautiful planet ‘that shone like another moon,’ and prevailed on him to come in.  He immediately, on entering the house, called for his desk, and wrote exactly as they now stand, with all the ease of one copying from memory, the verses ‘To Mary in Heaven.’” [Lockhart’s “Life of Burns.”] 

The first year of Burns’ occupancy of Ellisland passed pleasantly away.  He was frugal and temperate, and paid every attention to his farm, but his seclusion did not obtain privacy.  Lockhart states that “his company was courted eagerly, not only by his brother farmers, but by the neighbouring gentry of all classes; and now, too, for the first time, he began to be visited continually in his own house by curious travelers of all sorts, who did not consider, any more than the generous Poet himself, that an extensive practice of hospitality must cost more than he ought to  have had, and far more money than he ever at his disposal.”  The farm under these circumstances could not pay, and to make matters better he applied to his patron, Mr. Graham of Fintry, to use his interest in procuring him an appointment in the Excise.  This was done, and “the golden days of Ellisland,” as Dr. Currie calls them, began to wane.  “He might indeed still be seen in the spring,” says that author, “directing his plough--a labour in which he excelled; or with a white sheet, containing his seed-corn, slung across his shoulder striding with measured steps along his turned-up furrows, and scattering the grain in the earth; but his farm no longer occupied the principal part of his care of his thoughts.  It was not at Ellisland that he was now in general to be found.  Mounted on horseback, this high-minded poet was pursuing the defaulters of the revenue among the hills and vales of Nithsdale, his roving eye roving over the charms of nature, muttering his wayward fancies as he moved along.”  This new occupation brought Burns a paltry £35 a year, but the amount of drudgery it imposed on him overtasked his energies, and did much more to undermine his constitution than the hard drinking his traducers say he indulged in.  He had ten parishes to survey, which formed a tract of fifteen miles each way.  These had to be continually ridden over.  On an average he rod from thirty to forty miles every day, stopping at all the breweries, public-houses, tanneries, and grocery shops on the route to take note of exciseable stock, and enter the same in the memorandum book he carried for the purpose.  Burns disliked the unpopular occupation, and always apologizing to his friends for engaging in it--

“Searching auld wives’ barrels,
Och hon! the day!
That clarity barm should stain my laurels;
But-what’ll ye say!
These moving things ca’d wives an’ weans
Would move the very hearts o’ stanes!”

Despite his antipathy to the office, Burns faithfully discharged his duties.  Sometimes, however, he was willfully deaf, dumb and blind to petty infringement of the law.  Allan Cunningham tells how he and a brother excise man one day suddenly entered a widow woman’s shop in Dunscore, and mad a seizure of smuggled tobacco.  “Jenny,” said the

poet, “I expected this would be the upshot.  Here Lewers, take note of the number of rolls as I count them. Now, Jock, did you ever hear an auld wife numbering her threads before check reels were invented?  Thou’s ane, and thou’s ane, and thou’s ane a’ out.”  As he handed out the rolls he went on with his humorous enumeration, but dropping every other roll into Janet’s lap, Lewers took the desired note with much gravity, and saw as if he saw not the merciful consideration of his companion.

A late Professor of St. Andrews’s remembered seeing Burns on a fair day in August, 1793, at the village of Thornhill, where, as was not uncommon in those days, a poor woman, named Kate Watson, had for one day taken up the trade of publican--of course, without a license.  “I saw the poet enter her door, and anticipated nothing short of an immediate seizure of a certain greybeard and barrel which, to my personal knowledge, contained the contraband commodities our bard was in quest of.  A nod, accompanied by a significant movement of the forefinger, brought Kate to the doorway or entrance; and I was near enough to hear the following words distinctly uttered: ‘Kate, are you mad?  Don’t you know that the supervisor and I will be upon you in the course of forty minutes?  Good by t’ye at present.’  Burns was in the street and in the midst of the crowd in an instant, and I had access to know that the friendly hint was not neglected.  It saved a poor woman from a fine of several pounds for committing a paltry offence by which the revenue was probably subjected to an annual loss of five shillings.” [Edinburgh Literary Journal, 1829.] 

