Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Scottish Nation

BURNS, a surname rendered for ever famous by its being that of the nation poet of Scotland, for the origin of which see BURNES.

BURNS, ROBERT, the most distinguished of the poets of Scotland, was born January 25, 1759, in a small clay-built cottage, about two miles from the town of Ayr. His father, William Burnes, a man of superior understanding and uncommon worth, was the son of a farmer in the county of Kincardine; and owing to the reduced circumstances of his family, was obliged in the nineteenth year of his age, with Robert his elder brother, to quit the place of his nativity, to push his fortune in some other part of Scotland. “On the top of a hill” says Dr. Irving, “in the vicinity of their native hamlet, the two youthful adventurers separated from each other, in an agony of mind which the uncertainty of their future destiny could not fail to produce.” On leaving Kincardineshire, William Burnes repaired to Edinburgh, and in the vicinity of that city was employed as a gardener for several years. He afterwards removed to Ayrshire, where he was engaged in a similar capacity by the laird of Fairly. In the service of this gentleman he continued for two years, and was next employed by Mr. Crawford of Doonside. From Dr. Campbell, a physician in Ayr, he afterwards took a perpetual lease of seven acres of land, with the intention of converting the ground into a public garden and nursery. Here he erected with his own hands that little clay-built cottage in which his poet-son was born, and to which, in after times, crowds of enthusiastic “pilgrims from many lands” were to repair to do homage to the genius of Scotland’s bard.

Portrait of Robert Burns

      In December 1757 William Burnes married Agnes Brown, who bore him six children, and of these the poet was the eldest. Before he had reduced his ground to a proper state of cultivation, he was engaged as overseer and gardener to Mr. Ferguson, a gentleman who had purchased the estate of Doonholm, and in consequence he seems to have abandoned his project of commencing as a nurseryman.

      In the sixth year of his age, at which time he could read tolerably well, Robert was sent, with his younger brother Gilbert, to a private school at Alloway Mill, about a mile distant from his father’s house. His first teacher’s name was Campbell, but that gentleman, within the space of a few months, having been appointed master of the workhouse at Ayr, a young man of the name of John Murdoch was engaged by the poet’s father and some other cottagers, to supply his place, boarding with each family in turn. By Mr. Murdoch, who afterwards wrote an excellent account of the early part of his life, he was instructed in English grammar. Before he was nine years old, his propensity for reading was so ardent that he perused with enthusiasm every book that came in his way. His taste for poetry and romantic fiction was first inspired, as he tells us himself, by the chimney-corner tales of an old woman in his father’s family, remarkable for her ignorance, credulity, and superstition, whose memory was plentifully stored with stories of the marvellous. “She had, I suppose,” says Burns, writing in 1787, “the largest collection in the country of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, raiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of poetry; but had so strong an effect on my imagination that, to this hour, in my nocturnal rambles, I sometimes keep a sharp look-out in suspicious places; and though nobody can be more sceptical than I am in such matters, yet it often takes an effort of philosophy to shake off these idle terrors.”

      When about thirteen years of age, to improve his writing, his father sent him to the parish school of Dalrymple, week about with his brother, during a summer quarter. In 1772, Mr. Murdoch, being one of five candidates, was appointed master of the English school at Ayr, and during the following year Burns went to board and lodge at his house, for farther instruction in the principles of grammar. In ten days after he was called home, to assist his father with the harvest. In a short time, however, he returned to Ayr, where he remained only another fortnight, but during that period he commenced learning the French language, under Mr. Murdoch. On his return home, he continued the study of it, during his leisure hours, and made himself so proficient in it, that he could read and understand any French author in prose. His fondness for French phrases was shown by his frequently using them in his letters at this period of his life. He next began the Latin with the assistance of Mr. Robertson, school-master at Ayr, and attempted it at home without the aid of a master, but found it so difficult to acquire that he soon abandoned it. He subsequently spent a summer quarter at the parish school of Kirkoswald, where he acquired some knowledge in mensuration, surveying, dialling, &c., and this, with the brief interval that he spent at Dalrymple, was all the school education he ever received. In his letter to Dr. Moore he expresses himself as having, by reading, about this period of his youth, the lives of Hannibal and of Wallace, been excited towards a military life by the former, and been filled with strong patriotic emotions by the latter. At an early period he met with the works of Allan Ramsay, and the poems of Robert Fergusson, written chiefly in the Scottish dialect, which tended to give his genius a bias towards poetry, in which he soon surpassed them both.

      But in knowledge of a different sort, the knowledge of human nature, he soon became considerably initiated. At Kirkoswald, a intercourse with parties following a contraband trade, an insight into the vices and follies of mankind, and learned but too well to imitate and adopt them, and what is worse to take pride in them. He formed an attachment with a young girl of the village, of which he speaks as having greatly agitated him at the time, but of which no permanent result appears afterwards. “I returned home from Kirkoswald,” says he, “very considerably improved. My reading was enlarged with the very important addition of Thomson’s and Shenstone’s works. I had seen human nature in a new phasis, and I engaged several of my schoolfellows to keep up a literary correspondence with me. This improved me in composition. I had met with a collection of letters by the wits of Queen Anne’s reign, and I pored over them most devoutly. I kept copies of any of my own letters that pleased me, and a comparison between them and the composition of most of my correspondents flattered my vanity. I carried this whim so far that, though I had not three farthings’ worth of business in the world, yet almost every post brought me as many letters as if I had been a broad plodding son of the daybook and ledger.”

      In the year 1766 his father obtained from Mr. Ferguson a lease of the farm of Mount Oliphant, in the parish of Ayr, that gentleman advancing him at the same time one hundred pounds to stock it with. Here, after the day’s labour was over, he instructed the family himself in arithmetic and the principles of religion. At this place he continued to struggle for the support of his family for the space of eleven years. The soil of the farm was extremely barren, and this, with the loss of cattle and other accidents, involved them in great poverty. The whole family were in consequence obliged to toil early and late; and Robert, the eldest, thrashed in the barn at thirteen years of age, and at fifteen was the principal labourer on the farm. “This kind of life,” he says, “the cheerless gloom of a hermit, with the unceasing moil of a galley-slave, brought me to my sixteenth year, a little before which period I first committed the sin of rhyme. You know our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labours of harvest. In my fifteenth autumn, my partner was a bewitching creature a year younger than myself. I did not know,” he adds afterwards, in language which portrays a juvenile passion so truly that it may serve for all emotions of a like nature in every human being, – “I did not know myself why I liked so much to loiter behind with her, when returning in the evening from our labours; why the tones of her voice made my heartstrings thrill like an Aeolian harp; and, particularly, why my pulse beat such a furious ratan, when I looked and fingered over her little hand to pick out the cruel nettle-stings and thistles. Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme.” A Miss E., to whom he seems to have been seriously devoted, escaped immortality by jilting him. Her very name is unknown; but he seems pretty soon to have got over the mortification to his feelings caused by this event. The object of his most fervent attachment, however, was mary Campbell, a simple Highland girl, who was dairymaid at Colonel Montgomery’s house of Coilsfield. He intended to marry her, but she died at Greenock, on her return from a visit to her relations in Argyleshire. Their last parting on the banks of the Ayr is described in beautiful language in his poem, beginning –

                        “Ye banks, and braes, and streams around
                              The castle of Montgomery.”