“I had an adventure with him in the year 1790,” says Mr. Ramsay of Ochtertyre, in a letter to Dr. Currie, “when passing through Dumfriesshire on a tour to the south, with Dr. Stuart of Luss.  Seeing him pass quickly near Closeburn, I said to my companion--’That is Burns.’  On coming to the inn, the hostler told us he would be back in a few hours to grant permits; that where he met with anything seizable he was no better than any other guager; in everything else he was a perfect gentleman.  After leaving a note to be delivered to him on his return, I proceeded to his house, being curious to see his Jean, &c.  I was much pleased with his uxor Sabina qualis and the poet’s modest mansion, so unlike the habitations of ordinary rustics.  In the evening he suddenly bounded in upon us, and said as entered--’I come, to use the words of Shakepseare, stewed in haste.’  In fact, he had ridden incredibly fast after receiving my note.  We fell into conversation directly, and soon got into the mare magnum of poetry. He told me he had now gotten a story for a drawma, which he was to call “Rob Macquechan’s Elchon,’ from a popular story of Robert Bruce being defeated on the water of Caern, when the heel of his boot having loosened in his flight he applied to Robert Macquechan to fix it, who to make sure ran his awl nine inches up the king’s heel.  We were now going on at a great rate, when Mr S----popped in his head, which put a stop to our discourse, which had become very interesting.  Yet in a little while it was resumed; and such was the force and versatility of the bard’s genius that he made the tears run down Mr. S----’s cheeks, albeit unused to the poetic strain.  From that time we met nor more………….Poor Burns!  we shall hardly see his like again.  He was in truth a sort of comet in literature, irregular in its motions, which did nt do good proportioned to the blaze of light it displayed.”

These pleasing anecdotes might be extended.

Burns rose early, and before starting on his long rides busied himself with the work of the farm.  Mrs. Burns stated that she has walked with a child in her arms on the banks of the Nith, and seem him sow after breakfast tow bats of corn for the folk to harrow through the day. [Memoranda by Mrs. Burns--see the Rev P.H. Waddell’s edition of the poet’s works.]  When he returned at night--tired and weary no doubt--he was not inactive, but burned the midnight oil in making up his report for the Excise, in writing letters to friends, or transcribing some lilt he had composed for “Johnston’s Musical Museum” when in the saddle.  Reader, take down your Chambers from your shelf and glance at the Ellisland period of his existence, and you will feel astonished at the number of songs, poems, and letters he wrote under such circumstances, in the brief space of two and a half years.

There are many glimpses of the poet in his social and domestic sphere to be had during his existence at Ellisland, but suffice it to say that the calls upon his hospitality exceeded the limits of his income; so, owing to his, and his inability to superintend his workpeople throughout the day, the little scheme of having two strings to his bow, or, in other words, of securing an income apart from the profits of the farm, failed, and he was forced to accept an appointment in the Excise in Dumfries, at a salary of £70 per annum.  Experiencing little difficulty in getting rid of the lease which bound him to Ellisland, he sold his stock and implements and bade it adieu, “leaving nothing,” says Allan Cunninghame, “but a putting stone, with which he had love to exercise his strength--a memory of his musings that can never die, and £300 of his money sunk beyond redemption in a speculation from which all had augured happiness.”

After lingering about the fields and steading of Ellisland for some time, I cast a wistful look at the open door of the dwelling-house and sought the bank of the river.  The view up and down is exquisite, and the green swelling slopes of Dalswinton on the opposite bank are very beautiful.  The grass and herbage extend close to the water edge, and trees leaning at an angle over the pure pebbly-bottomed channel and the rich drapery of distant woods and dales, go to make up a picture at once charming and delightful.

The lands of Dalswinton belonged to the Comyns, a once powerful family who sternly opposed Robert Bruce.  Allan Cunningham, who spent his boyish days in the neighbourhood, remembered seeing the ruins of their castle, and speaks of a tradition which stated that it was burnt by the hero-king after he had given the Comyn “the perilous gash” and Kilpatrick had “makit siccar” by plunging his daggar into his breast in the church of Dumfires.  In 1792 part of the walls were standing, but no portion of them now remains.