The address ‘To Mary in Heaven,’ written on the anniversary of her death, is one of the most exquisite of his poems. In 1777 his father removed to Lochlea, a farm in the parish of Tarbolton, where burns continued from his 17th to his 24th year.

      In the year 1780 he formed a kind of literary institution, called the Bachelor’s Club, in a small public house in the village of Tarbolton, consisting of himself, his brother Gilbert, and other young men of the same condition of life, amongst whom David Sillar, who himself published a volume of poems in the Scottish dialect, and who is also known from two poetical epistles addressed to him by Burns, was afterwards admitted. The laws and regulations were furnished by Burns, and the last one in particular, drawn up by him, shows the characteristics of his mind at that period. It declares that every member “must be a professed lover of one or more of the female sex,” and that none “whose only will is to heap up money” can be admitted into membership. This club, being soon deprived of its most powerful member, was not long preserved from dissolution; but he established a similar institution on his removal shortly afterward to Mauchline, which still subsists, and appeared in the list of subscribers to the first or Kilmarnock edition of his works. Before leaving Tarbolton, he had become a free mason and attended two lodges.

      He and his brother Gilbert had for sometime held a small portion of land from their father, on which they raised flax; in disposing of which Burns formed the idea of commencing flax-dresser, and in 1781 he joined a person in the town of Irvine, to learn the trade. About six months thereafter the shop accidently took fire, while he and some of his companions were ‘giving a welcome carousal to the new year,’ when the whole stock was consumed, and he was left without a sixpence. Unfortunately his associates at Irvine were not of a character calculated to increase his reverence for virtue, or to strengthen in his mind those pious lessons which had been early instilled into it by his parents. Among other intimates he numbered a young sailor of a manly and independent spirit, but whose laxity of moral principles exerted a very deleterious effect upon his mind and conduct. “I had pride before,” he says, “but he taught it to flow in proper channels. His knowledge of the world was vastly superior to mine, and I was all attention to learn. He was the only man I ever saw who was a greater fool than myself where woman was the presiding star; but he spoke of illicit love with the levity of a sailor, which hitherto I had regarded with horror. Here his friendship did me a mischief, and the consequence was, that soon after I resumed the plough, I wrote the ‘Poet’s Welcome’” – that is, the verses entitled “Rob the Rhymer’s Welcome to his Bastard Child.’

      Meantime, a misunderstanding had arisen between his father and his landlord, respecting the conditions of the lease of the farm of Lochlea, and the dispute was referred to artibrators, whose decision involved his affairs in ruin, and he died soon afterwards on the 13th February 1784.

      For the benefit of the family, the two brothers, Robert and Gilbert, now took the farm of Mossgiel, near Mauchline, belonging to the earl of Loudon, on a sublease from Mr. Gavin Hamilton, writer in that town. This farm consisted of a hundred and eighteen acres, and was rented at ninety pounds a-year. Each member of the family gave his assistance towards the stocking and management of the farm, and was allowed a proportion of the produce in the form of stipulated wages. Robert’s amounted to the annual sum of seven pounds, and such was his frugality at this period, that, according to the statement of his brother Gilbert, his expenditure never, during the four years of their residence at Mossgiel, was allowed to exceed his income. “The four years,” says Mr. Lockhart, in his Life of the poet, “during which Burns resided on this cold and ungrateful farm of Mossgiel, were the most important of his life. It was then that his genius developed its highest energies; on the works produced in these years his fame was first established, and must ever continue mainly to rest; it was then also that his personal character came out in all its brightest lights, and in all but its darkest shadows; and indeed, frm the commencement of this period, the history of the man may be traced, step by step, in his own immortal writings. Burns now began to know that nature had meant him for a poet; and diligently, though as yet in secret, he laboured in what he felt to be his destined vocation. Gilbert continued for some time to be his chief, often indeed his only confidant; and anything more interesting and delightful than this excellent man’s account of the manner in which the poems included in the first of his brother’s publications were composed, is certainly not to be found in the annals of literary history.”

      While at Mossgiel he became acquainted with Jean Armour, who afterwards became his wife. She was the daughter of a respectable man, a master-mason in the village of Mauchline, and his first meeting with her was characteristic. Burns was shooting by the river side, and Miss Armour, described as then “a bonny lively lass of seventeen, with a piercing black eye, a jimp waist, and a foot and ankle cast in the most perfect mould,” was washing clothes in the Scottish fashion, and lilting a Scottish song. The poet’s dog ran over the clothes in the green, and the laughing damsel threw a stone at him. “If you liked me you would like my dog,” said Burns; – and from this simple introduction an intimacy took place which had an important effect on the future happiness of both. Burns at this time is represented to have been “a tall, course-featured young man, with a flashing eye, and great colloquial powers, frank and affable, and a heart extremely susceptible to tender emotions.” Such a youth was a dangerous lover for a simple country maiden like Jean Armour, and she soon found herself in a state which could no longer be concealed. At this time the circumstances of the poet were not in a condition to permit of his marrying. The farming speculation in which he and the rest of the family were engaged had utterly failed, and he had resigned his share in the lease, which he tells us was only nominally his. He was anxious, however, to afford the only reparation in his power to Miss Armour, and agreed to make a legal declaration of their having been privately married, and afterwards embark for the West Indies to push his fortune. But to this, her father, with whom she was a great favourite, would not agree. He had not previously suspected her real situation, but on being informed of their marriage, his distress was so great that he fainted. He desired his daughter to cancel the marriage-lines with which Burns had presented her, and in the anguish of her heart she obeyed. Burns, on his part, “offered.” says his brother gilbert, “to stay at home and provide for his wife and family by his daily labours. Even this offer they did not approve of; for humble as Miss Armour’s station was, and great though her imprudence had been, she still, in the eyes of her partial parents, might look to a better connexion than that with my friendless and unhappy brother, at that time without house of biding-place.” In the distraction of his mind, he wished to leave the country as soon as he could, and accordingly he entered into an agreement with a Dr. Douglas, to go out to Jamaica as an assistant overseer, clerk, or bookkeeper on his estate. He had not, however, sufficient money to defray the expenses of the voyage, and the vessel in which Dr. Douglas was to procure a passage for him was not expected to sail for some time. To procure a little money to assist him before leaving his native land, he was advised by Mr. Gavin Hamilton to publish his poems by subscription. This was the crisis of his fate – the turning-point in his history. The suggestion was immediately acted upon. Subscription-bills were issued, and the printing of his poems commenced at Kilmarnock, his preparations going on at the same time for his voyage to Jamaica, a voyage which was never to take place. “I weighed my productions,” says Burns, “as impartially as was in my power. I was pretty confident my poems would meet with some applause; but at the worst, the roar of the Atlantic would deafen the voice of censure, and the novelty of West Indian scenes make me forget neglect. I threw off six hundred copies, of which I had got subscriptions for about three hundred and fifty. My vanity was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the public; and besides I pocketed, all expenses deducted, nearly twenty pounds. This sum came very seasonably, as I was thinking of indenting myself, for want of money to procure my passage. As soon as I was master of nine guineas, the price of wafting me to the torrid zone I took a steerage passage in the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde.” He describes himself as skulking at this time from covert to covert, under all the terrors of a jail, as Jean Armour having become the mother of twins, her father had sent the sheriff officers to apprehend him and force him to find security for the maintenance of his twin children, and the parish officers were also after him on the same grounds, so that he was literally hunted like a partridge on the mountains. But the day-dawn was at hand which was to scatter the clouds around his path, and light him on his onward way to immortality.

      His volume of poems was published at Kilmarnick in 1786, under the title of ‘Poems chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,’ and immediately took hold of the national mind. “No sooner had the volume appeared,” says the Ettrick Shepherd, in his characteristic memoir of Burns, “than old and young, grave and gay, high and low, leaned and ignorant, were alike delighted, agitated, and transported. Shepherds, ploughboys, and maid-servants cheerfully gave the last savings of their penny fee, to purchase the works of Robert Burns, and many protested that they would have given the same sum to have seen the man who made them laugh, cry, or feel with regard to all things, past, present, and to come, as he listed.” The first impression being speedily disposed of, his friends advised him to print a second, but his printer at Kilmarnock declined to risk another edition, unless the poet advanced the price of the paper, which he was altogether unable to do. In this emergency, Mr. Ballantyne, provost of Ayr, generously offered to advance the requisite sum, but ere this, Burns, harassed and impatient to be gone, had bidden farewell to his friends, and sent off his chest by night, for fear of its being arrested, to Greenock, intending himself to follow in a few days, for the purpose of embarking for Jamaica. He had also composed the last song he thought he should ever measure in Caledonia, ‘The gloomy night is gathering fast,’ when his course was suddenly changed, and a bright but all too brief gleam of prosperity shone out dazzlingly on the head and the fortunes of Robert Burns. Before leaving Scotland, as he thought, for ever, he sent a collection of his poems, including several that were not published till many years afterwards, to Mrs. General Stewart of Stair, from the possession of whose grandson they passed into a private hand, and were made known to the public in 1852. The collection is curious as showing how much the pieces were afterwards improved by revision.

      A friend had, in the meantime, been secretly exerting himself on his behalf, and at the twelfth hour, ere its shadow had for ever passed from the dial, his exertions were crowned with success. The Rev. Dr. Laurie, minister of Loudon, who had been very kind to Burns, had sent a copy of his poems to Dr. Blacklock of Edinburgh, the amiable blind poet and divine, whom Dr. Johnson, in his visit to Scotland, eleven years before, had “beheld with reverence.” that gentleman, in acknowledging the volume, highly commended the poems, and concluded his letter with these words: – “It has been told me by a gentleman to whom I showed the performances, and who sought a copy with diligence and ardour, that the whole impression is already exhausted. It were therefore much to be wished, for the sake of the young man, that a second edition, more numerous than the former, could immediately be printed, as it appears certain that its intrinsic merit and the exertion of the author’s friends might give it a more universal circulation than any thing of the kind which has been published within my memory.” On receiving Dr. Blacklock’s letter, Dr. Laurie immediately sent it off by express to Gavin Hamilton, who himself rode after the bard, and delivered it into his hand. Burns immediately set out for Edinburgh, where he arrived in November 1786.

      Some of his biographers, and amongst others Dr. Irving and Professor Wilson, the latter in his admirable vindication of the poet, have stated that his first journey to Edinburgh was performed on foot. But this is not correct, as appears by a letter from Mr. Archibald Prentice, editor of the Manchester Times, to the professor, dated March 8, 1841. The father of that gentleman, a farmer in Covington Mains, and a subscriber for twenty copies of the Kilmarnock edition of the poems, had been introduced to the poet, and it was arranged, he says, “that Burns should, on his journey to Edinburgh, make the farm-house at Covington Mains his resting-place for the first night. All the farmers in the parish had read with delight the poet’s then published works, and were anxious to see him. They were all asked to meet him at a late dinner, and the signal of his arrival was to be a white sheet attached to a pitch-fork, and put on the top of a corn-stack in the barn-yard. The parish is a beautiful amphitheatre, with the Clyde winding through it, with Wellbrae Hill to the west, Tinto and the Culter Fells to the south, and the pretty, green, conical hill, Quothquan Law, to the east. My father’s stack-yard, lying in the centre, was seen from every farmhouse in the parish. At length, Burns arrived, mounted on a ‘pownie,’ borrowed of Mr. Dalrymple, near Ayr. Instantly the white flag was hoisted, and as instantly were seen the farmers issuing from their houses and converging to the point of meeting. A glorious evening, or rather night which borrowed something from the morning, followed, and the conversation of the poet confirmed and increased the admiration created by his writings. On the following morning he breakfasted with a large party at the next farm-house, tenanted by James Stodart, brother to the Stodarts, the piano-forte-makers of London; took lunch, also with a large party, at the Bank, in the parish of Carnwath, with John Stodart, my mother’s father, brother to the late Robert Stodart, of Queen Street in your ancient and magnificent town; and rode into Edinburgh that evening on the ‘pownie,’ which he returned to the owner in a few days afterwards by John Sampson, the brother of the immortalized ‘Tam.’ Mr. Sampson took with him a letter to Mr. Reid, in which the poet expressed the great pleasure he had experienced in meeting his friends at Covington.

      “My father was exactly the sort of man to draw forth all the higher powers of Burns’ mind. He combined physical with mental strength in an extraordinary degree; had a great deal of practical knowledge; had read and thought much; had a high relish for manly poetry; much benevolence; much indignation at oppression, which nobody dared to exercise within his reach; and no mean conversational powers. Such was the person to appreciate Burns, ay, and to reverence the may who penned ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night.’ and, accordingly, though a strictly religious and moral man himself, he always maintained that the virtues of the poet greatly predominated over his faults. I once heard him exclaim, with hot wrath, when somebody was quoting from an apologist, ‘What! Do they apologise for him! One half of his good, and all his bad, divided among a score o’ them, would make them a’ better men.’

      “When a lad of seventeen, in the year 1809, I resided for a short time in Ayrshire, in the hospitable house of my father’s friend, Reid, and surveyed, with a strange interest, such visitors as had known Burns. I soon learned how to anticipate their representations of his character. The men of strong minds and strong feelings were invariable in their expressions of admiration; but the prosy, consequential bodies all disliked him as exceedingly dictatorial.”