“The Nith,” says Cunningham, “instead of circling the Scaur of Ellisland, directed its course  by Bankfoot, and came close to the castle.  He remembered a pool near the old house of Dalswinton called Comyn’s Pool, which belonged ot the old watercourse, and connected itself with the back water in the Willow Isle, by the way of the Lady’s Meadow.

Here Comyn is alleged to have sunk his treasure-chest before he went to Dumfries, leaving it in charge of the water sprite.  A net, it is said, was fixed in this pool, to which a small bell in the castle was attached, which rang when a salmon was in the snare.

When Burns came to Ellisland, Dawlswinton was the property of Mr Patrick Miller, an inventive genius, who not only patronized him immediately after his arrival in Edinburgh, but maintained a kindly disposition toward him while he resided in the district; and, curiously enough, while Burns on one side of the river was composing lays destined to have lasting influence on the Scottish heart, Miller on the other was trying to elucidate a scheme which has give an impetus to commerce and facilitated navigation to an undreamt of degree.  the idea of propelling vessels by machinery originated with him, and it was on a lake in the vicinity of Dalswinton house that he conducted a series of experiments which proved the practicability of this theory.  Unfortunately, however, some obstacles occurred which he failed or neglected to surmount, and the fame of perfecting steam navigation was bestowed on others.  It is generally admitted that it was from his boat that Fulton and Henry Bell took the plans which they respectively realized on the Hudson and the Clyde.

The path down the furze-clad bank of the river is not lonely delightful but interesting to the admirers of Burns, on account of it having been a favourite walk of his.  While pacing it he composed “Tam o’ Shanter” and committed it to paper, making a sod-dyke do duty for a desk.  Mrs Burns remembered the circumstances.  “He spent most of the day on his favourite walk by the river, where, in the afternoon, she joined him with some of her children.  He was busily engaged crooning to himself’, and Mrs Burns perceiving that her presence was an interruption, loitered behind with her little ones among the broom.  Her attention was presently attracted by the strange and wild gesticulations of the bard, who, now at some distance, was agonized with an ungovernable excess of joy. He was reciting very loud, and with the tears rolling down his cheeks, those animated verses which he had just conceived:

‘Now Tam, oh Tam! had thae been queans,
A’ plump and strapping, in their teens;
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannel,
Been snaw-white seventeen-hunder linen!
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o’ guid blue hair,
I wud hae given them off my hurdies,
For ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!’”*

While wandering along this footway on one occasion the bard was startled by the report of a gun.  Looking round, he observed a poor wounded hare hastening to conceal its mangled form in an adjoining copse.  The man who fired the shot related the circumstance to Allan Cunningham. “Burns,” he said, “was in the custom when at home of strolling by himself in the twilight every evening along the Nith, and by the march between his land and ours.  The hares often came and nibbled our wheat braird; and once in the gloamin’--it was in April--I got a shot at one and wounded her.  She ran bleeding by Burns, who was pacing up and down by himself not far from me.  He started, and with a bitter curse ordered me out of his sight or he would throw me instantly in the Nith.  And had I stayed I’ll warrant he would have been as good as his word, although I was both young and strong.”

“Oft as by winding Nith I, musing, wait
The sober eve or hail the cheerful dawn;
I’ll miss thee sporting o’er the dewey lawn,
And curse the ruffian’s aim and mourn thy hapless fate.”

After a walk of something like half a mile along this classic pathway, I came to the tower of Isle, as a square block of ancient masonry, which was at one time the residence of the Fergusons, is termed; and upon rounding it found myself in front of an aristocratic looking farm house.  Tapping nervously at the door it was opened by a cheerful, motherly-looking woman, who upon learning that I was a pilgrim and a stranger to the land enquiring about Burns, invited me in, and before long I found myself seated in the kitchen with a “whang” of cheese and bread, and a basin of milk before me talking with the household as familiarly as if I had been an old acquaintance.  Mr and Mrs Black were assiduous in their attentions, and showed me everything about the place in which they though I would be interested.