      His name had reached Edinburgh before him, and he was now caressed by all ranks. In the ninety-seventh number of the ‘Lounger,’ a weekly periodical then published at Edinburgh, Mr. Henry Mackenzie inserted ‘An account of Robert Burns, the Ayrshire ploughman, with extracts from his poems,’ which tended still farther to extend his fame. In Ayrshire he had known Mr. Dugald Stewart, professor of moral philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, and had dined with him at his seat of Catrine, and by Mr. Alexander Dalzell he had been introduced to the earl of Glencairn, of whose generous friendship he always spoke in enthusiastic terms. From Dr. Laurie he carried a letter of introduction to Dr. Blacklock, who had been the means of inducing him to visit Edinburgh. By the exertions of such influential friends as these, he was speedily introduced into the literary and fashionable circles of the metropolis, and he did no discredit, but the contrary, to the society, in every way so new to him, among which he was now, by a turn of fortune’s wheel, so unexpectedly placed. But yesterday he was a homeless, skulking fugitive, without a friend to become security for hi to the law, and cared for by nobody except the sheriff and parish officers who were in search of him. To-day, he had “troops of friends,” and was “the cynosure of all eyes,” “the observed of all observers.” His deportment, in whatever company he happened to find himself, was manly and becoming. His unfailing good sense supplied all deficiencies of education, and his brilliant conversational powers seem to have struck every person with whom he came in contact with as much admiration as his poetry. Under the patronage of the earl of Glencairn – the last who possessed the title, and who thus shed a parting ray of light upon it to gild, as it were, its dying honours, – Principal Robertson, Professor Dugald Stewart, Mr. Henry Mackenzie, – all illustrious and unfading names, – and other persons of influence and standing, a new edition of his poems was published in April 1787. Amid all the adulation which he at this time received, he ever maintained his native simplicity and independence of character. By the earl of Glencairn he was introduced to the members of the Caledonian Hunt, and in gratitude for their kindness, he dedicated to them the second edition of his poems, in an address which must be familiar to every reader of them. On this his first visit to Edinburgh, it appears that he lodged with a writer’s apprentice named Richmond, sharing his room and bed, in the house of Mrs. Carfrac, Baxter’s close, Lawnmarket, at eighteen pence a week.

      Mr. Dugald Stewart, who, as already stated, knew him in Ayrshire, before the first fruits of the full measure of his fame burst upon him, in his letter to Dr. Currie of Liverpool, the first biographer and editor of Burns, says that “the attentions he received during his stay in Edinburgh, from all ranks and descriptions of persons, were such as would have turned any head but his own. I cannot say,” he continues, “that I could perceive any unfavourable effect which they left on his mind. He retained the same simplicity of manners and appearance which had struck me so forcibly when I first saw him in the country; nor did he seem to feel any additional self-importance from the number and rank of his new acquaintance. His dress was perfectly suited to his station, plain and unpretending, with a sufficient attention to neatness. If I recollect right, he always wore boots (by this is meant top-boots, for in those days Wellingtons and Hessians, the latter now extinct in Britain at least, were unknown); and when on more than usual ceremony, buckskin breeches.”

      Being now enabled to see a little more of his own country, than his limited means had hitherto permitted him to do, he resolved upon visiting some of the pastoral and classic districts of Scotland. Accordingly, leaving ‘the gay and festive scene’ of Edinburgh, on the sixth of May, after being about six months in that city, he set out on a tour to the south of Scotland, accompanied part of the way, by the late Robert Ainslie, Esq., writer to the signet, one of the young men of literary tastes whose acquaintance he had made shortly before. They travelled on horseback. During this excursion he was introduced to several men of eminence in their station, and among the rest to Mr. Brydone, the traveller, to whom he carried a letter of introduction from Mr. Henry Mackenzie, and the Rev. Dr. Somerville of Jedburgh, the historian, whom he describes as “a man and a gentleman, but sadly addicted to punning.” The love of fun is inherent in human nature, and at a certain time of life is innocent and natural; just as at a particular period of the circus performances, a clown, the humblest of all actors, makes his appearance, with his commonplace jokes and worn-out witticisms; and some such association as this must have been at the foundation of Dr. Johnson’s celebrated saying, that ‘punning is the lowest of all kinds of wit.’ At Jedburgh, Burns was presented with the freedom of the town, an empty honour, but the only one which corporations have it in their power to bestow. Since the passing of the Burgh Reform Act in 1832, it has scarcely any meaning, but in Burns’ time it had immense significance.

      Having crossed the border into Northumberland, he visited Alnwick castle; the hermitage and old castle of Warksworth; Morpeth and Newcastle. In the latter town he spent two days, and then proceeded to the south-west by Hexham and Wadrue, to Carlisle. He then returned to Scotland, taking Annan in his way; and thence through Dumfries and Sanquhar to Mossgiel, where he arrived about the 8th of June, 1787, after an absence of about seven busy and eventful months. He remained with his mother, his brothers and sisters, for a few days, and, proceeding again to Edinburgh, immediately set out on a tour to the Highlands. Returning to Mossgiel, he spent the month of July in the society of his relatives. In August he again visited the metropolis, and accompanied by Mr. Adair, afterwards Dr. Adair of Harrowgate, he the same month set out on another short excursion to Clackmannanshire, returning to Edinburgh by Kinross, Dunfermline and Queensferry. When they reached Dunfermline, Burns hastened to the churchyard to pay his devotions at the tomb of Robert the Bruce, for whose memory he had more than common veneration. “He knelt and kissed the stone,” says the Doctor, “with sacred fervour, and heartily (suus ut mos erat) execrated the worse than Gothic neglect of the first of Scottish heroes.” This neglect has been repaired. When the new parish church of Dunfermline was erected in 1818, it was made to enclose the burial-place of the kings who had been interred there, and on this occasion the tomb of the Bruce was opened. The body of the hero was found reduced to a skeleton. The lead in which it had been wrapped up was still entire, and even some of a fine linen cloth, embroidered with gold, which had formed his shroud. His bones having been placed in a new leaden coffin, half-an-inch thick, seven feet long, two feet five inches broad, and two feet in depth, into which was poured melted pitch to preserve them, he was re-interred with much state and solemnity, by the Barons of the Exchequer, many distinguished nobleman and gentlemen of the county being present. The pulpit of the new church now marks the spot where all that remains on earth of the patriot-monarch is deposited. In September of the same year, the poet again set out from Edinburgh on a more extensive tour to the Highlands, accompanied by Mr. Nicol, one of the masters of the High School of that city, a man of congenial sentiments, and the ‘Willie’ of ‘We are na fou.’ At Athole house, Burns was hospitably entertained by the ducal family. Of his behaviour during this visit, Professor Walker, who was then an intimate of the duke’s family, gives the following description. “My curiosity was great,” he says, “to see how he would conduct himself in company so different from what he had been accustomed to. His manner was unembarrassed, plain, and firm. He appeared to have complete reliance on his own native good sense for directing his behaviour. He seemed at once to perceive and appreciate what was due to the company and to himself, and never forgot a proper respect for the separate species of dignity belonging to each. He did not arrogate conversation, but, when let into it, he spoke with ease, propriety, and manliness. He tried to exert his abilities, because he knew it was ability alone gave him a title to be there. The duke’s fine young family attracted much of his admiration; he drank their healths as [‘honest men and bonnie lasses,’ an idea which was much applauded by the company.” At Athole-house he met for the first time Mr. Graham of Fintry, to whom he was afterwards indebted for his office in the excise. He afterwards visited the duke of Gordon at Gordon castle, from which he was hurried away by the petulance and false pride of his companion Nicol, who took offence at the poet’s visiting the castle without him.

      Returning to Edinburgh, Burns spent the greater part of the ensuing winter there, and again entered into the society and dissipation of the metropolis. On the last day of December he attending a meeting to celebrate the birthday of Prince Charles Edward, the lineal descendant and unfortunate representative of Scotland’s ill-fated race of kings, the Stuarts; and on this occasion he produced an ode, breathing Jacobite sentiments throughout. Prince Charles died the following year, and thus for ever put an end to the hopes of his adherents. Among the most pleasing incidents of his life in Edinburgh was his tracing out the grave of his predecessor, Fergusson, in the Canongate churchyard, over whose ashes he erected a humble monument. During his residence in Edinburgh at this time he resided with Mr. Cruickshanks, then one of the masters of the High School, who lived in St. James’ Square, New Town, and was in the habit of visiting in General’s Entry, Potterrow, Mrs. M’Lehose, the wife of a gentleman in the West Indies, to whom his ‘Letters to Clarinda’ are addressed. He was for some time at this period lame, from a fracture or dislocation of his knee, and was attended by Mr. Alexander Wood, the celebrated surgeon.

      The copyright of his poems he had sold to Mr. Creech for a hundred pounds, but his friends suggested a subscription for an edition for the benefit of the author, ere the bookseller’s right should commence. This was immediately set on foot, the subscription copy being six shillings. After settling accounts with his bookseller, in the summer of 1788, he returned to Ayrshire with nearly five hundred pounds, where he found his brother Gilbert, who still possessed the farm of Mossgiel, struggling to support their widowed mother, three sisters, and a brother. He immediately advanced them two hundred pounds, and with the remainder he took and stocked the farm of Ellisland, about six miles above Dumfries, on the banks of the Nith. The relatives of his “bonny Jean” were not now so averse to their union as before, and they were soon regularly married. Previous to this event she had again become the mother of twins, he being the father. It was in 1788 that Burns entered upon the possession of Ellisland, and this was perhaps for a few months the happiest period of his life. But the occupation of a farmer speedily lost all charm for him. He wanted something more stirring and active, and on the recommendation of Mr. Graham of Fintry, he was appointed, on his own application, an officer of excise for the district in which his farm was situated. “His farm,” says one of his biographers, “was, after this, in a great measure abandoned to servants, while he betook himself to the duties of his new appointment. He might, indeed, still be seen in the spring, directing his plough, a labour in which he excelled; or with a white sheet containing his seed corn slung across his shoulders, striding with measured steps, along his turned-up furrows, and scattering the grain on the earth. But his farm no longer occupied the principal part of his care or 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 wandering over the charms of nature, and muttering his wayward fancies as he moved along.” In hae a guid braid sword,’ we are to understand him literally. In the summer of 1791 two gentlemen who came to visit him, found him accoutred in warlike trim. On his head he wore a cap made of a fox’s skin; and from a belt which served to confine the wandering of a loose great oat, depended an enormous claymore. In this garb he stood on a rock that projects into the Nith, and amused himself with angling. After having occupied his farm about three years and a half, he found himself obliged to resign it to his landlord, Mr. Miller of Dalswinton. About the end of 1791 he removed with his family to Dumfries, where on a salary of seventy pounds per annum, being all his income as an exciseman, he spent the remainder of his life.

      His fame was now widely circulated over the three kingdoms. His name and his songs had become dear to every Scottish heart, and his company was eagerly courted by all who could appreciate genius. Unfortunately, Burns had not the firmness to resist the many temptations to dissipation which were thrown in his way, or the moral courage to refuse the constant invitations which were sent to him; consequently, he was led into habits of excess, which injured his constitution, and, in the intervals between his fits of intemperance, caused him to suffer the bitterest pangs of remorse. At this period many of his most beautiful pieces were written, especially the best of his songs, which were contributed to an Edinburgh publication called ‘Johnson’s Musical Museum,’ and afterwards to a larger work, the well known ‘Collection of Original Scottish Airs,’ edited and published by Mr. George Thomson. To the former work his contributions amounted to no less than two hundred and twenty-eight. On this point the late Captain Charles Gray, R.M., author of ‘Lays and Lyrics,’ in one of a series of papers which he contributed to the Glasgow Citizen on the lyric poetry of Scotland, has the following remarks: “None of his numerous biographers hitherto has done him justice as to the amount of his contributions to the ‘Scots Musical Museum.’ Currie hints, cautiously, that Burns ‘contributed songs liberally to “Johnson’s Musical Museum.”’ Lockhart, who is always equal to the task when dealing with the higher part of our bard’s biography, fails when putting together the lighter parts of his materials. That he wished to do every justice to the character of Burns, as a man and a poet, is unquestionable; but he lacked the necessary research. the drudgery overcame his diligence; – hence his account of what Burns did for the Museum, is very vague and unsatisfactory. Cromek, perhaps the most ardent admirer of the genius of our poet that ever was born south of the Tweed, says, ‘Burns contributed, gratuitously, no less than one hundred and eighty-four original, altered, and collected songs;’ and Allan Cunningham states, that he ‘had seen one hundred and eighty transcribed by his own hand for the Museum.’ It will be observed, that these statements are far below the mark, as Mr. Stenhouse, from whom our information is gleaned, had a far better opportunity of ascertaining the truth (the whole of the materials composing the Museum having passed through his hands) than either Cromek or Cunningham; and we learn from him that Burns contributed no less than two hundred and twenty-eight songs to that work, as has been already stated; and we take credit to ourselves for being the first to claim for him the merit of his collecting and preserving above fifty Scottish melodies. This labour of love alone would have entitled burns to the thanks and gratitude of his countrymen, had he done nothing else; but it was lost in the refulgent blaze of his native genius, which shed a light on our national song that shall endure as long as our simple Doric is understood. In the lapse of ages even the lyrics of Burns may become obsolete, but other bards shall arise, animated with his spirit, and reproduce them, of possible, in more than their original beauty and splendour. We hold our national melodies to be imperishable. As no one can trace their origin, it would be equally futile to predict their end. Their essence is more divine than the language to which they are wedded. They can only expire with the lilt of the linnet, and the lay of the laverock – with the rich and mellow strains of the mavis, and the bold and thrilling notes of the blackbird. More than one author of the present day has asserted that the peasant muse of Scotland died with Robert Nicholl. Such an assertion is arrant nonsense. But granted that she

                        ‘--------died a cadger pownie’s death,
                              At some dyke-back,’

is Nature unable to reproduce another great original mind, in the pastoral ranks, when ages shall have changed the phases of society? Why should people of liberal minds give way to such narrow fancies? The peasant muse of Scotland is ‘not dead, but sleepeth.’ she will start up in another garb, and make the ‘heights and lowes,’ the ‘streams and burnies’ of the land of cakes as vocal as when erst the Bard of Coila

                        ‘Follow’d his plough upon the mountain side.’