When the house at Ellisland was being built, Burns lodged with the out-going tenant in a hovel which stood under the shadow of the ancient tower of Isle.  According to him it was “impervious to every blast that blew and every shower that fell”--indeed, from the glimpse we have of it in a poetic epistle to Hugh Parker, Kilmarnock, its interior appears to have been anything but pleasant:

“Here, ambush’d by the chimla cheek,
Hid in an atmosphere of reek,
I hear a wheel thrum I’ the neuk,
I hear it-for in vain I leuk.
The read peat gleams, a fiery kernal,
Enhusked by a fog infernal.
Here, for my wonted rhyming raptures,
I sit and count my sins by chapters.” 

His Jean of a necessity was left in Mauchline for some time after his arrival in Nithsdale, and in his solitary hours his thoughts constantly reverted to Ayrshire; and in one of the numerous flirtations with the muse which he enjoyed during their separation, he declared that “day and night his fancy’s flight” was ever with her.

“Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw,
I dearly lo’e the west,
For there the bonnie lassie lives,
The lass that I lo’e best:
There wild woods grow, and rivers row,
And mony a hill between;
By day  and nicht my fancy’s flight
Is ever wi’ my Jean. 

“I see her in the dewy flowers,
I see her fresh and fair;
I hear her in the funefu’ birds,
I hear her charm in the air.
There’s no’ a bonnie flower that springs
By fountain, shaw, or green
There’s no’ a bonnie bird that sings,
But minds me o’ my Jean.” 

We have a peep at the bard while living at the Isle in the valuable “Memoranda” already quoted.  The name of the out-going tenant was David Cullie.  “David,” says the writer,

“was an ant burgher, and belonged to the congregation of the late Rev. Mr Inglis--a clergyman for whom Burns contracted a great veneration.  David by this time was about seventy years old, and had a wife nearly the same age.  He was well to live in worldly circumstances.  His family were grown up and settled in the world, and therefore he declined the farm.  Mrs Burns joined her husband at Marinmas and lived for about five months at the Isle--a place that I know well.  David Cullie used to visit at Ellisland farmhouse, and tho’ the cheese was Dunlp, Mrs B. used to remark that he never took cheese but he took butter also.  Burns used to laugh heartily at this.

“Before this time, Burns had written the ‘Holy Fair,’ and an impression had gone abroad that he was a scoffer or a free thinker.  D. Cullie and his wife were aware of this, and although they treated him civilly as the incoming tenant, during the five months he resided under their roof, still they felt for him as on who was by no means on the right path.  On one occasion, Nance and the bard were sitting in the spence, when the former turned the conversation on her favourite topic--religion.  Mr Burns, from whatever motive, sympathised with the matron, and quoted so much Scripture that she was fairly astonished, and staggered in the opinion she formerly entertained.  When she went ben [?but] she said to her husband; for I think he has mair o’ the Bible aff his tongue than Mr Inglis himself’.’  The bard enjoyed the compliment; and almost the first thing he communicated to his wife on her arrival was ‘the life he had got from auld Nance.’”

When the dwelling house of Ellisland was finished Burns and his Jean proposed to tak up their residence in it; and to do so in a proper manner, and according to an ancient custom which was meant to insure good luck, they along with a few friends formed a procession, and marched behind a woman bearing a family Bible and a bowl of salt to the new abode.  The little cavalcade must have been grotesque in the extreme as it would along the romantic path of the verge of the rive, and doubtless Burns smiled at it as with mock solemnity and measured paces he entered into the spirit of the thing, for, as Chambers remarks, “Like a man of imagination, he delighted in such ancient observances, albeit his understanding on a rigid tasking would have denied their conclusions.”