      Burns’ promotion in the excise was prevented by the imprudence of speech in which he expressed himself in approval of the principles of the first French revolution, and the freedom with which he declaimed concerning the urgent necessity of a radical reform in the parliamentary representation and government of this country. He even went so far as to send four carronades, which he had purchased at the condemnation and sale of a smuggler brig, he had assisted in capturing in the Solway Firth in February 1792, as a present to the French convention. Both the present and the letter which accompanied it were intercepted at the custom-house of Dover, the guns retained, and the letter transmitted to the Board of Excise in Scotland. The Board of Excise in consequence, deemed it expedient to appoint a superior officer to investigate his conduct. In an eloquent letter addressed to one of their number, he exculpated himself with becoming dignity from the charges which had been preferred against him; and the officer who had been commissioned to institute a formal inquiry, could discover no substantial grounds of accusation. Mr. Graham of Fintry, in whom he had always found a steady and zealous friend, was ready on this emergency to secure him from the threatened consequences of his imprudence; but the board, although they suffered him to retain his office, sent him an intimation that his advancement must now be determined by his future behaviour. a report having gone abroad that he had been dismissed from the excise, some gentlemen proposed a subscription for the relief of his supposed necessities. This benevolent offer he at once declined, and in the letter which conveyed his acknowledgments, he took occasion to allude to the reports which had been industriously circulated to his prejudice. “The partiality of my countrymen,” he says in a lofty spirit of indignation, “has brought me forward as a man of genius, and has given me a character to support. In the poet I have avowed manly and independent sentiments, which I hope have been found in the man. Reasons of no less weight than the support of a wife and children have pointed out my present occupation as the only eligible line of life within my reach. Still my honest fame is my dearest concern, and a thousand times have I trembled at the idea of the degrading epithets that malice or misrepresentation may affix to my name. Often in blasting anticipation have I listened to some future hackney scribbler, with the heavy malice of savage stupidity, exultingly asserting that Burns, notwithstanding the fanfaronade of independence to be found in his works, and after having been held up to public view, and to public estimation, as a man of some genius, yet, quite destitute of resources within himself to support his borrowed dignity, dwindled into a paltry exciseman, and slunk out the rest of his insignificant existence in the meanest pursuits, and among the lowest of mankind. In your illustrious hands, sir, permit me to lodge my strong disavowal of such slanderous falsehoods. Burns was a poor man from his birth, and an exciseman by necessity; but In will say it, the sterling of his honest worth poverty could not debase, and his independent British spirit oppression might bend but could not subdue.”

      In 1795 Burns entered the ranks of the Dumfries Volunteers. During this year Mr. Perry of the Morning Chronicle, offered him fifty pounds a-hear for a poem weekly for that paper, which would have been a handsome addition to his income, but from the peculiar feeling he entertained of the sacredness of poetry, probably fancying that if he became, what he so much dreaded, “the hireling of a party,” his muse would refuse to give her aid, he foolishly declined the proposal. His health was now much impaired, and in the autumn of that year he lost his only daughter, which made a deep impression upon him. Soon afterwards he was seized with a rheumatic fever. Before he had completely recovered, he had the imprudence to join a convivial circle, and on his return from it, he caught a cold which brought back the fever with redoubled severity. He tried the effect of sea-bathing, but with no durable success. This illness was the cause of his premature death, which took place July 21, 1796. On the 26th of the same month, his remains were interred with military honours by the Dumfries Volunteers, in the South churchyard of Dumfries; and the ceremony was rendered the more imposing, by the presence of at least ten thousand individuals of all ranks, who had collect from all parts of the country. He left a widow and four sons. On the day of his interment Mrs. Burns was delivered of a fifth son, named Maxwell, who died in his infancy, An edition of his works, in 4 vols, 8vo, with a Life, was published by Dr. Currie of Liverpool in 1800, for the benefit of his widow and family. Innumerable other editions of his poems have since appeared.

      In 1828 Mr. Lockhart published his Life of Burns; and a complete edition of his Poems and Letters, in eight volumes, with a Life by Mr. Allan Cunningham prefixed, appeared in London in 1834. Besides these, an edition of Burns’ Works with a Life and Notes by the Ettrick Shepherd and the late William Motherwell, and illustrations, was published by Messrs. A. Fullarton and Co. in 1836.

      Burns is the most popular poet that Scotland ever produced. With his poems, all, from the highest to the lowest of his countrymen, are familiar. His principal characteristics as a lyrical poet were his sensibility and his truth; and though he undoubtedly possessed more feeling than imagination, the range and variety of his powers were really wonderful; of which ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night,’ ‘Scots wha hae,’ ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer,’ ‘Tam o’Shanter,’ ‘Death and Dr. Hornbook,’ and ‘The Beggar’s Cantata,’ all differing in style and sentiment, but all unsurpassed in their way, are striking examples. His humour in delineating Scottish character and manners has never been equalled; and the language of his country will be perpetuated in his verses long after it has ceased to be spoken, even by the common people, to whom it is now almost entirely confined. His songs may be divided into two classes, the tender, humorous, and pathetic, and the social and heroic. Those of the first class are the most numerous. Burns was peculiarly sensible to those impressions which produce tender emotions in the mind, and which are ever awakening sympathies of the pleasing or the painful. to the beauties of nature he was tremblingly alive, but to the grander and more magnificent scenes his muse seems to have paid little devotion, although, from the emotions with which he was inspired by the wildness of a tempest howling over a mountain, or raving through the trees of a forest, it might have been expected that his songs would have more frequently depicted the grand or sublime in scenery. “There is scarcely any earthly object,” said Burns, “gives me more – I do not know if I should call it pleasure – but something which exalts me, something which enraptures me – than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood or high plantation, in a cloudy winter day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees, and raving over the plain. It is my best season for devotion to Him who, in the pompous language of the Hebrew bard, ‘Walks on the wings of the wind.’”

      Such scenes and objects, however, are not the legitimate subjects for lyric poetry; they are themes for a loftier muse, for a more sustained effort; such as the sublime ethics of Milton, the descriptive ‘Childe’ of Byron, or the more beautiful didactic ‘Pleasures’ of Campbell and Rogers.

      In delineating all the emotions and operations of love Burns particularly excelled. With a master’s pen he painted its kindling, exciting, and ever changing caprices, as well as its deeper steadier and more settled sentiments, and displayed its predominating influence over all other considerations where it had taken full possession of the heart. that sickly cast of love which scarcely ever permits a natural sentiment to fall from its lips was not to be found in a single heroine of Burns; all his females were natural, sincere, and unaffected, and the glorious stores of the forest, the field, and the mountain were plundered of their beauties to adorn them. Their purity was seen in the opening gowan, wet with the dew, and their modesty beamed in the eye of the violet; their breath breathed in the scented flower of the hawthorne, and their smile “illumed the dark prospects of life, as aurora gilded with brightness the sky of the morning.” All nature acknowledged subserviency to her own bard for his images; and her sweet and simple graces were gathered with an eager hand to embellish her fairest creations. Diamond eyes, ruby lips, and ivory teeth, with all their polish and brightness, were tawdry and tinsel similes of art, which found no favour in his sight. He was the bard of nature, and he breathed nothing but nature. He surveyed her fields with the enthusiasm of devotion, and unfolded their harms in every varied and vivifying hue. The opening of spring, the luxuriance of summer, the golden plenty of autumn, and the majesty of a Caledonian winter spread their riches before him. His eye kindled at the contemplation of their individual enjoyments; his benevolence sought to make others participators of his joy; his mind burned to give utterance to his feelings, whilst poetry flowed spontaneously from his lips, and the music of his country waited on his call to follow his breathings wherever he went. To use his own expressive works, he tuned “his wild artless notes, and sung the loves, the joys, the rural scenes, and rural pleasures, of his native soil, in his native tongue;” and in the nature, simplicity, and truth of his lays consist their marvellous power and beauty.

      Of his personal appearance perhaps the most truthful as well as most graphic description is by Sir Walter Scott, who was once in his company in 1786-7. Scott, who was then a lad of seventeen, just removed from the High School to a desk in his father’s office, was invited by his friend and companion, the son of Dr. Ferguson, to accompany him to his father’s house on an evening when Burns was to be there. The two youngsters entered the room, sat down unnoticed by their seniors, and looked on and listened in modest silence. Burns, when he came in, seemed a little out of his element, and, instead of mingling at once with the company, kept going about the room, looking at the pictures on the walls. One print particularly arrested his attention. It represented a soldier lying dead among the snow, his dog on one side, and a woman with a child in her arms on the other. Underneath the print were some lines of verse descriptive of the subject, which Burns read aloud with a voice faltering with emotion. a little while after, turning to the company and pointing to the print, he asked if any one could tell him who was the author of the lines. No one chanced to know, excepting Scott, who remembered that they were from an obscure poem of Langhorne’s. The information, whispered by Scott to some one near, was repeated to Burns, who, after asking a little more about the matter, rewarded his young informant with a look of kindly interest, and the words, (Sir Adam Ferguson reports them.) “You’ll be a man yet, sir.” “His person,” says Scott, in reference to this interview, “was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish; a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its effect, perhaps, from one’s knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His features are represented in Mr. Nasmyth’s picture, but to me it conveys the idea that they are diminished, as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scottish school – i.e. none of your modern agriculturists, who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the douce gudeman who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a dark cast, and glowed (I say, literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. In never saw such another eye in a human head, though In have seen the most distinguished men in my time. His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest presumption. Among the men who were the most learned of their time and country, he expressed himself with perfect firmness, but without the least intrusive forwardness; and when he differed in opinion, he did not hesitate to express it firmly, yet at the same time with modesty. In do not remember any part of his conversation distinctly enough to be quoted, nor did In ever see him again, except in the street, where he did not recognise me, as In could not expect he should. He was much caressed in Edinburgh, but (considering what literary emoluments have been since his day) the efforts made for his relief were extremely trifling. I remember on this occasion I mention, I thought Burns’ acquaintance with English poetry was rather limited, and also, that having twenty times the abilities of Allan Ramsay and of Fergusson, he talked of them with too much humility as his models; there was doubtless national predilection in his estimate.”

      Somewhere about the very day on which the interview above referred to happened, Francis Jeffrey, then a lad of thirteen, was going up the High Street of Edinburgh, and staring diligently about him, was attracted by the appearance of a man whom he saw standing on the pavement. He was taking a good and attentive view of the object of his curiosity, when some one idling at a shop-door tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Ay, laddie, ye may weel look at that man! That’s Robert Burns.”

      Of Burns’ family, it may be mentioned that Robert, the eldest son of the poet, was for twenty-nine years in the Legacy department of the Stamp office, Somerset House, London, and afterwards he for some years resided at Dumfries, on a retiring allowance. He married in London, but his wife died before his return to Scotland They had one daughter, Eliza Burns, who, under the patronage of her uncle William, went out to India, where she married an Irishman, the surgeon of a regiment. Her husband returned home in bad health, and died in Ireland, leaving an only daughter. William Nicol Burns, the second son, and James Glencairn Burns, the youngest, both entered the East India Company’s service, from which they both retired, the first as colonel, and his brother as lieutenant-colonel. The former married in India, but returned a widower, without children. The latter married twice, but was also left a widower, and the father of two daughters.  Another of his sons died in 1803. The centenary of Robert Burns was held throughout the civilized world in January 1859, with great enthusiasm, and an account of the proceedings on the occasion was soon after published in an imperial 8vo volume by Messrs. A. Fullarton & Co.

      Robert Burns, the poet’s eldest son, besides being an excellent linguist and an accomplished musician, was also himself a poet of no mean merit. The following little Scottish song written by him, is not unworthy of his gifted sire:

                        PRETTY MEG, MY DEARIE.

                        “As In gaed up the side o’Nith,
                              Ae simmer morning early,
                        Wi’ gowden locks on dewy leas,
                              The broom was waving fairly;
                        Aloft unseen in cloudless sky,
                              The lark was singing clearly,
                        When wadin’ through the broom I spied
                              My pretty Meg, my dearie:
                        Like dawin’ light frae stormy night,
                              To sailor sad and weary,
                        Sae sweet to me the glint to see,
                              O’ pretty Meg, my dearie.

                        Her lips were like a half-seen rose,
                              When day is breaking paly;
                        Her een, beneath her snawy brow,
                              Like raindrops frae a lily, –
                        Like twa young bluebells fill’d with dew,
                              They glanc’d baith bright and clearly;
                        Aboon them shone, o’ bonnie brown,
                              The locks o’ Meg, my dearie.
                        Of a’ the flowers in sunny bowers,
                              That bloom’d that morn sae cheerie,
                        The fairest flower that happy hour,
                              Was pretty Meg, my dearie!

                        I took her by the sma’ white hand, –
                              My heart sprang in my bosom, –
                        Upon her face sat maiden grace,
                              Like sunshine on a blossom.
                        How lovely seem’d the morning hymn,
                              Of ilka birdie near me;
                        But sweeter far the angel voice,
                              O’ pretty Meg, my dearie.
                        While summer light shall bless my sight,
                              Or bonnie broom shall cheer me;
                        I’ll ne’er forget the morn I met
                              My pretty Meg, my dearie!”

      “The meeting described in the song,” says the author, “is no fiction, neither is the heroine a fictitious personage, – her name is Margaret Fullarton. If the song has no other merit, it at least gives her portrait with faithful exactness. She is besides of a shape which is elegance and symmetry personified. She is now (1850), and has long been, the wife of Mr. Ross, gardener at Mount Annan, and has a family of beautiful children. Many years ago, on a summer Sunday morning, myself and Mr. Smith took a walk up the left bank of the Nith. When we came opposite to Ellisland, we took off our shoes and stockings, and waded the water; when we had passed Ellisland, on our way to Friar’s Carse, we met Miss Fullarton ‘wadin’ through the broom to meet us, under the exact circumstances described in the song. The tune is a composition of Neil Gow. He calls it in his collection “Mrs. Wemyss of Cuttlehill’s Strathspey.’ Every bar speaks the rough and spirited accent of the music of the banks of the Spey.”