Having taken leave of my new friends at the Isle, I directed my steps to the highway, bade Ellisland and its surroundings “a heart-fond, warm adieu,” and walked briskly in the direction of Dumfries.  The five miles that lay before me failed to damp my enthusiasm or disturb my equanimity, for the long stretch of road I had to traverse winds through a rich agricultural district; and as the pedestrian plods onward, his eye roves over a gorgeous panorama of hills, woods, valleys, and cultivated fields, which are interspersed with snug farm-houses and gentlemen’s residences.

After a long, pleasant walk, I reached Holywood--an unimportant billage whose humble tenements line both sides of the road--and wended my way towards its Kirktown, another hamlet (if it deserves the name) which stands off the highway, a good half mile farther on.

Entering a field a short distance beyond the road leading to the Kirktown, I walked up to and examined a curious row of stones which is said to be the remains of a Druidical Temple. They are huge fragments of rock, and by their systematic arrangement appear to have been planted in position of the hands of man, a task certainly which must have been attended with many difficulties, for one of the blocks is estimated to weigh nearly twelve tons.  According to tradition, these stones were surrounded by a grove of oak trees which the Druids deemed sacred, and on that account (or rather, it may be supposed, of a religious enthusiast who took up his abode in its umbrageous recess when the Druidism was superseded by a purer faith), was styled the Holy Wood, a term from which the parish derives its name.  At an early date a splendid abbey was reared on the site of the hermit’s cell, which flourished until the iconoclasts of the Reformation destroyed it, like many another monument of ancient architecture, and left it a prey to wreck and dismemberment.

Passing the manse--a snug old-fashioned building standing off the road in the midst of a nice garden--and a row of homely cottages, I went up to the gate of the churchyard, and to my mortification found it locked.  Looking about for the best means of obtaining admission to the spot where

“Servant, masters, small, and great,
Partake the same repose;
And where in peace the ashes mix
Of those who once were foes,”

I observed stone steps jutting from the wall close at hand.  Mounting these, I was soon within the enclosure, and,

“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,”

began to stray amongst the grassy hillocks.  This little place of burial is shaded with some fine old trees, and thickly studded with tombstones, several of which commemorate members of influential local families, but I failed to discover any very old or remarkable memorial.. The church is a curiously formed plain building, with a square tower of simple architecture at its front.  The abbey which it superseded has wholly disappeared.  Indeed, the only remnant of it I could discover was a stone with two rudely executed figures, which are said to represent the Saviour and the disciple whom he loved--some boor having built this memorial into the back wall of a pistye near the churchyard gate.

After strolling through the tangled grass of this little churchyard, I acted on the advice of a passing wayfarer and forsook the highway, for what appeared a more circuitous route to Dumfries--namely, the old road passing through the Kirktown.  Old roads generally wind over heights commanding delightful prospects, and this one is no exception to the rule, for from an elevation at no great distance from the church a wide range of landscape bursts on the view.  The spires and tall chimneys of Dumfries are seen peering from a dell in the distance, which, to all appearance, is wholly surrounded by a richly fertile and beautifully wooded country.  The bulky Criffel, too, and the range of hills of which it is the termination, loom against the sky, and the lovely valley of the Nith appears more like a paradisiacal scene than a portion of a common-place world.

After passing an interesting group of “toddling’ wee things” enjoying themselves “wi’ flichterin’ noise and glee” in front of a row of humble thatched cottages, I turned into a road striking off to the right, and in a short time arrived at the Cairn--a picturesque shallow stream, which is easily forded by vehicles and conveniently crossed by means of a small foot-bridge.  Having dallied on the bridge for a short time, watched the rippling water, enjoying the scenery, I resume the journey, and in due time descried Lincluden’s ruined abbey peering from a shady retreat in the distance.  Knowing it to have been a favourite resort of Burns when he resided in Dumfries, and that the Muse granted him many favors while straying under the shadow of its dismantled walls, I sought out the approach and found it to be a lane skirting a small farmstead near the highway I was journeying.  Having passed through a turnstile, and followed a beaten path running zig-zag through the grass, I reached the elevation on which the ruin stands.

Lincluden Abbey never has been an extensive religious house, but to judge by the crumbling Gothic walls it has not only been chaste in design but elaborately embellished, with ornamental sculpture, which, alas! is sadly deface, for to all appearance wreck and decay shave been allowed to run riot and hold high revelry about the pile until a recent date.  Oppressed by the solemn stillness which reigned, I approached a splendid Gothic doorway over which there are two lines of faded carving, which are said to have represented the birth and early history of Christ, and upon opening a small iron gate entered a spacious but roofless sculpture-bedecked apartment of great antiquarian interest.  In a finely sculptured recess in the left wall of this once splendid hall is the tomb of Margaret Stewart, daughter of Robert III. and wife of an Earl of Douglas.  It bears this inscription on the back wall:--”HIC JACET DNA MARGARETA REGIS SCOTIAE FILIA QUODAM COMTISSA DE DOUGLAS DNO FALLOVIDIAE ET VALLIS ANNANDIAE.”*  When Pennant visited the ruin in 1772 the mutilated recumbent statue of this lady was in the recess, but the bones of the deceased, he states, “were scattered in an indecent manner by some wretches who broke open the repository in search of treasure.”

This Abbey was founded in 1154, and was at first a convent for Benedictine Nuns, but at the close of the fourteenth century they were expelled by Archibald Earl of Douglas, surnamed THE GRIM, on account, as it is alleged, of the impurity of their lives.  Afterwards it was converted into a collegiate church for a provost and twelve bedesmen, and in that condition it remained until the Reformation.  Like sister fabrics it underwent the usual vicissitudes of peaceful and troublous times, increased its proportions under mindful custodies, and suffered neglect, decay, and dismemberment at the hand of the destructive and indifferent.

While Burns lived in Dumfries a favourite recreation with him was to stroll along the bank of the Nith in the evening to the ruins of Lincluden Abbey and linger there till the moon rose on the scene.

“If you would see Melrose aright
Go view it in the pale moonlight, 

says Scott, and doubtless when Lincluden is lit up by

“The orb of tranquil light,
Whose sofen’d radiance makes the night
Seem fairer than the day,”

the scene will not be readily forgotten.

We have an account of one of his visits in the following verses:--

“As I stood by yon roofless tower,
Where the wa’-flower scents the dewy air,
There the howlet mourns in her ivy bower,
And tells the midnight moon her care.

“The winds were laid, the air was still,
The stars they shot alang the sky;
The fox was howling on the hill,
And the distant-echoing glens reply.


“By heedless chance I turned mine eyes,
And by the moon beam shook to see
A stern and stalwart ghaist arise,
Attired as minstrels wont to be.

“Had I a statue been o stane,
His darin’ look had daunted me;
And on his bonnet graved was plain,
The sacred posy , ‘Libertie!’


“He sang wi’ joy the former day,
He weeping wailed his latter times;
But what he said was nae play;
I winna venture’s in my rhymes.

His caution in this instance is commendable.  However, he was not so guarded on all occasions, but uttered his political sentiments fearlessly, and in such an open manner that his superiors in the Excise were doubtful of his loyalty and regarded him with suspicion.

With man a glance at the architectural adornments of the old pile, I strolled to the summit of a small wooded hill in its immediate vicinity and rapturously gazed on the beautiful scene it commands.  At my feet lay the Abbey, a little beyond it the birch and alder-fringed banks of the limpid Cluden, and gleaming through the trees were the broad waters of the Nith and a vast track of the lovely scenery through which it winds.  Little wonder, thought I, that Burns loved to wander here, for most assuredly the surroundings are eminently calculated to invite the footsteps of a poet.  Time, however, did not permit me to linger, so, reluctantly withdrawing my gaze, I descended the slope to the bank of the river, and “with measured steps and slow” began to pace the path which the poet loved to traverse.  It winds along the verge of a series of fields, and within the sight and sound of the rushing stream.  A pleasant walk brought me to its termination, which, by the by, is neither romantic or savory.  Passing along a narrow old-fashioned looking street I crossed the New Bridge and entered Dumfries.

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