BURNS, JOHN, M.D. author of ‘The Principles of Midwifery,’ was born in Glasgow in 1774. His grandfather, Mr. John Burns, was a teacher of English in Glasgow, and author of ‘Burns’ English Grammar,’ a popular school-book in the west of Scotland in the early part of the eighteenth century; and his father was the Rev. John Burns, D.D., for sixty-nine years minister of the Barony parish of Glasgow. Dr. Burns died in 1839, and was known previously to his death as the “Father of the Church of Scotland,” having lived to the age of 96. At an early age John, who was his eldest son, commenced the study of medicine; and was appointed surgeon’s clerk to the Royal Infirmary of Glasgow, when that institution was first opened for the reception of patients in 1792. At this time he applied himself to the study of anatomy, especially to that department of it styled relative or surgical anatomy. He afterwards gave instruction in it to students, and was the first individual unconnected with any public institution who professed to teach anatomy in Glasgow. His lecture-room was at the north-west corner of Virginia street, behind the present Union Bank of that city. In those days all subjects for dissection were obtained by the students robbing the churchyards. Mr. Burns being detected in something of this sort, the magistrates agreed to quash proceedings against him, on condition that he gave up lecturing on anatomy. This he agreed to do, but his younger brother, Allan, took up the lectures on anatomy, while John began to lecture on midwifery. Their lecture-room was a brick flat, built on the remains of the old Bridewell, on the north side of College street. The brothers Burns were extremely popular as lecturers; Allan was monotonous and unpleasing as a speaker, but first-rate as a demonstrator. John was much more agreeable in manner. His substance was excellent, his knowledge exact, and his views practical, while his lectures were interspersed with jokes and anecdotes, which quite captivated the students.

      Hitherto the subject of this sketch was not known as a practitioner, and when no lectures or dissections were in hand, he was to be found, day after day, in Stirling’s Library, reading. On being asked on one occasion, by an acquaintance, what became of his patients while he sat there, he answered, “I have none!” Mr. Burns now came forward as a medical author. His first work of any importance was the ‘Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus,’ which appeared in 1799. This was followed in 1800 by two volumes on ‘Inflammation,’ in which he first described a species of cancer, now known by the name of fungus haemotodes. These two works were followed by others on professional subjects, one of which, ‘The Principles of Midwifery,’ has been translated into various European languages, and has reached a tenth edition. At an early period of his professional career, Mr. Burns became surgeon to the Royal Infirmary, and distinguished himself by the nerve with which he operated. He subsequently became the partner of Mr. Muir, and, after Mr. Muir’s death, of Mr. Alexander Dunlop – a connection which brought him speedily into excellent family practice. Nevertheless, he continued to lecture on midwifery till 1815, when the Crown having instituted a professorship of surgery in Glasgow university, he was appointed to that chair, in which he remained till his death. Mr. Burns bred his son, Allan, to the medical profession, and, relieved by his assistance, he graduated, and having been appointed physician to the Royal Infirmary, was a good deal employed as a consulting physician. In 1843, however, young Allan died of the intermittent fever then prevalent, after which Dr. Burns gave up his practice, but continued the duties of his professorship. In religion Dr. Burns was an Episcopalian, having left the church of his fathers. He lived in good style, and was of a cheerful disposition. In person he was under the middle height, with grey flowing locks, and his dress was very neat and antique. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of London and a member of the French Institute. With a niece Dr. Burns was unfortunately lost in the Orion steamer, on his return from Liverpool, when that vessel struck a rock near Portpatrick, on 18th June 1850. His eldest son John, a major in the army, was his heir.

      There is a fine portrait of Dr. Burns, in the attitude of lecturing, by Mr. Graham Gilbert, engraved by Mr. James Faed, from which the subjoined is a woodcut:

Woodcut of Dr. John Burns

      Besides his valuable professional publications, he was the author of a work on the evidences and principles of Christianity, which was at first published anonymously; and it is related that his father, on reading it, expressed himself much pleased, and said to his son, “Ah! John! In wish you could have written such a book.”

      The following are his works:

      The Anatomy of the Gravid Uterus; with Practical Inferences relative to Pregnancy and Labour. Glasg. 1799, 8vo.

      Dissertations on Inflammation. 1. On the Laws of the Animal Economy. 2. On the histories, causes, consequences and cure of Simple Inflammation. 3. On the Phagedenic and some other Species of Inflammation. 4. On the Spongoid Inflammation. 5. On the Cancerous Inflammation. 6. On the Scrofulous Inflammation. Glasg. 1800, 2 vols. 8vo.

      Practical Observations on the Uterine Haemorrhage, with Remarks on the Management of the Placenta. Lond. 1807, 8vo.

      The Principles of Midwifery, including the Diseases of Women and Children. Lond. 1809, 8vo. 2d edit. 1813, 8vo. 1817, 8vo. 1822, 8vo. 10th edition, with Smellie’s Obstetric Plates. 1 vol. 1843.

      Popular Directions for the Treatment of the Diseases of Women and Children. Glasg. 1811, 8vo.

      Principles of Christian Philosophy. 12mo. Lond., 1828.

      Principles of Surgery. 2 vols. 8vo. 1838.

BURNS, ALLAN, a younger brother of the preceding, was born at Glasgow, September 18, 1781. He was early sent to study for the medical profession, and such was his proficiency, that at the age of sixteen he was enabled to undertake the direction of the dissecting-rooms of his brother. In 1804, having gone to London with the view of entering the medical service of the army, he received and accepted of the offer of director of a hew hospital, on the British plan, established at St. Petersburg by the Empress Catherine, to whom he was recommended by his excellency, Dr. Crichton; and accordingly proceeded to Russia, where he did not remain above six months. On his leaving the Russian capital, in January 1805, he received from the empress, in token of her good will, a valuable diamond ring. In the winter after his return to Glasgow, he began, in place of his brother, to give lectures on anatomy and surgery. In 1809 he published ‘Observations on some of the most frequent and important Diseases of the Heart,’ illustrated by cases. In 1812 appeared his second publication, entitled ‘Observations on the Surgical Anatomy of the Head and Neck,’ also illustrated by cases. Both of these works, which embrace all his separate publications, are held in the highest estimation by the profession. Early in 1810 his health began to decline, and although he continued for two years longer to deliver lectures, it was often amid great personal suffering. He died June 22, 1813.

      The following are his works:

      Observations on some of the most frequent and important Diseases of the Heart; on Aneurism of the Thoracic Aorta; on Preternatural Pulsations in the Epigastric Regions; and on the unusual origin and distribution of some of the large Arteries of the Human Body. Illustrated by Cases. Edin. 1809, 8vo.

      Observations on the Surgical Anatomy of the Head and Neck. Illustrated by Cases and Engravings. Edin. 1812, 8vo.

      An edition of his ‘Surgical Anatomy of the Head and Neck’ was published in America, with a life of the author, and additional cases and observations, by Granville Sharp Pattison, professor of Anatomy in the university of Maryland.

      Mr. Burns also contributed to the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal an Essay on the Anatomy of the parts concerned in the operation for Crural Hernia, and one on the operation of Lithotomy.

Entries for this name from the Dictionary of National Biography

Return to The Scottish Nation Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus