The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Complete Works of Robert Burns:
Containing his Poems, Songs, and Correspondence., by Robert Burns and Allan Cunningham

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Title: The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing his Poems, Songs, and Correspondence.
       With a New Life of the Poet, and Notices, Critical and
              Biographical by Allan Cunningham

Author: Robert Burns and Allan Cunningham

Release Date: June 4, 2006 [EBook #18500]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1


Produced by Marilynda Fraser-Cunliffe, Sankar Viswanathan,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was made using scans of
public domain works from the University of Michigan Digital

Transcriber’s Note.

1. The hyphenation and accent of words is not uniform throughout the book. No change has been made in this.

2. The relative indentations of Poems, Epitaphs, and Songs are as printed in the original book.
















































[On the title-page of the second or Edinburgh edition, were these words: “Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns, printed for the Author, and sold by William Creech, 1787.” The motto of the Kilmarnock edition was omitted; a very numerous list of subscribers followed: the volume was printed by the celebrated Smellie.]

My Lords and Gentlemen:

A Scottish Bard, proud of the name, and whose highest ambition is to sing in his country’s service, where shall he so properly look for patronage as to the illustrious names of his native land: those who bear the honours and inherit the virtues of their ancestors? The poetic genius of my country found me, as the prophetic bard Elijah did Elisha—at the plough, and threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes and rural pleasures of my native soil, in my native tongue; I tuned my wild, artless notes as she inspired. She whispered me to come to this ancient metropolis of Caledonia, and lay my songs under your honoured protection: I now obey her dictates.

Though much indebted to your goodness, I do not approach you, my Lords and Gentlemen, in the usual style of dedication, to thank you for past favours: that path is so hackneyed by prostituted learning that honest rusticity is ashamed of it. Nor do I present this address with the venal soul of a servile author, looking for a continuation of those favours: I was bred to the plough, and am independent. I come to claim the common Scottish name with you, my illustrious countrymen; and to tell the world that I glory in the title. I come to congratulate my country that the blood of her ancient heroes still runs uncontaminated, and that from your courage, knowledge, and public[viii] spirit, she may expect protection, wealth, and liberty. In the last place, I come to proffer my warmest wishes to the great fountain of honour, the Monarch of the universe, for your welfare and happiness.

When you go forth to waken the echoes, in the ancient and favourite amusement of your forefathers, may Pleasure ever be of your party: and may social joy await your return! When harassed in courts or camps with the jostlings of bad men and bad measures, may the honest consciousness of injured worth attend your return to your native seats; and may domestic happiness, with a smiling welcome, meet you at your gates! May corruption shrink at your kindling indignant glance; and may tyranny in the ruler, and licentiousness in the people, equally find you an inexorable foe!

I have the honour to be,

With the sincerest gratitude and highest respect,

My Lords and Gentlemen,

Your most devoted humble servant,


Edinburgh, April 4, 1787.



I cannot give to my country this edition of one of its favourite poets, without stating that I have deliberately omitted several pieces of verse ascribed to Burns by other editors, who too hastily, and I think on insufficient testimony, admitted them among his works. If I am unable to share in the hesitation expressed by one of them on the authorship of the stanzas on “Pastoral Poetry,” I can as little share in the feelings with which they have intruded into the charmed circle of his poetry such compositions as “Lines on the Ruins of Lincluden College,” “Verses on the Destruction of the Woods of Drumlanrig,” “Verses written on a Marble Slab in the Woods of Aberfeldy,” and those entitled “The Tree of Liberty.” These productions, with the exception of the last, were never seen by any one even in the handwriting of Burns, and are one and all wanting in that original vigour of language and manliness of sentiment which distinguish his poetry. With respect to “The Tree of Liberty” in particular, a subject dear to the heart of the Bard, can any one conversant with his genius imagine that he welcomed its growth or celebrated its fruit with such “capon craws” as these?

“Upo’ this tree there grows sic fruit,
Its virtues a’ can tell, man;
It raises man aboon the brute,
It mak’s him ken himsel’, man.
Gif ance the peasant taste a bit,
He’s greater than a lord, man,
An’ wi’ a beggar shares a mite
O’ a’ he can afford, man.”

There are eleven stanzas, of which the best, compared with the “A man’s a man for a’ that” of Burns, sounds like a cracked pipkin against the “heroic clang” of a Damascus blade. That it is extant in the handwriting of the poet cannot be taken as a proof that it is his own composition, against the internal testimony of utter want of all the marks by which we know him—the Burns-stamp, so to speak, which is visible on all that ever came from his pen. Misled by his handwriting, I inserted in my former edition of his works an epitaph, beginning

“Here lies a rose, a budding rose,”

the composition of Shenstone, and which is to be found in the church-yard of Hales-Owen: as it is not included in every edition of that poet’s acknowledged works, Burns, who was an admirer of his genius, had, it seems, copied it with his own hand, and hence my error. If I hesitated about the exclusion of “The Tree of Liberty,” and its three false brethren, I could have no scruples regarding the fine song of “Evan Banks,” claimed and justly for Miss Williams by Sir Walter Scott, or the humorous song called “Shelah O’Neal,” composed by the late Sir Alexander Boswell. When I have stated that I have arranged the Poems, the Songs, and the Letters of Burns, as nearly as possible in the order in which they were written; that I have omitted no piece of either verse or prose which bore the impress of his hand, nor included any by which his high reputation would likely be impaired, I have said all that seems necessary to be said, save that the following letter came too late for insertion in its proper place: it is characteristic and worth a place anywhere.



Mossgiel, 13th Nov. 1786.

Dear Sir,

I have along with this sent the two volumes of Ossian, with the remaining volume of the Songs. Ossian I am not in such a hurry about; but I wish the Songs, with the volume of the Scotch Poets, returned as soon as they can conveniently be dispatched. If they are left at Mr. Wilson, the bookseller’s shop, Kilmarnock, they will easily reach me.

My most respectful compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Laurie; and a Poet’s warmest wishes for their happiness to the young ladies; particularly the fair musician, whom I think much better qualified than ever David was, or could be, to charm an evil spirit out of a Saul.

Indeed, it needs not the Feelings of a poet to be interested in the welfare of one of the sweetest scenes of domestic peace and kindred love that ever I saw; as I think the peaceful unity of St. Margaret’s Hill can only be excelled by the harmonious concord of the Apocalyptic Zion.

I am, dear Sir, yours sincerely,

Robert Burns.



The Life of Robert Burns xxiii
Preface to the Kilmarnock Edition of 1786 lix
Dedication to the Edinburgh Edition of 1787 vii


Winter. A Dirge 61
The Death and dying Words of poor Mailie 61
Poor Mailie’s Elegy 62
First Epistle to Davie, a brother Poet 63
Second 65
Address to the Deil 65
The auld Farmer’s New-year Morning Salutation to his auld Mare Maggie 67
To a Haggis 68
A Prayer under the pressure of violent Anguish 69
A Prayer in the prospect of Death 69
Stanzas on the same occasion 69
A Winter Night 70
Remorse. A Fragment 71
The Jolly Beggars. A Cantata 71
Death and Dr. Hornbook. A True Story 76
The Twa Herds; or, the Holy Tulzie 78
Holy Willie’s Prayer 79
Epitaph to Holy Willie 80
The Inventory; in answer to a mandate by the surveyor of taxes 81
The Holy Fair 82
The Ordination 84
The Calf 86
To James Smith 86
The Vision 88
Halloween 92
Man was made to Mourn. A Dirge 95
To Ruin 96
To John Goudie of Kilmarnock, on the publication of his Essays 97
To J. Lapraik, an old Scottish Bard. First Epistle 97
To J. Lapraik. Second Epistle 99
To J. Lapraik. Third Epistle 100
To William Simpson, Ochiltree 101
Address to an illegitimate Child 103
Nature’s Law. A Poem humbly inscribed to G.H., Esq. 103
To the Rev. John M’Math 104
To a Mouse 105
Scotch Drink 106
The Author’s earnest Cry and Prayer to the Scotch Representatives of the House of Commons 107
Address to the unco Guid, or the rigidly Righteous 110
Tam Samson’s Elegy 111
Lament, occasioned by the unfortunate issue of a Friend’s Amour 112
Despondency. An Ode 113
The Cotter’s Saturday Night 114
The first Psalm 117
The first six Verses of the ninetieth Psalm 118
To a Mountain Daisy 118
Epistle to a young Friend 119
To a Louse, on seeing one on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church 120
Epistle to J. Rankine, enclosing some Poems 121
On a Scotch Bard, gone to the West Indies 122
The Farewell 123
Written on the blank leaf of my Poems, presented to an old Sweetheart then married 123
A Dedication to Gavin Hamilton, Esq. 123
Elegy on the Death of Robert Ruisseaux 125
Letter to James Tennant of Glenconner 125
On the Birth of a posthumous Child 126
To Miss Cruikshank 126
Willie Chalmers 127
Verses left in the room where he slept 128
To Gavin Hamilton, Esq., recommending a boy 128
To Mr. M’Adam, of Craigen-gillan 129
Answer to a Poetical Epistle sent to the Author by a Tailor 129
To J. Rankine. “I am a keeper of the law.” 130
Lines written on a Bank-note 130
A Dream 130
A Bard’s Epitaph 132
The Twa Dogs. A Tale 132
Lines on meeting with Lord Daer 135
Address to Edinburgh 136
Epistle to Major Logan 137
The Brigs of Ayr 138
On the Death of Robert Dundas, Esq., of Arniston, late Lord President of the Court of Session 141
On reading in a Newspaper the Death of John M’Leod, Esq. 141
To Miss Logan, with Beattie’s Poems 142
The American War, A fragment 142
The Dean of Faculty. A new Ballad 143
To a Lady, with a Present of a Pair of Drinking-glasses 144
To Clarinda 144
Verses written under the Portrait of the Poet Fergusson 144
Prologue spoken by Mr. Woods, on his Benefit-night, Monday, April 16, 1787 145
Sketch. A Character 145
To Mr. Scott, of Wauchope 145
Epistle to William Creech 146
The humble Petition of Bruar-Water, to the noble Duke of Athole 147
On scaring some Water-fowl in Loch Turit 148
Written with a pencil, over the chimney-piece, in the parlour of the Inn at Kenmore, Taymouth 149
Written with a pencil, standing by the Fall of Fyers, near Loch Ness 149
To Mr. William Tytler, with the present of the Bard’s picture 150
Written in Friars-Carse Hermitage, on the banks of Nith, June, 1780. First Copy 150
The same. December, 1788. Second Copy 151
To Captain Riddel, of Glenriddel. Extempore lines on returning a Newspaper 152
A Mother’s Lament for the Death of her Son 152
First Epistle to Robert Graham, Esq., of Fintray 152
On the Death of Sir James Hunter Blair 153
Epistle to Hugh Parker 154
Lines, intended to be written under a Noble Earl’s Picture 155
Elegy on the year 1788. A Sketch 155
Address to the Toothache 155
Ode. Sacred to the memory of Mrs. Oswald, of Auchencruive 156
Fragment inscribed to the Right Hon. C.J. Fox 156
On seeing a wounded Hare limp by me, which a Fellow had just shot 157
To Dr. Blacklock. In answer to a Letter 158
Delia. An Ode 159
To John M’Murdo, Esq. 159
Prologue, spoken at the Theatre, Dumfries, 1st January, 1790 159
Scots Prologue, for Mr. Sutherland’s Benefit-night, Dumfries 160
Sketch. New-year’s Day. To Mrs. Dunlop 160
To a Gentleman who had sent him a Newspaper, and offered to continue it free of expense 161
The Kirk’s Alarm. A Satire. First Version 162
The Kirk’s Alarm. A Ballad. Second Version 163
Peg Nicholson 165
On Captain Matthew Henderson, a gentleman who held the patent for his honours immediately from Almighty God 165
The Five Carlins. A Scots Ballad 167
The Laddies by the Banks o’ Nith 168
Epistle to Robert Graham, Esq., of Fintray, on the close of the disputed Election between Sir James Johnstone, and Captain Miller, for the Dumfries district of Boroughs 169
On Captain Grose’s Peregrination through Scotland, collecting the Antiquities of that kingdom 170
Written in a wrapper, enclosing a letter to Captain Grose 171
Tam O’ Shanter. A Tale 171
Address of Beelzebub to the President of the Highland Society 174
To John Taylor 175
Lament of Mary Queen of Scots, on the approach of Spring 175
The Whistle 176
Elegy on Miss Burnet of Monboddo 178
Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn 178
Lines sent to Sir John Whitefoord, Bart., of Whitefoord, with the foregoing Poem 179
Address to the Shade of Thomson, on crowning his Bust at Ednam with bays 179
To Robert Graham, Esq., of Fintray 180
To Robert Graham, Esq., of Fintray, on receiving a favour 181
A Vision 181
To John Maxwell, of Terraughty, on his birthday 182
The Rights of Women, an occasional Address spoken by Miss Fontenelle, on her benefit-night, Nov. 26, 1792 182
Monody on a Lady famed for her caprice 183
Epistle from Esopus to Maria 184
Poem on Pastoral Poetry 185
Sonnet, written on the 25th January, 1793, the birthday of the Author, on hearing a thrush sing in a morning walk 185
Sonnet on the death of Robert Riddel, Esq., of Glenriddel, April, 1794 186
Impromptu on Mrs. Riddel’s birthday 186
Liberty. A Fragment 186
Verses to a young Lady 186
The Vowels. A Tale 187
Verses to John Rankine 187
On Sensibility. To my dear and much-honoured friend, Mrs. Dunlop, of Dunlop 188
Lines sent to a Gentleman whom he had offended 188
Address spoken by Miss Fontenelle on her Benefit-night 188
On seeing Miss Fontenelle in a favourite character 189
To Chloris 189
Poetical Inscription for an Altar to Independence 189
The Heron Ballads. Balled First 190
The Heron Ballads. Ballad Second 190
The Heron Ballads. Ballad Third 192
Poem addressed to Mr. Mitchell, Collector of Excise, Dumfries, 1796 193
To Miss Jessy Lewars, Dumfries, with Johnson’s Musical Museum 193
Poem on Life, addressed to Colonel de Peyster, Dumfries, 1796 193



On the Author’s Father 194
On R.A., Esq. 194
On a Friend 194
For Gavin Hamilton 194
On wee Johnny 195
On John Dove, Innkeeper, Mauchline 195
On a Wag in Mauchline 195
On a celebrated ruling Elder 195
On a noisy Polemic 195
On Miss Jean Scott 195
On a henpecked Country Squire 195
On the same 196
On the same 196
The Highland Welcome 196
On William Smellie 196
Written on a window of the Inn at Carron 196
The Book-worms 196
Lines on Stirling 197
The Reproof 197
The Reply 197
Lines written under the Picture of the celebrated Miss Burns 197
Extempore in the Court of Session 197
The henpecked Husband 197
Written at Inverary 198
On Elphinston’s Translation of Martial’s Epigrams 198
Inscription on the Head-stone of Fergusson 198
On a Schoolmaster 198
A Grace before Dinner 198
A Grace before Meat 198
On Wat 198
On Captain Francis Grose 199
Impromptu to Miss Ainslie 199
The Kirk of Lamington 199
The League and Covenant 199
Written on a pane of glass in the Inn at Moffat 199
Spoken on being appointed to the Excise 199
Lines on Mrs. Kemble 199
To Mr. Syme 200
To Mr. Syme, with a present of a dozen of porter 200
A Grace 200
Inscription on a goblet 200
The Invitation 200
The Creed of Poverty 200
Written in a Lady’s pocket-book 200
The Parson’s Looks 200
The Toad-eater 201
On Robert Riddel 201
The Toast 201
On a Person nicknamed the Marquis 201
Lines written on a window 201
Lines written on a window of the Globe Tavern, Dumfries 201
The Selkirk Grace 202
To Dr. Maxwell, on Jessie Staig’s recovery 202
Epitaph 202
Epitaph on William Nicol 202
On the Death of a Lapdog, named Echo 202
On a noted Coxcomb 202
On seeing the beautiful Seat of Lord Galloway 202
On the same 203
On the same 203
To the same, on the Author being threatened with his resentment 203
On a Country Laird 203
On John Bushby 203
The true loyal Natives 203
On a Suicide 203
Extempore, pinned on a Lady’s coach 203
Lines to John Rankine 204
Jessy Lewars 204
The Toast 204
On Miss Jessy Lewars 204
On the recovery of Jessy Lewars 204
Tam the Chapman 204
“Here’s a bottle and an honest friend” 205
“Tho’ fickle fortune has deceived me” 205
To John Kennedy 205
To the same 205
“There’s naethin’ like the honest nappy” 205
On the blank leaf of a work by Hannah More, presented by Mrs. C 206
To the Men and Brethren of the Masonic Lodge at Tarbolton 206
Impromptu 206
Prayer for Adam Armour 206


Handsome Nell 207
Luckless Fortune 208
“I dream’d I lay where flowers were springing” 208
Tibbie, I hae seen the day 208
“My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border” 209
John Barleycorn. A Ballad 210
The Rigs o’ Barley 210
Montgomery’s Peggy 211
The Mauchline Lady 211
The Highland Lassie 211
Peggy 212
The rantin’ Dog the Daddie o’t 213
“My heart was ance as blithe and free” 213
My Nannie O 213
A Fragment. “One night as I did wander” 214
Bonnie Peggy Alison 214
Green grow the Rashes, O 214
My Jean 215
Robin 215
“Her flowing locks, the raven’s wing” 216
“O leave novels, ye Mauchline belles” 216
Young Peggy 216
The Cure for all Care 217
Eliza 217
The Sons of Old Killie 217
And maun I still on Menie doat 218
The Farewell to the Brethren of St. James’s Lodge, Tarbolton 218
On Cessnock Banks 219
Mary 220
The Lass of Ballochmyle 220
“The gloomy night is gathering fast” 221
“O whar did ye get that hauver meal bannock?” 221
The Joyful Widower 221
“O Whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad” 222
“I am my mammy’s ae bairn” 222
The Birks of Aberfeldy 222
Macpherson’s Farewell 223
Braw, braw Lads of Galla Water 223
“Stay, my charmer, can you leave me?” 224
Strathallan’s Lament 224
My Hoggie 224
Her Daddie forbad, her Minnie forbad 224
Up in the Morning early 225
The young Highland Rover 225
Hey the dusty Miller 225
Duncan Davison 226
Theniel Menzies’ bonnie Mary 226
The Banks of the Devon 226
Weary fa’ you, Duncan Gray 227
The Ploughman 227
Landlady, count the Lawin 228
“Raving winds around her blowing” 228
“How long and dreary is the night” 228
Musing on the roaring Ocean 229
Blithe, blithe and merry was she 229
The blude red rose at Yule may blaw 229
O’er the Water to Charlie 230
A Rose-bud by my early walk 230
Rattlin’, roarin’ Willie 230
Where braving angry Winter’s Storms 231
Tibbie Dunbar 231
Bonnie Castle Gordon 231
My Harry was a gallant gay 232
The Tailor fell through the bed, thimbles an’ a’ 232
Ay Waukin O! 232
Beware o’ Bonnie Ann 233
The Gardener wi’ his paidle 233
Blooming Nelly 233
The day returns, my bosom burns 234
My Love she’s but a lassie yet 234
Jamie, come try me 234
Go fetch to me a Pint O’ Wine 235
The Lazy Mist 235
O mount and go 235
Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw 235
Whistle o’er the lave o’t 236
O were I on Parnassus’ Hill 236
“There’s a youth in this city” 237
My heart’s in the Highlands 237
John Anderson, my Jo 237
Awa, Whigs, awa 238
Ca’ the Ewes to the Knowes 238
Merry hae I been teethin’ a heckle 239
The Braes of Ballochmyle 239
To Mary in Heaven 239
Eppie Adair 240
The Battle of Sherriff-muir 240
Young Jockey was the blithest lad 241
O Willie brewed a peck o’ maut 241
The braes o’ Killiecrankie, O 241
I gaed a waefu’ gate yestreen 242
The Banks of Nith 242
Tam Glen 242
Frae the friends and land I love 243
Craigie-burn Wood 243
Cock up your Beaver 244
O meikle thinks my luve o’ my beauty 244
Gudewife, count the Lawin 244
There’ll never be peace till Jamie comes hame 245
The bonnie lad that’s far awa 245
I do confess thou art sae fair 245
Yon wild mossy mountains sae lofty and wide 246
It is na, Jean, thy bonnie face 246
When I think on the happy days 247
Whan I sleep I dream 247
“I murder hate by field or flood” 247
O gude ale comes and gude ale goes 247
Robin shure in hairst 248
Bonnie Peg 248
Gudeen to you, Kimmer 248
Ah, Chloris, since it may na be 249
Eppie M’Nab 249
Wha is that at my bower-door 249
What can a young lassie do wi’ an auld man 250
Bonnie wee thing, cannie wee thing 250
The tither morn when I forlorn 250
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever 251
Lovely Davies 251
The weary Pond o’ Tow 252
Naebody 252
An O for ane and twenty, Tam 252
O Kenmure’s on and awa, Willie 253
The Collier Laddie 253
Nithsdale’s Welcome Hame 254
As I was a-wand’ring ae Midsummer e’enin 254
Bessy and her Spinning-wheel 254
The Posie 255
The Country Lass 255
Turn again, thou fair Eliza 256
Ye Jacobites by name 256
Ye flowery banks o’bonnie Doon 257
Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon 257
Willie Wastle 257
O Lady Mary Ann 258
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation 258
The Carle of Kellyburn braes 259
Jockey’s ta’en the parting kiss 260
Lady Onlie 260
The Chevalier’s Lament 260
Song of Death 261
Flow gently, sweet Afton 261
Bonnie Bell 262
Hey ca’ thro’, ca’ thro’ 262
The Gallant weaver 262
The deuks dang o’er my Daddie 262
She’s fair and fause 263
The Deil cam’ fiddling thro’ the town 263
The lovely Lass of Inverness 263
O my luve’s like a red, red rose 264
Louis, what reck I by thee 264
Had I the wyte she bade me 264
Coming through the rye 265
Young Jamie, pride of a’ the plain 265
Out over the Forth I look to the north 265
The Lass of Ecclefechan 265
The Cooper o’ Cuddie 266
For the sake of somebody 266
I coft a stane o’ haslock woo 266
The lass that made the bed for me 267
Sae far awa 267
I’ll ay ca’ in by yon town 268
O wat ye wha’s in yon town 268
O May, thy morn 269
Lovely Polly Stewart 269
Bonnie laddie, Highland laddie 269
Anna, thy charms my bosom fire 270
Cassilis’ Banks 270
To thee, lov’d Nith 270
Bannocks o’ Barley 270
Hee Balou! my sweet wee Donald 270
Wae is my heart, and the tear’s in my e’e 271
Here’s his health in water 271
My Peggy’s face, my Peggy’s form 271
Gloomy December 272
My lady’s gown, there’s gairs upon ’t 272
Amang the trees, where humming bees 272
The gowden locks of Anna 273
My ain kind dearie, O 273
Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary 273
She is a winsome wee thing 274
Bonny Leslie 274
Highland Mary 275
Auld Rob Morris 275
Duncan Gray 276
O poortith cauld, and restless love 276
Galla Water 277
Lord Gregory 277
Mary Morison 277
Wandering Willie. First Version 278
Wandering Willie. Last Version 278
Oh, open the door to me, oh! 279
Jessie 279
The poor and honest sodger 279
Meg o’ the Mill 280
Blithe hae I been on yon hill 281
Logan Water 281
“O were my love yon lilac fair” 281
Bonnie Jean 282
Phillis the fair 283
Had I a cave on some wild distant shore 283
By Allan stream 283
O Whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad 284
Adown windng Nith I did wander 284
Come, let me take thee to my breast 285
Daintie Davie 285
Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled. First Version 285
Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled. Second Version 286
Behold the hour, the boat arrives 287
Thou hast left me ever, Jamie 287
Auld lang syne 287
“Where are the joys I have met in the morning” 288
“Deluded swain, the pleasure” 288
Nancy 288
Husband, husband, cease your strife 289
Wilt thou be my dearie? 289
But lately seen in gladsome green 290
“Could aught of song declare my pains” 290
Here’s to thy health, my bonnie lass 290
It was a’ for our rightfu’ king 291
O steer her up and haud her gaun 291
O ay my wife she dang me 291
O wert thou in the cauld blast 292
The Banks of Cree 292
On the seas and far away 292
Ca’ the Yowes to the Knowes 293
Sae flaxen were her ringlets 293
O saw ye my dear, my Phely? 294
How lang and dreary is the night 294
Let not woman e’er complain 294
The Lover’s Morning Salute to his Mistress 295
My Chloris, mark how green the groves 295
Youthful Chloe, charming Chloe 296
Lassie wi’ the lint-white locks 296
Farewell, thou stream, that winding flows 296
O Philly, happy be the day 297
Contented wi’ little and cantie wi’ mair 297
Canst thou leave me thus, my Katy 298
My Nannie’s awa 298
O wha is she that lo’es me 299
Caledonia 299
O lay thy loof in mine, lass 300
The Fête Champêtre 300
Here’s a health to them that’s awa 301
For a’ that, and a’ that 301
Craigieburn Wood 302
O lassie, art thou sleeping yet 302
O tell na me o’ wind and rain 303
The Dumfries Volunteers 303
Address to the Wood-lark 304
On Chloris being ill 304
Their groves o’ sweet myrtle let foreign lands reckon 304
’Twas na her bonnie blue een was my ruin 305
How cruel are the parents 305
Mark yonder pomp of costly fashion 305
O this is no my ain lassie 306
Now Spring has clad the grove in green 306
O bonnie was yon rosy brier 307
Forlorn my love, no comfort near 307
Last May a braw wooer cam down the lang glen 307
Chloris 308
The Highland Widow’s Lament 308
To General Dumourier 309
Peg-a-Ramsey 309
There was a bonnie lass 309
O Mally’s meek, Mally’s sweet 309
Hey for a lass wi’ a tocher 310
Jessy. “Here’s a health to ane I lo’e dear” 310
Fairest Maid on Devon banks 311


I.   To William Burness. His health a little better, but tired of life. The Revelations 311
II.   To Mr. John Murdoch. His present studies and temper of mind 312
III.   To Mr. James Burness. His father’s illness, and sad state of the country 313
IV.   To Miss E. Love 314
V.   To Miss E. Love 314
VI.   To Miss E. Love 315
VII.   To Miss E. On her refusal of his hand 316
VIII.   To Robert Riddel, Esq. Observations on poetry and human life 316
IX.   To Mr. James Burness. On the death of his father 322
X.   To Mr. James Burness. Account of the Buchanites 322
XI.   To Miss ——. With a book 323
XII.   To Mr. John Richmond. His progress in poetic composition 323
XIII.   To Mr. John Kennedy. The Cotter’s Saturday Night 324
XIV.   To Mr. Robert Muir. Enclosing his “Scotch Drink” 324
XV.   To Mr. Aiken. Enclosing a stanza on the blank leaf of a book by Hannah More 324
XVI.   To Mr. M’Whinnie, Subscriptions 324
XVII.   To Mr. John Kennedy. Enclosing “The Gowan” 325
XVIII.   To Mon. James Smith. His voyage to the West Indies 325
XIX.   To Mr. John Kennedy. His poems in the press. Subscriptions 325
XX.   To Mr. David Brice. Jean Armour’s return,—printing his poems 326
XXI.   To Mr. Robert Aiken. Distress of mind 326
XXII.   To Mr. John Richmond. Jean Armour 327
XXIII.   To John Ballantyne, Esq. Aiken’s coldness. His marriage-lines destroyed 328
XXIV.   To Mr. David Brice. Jean Armour. West Indies 328
XXV.   To Mr. John Richmond. West Indies The Armours 328
XXVI.   To Mr. Robert Muir. Enclosing “The Calf” 329
XXVII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Thanks for her notice. Sir William Wallace 329
XXVIII.   To Mr. John Kennedy. Jamaica 330
XXIX.   To Mr. James Burness. His departure uncertain 330
XXX.   To Miss Alexander. “The Lass of Ballochmyle” 330
XXXI.   To Mrs. Stewart, of Stair and Afton. Enclosing some songs. Miss Alexander 331
XXXII.   Proclamation in the name of the Muses 332
XXXIII.   To Mr. Robert Muir. Enclosing “Tam Samson.” His Edinburgh expedition 332
XXXIV.   To Dr. Mackenzie. Enclosing the verses on dining with Lord Daer 332
XXXV.   To Gavin Hamilton, Esq. Rising fame. Patronage 333
XXXVI.   To John Ballantyne, Esq. His patrons and patronesses. The Lounger 333
XXXVII.   To Mr. Robert Muir. A note of thanks. Talks of sketching the history of his life 334
XXXVIII.   To Mr. William Chalmers. A humorous sally 334
XXXIX.   To the Earl of Eglinton. Thanks for his patronage 335
XL.   To Gavin Hamilton, Esq. Love 335
XLI.   To John Ballantyne, Esq. Mr. Miller’s offer of a farm 335
XLII.   To John Ballantyne, Esq. Enclosing “The Banks o’ Doon.” First Copy 336
XLIII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Dr. Moore and Lord Eglinton. His situation in Edinburgh 336
XLIV.   To Dr. Moore. Acknowledgments for his notice 337
XLV.   To the Rev. G. Lowrie. Reflections on his situation in life. Dr. Blacklock, Mackenzie 338
XLVI.   To Dr. Moore. Miss Williams 338
XLVII.   To John Ballantyne, Esq. His portrait engraving 339
XLVIII.   To the Earl of Glencairn. Enclosing “Lines intended to be written under a noble Earl’s picture” 339
XLIX.   To the Earl of Buchan. In reply to a letter of advice 339
L.   To Mr. James Candlish. Still “the old man with his deeds” 340
LI.   To ——. On Fergusson’s headstone 341
LII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. His prospects on leaving Edinburgh 341
LIII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. A letter of acknowledgment for the payment of the subscription 342
LIV.   To Mr. Sibbald. Thanks for his notice in the magazine 343
LV.   To Dr. Moore. Acknowledging the present of his View of Society 343
LVI.   To Mr. Dunlop. Reply to criticisms 343
LVII.   To the Rev. Dr. Hugh Blair. On leaving Edinburgh. Thanks for his kindness 344
LVIII.   To the Earl of Glencairn. On leaving Edinburgh 344
LIX.   To Mr. William Dunbar. Thanking him for the present of Spenser’s poems 344
LX.   To Mr. James Johnson. Sending a song to the Scots Musical Museum 345
LXI.   To Mr. William Creech. His tour on the Border. Epistle in verse to Creech 345
LXII.   To Mr. Patison. Business 345
LXIII.   To Mr. W. Nicol. A ride described in broad Scotch 346
LXIV.   To Mr. James Smith. Unsettled in life. Jamaica 346
LXV.   To Mr. W. Nicol. Mr. Miller, Mr. Burnside. Bought a pocket Milton 347
LXVI.   To Mr. James Candlish. Seeking a copy of Lowe’s poem of “Pompey’s Ghost” 347
LXVII.   To Robert Ainslie, Esq. His tour 348
LXVIII.   To Mr. W. Nicol. Auchtertyre 348
LXIX.   To Mr. Wm. Cruikshank. Auchtertyre 348
LXX.   To Mr. James Smith. An adventure 349
LXXI.   To Mr. John Richmond. His rambles 350
LXXII.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. Sets high value on his friendship 350
LXXIII.   To the same. Nithsdale and Edinburgh 350
LXXIV.   To Dr. Moore. Account of his own life 351
LXXV.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. A humorous letter 357
LXXVI.   To Mr. Robert Muir. Stirling, Bannockburn 357
LXXVII.   To Gavin Hamilton, Esq. Of Mr. Hamilton’s own family 358
LXXVIII.   To Mr. Walker. Bruar Water. The Athole family 359
LXXIX.   To Mr. Gilbert Burns. Account of his Highland tour 359
LXXX.   To Miss Margaret Chalmers. Charlotte Hamilton. Skinner. Nithsdale 360
LXXXI.   To the same. Charlotte Hamilton, and “The Banks of the Devon” 360
LXXXII.   To James Hoy, Esq. Mr. Nicol. Johnson’s Musical Museum 361
LXXXIII.   To Rev. John Skinner. Thanking him for his poetic compliment 361
LXXXIV.   To James Hoy, Esq. Song by the Duke of Gordon 362
LXXXV.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. His friendship for him 363
LXXXVI.   To the Earl of Glencairn. Requesting his aid in obtaining an excise appointment 363
LXXXVII.   To James Dalrymple, Esq. Rhyme. Lord Glencairn 363
LXXXVIII.   To Charles Hay, Esq. Enclosing his poem on the death of the Lord President Dundas 364
LXXXIX.   To Miss M——n. Compliments 364
XC.   To Miss Chalmers. Charlotte Hamilton 365
XCI.   To the same. His bruised limb. The Bible. The Ochel Hills 365
XCII.   To the same. His motto—“I dare.” His own worst enemy 365
XCIII.   To Sir John Whitefoord. Thanks for his friendship. Of poets 366
XCIV.   To Miss Williams. Comments on her poem of the Slave Trade 366
XCV.   To Mr. Richard Brown. Recollections of early life. Clarinda 368
XCVI.   To Gavin Hamilton, Esq. Prayer for his health 369
XCVII.   To Miss Chalmers. Complimentary poems. Creech 369
XCVIII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Lowness of spirits. Leaving Edinburgh 370
XCIX.   To the same. Religion 370
C.   To the Rev. John Skinner. Tullochgorum. Skinner’s Latin 370
CI.   To Mr. Richard Brown. His arrival in Glasgow 371
CII.   To Mrs. Rose of Kilravock. Recollections of Kilravock 371
CIII.   To Mr. Richard Brown. Friendship. The pleasures of the present 372
CIV.   To Mr. William Cruikshank. Ellisland. Plans in life 372
CV.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. Ellisland. Edinburgh. Clarinda 373
CVI.   To Mr. Richard Brown. Idleness. Farming 374
CVII.   To Mr. Robert Muir. His offer for Ellisland. The close of life 374
CVIII.   To Miss Chalmers. Taken Ellisland. Miss Kennedy 375
CIX.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Coila’s robe 375
CX.   To Mr. Richard Brown. Apologies. On his way to Dumfries from Glasgow 375
CXI.   To Mr. Robert Cleghorn. Poet and fame. The air of Captain O’Kean 376
CXII.   To Mr. William Dunbar. Foregoing poetry and wit for farming and business 376
CXIII.   To Miss Chalmers. Miss Kennedy. Jean Armour 377
CXIV.   To the same. Creech’s rumoured bankruptcy 377
CXV.   To the same. His entering the Excise 377
CXVI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Fanning and the Excise. Thanks for the loan of Dryden and Tasso 378
CXVII.   To Mr. James Smith. Jocularity. Jean Armour 378
CXVIII.   To Professor Dugald Stewart. Enclosing some poetic trifles 379
CXIX.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Dryden’s Virgil. His preference of Dryden to Pope 379
CXX.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. His marriage. 379
CXXI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. On the treatment of servants 380
CXXII.   To the same. The merits of Mrs. Burns 380
CXXIII.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. The warfare of life. Books. Religion 381
CXXIV.   To the same. Miers’ profiles 382
CXXV.   To the same. Of the folly of talking of one’s private affairs 382
CXXVI.   To Mr. George Lockhart. The Miss Baillies. Bruar Water 383
CXXVII.   To Mr. Peter Hill. With the present of a cheese 383
CXXVIII.   To Robert Graham Esq., of Fintray. The Excise 384
CXXIX.   To Mr. William Cruikshank. Creech. Lines written in Friar’s Carse Hermitage 385
CXXX.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Lines written at Friar’s Carse. Graham of Fintray 385
CXXXI.   To the same. Mrs. Burns. Of accomplished young ladies 386
CXXXII.   To the same. Mrs. Miller, of Dalswinton. “The Life and Age of Man.” 387
CXXXIII.   To Mr. Beugo. Ross and “The Fortunate Shepherdess.” 388
CXXXIV.   To Miss Chalmers. Recollections. Mrs. Burns. Poetry 388
CXXXV.   To Mr. Morison. Urging expedition with his clock and other furniture for Ellisland 390
CXXXVI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Mr. Graham. Her criticisms 390
CXXXVII.   To Mr. Peter Hill. Criticism on an “Address to Loch Lomond.” 391
CXXXVIII.   To the Editor of the Star. Pleading for the line of the Stuarts 392
CXXXIX.   To Mrs. Dunlop. The present of a heifer from the Dunlops 393
CXL.   To Mr. James Johnson. Scots Musical Museum 393
CXLI.   To Dr. Blacklock. Poetical progress. His marriage 394
CXLII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Enclosing “Auld Lang Syne” 394
CXLIII.   To Miss Davies. Enclosing the song of “Charming, lovely Davies” 395
CXLIV.   To Mr. John Tennant. Praise of his whiskey 395
CXLV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Reflections suggested by the day 396
CXLVI.   To Dr. Moore. His situation and prospects 396
CXLVII.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. His favourite quotations. Musical Museum 398
CXLVIII.   To Professor Dugald Stewart. Enclosing some poems for his comments upon 398
CXLIX.   To Bishop Geddes. His situation and prospects 399
CL.   To Mr. James Burness. His wife and farm. Profit from his poems. Fanny Burns 399
CLI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Reflections. His success in song encouraged a shoal of bardlings 400
CLII.   To the Rev. Peter Carfrae. Mr. Mylne’s poem 401
CLIII.   To Dr. Moore. Introduction. His ode to Mrs. Oswald 401
CLIV.   To Mr. William Burns. Remembrance 402
CLV.   To Mr. Peter Hill. Economy and frugality. Purchase of books 402
CLVI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Sketch inscribed to the Right Hon. C.J. Fox 403
CLVII.   To Mr. William Burns. Asking him to make his house his home 404
CLVIII.   To Mrs. M’Murdo. With the song of “Bonnie Jean” 404
CLIX.   To Mr. Cunningham. With the poem of “The Wounded Hare” 404
CLX.   To Mr. Samuel Brown. His farm. Ailsa fowling 405
CLXI.   To Mr. Richard Brown. Kind wishes 405
CLXII.   To Mr. James Hamilton. Sympathy 406
CLXIII.   To William Creech, Esq. Toothache. Good wishes 406
CLXIV.   To Mr. M’Auley. His own welfare 406
CLXV.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. Overwhelmed with incessant toil 407
CLXVI.   To Mr. M’Murdo. Enclosing his newest song 407
CLXVII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Reflections on religion 408
CLXVIII.   To Mr. ——. Fergusson the poet 408
CLXIX.   To Miss Williams. Enclosing criticisms on her poems 409
CLXX.   To Mr. John Logan. With “The Kirk’s Alarm” 410
CLXXI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Religion. Dr. Moore’s “Zeluco” 410
CLXXII.   To Captain Riddel. “The Whistle” 411
CLXXIII.   To the same. With some of his MS. poems 411
CLXXIV.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. His Excise employment 412
CLXXV.   To Mr. Richard Brown. His Excise duties 412
CLXXVI.   To Robert Graham, Esq., of Fintray. The Excise. Captain Grose. Dr. M’Gill 413
CLXXVII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Reflections on immortality 414
CLXXVIII.   To Lady M.W. Constable. Jacobitism 415
CLXXIX.   To Provost Maxwell. At a loss for a subject 415
CLXXX.   To Sir John Sinclair. Account of a book-society in Nithsdale 416
CLXXXI.   To Charles Sharpe, Esq. A letter with a fictitious signature 416
CLXXXII.   To Mr. Gilburt Burns. His farm a ruinous affair. Players 417
CLXXXIII.   To Mr. Sutherland. Enclosing a Prologue 418
CLXXXIV.   To Mr. William Dunbar. Excise. His children. Another world 418
CLXXXV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Falconer the poet. Old Scottish songs 419
CLXXXVI.   To Mr. Peter Hill. Mademoiselle Burns. Hurdis. Smollett and Cowper 420
CLXXXVII.   To Mr. W. Nicol. The death of Nicol’s mare Peg Nicholson 420
CLXXXVIII.   To Mr. W. Cunningham. What strange beings we are 421
CLXXXIX.   To Mr. Peter Hill. Orders for books. Mankind 423
CXC.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Mackenzie and the Mirror and Lounger 423
CXCI.   To Collector Mitchell. A county meeting 424
CXCII.   To Dr. Moore. “Zeluco.” Charlotte Smith 425
CXCIII.   To Mr. Murdoch. William Burns 425
CXCIV.   To Mr. M’Murdo. With the Elegy on Matthew Henderson 426
CXCV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. His pride wounded 426
CXCVI.   To Mr. Cunningham. Independence 426
CXCVII.   To Dr. Anderson. “The Bee.” 427
CXCVIII.   To William Tytler, Esq. With some West-country ballads 427
CXCIX.   To Crauford Tait, Esq. Introducing Mr. William Duncan 427
CC.   To Crauford Tait, Esq. “The Kirk’s Alarm” 428
CCI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. On the birth of her grandchild. Tam O’ Shanter 429
CCII.   To Lady M.W. Constable. Thanks for the present of a gold snuff-box 429
CCIII.   To Mr. William Dunbar. Not gone to Elysium. Sending a poem 429
CCIV.   To Mr. Peter Mill. Apostrophe to Poverty 430
CCV.   To Mr. Cunningham. Tam O’ Shanter. Elegy on Miss Burnet 430
CCVI.   To A.F. Tytler, Esq. Tam O’ Shanter 431
CCVII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Miss Burnet. Elegy writing 431
CCVIII.   To Rev. Arch. Alison. Thanking him for his “Essay on Taste” 432
CCIX.   To Dr. Moore. Tam O’ Shanter. Elegyon Henderson. Zeluco. Lord Glencairn 432
CCX.   To Mr. Cunningham. Songs 433
CCXI.   To Mr. Alex. Dalzel. The death of the Earl of Glencairn 434
CCXII.   To Mrs. Graham, of Fintray. With “Queen Mary’s Lament” 434
CCXIII.   To the same. With his printed Poems 435
CCXIV.   To the Rev. G. Baird. Michael Bruce 435
CCXV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Birth of a son 435
CCXVI.   To the same. Apology for delay 436
CCXVII.   To the same. Quaint invective on a pedantic critic 436
CCXVIII.   To Mr. Cunningham. The case of Mr. Clarke of Moffat, Schoolmaster 437
CCXIX.   To the Earl of Buchan. With the Address to the shade of Thomson 437
CCXX.   To Mr. Thomas Sloan. Apologies. His crop sold well 438
CCXXI.   To Lady E. Cunningham. With the Lament for the Earl of Glencairn 438
CCXXII.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. State of mind. His income 439
CCXXIII.   To Col. Fullarton. With some Poems. His anxiety for Fullarton’s friendship 439
CCXXIV.   To Miss Davis. Lethargy, Indolence, and Remorse. Our wishes and our powers 440
CCXXV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Mrs. Henri. The Song of Death 440
CCXXVI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. The animadversions of the Board of Excise 441
CCXXVII.   To Mr. William Smellie. Introducing Mrs. Riddel 441
CCXXVIII.   To Mr. W. Nicol. Ironical reply to a letter of counsel and reproof 442
CCXXIX.   To Francis Grose, Esq. Dugald Stewart 443
CCXXX.   To the same. Witch stories 443
CCXXXI.   To Mr. S. Clarke. Humorous invitation to teach music to the M’Murdo family 444
CCXXXII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Love and Lesley Baillie 445
CCXXXIII.   To Mr. Cunningham. Lesley Baillie 446
CCXXXIV.   To Mr. Thomson. Promising his assistance to his collection of songs and airs 447
CCXXXV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Situation of Mrs.Henri 448
CCXXXVI.   To the same. On the death of Mrs. Henri 449
CCXXXVII.   To Mr. Thomson. Thomson’s fastidiousness. “My Nannie O,” &c. 449
CCXXXVIII.   To the same. With “My wife’s a winsome wee thing,” and “Lesley Baillie” 450
CCXXXIX.   To the same. With Highland Mary. The air of Katherine Ogie 450
CCXL.   To the same. Thomson’s alterations and observations 451
CCXLI.   To the same. With “Auld Rob Morris,” and “Duncan Gray” 451
CCXLII.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Birth of a daughter. The poet Thomson’s dramas 451
CCXLIII.   To Robert Graham, Esq., of Fintray. The Excise inquiry into his political conduct 452
CCXLIV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Hurry of business. Excise inquiry 453
CCXLV.   To Mr. Thomson. With “Poortithcauld” and “Galla Water” 453
CCXLVI.   To the same. William Tytler, Peter Pindar 453
CCXLVII.   To Mr. Cunningham. The poet’s seal. David Allan 454
CCXLVIII.   To Thomson. With “Mary Morison” 455
CCCXLIX.   To the same. With “Wandering Willie” 455
CCL.   To Miss Benson. Pleasure he had in meeting her 455
CCLI.   To Patrick Miller, Esq. With the present of his printed poems 456
CCLII.   To Mr. Thomson. Review of Scottish song. Crawfurd and Ramsay 456
CCLIII.   To the same. Criticism. Allan Ramsay 457
CCLIV.   To the same. “The last time I came o’er the moor” 458
CCLV.   To John Francis Erskine, Esq. Self-justification. The Excise inquiry 459
CCLVI.   To Mr. Robert Ainslie. Answering letters. Scholar-craft 460
CCLVII.   To Miss Kennedy. A letter of compliment 461
CCLVIII.   To Mr. Thomson. Frazer. “Blithe had I been on yon hill” 461
CCLIX.   To Mr. Thomson. “Logan Water.” “Ogin my love were yon red rose” 462
CCLX.   To the same. With the song of “Bonnie Jean” 463
CCLXI.   To the same. Hurt at the idea of pecuniary recompense. Remarks on song 463
CCLXII.   To the same. Note written in the name of Stephen Clarke 464
CCLXIII.   To the same. With “Phillis the fair” 464
CCLXIV.   To the same. With “Had I a cave on some wild distant shore 464
CCLXV.   To the same. With “Allan Water” 464
CCLXVI.   To the same. With “O whistle, and I’ll come to you, my lad,” &c. 465
CCLXVII.   To the same. With “Come, let me take thee to my breast” 465
CCLXVIII.   To the same. With “Dainty Davie” 466
CCLXIX.   To Miss Craik. Wretchedness of poets 466
CCLXX.   To Lady Glencairn. Gratitude. Excise. Dramatic composition 466
CCLXXI.   To Mr. Thomson. With “Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled” 467
CCLXXII.   To the same. With “Behold the hour, the boat arrive” 468
CCLXXIII.   To the same. Crawfurd and Scottish song 468
CCLXXIV.   To the same. Alterations in “Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled” 470
CCLXXV.   To the same. Further suggested alterations in “Scots wha hae” rejected. 470
CCLXXVI.   To the same. With “Deluded swain, the pleasure,” and “Raving winds around her blowing” 471
CCLXXVII.   To the same. Erskine and Gavin Turnbull 471
CCLXXVIII.   To John M’Murdo, Esq. Payment of a debt. “The Merry Muses” 472
CCLXXIX.   To the same. With his printed poems 473
CCLXXX.   To Captain ——. Anxiety for his acquaintance. “Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled” 473
CCLXXXI.   To Mrs. Riddel. The Dumfries Theatre 474
CCLXXXII.   To a Lady. In favour of a player’s benefit 474
CCLXXXIII.   To the Earl of Buchan. With a copy of “Scots wha hae” 474
CCLXXXIV.   To Captain Miller. With a copy of “Scots wha hae” 475
CCLXXXV.   To Mrs. Riddel. Lobster-coated puppies 475
CCLXXXVI.   To the same. The gin-horse class of the human genus 475
CCLXXXVII.   To the same. With “Werter.” Her reception of him 475
CCLXXXVIII.   To Mrs. Riddel. Her caprice 476
CCLXXXIX.   To the same. Her neglect and unkindness 476
CCXC.   To John Syme, Esq. Mrs. Oswald, and “O wat ye wha’s in yon town” 476
CCXCI.   To Miss ——. Obscure allusions to a friend’s death. His personal and poetic fame 477
CCXCII.   To Mr. Cunningham. Hypochondria. Requests consolation 477
CCXCIII.   To the Earl of Glencairn. With his printed poems 478
CCXCIV.   To Mr. Thomson. David Allan. “The banks of Cree” 479
CCXCV.   To David M’Culloch, Esq. Arrangements for a trip in Galloway 479
CCXCVI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Threatened with flying gout. Ode on Washington’s birthday 479
CCXCVII.   To Mr. James Johnson. Low spirits. The Museum. Balmerino’s dirk 480
CCXCVIII.   To Mr. Thomson. Lines written in “Thomson’s Collection of songs” 480
CCXCIX.   To the same. With “How can my poor heart be glad” 480
CCC.   To the same. With “Ca’ the yowes to the knowes” 481
CCCI.   To the same. With “Sae flaxen were her ringlets.” Epigram to Dr. Maxwell. 481
CCCII.   To the same. The charms of Miss Lorimer. “O saw ye my dear, my Phely,” &c. 482
CCCIII.   To the same. Ritson’s Scottish Songs. Love and song 483
CCCIV.   To the same. English songs. The air of “Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon” 484
CCCV.   To the same. With “O Philly, happy be the day,” and “Contented wi’ little” 485
CCCVI.   To the same. With “Canst thou leave me thus, my Katy” 486
CCCVII.   To Peter Miller, jun., Esq. Excise. Perry’s offer to write for the Morning Chronicle 487
CCCVIII.   To Mr. Samuel Clarke, jun. A political and personal quarrel. Regret 487
CCCIX.   To Mr. Thomson. With “Now in her green mantle blithe nature arrays” 487
CCCX.   To Mr. Thomson. With “For a’ that and a’ that” 488
CCCXI.   To the same. Abuse of Ecclefechan 488
CCCXII.   To the same. With “O stay, sweet warbling woodlark, stay,” and “The groves of sweet myrtle” 488
CCCXIII.   To the same. With “How cruel are the parents” and “Mark yonder pomp of costly fashion” 489
CCCXIV.   To the same. Praise of David Allan’s “Cotter’s Saturday Night” 489
CCCXV.   To the same. With “This is no my ain Lassie.” Mrs. Riddel 489
CCCXVI.   To Mr. Thomson. With “Forlorn, my love, no comfort near” 490
CCCXVII.   To the same. With “Last May a braw wooer,” and “Why tell thy lover” 490
CCCXVIII.   To Mrs. Riddel. A letter from the grave 490
CCCXIX.   To the same. A letter of compliment. “Anacharsis’ Travels” 491
CCCXX.   To Miss Louisa Fontenelle. With a Prologue for her benefit-night 491
CCCXXI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. His family. Miss Fontenelle. Cowper’s “Task” 492
CCCXXII.   To Mr. Alexander Findlater. Excise schemes 492
CCCXXIII.   To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle. Written for a friend. A complaint 493
CCCXXIV.   To Mr. Heron, of Heron. With two political ballads 493
CCCXXV.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Thomson’s Collection. Acting as Supervisor of Excise 494
CCCXXVI.   To the Right Hon. William Pitt. Address of the Scottish Distillers 495
CCCXXVII.   To the Provost, Bailies, and Town Council of Dumfries. Request to be made a freeman of the town 496
CCCXXVIII.   To Mrs. Riddel. “Anarcharsis’ Travels.” The muses 496
CCCXXIX.   To Mrs. Dunlop. His ill-health. 497
CCCXXX.   To Mr. Thomson. Acknowledging his present to Mrs. Burns of a worsted shawl 497
CCCXXXI.   To the same. Ill-health. Mrs. Hyslop. Allan’s etchings. Cleghorn 497
CCCXXXII.   To the same. “Here’s a health to ane I loe dear” 498
CCCXXXIII.   To the same. His anxiety to review his songs, asking for copies 498
CCCXXXIV.   To Mrs. Riddel. His increasing ill-health 498
CCCXXXV.   To Mr. Clarke, acknowledging money and requesting the loan of a further sum 499
CCCXXXVI.   To Mr. James Johnson. The Scots Musical Museum. Request for a copy of the collection 499
CCCXXXVII.   To Mr. Cunningham. Illness and poverty, anticipation of death 499
CCCXXXVIII.   To Mr. Gilbert Burns. His ill-health and debts 500
CCCXXXIX.   To Mr. James Armour. Entreating Mrs. Armour to come to her daughter’s confinement 500
CCCXL.   To Mrs. Burns. Sea-bathing affords little relief 500
CCCXLI.   To Mrs. Dunlop. Her friendship. A farewell 501
CCCXLII.   To Mr. Thomson. Solicits the sum of five pounds. “Fairest Maid on Devon Banks” 501
CCCXLIII.   To Mr. James Burness. Soliciting the sum of ten pounds 501
CCCXLIV.   To James Gracie, Esq. His rheumatism, &c. &c.—his loss of appetite 502

Remarks on Scottish Songs and Ballads 502
The Border Tour 522
The Highland Tour 527
Burns’s Assignment of his Works 530
Glossary 531



Robert Burns, the chief of the peasant poets of Scotland, was born in a little mud-walled cottage on the banks of Doon, near “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk,” in the shire of Ayr, on the 25th day of January, 1759. As a natural mark of the event, a sudden storm at the same moment swept the land: the gabel-wall of the frail dwelling gave way, and the babe-bard was hurried through a tempest of wind and sleet to the shelter of a securer hovel. He was the eldest born of three sons and three daughters; his father, William, who in his native Kincardineshire wrote his name Burness, was bred a gardener, and sought for work in the West; but coming from the lands of the noble family of the Keiths, a suspicion accompanied him that he had been out—as rebellion was softly called—in the forty-five: a suspicion fatal to his hopes of rest and bread, in so loyal a district; and it was only when the clergyman of his native parish certified his loyalty that he was permitted to toil. This suspicion of Jacobitism, revived by Burns himself, when he rose into fame, seems not to have influenced either the feelings, or the tastes of Agnes Brown, a young woman on the Doon, whom he wooed and married in December, 1757, when he was thirty-six years old. To support her, he leased a small piece of ground, which he converted into a nursery and garden, and to shelter her, he raised with his own hands that humble abode where she gave birth to her eldest son.

The elder Burns was a well-informed, silent, austere man, who endured no idle gaiety, nor indecorous language: while he relaxed somewhat the hard, stern creed of the Covenanting times, he enforced all the work-day, as well as sabbath-day observances, which the Calvinistic kirk requires, and scrupled at promiscuous dancing, as the staid of our own day scruple at the waltz. His wife was of a milder mood: she was blest with a singular fortitude of temper; was as devout of heart, as she was calm of mind; and loved, while busied in her household concerns, to sweeten the bitterer moments of life, by chanting the songs and ballads of her country, of which her store was great. The garden and nursery prospered so much, that he was induced to widen his views, and by the help of his kind landlord, the laird of Doonholm, and the more questionable aid of borrowed money, he entered upon a neighbouring farm, named Mount Oliphant, extending to an hundred acres. This was in 1765; but the land was hungry and sterile; the seasons proved rainy and rough; the toil was certain, the reward unsure; when to his sorrow, the laird of Doonholm—a generous Ferguson,—died: the strict terms of the lease, as well as the rent, were exacted by a harsh factor, and with his wife and children, he was obliged, after a losing struggle of six years, to relinquish the farm, and seek shelter on the grounds of Lochlea, some ten miles off, in the parish of Tarbolton. When, in after-days, men’s characters were in the hands of his eldest son, the scoundrel factor sat for that lasting portrait of insolence and wrong, in the “Twa Dogs.”

In this new farm William Burns seemed to strike root, and thrive. He was strong of body and ardent of mind: every day brought increase of vigour to his three sons, who, though very young,[xxiv] already put their hands to the plough, the reap-hook, and the flail. But it seemed that nothing which he undertook was decreed in the end to prosper: after four seasons of prosperity a change ensued: the farm was far from cheap; the gains under any lease were then so little, that the loss of a few pounds was ruinous to a farmer: bad seed and wet seasons had their usual influence: “The gloom of hermits and the moil of galley-slaves,” as the poet, alluding to those days, said, were endured to no purpose; when, to crown all, a difference arose between the landlord and the tenant, as to the terms of the lease; and the early days of the poet, and the declining years of his father, were harassed by disputes, in which sensitive minds are sure to suffer.

Amid these labours and disputes, the poet’s father remembered the worth of religious and moral instruction: he took part of this upon himself. A week-day in Lochlea wore the sober looks of a Sunday: he read the Bible and explained, as intelligent peasants are accustomed to do, the sense, when dark or difficult; he loved to discuss the spiritual meanings, and gaze on the mystical splendours of the Revelations. He was aided in these labours, first, by the schoolmaster of Alloway-mill, near the Doon; secondly, by John Murdoch, student of divinity, who undertook to teach arithmetic, grammar, French, and Latin, to the boys of Lochlea, and the sons of five neighboring farmers. Murdoch, who was an enthusiast in learning, much of a pedant, and such a judge of genius that he thought wit should always be laughing, and poetry wear an eternal smile, performed his task well: he found Robert to be quick in apprehension, and not afraid to study when knowledge was the reward. He taught him to turn verse into its natural prose order; to supply all the ellipses, and not to desist till the sense was clear and plain: he also, in their walks, told him the names of different objects both in Latin and French; and though his knowledge of these languages never amounted to much, he approached the grammar of the English tongue, through the former, which was of material use to him, in his poetic compositions. Burns was, even in those early days, a sort of enthusiast in all that concerned the glory of Scotland; he used to fancy himself a soldier of the days of the Wallace and the Bruce: loved to strut after the bag-pipe and the drum, and read of the bloody struggles of his country for freedom and existence, till “a Scottish prejudice,” he says, “was poured into my veins, which will boil there till the flood-gates of life are shut in eternal rest.”

In this mood of mind Burns was unconsciously approaching the land of poesie. In addition to the histories of the Wallace and the Bruce, he found, on the shelves of his neighbours, not only whole bodies of divinity, and sermons without limit, but the works of some of the best English, as well as Scottish poets, together with songs and ballads innumerable. On these he loved to pore whenever a moment of leisure came; nor was verse his sole favourite; he desired to drink knowledge at any fountain, and Guthrie’s Grammar, Dickson on Agriculture, Addison’s Spectator, Locke on the Human Understanding, and Taylor’s Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin, were as welcome to his heart as Shakspeare, Milton, Pope, Thomson, and Young. There is a mystery in the workings of genius: with these poets in his head and hand, we see not that he has advanced one step in the way in which he was soon to walk, “Highland Mary” and “Tam O’ Shanter” sprang from other inspirations.

Burns lifts up the veil himself, from the studies which made him a poet. “In my boyish days,” he says to Moore, “I owed much to an old woman (Jenny Wilson) who resided in the family, remarkable for her credulity and superstition. She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the country of tales and songs, concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of poesie; but had so strong an effect upon my imagination that to this hour, in my nocturnal rambles, I sometimes keep a look-out on suspicious places.” Here we have the young poet taking lessons in the classic lore of his native land: in the school of Janet Wilson he profited largely; her tales gave a hue, all their own, to many noble effusions. But her teaching was at the hearth-stone: when he was in the fields, either driving a cart or walking to labour, he had ever in his hand a collection of songs, such as any stall in the land could supply him with; and over these he pored, ballad by ballad, and verse by verse, noting the true, tender, and the natural sublime from affectation and fustian. “To this,” he said, “I am convinced that I owe much of my critic craft, such as it is.”[xxv] His mother, too, unconsciously led him in the ways of the muse: she loved to recite or sing to him a strange, but clever ballad, called “the Life and Age of Man:” this strain of piety and imagination was in his mind when he wrote “Man was made to Mourn.”

He found other teachers—of a tenderer nature and softer influence. “You know,” he says to Moore, “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: she was in truth a bonnie, sweet, sonsie lass, and unwittingly to herself, initiated me in that delicious passion, which, in spite of acid disappointment, gin-horse prudence, and bookworm philosophy, I hold to be the first of human joys. How she caught the contagion I cannot tell; I never expressly said I loved her: indeed I did not know myself why I liked so much to loiter behind with her, when returning in the evenings from our labours; why the tones of her voice made my heart strings thrill like an Æolian 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 other love-inspiring qualities, she sang sweetly, and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted to give an embodied vehicle in rhyme; thus with me began love and verse.” This intercourse with the fair part of the creation, was to his slumbering emotions, a voice from heaven to call them into life and poetry.

From the school of traditionary lore and love, Burns now went to a rougher academy. Lochlea, though not producing fine crops of corn, was considered excellent for flax; and while the cultivation of this commodity was committed to his father and his brother Gilbert, he was sent to Irvine at Midsummer, 1781, to learn the trade of a flax-dresser, under one Peacock, kinsman to his mother. Some time before, he had spent a portion of a summer at a school in Kirkoswald, learning mensuration and land-surveying, where he had mingled in scenes of sociality with smugglers, and enjoyed the pleasure of a silent walk, under the moon, with the young and the beautiful. At Irvine he laboured by day to acquire a knowledge of his business, and at night he associated with the gay and the thoughtless, with whom he learnt to empty his glass, and indulge in free discourse on topics forbidden at Lochlea. He had one small room for a lodging, for which he gave a shilling a week: meat he seldom tasted, and his food consisted chiefly of oatmeal and potatoes sent from his father’s house. In a letter to his father, written with great purity and simplicity of style, he thus gives a picture of himself, mental and bodily: “Honoured Sir, I have purposely delayed writing, in the hope that I should have the pleasure of seeing you on new years’ day, but work comes so hard upon us that I do not choose to be absent on that account. My health is nearly the same as when you were here, only my sleep is a little sounder, and on the whole, I am rather better than otherwise, though I mend by very slow degrees: the weakness of my nerves had so debilitated my mind that I dare neither review past wants nor look forward into futurity, for the least anxiety or perturbation in my breast produces most unhappy effects on my whole frame. Sometimes indeed, when for an hour or two my spirits are a little lightened, I glimmer a little into futurity; but my principal and indeed my only pleasurable employment is looking backwards and forwards in a moral and religious way. I am quite transported at the thought that ere long, perhaps very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all the pains and uneasinesses, and disquietudes of this weary life. As for the world, I despair of ever making a figure in it: I am not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the flutter of the gay. I foresee that poverty and obscurity probably await me, and I am in some measure prepared and daily preparing to meet them. I have but just time and paper to return you my grateful thanks for the lessons of virtue and piety you have given me, which were but too much neglected at the time of giving them, but which, I hope, have been remembered ere it is yet too late.” This remarkable letter was written in the twenty-second year of his age; it alludes to the illness which seems to have been the companion of his youth, a nervous headache, brought on by constant toil and anxiety; and it speaks of the melancholy which is the common attendant of genius, and its sensibilities, aggravated by despair of distinction. The catastrophe which happened ere this letter was well in his father’s hand, accords ill with quotations from the Bible, and hopes fixed in heaven:—“As we gave,” he says, “a welcome carousal to the new year, the shop took fire, and burnt to ashes, and I was left, like a true poet, not worth a sixpence.”[xxvi]

This disaster was followed by one more grievous: his father was well in years when he was married, and age and a constitution injured by toil and disappointment, began to press him down, ere his sons had grown up to man’s estate. On all sides the clouds began to darken: the farm was unprosperous: the speculations in flax failed; and the landlord of Lochlea, raising a question upon the meaning of the lease, concerning rotation of crop, pushed the matter to a lawsuit, alike ruinous to a poor man either in its success or its failure. “After three years tossing and whirling,” says Burns, “in the vortex of litigation, my father was just saved from the horrors of a jail by a consumption, which, after two years’ promises, kindly slept in and carried him away to where the ‘wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.’ His all went among the hell-hounds that prowl in the kennel of justice. The finishing evil which brought up the rear of this infernal file, was my constitutional melancholy being increased to such a degree, that for three months I was in a state of mind scarcely to be envied by the hopeless wretches who have got their mittimus, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed.’”

Robert Burns was now the head of his father’s house. He gathered together the little that law and misfortune had spared, and took the farm of Mossgiel, near Mauchline, containing one hundred and eighteen acres, at a rent of ninety pounds a year: his mother and sisters took the domestic superintendence of home, barn, and byre; and he associated his brother Gilbert in the labours of the land. It was made a joint affair: the poet was young, willing, and vigorous, and excelled in ploughing, sowing, reaping, mowing, and thrashing. His wages were fixed at seven pounds per annum, and such for a time was his care and frugality, that he never exceeded this small allowance. He purchased books on farming, held conversations with the old and the knowing; and said unto himself, “I shall be prudent and wise, and my shadow shall increase in the land.” But it was not decreed that these resolutions were to endure, and that he was to become a mighty agriculturist in the west. Farmer Attention, as the proverb says, is a good farmer, all the world over, and Burns was such by fits and by starts. But he who writes an ode on the sheep he is about to shear, a poem on the flower that he covers with the furrow, who sees visions on his way to market, who makes rhymes on the horse he is about to yoke, and a song on the girl who shows the whitest hands among his reapers, has small chance of leading a market, or of being laird of the fields he rents. The dreams of Burns were of the muses, and not of rising markets, of golden locks rather than of yellow corn: he had other faults. It is not known that William Burns was aware before his death that his eldest son had sinned in rhyme; but we have Gilbert’s assurance, that his father went to the grave in ignorance of his son’s errors of a less venial kind—unwitting that he was soon to give a two-fold proof of both in “Rob the Rhymer’s Address to his Bastard Child”—a poem less decorous than witty.

The dress and condition of Burns when he became a poet were not at all poetical, in the minstrel meaning of the word. His clothes, coarse and homely, were made from home-grown wool, shorn off his own sheeps’ backs, carded and spun at his own fireside, woven by the village weaver, and, when not of natural hodden-gray, dyed a half-blue in the village vat. They were shaped and sewed by the district tailor, who usually wrought at the rate of a groat a day and his food; and as the wool was coarse, so also was the workmanship. The linen which he wore was home-grown, home-hackled, home-spun, home-woven, and home-bleached, and, unless designed for Sunday use, was of coarse, strong harn, to suit the tear and wear of barn and field. His shoes came from rustic tanpits, for most farmers then prepared their own leather; were armed, sole and heel, with heavy, broad-headed nails, to endure the clod and the road: as hats were then little in use, save among small lairds or country gentry, westland heads were commonly covered with a coarse, broad, blue bonnet, with a stopple on its flat crown, made in thousands at Kilmarnock, and known in all lands by the name of scone bonnets. His plaid was a handsome red and white check—for pride in poets, he said, was no sin—prepared of fine wool with more than common care by the hands of his mother and sisters, and woven with more skill than the village weaver was usually required to exert. His dwelling was in keeping with his dress, a low, thatched house, with a kitchen, a bedroom and closet, with floors of kneaded clay, and ceilings of moorland turf: a few books on a shelf, thumbed by many a thumb; a few hams drying above head in the smoke,[xxvii] which was in no haste to get out at the roof—a wooden settle, some oak chairs, chaff beds well covered with blankets, with a fire of peat and wood burning at a distance from the gable wall, on the middle of the floor. His food was as homely as his habitation, and consisted chiefly of oatmeal-porridge, barley-broth, and potatoes, and milk. How the muse happened to visit him in this clay biggin, take a fancy to a clouterly peasant, and teach him strains of consummate beauty and elegance, must ever be a matter of wonder to all those, and they are not few, who hold that noble sentiments and heroic deeds are the exclusive portion of the gently nursed and the far descended.

Of the earlier verses of Burns few are preserved: when composed, he put them on paper, but the kept them to himself: though a poet at sixteen, he seems not to have made even his brother his confidante till he became a man, and his judgment had ripened. He, however, made a little clasped paper book his treasurer, and under the head of “Observations, Hints, Songs, and Scraps of Poetry,” we find many a wayward and impassioned verse, songs rising little above the humblest country strain, or bursting into an elegance and a beauty worthy of the highest of minstrels. The first words noted down are the stanzas which he composed on his fair companion of the harvest-field, out of whose hands he loved to remove the nettle-stings and the thistles: the prettier song, beginning “Now westlin win’s and slaughtering guns,” written on the lass of Kirkoswald, with whom, instead of learning mensuration, he chose to wander under the light of the moon: a strain better still, inspired by the charms of a neighbouring maiden, of the name of Annie Ronald; another, of equal merit, arising out of his nocturnal adventures among the lasses of the west; and, finally, that crowning glory of all his lyric compositions, “Green grow the rashes.” This little clasped book, however, seems not to have been made his confidante till his twenty-third or twenty-fourth year: he probably admitted to its pages only the strains which he loved most, or such as had taken a place in his memory: at whatever age it was commenced, he had then begun to estimate his own character, and intimate his fortunes, for he calls himself in its pages “a man who had little art in making money, and still less in keeping it.”

We have not been told how welcome the incense of his songs rendered him to the rustic maidens of Kyle: women are not apt to be won by the charms of verse; they have little sympathy with dreamers on Parnassus, and allow themselves to be influenced by something more substantial than the roses and lilies of the muse. Burns had other claims to their regard then those arising from poetic skill: he was tall, young, good-looking, with dark, bright eyes, and words and wit at will: he had a sarcastic sally for all lads who presumed to cross his path, and a soft, persuasive word for all lasses on whom he fixed his fancy: nor was this all—he was adventurous and bold in love trystes and love excursions: long, rough roads, stormy nights, flooded rivers, and lonesome places, were no letts to him; and when the dangers or labours of the way were braved, he was alike skilful in eluding vigilant aunts, wakerife mothers, and envious or suspicions sisters: for rivals he had a blow as ready us he had a word, and was familiar with snug stack-yards, broomy glens, and nooks of hawthorn and honeysuckle, where maidens love to be wooed. This rendered him dearer to woman’s heart than all the lyric effusions of his fancy; and when we add to such allurements, a warm, flowing, and persuasive eloquence, we need not wonder that woman listened and was won; that one of the most charming damsels of the West said, an hour with him in the dark was worth a lifetime of light with any other body; or that the accomplished and beautiful Duchess of Gordon declared, in a latter day, that no man ever carried her so completely off her feet as Robert Burns.

It is one of the delusions of the poet’s critics and biographers, that the sources of his inspiration are to be found in the great classic poets of the land, with some of whom he had from his youth been familiar: there is little or no trace of them in any of his compositions. He read and wondered—he warmed his fancy at their flame, he corrected his own natural taste by theirs, but he neither copied nor imitated, and there are but two or three allusions to Young and Shakspeare in all the range of his verse. He could not but feel that he was the scholar of a different school, and that his thirst was to be slaked at other fountains. The language in which those great bards embodied their thoughts was unapproachable to an Ayrshire peasant; it was to him as an almost foreign tongue: he had to think and feel in the not ungraceful or inharmonious[xxviii] language of his own vale, and then, in a manner, translate it into that of Pope or of Thomson, with the additional difficulty of finding English words to express the exact meaning of those of Scotland, which had chiefly been retained because equivalents could not be found in the more elegant and grammatical tongue. Such strains as those of the polished Pope or the sublimer Milton were beyond his power, less from deficiency of genius than from lack of language: he could, indeed, write English with ease and fluency; but when he desired to be tender or impassioned, to persuade or subdue, he had recourse to the Scottish, and he found it sufficient.

The goddesses or the Dalilahs of the young poet’s song were, like the language in which he celebrated them, the produce of the district; not dames high and exalted, but lasses of the barn and of the byre, who had never been in higher company than that of shepherds or ploughmen, or danced in a politer assembly than that of their fellow-peasants, on a barn-floor, to the sound of the district fiddle. Nor even of these did he choose the loveliest to lay out the wealth of his verse upon: he has been accused, by his brother among others, of lavishing the colours of his fancy on very ordinary faces. “He had always,” says Gilbert, “a jealousy of people who were richer than himself; his love, therefore, seldom settled on persons of this description. When he selected any one, out of the sovereignty of his good pleasure, to whom he should pay his particular attention, she was instantly invested with a sufficient stock of charms out of the plentiful stores of his own imagination: and there was often a great dissimilitude between his fair captivator, as she appeared to others and as she seemed when invested with the attributes he gave her.” “My heart,” he himself, speaking of those days, observes, “was completely tinder, and was eternally lighted up by some goddess or other.” Yet, it must be acknowledged that sufficient room exists for believing that Burns and his brethren of the West had very different notions of the captivating and the beautiful; while they were moved by rosy checks and looks of rustic health, he was moved, like a sculptor, by beauty of form or by harmony of motion, and by expression, which lightened up ordinary features and rendered them captivating. Such, I have been told, were several of the lasses of the West, to whom, if he did not surrender his heart, he rendered homage: and both elegance of form and beauty of face were visible to all in those of whom he afterwards sang—the Hamiltons and the Burnets of Edinburgh, and the Millers and M’Murdos of the Nith.

The mind of Burns took now a wider range: he had sung of the maidens of Kyle in strains not likely soon to die, and though not weary of the softnesses of love, he desired to try his genius on matters of a sterner kind—what those subjects were he tells us; they were homely and at hand, of a native nature and of Scottish growth: places celebrated in Roman story, vales made famous in Grecian song—hills of vines and groves of myrtle had few charms for him. “I am hurt,” thus he writes in August, 1785, “to see other towns, rivers, woods, and haughs of Scotland immortalized in song, while my dear native county, the ancient Baillieries of Carrick, Kyle, and Cunningham, famous in both ancient and modern times for a gallant and warlike race of inhabitants—a county where civil and religious liberty have ever found their first support and their asylum—a county, the birth-place of many famous philosophers, soldiers, and statesmen, and the scene of many great events recorded in history, particularly the actions of the glorious Wallace—yet we have never had one Scotch poet of any eminence to make the fertile banks of Irvine, the romantic woodlands and sequestered scenes of Ayr. and the mountainous source and winding sweep of the Doon, emulate Tay, Forth, Ettrick, and Tweed. This is a complaint I would gladly remedy, but, alas! I am far unequal to the task, both in genius and education.” To fill up with glowing verse the outline which this sketch indicates, was to raise the long-laid spirit of national song—to waken a strain to which the whole land would yield response—a miracle unattempted—certainly unperformed—since the days of the Gentle Shepherd. It is true that the tongue of the muse had at no time been wholly silent; that now and then a burst of sublime woe, like the song of “Mary, weep no more for me,” and of lasting merriment and humour, like that of “Tibbie Fowler,” proved that the fire of natural poesie smouldered, if it did not blaze; while the social strains of the unfortunate Fergusson revived in the city, if not in the field, the memory of him who sang the “Monk and the Miller’s wife.” But notwithstanding these and other productions of equal merit, Scottish poesie, it must be owned, had lost much of its original ecstasy[xxix] and fervour, and that the boldest efforts of the muse no more equalled the songs of Dunbar, of Douglas, of Lyndsay, and of James the Fifth, than the sound of an artificial cascade resembles the undying thunders of Corra.

To accomplish this required an acquaintance with man beyond what the forge, the change-house, and the market-place of the village supplied; a look further than the barn-yard and the furrowed field, and a livelier knowledge and deeper feeling of history than, probably, Burns ever possessed. To all ready and accessible sources of knowledge he appears to have had recourse; he sought matter for his muse in the meetings, religious as well as social, of the district—consorted with staid matrons, grave plodding farmers—with those who preached as well as those who listened—with sharp-tongued attorneys, who laid down the law over a Mauchline gill—with country squires, whose wisdom was great in the game-laws, and in contested elections—and with roving smugglers, who at that time hung, as a cloud, on all the western coast of Scotland. In the company of farmers and fellow-peasants, he witnessed scenes which he loved to embody in verse, saw pictures of peace and joy, now woven into the web of his song, and had a poetic impulse given to him both by cottage devotion and cottage merriment. If he was familiar with love and all its outgoings and incomings—had met his lass in the midnight shade, or walked with her under the moon, or braved a stormy night and a haunted road for her sake—he was as well acquainted with the joys which belong to social intercourse, when instruments of music speak to the feet, when the reek of punchbowls gives a tongue to the staid and demure, and bridal festivity, and harvest-homes, bid a whole valley lift up its voice and be glad. It is more difficult to decide what poetic use he could make of his intercourse with that loose and lawless class of men, who, from love of gain, broke the laws and braved the police of their country: that he found among smugglers, as he says, “men of noble virtues, magnanimity, generosity, disinterested friendship, and modesty,” is easier to believe than that he escaped the contamination of their sensual manners and prodigality. The people of Kyle regarded this conduct with suspicion: they were not to be expected to know that when Burns ranted and housed with smugglers, conversed with tinkers huddled in a kiln, or listened to the riotous mirth of a batch of “randie gangrel bodies” as they “toomed their powks and pawned their duds,” for liquor in Poosie Nansie’s, he was taking sketches for the future entertainment and instruction of the world; they could not foresee that from all this moral strength and poetic beauty would arise.

While meditating something better than a ballad to his mistress’s eyebrow, he did not neglect to lay out the little skill he had in cultivating the grounds of Mossgiel. The prosperity in which he found himself in the first and second seasons, induced him to hope that good fortune had not yet forsaken him: a genial summer and a good market seldom come together to the farmer, but at first they came to Burns; and to show that he was worthy of them, he bought books on agriculture, calculated rotation of crops, attended sales, held the plough with diligence, used the scythe, the reap-hook, and the flail, with skill, and the malicious even began to say that there was something more in him than wild sallies of wit and foolish rhymes. But the farm lay high, the bottom was wet, and in a third season, indifferent seed and a wet harvest robbed him at once of half his crop: he seems to have regarded this as an intimation from above, that nothing which he undertook would prosper: and consoled himself with joyous friends and with the society of the muse. The judgment cannot be praised which selected a farm with a wet cold bottom, and sowed it with unsound seed; but that man who despairs because a wet season robs him of the fruits of the field, is unfit for the warfare of life, where fortitude is as much required as by a general on a field of battle, when the tide of success threatens to flow against him. The poet seems to have believed, very early in life, that he was none of the elect of Mammon; that he was too much of a genius ever to acquire wealth by steady labour, or by, as he loved to call it, gin-horse prudence, or grubbing industry.

And yet there were hours and days in which Burns, even when the rain fell on his unhoused sheaves, did not wholly despair of himself: he laboured, nay sometimes he slaved on his farm; and at intervals of toil, sought to embellish his mind with such knowledge as might be useful, should chance, the goddess who ruled his lot, drop him upon some of the higher places of the land. He had, while he lived at Tarbolton, united with some half-dozen young men, all sons of[xxx] farmers in that neighbourhood, in forming a club, of which the object was to charm away a few evening hours in the week with agreeable chit-chat, and the discussion of topics of economy or love. Of this little society the poet was president, and the first question they were called on to settle was this, “Suppose a young man bred a farmer, but without any fortune, has it in his power to marry either of two women; the one a girl of large fortune, but neither handsome in person, nor agreeable in conversation, but who can manage the household affairs of a farm well enough; the other of them, a girl every way agreeable in person, conversation, and behaviour, but without any fortune, which of them shall he choose?” This question was started by the poet, and once every week the club were called to the consideration of matters connected with rural life and industry: their expenses were limited to threepence a week; and till the departure of Burns to the distant Mossgiel, the club continued to live and thrive; on his removal it lost the spirit which gave it birth, and was heard of no more; but its aims and its usefulness were revived in Mauchline, where the poet was induced to establish a society which only differed from the other in spending the moderate fines arising from non-attendance, on books, instead of liquor. Here, too, Burns was the president, and the members were chiefly the sons of husbandmen, whom he found, he said, more natural in their manners, and more agreeable than the self-sufficient mechanics of villages and towns, who were ready to dispute on all topics, and inclined to be convinced on none. This club had the pleasure of subscribing for the first edition of the works of its great associate. It has been questioned by his first biographer, whether the refinement of mind, which follows the reading of books of eloquence and delicacy,—the mental improvement resulting from such calm discussions as the Tarbolton and Mauchline clubs indulged in, was not injurious to men engaged in the barn and at the plough. A well-ordered mind will be strengthened, as well as embellished, by elegant knowledge, while over those naturally barren and ungenial all that is refined or noble will pass as a sunny shower scuds over lumps of granite, bringing neither warmth nor life.

In the account which the poet gives to Moore of his early poems, he says little about his exquisite lyrics, and less about “The Death and dying Words of Poor Mailie,” or her “Elegy,” the first of his poems where the inspiration of the muse is visible; but he speaks with exultation of the fame which those indecorous sallies, “Holy Willie’s Prayer” and “The Holy Tulzie” brought from some of the clergy, and the people of Ayrshire. The west of Scotland is ever in the van, when mutters either political or religious are agitated. Calvinism was shaken, at this time, with a controversy among its professors, of which it is enough to say, that while one party rigidly adhered to the word and letter of the Confession of Faith, and preached up the palmy and wholesome days of the Covenant, the other sought to soften the harsher rules and observances of the kirk, and to bring moderation and charity into its discipline as well as its councils. Both believed themselves right, both were loud and hot, and personal,—bitter with a bitterness only known in religious controversy. The poet sided with the professors of the New Light, as the more tolerant were called, and handled the professors of the Old Light, as the other party were named, with the most unsparing severity. For this he had sufficient cause:—he had experienced the mercilessness of kirk-discipline, when his frailties caused him to visit the stool of repentance; and moreover his friend Gavin Hamilton, a writer in Mauchline, had been sharply censured by the same authorities, for daring to gallop on Sundays. Moodie, of Riccarton, and Russel, of Kilmarnock, were the first who tasted of the poet’s wrath. They, though professors of the Old Light, had quarrelled, and, it is added, fought: “The Holy Tulzie,” which recorded, gave at the same time wings to the scandal; while for “Holy Willie,” an elder of Mauchline, and an austere and hollow pretender to righteousness, he reserved the fiercest of all his lampoons. In “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” he lays a burning hand on the terrible doctrine of predestination: this is a satire, daring, personal, and profane. Willie claims praise in the singular, acknowledges folly in the plural, and makes heaven accountable for his sins! in a similar strain of undevout satire, he congratulates Goudie, of Kilmarnock, on his Essays on Revealed Religion. These poems, particularly the two latter, are the sharpest lampoons in the language.

While drudging in the cause of the New Light controversialists, Burns was not unconsciously strengthening his hands for worthier toils: the applause which selfish divines bestowed on his[xxxi] witty, but graceless effusions, could not be enough for one who knew how fleeting the fame was which came from the heat of party disputes; nor was he insensible that songs of a beauty unknown for a century to national poesy, had been unregarded in the hue and cry which arose on account of “Holy Willie’s Prayer” and “The Holy Tulzie.” He hesitated to drink longer out of the agitated puddle of Calvinistic controversy, he resolved to slake his thirst at the pure well-springs of patriot feeling and domestic love; and accordingly, in the last and best of his controversial compositions, he rose out of the lower regions of lampoon into the upper air of true poetry. “The Holy Fair,” though stained in one or two verses with personalities, exhibits a scene glowing with character and incident and life: the aim of the poem is not so much to satirize one or two Old Light divines, as to expose and rebuke those almost indecent festivities, which in too many of the western parishes accompanied the administration of the sacrament. In the earlier days of the church, when men were staid and sincere, it was, no doubt, an impressive sight to see rank succeeding rank, of the old and the young, all calm and all devout, seated before the tent of the preacher, in the sunny hours of June, listening to his eloquence, or partaking of the mystic bread and wine; but in these our latter days, when discipline is relaxed, along with the sedate and the pious come swarms of the idle and the profligate, whom no eloquence can edify and no solemn rite affect. On these, and such as these, the poet has poured his satire; and since this desirable reprehension the Holy Fairs, east as well as west, have become more decorous, if not more devout.

His controversial sallies were accompanied, or followed, by a series of poems which showed that national character and manners, as Lockhart has truly and happily said, were once more in the hands of a national poet. These compositions are both numerous and various: they record the poet’s own experience and emotions; they exhibit the highest moral feeling, the purest patriotic sentiments, and a deep sympathy with the fortunes, both here and hereafter of his fellow-men; they delineate domestic manners, man’s stern as well as social hours, and mingle the serious with the joyous, the sarcastic with the solemn, the mournful with the pathetic, the amiable with the gay, and all with an ease and unaffected force and freedom known only to the genius of Shakspeare. In “The Twa Dogs” he seeks to reconcile the labourer to his lot, and intimates, by examples drawn from the hall as well as the cottage, that happiness resides in the humblest abodes, and is even partial to the clouted shoe. In “Scotch Drink” he excites man to love his country, by precepts both heroic and social; and proves that while wine and brandy are the tipple of slaves, whiskey and ale are the drink of the free: sentiments of a similar kind distinguish his “Earnest Cry and Prayer to the Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons,” each of whom he exhorts by name to defend the remaining liberties and immunities of his country. A higher tone distinguishes the “Address to the Deil:” he records all the names, and some of them are strange ones; and all the acts, and some of them are as whimsical as they are terrible, of this far kenned and noted personage; to these he adds some of the fiend’s doings as they stand in Scripture, together with his own experiences; and concludes by a hope, as unexpected as merciful and relenting, that Satan may not be exposed to an eternity of torments. “The Dream” is a humorous sally, and may be almost regarded as prophetic. The poet feigns himself present, in slumber, at the Royal birth-day; and supposes that he addresses his majesty, on his household matters as well as the affairs of the nation. Some of the princes, it has been satirically hinted, behaved afterwards in such a way as if they wished that the scripture of the Burns should be fulfilled: in this strain, he has imitated the license and equalled the wit of some of the elder Scottish Poets.

“The Vision” is wholly serious; it exhibits the poet in one of those fits of despondency which the dull, who have no misgivings, never know: he dwells with sarcastic bitterness on the opportunities which, for the sake of song, he has neglected of becoming wealthy, and is drawing a sad parallel between rags and riches, when the muse steps in and cheer his despondency, by assuring him of undying fame. “Halloween” is a strain of a more homely kind, recording the superstitious beliefs, and no less superstitious doings of Old Scotland, on that night, when witches and elves and evil spirits are let loose among the children of men: it reaches far back into manners and customs, and is a picture, curious and valuable. The tastes and feelings of husbandmen[xxxii] inspired “The old Farmer’s Address to his old mare Maggie,” which exhibits some pleasing recollections of his days of courtship and hours of sociality. The calm, tranquil picture of household happiness and devotion in “the Cotter’s Saturday Night,” has induced Hogg, among others, to believe that it has less than usual of the spirit of the poet, but it has all the spirit that was required; the toil of the week has ceased, the labourer has returned to his well-ordered home—his “cozie ingle and his clean hearth-stane,”—and with his wife and children beside him, turns his thoughts to the praise of that God to whom he owes all: this he performs with a reverence and an awe, at once natural, national, and poetic. “The Mouse” is a brief and happy and very moving poem: happy, for it delineates, with wonderful truth and life, the agitation of the mouse when the coulter broke into its abode; and moving, for the poet takes the lesson of ruin to himself, and feels the present and dreads the future. “The Mountain Daisy,” once, more properly, called by Burns “The Gowan,” resembles “The Mouse” in incident and in moral, and is equally happy, in language and conception. “The Lament” is a dark, and all but tragic page, from the poet’s own life. “Man was made to Mourn’” takes the part of the humble and the homeless, against the coldness and selfishness of the wealthy and the powerful, a favourite topic of meditation with Burns. He refrained, for awhile, from making “Death and Doctor Hernbook” public; a poem which deviates from the offensiveness of personal satire, into a strain of humour, at once airy and original.

His epistles in verse may be reckoned amongst his happiest productions: they are written in all moods of mind, and are, by turns, lively and sad; careless and serious;—now giving advice, then taking it; laughing at learning, and lamenting its want; scoffing at propriety and wealth, yet admitting, that without the one he cannot be wise, nor wanting the other, independent. The Epistle to David Sillar is the first of these compositions: the poet has no news to tell, and no serious question to ask: he has only to communicate his own emotions of joy, or of sorrow, and these he relates and discusses with singular elegance as well as ease, twining, at the same time, into the fabric of his composition, agreeable allusions to the taste and affections of his correspondent. He seems to have rated the intellect of Sillar as the highest among his rustic friends: he pays him more deference, and addresses him in a higher vein than he observes to others. The Epistles to Lapraik, to Smith, and to Rankine, are in a more familiar, or social mood, and lift the veil from the darkness of the poet’s condition, and exhibit a mind of first-rate power, groping, and that surely, its way to distinction, in spite of humility of birth, obscurity of condition, and the coldness of the wealthy or the titled. The epistles of other poets owe some of their fame to the rank or the reputation of those to whom they are addressed; those of Burns are written, one and all, to nameless and undistinguished men. Sillar was a country schoolmaster, Lapraik a moorland laird, Smith a small shop-keeper, and Rankine a farmer, who loved a gill and a joke. Yet these men were the chief friends, the only literary associates of the poet, during those early years, in which, with some exceptions, his finest works were written.

Burns, while he was writing the poems, the chief of which we have named, was a labouring husbandman on the little farm of Mossgiel, a pursuit which affords but few leisure hours for either reading or pondering; but to him the stubble-field was musing-ground, and the walk behind the plough, a twilight saunter on Parnassus. As, with a careful hand and a steady eye, he guided his horses, and saw an evenly furrow turned up by the share, his thoughts were on other themes; he was straying in haunted glens, when spirits have power—looking in fancy on the lasses “skelping barefoot,” in silks and in scarlets, to a field-preaching—walking in imagination with the rosy widow, who on Halloween ventured to dip her left sleeve in the burn, where three lairds’ lands met—making the “bottle clunk,” with joyous smugglers, on a lucky run of gin or brandy—or if his thoughts at all approached his acts—he was moralizing on the daisy oppressed by the furrow which his own ploughshare had turned. That his thoughts were thus wandering we have his own testimony, with that of his brother Gilbert; and were both wanting, the certainty that he composed the greater part of his immortal poems in two years, from the summer of 1784 to the summer of 1786, would be evidence sufficient. The muse must have been strong within him, when, in spite of the rains and sleets of the “ever-dropping west”—when in defiance of the hot and sweaty brows occasioned by reaping and thrashing—declining markets, and showery[xxxiii] harvests—the clamour of his laird for his rent, and the tradesman for his account, he persevered in song, and sought solace in verse, when all other solace was denied him.

The circumstances under which his principal poems were composed, have been related: the “Lament of Mailie” found its origin in the catastrophe of a pet ewe; the “Epistle to Sillar” was confided by the poet to his brother while they were engaged in weeding the kale-yard; the “Address to the Deil” was suggested by the many strange portraits which belief or fear had drawn of Satan, and was repeated by the one brother to the other, on the way with their carts to the kiln, for lime; the “Cotter’s Saturday Night” originated in the reverence with which the worship of God was conducted in the family of the poet’s father, and in the solemn tone with which he desired his children to compose themselves for praise and prayer; “the Mouse,” and its moral companion “the Daisy,” were the offspring of the incidents which they relate; and “Death and Doctor Hornbook” was conceived at a freemason-meeting, where the hero of the piece had shown too much of the pedant, and composed on his way home, after midnight, by the poet, while his head was somewhat dizzy with drink. One of the most remarkable of his compositions, the “Jolly Beggars,” a drama, to which nothing in the language of either the North or South can be compared, and which was unknown till after the death of the author, was suggested by a scene which he saw in a low ale-house, into which, on a Saturday night, most of the sturdy beggars of the district had met to sell their meal, pledge their superfluous rags, and drink their gains. It may be added, that he loved to walk in solitary spots; that his chief musing-ground was the banks of the Ayr; the season most congenial to his fancy that of winter, when the winds were heard in the leafless woods, and the voice of the swollen streams came from vale and hill; and that he seldom composed a whole poem at once, but satisfied with a few fervent verses, laid the subject aside, till the muse summoned him to another exertion of fancy. In a little back closet, still existing in the farm-house of Mossgiel, he committed most of his poems to paper.

But while the poet rose, the farmer sank. It was not the cold clayey bottom of his ground, nor the purchase of unsound seed-corn, not the fluctuation in the markets alone, which injured him; neither was it the taste for freemason socialities, nor a desire to join the mirth of comrades, either of the sea or the shore: neither could it be wholly imputed to his passionate following of the softer sex—indulgence in the “illicit rove,” or giving way to his eloquence at the feet of one whom he loved and honoured; other farmers indulged in the one, or suffered from the other, yet were prosperous. His want of success arose from other causes; his heart was not with his task, save by fits and starts: he felt he was designed for higher purposes than ploughing, and harrowing, and sowing, and reaping: when the sun called on him, after a shower, to come to the plough, or when the ripe corn invited the sickle, or the ready market called for the measured grain, the poet was under other spells, and was slow to avail himself of those golden moments which come but once in the season. To this may be added, a too superficial knowledge of the art of farming, and a want of intimacy with the nature of the soil he was called to cultivate. He could speak fluently of leas, and faughs, and fallows, of change of seed and rotation of crops, but practical knowledge and application were required, and in these Burns was deficient. The moderate gain which those dark days of agriculture brought to the economical farmer, was not obtained: the close, the all but niggardly care by which he could win and keep his crown-piece,—gold was seldom in the farmer’s hand,—was either above or below the mind of the poet, and Mossgiel, which, in the hands of an assiduous farmer, might have made a reasonable return for labour, was unproductive, under one who had little skill, less economy, and no taste for the task.

Other reasons for his failure have been assigned. It is to the credit of the moral sentiments of the husbandmen of Scotland, that when one of their class forgets what virtue requires, and dishonours, without reparation, even the humblest of the maidens, he is not allowed to go unpunished. No proceedings take place, perhaps one hard word is not spoken; but he is regarded with loathing by the old and the devout; he is looked on by all with cold and reproachful eyes—sorrow is foretold as his lot, sure disaster as his fortune; and is these chance to arrive, the only sympathy expressed is, “What better could he expect?” Something of this sort befel Burns: he had already satisfied the kirk in the matter of “Sonsie, smirking, dear-bought Bess,” his daughter, by one of his mother’s maids; and now, to use his own words, he was brought within point-blank[xxxiv] of the heaviest metal of the kirk by a similar folly. The fair transgressor, both for her fathers and her own youth, had a large share of public sympathy. Jean Armour, for it is of her I speak, was in her eighteenth year; with dark eyes, a handsome foot, and a melodious tongue, she made her way to the poet’s heart—and, as their stations in life were equal, it seemed that they had only to be satisfied themselves to render their union easy. But her father, in addition to being a very devout man, was a zealot of the Old Light; and Jean, dreading his resentment, was willing, while she loved its unforgiven satirist, to love him in secret, in the hope that the time would come when she might safely avow it: she admitted the poet, therefore, to her company in lonesome places, and walks beneath the moon, where they both forgot themselves, and were at last obliged to own a private marriage as a protection from kirk censure. The professors of the Old Light rejoiced, since it brought a scoffing rhymer within reach of their hand; but her father felt a twofold sorrow, because of the shame of a favourite daughter, and for having committed the folly with one both loose in conduct and profane of speech. He had cause to be angry, but his anger, through his zeal, became tyrannous: in the exercise of what he called a father’s power, he compelled his child to renounce the poet as her husband and burn the marriage-lines; for he regarded her marriage, without the kirk’s permission, with a man so utterly cast away, as a worse crime than her folly. So blind is anger! She could renounce neither her husband nor his offspring in a lawful way, and in spite of the destruction of the marriage lines, and renouncing the name of wife, she was as much Mrs. Burns as marriage could make her. No one concerned seemed to think so. Burns, who loved her tenderly, went all but mad when she renounced him: he gave up his share of Mossgiel to his brother, and roamed, moody and idle, about the land, with no better aim in life than a situation in one of our western sugar-isles, and a vague hope of distinction as a poet.

How the distinction which he desired as a poet was to be obtained, was, to a poor bard in a provincial place, a sore puzzle: there were no enterprising booksellers in the western land, and it was not to be expected that the printers of either Kilmarnock or Paisley had money to expend on a speculation in rhyme: it is much to the honour of his native county that the publication which he wished for was at last made easy. The best of his poems, in his own handwriting, had found their way into the hands of the Ballantynes, Hamiltons, Parkers, and Mackenzies, and were much admired. Mrs. Stewart, of Stair and Afton, a lady of distinction and taste, had made, accidentally, the acquaintance both of Burns and some of his songs, and was ready to befriend him; and so favourable was the impression on all hands, that a subscription, sufficient to defray the outlay of paper and print, was soon filled up—one hundred copies being subscribed for by the Parkers alone. He soon arranged materials for a volume, and put them into the hands of a printer in Kilmarnock, the Wee Johnnie of one of his biting epigrams. Johnnie was startled at the unceremonious freedom of most of the pieces, and asked the poet to compose one of modest language and moral aim, to stand at the beginning, and excuse some of those free ones which followed: Burns, whose “Twa Dogs” was then incomplete, finished the poem at a sitting, and put it in the van, much to his printer’s satisfaction. If the “Jolly Beggars” was omitted for any other cause than its freedom of sentiment and language, or “Death and Doctor Hornbook” from any other feeling than that of being too personal, the causes of their exclusion have remained a secret. It is less easy to account for the emission of many songs of high merit which he had among his papers: perhaps he thought those which he selected were sufficient to test the taste of the public. Before he printed the whole, he, with the consent of his brother, altered his name from Burness to Burns, a change which, I am told, he in after years regretted.

In the summer of the year 1786, the little volume, big with the hopes and fortunes of the bard made its appearance: it was entitled simply, “Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect; by Robert Burns;” and accompanied by a modest preface, saying, that he submitted his book to his country with fear and with trembling, since it contained little of the art of poesie, and at the best was but a voice given, rude, he feared, and uncouth, to the loves, the hopes, and the fears of his own bosom. Had a summer sun risen on a winter morning, it could not have surprised the Lowlands of Scotland more than this Kilmarnock volume surprised and delighted the people, one and all. The milkmaid sang his songs, the ploughman repeated his poems; the old quoted both, and ever[xxxv] the devout rejoiced that idle verse had at last mixed a tone of morality with its mirth. The volume penetrated even into Nithsdale. “Keep it out of the way of your children,” said a Cameronian divine, when he lent it to my father, “lest ye find them, as I found mine, reading it on the Sabbath.” No wonder that such a volume made its way to the hearts of a peasantry whose taste in poetry had been the marvel of many writers: the poems were mostly on topics with which they were familiar: the language was that of the fireside, raised above the vulgarities of common life, by a purifying spirit of expression and the exalting fervour of inspiration: and there was such a brilliant and graceful mixture of the elegant and the homely, the lofty and the low, the familiar and the elevated—such a rapid succession of scenes which moved to tenderness or tears; or to subdued mirth or open laughter—unlooked for allusions to scripture, or touches of sarcasm and scandal—of superstitions to scare, and of humour to delight—while through the whole was diffused, as the scent of flowers through summer air, a moral meaning—a sentimental beauty, which sweetened and sanctified all. The poet’s expectations from this little venture were humble: he hoped as much money from it as would pay for his passage to the West Indies, where he proposed to enter into the service of some of the Scottish settlers, and help to manage the double mystery of sugar-making and slavery.

The hearty applause which I have recorded came chiefly from the husbandman, the shepherd, and the mechanic: the approbation of the magnates of the west, though not less-warm, was longer in coming. Mrs. Stewart of Stair, indeed, commended the poems and cheered their author: Dugald Stewart received his visits with pleasure, and wondered at his vigour of conversation as much as at his muse: the door of the house of Hamilton was open to him, where the table was ever spread, and the hand ever ready to help: while the purses of the Ballantynes and the Parkers were always as open to him as were the doors of their houses. Those persons must be regarded as the real patrons of the poet: the high names of the district are not to be found among those who helped him with purse and patronage in 1786, that year of deep distress and high distinction. The Montgomerys came with their praise when his fame was up; the Kennedys and the Boswells were silent: and though the Cunninghams gave effectual aid, it was when the muse was crying with a loud voice before him, “Come all and see the man whom I delight to honour.” It would be unjust as well as ungenerous not to mention the name of Mrs. Dunlop among the poet’s best and early patrons: the distance at which she lived from Mossgiel had kept his name from her till his poems appeared: but his works induced her to desire his acquaintance, and she became his warmest and surest friend.

To say the truth, Burns endeavoured in every honourable way to obtain the notice of those who had influence in the land: he copied out the best of his unpublished poems in a fair hand, and inserting them in his printed volume, presented it to those who seemed slow to buy: he rewarded the notice of this one with a song—the attentions of that one with a sally of encomiastic verse: he left psalms of his own composing in the manse when he feasted with a divine: he enclosed “Holy Willie’s Prayer,” with an injunction to be grave, to one who loved mirth: he sent the “Holy Fair” to one whom he invited to drink a gill out of a mutchkin stoup, at Mauchline market; and on accidentally meeting with Lord Daer, he immediately commemorated the event in a sally of verse, of a strain more free and yet as flattering as ever flowed from the lips of a court bard. While musing over the names of those on whom fortune had smiled, yet who had neglected to smile on him, he remembered that he had met Miss Alexander, a young beauty of the west, in the walks of Ballochmyle; and he recorded the impression which this fair vision made on him in a song of unequalled elegance and melody. He had met her in the woods in July, on the 18th of November he sent her the song, and reminded her of the circumstance from which it arose, in a letter which it is evident he had laboured to render polished and complimentary. The young lady took no notice of either the song or the poet, though willing, it is said, to hear of both now:—this seems to have been the last attempt he made on the taste or the sympathies of the gentry of his native district: for on the very day following we find him busy in making arrangements for his departure to Jamaica.

For this step Burns had more than sufficient reasons: the profits of his volume amounted to little more than enough to waft him across the Atlantic: Wee Johnnie, though the edition was[xxxvi] all sold, refused to risk another on speculation: his friends, both Ballantynes and Parkers, volunteered to relieve the printer’s anxieties, but the poet declined their bounty, and gloomily indented himself in a ship about to sail from Greenock, and called on his muse to take farewell of Caledonia, in the last song he ever expected to measure in his native land. That fine lyric, beginning “The gloomy night is gathering fast,” was the offspring of these moments of regret and sorrow. His feelings were not expressed in song alone: he remembered his mother and his natural daughter, and made an assignment of all that pertained to him at Mossgiel—and that was but little—and of all the advantage which a cruel, unjust, and insulting law allowed in the proceeds of his poems, for their support and behoof. This document was publicly read in the presence of the poet, at the market-cross of Ayr, by his friend William Chalmers, a notary public. Even this step was to Burns one of danger: some ill-advised person had uncoupled the merciless pack of the law at his heels, and he was obliged to shelter himself as he best could, in woods, it is said, by day and in barns by night, till the final hour of his departure came. That hour arrived, and his chest was on the way to the ship, when a letter was put into his hand which seemed to light him to brighter prospects.

Among the friends whom his merits had procured him was Dr. Laurie, a district clergyman, who had taste enough to admire the deep sensibilities as well as the humour of the poet, and the generosity to make known both his works and his worth to the warm-hearted and amiable Blacklock, who boldly proclaimed him a poet of the first rank, and lamented that he was not in Edinburgh to publish another edition of his poems. Burns was ever a man of impulse: he recalled his chest from Greenock; he relinquished the situation he had accepted on the estate of one Douglas; took a secret leave of his mother, and, without an introduction to any one, and unknown personally to all, save to Dugald Stewart, away he walked, through Glenap, to Edinburgh, full of new hope and confiding in his genius. When he arrived, he scarcely knew what to do: he hesitated to call on the professor; he refrained from making himself known, as it has been supposed he did, to the enthusiastic Blacklock; but, sitting down in an obscure lodging, he sought out an obscure printer, recommended by a humble comrade from Kyle, and began to negotiate for a new edition of the Poems of the Ayrshire Ploughman. This was not the way to go about it: his barge had well nigh been shipwrecked in the launch; and he might have lived to regret the letter which hindered his voyage to Jamaica, had he not met by chance in the street a gentleman of the west, of the name of Dalzell, who introduced him to the Earl of Glencairn, a nobleman whose classic education did not hurt his taste for Scottish poetry, and who was not too proud to lend his helping hand to a rustic stranger of such merit as Burns. Cunningham carried him to Creech, then the Murray of Edinburgh, a shrewd man of business, who opened the poet’s eyes to his true interests: the first proposals, then all but issued, were put in the fire, and new ones printed and diffused over the island. The subscription was headed by half the noblemen of the north: the Caledonian Hunt, through the interest of Glencairn, took six hundred copies: duchesses and countesses swelled the list, and such a crowding to write down names had not been witnessed since the signing of the solemn league and covenant.

While the subscription-papers were filling and the new volume printing on a paper and in a type worthy of such high patronage, Burns remained in Edinburgh, where, for the winter season, he was a lion, and one of an unwonted kind. Philosophers, historians, and scholars had shaken the elegant coteries of the city with their wit, or enlightened them with their learning, but they were all men who had been polished by polite letters or by intercourse with high life, and there was a sameness in their very dress as well as address, of which peers and peeresses had become weary. They therefore welcomed this rustic candidate for the honour of giving wings to their hours of lassitude and weariness, with a welcome more than common; and when his approach was announced, the polished circle looked for the advent of a lout from the plough, in whose uncouth manners and embarrassed address they might find matter both for mirth and wonder. But they met with a barbarian who was not at all barbarous: as the poet met in Lord Daer feelings and sentiments as natural as those of a ploughman, so they met in a ploughman manners worthy of a lord: his air was easy and unperplexed: his address was perfectly well-bred, and elegant in its simplicity: he felt neither eclipsed by the titled nor struck dumb before the[xxxvii] learned and the eloquent, but took his station with the ease and grace of one born to it. In the society of men alone he spoke out: he spared neither his wit, his humour, nor his sarcasm—he seemed to say to all—“I am a man, and you are no more; and why should I not act and speak like one?”—it was remarked, however, that he had not learnt, or did not desire, to conceal his emotions—that he commended with more rapture than was courteous, and contradicted with more bluntness than was accounted polite. It was thus with him in the company of men: when woman approached, his look altered, his eye beamed milder; all that was stern in his nature underwent a change, and he received them with deference, but with a consciousness that he could win their attention as he had won that of others, who differed, indeed, from them only in the texture of their kirtles. This natural power of rendering himself acceptable to women had been observed and envied by Sillar, one of the dearest of his early comrades; and it stood him in good stead now, when he was the object to whom the Duchess of Gordon, the loveliest as well as the wittiest of women—directed her discourse. Burns, she afterwards said, won the attention of the Edinburgh ladies by a deferential way of address—by an ease and natural grace of manners, as new as it was unexpected—that he told them the stories of some of his tenderest songs or liveliest poems in a style quite magical—enriching his little narratives, which had one and all the merit of being short, with personal incidents of humour or of pathos.

In a party, when Dr. Blair and Professor Walker were present, Burns related the circumstances under which he had composed his melancholy song, “The gloomy night is gathering fast,” in a way even more touching than the verses: and in the company of the ruling beauties of the time, he hesitated not to lift the veil from some of the tenderer parts of his own history, and give them glimpses of the romance of rustic life. A lady of birth—one of his must willing listeners—used, I am told, to say, that she should never forget the tale which he related of his affection for Mary Campbell, his Highland Mary, as he loved to call her. She was fair, he said, and affectionate, and as guileless as she was beautiful; and beautiful he thought her in a very high degree. The first time he saw her was during one of his musing walks in the woods of Montgomery Castle; and the first time he spoke to her was during the merriment of a harvest-kirn. There were others there who admired her, but he addressed her, and had the luck to win her regard from them all. He soon found that she was the lass whom he had long sought, but never before found—that her good looks were surpassed by her good sense; and her good sense was equalled by her discretion and modesty. He met her frequently: she saw by his looks that he was sincere; she put full trust in his love, and used to wander with him among the green knowes and stream-banks till the sun went down and the moon rose, talking, dreaming of love and the golden days which awaited them. He was poor, and she had only her half-year’s fee, for she was in the condition of a servant; but thoughts of gear never darkened their dream: they resolved to wed, and exchanged vows of constancy and love. They plighted their vows on the Sabbath to render them more sacred—they made them by a burn, where they had courted, that open nature might be a witness—they made them over an open Bible, to show that they thought of God in this mutual act—and when they had done they both took water in their hands, and scattered it in the air, to intimate that as the stream was pure so were their intentions. They parted when they did this, but they parted never to meet more: she died in a burning fever, during a visit to her relations to prepare for her marriage; and all that he had of her was a lock of her long bright hair, and her Bible, which she exchanged for his.

Even with the tales which he related of rustic love and adventure his own story mingled; and ladies of rank heard, for the first time, that in all that was romantic in the passion of love, and in all that was chivalrous in sentiment, men of distinction, both by education and birth, were at least equalled by the peasantry of the land. They listened with interest, and inclined their feathers beside the bard, to hear how love went on in the west, and in no case it ran quite smooth. Sometimes young hearts were kept asunder by the sordid feelings of parents, who could not be persuaded to bestow their daughter, perhaps an only one, on a wooer who could not count penny for penny, and number cow for cow: sometimes a mother desired her daughter to look higher than to one of her station: for her beauty and her education entitled her to match among the lairds, rather than the tenants; and sometimes, the devotional tastes of both father and mother,[xxxviii] approving of personal looks and connexions, were averse to see a daughter bestow her hand on one, whose language in religion was indiscreet, and whose morals were suspected. Yet, neither the vigilance of fathers, nor the suspicious care of aunts and mothers, could succeed in keeping those asunder whose hearts were together; but in these meetings circumspection and invention were necessary: all fears were to be lulled by the seeming carelessness of the lass,—all perils were to be met and braved by the spirit of the lad. His home, perhaps, was at a distance, and he had wild woods to come through, and deep streams to pass, before he could see the signal-light, now shown and now withdrawn, at her window; he had to approach with a quick eye and a wary foot, lest a father or a brother should see, and deter him: he had sometimes to wish for a cloud upon the moon, whose light, welcome to him on his way in the distance, was likely to betray him when near; and he not unfrequently reckoned a wild night of wind and rain as a blessing, since it helped to conceal his coming, and proved to his mistress that he was ready to brave all for her sake. Of rivals met and baffled; of half-willing and half-unconsenting maidens, persuaded and won; of the light-hearted and the careless becoming affectionate and tender; and the coy, the proud, and the satiric being gained by “persuasive words, and more persuasive sighs,” as dames had been gained of old, he had tales enow. The ladies listened, and smiled at the tender narratives of the poet.

Of his appearance among the sons as well as the daughters of men, we have the account of Dugald Stewart. “Burns,” says the philosopher, “came to Edinburgh early in the winter: the attentions which he received from all ranks and descriptions of persons, were such as would have turned any head but his own. He retained the same simplicity of manners and appearance which had struck me so forcibly when I first saw him in the country: his dress was suited to his station; plain and unpretending, with sufficient attention to neatness: he always wore boots, and, when on more than usual ceremony, buckskin breeches. His manners were manly, simple, and independent; strongly expressive of conscious genius and worth, but without any indication of forwardness, arrogance, or vanity. He took his share in conversation, but not more than belonged to him, and listened with apparent deference on subjects where his want of education deprived him of the means of information. If there had been a little more of gentleness and accommodation in his temper, he would have been still more interesting; but he had been accustomed to give law in the circle of his ordinary acquaintance, and his dread of anything approaching to meanness or servility, rendered his manner somewhat decided and hard. Nothing perhaps was more remarkable among his various attainments, than the fluency and precision and originality of language, when he spoke in company; more particularly as he aimed at purity in his turn of expression, and avoided more successfully than most Scotsmen, the peculiarities of Scottish phraseology. From his conversation I should have pronounced him to have been fitted to excel in whatever walk of ambition he had chosen to exert his abilities. He was passionately fond of the beauties of nature, and I recollect he once told me, when I was admiring a distant prospect in one of our morning walks, that the sight of so many smoking cottages gave a pleasure to his mind, which none could understand who had not witnessed, like himself, the happiness and worth which cottages contained.”

Such was the impression which Burns made at first on the fair, the titled, and the learned of Edinburgh; an impression which, though lessened by intimacy and closer examination on the part of the men, remained unimpaired, on that of the softer sex, till his dying-day. His company, during the season of balls and festivities, continued to be courted by all who desired to be reckoned gay or polite. Cards of invitation fell thick on him; he was not more welcome to the plumed and jewelled groups, whom her fascinating Grace of Gordon gathered about her, than he was to the grave divines and polished scholars, who assembled in the rooms of Stewart, or Blair, or Robertson. The classic socialities of Tytler, afterwards Lord Woodhouslee, or the elaborate supper-tables of the whimsical Monboddo, whose guests imagined they were entertained in the manner of Lucullus or of Cicero, were not complete without the presence of the ploughman of Kyle; and the feelings of the rustic poet, facing such companies, though of surprise and delight at first, gradually subsided, he said, as he discerned, that man differed from man only in the polish, and not in the grain. But Edinburgh offered tables and entertainers of a less orderly[xxxix] and staid character than those I have named—where the glass circulated with greater rapidity; where the wit flowed more freely; and where there were neither highbred ladies to charm conversation within the bounds of modesty, nor serious philosophers, nor grave divines, to set a limit to the license of speech, or the hours of enjoyment. To these companions—and these were all of the better classes, the levities of the rustic poet’s wit and humour were as welcome us were the tenderest of his narratives to the accomplished Duchess of Gordon and the beautiful Miss Burnet of Monboddo; they raised a social roar not at all classic, and demanded and provoked his sallies of wild humour, or indecorous mirth, with as much delight as he had witnessed among the lads of Kyle, when, at mill or forge, his humorous sallies abounded as the ale flowed. In these enjoyments the rough, but learned William Nicol, and the young and amiable Robert Ainslie shared: the name of the poet was coupled with those of profane wits, free livers, and that class of half-idle gentlemen who hang about the courts of law, or for a season or two wear the livery of Mars, and handle cold iron.

Edinburgh had still another class of genteel convivialists, to whom the poet was attracted by principles as well as by pleasure; these were the relics of that once numerous body, the Jacobites, who still loved to cherish the feelings of birth or education rather than of judgment, and toasted the name of Stuart, when the last of the race had renounced his pretensions to a throne, for the sake of peace and the cross. Young men then, and high names were among them, annually met on the pretender’s birth-day, and sang songs in which the white rose of Jacobitism flourished; toasted toasts announcing adherence to the male line of the Bruce and the Stuart, and listened to the strains of the laureate of the day, who prophesied, in drink, the dismissal of the intrusive Hanoverian, by the right and might of the righteous and disinherited line. Burns, who was descended from a northern race, whoso father was suspected of having drawn the claymore in 1745, and who loved the blood of the Keith-Marishalls, under whose banners his ancestors had marched, readily united himself to a band in whose sentiments, political and social, he was a sharer. He was received with acclamation: the dignity of laureate was conferred upon him, and his inauguration ode, in which he recalled the names and the deeds of the Grahams, the Erskines, the Boyds, and the Gordons, was applauded for its fire, as well as for its sentiments. Yet, though he ate and drank and sang with Jacobites, he was only as far as sympathy and poesie went, of their number: his reason renounced the principles and the religion of the Stuart line; and though he shed a tear over their fallen fortunes—though he sympathized with the brave and honourable names that perished in their cause—though he cursed “the butcher, Cumberland,” and the bloody spirit which commanded the heads of the good and the heroic to be stuck where they would affright the passer-by, and pollute the air—he had no desire to see the splendid fabric of constitutional freedom, which the united genius of all parties had raised, thrown wantonly down. His Jacobitism influenced, not his head, but his heart, and gave a mournful hue to many of his lyric compositions.

Meanwhile his poems were passing through the press. Burns made a few emendations of those published in the Kilmarnock edition, and he added others which, as he expressed it, he had carded and spun, since he passed Glenbuck. Some rather coarse lines were softened or omitted in the “Twa Dogs;” others, from a change of his personal feelings, were made in the “Vision:” “Death and Doctor Hornbook,” excluded before, was admitted now: the “Dream” was retained, in spite of the remonstrances of Mrs. Stewart, of Stair, and Mrs. Dunlop; and the “Brigs of Ayr,” in compliment to his patrons in his native district, and the “Address to Edinburgh,” in honour of his titled and distinguished friends in that metropolis, were printed for the first time. He was unwilling to alter what he had once printed: his friends, classic, titled, and rustic, found him stubborn and unpliable, in matters of criticism; yet he was generally of a complimental mood: he loaded the robe of Coila in the “Vision,” with more scenes than it could well contain, that he might include in the landscape, all the country-seats of his friends, and he gave more than their share of commendation to the Wallaces, out of respect to his friend Mrs. Dunlop. Of the critics of Edinburgh he said, they spun the thread of their criticisms so fine that it was unfit for either warp or weft; and of its scholars, he said, they were never satisfied with any Scottish poet, unless they could trace him in Horace. One morning at Dr. Blair’s breakfast-table, when the “Holy Fair” was the subject of conversation, the reverend critic said, “Why should[xl]

‘——Moody speel the holy door
With tidings of salvation?’

if you had said, with tidings of damnation, the satire would have been the better and the bitterer.” “Excellent!” exclaimed the poet, “the alteration is capital, and I hope you will honour me by allowing me to say in a note at whose suggestion it was made.” Professor Walker, who tells the anecdote, adds that Blair evaded, with equal good humour and decision, this not very polite request; nor was this the only slip which the poet made on this occasion: some one asked him in which of the churches of Edinburgh he had received the highest gratification: he named the High-church, but gave the preference over all preachers to Robert Walker, the colleague and rival in eloquence of Dr. Blair himself, and that in a tone so pointed and decisive as to make all at the table stare and look embarrassed. The poet confessed afterwards that he never reflected on his blunder without pain and mortification. Blair probably had this in his mind, when, on reading the poem beginning “When Guildford good our pilot stood,” he exclaimed, “Ah! the politics of Burns always smell of the smithy,” meaning, that they were vulgar and common.

In April, the second or Edinburgh, edition was published: it was widely purchased, and as warmly commended. The country had been prepared for it by the generous and discriminating criticisms of Henry Mackenzie, published in that popular periodical, “The Lounger,” where he says, “Burns possesses the spirit as well as the fancy of a poet; that honest pride and independence of soul, which are sometimes the muse’s only dower, break forth on every occasion, in his works.” The praise of the author of the “Man of Feeling” was not more felt by Burns, than it was by the whole island: the harp of the north had not been swept for centuries by a hand so forcible, and at the same time so varied, that it awakened every tone, whether of joy or woe: the language was that of rustic life; the scenes of the poems were the dusty barn, the clay-floored reeky cottage, and the furrowed field; and the characters were cowherds, ploughmen, and mechanics. The volume was embellished by a head of the poet from the hand of the now venerable Alexander Nasmith; and introduced by a dedication to the noblemen and gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt, in a style of vehement independence, unknown hitherto in the history of subscriptions. The whole work, verse, prose, and portrait, won public attention, and kept it: and though some critics signified their displeasure at expressions which bordered on profanity, and at a license of language which they pronounced impure, by far the greater number united their praise to the all but general voice; nay, some scrupled not to call him, from his perfect ease and nature and variety, the Scottish Shakspeare. No one rejoiced more in his success and his fame, than the matron of Mossgiel.

Other matters than his poems and socialities claimed the attention of Burns in Edinburgh. He had a hearty relish for the joyous genius of Allan Ramsay; he traced out his residences, and rejoiced to think that while he stood in the shop of his own bookseller, Creech, the same floor had been trod by the feet of his great forerunner. He visited, too, the lowly grave of the unfortunate Robert Fergusson; and it must be recorded to the shame of the magistrates of Edinburgh, that they allowed him to erect a headstone to his memory, and to the scandal of Scotland, that in such a memorial he had not been anticipated. He seems not to have regarded the graves of scholars or philosophers; and he trod the pavements where the warlike princes and nobles had walked without any emotion. He loved, however, to see places celebrated in Scottish song, and fields where battles for the independence of his country had been stricken; and, with money in his pocket which his poems had produced, and with a letter from a witty but weak man, Lord Buchan, instructing him to pull birks on the Yarrow, broom on the Cowden-knowes, and not to neglect to admire the ruins of Drybrugh Abbey, Burns set out on a border tour, accompanied by Robert Ainslie, of Berrywell. As the poet had talked of returning to the plough, Dr. Blair imagined that he was on his way back to the furrowed field, and wrote him a handsome farewell, saying he was leaving Edinburgh with a character which had survived many temptations; with a name which would be placed with the Ramsays and the Fergussons, and with the hopes of all, that, in a second volume, on which his fate as a poet would very much depend, he might rise yet higher in merit and in fame. Burns, who received this communication when laying his leg over[xli] the saddle to be gone, is said to have muttered, “Ay, but a man’s first book is sometimes like his first babe, healthier and stronger than those which follow.”

On the 6th of May, 1787, Burns reached Berrywell: he recorded of the laird, that he was clear-headed, and of Miss Ainslie, that she was amiable and handsome—of Dudgeon, the author of “The Maid that tends the Goats,” that he had penetration and modesty, and of the preacher, Bowmaker, that he was a man of strong lungs and vigorous remark. On crossing the Tweed at Coldstream he took off his hat, and kneeling down, repeated aloud the two last verses of the “Cotter’s Saturday Night:” on returning, he drunk tea with Brydone, the traveller, a man, he said, kind and benevolent: he cursed one Cole as an English Hottentot, for having rooted out an ancient garden belonging to a Romish ruin; and he wrote of Macdowal, of Caverton-mill, that by his skill in rearing sheep, he sold his flocks, ewe and lamb, for a couple of guineas each: that he washed his sheep before shearing—and by his turnips improved sheep-husbandry; he added, that lands were generally let at sixteen shillings the Scottish acre; the farmers rich, and, compared to Ayrshire, their houses magnificent. On his way to Jedburgh he visited an old gentleman in whose house was an arm-chair, once the property of the author of “The Seasons;” he reverently examined the relic, and could scarcely be persuaded to sit in it: he was a warm admirer of Thomson.

In Jedburgh, Burns found much to interest him: the ruins of a splendid cathedral, and of a strong castle—and, what was still more attractive, an amiable young lady, very handsome, with “beautiful hazel eyes, full of spirit, sparkling with delicious moisture,” and looks which betokened a high order of female mind. He gave her his portrait, and entered this remembrance of her attractions among his memoranda:—“My heart is thawed into melting pleasure, after being so long frozen up in the Greenland bay of indifference, amid the noise and nonsense of Edinburgh. I am afraid my bosom has nearly as much tinder as ever. Jed, pure be thy streams, and hallowed thy sylvan banks: sweet Isabella Lindsay, may peace dwell in thy bosom uninterrupted, except by the tumultuous throbbings of rapturous love!” With the freedom of Jedburgh, handsomely bestowed by the magistrates, in his pocket, Burns made his way to Wauchope, the residence of Mrs. Scott, who had welcomed him into the world as a poet in verses lively and graceful: he found her, he said, “a lady of sense and taste, and of a decision peculiar to female authors.” After dining with Sir Alexander Don, who, he said, was a clever man, but far from a match for his divine lady, a sister of his patron Glencairn, he spent an hour among the beautiful ruins of Dryburgh Abbey; glanced on the splendid remains of Melrose; passed, unconscious of the future, over that ground on which have arisen the romantic towers of Abbotsford; dined with certain of the Souters of Selkirk; and visited the old keep of Thomas the Rhymer, and a dozen of the hills and streams celebrated in song. Nor did he fail to pay his respects, after returning through Dunse, to Sir James Hall, of Dunglass, and his lady, and was much pleased with the scenery of their romantic place. He was now joined by a gentleman of the name of Kerr, and crossing the Tweed a second time, penetrated into England, as far as the ancient town of Newcastle, where he smiled at a facetious Northumbrian, who at dinner caused the beef to be eaten before the broth was served, in obedience to an ancient injunction, lest the hungry Scotch should come and snatch it. On his way back he saw, what proved to be prophetic of his own fortune—the roup of an unfortunate farmer’s stock: he took out his journal, and wrote with a troubled brow, “Rigid economy, and decent industry, do you preserve me from being the principal dramatis personæ, in such a scene of horror.” He extended his tour to Carlisle, and from thence to the banks of the Nith, where he looked at the farm of Ellisland, with the intention of trying once more his fortune at the plough, should poetry and patronage fail him.

On his way through the West, Burns spent a few days with his mother at Mossgiel: he had left her an unknown and an almost banished man: he returned in fame and in sunshine, admired by all who aspired to be thought tasteful or refined. He felt offended alike with the patrician stateliness of Edinburgh and the plebeian servility of the husbandmen of Ayrshire; and dreading the influence of the unlucky star which had hitherto ruled his lot, he bought a pocket Milton, he said, for the purpose of studying the intrepid independence and daring magnanimity, and noble defiance of hardships, exhibited by Satan! In this mood he reached Edinburgh—only to leave it[xlii] again on three hurried excursions into the Highlands. The route which he took and the sentiments which the scenes awakened, are but faintly intimated in the memoranda which he made. His first journey seems to have been performed in ill-humour; at Stirling, his Jacobitism, provoked at seeing the ruined palace of the Stuarts, broke out in some unloyal lines which he had the indiscretion to write with a diamond on the window of a public inn. At Carron, where he was refused a sight of the magnificent foundry, he avenged himself in epigram. At Inverary he resented some real or imaginary neglect on the part of his Grace of Argyll, by a stinging lampoon; nor can he be said to have fairly regained his serenity of temper, till he danced his wrath away with some Highland ladies at Dumbarton.

His second excursion was made in the company of Dr. Adair, of Harrowgate: the reluctant doors of Carron foundry were opened to him, and he expressed his wonder at the blazing furnaces and broiling labours of the place; he removed the disloyal lines from the window of the inn at Stirling, and he paid a two days’ visit to Ramsay of Ochtertyre, a distinguished scholar, and discussed with him future topics for the muse. “I have been in the company of many men of genius,” said Ramsay afterwards to Currie, “some of them poets, but never witnessed such flashes of intellectual brightness as from him—the impulse of the moment, sparks of celestial fire.” From the Forth he went to the Devon, in the county of Clackmannan, where, for the first time, he saw the beautiful Charlotte Hamilton, the sister of his friend Gavin Hamilton, of Mauchline. “She is not only beautiful,” he thus writes to her brother, “but lovely: her form is elegant, her features not regular, but they have the smile of sweetness, and the settled complacency of good nature in the highest degree. Her eyes are fascinating; at once expressive of good sense, tenderness and a noble mind. After the exercise of our riding to the Falls, Charlotte was exactly Dr. Donne’s mistress:—

“Her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,
That one would almost say her body thought.”

Accompanied by this charming dame, he visited an old lady, Mrs. Bruce, of Clackmannan, who, in the belief that she had the blood of the royal Bruce in her veins, received the poet with something of princely state, and, half in jest, conferred the honour of knighthood upon him, with her ancestor’s sword, saying, in true Jacobitical mood, that she had a better right to do that than some folk had! In the same pleasing company he visited the famous cataract on the Devon, called the Cauldron Lian, and the Rumbling bridge, a single arch thrown, it is said by the devil, over the Devon, at the height of a hundred feet in the air. It was the complaint of his companions that Burns exhibited no raptures, and poured out no unpremeditated verses at such magnificent scenes. But he did not like to be tutored or prompted: “Look, look!” exclaimed some one, as Carron foundry belched forth flames—“look, Burns, look! good heavens, what a grand sight!—look!” “I would not look—look, sir, at your bidding,” said the bard, turning away, “were it into the mouth of hell!” When he visited, at a future time, the romantic Linn of Creehope, in Nithsdale, he looked silently at its wonders, and showed none of the hoped-for rapture. “You do not admire it, I fear,” said a gentleman who accompanied him; “I could not admire it more, sir,” replied Burns, “if He who made it were to desire me to do it.” There are other reasons for the silence of Burns amid the scenes of the Devon: he was charmed into love by the sense and the beauty of Charlotte Hamilton, and rendered her homage in that sweet song, “The Banks of the Devon,” and in a dozen letters written with more than his usual care, elegance, and tenderness. But the lady was neither to be won by verse nor by prose: she afterwards gave her hand to Adair, the poet’s companion, and, what was less meritorious, threw his letters into the fire.

The third and last tour into the North was in company of Nicol of the High-School of Edinburgh: on the fields of Bannockburn and Falkirk—places of triumph and of woe to Scotland, he gave way to patriotic impulses, and in these words he recorded them:—“Stirling, August 20, 1787: this morning I knelt at the tomb of Sir John the Graham, the gallant friend of the immortal Wallace; and two hours ago I said a fervent prayer for old Caledonia, over the hole in a whin[xliii]stone where Robert the Bruce fixed his royal standard on the banks of Bannockburn.” He then proceeded northward by Ochtertyre, the water of Earn, the vale of Glen Almond, and the traditionary grave of Ossian. He looked in at princely Taymouth; mused an hour or two among the Birks of Aberfeldy; gazed from Birnam top; paused amid the wild grandeur of the pass of Killiecrankie, at the stone which marks the spot where a second patriot Graham fell, and spent a day at Blair, where he experienced the graceful kindness of the Duke of Athol, and in a strain truly elegant, petitioned him, in the name of Bruar Water, to hide the utter nakedness of its otherwise picturesque banks, with plantations of birch and oak. Quitting Blair he followed the course of the Spey, and passing, as he told his brother, through a wild country, among cliffs gray with eternal snows, and glens gloomy and savage, reached Findhorn in mist and darkness; visited Castle Cawdor, where Macbeth murdered Duncan; hastened through Inverness to Urquhart Castle, and the Falls of Fyers, and turned southward to Kilravock, over the fatal moor of Culloden. He admired the ladies of that classic region for their snooded ringlets, simple elegance of dress, and expressive eyes: in Mrs. Rose, of Kilravock Castle, he found that matronly grace and dignity which he owned he loved; and in the Duke and Duchess of Gordon a renewal of that more than kindness with which they had welcomed him in Edinburgh. But while he admired the palace of Fochabers, and was charmed by the condescensions of the noble proprietors, he forgot that he had left a companion at the inn, too proud and captious to be pleased at favours showered on others: he hastened back to the inn with an invitation and an apology: he found the fiery pedant in a foaming rage, striding up and down the street, cursing in Scotch and Latin the loitering postilions for not yoking the horses, and hurrying him away. All apology and explanation was in vain, and Burns, with a vexation which he sought not to conceal, took his seat silently beside the irascible pedagogue, and returned to the South by Broughty Castle, the banks of Endermay and Queensferry. He parted with the Highlands in a kindly mood, and loved to recal the scenes and the people, both in conversation and in song.

On his return to Edinburgh he had to bide the time of his bookseller and the public: the impression of his poems, extending to two thousand eight hundred copies, was sold widely: much of the money had to come from a distance, and Burns lingered about the northern metropolis, expecting a settlement with Creech, and with the hope that those who dispensed his country’s patronage might remember one who then, as now, was reckoned an ornament to the land. But Creech, a parsimonious man, was slow in his payments; the patronage of the country was swallowed up in the sink of politics, and though noblemen smiled, and ladies of rank nodded their jewelled heads in approbation of every new song he sung and every witty sally he uttered, they reckoned any further notice or care superfluous: the poet, an observant man, saw all this; but hope was the cordial of his heart, he said, and he hoped and lingered on. Too active a genius to remain idle, he addressed himself to the twofold business of love and verse. Repulsed by the stately Beauty of the Devon, he sought consolation in the society of one, as fair, and infinitely more witty; and as an accident had for a time deprived him of the use of one of his legs, he gave wings to hours of pain, by writing a series of letters to this Edinburgh enchantress, in which he signed himself Sylvander, and addressed her under the name of Clarinda. In these compositions, which no one can regard as serious, and which James Grahame the poet called “a romance of real Platonic affection,” amid much affectation both of language and sentiment, and a desire to say fine and startling things, we can see the proud heart of the poet throbbing in the dread of being neglected or forgotten by his country. The love which he offers up at the altar of wit and beauty, seems assumed and put on, for its rapture is artificial, and its brilliancy that of an icicle: no woman was ever wooed and won in that Malvolio way; and there is no doubt that Mrs. M’Lehose felt as much offence as pleasure at this boisterous display of regard. In aftertimes he loved to remember her:—when wine circulated, Mrs. Mac was his favourite toast.

During this season he began his lyric contributions to the Musical Museum of Johnson, a work which, amid many imperfections of taste and arrangement, contains more of the true old music and genuine old songs of Scotland, than any other collection with which I am acquainted. Burns gathered oral airs, and fitted them with words of mirth or of woe, of tenderness or of humour, with unexampled readiness and felicity; he eked out old fragments and sobered down licentious[xliv] strains so much in the olden spirit and feeling, that the new cannot be distinguished from the ancient; nay, he inserted lines and half lines, with such skill and nicety, that antiquarians are perplexed to settle which is genuine or which is simulated. Yet with all this he abated not of the natural mirth or the racy humour of the lyric muse of Scotland: he did not like her the less because she walked like some of the maidens of her strains, high-kilted at times, and spoke with the freedom of innocence. In these communications we observe how little his border-jaunt among the fountains of ancient song contributed either of sentiment or allusion, to his lyrics; and how deeply his strains, whether of pity or of merriment, were coloured by what he had seen, and heard, and felt in the Highlands. In truth, all that lay beyond the Forth was an undiscovered land to him; while the lowland districts were not only familiar to his mind and eye, but all their more romantic vales and hills and streams were already musical in songs of such excellence as induced him to dread failure rather than hope triumph. Moreover, the Highlands teemed with jacobitical feelings, and scenes hallowed by the blood or the sufferings of men heroic, and perhaps misguided; and the poet, willingly yielding to an impulse which was truly romantic, and believed by thousands to be loyal, penned his songs on Drumossie, and Killiecrankie, as the spirit of sorrow or of bitterness prevailed. Though accompanied, during his northern excursions, by friends whose socialities and conversation forbade deep thought, or even serious remark, it will be seen by those who read his lyrics with care, that his wreath is indebted for some of its fairest flowers to the Highlands.

The second winter of the poet’s abode in Edinburgh had now arrived: it opened, as might have been expected, with less rapturous welcomes and with more of frosty civility than the first. It must be confessed, that indulgence in prolonged socialities, and in company which, though clever, could not be called select, contributed to this; nor must it be forgotten that his love for the sweeter part of creation was now and then carried beyond the limits of poetic respect, and the delicacies of courtesy; tending to estrange the austere and to lessen the admiration at first common to all. Other causes may be assigned for this wane of popularity: he took no care to conceal his contempt for all who depended on mere scholarship for eminence, and he had a perilous knack in sketching with a sarcastic hand the characters of the learned and the grave. Some indeed of the high literati of the north—Home, the author of Douglas, was one of them—spoke of the poet as a chance or an accident: and though they admitted that he was a poet, yet he was not one of settled grandeur of soul, brightened by study. Burns was probably aware of this; he takes occasion in some of his letters to suggest, that the hour may be at hand when he shall be accounted by scholars as a meteor, rather than a fixed light, and to suspect that the praise bestowed on his genius was partly owing to the humility of his condition. From his lingering so long about Edinburgh, the nobility began to dread a second volume by subscription, the learned to regard him as a fierce Theban, who resolved to carry all the outworks to the temple of Fame without the labour of making regular approaches; while a third party, and not the least numerous, looked on him with distrust, as one who hovered between Jacobite and Jacobin; who disliked the loyal-minded, and loved to lampoon the reigning family. Besides, the marvel of the inspired ploughman had begun to subside; the bright gloss of novelty was worn off, and his fault lay in his unwillingness to see that he had made all the sport which the Philistines expected, and was required to make room for some “salvage” of the season, to paw, and roar, and shake the mane. The doors of the titled, which at first opened spontaneous, like those in Milton’s heaven, were now unclosed for him with a tardy courtesy: he was received with measured stateliness, and seldom requested to repeat his visit. Of this changed aspect of things he complained to a friend: but his real sorrows were mixed with those of the fancy:—he told Mrs. Dunlop with what pangs of heart he was compelled to take shelter in a corner, lest the rattling equipage of some gaping blockhead should mangle him in the mire. In this land of titles and wealth such querulous sensibilities must have been frequently offended.

Burns, who had talked lightly hitherto of resuming the plough, began now to think seriously about it, for he saw it must come to that at last. Miller, of Dalswinton, a gentleman of scientific acquirements, and who has the merit of applying the impulse of steam to navigation, had offered the poet the choice of his farms, on a fair estate which he had purchased on the Nith: aided by[xlv] a westland farmer, he selected Ellisland, a beautiful spot, fit alike for the steps of ploughman or poet. On intimating this to the magnates of Edinburgh, no one lamented that a genius so bright and original should be driven to win his bread with the sweat of his brow: no one, with an indignant eye, ventured to tell those to whom the patronage of this magnificent empire was confided, that they were misusing the sacred trust, and that posterity would curse them for their coldness or neglect: neither did any of the rich nobles, whose tables he had adorned by his wit, offer to enable him to toil free of rent, in a land of which he was to be a permanent ornament;—all were silent—all were cold—the Earl of Glencairn alone, aided by Alexander Wood, a gentleman who merits praise oftener than he is named, did the little that was done or attempted to be done for him: nor was that little done on the peer’s part without solicitation:—“I wish to go into the excise;” thus he wrote to Glencairn; “and I am told your lordship’s interest will easily procure me the grant from the commissioners: and your lordship’s patronage and goodness, which have already rescued me from obscurity, wretchedness, and exile, emboldens me to ask that interest. You have likewise put it in my power to save the little tie of home that sheltered an aged mother, two brothers, and three sisters from destruction. I am ill qualified to dog the heels of greatness with the impertinence of solicitation, and tremble nearly as much at the thought of the cold promise as the cold denial.” The farm and the excise exhibit the poet’s humble scheme of life: the money of the one, he thought, would support the toil of the other, and in the fortunate management of both, he looked for the rough abundance, if not the elegancies suitable to a poet’s condition.

While Scotland was disgraced by sordidly allowing her brightest genius to descend to the plough and the excise, the poet hastened his departure from a city which had witnessed both his triumph and his shame: he bade farewell in a few well-chosen words to such of the classic literati—the Blairs, the Stewarts, the Mackenzies, and the Tytlers—as had welcomed the rustic bard and continued to countenance him; while in softer accents he bade adieu to the Clarindas and Chlorises of whose charms he had sung, and, having wrung a settlement from Creech, he turned his steps towards Mossgiel and Mauchline. He had several reasons, and all serious ones, for taking Ayrshire in his way to the Nith: he desired to see his mother, his brothers and sisters, who had partaken of his success, and were now raised from pining penury to comparative affluence: he desired to see those who had aided him in his early struggles into the upper air—perhaps those, too, who had looked coldly on, and smiled at his outward aspirations after fame or distinction; but more than all, he desired to see one whom he once and still dearly loved, who had been a sufferer for his sake, and whom he proposed to make mistress of his fireside and the sharer of his fortunes. Even while whispering of love to Charlotte Hamilton, on the banks of the Devon, or sighing out the affected sentimentalities of platonic or pastoral love in the ear of Clarinda, his thoughts wandered to her whom he had left bleaching her webs among the daisies on Mauchline braes—she had still his heart, and in spite of her own and her father’s disclamation, she was his wife. It was one of the delusions of this great poet, as well as of those good people, the Armours, that the marriage had been dissolved by the destruction of the marriage-lines, and that Robert Burns and Jean Armour were as single as though they had neither vowed nor written themselves man and wife. Be that as it may, the time was come when all scruples and obstacles were to be removed which stood in the way of their union: their hands were united by Gavin Hamilton, according to law, in April, 1788: and even the Reverend Mr. Auld, so mercilessly lampooned, smiled forgivingly as the poet satisfied a church wisely scrupulous regarding the sacred ceremony of marriage.

Though Jean Armour was but a country lass of humble degree, she had sense and intelligence, and personal charms sufficient not only to win and fix the attentions of the poet, but to sanction the praise which he showered on her in song. In a letter to Mrs. Dunlop, he thus describes her: “The most placid good nature and sweetness of disposition, a warm heart, gratefully devoted with all its powers to love me; vigorous health and sprightly cheerfulness, set off to the best advantage by a more than commonly handsome figure: these I think in a woman may make a good wife, though she should never have read a page but the Scriptures, nor have danced in a[xlvi] brighter assembly than a penny-pay wedding.” To the accomplished Margaret Chalmers, of Edinburgh, he adds, to complete the picture, “I have got the handsomest figure, the sweetest temper, the soundest constitution, and kindest heart in the country: a certain late publication of Scots’ poems she has perused very devoutly, and all the ballads in the land, as she has the finest wood-note wild you ever heard.” With his young wife, a punch bowl of Scottish marble, and an eight-day clock, both presents from Mr. Armour, now reconciled to his eminent son-in-law, with a new plough, and a beautiful heifer, given by Mrs. Dunlop, with about four hundred pounds in his pocket, a resolution to toil, and a hope of success, Burns made his appearance on the banks of the Nith, and set up his staff at Ellisland. This farm, now a classic spot, is about six miles up the river from Dumfries; it extends to upwards of a hundred acres: the soil is kindly; the holmland portion of it loamy and rich, and it has at command fine walks on the river side, and views of the Friar’s Carse, Cowehill, and Dalswinton. For a while the poet had to hide his head in a smoky hovel; till a house to his fancy, and offices for his cattle and his crops were built, his accommodation was sufficiently humble; and his mind taking its hue from his situation, infused a bitterness into the letters in which he first made known to his western friends that he had fixed his abode in Nithsdale. “I am here,” said he, “at the very elbow of existence: the only things to be found in perfection in this country are stupidity and canting; prose they only know in graces and prayers, and the value of these they estimate as they do their plaiden-webs, by the ell: as for the muses, they have as much an idea of a rhinoceros as of a poet.” “This is an undiscovered clime,” he at another period exclaims, “it is unknown to poetry, and prose never looked on it save in drink. I sit by the fire, and listen to the hum of the spinning-wheel: I hear, but cannot see it, for it is hidden in the smoke which eddies round and round me before it seeks to escape by window and door. I have no converse but with the ignorance which encloses me: No kenned face but that of my old mare, Jenny Geddes—my life is dwindled down to mere existence.”

When the poet’s new house was built and plenished, and the atmosphere of his mind began to clear, he found the land to be fruitful, and its people intelligent and wise. In Riddel, of Friar’s Carse, he found a scholar and antiquarian; in Miller, of Dalswinton, a man conversant with science as well as with the world; in M’Murdo, of Drumlanrig, a generous and accomplished gentleman; and in John Syme, of Ryedale, a man much after his own heart, and a lover of the wit and socialities of polished life. Of these gentlemen Riddel, who was his neighbour, was the favourite: a door was made in the march-fence which separated Ellisland from Friar’s Carse, that the poet might indulge in the retirement of the Carse hermitage, a little lodge in the wood, as romantic as it was beautiful, while a pathway was cut through the dwarf oaks and birches which fringed the river bank, to enable the poet to saunter and muse without lot or interruption. This attention was rewarded by an inscription for the hermitage, written with elegance as well as feeling, and which was the first fruits of his fancy in this unpoetic land. In a happier strain he remembered Matthew Henderson: this is one of the sweetest as well as happiest of his poetic compositions. He heard of his friend’s death, and called on nature animate and inanimate, to lament the loss of one who held the patent of his honours from God alone, and who loved all that was pure and lovely and good. “The Whistle” is another of his Ellisland compositions: the contest which he has recorded with such spirit and humour took place almost at his door: the heroes were Fergusson, of Craigdarroch, Sir Robert Laurie, of Maxwelltown, and Riddel, of the Friar’s Carse: the poet was present, and drank bottle and bottle about with the best, and when all was done he seemed much disposed, as an old servant at Friar’s Carse remembered, to take up the victor.

Burns had become fully reconciled to Nithsdale, and was on the most intimate terms with the muse when he produced Tam O’ Shanter, the crowning glory of all his poems. For this marvellous tale we are indebted to something like accident: Francis Grose, the antiquary, happened to visit Friar’s Carse, and as he loved wine and wit, the total want of imagination was no hinderance to his friendly intercourse with the poet: “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk” was mentioned, and Grose said he would include it in his illustrations of the antiquities of Scotland, if the bard of the Doon would write a poem to accompany it. Burns consented, and before he left the table, the various traditions which belonged to the ruin were passing through his mind. One of these was[xlvii] of a farmer, who, on a night wild with wind and rain, on passing the old kirk was startled by a light glimmering inside the walls; on drawing near he saw a caldron hung over a fire, in which the heads and limbs of children were simmering: there was neither witch nor fiend to guard it, so he unhooked the caldron, turned out the contents, and carried it home as a trophy. A second tradition was of a man of Kyle, who, having been on a market night detained late in Ayr, on crossing the old bridge of Doon, on his way home, saw a light streaming through the gothic window of Alloway kirk, and on riding near, beheld a batch of the district witches dancing merrily round their master, the devil, who kept them “louping and flinging” to the sound of a bagpipe. He knew several of the old crones, and smiled at their gambols, for they were dancing in their smocks: but one of them, and she happened to be young and rosy, had on a smock shorter than those of her companions by two spans at least, which so moved the farmer that he exclaimed, “Weel luppan, Maggie wi’ the short sark!” Satan stopped his music, the light was extinguished, and out rushed the hags after the farmer, who made at the gallop for the bridge of Doon, knowing that they could not cross a stream: he escaped; but Maggie, who was foremost, seized his horse’s tail at the middle of the bridge, and pulled it off in her efforts to stay him.

This poem was the work of a single day: Burns walked out to his favourite musing path, which runs towards the old tower of the Isle, along Nithside, and was observed to walk hastily and mutter as he went. His wife knew by these signs that he was engaged in composition, and watched him from the window; at last wearying, and moreover wondering at the unusual length of his meditations, she took her children with her and went to meet him; but as he seemed not to see her, she stept aside among the broom to allow him to pass, which he did with a flushed brow and dropping eyes, reciting these lines aloud:—

“Now Tam! O, Tum! had thae been queans,
A’ plump and strapping in their teens,
Their sacks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen!
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o’ gude blue hair,
I wad hae gien them off my hurdies,
For ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!”

He embellished this wild tradition from fact as well as from fancy: along the road which Tam came on that eventful night his memory supplied circumstances which prepared him for the strange sight at the kirk of Alloway. A poor chapman had perished, some winters before, in the snow; a murdered child had been found by some early hunters; a tippling farmer had fallen from his horse at the expense of his neck, beside a “meikle stane”; and a melancholy old woman had hanged herself at the bush aboon the well, as the poem relates: all these matters the poet pressed into the service of the muse, and used them with a skill which adorns rather than oppresses the legend. A pert lawyer from Dumfries objected to the language as obscure: “Obscure, sir!” said Burns; “you know not the language of that great master of your own art—the devil. If you had a witch for your client you would not be able to manage her defence!”

He wrote few poems after his marriage, but he composed many songs: the sweet voice of Mrs. Burns and the craving of Johnson’s Museum will in some measure account for the number, but not for their variety, which is truly wonderful. In the history of that mournful strain, “Mary in Heaven,” we read the story of many of his lyrics, for they generally sprang from his personal feelings: no poet has put more of himself into his poetry than Burns, “Robert, though ill of a cold,” said his wife, “had been busy all day—a day of September, 1789, with the shearers in the field, and as he had got most of the corn into the stack-yard, was in good spirits; but when twilight came he grew sad about something, and could not rest: he wandered first up the waterside, and then went into the stack-yard: I followed, and begged him to come into the house, as he was ill, and the air was sharp and cold. He said, ‘Ay, ay,’ but did not come: he threw himself down on some loose sheaves, and lay looking at the sky, and particularly at a large, bright star, which shone like another moon. At last, but that was long after I had left him, he came home—the song was already composed.” To the memory of Mary Campbell he dedicated[xlviii] that touching ode; and he thus intimates the continuance of his early affection for “The fair haired lass of the west,” in a letter of that time to Mrs. Dunlop. “If there is another life, it must be only for the just, the benevolent, the amiable, and the humane. What a flattering idea, then, is a world to come! There shall I, with speechless agony of rapture, again recognise my lost, my ever dear Mary, whose bosom was fraught with truth, honour, constancy, and love.” These melancholy words gave way in their turn to others of a nature lively and humorous: “Tam Glen,” in which the thoughts flow as freely as the waters of the Nith, on whose banks he wrote it; “Findlay,” with its quiet vein of sly simplicity; “Willie brewed a peck o’ maut,” the first of social, and “She’s fair and fause,” the first of sarcastic songs, with “The deil’s awa wi’ the Exciseman,” are all productions of this period—a period which had besides its own fears and its own forebodings.

For a while Burns seemed to prosper in his farm: he held the plough with his own hand, he guided the harrows, he distributed the seed-corn equally among the furrows, and he reaped the crop in its season, and saw it safely covered in from the storms of winter with “thack and rape;” his wife, too, superintended the dairy with a skill which she had brought from Kyle, and as the harvest, for a season or two, was abundant, and the dairy yielded butter and cheese for the market, it seemed that “the luckless star” which ruled his lot had relented, and now shone unboding and benignly. But much more is required than toil of hand to make a successful farmer, nor will the attention bestowed only by fits and starts, compensate for carelessness or oversight: frugality, not in one thing but in all, is demanded, in small matters as well as in great, while a careful mind and a vigilant eye must superintend the labours of servants, and the whole system of in-door and out-door economy. Now, during the three years which Burns stayed in Ellisland, he neither wrought with that constant diligence which farming demands, nor did he bestow upon it the unremitting attention of eye and mind which such a farm required: besides his skill in husbandry was but moderate—the rent, though of his own fixing, was too high for him and for the times; the ground, though good, was not so excellent as he might have had on the same estate—he employed more servants than the number of acres demanded, and spread for them a richer board than common: when we have said this we need not add the expensive tastes induced by poetry, to keep readers from starting, when they are told that Burns, at the close of the third year of occupation, resigned his lease to the landlord, and bade farewell for ever to the plough. He was not, however, quite desolate; he had for a year or more been appointed on the excise, and had superintended a district extending to ten large parishes, with applause; indeed, it has been assigned as the chief reason for failure in his farm, that when the plough or the sickle summoned him to the field, he was to be found, either pursuing the defaulters of the revenue, among the valleys of Dumfrieshire, or measuring out pastoral verse to the beauties of the land. He retired to a house in the Bank-vennel of Dumfries, and commenced a town-life: he commenced it with an empty pocket, for Ellisland had swallowed up all the profits of his poems: he had now neither a barn to produce meal nor barley, a barn-yard to yield a fat hen, a field to which he could go at Martinmas for a mart, nor a dairy to supply milk and cheese and butter to the table—he had, in short, all to buy and little to buy with. He regarded it as a compensation that he had no farm-rent to provide, no bankruptcies to dread, no horse to keep, for his excise duties were now confined to Dumfries, and that the burthen of a barren farm was removed from his mind, and his muse at liberty to renew her unsolicited strains.

But from the day of his departure from “the barren” Ellisland, the downward course of Burns may be dated. The cold neglect of his country had driven him back indignantly to the plough, and he hoped to gain from the furrowed field that independence which it was the duty of Scotland to have provided: but he did not resume the plough with all the advantages he possessed when he first forsook it: he had revelled in the luxuries of polished life—his tastes had been rendered expensive as well as pure: he had witnessed, and he hoped for the pleasures of literary retirement, while the hands which had led jewelled dames over scented carpets to supper tables leaded with silver took hold of the hilts of the plough with more of reluctance than good-will. Edinburgh, with its lords and its ladies, its delights and its hopes, spoiled him for farming. Nor were his new labours more acceptable to his haughty spirit than those of the plough: the excise for a[xlix] century had been a word of opprobrium or of hatred in the north: the duties which it imposed were regarded, not by peasants alone, as a serious encroachment upon the ancient rights of the nation, and to mislead a gauger, or resist him, even to blood, was considered by few as a fault. That the brightest genius of the nation—one whose tastes and sensibilities were so peculiarly its own—should be, as a reward, set to look after run-rum and smuggled tobacco, and to gauge ale-wife’s barrels, was a regret and a marvel to many, and a source of bitter merriment to Burns himself.

The duties of his situation were however performed punctually, if not with pleasure: he was a vigilant officer; he was also a merciful and considerate one: though loving a joke, and not at all averse to a dram, he walked among suspicious brewers, captious ale-wives, and frowning shop-keepers as uprightly as courteously: he smoothed the ruggedest natures into acquiescence by his gayety and humour, and yet never gave cause for a malicious remark, by allowing his vigilance to slumber. He was brave, too, and in the capture of an armed smuggler, in which he led the attack, showed that he neither feared water nor fire: he loved, also, to counsel the more forward of the smugglers to abandon their dangerous calling; his sympathy for the helpless poor induced him to give them now and then notice of his approach; he has been known to interpret the severe laws of the excise into tenderness and mercy in behalf of the widow and the fatherless. In all this he did but his duty to his country and his kind: and his conduct was so regarded by a very competent and candid judge. “Let me look at the books of Burns,” said Maxwell, of Terraughty, at the meeting of the district magistrates, “for they show that an upright officer may be a merciful one.” With a salary of some seventy pounds a year, the chance of a few guineas annually from the future editions of his poems, and the hope of rising at some distant day to the more lucrative situation of supervisor, Burns continued to live in Dumfries; first in the Bank-vennel, and next in a small house in a humble street, since called by his name.

In his earlier years the poet seems to have scattered songs as thick as a summer eve scatters its dews; nor did he scatter them less carelessly: he appears, indeed, to have thought much less of them than of his poems: the sweet song of Mary Morison, and others not at all inferior, lay unregarded among his papers till accident called them out to shine and be admired. Many of these brief but happy compositions, sometimes with his name, and oftener without, he threw in dozens at a time into Johnson, where they were noticed only by the captious Ritson: but now a work of higher pretence claimed a share in his skill: in September, 1792, he was requested by George Thomson to render, for his national collection, the poetry worthy of the muses of the north, and to take compassion on many choice airs, which had waited for a poet like the author of the Cotter’s Saturday Night, to wed them to immortal verse. To engage in such an undertaking, Burns required small persuasion, and while Thomson asked for strains delicate and polished, the poet characteristically stipulated that his contributions were to be without remuneration, and the language seasoned with a sprinkling of the Scottish dialect. As his heart was much in the matter, he began to pour out verse with a readiness and talent unknown in the history of song: his engagement with Thomson, and his esteem for Johnson, gave birth to a series of songs as brilliant as varied, and as naturally easy as they were gracefully original. In looking over those very dissimilar collections it is not difficult to discover that the songs which he wrote for the more stately work, while they are more polished and elegant than those which he contributed to the less pretending one, are at the same time less happy in their humour and less simple in their pathos. “What pleases me as simple and naive,” says Burns to Thomson, “disgusts you as ludicrous and low. For this reason ‘Fye, gie me my coggie, sirs,’ ‘Fye, let us a’ to the bridal,’ with several others of that cast, are to me highly pleasing, while ‘Saw ye my Father’ delights me with its descriptive simple pathos:” we read in these words the reasons of the difference between the lyrics of the two collections.

The land where the poet lived furnished ready materials for song: hills with fine woods, vales with clear waters, and dames as lovely as any recorded in verse, were to be had in his walks and his visits; while, for the purposes of mirth or of humour, characters, in whose faces originality was legibly written, were as numerous in Nithsdale as he had found them in the west. He had been reproached, while in Kyle, with seeing charms in very ordinary looks, and hanging the[l] garlands of the muse on unlovely altars; he was liable to no such censure in Nithsdale; he poured out the incense of poetry only on the fair and captivating: his Jeans, his Lucys, his Phillises, and his Jessies were ladies of such mental or personal charms as the Reynolds’s and the Lawrences of the time would have rejoiced to lay out their choicest colours on. But he did not limit himself to the charms of those whom he could step out to the walks and admire: his lyrics give evidence of the wandering of his thoughts to the distant or the dead—he loves to remember Charlotte Hamilton and Mary Campbell, and think of the sighs and vows on the Devon and the Doon, while his harpstrings were still quivering to the names of the Millers and the M’Murdos—to the charms of the lasses with golden or with flaxen locks, in the valley where he dwelt. Of Jean M’Murdo and her sister Phillis he loved to sing; and their beauty merited his strains: to one who died in her bloom, Lucy Johnston, he addressed a song of great sweetness; to Jessie Lewars, two or three songs of gratitude and praise: nor did he forget other beauties, for the accomplished Mrs. Riddel is remembered, and the absence of fair Clarinda is lamented in strains both impassioned and pathetic.

But the main inspirer of the latter songs of Burns was a young woman of humble birth: of a form equal to the most exquisite proportions of sculpture, with bloom on her cheeks, and merriment in her large bright eyes, enough to drive an amatory poet crazy. Her name was Jean Lorimer; she was not more than seventeen when the poet made her acquaintance, and though she had got a sort of brevet-right from an officer of the army, to use his southron name of Whelpdale, she loved best to be addressed by her maiden designation, while the poet chose to veil her in the numerous lyrics, to which she gave life, under the names of “Chloris,” “The lass of Craigie-burnwood,” and “The lassie wi’ the lintwhite locks.” Though of a temper not much inclined to conceal anything, Burns complied so tastefully with the growing demand of the age for the exterior decencies of life, that when the scrupling dames of Caledonia sung a new song in her praise, they were as unconscious whence its beauties came, as is the lover of art, that the shape and gracefulness of the marble nymph which he admires, are derived from a creature who sells the use of her charms indifferently to sculpture or to love. Fine poetry, like other arts called fine, springs from “strange places,” as the flower in the fable said, when it bloomed on the dunghill; nor is Burns more to be blamed than was Raphael, who painted Madonnas, and Magdalens with dishevelled hair and lifted eyes, from a loose lady, whom the pope, “Holy at Rome—here Antichrist,” charitably prescribed to the artist, while he laboured in the cause of the church. Of the poetic use which he made of Jean Lorimer’s charms, Burns gives this account to Thomson. “The lady of whom the song of Craigie-burnwood was made is one of the finest women in Scotland, and in fact is to me in a manner what Sterne’s Eliza was to him—a mistress, or friend, or what you will, in the guileless simplicity of platonic love. I assure you that to my lovely friend you are indebted for many of my best songs. Do you think that the sober gin-horse routine of my existence could inspire a man with life and love and joy—could fire him with enthusiasm, or melt him with pathos, equal to the genius of your book? No! no! Whenever I want to be more than ordinary in song—to be in some degree equal to your diviner airs—do you imagine I fast and pray for the celestial emanation? Quite the contrary. I have a glorious recipe; the very one that for his own use was invented by the divinity of healing and poesy, when erst he piped to the flocks of Admetus. I put myself in a regimen of admiring a fine woman; and in proportion to the adorability of her charms, in proportion are you delighted with my verses. The lightning of her eye is the godhead of Parnassus, and the witchery of her smile, the divinity of Helicon.”

Most of the songs which he composed under the influences to which I have alluded are of the first order: “Bonnie Lesley,” “Highland Mary,” “Auld Rob Morris,” “Duncan Gray,” “Wandering Willie,” “Meg o’ the Mill,” “The poor and honest sodger,” “Bonnie Jean,” “Phillis the fair,” “John Anderson my Jo,” “Had I a cave on some wild distant shore,” “Whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad,” “Bruce’s Address to his men at Bannockburn,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Thine am I, my faithful fair,” “Wilt thou be my dearie,” “O Chloris, mark how green the groves,” “Contented wi’ little, and cantie wi’ mair,” “Their groves of sweet myrtle,” “Last May a braw wooer came down the long glen,” “O Mally’s meek, Mally’s sweet,” “Hey for a lass wi’ a tocher,”[li] “Here’s a health to ane I loe dear,” and the “Fairest maid on Devon banks.” Many of the latter lyrics of Burns were more or less altered, to put them into better harmony with the airs, and I am not the only one who has wondered that a bard so impetuous and intractable in most matters, should have become so soft and pliable, as to make changes which too often sacrificed the poetry for the sake of a fuller and more swelling sound. It is true that the emphatic notes of the music must find their echo in the emphatic words of the verse, and that words soft and liquid are fitter for ladies’ lips, than words hissing and rough; but it is also true that in changing a harsher word for one more harmonious the sense often suffers, and that happiness of expression, and that dance of words which lyric verse requires, lose much of their life and vigour. The poet’s favourite walk in composing his songs was on a beautiful green sward on the northern side of the Nith, opposite Lincluden: and his favourite posture for composition at home was balancing himself on the hind legs of his arm-chair.

While indulging in these lyrical nights, politics penetrated into Nithsdale, and disturbed the tranquillity of that secluded region. First, there came a contest far the representation of the Dumfries district of boroughs, between Patrick Miller, younger, of Dalswinton, and Sir James Johnstone, of Westerhall, and some two years afterwards, a struggle for the representation of the county of Kirkcudbright, between the interest of the Stewarts, of Galloway, and Patrick Heron, of Kerroughtree. In the first of these the poet mingled discretion with his mirth, and raised a hearty laugh, in which both parties joined; for this sobriety of temper, good reasons may be assigned: Miller, the elder, of Dalswinton, had desired to oblige him in the affair of Ellisland, and his firm and considerate friend, M’Murdo, of Drumlanrig, was chamberlain to his Grace of Queensbury, on whoso interest Miller stood. On the other hand, his old Jacobitical affections made him the secret well-wisher to Westerhall, for up to this time, at least till acid disappointment and the democratic doctrine of the natural equality of man influenced him, Burns, or as a western rhymer of his day and district worded the reproach—Rob was a Tory. His situation, it will therefore be observed, disposed him to moderation, and accounts for the milkiness of his Epistle to Fintray, in which he marshals the chiefs of the contending factions, and foretells the fierceness of the strife, without pretending to foresee the event. Neither is he more explicit, though infinitely more humorous, in his ballad of “The Five Carlins,” in which he impersonates the five boroughs—Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Lochmaben, Sanquhar, and Annan, and draws their characters as shrewd and calculating dames, met in much wrath and drink to choose a representative.

But the two or three years which elapsed between the election for the boroughs, and that for the county adjoining, wrought a serious change in the temper as well as the opinions of the poet. His Jacobitism, as has been said was of a poetic kind, and put on but in obedience to old feelings, and made no part of the man: he was in his heart as democratic as the kirk of Scotland, which educated him—he acknowledged no other superiority but the mental: “he was disposed, too,” said Professor Walker, “from constitutional temper, from education and the accidents of life, to a jealousy of power, and a keen hostility against every system which enabled birth and opulence to anticipate those rewards which he conceived to belong to genius and virtue.” When we add to this, a resentment of the injurious treatment of the dispensers of public patronage, who had neglected his claims, and showered pensions and places on men unworthy of being named with him, we have assigned causes for the change of side and the tone of asperity and bitterness infused into “The Heron Ballads.” Formerly honey was mixed with his gall: a little praise sweetened his censure: in these election lampoons he is fierce and even venomous:—no man has a head but what is empty, nor a heart that is not black: men descended without reproach from lines of heroes are stigmatized as cowards, and the honest and conscientious are reproached as miserly, mean, and dishonourable. Such is the spirit of party. “I have privately,” thus writes the poet to Heron, “printed a good many copies of the ballads, and have sent them among friends about the country. You have already, as your auxiliary, the sober detestation of mankind on the heads of your opponents; find I swear by the lyre of Thalia, to muster on your side all the votaries of honest laughter and fair, candid ridicule.” The ridicule was uncandid, and the laughter dishonest. The poet was unfortunate in his political attachments: Miller gained the[lii] boroughs which Burns wished he might lose, and Heron lost the county which he foretold he would gain. It must also be recorded against the good taste of the poet, that he loved to recite “The Heron Ballads,” and reckon them among his happiest compositions.

From attacking others, the poet was—in the interval between penning these election lampoons—called on to defend himself: for this he seems to have been quite unprepared, though in those yeasty times he might have expected it. “I have been surprised, confounded, and distracted,” he thus writes to Graham, of Fintray, “by Mr. Mitchell, the collector, telling me that he has received an order from your board to inquire into my political conduct, and blaming me as a person disaffected to government. Sir, you are a husband and a father: you know what you would feel, to see the much-loved wife of your bosom, and your helpless prattling little ones, turned adrift into the world, degraded and disgraced, from a situation in which they had been respectable and respected. I would not tell a deliberate falsehood, no, not though even worse horrors, if worse can be than those I have mentioned, hung over my head, and I say that the allegation, whatever villain has made it, is a lie! To the British constitution, on Revolution principles, next after my God, I am devotedly attached. To your patronage as a man of some genius, you have allowed me a claim; and your esteem as an honest man I know is my due. To these, sir, permit me to appeal: by these I adjure you to save me from that misery which threatens to overwhelm me, and which with my latest breath I will say I have not deserved.” In this letter, another, intended for the eye of the Commissioners of the Board of Excise, was enclosed, in which he disclaimed entertaining the idea of a British republic—a wild dream of the day—but stood by the principles of the constitution of 1688, with the wish to see such corruptions as had crept in, amended. This last remark, it appears, by a letter from the poet to Captain Erskine, afterwards Earl of Mar, gave great offence, for Corbet, one of the superiors, was desired to inform him, “that his business was to act, and not to think; and that whatever might be men or measures, it was his duty to be silent and obedient.” The intercession of Fintray, and the explanations of Burns, were so far effectual, that his political offense was forgiven, “only I understand,” said he, “that all hopes of my getting officially forward are blasted.” The records of the Excise Office exhibit no trace of this memorable matter, and two noblemen, who were then in the government, have assured me that this harsh proceeding received no countenance at head-quarters, and must have originated with some ungenerous or malicious person, on whom the poet had spilt a little of the nitric acid of his wrath.

That Burns was numbered among the republicans of Dumfries I well remember: but then those who held different sentiments from the men in power, were all, in that loyal town, stigmatized as democrats: that he either desired to see the constitution changed, or his country invaded by the liberal French, who proposed to set us free with the bayonet, and then admit us to the “fraternal embrace,” no one ever believed. It is true that he spoke of premiers and peers with contempt; that he hesitated to take off his hat in the theatre, to the air of “God save the king;” that he refused to drink the health of Pitt, saying he preferred that of Washington—a far greater man; that he wrote bitter words against that combination of princes, who desired to put down freedom in France; that he said the titled spurred and the wealthy switched England and Scotland like two hack-horses; and that all the high places of the land, instead of being filled by genius and talent, were occupied, as were the high-places of Israel, with idols of wood or of stone. But all this and more had been done and said before by thousands in this land, whose love of their country was never questioned. That it was bad taste to refuse to remove his hat when other heads were bared, and little better to refuse to pledge in company the name of Pitt, because he preferred Washington, cannot admit of a doubt; but that he deserved to be written down traitor, for mere matters of whim or caprice, or to be turned out of the unenvied situation of “gauging auld wives’ barrels,” because he thought there were some stains on the white robe of the constitution, seems a sort of tyranny new in the history of oppression. His love of country is recorded in too many undying lines to admit of a doubt now: nor is it that chivalrous love alone which men call romantic; it is a love which may be laid up in every man’s heart and practised in every man’s life; the words are homely, but the words of Burns are always expressive:[liii]

“The kettle of the kirk and state
Perhaps a clout may fail in’t,
But deil a foreign tinkler loon
Shall ever ca’ a nail in’t.
Be Britons still to Britons true,
Amang ourselves united;
For never but by British hands
Shall British wrongs be righted.”

But while verses, deserving as these do to become the national motto, and sentiments loyal and generous, were overlooked and forgotten, all his rash words about freedom, and his sarcastic sallies about thrones and kings, were treasured up to his injury, by the mean and the malicious. His steps were watched and his words weighed; when he talked with a friend in the street, he was supposed to utter sedition; and when ladies retired from the table, and the wine circulated with closed doors, he was suspected of treason rather than of toasting, which he often did with much humour, the charms of woman; even when he gave as a sentiment, “May our success be equal to the justice of our cause,” he was liable to be challenged by some gunpowder captain, who thought that we deserved success in war, whether right or wrong. It is true that he hated with a most cordial hatred all who presumed on their own consequence, whether arising from wealth, titles, or commissions in the army; officers he usually called “the epauletted puppies,” and lords he generally spoke of as “feather-headed fools,” who could but strut and stare and be no answer in kind to retort his satiric flings, his unfriends reported that it was unsafe for young men to associate with one whose principles were democratic, and scarcely either modest or safe for young women to listen to a poet whose notions of female virtue were so loose and his songs so free. These sentiments prevailed so far that a gentleman on a visit from London, told me he was dissuaded from inviting Burns to a dinner, given by way of welcome back to his native place, because he was the associate of democrats and loose people; and when a modest dame of Dumfries expressed, through a friend, a wish to have but the honour of speaking to one of whose genius she was an admirer, the poet declined the interview, with a half-serious smile, saying, “Alas! she is handsome, and you know the character publicly assigned to me.” She escaped the danger of being numbered, it is likely, with the Annas and the Chlorises of his freer strains.

The neglect of his country, the tyranny of the Excise, and the downfall of his hopes and fortunes, were now to bring forth their fruits—the poet’s health began to decline. His drooping looks, his neglect of his person, his solitary saunterings, his escape from the stings of reflection into socialities, and his distempered joy in the company of beauty, all spoke, as plainly as with a tongue, of a sinking heart and a declining body. Yet though he was sensible of sinking health, hope did not at once desert him: he continued to pour out such tender strains, and to show such flashes of wit and humour at the call of Thomson, as are recorded of no other lyrist: neither did he, when in company after his own mind, hang the head, and speak mournfully, but talked and smiled and still charmed all listeners by his witty vivacities.

On the 20th of June, 1795, he writes thus of his fortunes and condition to his friend Clarke, “Still, still the victim of affliction; were you to see the emaciated figure who now holds the pen to you, you would not know your old friend. Whether I shall ever get about again is only known to HIM, the Great Unknown, whoso creature I am. Alas, Clarke, I begin to fear the worst! As to my individual self I am tranquil, and would despise myself if I were not: but Burns’s poor widow and half-a-dozen of his dear little ones, helpless orphans! Here I am as weak as a woman’s tear. Enough of this! ’tis half my disease. I duly received your last, enclosing the note: it came extremely in time, and I am much obliged to your punctuality. Again I must request you to do me the same kindness. Be so very good as by return of post to enclose me another note: I trust you can do so without inconvenience, and it will seriously oblige me. If I must go, I leave a few friends behind me, whom I shall regret while consciousness remains. I know I shall live in their remembrance. O, dear, dear Clarke! that I shall ever see you again is I am afraid highly improbable.” This remarkable letter proves both the declining health, and the poverty of the poet: his digestion was so bad that he could taste neither flesh nor fish: porridge and milk he[liv] could alone swallow, and that but in small quantities. When it is recollected that he had no more than thirty shillings a week to keep house, and live like a gentleman, no one need wonder that his wife had to be obliged to a generous neighbour for some of the chief necessaries for her coming confinement, and that the poet had to beg, in extreme need, two guinea notes from a distant friend.

His sinking state was not unobserved by his friends, and Syme and M’Murdo united with Dr. Maxwell in persuading him, at the beginning of the summer, to seek health at the Brow-well, a few miles east of Dumfries, where there were pleasant walks on the Solway-side, and salubrious breezes from the sea, which it was expected would bring the health to the poet they had brought to many. For a while, his looks brightened up, and health seemed inclined to return: his friend, the witty and accomplished Mrs. Riddel, who was herself ailing, paid him a visit. “I was struck,” she said, “with his appearance on entering the room: the stamp of death was impressed on his features. His first words were, ‘Well, Madam, have you any commands for the other world?’ I replied that it seemed a doubtful case which of us should be there soonest; he looked in my face with an air of great kindness, and expressed his concern at seeing me so ill, with his usual sensibility. At table he ate little or nothing: we had a long conversation about his present state, and the approaching termination of all his earthly prospects. He showed great concern about his literary fame, and particularly the publication of his posthumous works; he said he was well aware that his death would occasion some noise, and that every scrap of his writing would be revived against him, to the injury of his future reputation; that letters and verses, written with unguarded freedom, would be handed about by vanity or malevolence when no dread of his resentment would restrain them, or prevent malice or envy from pouring forth their venom on his name. I had seldom seen his mind greater, or more collected. There was frequently a considerable degree of vivacity in his sallies; but the concern and dejection I could not disguise, damped the spirit of pleasantry he seemed willing to indulge.” This was on the evening of the 5th of July; another lady who called to see him, found him seated at a window, gazing on the sun, then setting brightly on the summits of the green hills of Nithsdale. “Look how lovely the sun is,” said the poet, “but he will soon have done with shining for me.”

He now longed for home: his wife, whom he ever tenderly loved, was about to be confined in child-bed: his papers were in sad confusion, and required arrangement; and he felt that desire to die, at least, among familiar things and friendly faces, so common to our nature. He had not long before, though much reduced in pocket, refused with scorn an offer of fifty pounds, which a speculating bookseller made, for leave to publish his looser compositions; he had refused an offer of the like sum yearly, from Perry of the Morning Chronicle, for poetic contributions to his paper, lest it might embroil him with the ruling powers, and he had resented the remittance of five pounds from Thomson, on account of his lyric contributions, and desired him to do so no more, unless he wished to quarrel with him; but his necessities now, and they had at no time been so great, induced him to solicit five pounds from Thomson, and ten pounds from his cousin, James Burness, of Montrose, and to beg his friend Alexander Cunningham to intercede with the Commissioners of Excise, to depart from their usual practice, and grant him his full salary; “for without that,” he added, “if I die not of disease, I must perish with hunger.” Thomson sent the five pounds, James Burness sent the ten, but the Commissioners of Excise refused to be either merciful or generous. Stobie, a young expectant in the customs, was both;—he performed the duties of the dying poet, and refused to touch the salary. The mind of Burns was haunted with the fears of want and the terrors of a jail; nor were those fears without foundation; one Williamson, to whom he was indebted for the cloth to make his volunteer regimentals, threatened the one; and a feeling that he was without money for either his own illness or the confinement of his wife, threatened the other.

Burns returned from the Brow-well, on the 18th of July: as he walked from the little carriage which brought him up the Mill hole-brae to his own door, he trembled much, and stooped with weakness and pain, and kept his feet with difficulty: his looks were woe-worn and ghastly, and no one who saw him, and there were several, expected to see him again in life. It was soon circulated through Dumfries, that Burns had returned worse from the Brow-well; that Maxwell thought ill of him, and that, in truth, he was dying. The anxiety of all classes was great; dif[lv]ferences of opinion were forgotten, in sympathy for his early fate: wherever two or three were met together their talk was of Burns, of his rare wit, matchless humour, the vivacity of his conversation, and the kindness of his heart. To the poet himself, death, which he now knew was at hand, brought with it no fear; his good-humour, which small matters alone ruffled, did not forsake him, and his wit was ever ready. He was poor—he gave his pistols, which he had used against the smugglers on the Solway, to his physician, adding with a smile, that he had tried them and found them an honour to their maker, which was more than he could say of the bulk of mankind! He was proud—he remembered the indifferent practice of the corps to which he belonged, and turning to Gibson, one of his fellow-soldiers, who stood at his bedside with wet eyes, “John,” said he, and a gleam of humour passed over his face, “pray don’t let the awkward-squad fire over me.” It was almost the last act of his life to copy into his Common-place Book, the letters which contained the charge against him of the Commissioners of Excise, and his own eloquent refutation, leaving judgment to be pronounced by the candour of posterity.

It has been injuriously said of Burns, by Coleridge, that the man sunk, but the poet was bright to the last: he did not sink in the sense that these words imply: the man was manly to the latest draught of breath. That he was a poet to the last, can be proved by facts, as well as by the word of the author of Christabel. As he lay silently growing weaker and weaker, he observed Jessie Lewars, a modest and beautiful young creature, and sister to one of his brethren of the Excise, watching over him with moist eyes, and tending him with the care of a daughter; he rewarded her with one of those songs which are an insurance against forgetfulness. The lyrics of the north have nothing finer than this exquisite stanza:—

“Altho’ thou maun never be mine,
Altho’ even hope is denied,
’Tis sweeter for thee despairing,
Than aught in the world beside.”

His thoughts as he lay wandered to Charlotte Hamilton, and he dedicated some beautiful stanzas to her beauty and her coldness, beginning, “Fairest maid on Devon banks.”

It was a sad sight to see the poet gradually sinking; his wife in hourly expectation of her sixth confinement, and his four helpless children—a daughter, a sweet child, had died the year before—with no one of their lineage to soothe them with kind words or minister to their wants. Jessie Lewars, with equal prudence and attention, watched over them all: she could not help seeing that the thoughts of the desolation which his death would bring, pressed sorely on him, for he loved his children, and hoped much from his boys. He wrote to his father-in-law, James Armour, at Mauchline, that he was dying, his wife nigh her confinement, and begged that his mother-in-law would hasten to them and speak comfort. He wrote to Mrs. Dunlop, saying, “I have written to you so often without receiving any answer that I would not trouble you again, but for the circumstances in which I am. An illness which has long hung about me in all probability will speedily send me beyond that bourne whence no traveller returns. Your friendship, with which for many years you honoured me, was a friendship dearest to my soul: your conversation and your correspondence were at once highly entertaining and instructive—with what pleasure did I use to break up the seal! The remembrance yet adds one pulse more to my poor palpitating heart. Farewell!” A tremor pervaded his frame; his tongue grew parched, and he was at times delirious: on the fourth day after his return, when his attendant, James Maclure, held his medicine to his lips, he swallowed it eagerly, rose almost wholly up, spread out his hands, sprang forward nigh the whole length of the bed, fell on his face, and expired. He died on the 21st of July, when nearly thirty-seven years and seven months old.

The burial of Burns, on the 25th of July, was an impressive and mournful scene: half the people of Nithsdale and the neighbouring parts of Galloway had crowded into Dumfries, to see their poet “mingled with the earth,” and not a few had been permitted to look at his body, laid out for interment. It was a calm and beautiful day, and as the body was borne along the street towards the old kirk-yard, by his brethren of the volunteers, not a sound was heard but the measured step and the solemn music: there was no impatient crushing, no fierce elbowing—the[lvi] crowd which filled the street seemed conscious of what they were now losing for ever. Even while this pageant was passing, the widow of the poet was taken in labour; but the infant born in that unhappy hour soon shared his father’s grave. On reaching the northern nook of the kirk-yard, where the grave was made, the mourners halted; the coffin was divested of the mort-cloth, and silently lowered to its resting-place, and as the first shovel-full of earth fell on the lid, the volunteers, too agitated to be steady, justified the fears of the poet, by three ragged volleys. He who now writes this very brief and imperfect account, was present: he thought then, as he thinks now, that all the military array of foot and horse did not harmonize with either the genius or the fortunes of the poet, and that the tears which he saw on many cheeks around, as the earth was replaced, were worth all the splendour of a show which mocked with unintended mockery the burial of the poor and neglected Burns. The body of the poet was, on the 5th of June, 1815, removed to a more commodious spot in the same burial-ground—his dark, and waving locks looked then fresh and glossy—to afford room for a marble monument, which embodies, with neither skill nor grace, that well-known passage in the dedication to the gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt:—“The poetic genius of my country found me, as the prophetic bard, Elijah, did Elisha, at the plough, and threw her inspiring mantle over me.” The dust of the bard was again disturbed, when the body of Mrs. Burns was laid, in April, 1834, beside the remains of her husband: his skull was dug up by the district craniologists, to satisfy their minds by measurement that he was equal to the composition of “Tam o’ Shanter,” or “Mary in Heaven.” This done, they placed the skull in a leaden box, “carefully lined with the softest materials,” and returned it, we hope for ever, to the hallowed ground.

Thus lived and died Robert Burns, the chief of Scottish poets: in his person he was tall and sinewy, and of such strength and activity, that Scott alone, of all the poets I have seen, seemed his equal: his forehead was broad, his hair black, with an inclination to curl, his visage uncommonly swarthy, his eyes large, dark and lustrous, and his voice deep and manly. His sensibility was strong, his passions full to overflowing, and he loved, nay, adored, whatever was gentle and beautiful. He had, when a lad at the plough, an eloquent word and an inspired song for every fair face that smiled on him, and a sharp sarcasm or a fierce lampoon for every rustic who thwarted or contradicted him. As his first inspiration came from love, he continued through life to love on, and was as ready with the lasting incense of the muse for the ladies of Nithsdale as for the lasses of Kyle: his earliest song was in praise of a young girl who reaped by his side, when he was seventeen—his latest in honour of a lady by whose side he had wandered and dreamed on the banks of the Devon. He was of a nature proud and suspicious, and towards the close of his life seemed disposed to regard all above him in rank as men who unworthily possessed the patrimony of genius: he desired to see the order of nature restored, and worth and talent in precedence of the base or the dull. He had no medium in his hatred or his love; he never spared the stupid, as if they were not to be endured because he was bright; and on the heads of the innocent possessors of titles or wealth he was ever ready to shower his lampoons. He loved to start doubts in religion which he knew inspiration only could solve, and he spoke of Calvinism with a latitude of language that grieved pious listeners. He was warm-hearted and generous to a degree, above all men, and scorned all that was selfish and mean with a scorn quite romantic. He was a steadfast friend and a good neighbour: while he lived at Ellisland few passed his door without being entertained at his table; and even when in poverty, on the Millhole-brae, the poor seldom left his door but with blessings on their lips.

Of his modes of study he has himself informed us, as well as of the seasons and the places in which he loved to muse. He composed while he strolled along the secluded banks of the Doon, the Ayr, or the Nith: as the images crowded on his fancy his pace became quickened, and in his highest moods he was excited even to tears. He loved the winter for its leafless trees, its swelling floods, and its winds which swept along the gloomy sky, with frost and snow on their wings: but he loved the autumn more—he has neglected to say why—the muse was then more liberal of her favours, and he composed with a happy alacrity unfelt in all other seasons. He filled his mind and heart with the materials of song—and retired from gazing on woman’s beauty,[lvii] and from the excitement of her charms, to record his impressions in verse, as a painter delineates oil his canvas the looks of those who sit to his pencil. His chief place of study at Ellisland is still remembered: it extends along the river-bank towards the Isle: there the neighbouring gentry love to walk and peasants to gather, and hold it sacred, as the place where he composed Tam O’ Shanter. His favourite place of study when residing in Dumfries, was the ruins of Lincluden College, made classic by that sublime ode, “The Vision,” and that level and clovery sward contiguous to the College, on the northern side of the Nith: the latter place was his favourite resort; it is known now by the name of Burns’s musing ground, and there he conceived many of his latter lyrics. In case of interruption he completed the verses at the fireside, where he swung to and fro in his arm-chair till the task was done: he then submitted the song to the ordeal of his wife’s voice, which was both sweet and clear, and while she sung he listened attentively, and altered or amended till the whole was in harmony, music and words.

The genius of Burns is of a high order: in brightness of expression and unsolicited ease and natural vehemence of language, he stands in the first rank of poets: in choice of subjects, in happiness of conception, and loftiness of imagination, he recedes into the second. He owes little of his fame to his objects, for, saving the beauty of a few ladies, they were all of an ordinary kind: he sought neither in romance nor in history for themes to the muse; he took up topics from life around which were familiar to all, and endowed them with character, with passion, with tenderness, with humour—elevating all that he touched into the regions of poetry and morals. He went to no far lands for the purpose of surprising us with wonders, neither did he go to crowns or coronets to attract the stare of the peasantry around him, by things which to them were as a book shut and sealed: “The Daisy” grew on the lands which he ploughed; “The Mouse” built her frail nest on his own stubble-field; “The Haggis” reeked on his own table; “The Scotch Drink” of which he sang was the produce of a neighbouring still; “The Twa Dogs,” which conversed so wisely and wittily, were, one of them at least, his own collies; “The Vision” is but a picture, and a brilliant one, of his own hopes and fears; “Tam Samson” was a friend whom he loved; “Doctor Hornbook” a neighbouring pedant; “Matthew Henderson” a social captain on half-pay; “The Scotch Bard” who had gone to the West Indies was Burns himself; the heroine of “The Lament,” was Jean Armour; and “Tam O’ Shanter” a facetious farmer of Kyle, who rode late and loved pleasant company, nay, even “The Deil” himself, whom he had the hardihood to address, was a being whose eldrich croon bad alarmed the devout matrons of Kyle, and had wandered, not unseen by the bard himself, among the lonely glens of the Doon. Burns was one of the first to teach the world that high moral poetry resided in the humblest subjects: whatever he touched became elevated; his spirit possessed and inspired the commonest topics, and endowed them with life and beauty.

His songs have all the beauties and but few of them the faults of his poems: they flow to the music as readily as if both air and words came into the world together. The sentiments are from nature, they are rarely strained or forced, and the words dance in their places and echo the music in its pastoral sweetness, social glee, or in the tender and the moving. He seems always to write with woman’s eye upon him: he is gentle, persuasive and impassioned: he appears to watch her looks, and pours out his praise or his complaint according to the changeful moods of her mind. He looks on her, too, with a sculptor’s as well as a poet’s eye: to him who works in marble, the diamonds, emeralds, pearls, and elaborate ornaments of gold, but load and injure the harmony of proportion, the grace of form, and divinity of sentiment of his nymph or his goddess—so with Burns the fashion of a lady’s boddice, the lustre of her satins, or the sparkle of her diamonds, or other finery with which wealth or taste has loaded her, are neglected us idle frippery; while her beauty, her form, or her mind, matters which are of nature and not of fashion, are remembered and praised. He is none of the millinery bards, who deal in scented silks, spider-net laces, rare gems, set in rarer workmanship, and who shower diamonds and pearls by the bushel on a lady’s locks: he makes bright eyes, flushing cheeks, the magic of the tongue, and the “pulses’ maddening play” perform all. His songs are, in general, pastoral pictures: he seldom finishes a portrait of female beauty without enclosing it in a natural frame-work of waving woods, running streams, the melody of birds, and the lights of heaven.[lviii] Those who desire to feel Burns in all his force, must seek some summer glen, when a country girl searches among his many songs for one which sympathizes with her own heart, and gives it full utterance, till wood and vale is filled with the melody. It is remarkable that the most naturally elegant and truly impassioned songs in our literature were written by a ploughman in honour of the rustic lasses around him.

His poetry is all life and energy, and bears the impress of a warm heart and a clear understanding: it abounds with passions and opinions—vivid pictures of rural happiness and the raptures of successful love, all fresh from nature and observation, and not as they are seen through the spectacles of books. The wit of the clouted shoe is there without its coarseness: there is a prodigality of humour without licentiousness, a pathos ever natural and manly, a social joy akin sometimes to sadness, a melancholy not unallied to mirth, and a sublime morality which seeks to elevate and soothe. To a love of man he added an affection for the flowers of the valley, the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the field: he perceived the tie of social sympathy which united animated with unanimated nature, and in many of his finest poems most beautifully he has enforced it. His thoughts are original and his style new and unborrowed: all that he has written is distinguished by a happy carelessness, a bounding elasticity of spirit, and a singular felicity of expression, simple yet inimitable; he is familiar yet dignified, careless, yet correct, and concise, yet clear and full. All this and much more is embodied in the language of humble life—a dialect reckoned barbarous by scholars, but which, coming from the lips of inspiration, becomes classic and elevated.

The prose of this great poet has much of the original merit of his verse, but it is seldom so natural and so sustained: it abounds with fine outflashings and with a genial warmth and vigour, but it is defaced by false ornament and by a constant anxiety to say fine and forcible things. He seems not to know that simplicity was as rare and as needful a beauty in prose as in verse; he covets the pauses of Sterne and the point and antithesis of Junius, like one who believes that to write prose well he must be ever lively, ever pointed, and ever smart. Yet the account which he wrote of himself to Dr. Moore is one of the most spirited and natural narratives in the language, and composed in a style remote from the strained and groped-for witticisms and put-on sensibilities of many of his letters:—“Simple,” as John Wilson says, “we may well call it; rich in fancy, overflowing in feeling, and dashed off in every other paragraph with the easy boldness of a great master.”



[The first edition, printed at Kilmarnock, July, 1786, by John Wilson, bore on the title-page these simple words:—“Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns;” the following motto, marked “Anonymous,” but evidently the poet’s own composition, was more ambitious:—

“The simple Bard, unbroke by rules of art,
He pours the wild effusions of the heart:
And if inspired, ’tis nature’s pow’rs inspire—
Hers all the melting thrill, and hers the kindling fire.”]

The following trifles are not the production of the Poet, who, with all the advantages of learned art, and perhaps amid the elegancies and idlenesses of upper life, looks down for a rural theme with an eye to Theocritus or Virgil. To the author of this, these, and other celebrated names their countrymen, are, at least in their original language, a fountain shut up, and a book sealed. Unacquainted with the necessary requisites for commencing poet by rule, he sings the sentiments and manners he felt and saw in himself and his rustic compeers around him in his and their native language. Though a rhymer from his earliest years, at least from the earliest impulse of the softer passions, it was not till very lately that the applause, perhaps the partiality, of friendship awakened his vanity so for as to make him think anything of his worth showing: and none of the following works were composed with a view to the press. To amuse himself with the little creations of his own fancy, amid the toil and fatigue of a laborious life; to transcribe the various feelings—the loves, the griefs, the hopes, the fears—in his own breast; to find some kind of counterpoise to the struggles of a world, always an alien scene, a task uncouth to the poetical mind—these were his motives for courting the Muses, and in these he found poetry to be its own reward.

Now that he appears in the public character of an author, he does it with fear and trembling. So dear is fame to the rhyming tribe, that even he, an obscure, nameless Bard, shrinks aghast at the thought of being branded as—an impertinent blockhead,[lx] obtruding his nonsense on the world; and, because he can make a shift to jingle a few doggerel Scotch rhymes together, looking upon himself as a poet of no small consequence, forsooth!

It is an observation of that celebrated poet, Shenstone, whose divine elegies do honour to our language, our nation, and our species, that “Humility has depressed many a genius to a hermit, but never raised one to fame!” If any critic catches at the word genius the author tells him, once for all, that he certainly looks upon himself as possessed of some poetic abilities, otherwise his publishing in the manner he has done would be a manœuvre below the worst character, which, he hopes, his worst enemy will ever give him. But to the genius of a Ramsay, or the glorious dawnings of the poor, unfortunate Fergusson, he, with equal unaffected sincerity, declares, that even in his highest pulse of vanity, he has not the most distant pretensions. These two justly admired Scotch poets he has often had in his eye in the following pieces, but rather with a view to kindle at their flame, than for servile imitation.

To his Subscriber, the Author returns his most sincere thanks. Not the mercenary bow over a counter, but the heart-throbbing gratitude of the Bard, conscious how much he owes to benevolence and friendship for gratifying him, if he deserves it, in that dearest wish of every poetic bosom—to be distinguished. He begs his readers, particularly the learned and the polite, who may honour him with a perusal, that they will make every allowance for education and circumstances of life; but if, after a fair, candid, and impartial criticism, he shall stand convicted of dulness and nonsense, let him be done by as he would in that case do by others—let him be condemned, without mercy, in contempt and oblivion.









[This is one of the earliest of the poet’s recorded compositions: it was written before the death of his father, and is called by Gilbert Burns, ‘a juvenile production.’ To walk by a river while flooded, or through a wood on a rough winter day, and hear the storm howling among the leafless trees, exalted the poet’s thoughts. “In such a season,” he said, “just after a train of misfortunes, I composed Winter, a Dirge.”]

The wintry west extends his blast,
And hail and rain does blaw;
Or the stormy north sends driving forth
The blinding sleet and snaw;
While tumbling brown, the burn comes down,
And roars frae bank to brae;
And bird and beast in covert rest,
And pass the heartless day.
“The sweeping blast, the sky o’ercast,”[1]
The joyless winter day
Let others fear, to me more dear
Than all the pride of May:
The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul,
My griefs it seems to join;
The leafless trees my fancy please,
Their fate resembles mine!
Thou Power Supreme, whose mighty scheme
These woes of mine fulfil,
Here, firm, I rest, they must be best,
Because they are Thy will!
Then all I want (O, do thou grant
This one request of mine!)
Since to enjoy Thou dost deny,
Assist me to resign!


[1] Dr. Young.








[This tale is partly true; the poet’s pet ewe got entangled in her tether, and tumbled into a ditch; the face of ludicrous and awkward sorrow with which this was related by Hughoc, the herd-boy, amused Burns so much, who was on his way to the plough, that he immediately composed the poem, and repeated it to his brother Gilbert when they met in the evening; the field where the poet held the plough, and the ditch into which poor Mailie fell, are still pointed out.]

As Mailie, an’ her lambs thegither,
Were ae day nibbling on the tether,
Upon her cloot she coost a hitch,
An’ owre she warsl’d in the ditch:
There, groaning, dying, she did lie,
When Hughoc[2] he cam doytin by.
Wi’ glowing e’en an’ lifted han’s,
Poor Hughoc like a statue stan’s;
He saw her days were near-hand ended,
But, waes my heart! he could na mend it!
He gaped wide but naething spak—
At length poor Mailie silence brak.
“O thou, whose lamentable face
Appears to mourn my woefu’ case!
My dying words attentive hear,
An’ bear them to my master dear.
“Tell him, if e’er again he keep
As muckle gear as buy a sheep,
O bid him never tie them mair
Wi’ wicked strings o’ hemp or hair!
[62]But ca’ them out to park or hill,
An’ let them wander at their will;
So may his flock increase, and grow
To scores o’ lambs, an’ packs of woo’!
“Tell him he was a master kin’
An’ ay was gude to me an’ mine;
An’ now my dying charge I gie him,
My helpless lambs, I trust them wi’ him.
“O, bid him save their harmless lives
Frae dogs, and tods, an’ butchers’ knives!
But gie them guid cow-milk their fill,
Till they be fit to fend themsel;
An’ tent them duly, e’en an’ morn,
Wi’ teats o’ hay, an’ ripps o’ corn.
“An’ may they never learn the gaets
Of ither vile, wanrestfu’ pets!
To sink thro’ slaps, an’ reave an’ steal
At stacks o’ pease, or stocks o’ kail.
So may they, like their great forbears,
For monie a year come thro’ the sheers;
So wives will gie them bits o’ bread,
An’ bairns greet for them when they’re dead.
“My poor toop-lamb, my son an’ heir,
O, bid him breed him up wi’ care;
An’ if he live to be a beast,
To pit some havins in his breast!
An’ warn him what I winna name,
To stay content wi’ yowes at hame
An’ no to rin an’ wear his cloots,
Like ither menseless, graceless brutes.
“An’ niest my yowie, silly thing,
Gude keep thee frae a tether string!
O, may thou ne’er forgather up
Wi’ ony blastit, moorland toop,
But ay keep mind to moop an’ mell
Wi’ sheep o’ credit like thysel!
“And now, my bairns, wi’ my last breath
I lea’e my blessin wi’ you baith:
An’ when you think upo’ your mither,
Mind to be kind to ane anither.
“Now, honest Hughoc, dinna fail
To tell my master a’ my tale;
An’ bid him burn this cursed tether,
An’, for thy pains, thou’se get my blather.”
This said, poor Mailie turn’d her head,
And clos’d her een amang the dead.


[2] A neibor herd-callan.



[Burns, when he calls on the bards of Ayr and Doon to join in the lament for Mailie, intimates that he regards himself as a poet. Hogg calls it a very elegant morsel: but says that it resembles too closely “The Ewie and the Crooked Horn,” to be admired as original: the shepherd might have remembered that they both resemble Sempill’s “Life and death of the Piper of Kilbarchan.”]

Lament in rhyme, lament in prose,
Wi’ saut tears trickling down your nose;
Our bardie’s fate is at a close,
Past a’ remead;
The last sad cape-stane of his woes;
Poor Mailie’s dead.
It’s no the loss o’ warl’s gear,
That could sae bitter draw the tear,
Or mak our bardie, dowie, wear
The mourning weed;
He’s lost a friend and neebor dear,
In Mailie dead.
Thro’ a’ the toun she trotted by him;
A long half-mile she could descry him;
Wi’ kindly bleat, when she did spy him,
She run wi’ speed:
A friend mair faithfu’ ne’er cam nigh him,
Than Mailie dead.
I wat she was a sheep o’ sense,
An’ could behave hersel wi’ mense:
I’ll say’t, she never brak a fence,
Thro’ thievish greed.
Our bardie, tamely, keeps the spence
Sin’ Mailie’s dead.
Or, if he wonders up the howe,
Her living image in her yowe
Comes bleating to him, owre the knowe,
For bits o’ bread;
An’ down the briny pearls rowe
For Mailie dead.
She was nae get o’ moorland tips,[3]
Wi’ tawted ket, an hairy hips;
[63]For her forbears were brought in ships
Frae yont the Tweed:
A bonnier fleesh ne’er cross’d the clips
Than Mailie dead.
Wae worth the man wha first did shape
That vile, wanchancie thing—a rape!
It maks guid fellows girn an’ gape,
Wi’ chokin dread;
An’ Robin’s bonnet wave wi’ crape,
For Mailie dead.
O, a’ ye bards on bonnie Doon!
An’ wha on Ayr your chanters tune!
Come, join the melancholious croon
O’ Robin’s reed!
His heart will never get aboon!
His Mailie’s dead!



‘She was nae get o’ runted rams,
Wi’ woo’ like goats an’ legs like trams;
She was the flower o’ Farlie lambs,
A famous breed!
Now Robin, greetin, chews the hams
O’ Mailie dead.’




[In the summer of 1781, Burns, while at work in the garden, repeated this Epistle to his brother Gilbert, who was much pleased with the performance, which he considered equal if not superior to some of Allan Ramsay’s Epistles, and said if it were printed he had no doubt that it would be well received by people of taste.]

January, [1784.]


While winds frae aff Ben-Lomond blaw,
And bar the doors wi’ driving snaw,
And hing us owre the ingle,
I set me down to pass the time,
And spin a verse or twa o’ rhyme,
In hamely westlin jingle.
While frosty winds blaw in the drift,
Ben to the chimla lug,
I grudge a wee the great folks’ gift,
That live sae bien an’ snug:
I tent less and want less
Their roomy fire-side;
But hanker and canker
To see their cursed pride.


It’s hardly in a body’s power
To keep, at times, frae being sour,
To see how things are shar’d;
How best o’ chiels are whiles in want.
While coofs on countless thousands rant,
And ken na how to wair’t;
But Davie, lad, ne’er fash your head,
Tho’ we hae little gear,
We’re fit to win our daily bread,
As lang’s we’re hale and fier:
“Muir spier na, nor fear na,”[4]
Auld age ne’er mind a feg,
The last o’t, the warst o’t,
Is only but to beg.


To lie in kilns and barns at e’en
When banes are craz’d, and bluid is thin,
Is, doubtless, great distress!
Yet then content could make us blest;
Ev’n then, sometimes we’d snatch a taste
O’ truest happiness.
The honest heart that’s free frae a’
Intended fraud or guile,
However Fortune kick the ba’,
Has ay some cause to smile:
And mind still, you’ll find still,
A comfort this nae sma’;
Nae mair then, we’ll care then,
Nae farther we can fa’.


What tho’, like commoners of air,
We wander out we know not where,
But either house or hall?
Yet nature’s charms, the hills and woods,
The sweeping vales, and foaming floods,
Are free alike to all.
In days when daisies deck the ground,
And blackbirds whistle clear,
With honest joy our hearts will bound
To see the coming year:
On braes when we please, then,
We’ll sit and sowth a tune;
Syne rhyme till’t we’ll time till’t,
And sing’t when we hae done.


It’s no in titles nor in rank;
It’s no in wealth like Lon’on bank,
To purchase peace and rest;
It’s no in makin muckle mair;
It’s no in books, it’s no in lear,
To make us truly blest;
[64]If happiness hae not her seat
And centre in the breast,
We may be wise, or rich, or great,
But never can be blest:
Nae treasures, nor pleasures,
Could make us happy lang;
The heart ay’s the part ay
That makes us right or wrang.


Think ye, that sic as you and I,
Wha drudge and drive thro’ wet an’ dry,
Wi’ never-ceasing toil;
Think ye, are we less blest than they,
Wha scarcely tent us in their way,
As hardly worth their while?
Alas! how aft, in haughty mood
God’s creatures they oppress!
Or else, neglecting a’ that’s guid,
They riot in excess!
Baith careless and fearless
Of either heaven or hell!
Esteeming and deeming
It’s a’ an idle tale!


Then let us cheerfu’ acquiesce;
Nor make one scanty pleasures less,
By pining at our state;
And, even should misfortunes come,
I, here wha sit, hae met wi’ some,
An’s thankfu’ for them yet.
They gie the wit of age to youth;
They let us ken oursel’;
They make us see the naked truth,
The real guid and ill.
Tho’ losses, and crosses,
Be lessons right severe,
There’s wit there, ye’ll get there,
Ye’ll find nae other where.


But tent me, Davie, ace o’ hearts!
(To say aught less wad wrang the cartes,
And flatt’ry I detest,)
This life has joys for you and I;
And joys that riches ne’er could buy:
And joys the very best.
There’s a’ the pleasures o’ the heart,
The lover an’ the frien’;
Ye hae your Meg your dearest part,
And I my darling Jean!
It warms me, it charms me,
To mention but her name:
It heats me, it beets me,
And sets me a’ on flame!


O, all ye pow’rs who rule above!
O, Thou, whose very self art love!
Thou know’st my words sincere!
The life-blood streaming thro’ my heart,
Or my more dear immortal part,
Is not more fondly dear!
When heart-corroding care and grief
Deprive my soul of rest,
Her dear idea brings relief
And solace to my breast.
Thou Being, All-seeing,
O hear my fervent pray’r!
Still take her, and make her
Thy most peculiar care!


All hail, ye tender feelings dear!
The smile of love, the friendly tear,
The sympathetic glow!
Long since, this world’s thorny ways
Had number’d out my weary days,
Had it not been for you!
Fate still has blest me with a friend,
In every care and ill;
And oft a more endearing hand,
A tie more tender still.
It lightens, it brightens
The tenebrific scene,
To meet with, and greet with
My Davie or my Jean!


O, how that name inspires my style
The words come skelpin, rank and file,
Amaist before I ken!
The ready measure rins as fine,
As Phœbus and the famous Nine
Were glowrin owre my pen.
My spaviet Pegasus will limp,
’Till ance he’s fairly het;
And then he’ll hilch, and stilt, and jimp,
An’ rin an unco fit:
But least then, the beast then
Should rue this hasty ride,
I’ll light now, and dight now
His sweaty, wizen’d hide.


[4] Ramsay.





[David Sillar, to whom these epistles are addressed, was at that time master of a country school, and was welcome to Burns both as a scholar and a writer of verse. This epistle he prefixed to his poems printed at Kilmarnock in the year 1789: he loved to speak of his early comrade, and supplied Walker with some very valuable anecdotes: he died one of the magistrates of Irvine, on the 2d of May, 1830, at the age of seventy.]

I’m three times doubly o’er your debtor,
For your auld-farrent, frien’ly letter;
Tho’ I maun say’t, I doubt ye flatter,
Ye speak sae fair.
For my puir, silly, rhymin clatter
Some less maun sair.
Hale be your heart, hale be your fiddle;
Lang may your elbuck jink and diddle,
To cheer you thro’ the weary widdle
O’ war’ly cares,
Till bairn’s bairns kindly cuddle
Your auld, gray hairs.
But Davie, lad, I’m red ye’re glaikit;
I’m tauld the Muse ye hae negleckit;
An’ gif it’s sae, ye sud be licket
Until yo fyke;
Sic hauns as you sud ne’er be faiket,
Be hain’t who like.
For me, I’m on Parnassus’ brink,
Rivin’ the words to gar them clink;
Whyles daez’t wi’ love, whyles daez’t wi’ drink,
Wi’ jads or masons;
An’ whyles, but ay owre late, I think
Braw sober lessons.
Of a’ the thoughtless sons o’ man,
Commen’ me to the Bardie clan;
Except it be some idle plan
O’ rhymin’ clink,
The devil-haet, that I sud ban,
They ever think.
Nae thought, nae view, nae scheme o’ livin’,
Nae cares to gie us joy or grievin’;
But just the pouchie put the nieve in,
An’ while ought’s there,
Then hiltie skiltie, we gae scrievin’,
An’ fash nae mair.
Leeze me on rhyme! it’s aye a treasure,
My chief, amaist my only pleasure,
At hame, a-fiel’, at work, or leisure,
The Muse, poor hizzie!
Tho’ rough an’ raploch be her measure,
She’s seldom lazy.
Haud to the Muse, my dainty Davie:
The warl’ may play you monie a shavie;
But for the Muse she’ll never leave ye,
Tho’ e’er so puir,
Na, even tho’ limpin’ wi’ the spavie
Frae door to door.



“O Prince! O Chief of many throned Pow’rs,
That led th’ embattled Seraphim to war.”


[The beautiful and relenting spirit in which this fine poem finishes moved the heart on one of the coldest of our critics. “It was, I think,” says Gilbert Burns, “in the winter of 1784, as we were going with carts for coals to the family fire, and I could yet point out the particular spot, that Robert first repeated to me the ‘Address to the Deil.’ The idea of the address was suggested to him by running over in his mind the many ludicrous accounts we have of that august personage.”]

O thou! whatever title suit thee,
Auld Hornie, Satan, Kick, or Clootie,
Wha in yon cavern grim an’ sootie,
Closed under hatches,
Spairges about the brunstane cootie,
To scaud poor wretches!
Hear me, auld Hangie, for a wee,
An’ let poor damned bodies be;
I’m sure sma’ pleasure it can gie,
E’en to a deil,
To skelp an’ scaud poor dogs like me,
An’ hear us squeel!
Great is thy pow’r, an’ great thy fame;
Far kend an’ noted is thy name;
An’ tho’ yon lowin heugh’s thy hame,
Thou travels far;
An’, faith! thou’s neither lag nor lame,
Nor blate nor scaur.
Whyles, ranging like a roaring lion,
For prey, a’ holes an’ corners tryin;
Whyles, on the strong-winged tempest flyin,
Tirlin the kirks;
[66]Whiles, in the human bosom pryin,
Unseen thou lurks.
I’ve heard my reverend Graunie say,
In lanely glens ye like to stray;
Or where auld-ruin’d castles, gray,
Nod to the moon,
Ye fright the nightly wand’rer’s way
Wi’ eldricht croon.
When twilight did my Graunie summon,
To say her prayers, douce, honest woman!
Aft yont the dyke she’s heard you bummin,
Wi’ eerie drone;
Or, rustlin, thro’ the boortries comin,
Wi’ heavy groan.
Ae dreary, windy, winter night,
The stars shot down wi’ sklentin light,
Wi’ you, mysel, I gat a fright
Ayont the lough;
Ye, like a rash-buss, stood in sight,
Wi’ waving sough.
The cudgel in my nieve did shake.
Each bristl’d hair stood like a stake,
When wi’ an eldritch, stoor quaick—quaick—
Amang the springs,
Awa ye squatter’d, like a drake,
On whistling wings.
Let warlocks grim, an’ wither’d hags,
Tell how wi’ you, on rag weed nags,
They skim the muirs an’ dizzy crags
Wi’ wicked speed;
And in kirk-yards renew their leagues
Owre howkit dead.
Thence countra wives, wi’ toil an’ pain,
May plunge an’ plunge the kirn in vain:
For, oh! the yellow treasure’s taen
By witching skill;
An’ dawtit, twal-pint hawkie’s gaen
As yell’s the bill.
Thence mystic knots mak great abuse
On young guidmen, fond, keen, an’ crouse;
When the best wark-lume i’ the house
By cantrip wit,
Is instant made no worth a louse,
Just at the bit,
When thowes dissolve the snawy hoord,
An’ float the jinglin icy-boord,
Then water-kelpies haunt the foord,
By your direction;
An’ nighted trav’llers are allur’d
To their destruction.
An’ aft your moss-traversing spunkies
Decoy the wight that late an’ drunk is,
The bleezin, curst, mischievous monkeys
Delude his eyes,
Till in some miry slough he sunk is,
Ne’er mair to rise.
When masons’ mystic word an’ grip
In storms an’ tempests raise you up,
Some cock or cat your rage maun stop,
Or, strange to tell!
The youngest brother ye wad whip
Aff straught to hell!
Lang syne, in Eden’s bonie yard,
When youthfu’ lovers first were pair’d,
An’ all the soul of love they shar’d,
The raptur’d hour,
Sweet on the fragrant, flow’ry sward,
In shady bow’r:
Then you, ye auld, snick-drawing dog!
Ye came to Paradise incog.
An’ play’d on man a cursed brogue,
(Black be your fa’!)
An’ gied the infant world a shog,
‘Maist ruin’d a’.
D’ye mind that day, when in a bizz,
Wi’ reekit duds, an’ reestit gizz,
Ye did present your smoutie phiz
‘Mang better folk,
An’ sklented on the man of Uzz
Your spitefu’ joke?
An’ how ye gat him i’ your thrall,
An’ brak him out o’ house an’ hall,
While scabs an’ botches did him gall,
Wi’ bitter claw,
An’ lows’d his ill tongu’d, wicked scawl,
Was warst ava?
But a’ your doings to rehearse,
Your wily snares an’ fechtin fierce,
Sin’ that day Michael did you pierce,
Down to this time,
Wad ding a’ Lallan tongue, or Erse,
In prose or rhyme.
An’ now, auld Cloots, I ken ye’re thinkin,
A certain Bardie’s rantin, drinkin,
[67]Some luckless hour will send him linkin
To your black pit;
But, faith! he’ll turn a corner jinkin,
An’ cheat you yet.
But fare ye well, auld Nickie-ben!
O wad ye tak a thought an’ men’!
Ye aiblins might—I dinna ken—
Still hae a stake—
I’m wae to think upo’ yon den
Ev’n for your sake!








[“Whenever Burns has occasion,” says Hogg, “to address or mention any subordinate being, however mean, even a mouse or a flower, then there is a gentle pathos in it that awakens the finest feelings of the heart.” The Auld Farmer of Kyle has the spirit of knight-errant, and loves his mare according to the rules of chivalry; and well he might: she carried him safely home from markets, triumphantly from wedding-brooses; she ploughed the stiffest land; faced the steepest brae, and, moreover, bore home his bonnie bride with a consciousness of the loveliness of the load.]

A guid New-year I wish thee, Maggie!
Hae, there’s a rip to thy auld baggie:
Tho’ thou’s howe-backit, now, an’ knaggie,
I’ve seen the day
Thou could hae gaen like onie staggie
Out-owre the lay.
Tho’ now thou’s dowie, stiff, an’ crazy,
An’ thy auld hide as white’s a daisy,
I’ve seen thee dappl’t, sleek, and glaizie,
A bonny gray:
He should been tight that daur’t to raize thee,
Ance in a day.
Thou ance was i’ the foremost rank,
A filly, buirdly, steeve, an’ swank,
An set weel down a shapely shank,
As e’er tread yird;
An’ could hae flown out-owre a stank,
Like ony bird.
It’s now some nine-an’-twenty year,
Sin’ thou was my guid-father’s Meere;
He gied me thee, o’ tocher clear,
An’ fifty mark;
Tho’ it was sma’, ’twas weel-won gear,
An’ thou was stark.
When first I gaed to woo my Jenny,
Ye then was trottin wi’ your minnie:
Tho’ ye was trickle, slee, an’ funny,
Ye ne’er was donsie:
But hamely, tawie, quiet an’ cannie,
An’ unco sonsie.
That day ye pranc’d wi’ muckle pride,
When ye bure hame my bonnie bride:
An’ sweet an’ gracefu’ she did ride,
Wi’ maiden air!
Kyle-Stewart I could bragged wide,
For sic a pair.
Tho’ now ye dow but hoyte and hoble,
An’ wintle like a saumont-coble,
That day, ye was a jinker noble,
For heels an’ win’!
An’ ran them till they a’ did wauble,
Far, far, behin’!
When thou an’ I were young an’ skeigh,
An’ stable-meals at fairs were dreigh,
How thou wad prance, an’ snore, an’ skreigh,
An’ tak the road!
Town’s bodies ran, an’ stood abeigh,
An’ ca’t thee mad.
When thou was corn’t, an’ I was mellow,
We took the road ay like a swallow:
At Brooses thou had ne’er a fellow,
For pith an’ speed;
But every tail thou pay’t them hollow,
Where’er thou gaed.
The sma’, droop-rumpl’t, hunter cattle,
Might aiblins waur’t thee for a brattle;
But sax Scotch miles thou try’t their mettle,
An’ gar’t them whaizle:
Nae whip nor spur, but just a whattle
O’ saugh or hazle.
Thou was a noble fittie-lan’,
As e’er in tug or tow was drawn:
Aft thee an’ I, in aught hours gaun,
In guid March-weather,
Hae turn’d sax rood beside our han’
For days thegither.
Thou never braindg’t, an’ fetch’t, an’ fliskit,
But thy auld tail thou wad hae whiskit,
[68]An’ spread abreed thy weel-fill’d brisket,
Wi’ pith an’ pow’r,
’Till spiritty knowes wad rair’t and risket,
An’ slypet owre.
When frosts lay lang, an’ snaws were deep,
An’ threaten’d labour back to keep,
I gied thy cog a wee-bit heap
Aboon the timmer;
I ken’d my Maggie wad na sleep
For that, or simmer.
In cart or car thou never reestit;
The steyest brae thou wad hae fac’t it;
Thou never lap, an’ sten’t, an’ breastit,
Then stood to blaw;
But just thy step a wee thing hastit,
Thou snoov’t awa.
My pleugh is now thy bairntime a’;
Four gallant brutes as e’er did draw;
Forbye sax mae, I’ve sell’t awa,
That thou hast nurst:
They drew me thretteen pund an’ twa,
The vera worst.
Monie a sair daurk we twa hae wrought,
An, wi’ the weary warl’ fought!
An’ monie an anxious day, I thought
We wad be beat!
Yet here to crazy age we’re brought,
Wi’ something yet.
And think na, my auld, trusty servan’,
That now perhaps thou’s less deservin,
An’ thy auld days may end in starvin,
For my last fow,
A heapit stimpart, I’ll reserve ane
Laid by for you.
We’ve worn to crazy years thegither;
We’ll toyte about wi’ ane anither;
Wi’ tentie care I’ll flit thy tether,
To some hain’d rig,
Whare ye may nobly rax your leather,
Wi’ sma’ fatigue.



[The vehement nationality of this poem is but a small part of its merit. The haggis of the north is the minced pie of the south; both are characteristic of the people: the ingredients which compose the former are all of Scottish growth, including the bag which contains them; the ingredients of the latter are gathered chiefly from the four quarters of the globe: the haggis is the triumph of poverty, the minced pie the triumph of wealth.]

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!
Then horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
’Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit hums.
Is there that o’er his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
[69]Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.
Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,
Gie her a Haggis!




[“There was a certain period of my life,” says Burns, “that my spirit was broke by repeated losses and disasters, which threatened and indeed effected the ruin of my fortune. My body, too, was attacked by the most dreadful distemper, a hypochondria or confirmed melancholy. In this wretched state, the recollection of which makes me yet shudder, I hung my harp on the willow-trees, except in some lucid intervals, in one of which I composed the following.”]

O Thou Great Being! what Thou art
Surpasses me to know;
Yet sure I am, that known to Thee
Are all Thy works below.
Thy creature here before Thee stands,
All wretched and distrest;
Yet sure those ills that wring my soul
Obey Thy high behest.
Sure Thou, Almighty, canst not act
From cruelty or wrath!
O, free my weary eyes from tears,
Or close them fast in death!
But if I must afflicted be,
To suit some wise design;
Then, man my soul with firm resolves
To bear and not repine!




[I have heard the third verse of this very moving Prayer quoted by scrupulous men as a proof that the poet imputed his errors to the Being who had endowed him with wild and unruly passions. The meaning is very different: Burns felt the torrent-strength of passion overpowering his resolution, and trusted that God would be merciful to the errors of one on whom he had bestowed such o’ermastering gifts.]

O Thou unknown, Almighty Cause
Of all my hope and fear?
In whose dread presence, ere an hour
Perhaps I must appear!
If I have wander’d in those paths
Of life I ought to shun;
As something, loudly, in my breast,
Remonstrates I have done;
Thou know’st that Thou hast formed me,
With passions wild and strong;
And list’ning to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.
Where human weakness has come short,
Or frailty stept aside,
Do Thou, All-Good! for such thou art,
In shades of darkness hide.
Where with intention I have err’d,
No other plea I have,
But, Thou art good; and goodness still
Delighteth to forgive.




[These verses the poet, in his common-place book, calls “Misgivings in the Hour of Despondency and Prospect of Death.” He elsewhere says they were composed when fainting-fits and other alarming symptoms of a pleurisy, or some other dangerous disorder, first put nature on the alarm.]

Why am I loth to leave this earthly scene?
How I so found it full of pleasing charms?
Some drops of joy with draughts of ill between:
Some gleams of sunshine ‘mid renewing storms:
[70]Is it departing pangs my soul alarms?
Or Death’s unlovely, dreary, dark abode?
For guilt, for guilt, my terrors are in arms;
I tremble to approach an angry God,
And justly smart beneath his sin-avenging rod.
Fain would I say, “Forgive my foul offence!”
Fain promise never more to disobey;
But, should my Author health again dispense,
Again I might desert fair virtue’s way:
Again in folly’s path might go astray;
Again exalt the brute and sink the man;
Then how should I for heavenly mercy pray,
Who act so counter heavenly mercy’s plan?
Who sin so oft have mourn’d, yet to temptation ran?
O Thou, great Governor of all below!
If I may dare a lifted eye to Thee,
Thy nod can make the tempest cease to blow,
Or still the tumult of the raging sea:
With that controlling pow’r assist ev’n me
Those headlong furious passions to confine;
For all unfit I feel my pow’rs to be,
To rule their torrent in th’ allowed line;
O, aid me with Thy help, Omnipotence Divine!



“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are
That bide the pelting of the pitiless storm!
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and widow’d raggedness defend you
From seasons such as these?”


[“This poem,” says my friend Thomas Carlyle, “is worth several homilies on mercy, for it is the voice of Mercy herself. Burns, indeed, lives in sympathy: his soul rushes forth into all the realms of being: nothing that has existence can be indifferent to him.”]

When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phœbus gies a short-liv’d glow’r
Far south the lift,
Dim-darkening through the flaky show’r,
Or whirling drift:
Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths up-choked,
Wild-eddying swirl.
Or through the mining outlet bocked,
Down headlong hurl.
Listening, the doors an’ winnocks rattle,
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
O’ winter war,
And through the drift, deep-lairing sprattle
Beneath a scar.
Ilk happing bird, wee, helpless thing,
That, in the merry months o’ spring,
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o’ thee?
Whare wilt thou cower thy chittering wing,
An’ close thy e’e?
Ev’n you on murd’ring errands toil’d,
Lone from your savage homes exiled,
The blood-stained roost, and sheep-cote spoiled
My heart forgets,
While pitiless the tempest wild
Sore on you beats.
Now Phoebe, in her midnight reign,
Dark muffled, viewed the dreary plain;
Still crowding thoughts, a pensive train,
Rose in my soul,
When on my ear this plaintive strain
Slow, solemn, stole:—
“Blow, blow, ye winds, with heavier gust!
And freeze, thou bitter-biting frost:
Descend, ye chilly, smothering snows!
Not all your rage, as now united, shows
More hard unkindness, unrelenting,
Vengeful malice unrepenting,
Than heaven-illumined man on brother man bestows;
See stern oppression’s iron grip,
Or mad ambition’s gory hand,
Sending, like blood-hounds from the slip,
Woe, want, and murder o’er a land!
Even in the peaceful rural vale,
Truth, weeping, tells the mournful tale,
How pamper’d luxury, flattery by her side,
The parasite empoisoning her ear.
With all the servile wretches in the rear,
Looks o’er proud property, extended wide;
And eyes the simple rustic hind,
Whose toil upholds the glittering show,
A creature of another kind,
Some coarser substance, unrefin’d,
Placed for her lordly use thus far, thus vile, below.
[71]Where, where is love’s fond, tender throe,
With lordly honour’s lofty brow,
The powers you proudly own?
Is there, beneath love’s noble name,
Can harbour, dark, the selfish aim,
To bless himself alone!
Mark maiden innocence a prey
To love-pretending snares,
This boasted honour turns away,
Shunning soft pity’s rising sway,
Regardless of the tears and unavailing prayers!
Perhaps this hour, in misery’s squalid nest,
She strains your infant to her joyless breast,
And with a mother’s fears shrinks at the rocking blast!
Oh ye! who, sunk in beds of down,
Feel not a want but what yourselves create,
Think, for a moment, on his wretched fate,
Whom friends and fortune quite disown!
Ill satisfied keen nature’s clamorous call,
Stretched on his straw he lays himself to sleep,
While through the ragged roof and chinky wall,
Chill o’er his slumbers piles the drifty heap!
Think on the dungeon’s grim confine,
Where guilt and poor misfortune pine!
Guilt, erring man, relenting view!
But shall thy legal rage pursue
The wretch, already crushed low
By cruel fortune’s undeserved blow?
Affliction’s sons are brothers in distress,
A brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss!”
I heard nae mair, for Chanticleer
Shook off the pouthery snaw,
And hailed the morning with a cheer—
A cottage-rousing craw!
But deep this truth impressed my mind—
Through all his works abroad,
The heart benevolent and kind
The most resembles God.




[“I entirely agree,” says Burns, “with the author of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, that Remorse is the most painful sentiment that can embitter the human bosom; an ordinary pitch of fortitude may bear up admirably well, under those calamities, in the procurement of which we ourselves have had no hand; but when our follies or crimes have made us wretched, to bear all with manly firmness, and at the same time have a proper penitential sense of our misconduct, is a glorious effort of self-command.”]

Of all the numerous ills that hurt our peace,
That press the soul, or wring the mind with anguish,
Beyond comparison the worst are those
That to our folly or our guilt we owe.
In every other circumstance, the mind
Has this to say, ‘It was no deed of mine;’
But when to all the evil of misfortune
This sting is added—‘Blame thy foolish self!’
Or worser far, the pangs of keen remorse;
The torturing, gnawing consciousness of guilt,—
Of guilt, perhaps, where we’ve involved others;
The young, the innocent, who fondly lov’d us,
Nay, more, that very love their cause of ruin!
O burning hell! in all thy store of torments,
There’s not a keener lash!
Lives there a man so firm, who, while his heart
Feels all the bitter horrors of his crime,
Can reason down its agonizing throbs;
And, after proper purpose of amendment,
Can firmly force his jarring thoughts to peace?
O, happy! happy! enviable man!
O glorious magnanimity of soul!




[This inimitable poem, unknown to Currie and unheardof while the poet lived, was first given to the world, with other characteristic pieces, by Mr. Stewart of Glasgow, in the year 1801. Some have surmised that it is not the work of Burns; but the parentage is certain: the original manuscript at the time of its composition, in 1785, was put into the hands of Mr. Richmond of Mauchline, and afterwards given by Burns himself to Mr. Woodburn, factor of the laird of Craigen-gillan; the song of “For a’ that, and a’ that” was inserted by the poet, with his name, in the Musical Museum of February, 1790. Cromek admired, yet did not, from overruling advice, print it in the Reliques, for which he was sharply censured by Sir Walter Scott, in the Quarterly Review. The scene of the poem is in Mauchline, where Poosie Nancy had her change-house. Only one copy in the handwriting of Burns is supposed to exist; and of it a very accurate fac-simile has been given.]


When lyart leaves bestrow the yird,
Or wavering like the bauckie-bird,
Bedim cauld Boreas’ blast;
[72]When hailstanes drive wi’ bitter skyte
And infant frosts begin to bite,
In hoary cranreuch drest;
Ae night at e’en a merry core
O’ randie, gangrel bodies,
In Poosie-Nansie’s held the splore,
To drink their orra duddies:
Wi’ quaffing and laughing,
They ranted an’ they sang;
Wi’ jumping and thumping,
The vera girdle rang.
First, neist the fire, in auld red rags,
Ane sat, weel brac’d wi’ mealy bags,
And knapsack a’ in order;
His doxy lay within his arm,
Wi’ usquebae an’ blankets warm—
She blinket on her sodger:
An’ ay he gies the tozie drab
The tither skelpin’ kiss,
While she held up her greedy gab
Just like an aumous dish.
Ilk smack still, did crack still,
Just like a cadger’s whip,
Then staggering and swaggering
He roar’d this ditty up—


Tune—“Soldiers’ Joy.

I am a son of Mars,
Who have been in many wars,
And show my cuts and scars
Wherever I come;
This here was for a wench,
And that other in a trench,
When welcoming the French
At the sound of the drum.
Lal de daudle, &c.
My ‘prenticeship I past
Where my leader breath’d his last,
When the bloody die was cast
On the heights of Abram;
I served out my trade
When the gallant game was play’d,
And the Moro low was laid
At the sound of the drum.
Lal de daudle, &c.
I lastly was with Curtis,
Among the floating batt’ries,
And there I left for witness
An arm and a limb;
Yet let my country need me,
With Elliot to head me,
I’d clatter on my stumps
At the sound of a drum.
Lal de dandle, &c.
And now tho’ I must beg,
With a wooden arm and leg,
And many a tatter’d rag
Hanging over my bum
I’m as happy with my wallet,
My bottle and my callet,
As when I used in scarlet
To follow a drum.
Lal de daudle, &c.
What tho’ with hoary locks
I must stand the winter shocks,
Beneath the woods and rocks
Oftentimes for a home,
When the tother bag I sell,
And the tother bottle tell,
I could meet a troop of hell,
At the sound of a drum.
Lal de daudle, &c.


He ended; and kebars sheuk
Aboon the chorus roar;
While frighted rattons backward leuk,
And seek the benmost bore;
A fairy fiddler frae the neuk,
He skirl’d out—encore!
But up arose the martial Chuck,
And laid the loud uproar.


Tune—“Soldier laddie.

I once was a maid, tho’ I cannot tell when,
And still my delight is in proper young men;
Some one of a troop of dragoons was my daddie,
No wonder I’m fond of a sodger laddie.
Sing, Lal de dal, &c.
The first of my loves was a swaggering blade,
To rattle the thundering drum was his trade;
His leg was so tight, and his cheek was so ruddy,
Transported I was with my sodger laddie.
Sing, Lal de dal, &c.
But the godly old chaplain left him in the lurch,
The sword I forsook for the sake of the church;
[73]He ventur’d the soul, and I risk’d the body,
’Twas then I prov’d false to my sodger laddie.
Sing, Lal de dal, &c.
Full soon I grew sick of my sanctified sot,
The regiment at large for a husband I got;
From the gilded spontoon to the fife I was ready,
I asked no more but a sodger laddie.
Sing, Lal de dal, &c.
But the peace it reduc’d me to beg in despair,
Till I met my old boy in a Cunningham fair;
His rags regimental they flutter’d so gaudy,
My heart is rejoic’d at my sodger laddie.
Sing, Lal de dal, &c.
And now I have liv’d—I know not how long,
And still I can join in a cup or a song;
But whilst with both hands I can hold the glass steady,
Here’s to thee, my hero, my sodger laddie.
Sing, Lal de dal, &c.


Poor Merry Andrew in the neuk,
Sat guzzling wi’ a tinkler hizzie;
They mind’t na wha the chorus teuk,
Between themselves they were sae busy:
At length wi’ drink and courting dizzy
He stoitered up an’ made a face;
Then turn’d, an’ laid a smack on Grizzie,
Syne tun’d his pipes wi’ grave grimace.


Tune—“Auld Sir Symon.

Sir Wisdom’s a fool when he’s fou,
Sir Knave is a fool in a session;
He’s there but a ‘prentice I trow,
But I am a fool by profession.
My grannie she bought me a beuk,
And I held awa to the school;
I fear I my talent misteuk,
But what will ye hae of a fool?
For drink I would venture my neck,
A hizzie’s the half o’ my craft,
But what could ye other expect,
Of ane that’s avowedly daft?
I ance was ty’d up like a stirk,
For civilly swearing and quaffing;
I ance was abused in the kirk,
Fer touzling a lass i’ my daffin.
Poor Andrew that tumbles for sport,
Let naebody name wi’ a jeer;
There’s ev’n I’m tauld i’ the court
A tumbler ca’d the premier.
Observ’d ye, yon reverend lad
Maks faces to tickle the mob;
He rails at our mountebank squad,
Its rivalship just i’ the job.
And now my conclusion I’ll tell,
For faith I’m confoundedly dry;
The chiel that’s a fool for himsel’,
Gude L—d! he’s far dafter than I.


Then neist outspak a raucle carlin,
Wha kent fu’ weel to cleek the sterling,
For monie a pursie she had hooked,
And had in mony a well been ducked.
Her dove had been a Highland laddie,
But weary fa’ the waefu’ woodie!
Wi’ sighs and sobs she thus began
To wail her braw John Highlandman.


Tune—“O an ye were dead, guidman.

A Highland lad my love was born,
The Lalland laws he held in scorn;
But he still was faithfu’ to his clan,
My gallant braw John Highlandman.


Sing, hey my braw John Highlandman!
Sing, ho my braw John Highlandman!
There’s not a lad in a’ the lan’
Was match for my John Highlandman.
With his philibeg an’ tartan plaid,
An’ gude claymore down by his side,
The ladies’ hearts he did trepan,
My gallant braw John Highlandman.
Sing, hey, &c.
We ranged a’ from Tweed to Spey,
An’ liv’d like lords and ladies gay;
For a Lalland face he feared none,
My gallant braw John Highlandman.
Sing, hey, &c.
They banished him beyond the sea,
But ere the bud was on the tree,
Adown my cheeks the pearls ran,
Embracing my John Highlandman.
Sing, hey, &c.
But, och! they catch’d him at the last,
And bound him in a dungeon fast;
My curse upon them every one,
They’ve hang’d my braw John Highlandman.
Sing, hey, &c.
And now a widow, I must mourn,
The pleasures that will ne’er return:
No comfort but a hearty can,
When I think on John Highlandman.
Sing, hey, &c.


A pigmy scraper, wi’ his fiddle,
Wha us’d at trysts and fairs to driddle,
Her strappan limb and gausy middle
He reach’d na higher,
Had hol’d his heartie like a riddle,
An’ blawn’t on fire.
Wi’ hand on hainch, an’ upward e’e,
He croon’d his gamut, one, two, three,
Then in an Arioso key,
The wee Apollo
Set off wi’ Allegretto glee
His giga solo.


Tune—“Whistle o’er the lave o’t.

Let me ryke up to dight that tear,
And go wi’ me and be my dear,
And then your every care and fear
May whistle owre the lave o’t.


I am a fiddler to my trade,
An’ a’ the tunes that e’er I play’d,
The sweetest still to wife or maid,
Was whistle owre the lave o’t.
At kirns and weddings we’se be there,
And O! sae nicely’s we will fare;
We’ll house about till Daddie Care
Sings whistle owre the lave o’t
I am, &c.
Sae merrily the banes we’ll byke,
And sun oursells about the dyke,
And at our leisure, when ye like,
We’ll whistle owre the lave o’t.
I am, &c.
But bless me wi’ your heav’n o’ charms,
And while I kittle hair on thairms,
Hunger, cauld, and a’ sic harms,
May whistle owre the lave o’t.
I am, &c.


Her charms had struck a sturdy caird,
As weel as poor gut-scraper;
He taks the fiddler by the beard,
And draws a roosty rapier—
He swoor by a’ was swearing worth,
To speet him like a pliver,
Unless he wad from that time forth
Relinquish her for ever.
Wi’ ghastly e’e, poor tweedle-dee
Upon his hunkers bended,
And pray’d for grace wi’ ruefu’ face,
And sae the quarrel ended.
But tho’ his little heart did grieve
When round the tinkler prest her,
He feign’d to snirtle in his sleeve,
When thus the caird address’d her:


Tune—“Clout the Caudron.

My bonny lass, I work in brass,
A tinkler is my station:
I’ve travell’d round all Christian ground
In this my occupation:
I’ve taen the gold, an’ been enrolled
In many a noble sqadron:
But vain they search’d, when off I march’d
To go and clout the caudron.
I’ve taen the gold, &c.
Despise that shrimp, that wither’d imp,
Wi’ a’ his noise and caprin,
And tak a share wi’ those that bear
The budget and the apron.
And by that stoup, my faith and houp,
An’ by that dear Kilbaigie,[5]
If e’er ye want, or meet wi’ scant,
May I ne’er weet my craigie.
An’ by that stoup, &c.


The caird prevail’d—th’ unblushing fair
In his embraces sunk,
Partly wi’ love o’ercome sae sair,
An’ partly she was drunk.
[75]Sir Violino, with an air
That show’d a man of spunk,
Wish’d unison between the pair,
An’ made the bottle clunk
To their health that night.
But urchin Cupid shot a shaft,
That play’d a dame a shavie,
A sailor rak’d her fore and aft,
Behint the chicken cavie.
Her lord, a wight o’ Homer’s craft,
Tho’ limping wi’ the spavie,
He hirpl’d up and lap like daft,
And shor’d them Dainty Davie
O boot that night.
He was a care-defying blade
As ever Bacchus listed,
Tho’ Fortune sair upon him laid,
His heart she ever miss’d it.
He had nae wish but—to be glad,
Nor want but—when he thirsted;
He hated nought but—to be sad,
And thus the Muse suggested
His sang that night.


Tune—“For a’ that, an’ a’ that.

I am a bard of no regard
Wi’ gentle folks, an’ a’ that:
But Homer-like, the glowran byke,
Frae town to town I draw that.


For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
An’ twice as muckle’s a’ that;
I’ve lost but ane, I’ve twa behin’,
I’ve wife enough for a’ that.
I never drank the Muses’ stank,
Castalia’s burn, an’ a’ that;
But there it streams, and richly reams,
My Helicon I ca’ that.
For a’ that, &c.
Great love I bear to a’ the fair,
Their humble slave, an’ a’ that;
But lordly will, I hold it still
A mortal sin to thraw that.
For a’ that, &c.
In raptures sweet, this hour we meet,
Wi’ mutual love, an a’ that:
But for how lang the flie may stang,
Let inclination law that.
For a’ that, &c.
Their tricks and craft have put me daft.
They’ve ta’en me in, and a’ that;
But clear your decks, and here’s the sex!
I like the jads for a’ that


For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
An’ twice as muckle’s a’ that;
My dearest bluid, to do them guid,
They’re welcome till’t for a’ that


So sung the bard—and Nansie’s wa’s
Shook with a thunder of applause,
Re-echo’d from each mouth:
They toom’d their pocks, an’ pawn’d their duds,
They scarcely left to co’er their fuds,
To quench their lowan drouth.
Then owre again, the jovial thrang,
The poet did request,
To loose his pack an’ wale a sang,
A ballad o’ the best;
He rising, rejoicing,
Between his twa Deborahs
Looks round him, an’ found them
Impatient for the chorus.


Tune—“Jolly Mortals, fill your Glasses.

See! the smoking bowl before us,
Mark our jovial ragged ring!
Round and round take up the chorus,
And in raptures let us sing.


A fig for those by law protected!
Liberty’s a glorious feast!
Courts for cowards were erected,
Churches built to please the priest.
What is title? what is treasure?
What is reputation’s care?
If we lead a life of pleasure,
’Tis no matter how or where!
A fig, &c.
With the ready trick and fable,
Round we wander all the day;
And at night, in barn or stable,
Hug our doxies on the hay.
A fig, &c.
[76] Does the train-attended carriage
Through the country lighter rove?
Does the sober bed of marriage
Witness brighter scenes of love?
A fig, &c.
Life is all a variorum,
We regard not how it goes;
Let them cant about decorum
Who have characters to lose.
A fig, &c.
Here’s to budgets, bags, and wallets!
Here’s to all the wandering train!
Here’s our ragged brats and wallets!
One and all cry out—Amen!
A fig for those by law protected!
Liberty’s a glorious feast!
Courts for cowards were erected,
Churches built to please the priest.


[5] A peculiar sort of whiskey.




[John Wilson, raised to the unwelcome elevation of hero to this poem, was, at the time of its composition, schoolmaster in Tarbolton: he as, it is said, a fair scholar, and a very worthy man, but vain of his knowledge in medicine—so vain, that he advertised his merits, and offered advice gratis. It was his misfortune to encounter Burns at a mason meeting, who, provoked by a long and pedantic speech, from the Dominie, exclaimed, the future lampoon dawning upon him, “Sit down, Dr. Hornbook.” On his way home, the poet seated himself on the ledge of a bridge, composed the poem, and, overcome with poesie and drink, fell asleep, and did not awaken till the sun was shining over Galston Moors. Wilson went afterwards to Glasgow, embarked in mercantile and matrimonial speculations, and prospered, and is still prospering.]

Some books are lies frae end to end,
And some great lies were never penn’d:
Ev’n ministers, they ha’e been kenn’d,
In holy rapture,
A rousing whid, at times, to vend,
And nail’t wi’ Scripture.
But this that I am gaun to tell,
Which lately on a night befel,
Is just as true’s the Deil’s in h—ll
Or Dublin-city;
That e’er he nearer comes oursel
‘S a muckle pity.
The Clachan yill had made me canty,
I was na fou, but just had plenty;
I stacher’d whyles, but yet took tent ay
To free the ditches;
An’ hillocks, stanes, and bushes, kenn’d ay
Frae ghaists an’ witches.
The rising moon began to glow’r
The distant Cumnock hills out-owre:
To count her horns with a’ my pow’r,
I set mysel;
But whether she had three or four,
I could na tell.
I was come round about the hill,
And todlin down on Willie’s mill,
Setting my staff with a’ my skill,
To keep me sicker;
Tho’ leeward whyles, against my will,
I took a bicker.
I there wi’ something did forgather,
That put me in an eerie swither;
An awfu’ scythe, out-owre ae shouther,
Clear-dangling, hang;
A three-taed leister on the ither
Lay, large an’ lang.
Its stature seem’d lang Scotch ells twa,
The queerest shape that e’er I saw,
For fient a wame it had ava:
And then, its shanks,
They were as thin, as sharp an’ sma’
As cheeks o’ branks.
“Guid-een,” quo’ I; “Friend, hae ye been mawin,
When ither folk are busy sawin?”
It seem’d to mak a kind o’ stan’,
But naething spak;
At length, says I, “Friend, where ye gaun,
Will ye go back?”
It spak right howe,—“My name is Death,
But be na fley’d.”—Quoth I, “Guid faith,
Ye’re may be come to stap my breath;
But tent me, billie;
I red ye weel, take care o’ skaith,
See, there’s a gully!”
“Guidman,” quo’ he, “put up your whittle,
I’m no design’d to try its mettle;
But if I did, I wad be kittle
To be mislear’d,
I wad nae mind it, no that spittle
Out-owre my beard.”
“Weel, weel!” says I, “a bargain be’t;
Come, gies your hand, an’ sae we’re gree’t;
We’ll ease our shanks an’ tak a seat,
Come, gies your news!
This while ye hae been mony a gate
At mony a house.
“Ay, ay!” quo’ he, an’ shook his head,
“It’s e’en a lang, lang time indeed
Sin’ I began to nick the thread,
An’ choke the breath:
Folk maun do something for their bread,
An’ sae maun Death.
“Sax thousand years are near hand fled
Sin’ I was to the butching bred,
An’ mony a scheme in vain’s been laid,
To stap or scar me;
Till ane Hornbook’s ta’en up the trade,
An’ faith, he’ll waur me.
“Ye ken Jock Hornbook i’ the Clachan,
Deil mak his kings-hood in a spleuchan!
He’s grown sae weel acquaint wi’ Buchan[6]
An’ ither chaps,
The weans haud out their fingers laughin
And pouk my hips.
“See, here’s a scythe, and there’s a dart,
They hae pierc’d mony a gallant heart;
But Doctor Hornbook, wi’ his art
And cursed skill,
Has made them baith no worth a f——t,
Damn’d haet they’ll kill.
“’Twas but yestreen, nae farther gaen,
I threw a noble throw at ane;
Wi’ less, I’m sure, I’ve hundreds slain;
It just play’d dirl on the bane,
But did nae mair.
“Hornbook was by, wi’ ready art,
And had sae fortified the part,
That when I looked to my dart,
It was sae blunt,
Fient haet o’t wad hae pierc’d the heart
Of a kail-runt.
“I drew my scythe in sic a fury,
I near-hand cowpit wi’ my hurry,
But yet the bauld Apothecary,
Withstood the shock;
I might as weel hae tried a quarry
O’ hard whin rock.
“Ev’n them he canna get attended,
Although their face he ne’er had kend it,
Just sh—— in a kail-blade, and send it,
As soon’s he smells’t,
Baith their disease, and what will mend it,
At once he tells’t.
“And then a’ doctor’s saws and whittles,
Of a’ dimensions, shapes, an’ mettles,
A’ kinds o’ boxes, mugs, an’ bottles,
He’s sure to hae;
Their Latin names as fast he rattles
As A B C.
“Calces o’ fossils, earths, and trees;
True sal-marinum o’ the seas;
The farina of beans and pease,
He has’t in plenty;
Aqua-fortis, what you please,
He can content ye.
“Forbye some new, uncommon weapons,
Urinus spiritus of capons;
Or mite-horn shavings, filings, scrapings,
Distill’d per se;
Sal-alkali o’ midge-tail clippings,
And mony mae.”
“Waes me for Johnny Ged’s-Hole[7] now,”
Quo’ I, “If that thae news be true!
His braw calf-ward whare gowans grew,
Sae white and bonie,
Nae doubt they’ll rive it wi’ the plew;
They’ll ruin Johnie!”
The creature grain’d an eldritch laugh,
And says, “Ye need na yoke the plough,
Kirkyards will soon be till’d eneugh,
Tak ye nae fear;
They’ll a’ be trench’d wi’ mony a sheugh
In twa-three year.
“Whare I kill’d ane a fair strae death,
By loss o’ blood or want of breath,
This night I’m free to tak my aith,
That Hornbook’s skill
Has clad a score i’ their last claith,
By drap an’ pill.
“An honest wabster to his trade,
Whase wife’s twa nieves were scarce weel bred,
Gat tippence-worth to mend her head,
When it was sair;
The wife slade cannie to her bed,
But ne’er spak mair


“A countra laird had ta’en the batts,
Or some curmurring in his guts,
His only son for Hornbook sets,
An’ pays him well.
The lad, for twa guid gimmer-pets,
Was laird himsel.
“A bonnie lass, ye kend her name,
Some ill-brewn drink had hov’d her wame;
She trusts hersel, to hide the shame,
In Hornbook’s care;
Horn sent her aff to her lang hame,
To hide it there.
“That’s just a swatch o’ Hornbook’s way;
Thus goes he on from day to day,
Thus does he poison, kill, an’ slay,
An’s weel paid for’t;
Yet stops me o’ my lawfu’ prey,
Wi’ his d—mn’d dirt:
“But, hark! I’ll tell you of a plot,
Though dinna ye be speaking o’t;
I’ll nail the self-conceited sot,
As dead’s a herrin’:
Niest time we meet, I’ll wad a groat,
He gets his fairin’!”
But just as he began to tell,
The auld kirk-hammer strak’ the bell
Some wee short hour ayont the twal,
Which rais’d us baith:
I took the way that pleas’d mysel’,
And sae did Death.


[6] Buchan’s Domestic Medicine.

[7] The grave-digger.





[The actors in this indecent drama were Moodie, minister of Ricartoun, and Russell, helper to the minister of Kilmarnock: though apostles of the “Old Light,” they forgot their brotherhood in the vehemence of controversy, and went, it is said, to blows. “This poem,” says Burns, “with a certain description of the clergy as well as laity, met with a roar of applause.”]

O a’ ye pious godly flocks,
Weel fed on pastures orthodox,
Wha now will keep you frae the fox,
Or worrying tykes,
Or wha will tent the waifs and crocks,
About the dykes?
The twa best herds in a’ the wast,
That e’er ga’e gospel horn a blast,
These five and twenty simmers past,
O! dool to tell,
Ha’e had a bitter black out-cast
Atween themsel.
O, Moodie, man, and wordy Russell,
How could you raise so vile a bustle,
Ye’ll see how New-Light herds will whistle
And think it fine:
The Lord’s cause ne’er got sic a twistle
Sin’ I ha’e min’.
O, sirs! whae’er wad ha’e expeckit
Your duty ye wad sae negleckit,
Ye wha were ne’er by lairds respeckit,
To wear the plaid,
But by the brutes themselves eleckit,
To be their guide.
What flock wi’ Moodie’s flock could rank,
Sae hale and hearty every shank,
Nae poison’d sour Arminian stank,
He let them taste,
Frae Calvin’s well, ay clear they drank,—
O sic a feast!
The thummart, wil’-cat, brock, and tod,
Weel kend his voice thro’ a’ the wood,
He smelt their ilka hole and road,
Baith out and in,
And weel he lik’d to shed their bluid,
And sell their skin.
What herd like Russell tell’d his tale,
His voice was heard thro’ muir and dale,
He kend the Lord’s sheep, ilka tail,
O’er a’ the height,
And saw gin they were sick or hale,
At the first sight.
He fine a mangy sheep could scrub,
Or nobly fling the gospel club,
And New-Light herds could nicely drub,
Or pay their skin;
Could shake them o’er the burning dub,
Or heave them in.
Sic twa—O! do I live to see’t,
Sic famous twa should disagreet,
An’ names, like villain, hypocrite,
Ilk ither gi’en,
While New-Light herds, wi’ laughin’ spite,
Say neither’s liein’!
An’ ye wha tent the gospel fauld,
There’s Duncan, deep, and Peebles, shaul,
But chiefly thou, apostle Auld,
We trust in thee,
That thou wilt work them, hot and cauld,
Till they agree.
Consider, Sirs, how we’re beset;
There’s scarce a new herd that we get
But comes frae mang that cursed set
I winna name;
I hope frae heav’n to see them yet
In fiery flame.
Dalrymple has been lang our fae,
M’Gill has wrought us meikle wae,
And that curs’d rascal call’d M’Quhae,
And baith the Shaws,
That aft ha’e made us black and blae,
Wi’ vengefu’ paws.
Auld Wodrow lang has hatch’d mischief,
We thought ay death wad bring relief,
But he has gotten, to our grief,
Ane to succeed him,
A chield wha’ll soundly buff our beef;
I meikle dread him.
And mony a ane that I could tell,
Wha fain would openly rebel,
Forbye turn-coats amang oursel,
There’s Smith for ane,
I doubt he’s but a grey-nick quill,
An’ that ye’ll fin’.
O! a’ ye flocks o’er a’ the hills,
By mosses, meadows, moors, and fells,
Come, join your counsel and your skills
To cow the lairds,
And get the brutes the powers themsels
To choose their herds;
Then Orthodoxy yet may prance,
And Learning in a woody dance,
And that fell cur ca’d Common Sense,
That bites sae sair,
Be banish’d o’er the sea to France:
Let him bark there.
Then Shaw’s and Dalrymple’s eloquence,
M’Gill’s close nervous excellence,
M’Quhae’s pathetic manly sense,
And guid M’Math,
Wi’ Smith, wha thro’ the heart can glance,
May a’ pack aff.



“And send the godly in a pet to pray.”


[Of this sarcastic and too daring poem many copies in manuscript were circulated while the poet lived, but though not unknown or unfelt by Currie, it continued unpublished till printed by Stewart with the Jolly Beggars, in 1801. Holy Willie was a small farmer, leading elder to Auld, a name well known to all lovers of Burns; austere in speech, scrupulous in all outward observances, and, what is known by the name of a “professing Christian.” He experienced, however, a “sore fall;” he permitted himself to be “filled fou,” and in a moment when “self got in” made free, it is said, with the money of the poor of the parish. His name was William Fisher.]

O thou, wha in the heavens dost dwell,
Wha, as it pleases best thysel’,
Sends ane to heaven, and ten to hell,
A’ for thy glory,
And no for ony gude or ill
They’ve done afore thee!
I bless and praise thy matchless might,
Whan thousands thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore thy sight,
For gifts and grace,
A burnin’ and a shinin’ light
To a’ this place.
What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation,
I wha deserve sic just damnation,
For broken laws,
Five thousand years ‘fore my creation,
Thro’ Adam’s cause.
When frae my mither’s womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me in hell,
To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
In burnin’ lake,
Whar damned devils roar and yell,
Chain’d to a stake.
Yet I am here a chosen sample;
To show thy grace is great and ample;
I’m here a pillar in thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, an example,
To a’ thy flock.
But yet, O Lord! confess I must,
At times I’m fash’d wi’ fleshly lust;
[80]And sometimes, too, wi’ warldly trust,
Vile self gets in;
But thou remembers we are dust,
Defil’d in sin.
O Lord! yestreen thou kens, wi’ Meg—
Thy pardon I sincerely beg,
O! may’t ne’er be a livin’ plague
To my dishonour,
An’ I’ll ne’er lift a lawless leg
Again upon her.
Besides, I farther maun allow,
Wi’ Lizzie’s lass, three times I trow—
But Lord, that Friday I was fou,
When I came near her,
Or else, thou kens, thy servant true
Wad ne’er hae steer’d her.
Maybe thou lets this fleshly thorn,
Beset thy servant e’en and morn,
Lest he owre high and proud should turn,
‘Cause he’s sae gifted;
If sae, thy han’ maun e’en be borne
Until thou lift it.
Lord, bless thy chosen in this place,
For here thou hast a chosen race:
But God confound their stubborn face,
And blast their name,
Wha bring thy elders to disgrace
And public shame.
Lord, mind Gawn Hamilton’s deserts,
He drinks, and swears, and plays at carts,
Yet has sae mony takin’ arts,
Wi’ grit and sma’,
Frae God’s ain priests the people’s hearts
He steals awa.
An’ whan we chasten’d him therefore,
Thou kens how he bred sic a splore,
As set the warld in a roar
O’ laughin’ at us;—
Curse thou his basket and his store,
Kail and potatoes.
Lord, hear my earnest cry and pray’r,
Against the presbyt’ry of Ayr;
Thy strong right hand, Lord, mak it bare
Upo’ their heads,
Lord weigh it down, and dinna spare,
For their misdeeds.
O Lord my God, that glib-tongu’d Aiken,
My very heart and saul are quakin’,
To think how we stood groanin’, shakin’,
And swat wi’ dread,
While Auld wi’ hingin lips gaed sneakin’
And hung his head.
Lord, in the day of vengeance try him,
Lord, visit them wha did employ him,
And pass not in thy mercy by ‘em,
Nor hear their pray’r;
But for thy people’s sake destroy ‘em,
And dinna spare.
But, Lord, remember me an mine,
Wi’ mercies temp’ral and divine,
That I for gear and grace may shine,
Excell’d by nane,
And a’ the glory shall be thine,
Amen, Amen!



[We are informed by Richmond of Mauchline, that when he was clerk in Gavin Hamilton’s office, Burns came in one morning and said, “I have just composed a poem, John, and if you will write it, I will repeat it.” He repeated Holy Willie’s Prayer and Epitaph; Hamilton came in at the moment, and having read them with delight, ran laughing with them in his hand to Robert Aiken. The end of Holy Willie was other than godly; in one of his visits to Mauchline, he drank more than was needful, fell into a ditch on his way home, and was found dead in the morning.]

Here Holy Willie’s sair worn clay
Takes up its last abode;
His saul has ta’en some other way,
I fear the left-hand road.
Stop! there he is, as sure’s a gun,
Poor, silly body, see him;
Nae wonder he’s as black’s the grun,
Observe wha’s standing wi’ him.
Your brunstane devilship I see,
Has got him there before ye;
But hand your nine-tail cat a wee,
Till ance you’ve heard my story.
Your pity I will not implore,
For pity ye hae nane;
Justice, alas! has gi’en him o’er,
And mercy’s day is gaen.
But hear me, sir, deil as ye are,
Look something to your credit;
A coof like him wad stain your name,
If it were kent ye did it.




[We have heard of a poor play-actor who, by a humorous inventory of his effects, so moved the commissioners of the income tax, that they remitted all claim on him then and forever; we know not that this very humorous inventory of Burns had any such effect on Mr. Aiken, the surveyor of the taxes. It is dated “Mossgiel, February 22d, 1786,” and is remarkable for wit and sprightliness, and for the information which it gives us of the poet’s habits, household, and agricultural implements.]

Sir, as your mandate did request,
I send you here a faithfu’ list,
O’ gudes, an’ gear, an’ a’ my graith,
To which I’m clear to gi’e my aith.
Imprimis, then, for carriage cattle,
I have four brutes o’ gallant mettle,
As ever drew afore a pettle.
My lan’ afore’s[8] a gude auld has been,
An’ wight, an’ wilfu’ a’ his days been.
My lan ahin’s[9] a weel gaun fillie,
That aft has borne me hame frae Killie,[10]
An’ your auld burro’ mony a time,
In days when riding was nae crime—
But ance, whan in my wooing pride,
I like a blockhead boost to ride,
The wilfu’ creature sae I pat to,
(L—d pardon a’ my sins an’ that too!)
I play’d my fillie sic a shavie,
She’s a’ bedevil’d with the spavie.
My fur ahin’s[11] a wordy beast,
As e’er in tug or tow was trac’d.
The fourth’s a Highland Donald hastie,
A d—n’d red wud Kilburnie blastie!
Forbye a cowt o’ cowt’s the wale,
As ever ran afore a tail.
If he be spar’d to be a beast,
He’ll draw me fifteen pun’ at least.—
Wheel carriages I ha’e but few,
Three carts, an’ twa are feckly new;
Ae auld wheelbarrow, mair for token,
Ae leg an’ baith the trams are broken;
I made a poker o’ the spin’le,
An’ my auld mither brunt the trin’le.
For men I’ve three mischievous boys,
Run de’ils for rantin’ an’ for noise;
A gaudsman ane, a thrasher t’other.
Wee Davock hauds the nowt in fother.
I rule them as I ought, discreetly,
An’ aften labour them completely;
An’ ay on Sundays, duly, nightly,
I on the Questions targe them tightly;
Till, faith, wee Davock’s turn’d sae gleg,
Tho’ scarcely langer than your leg,
He’ll screed you aff Effectual calling,
As fast as ony in the dwalling.
I’ve nane in female servan’ station,
(Lord keep me ay frae a’ temptation!)
I ha’e nae wife—and that my bliss is,
An’ ye have laid nae tax on misses;
An’ then, if kirk folks dinna clutch me,
I ken the devils darena touch me.
Wi’ weans I’m mair than weel contented,
Heav’n sent me ane mae than I wanted.
My sonsie smirking dear-bought Bess,
She stares the daddy in her face,
Enough of ought ye like but grace;
But her, my bonnie sweet wee lady,
I’ve paid enough for her already,
An’ gin ye tax her or her mither,
B’ the L—d! ye’se get them a’thegither.
And now, remember, Mr. Aiken,
Nae kind of license out I’m takin’;
Frae this time forth, I do declare
I’se ne’er ride horse nor hizzie mair;
Thro’ dirt and dub for life I’ll paidle,
Ere I sae dear pay for a saddle;
My travel a’ on foot I’ll shank it,
I’ve sturdy bearers, Gude be thankit.
The kirk and you may tak’ you that,
It puts but little in your pat;
Sae dinna put me in your buke.
Nor for my ten white shillings luke.
This list wi’ my ain hand I wrote it,
the day and date as under noted;
Then know all ye whom it concerns,

Subscripsi huic

Robert Burns.


[8] The fore-horse on the left-hand in the plough.

[9] The hindmost on the left-hand in the plough.

[10] Kilmarnock.

[11] The hindmost horse on the right-hand in the plough.




A robe of seeming truth and trust
Did crafty observation;
And secret hung, with poison’d crust,
The dirk of Defamation:
A mask that like the gorget show’d,
Dye-varying on the pigeon;
And for a mantle large and broad,
He wrapt him in Religion.

Hypocrisy a-la-mode.

[The scene of this fine poem is the church-yard of Mauchline, and the subject handled so cleverly and sharply is the laxity of manners visible in matters so solemn and terrible as the administration of the sacrament. “This was indeed,” says Lockhart, “an extraordinary performance: no partisan of any sect could whisper that malice had formed its principal inspiration, or that its chief attraction lay in the boldness with which individuals, entitled and accustomed to respect, were held up to ridicule: it was acknowledged, amidst the sternest mutterings of wrath, that national manners were once more in the hands of a national poet.” “It is no doubt,” says Hogg, “a reckless piece of satire, but it is a clever one, and must have cut to the bone. But much as I admire the poem I must regret that it is partly borrowed from Ferguson.”]

Upon a simmer Sunday morn,
When Nature’s face is fair,
I walked forth to view the corn,
An’ snuff the caller air.
The rising sun owre Galston muirs,
Wi’ glorious light was glintin’;
The hares were hirplin down the furs,
The lav’rocks they were chantin’
Fu’ sweet that day.
As lightsomely I glowr’d abroad,
To see a scene sae gay,
Three hizzies, early at the road,
Cam skelpin up the way;
Twa had manteeles o’ dolefu’ black,
But ane wi’ lyart lining;
The third, that gaed a-wee a-back,
Was in the fashion shining
Fu’ gay that day.
The twa appear’d like sisters twin,
In feature, form, an’ claes;
Their visage, wither’d, lang, an’ thin,
An’ sour as ony slaes:
The third cam up, hap-step-an’-lowp,
As light as ony lambie,
An’ wi’ a curchie low did stoop,
As soon as e’er she saw me,
Fu’ kind that day.
Wi’ bonnet aff, quoth I, “Sweet lass,
I think ye seem to ken me;
I’m sure I’ve seen that bonnie face,
But yet I canna name ye.”
Quo’ she, an’ laughin’ as she spak,
An’ taks me by the hands,
“Ye, for my sake, hae gi’en the feck,
Of a’ the ten commands
A screed some day.
“My name is Fun—your cronie dear,
The nearest friend ye hae;
An’ this is Superstition here,
An’ that’s Hypocrisy.
I’m gaun to Mauchline holy fair,
To spend an hour in daffin:
Gin ye’ll go there, yon runkl’d pair,
We will get famous laughin’
At them this day.”
Quoth I, “With a’ my heart I’ll do’t;
I’ll get my Sunday’s sark on,
An’ meet you on the holy spot;
Faith, we’se hae fine remarkin’!”
Then I gaed hame at crowdie-time
An’ soon I made me ready;
For roads were clad, frae side to side,
Wi’ monie a wearie body,
In droves that day.
Here farmers gash, in ridin’ graith
Gaed hoddin by their cottars;
There, swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
Are springin’ o’er the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
In silks an’ scarlets glitter;
Wi’ sweet-milk cheese, in monie a whang,
An’ farls bak’d wi’ butter,
Fu’ crump that day.
When by the plate we set our nose,
Weel heaped up wi’ ha’pence,
A greedy glowr Black Bonnet throws,
An’ we maun draw our tippence.
Then in we go to see the show,
On ev’ry side they’re gath’rin’,
Some carrying dails, some chairs an’ stools,
An’ some are busy blethrin’
Right loud that day.
Here stands a shed to fend the show’rs,
An’ screen our countra gentry,
There, racer Jess, and twa-three wh-res,
Are blinkin’ at the entry.
[83]Here sits a raw of titlin’ jades,
Wi’ heaving breast and bare neck,
An’ there’s a batch o’ wabster lads,
Blackguarding frae Kilmarnock
For fun this day.
Here some are thinkin’ on their sins,
An’ some upo’ their claes;
Ane curses feet that fyl’d his shins,
Anither sighs an’ prays:
On this hand sits a chosen swatch,
Wi’ screw’d up grace-proud faces;
On that a set o’ chaps at watch,
Thrang winkin’ on the lasses
To chairs that day.
O happy is that man an’ blest!
Nae wonder that it pride him!
Wha’s ain dear lass that he likes best,
Comes clinkin’ down beside him;
Wi’ arm repos’d on the chair back,
He sweetly does compose him;
Which, by degrees, slips round her neck,
An’s loof upon her bosom,
Unkenn’d that day.
Now a’ the congregation o’er
Is silent expectation;
For Moodie speeds the holy door,
Wi’ tidings o’ damnation.
Should Hornie, as in ancient days,
‘Mang sons o’ God present him,
The vera sight o’ Moodie’s face,
To’s ain het hame had sent him
Wi’ fright that day.
Hear how he clears the points o’ faith
Wi’ ratlin’ an’ wi’ thumpin’!
Now meekly calm, now wild in wrath,
He’s stampin an’ he’s jumpin’!
His lengthen’d chin, his turn’d-up snout,
His eldritch squeel and gestures,
Oh, how they fire the heart devout,
Like cantharidian plasters,
On sic a day.
But hark! the tent has chang’d its voice:
There’s peace an’ rest nae langer:
For a’ the real judges rise,
They canna sit for anger.
Smith opens out his cauld harangues,
On practice and on morals;
An’ aff the godly pour in thrangs,
To gie the jars an’ barrels
A lift that day.
What signifies his barren shine,
Of moral pow’rs and reason?
His English style, an’ gestures fine,
Are a’ clean out o’ season.
Like Socrates or Antonine,
Or some auld pagan heathen,
The moral man he does define,
But ne’er a word o’ faith in
That’s right that day.
In guid time comes an antidote
Against sic poison’d nostrum;
For Peebles, frae the water-fit,
Ascends the holy rostrum:
See, up he’s got the word o’ God,
An’ meek an’ mim has view’d it,
While Common-Sense has ta’en the road,
An’ aff, an’ up the Cowgate,[12]
Fast, fast, that day.
Wee Miller, neist the guard relieves,
An’ orthodoxy raibles,
Tho’ in his heart he weel believes,
An’ thinks it auld wives’ fables:
But faith! the birkie wants a manse,
So, cannily he hums them;
Altho’ his carnal wit an’ sense
Like hafflins-ways o’ercomes him
At times that day.
Now but an’ ben, the Change-house fills,
Wi’ yill-caup commentators:
Here’s crying out for bakes and gills,
An’ there the pint-stowp clatters;
While thick an’ thrang, an’ loud an’ lang,
Wi’ logic, an’ wi’ scripture,
They raise a din, that, in the end,
Is like to breed a rupture
O’ wrath that day.
Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair
Than either school or college:
It kindles wit, it waukens lair,
It pangs us fou’ o’ knowledge,
Be’t whisky gill, or penny wheep,
Or any stronger potion,
It never fails, on drinking deep,
To kittle up our notion
By night or day.
The lads an’ lasses, blythely bent
To mind baith saul an’ body,
Sit round the table, weel content,
An’ steer about the toddy.
[84]On this ane’s dress, an’ that ane’s leuk,
They’re making observations;
While some are cozie i’ the neuk,
An’ formin’ assignations
To meet some day.
But now the Lord’s ain trumpet touts,
Till a’ the hills are rairin’,
An’ echoes back return the shouts:
Black Russell is na’ sparin’:
His piercing words, like Highlan’ swords,
Divide the joints and marrow;
His talk o’ Hell, where devils dwell,
Our vera sauls does harrow[13]
Wi’ fright that day.
A vast, unbottom’d boundless pit,
Fill’d fou o’ lowin’ brunstane,
Wha’s ragin’ flame, an’ scorchin’ heat,
Wad melt the hardest whunstane!
The half asleep start up wi’ fear,
An’ think they hear it roarin’,
When presently it does appear,
’Twas but some neibor snorin’
Asleep that day.
’Twad be owre lang a tale to tell
How monie stories past,
An’ how they crowded to the yill,
When they were a’ dismist:
How drink gaed round, in cogs an’ caups,
Amang the furms an’ benches:
An’ cheese an’ bread, frae women’s laps,
Was dealt about in lunches,
An’ dawds that day.
In comes a gaucie, gash guidwife,
An’ sits down by the fire,
Syne draws her kebbuck an’ her knife;
The lasses they are shyer.
The auld guidmen, about the grace,
Frae side to side they bother,
Till some ane by his bonnet lays,
An’ gi’es them’t like a tether,
Fu’ lang that day.
Waesucks! for him that gets nae lass,
Or lasses that hae naething;
Sma’ need has he to say a grace,
Or melvie his braw claithing!
O wives, be mindfu’ ance yoursel
How bonnie lads ye wanted,
An’ dinna, for a kebbuck-heel,
Let lasses be affronted
On sic a day!
Now Clinkumbell, wi’ ratlin tow,
Begins to jow an’ croon;
Some swagger hame, the best they dow,
Some wait the afternoon.
At slaps the billies halt a blink,
Till lasses strip their shoon:
Wi’ faith an’ hope, an’ love an’ drink,
They’re a’ in famous tune
For crack that day.
How monie hearts this day converts
O’ sinners and o’ lasses!
Their hearts o’ stane, gin night, are gane,
As saft as ony flesh is.
There’s some are fou o’ love divine;
There’s some are fou o’ brandy;
An’ monie jobs that day begin
May end in houghmagandie
Some ither day.


[12] A street so called, which faces the tent in Mauchline.

[13] Shakespeare’s Hamlet.



“For sense they little owe to frugal heav’n—
To please the mob they hide the little giv’n.”

[This sarcastic sally was written on the admission of Mr. Mackinlay, as one of the ministers to the Laigh, or parochial Kirk of Kilmarnock, on the 6th of April, 1786. That reverend person was an Auld Light professor, and his ordination incensed all the New Lights, hence the bitter levity of the poem. These dissensions have long since past away: Mackinlay, a pious and kind-hearted sincere man, lived down all the personalities of the satire, and though unwelcome at first, he soon learned to regard them only as a proof of the powers of the poet.]

Kilmarnock wabsters fidge an’ claw,
An’ pour your creeshie nations;
An’ ye wha leather rax an’ draw,
Of a’ denominations,
Swith to the Laigh Kirk, ane an’ a’,
An’ there tak up your stations;
Then aff to Begbie’s in a raw,
An’ pour divine libations
For joy this day.
Curst Common-Sense, that imp o’ hell,
Cam in wi’ Maggie Lauder;[14]
[85]But Oliphant aft made her yell,
An’ Russell sair misca’d her;
This day Mackinlay taks the flail,
And he’s the boy will blaud her!
He’ll clap a shangan on her tail,
An’ set the bairns to daud her
Wi’ dirt this day.
Mak haste an’ turn King David owre,
An’ lilt wi’ holy clangor;
O’ double verse come gie us four,
An’ skirl up the Bangor:
This day the Kirk kicks up a stoure,
Nae mair the knaves shall wrang her,
For Heresy is in her pow’r,
And gloriously she’ll whang her
Wi’ pith this day.
Come, let a proper text be read,
An’ touch it aff wi’ vigour,
How graceless Ham[15] leugh at his dad,
Which made Canaan a niger;
Or Phineas[16] drove the murdering blade,
Wi’ wh-re-abhorring rigour;
Or Zipporah,[17] the scauldin’ jad,
Was like a bluidy tiger
I’ th’ inn that day.
There, try his mettle on the creed,
And bind him down wi’ caution,
That stipend is a carnal weed
He taks but for the fashion;
And gie him o’er the flock, to feed,
And punish each transgression;
Especial, rams that cross the breed,
Gie them sufficient threshin’,
Spare them nae day.
Now, auld Kilmarnock, cock thy tail,
And toss thy horns fu’ canty;
Nae mair thou’lt rowte out-owre the dale,
Because thy pasture’s scanty;
For lapfu’s large o’ gospel kail
Shall fill thy crib in plenty,
An’ runts o’ grace the pick and wale,
No gi’en by way o’ dainty,
But ilka day.
Nae mair by Babel’s streams we’ll weep,
To think upon our Zion;
And hing our fiddles up to sleep,
Like baby-clouts a-dryin’:
Come, screw the pegs, wi’ tunefu’ cheep,
And o’er the thairms be tryin’;
Oh, rare! to see our elbucks wheep,
An’ a’ like lamb-tails flyin’
Fu’ fast this day!
Lang Patronage, wi’ rod o’ airn,
Has shor’d the Kirk’s undoin’,
As lately Fenwick, sair forfairn,
Has proven to its ruin:
Our patron, honest man! Glencairn,
He saw mischief was brewin’;
And like a godly elect bairn
He’s wal’d us out a true ane,
And sound this day.
Now, Robinson, harangue nae mair,
But steek your gab for ever.
Or try the wicked town of Ayr,
For there they’ll think you clever;
Or, nae reflection on your lear,
Ye may commence a shaver;
Or to the Netherton repair,
And turn a carpet-weaver
Aff-hand this day.
Mutrie and you were just a match
We never had sic twa drones:
Auld Hornie did the Laigh Kirk watch,
Just like a winkin’ baudrons:
And ay’ he catch’d the tither wretch,
To fry them in his caudrons;
But now his honour maun detach,
Wi’ a’ his brimstane squadrons,
Fast, fast this day.
See, see auld Orthodoxy’s faes
She’s swingein’ through the city;
Hark, how the nine-tail’d cat she plays!
I vow it’s unco pretty:
There, Learning, with his Greekish face,
Grunts out some Latin ditty;
And Common Sense is gaun, she says,
To mak to Jamie Beattie
Her plaint this day.
But there’s Morality himsel’,
Embracing all opinions;
Hear, how he gies the tither yell,
Between his twa companions;
See, how she peels the skin an’ fell.
As ane were peelin’ onions!
Now there—they’re packed aff to hell,
And banished our dominions,
Henceforth this day.


O, happy day! rejoice, rejoice!
Come bouse about the porter!
Morality’s demure decoys
Shall here nae mair find quarter:
Mackinlay, Russell, are the boys,
That Heresy can torture:
They’ll gie her on a rape a hoyse,
And cowe her measure shorter
By th’ head some day.
Come, bring the tither mutchkin in,
And here’s for a conclusion,
To every New Light[18] mother’s son,
From this time forth Confusion:
If mair they deave us wi’ their din,
Or Patronage intrusion,
We’ll light a spunk, and ev’ry skin,
We’ll rin them aff in fusion
Like oil, some day.


[14] Alluding to a scoffing ballad which was made on the admission of the late reverend and worthy Mr. Lindsay to the Laigh Kirk.

[15] Genesis, ix. 22.

[16] Numbers, xxv. 8.

[17] Exodus, iv. 25.

[18] “New Light” is a cant phrase in the West of Scotland, for those religions opinions which Dr. Taylor of Norwich has defended.




On his text, Malachi, iv. 2—“And ye shall go forth, and grow up as Calves of the stall.”

[The laugh which this little poem raised against Steven was a loud one. Burns composed it during the sermon to which it relates and repeated it to Gavin Hamilton, with whom he happened on that day to dine. The Calf—for the name it seems stuck—came to London, where the younger brother of Burns heard him preach in Covent Garden Chapel, in 1796.]

Right, Sir! your text I’ll prove it true,
Though Heretics may laugh;
For instance; there’s yoursel’ just now,
God knows, an unco Calf!
And should some patron be so kind,
As bless you wi’ a kirk,
I doubt na, Sir, but then we’ll find,
Ye’re still as great a Stirk.
But, if the lover’s raptur’d hour
Shall ever be your lot,
Forbid it, ev’ry heavenly power,
You e’er should be a stot!
Tho’, when some kind, connubial dear,
Your but-and-ben adorns,
The like has been that you may wear
A noble head of horns.
And in your lug, most reverend James,
To hear you roar and rowte,
Few men o’ sense will doubt your claims
To rank among the nowte.
And when ye’re number’d wi’ the dead,
Below a grassy hillock,
Wi’ justice they may mark your head—
“Here lies a famous Bullock!”



“Friendship! mysterious cement of the soul!
Sweet’ner of life and solder of society!
I owe thee much!—“


[The James Smith, to whom this epistle is addressed, was at that time a small shop-keeper in Mauchline, and the comrade or rather follower of the poet in all his merry expeditions with “Yill-caup commentators.” He was present in Poosie Nansie’s when the Jolly Beggars first dawned on the fancy of Burns: the comrades of the poet’s heart were not generally very successful in life: Smith left Mauchline, and established a calico-printing manufactory at Avon near Linlithgow, where his friend found him in all appearance prosperous in 1788; but this was not to last; he failed in his speculations and went to the West Indies, and died early. His wit was ready, and his manners lively and unaffected.]

Dear Smith, the sleest, paukie thief,
That e’er attempted stealth or rief,
Ye surely hae some warlock-breef
Owre human hearts;
For ne’er a bosom yet was prief
Against your arts.
For me, I swear by sun an’ moon,
And ev’ry star that blinks aboon,
Ye’ve cost me twenty pair o’ shoon
Just gaun to see you;
And ev’ry ither pair that’s done,
Mair ta’en I’m wi’ you.
That auld capricious carlin, Nature,
To mak amends for scrimpit stature,
She’s turn’d you aff, a human creature
On her first plan;
And in her freaks, on every feature
She’s wrote, the Man.
Just now I’ve ta’en the fit o’ rhyme,
My barmie noddle’s working prime,
My fancy yerkit it up sublime
Wi’ hasty summon:
Hae ye a leisure-moment’s time
To hear what’s comin’?
Some rhyme a neighbour’s name to lash;
Some rhyme (vain thought!) for needfu’ cash:
Some rhyme to court the countra clash,
An’ raise a din;
For me, an aim I never fash;
I rhyme for fun.
The star that rules my luckless lot,
Has fated me the russet coat,
An’ damn’d my fortune to the groat;
But in requit,
Has blest me with a random shot
O’ countra wit.
This while my notion’s ta’en a sklent,
To try my fate in guid black prent;
But still the mair I’m that way bent,
Something cries “Hoolie!
I red you, honest man, tak tent!
Ye’ll shaw your folly.
“There’s ither poets much your betters,
Far seen in Greek, deep men o’ letters,
Hae thought they had ensur’d their debtors,
A’ future ages:
Now moths deform in shapeless tatters,
Their unknown pages.”
Then farewell hopes o’ laurel-boughs,
To garland my poetic brows!
Henceforth I’ll rove where busy ploughs
Are whistling thrang,
An’ teach the lanely heights an’ howes
My rustic sang.
I’ll wander on, with tentless heed
How never-halting moments speed,
Till fate shall snap the brittle thread;
Then, all unknown,
I’ll lay me with th’ inglorious dead,
Forgot and gone!
But why o’ death begin a tale?
Just now we’re living sound and hale,
Then top and maintop crowd the sail,
Heave care o’er side!
And large, before enjoyment’s gale,
Let’s tak the tide.
This life, sae far’s I understand,
Is a’ enchanted fairy land,
Where pleasure is the magic wand,
That, wielded right,
Maks hours like minutes, hand in hand,
Dance by fu’ light.
The magic wand then let us wield;
For, ance that five-an’-forty’s speel’d,
See crazy, weary, joyless eild,
Wi’ wrinkl’d face,
Comes hostin’, hirplin’, owre the field,
Wi’ creepin’ pace.
When ance life’s day draws near the gloamin’,
Then fareweel vacant careless roamin’;
An’ fareweel cheerfu’ tankards foamin’,
An’ social noise;
An’ fareweel dear, deluding woman!
The joy of joys!
O Life! how pleasant in thy morning,
Young Fancy’s rays the hills adorning!
Cold-pausing Caution’s lesson scorning,
We frisk away,
Like school-boys, at th’ expected warning,
To joy and play.
We wander there, we wander here,
We eye the rose upon the brier,
Unmindful that the thorn is near,
Among the leaves;
And tho’ the puny wound appear,
Short while it grieves.
Some, lucky, find a flow’ry spot,
For which they never toil’d nor swat;
They drink the sweet and eat the fat,
But care or pain;
And, haply, eye the barren hut
With high disdain.
With steady aim some Fortune chase;
Keen hope does ev’ry sinew brace;
Thro’ fair, thro’ foul, they urge the race,
And seize the prey;
Then cannie, in some cozie place,
They close the day.
And others, like your humble servan’,
Poor wights! nae rules nor roads observin’;
To right or left, eternal swervin’,
They zig-zag on;
’Till curst with age, obscure an’ starvin’,
They aften groan.
Alas! what bitter toil an’ straining—
But truce with peevish, poor complaining!
Is fortune’s fickle Luna waning?
E’en let her gang!
Beneath what light she has remaining,
Let’s sing our sang.
My pen I here fling to the door,
And kneel, “Ye Pow’rs,” and warm implore,
“Tho’ I should wander terra e’er,
In all her climes,
Grant me but this, I ask no more,
Ay rowth o’ rhymes.
“Gie dreeping roasts to countra lairds,
Till icicles hing frae their beards;
Gie fine braw claes to fine life-guards,
And maids of honour!
And yill an’ whisky gie to cairds,
Until they sconner.
“A title, Dempster merits it;
A garter gie to Willie Pitt;
Gie wealth to some be-ledger’d cit,
In cent. per cent.
But give me real, sterling wit,
And I’m content.
“While ye are pleas’d to keep me hale,
I’ll sit down o’er my scanty meal,
Be’t water-brose, or muslin-kail,
Wi’ cheerfu’ face,
As lang’s the muses dinna fail
To say the grace.”
An anxious e’e I never throws
Behint my lug, or by my nose;
I jouk beneath misfortune’s blows
As weel’s I may;
Sworn foe to sorrow, care, and prose,
I rhyme away.
O ye douce folk, that live by rule,
Grave, tideless-blooded, calm and cool,
Compar’d wi’ you—O fool! fool! fool!
How much unlike!
Your hearts are just a standing pool,
Your lives a dyke!
Nae hair-brain’d, sentimental traces,
In your unletter’d nameless faces!
In arioso trills and graces
Ye never stray,
But gravissimo, solemn basses
Ye hum away.
Ye are sae grave, nae doubt ye’re wise;
Nae ferly tho’ ye do despise
The hairum-scarum, ram-stam boys,
The rattling squad:
I see you upward cast your eyes—
Ye ken the road—
Whilst I—but I shall haud me there—
Wi’ you I’ll scarce gang ony where—
Then, Jamie, I shall say nae mair,
But quat my sang,
Content wi’ you to mak a pair,
Whare’er I gang.




[The Vision and the Briggs of Ayr, are said by Jeffrey to be “the only pieces by Burns which can be classed under the head of pure fiction:” but Tam O’ Shanter and twenty other of his compositions have an equal right to be classed with works of fiction. The edition of this poem published at Kilmarnock, differs in some particulars from the edition which followed in Edinburgh. The maiden whose foot was so handsome as to match that of Coila, was a Bess at first, but old affection triumphed, and Jean, for whom the honour was from the first designed, regained her place. The robe of Coila, too, was expanded, so far indeed that she got more cloth than she could well carry.]

The sun had clos’d the winter day,
The curlers quat their roaring play,
An’ hunger’d maukin ta’en her way
To kail-yards green,
While faithless snaws ilk step betray
Whare she has been.
The thresher’s weary flingin’-tree
The lee-lang day had tired me;
And when the day had closed his e’e
Far i’ the west,
Ben i’ the spence, right pensivelie,
I gaed to rest.
There, lanely, by the ingle-cheek,
I sat and ey’d the spewing reek,
That fill’d, wi’ hoast-provoking smeek,
The auld clay biggin’;
An’ heard the restless rattons squeak
About the riggin’.


All in this mottie, misty clime,
I backward mused on wastet time,
How I had spent my youthfu’ prime,
An’ done nae thing,
But stringin’ blethers up in rhyme,
For fools to sing.
Had I to guid advice but harkit,
I might, by this hae led a market,
Or strutted in a bank an’ clarkit
My cash-account:
While here, half-mad, half-fed, half-sarkit,
Is a’ th’ amount.
I started, mutt’ring, blockhead! coof!
And heav’d on high my waukit loof,
To swear by a’ yon starry roof,
Or some rash aith,
That I, henceforth, would be rhyme-proof
Till my last breath—
When, click! the string the snick did draw:
And, jee! the door gaed to the wa’;
An’ by my ingle-lowe I saw,
Now bleezin’ bright,
A tight outlandish hizzie, braw
Come full in sight.
Ye need na doubt, I held my wisht;
The infant aith, half-form’d, was crusht;
I glowr’d as eerie’s I’d been dusht
In some wild glen;
When sweet, like modest worth, she blusht,
And stepped ben.
Green, slender, leaf-clad holly-boughs
Were twisted, gracefu’, round her brows,
I took her for some Scottish Muse,
By that same token;
An’ come to stop those reckless vows,
Wou’d soon be broken.
A “hair-brain’d, sentimental trace”
Was strongly marked in her face;
A wildly-witty, rustic grace
Shone full upon her:
Her eye, ev’n turn’d on empty space,
Beam’d keen with honour.
Down flow’d her robe, a tartan sheen,
’Till half a leg was scrimply seen:
And such a leg! my bonnie Jean
Could only peer it;
Sae straught, sae taper, tight, and clean,
Nane else came near it.
Her mantle large, of greenish hue,
My gazing wonder chiefly drew;
Deep lights and shades, bold-mingling, threw
A lustre grand;
And seem’d to my astonish’d view,
A well-known land.
Here, rivers in the sea were lost;
There, mountains to the skies were tost:
Here, tumbling billows mark’d the coast,
With surging foam;
There, distant shone Art’s lofty boast,
The lordly dome.
Here, Doon pour’d down his far-fetch’d floods;
There, well-fed Irwine stately thuds:
Auld hermit Ayr staw thro’ his woods,
On to the shore;
And many a lesser torrent scuds,
With seeming roar.
Low, in a sandy valley spread,
An ancient borough rear’d her head;
Still, as in Scottish story read,
She boasts a race,
To ev’ry nobler virtue bred,
And polish’d grace.
By stately tow’r, or palace fair,
Or ruins pendent in the air,
Bold stems of heroes, here and there,
I could discern;
Some seem’d to muse, some seem’d to dare,
With feature stern.
My heart did glowing transport feel,
To see a race[20] heroic wheel,
And brandish round the deep-dy’d steel
In sturdy blows;
While back-recoiling seem’d to reel
Their southron foes.
His Country’s Saviour,[21] mark him well!
Bold Richardton’s[22] heroic swell;
The chief on Sark[23] who glorious fell,
In high command;
And He whom ruthless fates expel
His native land.


There, where a sceptr’d Pictish shade[24]
Stalk’d round his ashes lowly laid,
I mark’d a martial race portray’d
In colours strong;
Bold, soldier-featur’d, undismay’d
They strode along.
Thro’ many a wild romantic grove,[25]
Near many a hermit-fancy’d cove,
(Fit haunts for friendship or for love,)
In musing mood,
An aged judge, I saw him rove,
Dispensing good.
With deep-struck, reverential awe,[26]
The learned sire and son I saw,
To Nature’s God and Nature’s law,
They gave their lore,
This, all its source and end to draw;
That, to adore.
Brydone’s brave ward[27] I well could spy,
Beneath old Scotia’s smiling eye;
Who call’d on Fame, low standing by,
To hand him on,
Where many a Patriot-name on high
And hero shone.


With musing-deep, astonish’d stare,
I view’d the heavenly-seeming fair;
A whisp’ring throb did witness bear
Of kindred sweet,
When with an elder sister’s air
She did me greet.
“All hail! My own inspired bard!
In me thy native Muse regard!
Nor longer mourn thy fate is hard,
Thus poorly low!
I come to give thee such reward
As we bestow.
“Know, the great genius of this land,
Has many a light aërial band,
Who, all beneath his high command,
As arts or arms they understand,
Their labours ply.
“They Scotia’s race among them share;
Some fire the soldier on to dare;
Some rouse the patriot up to bare
Corruption’s heart.
Some teach the bard, a darling care,
The tuneful art.
“‘Mong swelling floods of reeking gore,
They, ardent, kindling spirits, pour;
Or ‘mid the venal senate’s roar,
They, sightless, stand,
To mend the honest patriot-lore,
And grace the hand.
“And when the bard, or hoary sage,
Charm or instruct the future age,
They bind the wild, poetic rage
In energy,
Or point the inconclusive page
Full on the eye.
“Hence Fullarton, the brave and young;
Hence Dempster’s zeal-inspired tongue;
Hence sweet harmonious Beattie sung
His ‘Minstrel’ lays;
Or tore, with noble ardour stung,
The sceptic’s bays.
“To lower orders are assign’d
The humbler ranks of human-kind,
The rustic bard, the lab’ring hind,
The artisan;
All choose, as various they’re inclin’d
The various man.
“When yellow waves the heavy grain,
The threat’ning storm some, strongly, rein;
Some teach to meliorate the plain,
With tillage-skill;
And some instruct the shepherd-train,
Blythe o’er the hill.
“Some hint the lover’s harmless wile;
Some grace the maiden’s artless smile;
[91]Some soothe the lab’rer’s weary toil,
For humble gains,
And make his cottage-scenes beguile
His cares and pains.
“Some, bounded to a district-space,
Explore at large man’s infant race,
To mark the embryotic trace
Of rustic bard:
And careful note each op’ning grace,
A guide and guard.
“Of these am I—Coila my name;
And this district as mine I claim,
Where once the Campbells, chiefs of fame,
Held ruling pow’r:
I mark’d thy embryo-tuneful flame,
Thy natal hour.
“With future hope, I oft would gaze,
Fond, on thy little early ways,
Thy rudely carroll’d, chiming phrase,
In uncouth rhymes,
Fir’d at the simple, artless lays
Of other times.
“I saw thee seek the sounding shore,
Delighted with the dashing roar;
Or when the north his fleecy store
Drove through the sky,
I saw grim Nature’s visage hoar
Struck thy young eye.
“Or when the deep green-mantled earth
Warm cherish’d ev’ry flow’ret’s birth,
And joy and music pouring forth
In ev’ry grove,
I saw thee eye the general mirth
With boundless love.
“When ripen’d fields, and azure skies,
Called forth the reaper’s rustling noise,
I saw thee leave their evening joys,
And lonely stalk,
To vent thy bosom’s swelling rise
In pensive walk.
“When youthful love, warm-blushing, strong,
Keen-shivering shot thy nerves along,
Those accents, grateful to thy tongue,
Th’ adored Name
I taught thee how to pour in song,
To soothe thy flame.
“I saw thy pulse’s maddening play,
Wild send thee pleasure’s devious way,
Misled by Fancy’s meteor-ray,
By passion driven;
But yet the light that led astray
Was light from Heaven.
“I taught thy manners-painting strains,
The loves, the ways of simple swains,
Till now, o’er all my wide domains
Thy fame extends;
And some, the pride of Coila’s plains,
Become thy friends.
“Thou canst not learn, nor can I show,
To paint with Thomson’s landscape glow;
Or wake the bosom-melting throe,
With Shenstone’s art;
Or pour, with Gray, the moving flow,
Warm on the heart.
“Yet, all beneath the unrivall’d rose,
The lowly daisy sweetly blows;
Tho’ large the forest’s monarch throws
His army shade,
Yet green the juicy hawthorn grows,
Adown the glade.
“Then never murmur nor repine;
Strive in thy humble sphere to shine;
And, trust me, not Potosi’s mine,
Nor king’s regard,
Can give a bliss o’ermatching thine,
A rustic bard.
“To give my counsels all in one,
Thy tuneful flame still careful fan;
Preserve the dignity of man,
With soul erect;
And trust, the universal plan
Will all protect.
“And wear thou this,”—she solemn said,
And bound the holly round my head:
The polish’d leaves and berries red
Did rustling play;
And like a passing thought, she fled
In light away.


[19] Duan, a term of Ossian’s for the different divisions of a digressive poem. See his “Cath-Loda,” vol. ii. of Macpherson’s translation.

[20] The Wallaces.

[21] Sir William Wallace.

[22] Adam Wallace, of Richardton, cousin to the immortal preserver of Scottish independence.

[23] Wallace, Laird of Craigie, who was second in command under Douglas, Earl of Ormond, at the famous battle on the banks of Sark, fought anno 1448. That glorious victory was principally owing to the judicious conduct and intrepid valour of the gallant laird of Craigie, who died of his wounds after the action.

[24] Coilus, king of the Picts, from whom the district of Kyle is said to take its name, lies buried, as tradition says, near the family seat of the Montgomeries of Coilsfield, where his burial-place is still shown.

[25] Barskimming, the seat of the late Lord Justice-Clerk (Sir Thomas Miller of Glenlee, afterwards President of the Court of Session.)

[26] Catrine, the seat of Professor Dugald Steward.

[27] Colonel Fullarton.




“Yes! let the rich deride, the proud disdain,
The simple pleasures of the lowly train;
To me more dear, congenial to my heart,
One native charm, than all the gloss of art.”


[This Poem contains a lively and striking picture of some of the superstitious observances of old Scotland: on Halloween the desire to look into futurity was once all but universal in the north; and the charms and spells which Burns describes, form but a portion of those employed to enable the peasantry to have a peep up the dark vista of the future. The scene is laid on the romantic shores of Ayr, at a farmer’s fireside, and the actors in the rustic drama are the whole household, including supernumerary reapers and bandsmen about to be discharged from the engagements of harvest. “I never can help regarding this,” says James Hogg, “as rather a trivial poem!”]

Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans[29] dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the Cove,[30] to stray an’ rove
Amang the rocks an’ streams
To sport that night.
Amang the bonnie winding banks
Where Doon rins, wimplin’, clear,
Where Bruce[31] ance rul’d the martial ranks,
An’ shook his Carrick spear,
Some merry, friendly, countra folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks,
An’ haud their Halloween
Fu’ blythe that night.
The lasses feat, an’ cleanly neat,
Mair braw than when they’re fine;
Their faces blythe, fu’ sweetly kythe,
Hearts leal, an’ warm, an’ kin’;
The lads sae trig, wi’ wooer babs,
Weel knotted on their garten,
Some unco blate, an’ some wi’ gabs,
Gar lasses’ hearts gang startin’
Whiles fast at night.
Then, first and foremost, thro’ the kail,
Their stocks[32] maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, an’ graip an’ wale,
For muckle anes an’ straught anes.
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,
An’ wander’d through the bow-kail,
An’ pou’t, for want o’ better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow’t that night.
Then, straught or crooked, yird or nane,
They roar an’ cry a’ throu’ther;
The vera wee-things, todlin’, rin
Wi’ stocks out-owre their shouther;
An’ gif the custoc’s sweet or sour,
Wi’ joctelegs they taste them;
Syne coziely, aboon the door,
Wi’ cannie care, they’ve placed them
To lie that night.
The lasses staw frae mang them a’
To pou their stalks o’ corn;[33]
But Rab slips out, an’ jinks about,
Behint the muckle thorn:
He grippet Nelly hard an’ fast;
Loud skirl’d a’ the lasses;
But her tap-pickle maist was lost,
When kiuttlin’ in the fause-house[34]
Wi’ him that night.


The auld guidwife’s weel hoordet nits[35]
Are round an’ round divided;
An’ monie lads’ an’ lasses’ fates
Are there that night decided:
Some kindle, couthie, side by side,
An’ burn thegither trimly;
Some start awa’ wi’ saucy pride,
And jump out-owre the chimlie
Fu’ high that night.
Jean slips in twa wi’ tentie e’e;
Wha ’twas, she wadna tell;
But this is Jock, an’ this is me,
She says in to hersel’:
He bleez’d owre her, an’ she owre him,
As they wad never mair part;
’Till, fuff! he started up the lum,
An’ Jean had e’en a sair heart
To see’t that night.
Poor Willie, wi’ his bow-kail runt,
Was brunt wi’ primsie Mallie;
An’ Mallie, nae doubt, took the drunt,
To be compar’d to Willie;
Mall’s nit lap out wi’ pridefu’ fling,
An’ her ain fit it brunt it;
While Willie lap, and swoor, by jing,
’Twas just the way he wanted
To be that night.
Nell had the fause-house in her min’,
She pits hersel an’ Rob in;
In loving bleeze they sweetly join,
’Till white in ase they’re sobbin’;
Nell’s heart, was dancin’ at the view,
She whisper’d Rob to leuk for’t:
Rob, stowlins, prie’d her bonie mou’,
Fu’ cozie in the neuk for’t,
Unseen that night.
But Merran sat behint their backs,
Her thoughts on Andrew Bell;
She lea’es them gashin’ at their cracks,
And slips out by hersel’:
She through the yard the nearest taks,
An’ to the kiln she goes then,
An’ darklins graipit for the bauks,
And in the blue-clue[36] throws then,
Right fear’t that night.
An’ ay she win’t, an’ ay she swat,
I wat she made nae jaukin’;
’Till something held within the pat,
Guid L—d! but she was quaukin’!
But whether ’twas the Deil himsel’,
Or whether ’twas a bauk-en’,
Or whether it was Andrew Bell,
She did na wait on talkin’
To spier that night.
Wee Jenny to her graunie says,
“Will ye go wi’ me, graunie?
I’ll eat the apple[37] at the glass,
I gat frae uncle Johnnie:”
She fuff’t her pipe wi’ sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap’rin’,
She notic’t na, an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out thro’ that night.
“Ye little skelpie-limmer’s face!
I daur you try sic sportin’,
As seek the foul Thief onie place,
For him to spae your fortune:
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it;
For monie a ane has gotten a fright,
An’ liv’d an’ died deleeret
On sic a night.
“Ae hairst afore the Sherra-moor,
I mind’t as weel’s yestreen,
I was a gilpey then, I’m sure
I was na past fifteen:
The simmer had been cauld an’ wat,
An’ stuff was unco green;
An’ ay a rantin’ kirn we gat,
An’ just on Halloween
It fell that night.


“Our stibble-rig was Rab M’Graen,
A clever, sturdy fellow:
He’s sin gat Eppie Sim wi’ wean,
That liv’d in Achmacalla:
He gat hemp-seed,[38] I mind it weel,
And he made unco light o’t;
But monie a day was by himsel’,
He was sae sairly frighted
That vera night.”
Then up gat fechtin’ Jamie Fleck,
An’ he swoor by his conscience,
That he could saw hemp-seed a peck;
For it was a’ but nonsense;
The auld guidman raught down the pock,
An’ out a’ handfu’ gied him;
Syne bad him slip frae ‘mang the folk,
Sometime when nae ane see’d him,
An’ try’t that night.
He marches thro’ amang the stacks,
Tho’ he was something sturtin;
The graip he for a harrow taks,
An’ haurls at his curpin;
An’ ev’ry now an’ then he says,
“Hemp-seed, I saw thee,
An’ her that is to be my lass,
Come after me, an’ draw thee
As fast that night.”
He whistl’d up Lord Lennox’ march,
To keep his courage cheery;
Altho’ his hair began to arch,
He was sae fley’d an’ eerie;
’Till presently he hears a squeak,
An’ then a grane an’ gruntle;
He by his shouther gae a keek,
An’ tumbl’d wi’ a wintle
Out-owre that night.
He roar’d a horrid murder-shout,
In dreadfu’ desperation!
An’ young an’ auld cam rinnin’ out,
An’ hear the sad narration;
He swoor ’twas hilchin Jean M’Craw,
Or crouchie Merran Humphie,
’Till, stop! she trotted thro’ them a’;
An’ wha was it but Grumphie
Asteer that night!
Meg fain wad to the barn hae gaen,
To win three wechts o’ naething;[39]
But for to meet the deil her lane,
She pat but little faith in:
She gies the herd a pickle nits,
An’ twa red cheekit apples,
To watch, while for the barn she sets,
In hopes to see Tam Kipples
That vera night.
She turns the key wi’ cannie thraw,
An’ owre the threshold ventures;
But first on Sawnie gies a ca’,
Syne bauldly in she enters:
A ratton rattled up the wa’,
An’ she cried, L—d preserve her!
An’ ran thro’ midden-hole an’ a’,
An’ pray’d wi’ zeal and fervour,
Fu’ fast that night.
They hoy’t out Will, wi sair advice;
They hecht him some fine braw ane;
It chanc’d the stack he faddom’t thrice,[40]
Was timmer-propt for thrawin’;
He taks a swirlie auld moss-oak,
For some black, grousome carlin;
An’ loot a winze, an’ drew a stroke,
’Till skin in blypes cam haurlin’
Aff’s nieves that night.
A wanton widow Leezie was,
As canty as a kittlin;
But, och! that night, amang the shaws,
She got a fearfu’ settlin’!
She thro’ the whins, an’ by the cairn,
An’ owre the hill gaed scrievin,
Whare three lairds’ lands met at a burn,[41]
To dip her left sark-sleeve in,
Was bent that night.


Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As through the glen it wimpl’t;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it strays,
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl’t;
Whyles glitter’d to the nightly rays,
Wi’ bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night.
Amang the brackens on the brae,
Between her an’ the moon,
The deil, or else an outler quey,
Gat up an’ gae a croon:
Poor Leezie’s heart maist lap the hool!
Near lav’rock-height she jumpit,
But mist a fit, an’ in the pool
Out-owre the lugs she plumpit,
Wi’ a plunge that night.
In order, on the clean hearth-stane,
The luggies three[42] are ranged,
And ev’ry time great care is ta’en,
To see them duly changed:
Auld uncle John, wha wedlock’s joys
Sin Mar’s-year did desire,
Because he gat the toom-dish thrice,
He heav’d them on the fire
In wrath that night.
Wi’ merry sangs, and friendly cracks,
I wat they did na weary;
An’ unco tales, an’ funnie jokes,
Their sports were cheap an’ cheery;
Till butter’d so’ns[43] wi’ fragrant lunt,
Set a’ their gabs a-steerin’;
Syne, wi’ a social glass o’ strunt,
They parted aff careerin’
Fu’ blythe that night.


[28] Is thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are all abroad on their baneful midnight errands: particularly those aërial people, the Fairies, are said on that night to hold a grand anniversary.

[29] Certain little, romantic, rocky green hills, in the neighbourhood of the ancient seat of the Earls of Cassilis.

[30] A noted cavern near Colean-house, called the Cove of Colean which, as well as Cassilis Downans, is famed in country story for being a favourite haunt of fairies.

[31] The famous family of that name, the ancestors of Robert, the great deliverer of his country, were Earls of Carrick.

[32] The first ceremony of Halloween is pulling each a stock, or plant of kail. They must go out, hand-in-hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with: its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells—the husband or wife. If any yird, or earth, stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the custoc, that is, the heart of the stem, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to give them their ordinary appellation, the runts, are placed somewhere above the head of the door; and the Christian names of the people whom chance brings into the house are, according to the priority of placing the runts, the names in question.

[33] They go to the barn-yard, and pull each at three several times, a stalk of oats. If the third stalk wants the top-pickle, that is, the grain at the top of the stalk, the party in question will come to the marriage-bed anything but a maid.

[34] When the corn is in a doubtful state, by being too green or wet, the stack-builder, by means of old timber, &c., makes a large apartment in his stack, with an opening in the side which is fairest exposed to the wind: this he calls a fause-house.

[35] Burning the nuts is a famous charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire, and according as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be.

[36] Whoever would, with success, try this spell, must strictly observe these directions: Steal out, all alone, to the kiln, and, darkling, throw into the pot a clue of blue yarn; wind it in a clue off the old one; and towards the latter end, something will hold the thread; demand “wha hauds?” i.e. who holds? an answer will be returned from the kiln-pot, naming the Christian and surname of your future spouse.

[37] Take a candle, and go alone to a looking-glass; eat an apple before it, and some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time; the face of your conjugal companion, to be, will be seen in the glass, as if peeping over your shoulder.

[38] Steal out unperceived, and sow a handful of hemp-seed, harrowing it with anything you can conveniently draw after you. Repeat, now and then, “Hemp-seed, I saw thee; hemp-seed, I saw thee; and him (or her) that is to be my true love, come after me and pou thee.” Look over your left shoulder, and you will see the appearance of the person invoked, in the attitude of pulling hemp. Some traditions say, “Come after me, and shaw thee,” that is, show thyself; in which case it simply appears. Others omit the harrowing, and say, “Come after me, and harrow thee.”

[39] This charm must likewise be performed, unperceived, and alone. You go to the barn, and open both doors, taking them off the hinges, if possible; for there is danger that the being about to appear may shut the doors and do you some mischief. Then take that instrument used in winnowing the corn, which, in our country dialect, we call a wecht; and go through all the attitudes of letting down corn against the wind. Repeat it three times; and the third time, an apparition will pass through the barn, in at the windy door, and out at the other, having both the figure in question, and the appearance or retinue marking the employment or station in life.

[40] Take an opportunity of going unnoticed, to a bean stack, and fathom it three times round. The last fathom of the last time, you will catch in your arms the appearance of your future conjugal yoke-fellow.

[41] You go out, one or more, for this is a social spell, to a south running spring or rivulet, where “three lairds’ lands meet,” and dip your left shirt-sleeve. Go to bed in sight of a fire, and hang your wet sleeve before it to dry. Lie awake: and, some time near midnight, an apparition having the exact figure of the grand object in question, will come and turn the sleeve, as if to dry the other side of it.

[42] Take three dishes: put clean water in one, foul water in another, and leave the third empty; blindfold a person and lead him to the hearth where the dishes are ranged; he (or she) dips the left hand: if by chance in the clean water, the future husband or wife will come to the bar of matrimony a maid; if in the foul, a widow; if in the empty dish, it foretells, with equal certainty, no marriage at all. It is repeated three times, and every time the arrangement of the dishes is altered.

[43] Sowens, with butter instead of milk to them, is always the Halloween supper.




[The origin of this fine poem is alluded to by Burns in one of his letters to Mrs. Dunlop: “I had an old grand-uncle with whom my mother lived in her girlish years: the good old man was long blind ere he died, during which time his highest enjoyment was to sit and cry, while my mother would sing the simple old song of ‘The Life and Age of Man.’” From that truly venerable woman, long after the death of her distinguished son, Cromek, in collecting the Reliques, obtained a copy by recitation of the older strain. Though the tone and sentiment coincide closely with “Man was made to Mourn,” I agree with Lockhart, that Burns wrote it in obedience to his own habitual feelings.]

When chill November’s surly blast
Made fields and forests bare,
One ev’ning as I wandered forth
Along the banks of Ayr,
I spy’d a man whose aged step
Seem’d weary, worn with care;
His face was furrow’d o’er with years,
And hoary was his hair.
“Young stranger, whither wand’rest thou?”
Began the rev’rend sage;
“Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
Or youthful pleasure’s rage?
Or haply, prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began
To wander forth, with me to mourn
The miseries of man.
“The sun that overhangs yon moors,
Out-spreading far and wide,
Where hundreds labour to support
A haughty lordling’s pride:
I’ve seen yon weary winter-sun
Twice forty times return,
And ev’ry time had added proofs
That man was made to mourn.
“O man! while in thy early years,
[96]How prodigal of time!
Misspending all thy precious hours,
Thy glorious youthful prime!
Alternate follies take the sway;
Licentious passions burn;
Which tenfold force gives nature’s law,
That man was made to mourn.
“Look not alone on youthful prime,
Or manhood’s active might;
Man then is useful to his kind,
Supported in his right:
But see him on the edge of life,
With cares and sorrows worn;
Then age and want—oh! ill-match’d pair!—
Show man was made to mourn.
“A few seem favorites of fate,
In pleasure’s lap carest:
Yet, think not all the rich and great
Are likewise truly blest.
But, oh! what crowds in every land,
All wretched and forlorn!
Thro’ weary life this lesson learn—
That man was made to mourn.
“Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves,
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!
“See yonder poor, o’erlabour’d wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth
To give him leave to toil;
And see his lordly fellow-worm
The poor petition spurn,
Unmindful, though a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn.
“If I’m design’d yon lordling’s slave—
By Nature’s law design’d—
Why was an independent wish
E’er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty or scorn?
Or why has man the will and power
To make his fellow mourn?
“Yet, let not this too much, my son,
Disturb thy youthful breast;
This partial view of human-kind
Is surely not the best!
The poor, oppressed, honest man
Had never, sure, been born,
Had there not been some recompense
To comfort those that mourn!
“O Death! the poor man’s dearest friend—
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour, my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest!
The great, the wealthy, fear thy blow,
From pomp and pleasure torn!
But, oh! a blest relief to those
That weary-laden mourn.”



[“I have been,” says Burns, in his common-place book, “taking a peep through, as Young finely says, ‘The dark postern of time long elapsed.’ ’Twas a rueful prospect! What a tissue of thoughtlessness, weakness, and folly! my life reminded me of a ruined temple. What strength, what proportion in some parts, what unsightly gaps, what prostrate ruins in others!” The fragment, To Ruin, seems to have had its origin in moments such as these.]


All hail! inexorable lord!
At whose destruction-breathing word,
The mightiest empires fall!
Thy cruel, woe-delighted train,
The ministers of grief and pain,
A sullen welcome, all!
With stern-resolv’d, despairing eye,
I see each aimed dart;
For one has cut my dearest tie,
And quivers in my heart.
Then low’ring and pouring,
The storm no more I dread;
Though thick’ning and black’ning,
Round my devoted head.


And thou grim pow’r, by life abhorr’d,
While life a pleasure can afford,
Oh! hear a wretch’s prayer!
No more I shrink appall’d, afraid;
I court, I beg thy friendly aid,
To close this scene of care!
[97]When shall my soul, in silent peace,
Resign life’s joyless day;
My weary heart its throbbings cease,
Cold mould’ring in the clay?
No fear more, no tear more,
To stain my lifeless face;
Enclasped, and grasped
Within thy cold embrace!





[This burning commentary, by Burns, on the Essays of Goudie in the Macgill controversy, was first published by Stewart, with the Jolly Beggars, in 1801; it is akin in life and spirit to Holy Willie’s Prayer; and may be cited as a sample of the wit and the force which the poet brought to the great, but now forgotten, controversy of the West.]

O Goudie! terror of the Whigs,
Dread of black coats and rev’rend wigs,
Sour Bigotry, on her last legs,
Girnin’, looks back,
Wishin’ the ten Egyptian plagues
Wad seize you quick.
Poor gapin’, glowrin’ Superstition,
Waes me! she’s in a sad condition:
Fie! bring Black Jock, her state physician,
To see her water:
Alas! there’s ground o’ great suspicion
She’ll ne’er get better.
Auld Orthodoxy lang did grapple,
But now she’s got an unco ripple;
Haste, gie her name up i’ the chapel,
Nigh unto death;
See, how she fetches at the thrapple,
An’ gasps for breath.
Enthusiasm’s past redemption,
Gaen in a gallopin’ consumption,
Not a’ the quacks, wi’ a’ their gumption,
Will ever mend her.
Her feeble pulse gies strong presumption
Death soon will end her.
’Tis you and Taylor[44] are the chief,
Wha are to blame for this mischief,
But gin the Lord’s ain focks gat leave,
A toom tar-barrel,
An’ twa red peats wad send relief,
An’ end the quarrel.


[44] Dr. Taylor, of Norwich.





April 1st, 1785.


[“The epistle to John Lapraik,” says Gilbert Burns, “was produced exactly on the occasion described by the author. Rocking is a term derived from primitive times, when our country-women employed their spare hours in spinning on the roke or distaff. This simple instrument is a very portable one; and well fitted to the social inclination of meeting in a neighbour’s house; hence the phrase of going a rocking, or with the roke. As the connexion the phrase had with the implement was forgotten when the roke gave place to the spinning-wheel, the phrase came to be used by both sexes on social occasions, and men talk of going with their rokes as well as women.”]

While briers an’ woodbines budding green,
An’ paitricks scraichin’ loud at e’en,
An’ morning poussie whidden seen,
Inspire my muse,
This freedom in an unknown frien’
I pray excuse.
On Fasten-een we had a rockin’,
To ca’ the crack and weave our stockin’,
And there was muckle fun an’ jokin’,
Ye need na doubt;
At length we had a hearty yokin’
At sang about.
There was ae sang, amang the rest,
Aboon them a’ it pleas’d me best,
That some kind husband had addrest
To some sweet wife;
It thirl’d the heart-strings thro’ the breast,
A’ to the life.
I’ve scarce heard aught describ’d sae weel,
What gen’rous manly bosoms feel,
Thought I, “Can this be Pope or Steele,
Or Beattie’s wark?”
They told me ’twas an odd kind chiel
About Muirkirk.
It pat me fidgin-fain to hear’t,
And sae about him there I spier’t,
Then a’ that ken’t him round declar’d
He had injine,
That, nane excell’d it, few cam near’t,
It was sae fine.
That, set him to a pint of ale,
An’ either douce or merry tale,
Or rhymes an’ sangs he’d made himsel’,
Or witty catches,
’Tween Inverness and Tiviotdale,
He had few matches.
Then up I gat, an’ swoor an aith,
Tho’ I should pawn my pleugh and graith,
Or die a cadger pownie’s death
At some dyke-back,
A pint an’ gill I’d gie them baith
To hear your crack.
But, first an’ foremost, I should tell,
Amaist as soon as I could spell,
I to the crambo-jingle fell,
Tho’ rude an’ rough,
Yet crooning to a body’s sel’,
Does weel eneugh.
I am nae poet in a sense,
But just a rhymer, like, by chance,
An’ hae to learning nae pretence,
Yet what the matter?
Whene’er my Muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.
Your critic-folk may cock their nose,
And say, “How can you e’er propose,
You, wha ken hardly verse frae prose,
To mak a sang?”
But, by your leaves, my learned foes,
Ye’re may-be wrang.
What’s a’ your jargon o’ your schools,
Your Latin names for horns an’ stools;
If honest nature made you fools,
What sairs your grammars?
Ye’d better taen up spades and shools,
Or knappin-hammers.
A set o’ dull, conceited hashes,
Confuse their brains in college classes!
They gang in stirks and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An’ syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o’ Greek!
Gie me ae spark o’ Nature’s fire!
That’s a’ the learning I desire;
Then though I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire
At pleugh or cart,
My muse, though hamely in attire,
May touch the heart.
O for a spunk o’ Allan’s glee,
Or Fergusson’s, the bauld and slee,
Or bright Lapraik’s, my friend to be,
If I can hit it!
That would be lear eneugh for me,
If I could get it.
Now, sir, if ye hae friends enow,
Tho’ real friends, I b’lieve, are few,
Yet, if your catalogue be fou,
I’se no insist,
But gif ye want ae friend that’s true—
I’m on your list.
I winna blaw about mysel;
As ill I like my fauts to tell;
But friends an’ folk that wish me well,
They sometimes roose me;
Tho’ I maun own, as monie still
As far abuse me.
There’s ae wee faut they whiles lay to me,
I like the lasses—Gude forgie me!
For monie a plack they wheedle frae me,
At dance or fair;
May be some ither thing they gie me
They weel can spare.
But Mauchline race, or Mauchline fair;
I should be proud to meet you there!
We’se gie ae night’s discharge to care,
If we forgather,
An’ hae a swap o’ rhymin’-ware
Wi’ ane anither.
The four-gill chap, we’se gar him clatter,
An’ kirsen him wi’ reekin’ water;
Syne we’ll sit down an’ tak our whitter,
To cheer our heart;
An’ faith, we’se be acquainted better,
Before we part.
Awa, ye selfish, warly race,
Wha think that havins, sense, an’ grace,
Ev’n love an’ friendship, should give place
To catch-the-plack!
I dinna like to see your face,
Nor hear your crack.
But ye whom social pleasure charms,
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
“Each aid the others,”
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!
But, to conclude my lang epistle,
As my auld pen’s worn to the grissle;
Twa lines frae you wad gar me fissle,
Who am, most fervent,
While I can either sing or whissle,
Your friend and servant.





[The John Lapraik to whom these epistles are addressed lived at Dalfram in the neighbourhood of Muirkirk, and was a rustic worshipper of the Muse: he unluckily, however, involved himself in that Western bubble, the Ayr Bank, and consoled himself by composing in his distress that song which moved the heart of Burns, beginning

“When I upon thy bosom lean.”

He afterwards published a volume of verse, of a quality which proved that the inspiration in his song of domestic sorrow was no settled power of soul.]

April 21st, 1785.

While new-ca’d ky, rowte at the stake,
An’ pownies reek in pleugh or braik,
This hour on e’enin’s edge I take
To own I’m debtor,
To honest-hearted, auld Lapraik,
For his kind letter.
Forjesket sair, wi’ weary legs,
Rattlin’ the corn out-owre the rigs,
Or dealing thro’ amang the naigs
Their ten hours’ bite,
My awkart muse sair pleads and begs,
I would na write.
The tapetless ramfeezl’d hizzie,
She’s saft at best, and something lazy,
Quo’ she, “Ye ken, we’ve been sae busy,
This month’ an’ mair,
That trouth, my head is grown right dizzie,
An’ something sair.”
Her dowff excuses pat me mad:
“Conscience,” says I, “ye thowless jad!
I’ll write, an’ that a hearty blaud,
This vera night;
So dinna ye affront your trade,
But rhyme it right.
“Shall bauld Lapraik, the king o’ hearts,
Tho’ mankind were a pack o’ cartes,
Roose you sae weel for your deserts,
In terms sae friendly,
Yet ye’ll neglect to show your parts,
An’ thank him kindly?”
Sae I gat paper in a blink
An’ down gaed stumpie in the ink:
Quoth I, “Before I sleep a wink,
I vow I’ll close it;
An’ if ye winna mak it clink,
By Jove I’ll prose it!”
Sae I’ve begun to scrawl, but whether
In rhyme or prose, or baith thegither,
Or some hotch-potch that’s rightly neither,
Let time mak proof;
But I shall scribble down some blether
Just clean aff-loof.
My worthy friend, ne’er grudge an’ carp,
Tho’ fortune use you hard an’ sharp;
Come, kittle up your moorland-harp
Wi’ gleesome touch!
Ne’er mind how fortune waft an’ warp;
She’s but a b—tch.
She’s gien me monie a jirt an’ fleg,
Sin’ I could striddle owre a rig;
But, by the L—d, tho’ I should beg
Wi’ lyart pow,
I’ll laugh, an’ sing, an’ shake my leg,
As lang’s I dow!
Now comes the sax an’ twentieth simmer,
I’ve seen the bud upo’ the timmer,
Still persecuted by the limmer
Frae year to year;
But yet despite the kittle kimmer,
I, Rob, am here.
Do ye envy the city gent,
Behint a kist to lie and sklent,
Or purse-proud, big wi’ cent. per cent.
And muckle wame,
In some bit brugh to represent
A bailie’s name?
Or is’t the paughty, feudal Thane,
Wi’ ruffl’d sark an’ glancing cane,
Wha thinks himsel nae sheep-shank bane,
But lordly stalks,
While caps and bonnets aff are taen,
As by he walks!
“O Thou wha gies us each guid gift!
Gie me o’ wit an’ sense a lift,
Then turn me, if Thou please, adrift,
Thro’ Scotland wide;
Wi’ cits nor lairds I wadna shift,
In a’ their pride!”
Were this the charter of our state,
“On pain’ o’ hell be rich an’ great,”
Damnation then would be our fate,
Beyond remead;
But, thanks to Heav’n, that’s no the gate
We learn our creed.
For thus the royal mandate ran,
When first the human race began,
“The social, friendly, honest man,
Whate’er he be,
’Tis he fulfils great Nature’s plan,
An’ none but he!”
O mandate, glorious and divine!
The followers o’ the ragged Nine,
Poor thoughtless devils! yet may shine
In glorious light,
While sordid sons o’ Mammon’s line
Are dark as night.
Tho’ here they scrape, an’ squeeze, an’ growl,
Their worthless nievfu’ of a soul
May in some future carcase howl
The forest’s fright;
Or in some day-detesting owl
May shun the light.
Then may Lapraik and Burns arise,
To reach their native kindred skies,
And sing their pleasures, hopes, an’ joys,
In some mild sphere,
Still closer knit in friendship’s ties
Each passing year!





[I have heard one of our most distinguished English poets recite with a sort of ecstasy some of the verses of these epistles, and praise the ease of the language and the happiness of the thoughts. He averred, however, that the poet, when pinched for a word, hesitated not to coin one, and instanced, “tapetless,” “ramfeezled,” and “forjesket,” as intrusions in our dialect. These words seem indeed, to some Scotchmen, strange and uncouth, but they are true words of the west.]

Sept. 13th, 1785.

Guid speed an’ furder to you, Johnny,
Guid health, hale han’s, an’ weather bonny;
Now when ye’re nickan down fu’ canny
The staff o’ bread,
May ye ne’er want a stoup o’ bran’y
To clear your head.
May Boreas never thresh your rigs,
Nor kick your rickles aff their legs,
Sendin’ the stuff o’er muirs an’ haggs
Like drivin’ wrack;
But may the tapmast grain that wags
Come to the sack.
I’m bizzie too, an’ skelpin’ at it,
But bitter, daudin’ showers hae wat it,
Sae my auld stumpie pen I gat it
Wi’ muckle wark,
An’ took my jocteleg an’ whatt it,
Like ony clark.
It’s now twa month that I’m your debtor
For your braw, nameless, dateless letter,
Abusin’ me for harsh ill nature
On holy men,
While deil a hair yoursel’ ye’re better,
But mair profane.
But let the kirk-folk ring their bells,
Let’s sing about our noble sel’s;
We’ll cry nae jads frae heathen hills
To help, or roose us,
But browster wives an’ whiskey stills,
They are the muses.
Your friendship, Sir, I winna quat it
An’ if ye mak’ objections at it,
Then han’ in nieve some day we’ll knot it,
An’ witness take,
An’ when wi’ Usquabae we’ve wat it
It winna break.
But if the beast and branks be spar’d
Till kye be gaun without the herd,
An’ a’ the vittel in the yard,
An’ theekit right,
I mean your ingle-side to guard
Ae winter night.
Then muse-inspirin’ aqua-vitæ
Shall make us baith sae blythe an’ witty,
Till ye forget ye’re auld an’ gatty,
An’ be as canty,
As ye were nine year less than thretty,
Sweet ane an’ twenty!
But stooks are cowpet wi’ the blast,
An’ now the sin keeks in the west,
Then I maun rin amang the rest
An’ quat my chanter;
Sae I subscribe myself in haste,
Yours, Rab the Ranter.





[The person to whom this epistle is addressed, was schoolmaster of Ochiltree, and afterwards of New Lanark: he was a writer of verses too, like many more of the poet’s comrades;—of verses which rose not above the barren level of mediocrity: “one of his poems,” says Chambers, “was a laughable elegy on the death of the Emperor Paul.” In his verses to Burns, under the name of a Tailor, there is nothing to laugh at, though they are intended to be laughable as well as monitory.]

May, 1785.

I gat your letter, winsome Willie;
Wi’ gratefu’ heart I thank you brawlie;
Tho’ I maun say’t, I wad be silly,
An’ unco vain,
Should I believe, my coaxin’ billie,
Your flatterin’ strain.
But I’se believe ye kindly meant it,
I sud be laith to think ye hinted
Ironic satire, sidelins sklented
On my poor Musie;
Tho’ in sic phraisin’ terms ye’ve penn’d it,
I scarce excuse ye.
My senses wad be in a creel,
Should I but dare a hope to speel,
Wi’ Allan, or wi’ Gilbertfield,
The braes o’ fame;
Or Fergusson, the writer chiel,
A deathless name.
(O Fergusson! thy glorious parts
Ill suited law’s dry, musty arts!
My curse upon your whunstane hearts,
Ye Enbrugh gentry!
The tythe o’ what ye waste at cartes
Wad stow’d his pantry!)
Yet when a tale comes i’ my head,
Or lasses gie my heart a screed,
As whiles they’re like to be my dead
(O sad disease!)
I kittle up my rustic reed,
It gies me ease.
Auld Coila, now, may fidge fu’ fain,
She’s gotten poets o’ her ain,
Chiels wha their chanters winna hain,
But tune their lays,
Till echoes a’ resound again
Her weel-sung praise.
Nae poet thought her worth his while,
To set her name in measur’d stile;
She lay like some unkenn’d-of isle
Beside New-Holland,
Or whare wild-meeting oceans boil
Besouth Magellan.
Ramsay an’ famous Fergusson
Gied Forth and Tay a lift aboon;
Yarrow an’ Tweed, to monie a tune,
Owre Scotland rings,
While Irwin, Lugar, Ayr, an’ Doon,
Nae body sings.
Th’ Ilissus, Tiber, Thames, an’ Seine,
Glide sweet in monie a tunefu’ line!
But, Willie, set your fit to mine,
An’ cock your crest,
We’ll gar our streams an’ burnies shine
Up wi’ the best.
We’ll sing auld Coila’s plains an’ fells,
Her moor’s red-brown wi’ heather bells,
Her banks an’ braes, her dens an’ dells,
Where glorious Wallace
Aft bure the gree, as story tells,
Frae southron billies.
At Wallace’ name, what Scottish blood
But boils up in a spring-tide flood!
Oft have our fearless fathers strode
By Wallace’ side,
Still pressing onward, red-wat shod,
Or glorious dy’d.
O sweet are Coila’s haughs an’ woods,
When lintwhites chant amang the buds,
And jinkin’ hares, in amorous whids
Their loves enjoy,
While thro’ the braes the cushat croods
With wailfu’ cry!
Ev’n winter bleak has charms to me
When winds rave thro’ the naked tree;
Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree
Are hoary gray:
Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee,
Dark’ning the day.
O Nature! a’ thy shews an’ forms
To feeling, pensive hearts hae charms!
Whether the summer kindly warms,
Wi’ life an’ light,
Or winter howls, in gusty storms,
The lang, dark night!
The muse, nae Poet ever fand her,
’Till by himsel’ he learn’d to wander,
Adown some trotting burn’s meander,
An’ no think lang;
O sweet, to stray an’ pensive ponder
A heart-felt sang!
The warly race may drudge an’ drive,
Hog-shouther, jundie, stretch an’ strive,
Let me fair Nature’s face descrive,
And I, wi’ pleasure,
Shall let the busy, grumbling hive
Bum owre their treasure.
Fareweel, my “rhyme-composing brither!”
We’ve been owre lang unkenn’d to ither:
Now let us lay our heads thegither,
In love fraternal;
May envy wallop in a tether,
Black fiend, infernal!
While Highlandmen hate tolls an’ taxes;
While moorlan’ herds like guid fat braxies;
While terra firma, on her axes
Diurnal turns,
Count on a friend, in faith an’ practice,
In Robert Burns.


My memory’s no worth a preen:
I had amaist forgotten clean,
Ye bade me write you what they mean,
By this New Light,
‘Bout which our herds sae aft hae been,
Maist like to fight.
In days when mankind were but callans,
At grammar, logic, an’ sic talents,
They took nae pains their speech to balance,
Or rules to gie,
But spak their thoughts in plain, braid Lallans,
Like you or me.
In thae auld times, they thought the moon,
Just like a sark, or pair o’ shoon,
Wore by degrees, ’till her last roon,
Gaed past their viewing,
An’ shortly after she was done,
They gat a new one.
This past for certain—undisputed;
It ne’er cam i’ their heads to doubt it,
’Till chiels gat up an’ wad confute it,
An’ ca’d it wrang;
An’ muckle din there was about it,
Baith loud an’ lang.
Some herds, weel learn’d upo’ the beuk,
Wad threap auld folk the thing misteuk;
For ’twas the auld moon turned a neuk,
An’ out o’ sight,
An’ backlins-comin’, to the leuk,
She grew mair bright.
This was deny’d, it was affirm’d;
The herds an’ hissels were alarm’d:
The rev’rend gray-beards rav’d and storm’d
That beardless laddies
Should think they better were inform’d
Than their auld daddies.
Frae less to mair it gaed to sticks;
Frae words an’ aiths to clours an’ nicks,
An’ monie a fallow gat his licks,
Wi’ hearty crunt;
An’ some, to learn them for their tricks,
Were hang’d an’ brunt.
This game was play’d in monie lands,
An’ Auld Light caddies bure sic hands,
That, faith, the youngsters took the sands
Wi’ nimble shanks,
’Till lairds forbade, by strict commands,
Sic bluidy pranks.
But New Light herds gat sic a cowe,
Folk thought them ruin’d stick-an’-stowe,
Till now amaist on every knowe,
Ye’ll find ane plac’d;
An’ some their New Light fair avow,
Just quite barefac’d.
Nae doubt the Auld Light flocks are bleatin’;
Their zealous herds are vex’d an’ sweatin’:
Mysel’, I’ve even seen them greetin’
Wi’ girnin’ spite,
To hear the moon sae sadly lie’d on
By word an’ write.
But shortly they will cowe the loons;
Some Auld Light herds in neibor towns
Are mind’t in things they ca’ balloons,
To tak a flight,
An’ stay ae month amang the moons
And see them right.
Guid observation they will gie them:
An’ when the auld moon’s gaun to lea’e them,
The hindmost shaird, they’ll fetch it wi’ them,
Just i’ their pouch,
An’ when the New Light billies see them,
I think they’ll crouch!
Sae, ye observe that a’ this clatter
Is naething but a “moonshine matter;”
But tho’ dull prose-folk Latin splatter
In logic tulzie,
I hope we bardies ken some better
Than mind sic brulzie.





[This hasty and not very decorous effusion, was originally entitled “The Poet’s Welcome; or, Rab the Rhymer’s Address to his Bastard Child.” A copy, with the more softened, but less expressive title, was published by Stewart, in 1801, and is alluded to by Burns himself, in his biographical letter to Moore. “Bonnie Betty,” the mother of the “sonsie-smirking, dear-bought Bess,” of the Inventory, lived in Largieside: to support this daughter the poet made over the copyright of his works when he proposed to go to the West Indies. She lived to be a woman, and to marry one John Bishop, overseer at Polkemmet, where she died in 1817. It is said she resembled Burns quite as much as any of the rest of his children.]

Thou’s welcome, wean, mischanter fa’ me,
If ought of thee, or of thy mammy,
Shall ever daunton me, or awe me,
My sweet wee lady,
Or if I blush when thou shalt ca’ me
Tit-ta or daddy.
Wee image of my bonny Betty,
I, fatherly, will kiss and daut thee,
As dear and near my heart I set thee
Wi’ as gude will
As a’ the priests had seen me get thee
That’s out o’ hell.
What tho’ they ca’ me fornicator,
An’ tease my name in kintry clatter:
The mair they talk I’m kent the better,
E’en let them clash;
An auld wife’s tongue’s a feckless matter
To gie ane fash.
Sweet fruit o’ mony a merry dint,
My funny toil is now a’ tint,
Sin’ thou came to the warl asklent,
Which fools may scoff at;
In my last plack thy part’s be in’t
The better ha’f o’t.
An’ if thou be what I wad hae thee,
An’ tak the counsel I sall gie thee,
A lovin’ father I’ll be to thee,
If thou be spar’d;
Thro’ a’ thy childish years I’ll e’e thee,
An’ think’t weel war’d.
Gude grant that thou may ay inherit
Thy mither’s person, grace, an’ merit,
An’ thy poor worthless daddy’s spirit,
Without his failins;
’Twill please me mair to hear an’ see it
Than stocket mailens.




“Great nature spoke, observant man obey’d.”


[This Poem was written by Burns at Mossgiel, and “humbly inscribed to Gavin Hamilton, Esq.” It is supposed to allude to his intercourse with Jean Armour, with the circumstances of which he seems to have made many of his comrades acquainted. These verses were well known to many of the admirers of the poet, but they remained in manuscript till given to the world by Sir Harris Nicolas, in Pickering’s Aldine Edition of the British Poets.]

Let other heroes boast their scars,
The marks of sturt and strife;
[104]And other poets sing of wars,
The plagues of human life;
Shame fa’ the fun; wi’ sword and gun
To slap mankind like lumber!
I sing his name, and nobler fame,
Wha multiplies our number.
Great Nature spoke with air benign,
“Go on, ye human race!
This lower world I you resign;
Be fruitful and increase.
The liquid fire of strong desire
I’ve pour’d it in each bosom;
Here, in this hand, does mankind stand,
And there, is beauty’s blossom.”
The hero of these artless strains,
A lowly bard was he,
Who sung his rhymes in Coila’s plains
With meikle mirth an’ glee;
Kind Nature’s care had given his share,
Large, of the flaming current;
And all devout, he never sought
To stem the sacred torrent.
He felt the powerful, high behest,
Thrill vital through and through;
And sought a correspondent breast,
To give obedience due:
Propitious Powers screen’d the young flowers,
From mildews of abortion;
And lo! the bard, a great reward,
Has got a double portion!
Auld cantie Coil may count the day,
As annual it returns,
The third of Libra’s equal sway,
That gave another B[urns],
With future rhymes, an’ other times,
To emulate his sire;
To sing auld Coil in nobler style,
With more poetic fire.
Ye Powers of peace, and peaceful song,
Look down with gracious eyes;
And bless auld Coila, large and long,
With multiplying joys:
Lang may she stand to prop the land,
The flow’r of ancient nations;
And B[urns’s] spring, her fame to sing,
Thro’ endless generations!



[Poor M’Math was at the period of this epistle assistant to Wodrow, minister of Tarbolton: he was a good preacher, a moderate man in matters of discipline, and an intimate of the Coilsfield Montgomerys. His dependent condition depressed his spirits: he grew dissipated; and finally, it is said, enlisted as a common soldier, and died in a foreign land.]

Sept. 17th, 1785.

While at the stook the shearers cow’r
To shun the bitter blaudin’ show’r,
Or in gulravage rinnin’ scow’r
To pass the time,
To you I dedicate the hour
In idle rhyme.
My musie, tir’d wi’ mony a sonnet
On gown, an’ ban’, and douse black bonnet,
Is grown right eerie now she’s done it,
Lest they should blame her,
An’ rouse their holy thunder on it
And anathem her.
I own ’twas rash, an’ rather hardy,
That I, a simple countra bardie,
Shou’d meddle wi’ a pack sae sturdy,
Wha, if they ken me,
Can easy, wi’ a single wordie,
Lowse hell upon me.
But I gae mad at their grimaces,
Their sighin’ cantin’ grace-proud faces,
Their three-mile prayers, and hauf-mile graces,
Their raxin’ conscience,
Whase greed, revenge, an’ pride disgraces,
Waur nor their nonsense.
There’s Gaun,[45] miska’t waur than a beast,
Wha has mair honour in his breast
Than mony scores as guid’s the priest
Wha sae abus’t him.
An’ may a bard no crack his jest
What way they’ve use’t him.
See him, the poor man’s friend in need,
The gentleman in word an’ deed,
An’ shall his fame an’ honour bleed
By worthless skellums,
An’ not a muse erect her head
To cowe the blellums?


O Pope, had I thy satire’s darts
To gie the rascals their deserts,
I’d rip their rotten, hollow hearts,
An’ tell aloud
Their jugglin’ hocus-pocus arts
To cheat the crowd.
God knows, I’m no the thing I shou’d be,
Nor am I even the thing I cou’d be,
But twenty times, I rather wou’d be
An atheist clean,
Than under gospel colours hid be
Just for a screen.
An honest man may like a glass,
An honest man may like a lass,
But mean revenge, an’ malice fause
He’ll still disdain,
An’ then cry zeal for gospel laws,
Like some we ken.
They take religion in their mouth;
They talk o’ mercy, grace, an’ truth,
For what?—to gie their malice skouth
On some puir wight,
An’ hunt him down, o’er right, an’ ruth,
To ruin straight.
All hail, Religion! maid divine!
Pardon a muse sae mean as mine,
Who in her rough imperfect line,
Thus daurs to name thee;
To stigmatize false friends of thine
Can ne’er defame thee.
Tho’ blotch’d an’ foul wi’ mony a stain,
An’ far unworthy of thy train,
With trembling voice I tune my strain
To join with those,
Who boldly daur thy cause maintain
In spite o’ foes:
In spite o’ crowds, in spite o’ mobs,
In spite of undermining jobs,
In spite o’ dark banditti stabs
At worth an’ merit,
By scoundrels, even wi’ holy robes,
But hellish spirit.
O Ayr! my dear, my native ground,
Within thy presbyterial bound
A candid lib’ral band is found
Of public teachers,
As men, as Christians too, renown’d,
An’ manly preachers.
Sir, in that circle you are nam’d;
Sir, in that circle you are fam’d;
An’ some, by whom your doctrine’s blam’d,
(Which gies you honour,)
Even Sir, by them your heart’s esteem’d,
An’ winning manner.
Pardon this freedom I have ta’en,
An’ if impertinent I’ve been,
Impute it not, good Sir, in ane
Whase heart ne’er wrang’d ye,
But to his utmost would befriend
Ought that belang’d ye.


[45] Gavin Hamilton, Esq.





[This beautiful poem was imagined while the poet was holding the plough, on the farm of Mossgiel: the field is still pointed out: and a man called Blane is still living, who says he was gaudsman to the bard at the time, and chased the mouse with the plough-pettle, for which he was rebuked by his young master, who inquired what harm the poor mouse had done him. In the night that followed, Burns awoke his gaudsman, who was in the same bed with him, recited the poem as it now stands, and said, “What think you of our mouse now?”]

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
And never miss’t!
Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin;
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin’!
[106]An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’,
Baith snell and keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
’Till, crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.
That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
For promis’d joy.
Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear.



“Gie him strong drink, until he wink,
That’s sinking in despair;
An’ liquor guid to fire his bluid,
That’s prest wi’ grief an’ care;
There let him bouse, an’ deep carouse,
Wi’ bumpers flowing o’er,
Till he forgets his loves or debts,
An’ minds his griefs no more.”

Solomon’s Proverb, xxxi. 6, 7.

[“I here enclose you,” said Burns, 20 March, 1786, to his friend Kennedy, “my Scotch Drink; I hope some time before we hear the gowk, to have the pleasure of seeing you at Kilmarnock: when I intend we shall have a gill between us, in a mutchkin stoup.”]

Let other poets raise a fracas
‘Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ dru’ken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names and stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug,
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.
O, thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink;
Whether thro’ wimplin’ worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream o’er the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!
Let husky wheat the haughs adorn,
An’ aits set up their awnie horn,
An’ pease an’ beans, at e’en or morn,
Perfume the plain,
Leeze me on thee, John Barleycorn,
Thou king o’ grain!
On thee aft Scotland chows her cood,
In souple scones, the wale o’ food!
Or tumblin’ in the boilin’ flood
Wi’ kail an’ beef;
But when thou pours thy strong heart’s blood,
There thou shines chief.
Food fills the wame an’ keeps us livin’;
Tho’ life’s a gift no worth receivin’
When heavy dragg’d wi’ pine an’ grievin’;
But, oil’d by thee,
The wheels o’ life gae down-hill, scrievin,’
Wi’ rattlin’ glee.
Thou clears the head o’ doited Lear;
Thou cheers the heart o’ drooping Care;
Thou strings the nerves o’ Labour sair,
At’s weary toil;
Thou even brightens dark Despair
Wi’ gloomy smile.
Aft, clad in massy, siller weed,
Wi’ gentles thou erects thy head;
Yet humbly kind in time o’ need,
The poor man’s wine,
His wee drap parritch, or his bread,
Thou kitchens fine.
Thou art the life o’ public haunts;
But thee, what were our fairs an’ rants?
Ev’n godly meetings o’ the saunts,
By thee inspir’d,
When gaping they besiege the tents,
Are doubly fir’d.
That merry night we get the corn in,
O sweetly then thou reams the horn in!
Or reekin’ on a new-year morning
In cog or dicker,
An’ just a wee drap sp’ritual burn in,
An’ gusty sucker!
When Vulcan gies his bellows breath,
An’ ploughmen gather wi’ their graith,
O rare! to see thee fizz an’ freath
I’ th’ lugget caup!
Then Burnewin comes on like Death
At ev’ry chap.
Nae mercy, then, for airn or steel;
The brawnie, bainie, ploughman chiel,
Brings hard owrehip, wi’ sturdy wheel,
The strong forehammer,
Till block an’ studdie ring an’ reel
Wi’ dinsome clamour.
When skirlin’ weanies see the light,
Thou maks the gossips clatter bright,
How fumblin’ cuifs their dearies slight;
Wae worth the name!
Nae howdie gets a social night,
Or plack frae them.
When neibors anger at a plea,
An’ just as wud as wud can be,
How easy can the barley-bree
Cement the quarrel!
It’s aye the cheapest lawyer’s fee,
To taste the barrel.
Alake! that e’er my muse has reason
To wyte her countrymen wi’ treason!
But monie daily weet their weason
Wi’ liquors nice,
An’ hardly, in a winter’s season,
E’er spier her price.
Wae worth that brandy, burning trash!
Fell source o’ monie a pain an’ brash!
Twins monie a poor, doylt, druken hash,
O’ half his days;
An’ sends, beside, auld Scotland’s cash
To her warst faes.
Ye Scots, wha wish auld Scotland well,
Ye chief, to you my tale I tell,
Poor plackless devils like mysel’,
It sets you ill,
Wi’ bitter, dearthfu’ wines to mell,
Or foreign gill.
May gravels round his blather wrench,
An’ gouts torment him inch by inch,
Wha twists his gruntle wi’ a glunch
O’ sour disdain,
Out owre a glass o’ whiskey punch
Wi’ honest men;
O whiskey! soul o’ plays an’ pranks!
Accept a Bardie’s gratefu’ thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless cranks
Are my poor verses!
Thou comes—they rattle i’ their ranks
At ither’s a——s!
Thee, Ferintosh! O sadly lost!
Scotland lament frae coast to coast!
Now colic grips, an’ barkin’ hoast,
May kill us a’;
For loyal Forbes’ charter’d boast,
Is ta’en awa.
Thae curst horse-leeches o’ th’ Excise,
Wha mak the whiskey stells their prize!
Haud up thy han’, Deil! ance, twice, thrice!
There, seize the blinkers!
An’ bake them up in brunstane pies
For poor d—n’d drinkers.
Fortune! if thou’ll but gie me still
Hale breeks, a scone, an’ whiskey gill,
An’ rowth o’ rhyme to rave at will,
Tak’ a’ the rest,
An’ deal’t about as thy blind skill
Directs thee best.








‘Dearest of distillation! last and best!——
———How art thou lost!————’

Parody on Milton

[“This Poem was written,” says Burns, “before the act anent the Scottish distilleries, of session 1786, for which Scotland and the author return their most grateful thanks.” Before the passing of this lenient act, so sharp was the law in the North, that some distillers[108] relinquished their trade; the price of barley was affected, and Scotland, already exasperated at the refusal of a militia, for which she was a petitioner, began to handle her claymore, and was perhaps only hindered from drawing it by the act mentioned by the poet. In an early copy of the poem, he thus alludes to Colonel Hugh Montgomery, afterwards Earl of Eglinton:—

“Thee, sodger Hugh, my watchman stented,
If bardies e’er are represented,
I ken if that yere sword were wanted
Ye’d lend yere hand;
But when there’s aught to say anent it
Yere at a stand.”

The poet was not sure that Montgomery would think the compliment to his ready hand an excuse in full for the allusion to his unready tongue, and omitted the stanza.]

Ye Irish lords, ye knights an’ squires,
Wha represent our brughs an’ shires,
An’ doucely manage our affairs
In Parliament,
To you a simple Bardie’s prayers
Are humbly sent.
Alas! my roupet Muse is hearse!
Your honours’ hearts wi’ grief ’twad pierce,
To see her sittin’ on her a—e
Low i’ the dust,
An’ scriechin’ out prosaic verse,
An’ like to brust!
Tell them wha hae the chief direction,
Scotland an’ me’s in great affliction,
E’er sin’ they laid that curst restriction
On aqua-vitæ;
An’ rouse them up to strong conviction,
An’ move their pity.
Stand forth, an’ tell yon Premier youth,
The honest, open, naked truth:
Tell him o’ mine an’ Scotland’s drouth,
His servants humble:
The muckie devil blaw ye south,
If ye dissemble!
Does ony great man glunch an’ gloom?
Speak out, an’ never fash your thumb!
Let posts an’ pensions sink or soom
Wi’ them wha grant ‘em:
If honestly they canna come,
Far better want ‘em.
In gath’rin votes you were na slack;
Now stand as tightly by your tack;
Ne’er claw your lug, an’ fidge your back,
An’ hum an’ haw;
But raise your arm, an’ tell your crack
Before them a’.
Paint Scotland greetin’ owre her thrizzle,
Her mutchkin stoup as toom’s a whissle:
An’ damn’d excisemen in a bussle,
Seizin’ a stell,
Triumphant crushin’t like a mussel
Or lampit shell.
Then on the tither hand present her,
A blackguard smuggler, right behint her,
An’ cheek-for-chow, a chuffie vintner,
Colleaguing join,
Picking her pouch as bare as winter
Of a’ kind coin.
Is there, that bears the name o’ Scot,
But feels his heart’s bluid rising hot,
To see his poor auld mither’s pot
Thus dung in staves,
An’ plunder’d o’ her hindmost groat
By gallows knaves?
Alas! I’m but a nameless wight,
Trode i’ the mire out o’ sight!
But could I like Montgomeries fight,
Or gab like Boswell,
There’s some sark-necks I wad draw tight,
An’ tie some hose well.
God bless your honours, can ye see’t,
The kind, auld, canty carlin greet,
An’ no get warmly on your feet,
An’ gar them hear it!
An’ tell them with a patriot heat,
Ye winna bear it?
Some o’ you nicely ken the laws,
To round the period an’ pause,
An’ wi’ rhetorie clause on clause
To mak harangues:
Then echo thro’ Saint Stephen’s wa’s
Auld Scotland’s wrangs.
Dempster, a true blue Scot I’se warran’;
Thee, aith-detesting, chaste Kilkerran;[46]
An’ that glib-gabbet Highland baron,
The Laird o’ Graham;[47]
An’ ane, a chap that’s damn’d auldfarren,
Dundas his name.


Erskine, a spunkie Norland billie;
True Campbells, Frederick an’ Hay;
An’ Livingstone, the bauld Sir Willie:
An’ monie ithers,
Whom auld Demosthenes or Tully
Might own for brithers.
Arouse, my boys! exert your mettle,
To get auld Scotland back her kettle:
Or faith! I’ll wad my new pleugh-pettle,
Ye’ll see’t or lang,
She’ll teach you, wi’ a reekin’ whittle,
Anither sang.
This while she’s been in crankous mood,
Her lost militia fir’d her bluid;
(Deil na they never mair do guid,
Play’d her that pliskie!)
An’ now she’s like to rin red-wud
About her whiskey.
An’ L—d, if once they pit her till’t,
Her tartan petticoat she’ll kilt,
An’ durk an’ pistol at her belt,
She’ll tak the streets,
An’ rin her whittle to the hilt,
I’ th’ first she meets!
For God sake, sirs, then speak her fair,
An’ straik her cannie wi’ the hair,
An’ to the muckle house repair,
Wi’ instant speed,
An’ strive, wi’ a’ your wit and lear,
To get remead.
Yon ill-tongu’d tinkler, Charlie Fox,
May taunt you wi’ his jeers an’ mocks;
But gie him’t het, my hearty cocks!
E’en cowe the cadie!
An’ send him to his dicing box,
An’ sportin’ lady.
Tell yon guid bluid o’ auld Boconnock’s
I’ll be his debt twa mashlum bonnocks,
An’ drink his health in auld Nanse Tinnock’s[48]
Nine times a-week,
If he some scheme, like tea an’ winnocks,
Wad kindly seek.
Could he some commutation broach,
I’ll pledge my aith in guid braid Scotch,
He need na fear their foul reproach
Nor erudition,
Yon mixtie-maxtie queer hotch-potch,
The Coalition.
Auld Scotland has a raucle tongue;
She’s just a devil wi’ a rung;
An’ if she promise auld or young
To tak their part,
Tho’ by the neck she should be strung,
She’ll no desert.
An’ now, ye chosen Five-and-Forty,
May still your mither’s heart support ye,
Then, though a minister grow dorty,
An’ kick your place,
Ye’ll snap your fingers, poor an’ hearty,
Before his face.
God bless your honours a’ your days,
Wi’ sowps o’ kail and brats o’ claise,
In spite o’ a’ the thievish kaes,
That haunt St. Jamie’s:
Your humble Poet signs an’ prays
While Rab his name is.


Let half-starv’d slaves in warmer skies
See future wines, rich clust’ring, rise;
Their lot auld Scotland ne’er envies,
But blythe and frisky,
She eyes her freeborn, martial boys,
Tak aff their whiskey.
What tho’ their Phœbus kinder warms,
While fragrance blooms and beauty charms!
When wretches range, in famish’d swarms,
The scented groves,
Or hounded forth, dishonour arms
In hungry droves.
Their gun’s a burden on their shouther;
They downa bide the stink o’ powther;
Their bauldest thought’s a’ hank’ring swither
To stan’ or rin,
Till skelp—a shot—they’re aff, a’ throther
To save their skin.
But bring a Scotsman frae his hill,
Clap in his check a Highland gill,
Say, such is royal George’s will,
An’ there’s the foe,
He has nae thought but how to kill
Twa at a blow.
Nae could faint-hearted doubtings tease him;
Death comes, wi’ fearless eye he sees him;
Wi’ bluidy han’ a welcome gies him;
An’ when he fa’s,
His latest draught o’ breathin’ lea’es him
In faint huzzas!
Sages their solemn een may steek,
An’ raise a philosophic reek,
An’ physically causes seek,
In clime an’ season;
But tell me whiskey’s name in Greek,
I’ll tell the reason.
Scotland, my auld, respected mither!
Tho’ whiles ye moistify your leather,
Till whare ye sit, on craps o’ heather
Ye tine your dam;
Freedom and whiskey gang thegither!—
Tak aff your dram!


[46] Sir Adam Ferguson.

[47] The Duke of Montrose.

[48] A worthy old hostess of the author’s in Mauchline, where he sometimes studies politics over a glass of guid auld Scotch drink.





“My son, these maxims make a rule,
And lump them ay thegither;
The Rigid Righteous is a fool,
The Rigid Wise anither:
The cleanest corn that e’er was dight
May hae some pyles o’ caff in;
So ne’er a fellow-creature slight
For random fits o’ daffin.”

Solomon.—Eccles. ch. vii. ver. 16.

[“Burns,” says Hogg, in a note on this Poem, “has written more from his own heart and his own feelings than any other poet. External nature had few charms for him; the sublime shades and hues of heaven and earth never excited his enthusiasm: but with the secret fountains of passion in the human soul he was well acquainted.” Burns, indeed, was not what is called a descriptive poet: yet with what exquisite snatches of description are some of his poems adorned, and in what fragrant and romantic scenes he enshrines the heroes and heroines of many of his finest songs! Who the high, exalted, virtuous dames were, to whom the Poem refers, we are not told. How much men stand indebted to want of opportunity to sin, and how much of their good name they owe to the ignorance of the world, were inquiries in which the poet found pleasure.]


O ye wha are sae guid yoursel’, Sae pious and sae holy, Ye’ve nought to do but mark and tell Your neibor’s fauts and folly! Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill, Supply’d wi’ store o’ water, The heaped happer’s ebbing still, And still the clap plays clatter.


Hear me, ye venerable core,
As counsel for poor mortals,
That frequent pass douce Wisdom’s door
For glaikit Folly’s portals;
I, for their thoughtless, careless sakes,
Would here propone defences,
Their donsie tricks, their black mistakes,
Their failings and mischances.


Ye see your state wi’ theirs compar’d,
And shudder at the niffer,
But cast a moment’s fair regard,
What maks the mighty differ?
Discount what scant occasion gave,
That purity ye pride in,
And (what’s aft mair than a’ the lave)
Your better art o’ hiding.


Think, when your castigated pulse
Gies now and then a wallop,
What ragings must his veins convulse,
That still eternal gallop:
Wi’ wind and tide fair i’ your tail,
Right on ye scud your sea-way;
But in the teeth o’ baith to sail,
It makes an unco lee-way.


See social life and glee sit down,
All joyous and unthinking,
’Till, quite transmugrify’d, they’re grown
Debauchery and drinking;
O would they stay to calculate
Th’ eternal consequences;
Or your more dreaded hell to state,
D—mnation of expenses!


Ye high, exalted, virtuous dames,
Ty’d up in godly laces,
Before ye gie poor frailty names,
Suppose a change o’ cases;
A dear lov’d lad, convenience snug,
A treacherous inclination—
[111]But, let me whisper, i’ your lug,
Ye’re aiblins nae temptation.


Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a kennin’ wrang,
To step aside is human:
One point must still be greatly dark,
The moving why they do it:
And just as lamely can ye mark,
How far perhaps they rue it.


Who made the heart, ’tis He alone
Decidedly can try us,
He knows each chord—its various tone,
Each spring—its various bias:
Then at the balance let’s be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What’s done we partly may compute,
But know not what’s resisted.



“An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”


[Tam Samson was a west country seedsman and sportsman, who loved a good song, a social glass, and relished a shot so well that he expressed a wish to die and be buried in the moors. On this hint Burns wrote the Elegy: when Tam heard o’ this he waited on the poet, caused him to recite it, and expressed displeasure at being numbered with the dead: the author, whose wit was as ready as his rhymes, added the Per Contra in a moment, much to the delight of his friend. At his death the four lines of Epitaph were cut on his gravestone. “This poem has always,” says Hogg, “been a great country favourite: it abounds with happy expressions.

‘In vain the burns cam’ down like waters,
An acre braid.’

What a picture of a flooded burn! any other poet would have given us a long description: Burns dashes it down at once in a style so graphic no one can mistake it.

‘Perhaps upon his mouldering breast
Some spitefu’ moorfowl bigs her nest.’

Match that sentence who can.”]

Has auld Kilmarnock seen the deil?
Or great M’Kinlay[50] thrawn his heel?
Or Robinson[51] again grown weel,
To preach an’ read?
“Na, waur than a’!” cries ilka chiel,
Tam Samson’s dead!
Kilmarnock lang may grunt an’ grane,
An’ sigh, an’ sob, an’ greet her lane,
An’ cleed her bairns, man, wife, an wean,
In mourning weed;
To death, she’s dearly paid the kane,
Tam Samson’s dead!
The brethren o’ the mystic level
May hing their head in woefu’ bevel,
While by their nose the tears will revel,
Like ony bead;
Death’s gien the lodge an unco devel,
Tam Samson’s dead!
When Winter muffles up his cloak,
And binds the mire like a rock;
When to the lochs the curlers flock,
Wi’ gleesome speed,
Wha will they station at the cock?
Tam Samson’s dead!
He was the king o’ a’ the core,
To guard or draw, or wick a bore,
Or up the rink like Jehu roar
In time o’ need;
But now he lags on death’s hog-score,
Tam Samson’s dead!
Now safe the stately sawmont sail,
And trouts be-dropp’d wi’ crimson hail,
And eels weel ken’d for souple tail,
And geds for greed,
Since dark in death’s fish-creel we wail
Tam Samson dead.
Rejoice, ye birring patricks a’;
Ye cootie moor-cocks, crousely craw;
Ye maukins, cock your fud fu’ braw,
Withouten dread;
Your mortal fae is now awa’—
Tam Samson’s dead!


That woefu’ morn be ever mourn’d
Saw him in shootin’ graith adorn’d,
While pointers round impatient burn’d,
Frae couples freed;
But, Och! he gaed and ne’er return’d!
Tam Samson’s dead!
In vain auld age his body batters;
In vain the gout his ancles fetters;
In vain the burns cam’ down like waters,
An acre braid!
Now ev’ry auld wife, greetin’, clatters,
Tam Samson’s dead!
Owre many a weary hag he limpit,
An’ ay the tither shot he thumpit,
Till coward death behind him jumpit,
Wi’ deadly feide;
Now he proclaims, wi’ tout o’ trumpet,
Tam Samson’s dead!
When at his heart he felt the dagger,
He reel’d his wonted bottle swagger,
But yet he drew the mortal trigger
Wi’ weel-aim’d heed;
“L—d, five!” he cry’d, an’ owre did stagger;
Tam Samson’s dead!
Ilk hoary hunter mourn’d a brither;
Ilk sportsman youth bemoan’d a father;
Yon auld grey stane, amang the heather,
Marks out his head,
Whare Burns has wrote in rhyming blether
Tam Samson’s dead!
There low he lies, in lasting rest;
Perhaps upon his mould’ring breast
Some spitefu’ muirfowl bigs her nest,
To hatch an’ breed;
Alas! nae mair he’ll them molest!
Tam Samson’s dead!
When August winds the heather wave,
And sportsmen wander by yon grave,
Three volleys let his mem’ry crave
O’ pouther an’ lead,
’Till echo answer frae her cave
Tam Samson’s dead!
Heav’n rest his soul, whare’er he be!
Is th’ wish o’ mony mae than me;
He had twa fauts, or may be three,
Yet what remead?
Ae social, honest man want we:
Tam Samson’s dead!


Tam Samson’s weel-worn clay here lies,
Ye canting zealots spare him!
If honest worth in heaven rise,
Ye’ll mend or ye win near him.


Go, Fame, an’ canter like a filly
Thro’ a’ the streets an’ neuks o’ Killie,
Tell ev’ry social honest billie
To cease his grievin’,
For yet, unskaith’d by death’s gleg gullie,
Tam Samson’s livin’.


[49] When this worthy old sportsman went out last muirfowl season, he supposed it was to be, in Ossian’s phrase, “the last of his fields.”

[50] A preacher, a great favourite with the million. Vide the Ordination, stanza II

[51] Another preacher, an equal favourite with the few, who was at that time ailing. For him see also the Ordination, stanza IX.





“Alas! how oft does goodness wound itself!
And sweet affection prove the spring of woe.”


[The hero and heroine of this little mournful poem, were Robert Burns and Jean Armour. “This was a most melancholy affair,” says the poet in his letter to Moore, “which I cannot yet bear to reflect on, and had very nearly given me one or two of the principal qualifications for a place among those who have lost the chart and mistaken the reckoning of rationality.” Hogg and Motherwell, with an ignorance which is easier to laugh at than account for, say this Poem was “written on the occasion of Alexander Cunningham’s darling sweetheart alighting him and marrying another:—she acted a wise part.” With what care they had read the great poet whom they jointly edited in is needless to say: and how they could read the last two lines of the third verse and commend the lady’s wisdom for slighting her lover, seems a problem which defies definition. This mistake was pointed out by a friend, and corrected in a second issue of the volume.]


O thou pale orb, that silent shines, While care-untroubled mortals sleep! Thou seest a wretch who inly pines, And wanders here to wail and weep! With woe I nightly vigils keep, Beneath thy wan, unwarming beam, And mourn, in lamentation deep, How life and love are all a dream.



A joyless view thy rays adorn
The faintly marked distant hill:
I joyless view thy trembling horn,
Reflected in the gurgling rill:
My fondly-fluttering heart, be still:
Thou busy pow’r, Remembrance, cease!
Ah! must the agonizing thrill
For ever bar returning peace!


No idly-feign’d poetic pains,
My sad, love-lorn lamentings claim;
No shepherd’s pipe—Arcadian strains;
No fabled tortures, quaint and tame:
The plighted faith; the mutual flame;
The oft-attested Pow’rs above;
The promis’d father’s tender name;
These were the pledges of my love!


Encircled in her clasping arms,
How have the raptur’d moments flown!
How have I wish’d for fortune’s charms,
For her dear sake, and hers alone!
And must I think it!—is she gone,
My secret heart’s exulting boast?
And does she heedless hear my groan?
And is she ever, ever lost?


Oh! can she bear so base a heart,
So lost to honour, lost to truth,
As from the fondest lover part,
The plighted husband of her youth!
Alas! life’s path may be unsmooth!
Her way may lie thro’ rough distress!
Then, who her pangs and pains will soothe,
Her sorrows share, and make them less?


Ye winged hours that o’er us past,
Enraptur’d more, the more enjoy’d,
Your dear remembrance in my breast,
My fondly-treasur’d thoughts employ’d,
That breast, how dreary now, and void,
For her too scanty once of room!
Ev’n ev’ry ray of hope destroy’d,
And not a wish to gild the gloom!


The morn that warns th’ approaching day,
Awakes me up to toil and woe:
I see the hours in long array,
That I must suffer, lingering slow.
Full many a pang, and many a throe,
Keen recollection’s direful train,
Must wring my soul, ere Phœbus, low,
Shall kiss the distant, western main.


And when my nightly couch I try,
Sore-harass’d out with care and grief,
My toil-beat nerves, and tear-worn eye,
Keep watchings with the nightly thief:
Or if I slumber, fancy, chief,
Reigns haggard-wild, in sore affright:
Ev’n day, all-bitter, brings relief,
From such a horror-breathing night.


O! thou bright queen, who o’er th’ expanse
Now highest reign’st, with boundless sway!
Oft has thy silent-marking glance
Observ’d us, fondly-wand’ring, stray!
The time, unheeded, sped away,
While love’s luxurious pulse beat high,
Beneath thy silver-gleaming ray,
To mark the mutual kindling eye.


Oh! scenes in strong remembrance set!
Scenes never, never to return!
Scenes, if in stupor I forget,
Again I feel, again I burn!
From ev’ry joy and pleasure torn,
Life’s weary vale I’ll wander thro’;
And hopeless, comfortless, I’ll mourn
A faithless woman’s broken vow.




[“I think,” said Burns, “it is one of the greatest pleasures attending a poetic genius, that we can give our woes, cares, joys, and loves an embodied form in verse, which to me is ever immediate ease.” He elsewhere says, “My passions raged like so many devils till they got vent in rhyme.” That eminent painter, Fuseli, on seeing his wife in a passion, said composedly, “Swear my love, swear heartily: you know not how much it will ease you!” This poem was printed in the Kilmarnock edition, and gives a true picture of those bitter moments experienced by the bard, when love and fortune alike deceived him.]


Oppress’d with grief, oppress’d with care,
A burden more than I can bear,
[114]I set me down and sigh:
O life! thou art a galling load,
Along a rough, a weary road,
To wretches such as I!
Dim-backward as I cast my view,
What sick’ning scenes appear!
What sorrows yet may pierce me thro’
Too justly I may fear!
Still caring, despairing,
Must be my bitter doom;
My woes here shall close ne’er
But with the closing tomb!


Happy, ye sons of busy life,
Who, equal to the bustling strife,
No other view regard!
Ev’n when the wished end’s deny’d,
Yet while the busy means are ply’d,
They bring their own reward:
Whilst I, a hope-abandon’d wight,
Unfitted with an aim,
Meet ev’ry sad returning night
And joyless morn the same;
You, bustling, and justling,
Forget each grief and pain;
I, listless, yet restless,
Find every prospect vain.


How blest the solitary’s lot,
Who, all-forgetting, all forgot,
Within his humble cell,
The cavern wild with tangling roots,
Sits o’er his newly-gather’d fruits,
Beside his crystal well!
Or, haply, to his ev’ning thought,
By unfrequented stream,
The ways of men are distant brought,
A faint collected dream;
While praising, and raising
His thoughts to heav’n on high,
As wand’ring, meand’ring,
He views the solemn sky.


Than I, no lonely hermit plac’d
Where never human footstep trac’d,
Less fit to play the part;
The lucky moment to improve,
And just to stop, and just to move,
With self-respecting art:
But, ah! those pleasures, loves, and joys,
Which I too keenly taste,
The solitary can despise,
Can want, and yet be blest!
He needs not, he heeds not,
Or human love or hate,
Whilst I here, must cry here
At perfidy ingrate!


Oh! enviable, early days,
When dancing thoughtless pleasure’s maze,
To care, to guilt unknown!
How ill exchang’d for riper times,
To feel the follies, or the crimes,
Of others, or my own!
Ye tiny elves that guiltless sport,
Like linnets in the bush,
Ye little know the ills ye court,
When manhood is your wish!
The losses, the crosses,
That active man engage!
The fears all, the tears all,
Of dim declining age!







“Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure:
Nor grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.”


[The house of William Burns was the scene of this fine, devout, and tranquil drama, and William himself was the saint, the father, and the husband, who gives life and sentiment to the whole. “Robert had frequently remarked to me,” says Gilbert Burns, “that he thought there was something peculiarly venerable in the phrase, ‘Let us worship God!’ used by a decent sober head of a family, introducing family worship.” To this sentiment of the author the world is indebted for the “Cotter’s Saturday Night.” He owed some little, however, of the inspiration to Fergusson’s “Farmer’s Ingle,” a poem of great merit. The calm tone and holy composure of the Cotter’s Saturday Night have been mistaken by Hogg for want of nerve and life. “It is a dull, heavy, lifeless poem,” he says, “and the only beauty it possesses, in my estimation, is, that it is a sort of family picture of the poet’s family. The worst thing of all, it is not original, but is a decided imitation of Fergusson’s beautiful pastoral, ‘The Farmer’s Ingle:’ I have a perfect contempt for all plagiarisms and imitations.” Motherwell tries to qualify the censure of his brother editor, by quoting Lockhart’s opinion—at once lofty and just, of this fine picture of domestic happiness and devotion.]



My lov’d, my honour’d, much respected friend!
No mercenary bard his homage pays;
With honest pride, I scorn each selfish end:
My dearest meed, a friend’s esteem and praise:
To you I sing, in simple Scottish lays,
The lowly train in life’s sequester’d scene;
The native feelings strong, the guileless ways;
What Aiken in a cottage would have been;
Ah! tho’ his work unknown, far happier there, I ween!


November chill blaws loud wi’ angry sugh;
The short’ning winter-day is near a close;
The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh:
The black’ning trains o’ craws to their repose:
The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes,
This night his weekly moil is at an end,
Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o’er the moor, his course does homeward bend.


At length his lonely cot appears in view,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th’ expectant wee-things, toddlin’, stacher thro’
To meet their Dad, wi’ flichterin’ noise an’ glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin’ bonnily.
His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie Wifie’s smile,
The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a’ his weary kiaugh and care beguile,
An’ makes him quite forget his labour and his toil.


Belyve, the elder bairns come drapping in,
At service out amang the farmers roun’:
Some ca’ the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin
A cannie errand to a neebor town:
Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown,
In youthfu’ bloom, love sparkling in her e’e,
Comes hame, perhaps to shew a braw new gown,
Or deposite her sair won penny-fee,
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.


With joy unfeign’d, brothers and sisters meet,
An’ each for other’s welfare kindly spiers:
The social hours, swift-wing’d, unnotic’d, fleet;
Each tells the unco’s that he sees or hears;
The parents, partial, eye their hopeful years;
Anticipation forward points the view.
The Mother, wi’ her needle an’ her shears,
Gars auld claes look amaist as weel’s the new;
The Father mixes a’ wi’ admonition due.


Their master’s an’ their mistress’s command,
The younkers a’ are warned to obey;
And mind their labours wi’ an eydent hand,
An’ ne’er, tho’ out of sight, to jauk or play:
“And O! be sure to fear the Lord alway!
And mind your duty, duly, morn and night!
Lest in temptation’s path ye gang astray,
Implore His counsel and assisting might:
They never sought in vain, that sought the Lord aright!”


But, hark! a rap comes gently to the door;
Jenny, wha kens the meaning o’ the same,
Tells how a neebor lad cam o’er the moor,
To do some errands, and convoy her hame.
The wily Mother sees the conscious flame
Sparkle in Jenny’s e’e, and flush her cheek,
With heart-struck anxious care, inquires his name,
While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak;
Weel pleas’d the Mother hears it’s nae wild, worthless rake.


Wi’ kindly welcome, Jenny brings him ben;
A strappan youth; he taks the Mother’s eye;
Blythe Jenny sees the visit’s no ill ta’en;
The Father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye.
The youngster’s artless heart o’erflows wi’ joy,
But blate, an laithfu’, scarce can weel behave;
The Mother, wi’ a woman’s wiles, can spy
What makes the youth sae bashfu’ and sae grave;
Weel pleas’d to think her bairn’s respected like the lave.



O happy love! Where love like this is found!
O heart-felt raptures!—bliss beyond compare!
I’ve paced much this weary, mortal round,
And sage experience bids me this declare—
“If heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare,
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
’Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In other’s arms, breathe out the tender tale,
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the ev’ning gale.”


Is there, in human form, that bears a heart—
A wretch! a villain! lost to love and truth!
That can, with studied, sly, ensnaring art,
Betray sweet Jenny’s unsuspecting youth?
Curse on his perjur’d arts! dissembling smooth!
Are honour, virtue, conscience, all exil’d?
Is there no pity, no relenting ruth,
Points to the parents fondling o’er their child?
Then paints the ruin’d maid, and their distraction wild?


But now the supper crowns their simple board,
The halesome parritch, chief of Scotia’s food:
The soupe their only hawkie does afford,
That ‘yont the hallan snugly chows her cood:
The dame brings forth in complimental mood,
To grace the lad, her weel-hain’d kebbuck, fell,
An’ aft he’s prest, an’ aft he ca’s it guid;
The frugal wifie, garrulous, will tell,
How ’twas a towmond auld, sin’ lint was i’ the bell.


The cheerfu’ supper done, wi’ serious face,
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The Sire turns o’er, with patriarchal grace,
The big ha’-Bible, ance his father’s pride;
His bonnet rev’rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin an’ bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And ‘Let us worship God!’ he says, with solemn air.


They chant their artless notes in simple guise;
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:
Perhaps Dundee’s wild-warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name;
Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame,
The sweetest far of Scotia’s holy lays:
Compar’d with these, Italian trills are tame;
The tickl’d ear no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they with our Creator’s praise.


The priest-like Father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or, Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek’s ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven’s avenging ire;
Or Job’s pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah’s wild, seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.


Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heaven the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay his head:
How His first followers and servants sped,
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land:
How he who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand;
And heard great Bab’lon’s doom pronounc’d by Heaven’s command.


Then kneeling down, to Heaven’s eternal King,
The Saint, the Father, and the Husband prays:
Hope ‘springs exulting on triumphant wing,’[52]
That thus they all shall meet in future days:
There ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear,
Together hymning their Creator’s praise,
In such society, yet still more dear:
While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere.



Compar’d with this, how poor Religion’s pride,
In all the pomp of method and of art,
When men display to congregations wide,
Devotion’s ev’ry grace, except the heart!
The Pow’r, incens’d, the pageant will desert,
The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;
But haply, in some cottage far apart,
May hear, well pleas’d, the language of the soul;
And in His book of life the inmates poor enrol.


Then homeward all take off their sev’ral way;
The youngling cottagers retire to rest:
Their Parent-pair their secret homage pay,
And proffer up to Heaven the warm request,
That He, who stills the raven’s clam’rous nest,
And decks the lily fair in flow’ry pride,
Would, in the way His wisdom sees the best,
For them and for their little ones provide;
But, chiefly, in their hearts with grace divine preside.


From scenes like these, old Scotia’s grandeur springs,
That makes her lov’d at home, rever’d abroad:
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
“An honest man’s the noblest work of God;”[53]
And certes, in fair virtue’s heav’nly road,
The cottage leaves the palace far behind;
What is a lordship’s pomp? a cumbrous load,
Disguising oft the wretch of human kind,
Studied in arts of Hell, in wickedness refin’d!


O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent!
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!
And, O! may heaven their simple lives prevent
From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile!
Then, howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,
A virtuous populace may rise the while,
And stand a wall of fire around their much-lov’d Isle.


O Thou! who pour’d the patriotic tide
That stream’d through Wallace’s undaunted heart:
Who dar’d to nobly stem tyrannic pride,
Or nobly die, the second glorious part,
(The patriot’s God, peculiarly Thou art,
His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward!)
O never, never, Scotia’s realm desert;
But still the patriot, and the patriot bard,
In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!


[52] Pope.

[53] Pope.



[This version was first printed in the second edition of the poet’s work. It cannot be regarded as one of his happiest compositions: it is inferior, not indeed in ease, but in simplicity and antique rigour of language, to the common version used in the Kirk of Scotland. Burns had admitted “Death and Dr. Hornbook” into Creech’s edition, and probably desired to balance it with something at which the devout could not cavil.]

The man, in life wherever plac’d,
Hath happiness in store,
Who walks not in the wicked’s way,
Nor learns their guilty lore!
Nor from the seat of scornful pride
Casts forth his eyes abroad,
But with humility and awe
Still walks before his God.
That man shall flourish like the trees
Which by the streamlets grow;
The fruitful top is spread on high,
And firm the root below.
But he whose blossom buds in guilt
Shall to the ground be cast,
And, like the rootless stubble, tost
Before the sweeping blast.
For why? that God the good adore
Hath giv’n them peace and rest,
But hath decreed that wicked men
Shall ne’er be truly blest.






[The ninetieth Psalm is said to have been a favourite in the household of William Burns: the version used by the Kirk, though unequal, contains beautiful verses, and possesses the same strain of sentiment and moral reasoning as the poem of “Man was made to Mourn.” These verses first appeared in the Edinburgh edition; and they might have been spared; for in the hands of a poet ignorant of the original language of the Psalmist, how could they be so correct in sense and expression as in a sacred strain is not only desirable but necessary?]

O Thou, the first, the greatest friend
Of all the human race!
Whose strong right hand has ever been
Their stay and dwelling place!
Before the mountains heav’d their heads
Beneath Thy forming hand,
Before this ponderous globe itself
Arose at Thy command;
That Pow’r which rais’d and still upholds
This universal frame,
From countless, unbeginning time
Was ever still the same.
Those mighty periods of years
Which seem to us so vast,
Appear no more before Thy sight
Than yesterday that’s past.
Thou giv’st the word: Thy creature, man,
Is to existence brought;
Again thou say’st, “Ye sons of men,
Return ye into nought!”
Thou layest them, with all their cares,
In everlasting sleep;
As with a flood Thou tak’st them off
With overwhelming sweep.
They flourish like the morning flow’r,
In beauty’s pride array’d;
But long ere night, cut down, it lies
All wither’d and decay’d.




APRIL, 1786.

[This was not the original title of this sweet poem: I have a copy in the handwriting of Burns entitled “The Gowan.” This more natural name he changed as he did his own, without reasonable cause; and he changed it about the same time, for he ceased to call himself Burness and his poem “The Gowan,” in the first edition of his works. The field at Mossgiel where he turned down the Daisy is said to be the same field where some five months before he turned up the Mouse; but this seems likely only to those who are little acquainted with tillage—who think that in time and place reside the chief charms of verse; and who feel not the beauty of “The Daisy,” till they seek and find the spot on which it grew. Sublime morality and the deepest emotions of the soul pass for little with those who remember only what the genius loves to forget.]

Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow’r,
Thou’s met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow’r,
Thou bonnie gem.
Alas! it’s no thy neebor sweet,
The bonnie lark, companion meet!
Bending thee ‘mang the dewy weet,
Wi’ spreckl’d breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet
The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce rear’d above the parent earth
Thy tender form.
The flaunting flowers our gardens yield,
High shelt’ring woods and wa’s maun shield
But thou, beneath the random bield
O’ clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field,
Unseen, alane.
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie bosom sunward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise;
But now the share uptears thy bed,
And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet flow’ret of the rural shade!
By love’s simplicity betray’d,
And guileless trust,
’Till she, like thee, all soil’d, is laid
Low i’ the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life’s rough ocean luckless starr’d!
Unskilful he to note the card
Of prudent lore,
’Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,
And whelm him o’er!
Such fate to suffering worth is giv’n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv’n,
By human pride or cunning driv’n
To mis’ry’s brink,
’Till wrenched of every stay but Heav’n,
He, ruin’d, sink!
Ev’n thou who mourn’st the Daisy’s fate,
That fate is thine—no distant date;
Stern Ruin’s ploughshare drives, elate,
Full on thy bloom,
’Till crush’d beneath the furrow’s weight,
Shall be thy doom!



MAY, 1786.

[Andrew Aikin, to whom this poem of good counsel is addressed, was one of the sons of Robert Aiken, writer in Ayr, to whom the Cotter’s Saturday Night is inscribed. He became a merchant in Liverpool, with what success we are not informed, and died at St. Petersburgh. The poet has been charged with a desire to teach hypocrisy rather than truth to his “Andrew dear;” but surely to conceal one’s own thoughts and discover those of others, can scarcely be called hypocritical: it is, in fact, a version of the celebrated precept of prudence, “Thoughts close and looks loose.” Whether he profited by all the counsel showered upon him by the muse we know not: he was much respected—his name embalmed, like that of his father, in the poetry of his friend, is not likely soon to perish.]


I lang hae thought, my youthfu’ friend,
A something to have sent you,
Though it should serve nae ither end
Than just a kind memento;
But how the subject-theme may gang,
Let time and chance determine;
Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps, turn out a sermon.


Ye’ll try the world soon, my lad,
And, Andrew dear, believe me,
Ye’ll find mankind an unco squad,
And muckle they may grieve ye:
For care and trouble set your thought,
Ev’n when your end’s attain’d;
And a’ your views may come to nought,
Where ev’ry nerve is strained.


I’ll no say men are villains a’;
The real, harden’d wicked,
Wha hae nae check but human law,
Are to a few restricked;
But, och! mankind are unco weak,
An’ little to be trusted;
If self the wavering balance shake,
It’s rarely right adjusted!


Yet they wha fa’ in Fortune’s strife,
Their fate we should na censure,
For still th’ important end of life
They equally may answer;
A man may hae an honest heart,
Tho’ poortith hourly stare him;
A man may tak a neebor’s part,
Yet hae nae cash to spare him.


Ay free, aff han’ your story tell,
When wi’ a bosom crony;
But still keep something to yoursel’
Ye scarcely tell to ony.
Conceal yoursel’ as weel’s ye can
Frae critical dissection;
But keek thro’ ev’ry other man,
Wi’ sharpen’d, sly inspection.


The sacred lowe o’ weel-plac’d love,
Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt th’ illicit rove,
Tho’ naething should divulge it:
I waive the quantum o’ the sin,
The hazard of concealing;
But, och! it hardens a’ within,
And petrifies the feeling!


To catch dame Fortune’s golden smile,
Assiduous wait upon her;
And gather gear by ev’ry wile
That’s justified by honour;
Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train-attendant;
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent.


The fear o’ Hell’s a hangman’s whip,
To haud the wretch in order;
But where ye feel your honour grip,
Let that ay be your border:
Its slightest touches, instant pause—
Debar a’ side pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
Uncaring consequences.


The great Creator to revere
Must sure become the creature;
But still the preaching cant forbear,
And ev’n the rigid feature:
Yet ne’er with wits profane to range,
Be complaisance extended;
An Atheist laugh’s a poor exchange
For Deity offended!


When ranting round in pleasure’s ring,
Religion may be blinded;
Or if she gie a random sting,
It may be little minded;
But when on life we’re tempest-driv’n,
A conscience but a canker—
A correspondence fix’d wi’ Heav’n
Is sure a noble anchor!


Adieu, dear, amiable youth!
Your heart can ne’er be wanting!
May prudence, fortitude, and truth
Erect your brow undaunting!
In ploughman phrase, ‘God send you speed,’
Still daily to grow wiser:
And may you better reck the rede
Than ever did th’ adviser!




[A Mauchline incident of a Mauchline lady is related in this poem, which to many of the softer friends of the bard was anything but welcome: it appeared in the Kilmarnock copy of his Poems, and remonstrance and persuasion were alike tried in vain to keep it out of the Edinburgh edition. Instead of regarding it as a seasonable rebuke to pride and vanity, some of his learned commentators called it course and vulgar—those classic persons might have remembered that Julian, no vulgar person, but an emperor and a scholar, wore a populous beard, and was proud of it.]

Ha! whare ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie!
Your impudence protects you sairly:
I canna say by ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’ faith, I fear, ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.
Ye ugly, creepin’, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d, by saunt an’ sinner,
How dare you set your fit upon her,
Sae fine a lady!
Gae somewhere else, and seek your dinner
On some poor body.
Swith, in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle
Wi’ ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whare horn nor bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.
Now haud you there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rells, snug an’ tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right
’Till ye’ve got on it,
The vera topmost, tow’ring height
O’ Miss’s bonnet.
My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ gray as onie grozet;
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie you sic a hearty doze o’t,
Wad dross your droddum!
I wad na been surpris’d to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit duddie boy,
On’s wyliecoat;
But Miss’s fine Lunardi! fie!
How daur ye do’t?
O, Jenny, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin’!
Thae winks and finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin’!
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion;
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
And ev’n devotion!




[The person to whom these verses are addressed lived at Adamhill in Ayrshire, and merited the praise of rough and ready-witted, which the poem bestows. The humorous dream alluded to, was related by way of rebuke to a west country earl, who was in the habit of calling all people of low degree “Brutes!—damned brutes.” “I dreamed that I was dead,” said the rustic satirist to his superior, “and condemned for the company I kept. When I came to hell-door, where mony of your lordship’s friends gang, I chappit, and ‘Wha are ye, and where d’ye come frae?’ Satan exclaimed. I just said, that my name was Rankine, and I came frae yere lordship’s land. ‘Awa wi’ you,’ cried Satan, ye canna come here: hell’s fou o’ his lordship’s damned brutes already.’”]

O rough, rude, ready-witted Rankine,
The wale o’ cocks for fun an’ drinkin’!
There’s monie godly folks are thinkin’,
Your dreams[54] an’ tricks
Will send you, Korah-like, a-sinkin’
Straught to auld Nick’s.
Ye hae sae monie cracks an’ cants,
And in your wicked, dru’ken rants,
Ye mak a devil o’ the saunts,
An’ fill them fou;
And then their failings, flaws, an’ wants,
Are a’ seen through.
Hypocrisy, in mercy spare it!
That holy robe, O dinna tear it!
Spare’t for their sakes wha aften wear it,
The lads in black!
But your curst wit, when it comes near it,
Rives’t aff their back.
Think, wicked sinner, wha ye’re skaithing,
It’s just the blue-gown badge and claithing
O’ saunts; tak that, ye lea’e them naething
To ken them by,
Frae ony unregenerate heathen,
Like you or I.
I’ve sent you here some rhyming ware,
A’ that I bargain’d for, an’ mair;
Sae, when you hae an hour to spare,
I will expect
Yon sang,[55] ye’ll sen’t wi cannie care,
And no neglect.
Tho’ faith, sma’ heart hae I to sing!
My muse dow scarcely spread her wing!
I’ve play’d mysel’ a bonnie spring,
An’ danc’d my fill!
I’d better gaen an’ sair’t the king,
At Bunker’s Hill.
’Twas ae night lately, in my fun,
I gaed a roving wi’ the gun,
An’ brought a paitrick to the grun’,
A bonnie hen,
And, as the twilight was begun,
Thought nane wad ken.
The poor wee thing was little hurt;
I straikit it a wee for sport,
Ne’er thinkin’ they wad fash me for’t;
But, deil-ma-care!
Somebody tells the poacher-court
The hale affair.
Some auld us’d hands had taen a note,
That sic a hen had got a shot;
I was suspected for the plot;
I scorn’d to lie;
So gat the whissle o’ my groat,
An’ pay’t the fee.
But, by my gun, o’ guns the wale,
An’ by my pouther an’ my hail,
An’ by my hen, an’ by her tail,
I vow an’ swear!
The game shall pay o’er moor an’ dale,
For this niest year.


As soon’s the clockin-time is by,
An’ the wee pouts begun to cry,
L—d, I’se hae sportin’ by an’ by,
For my gowd guinea;
Tho’ I should herd the buckskin kye
For’t, in Virginia.
Trowth, they had muckle for to blame!
’Twas neither broken wing nor limb,
But twa-three draps about the wame
Scarce thro’ the feathers;
An’ baith a yellow George to claim,
An’ thole their blethers!
It pits me ay as mad’s a hare;
So I can rhyme nor write nae mair;
But pennyworths again is fair,
When time’s expedient:
Meanwhile I am, respected Sir,
Your most obedient.


[54] A certain humorous dream of his was then making a noise in the country-side.

[55] A song he had promised the author.




[Burns in this Poem, as well as in others, speaks openly of his tastes and passions: his own fortunes are dwelt on with painful minuteness, and his errors are recorded with the accuracy, but not the seriousness of the confessional. He seems to have been fond of taking himself to task. It was written when “Hungry ruin had him in the wind,” and emigration to the West Indies was the only refuge which he could think of, or his friends suggest, from the persecutions of fortune.]

A’ ye wha live by sowps o’ drink,
A’ ye wha live by crambo-clink,
A’ ye wha live and never think,
Come, mourn wi’ me!
Our billie’s gien us a’ a jink,
An’ owre the sea.
Lament him a’ ye rantin’ core,
Wha dearly like a random-splore,
Nae mair he’ll join the merry roar
In social key;
For now he’s taen anither shore,
An’ owre the sea!
The bonnie lasses weel may wiss him,
And in their dear petitions place him;
The widows, wives, an’ a’ may bless him,
Wi’ tearfu’ e’e;
For weel I wat they’ll sairly miss him
That’s owre the sea!
O Fortune, they hae room to grumble!
Hadst thou taen’ aff some drowsy bummle
Wha can do nought but fyke and fumble,
’Twad been nae plea,
But he was gleg as onie wumble,
That’s owre the sea!
Auld, cantie Kyle may weepers wear,
An’ stain them wi’ the saut, saut tear;
’Twill mak her poor auld heart, I fear,
In flinders flee;
He was her laureate monie a year,
That’s owre the sea!
He saw Misfortune’s cauld nor-west
Lang mustering up a bitter blast;
A jillet brak his heart at last,
Ill may she be!
So, took a birth afore the mast,
An’ owre the sea.
To tremble under fortune’s cummock,
On scarce a bellyfu’ o’ drummock,
Wi’ his proud, independent stomach,
Could ill agree;
So, row’t his hurdies in a hammock,
An’ owre the sea.
He ne’er was gien to great misguiding,
Yet coin his pouches wad na bide in;
Wi’ him it ne’er was under hiding:
He dealt it free;
The muse was a’ that he took pride in,
That’s owre the sea.
Jamaica bodies, use him weel,
An’ hap him in a cozie biel;
Ye’ll find him ay a dainty chiel,
And fou o’ glee;
He wad na wrang’d the vera deil,
That’s owre the sea.
Fareweel, my rhyme-composing billie!
Your native soil was right ill-willie;
But may ye flourish like a lily,
Now bonnilie!
I’ll toast ye in my hindmost gillie,
Tho’ owre the sea!




“The valiant, in himself, what can he suffer?
Or what does he regard his single woes?
But when, alas! he multiplies himself,
To dearer selves, to the lov’d tender fair,
The those whose bliss, whose beings hang upon him,
To helpless children! then, O then! he feels
The point of misery fest’ring in his heart,
And weakly weeps his fortune like a coward.
Such, such am I! undone.”


[In these serious stanzas, where the comic, as in the lines to the Scottish bard, are not permitted to mingle, Burns bids farewell to all on whom his heart had any claim. He seems to have looked on the sea as only a place of peril, and on the West Indies as a charnel-house.]


Farewell, old Scotia’s bleak domains,
Far dearer than the torrid plains
Where rich ananas blow!
Farewell, a mother’s blessing dear!
A brother’s sigh! a sister’s tear!
My Jean’s heart-rending throe!
Farewell, my Bess! tho’ thou’rt bereft
Of my parental care,
A faithful brother I have left,
My part in him thou’lt share!
Adieu too, to you too,
My Smith, my bosom frien’;
When kindly you mind me,
O then befriend my Jean!


What bursting anguish tears my heart!
From thee, my Jeany, must I part!
Thou weeping answ’rest—“No!”
Alas! misfortune stares my face,
And points to ruin and disgrace,
I for thy sake must go!
Thee, Hamilton, and Aiken dear,
A grateful, warm adieu;
I, with a much-indebted tear,
Shall still remember you!
All-hail then, the gale then,
Wafts me from thee, dear shore!
It rustles, and whistles
I’ll never see thee more!




[This is another of the poet’s lamentations, at the prospect of “torrid climes” and the roars of the Atlantic. To Burns, Scotland was the land of promise, the west of Scotland his paradise; and the land of dread, Jamaica! I found these lines copied by the poet into a volume which he presented to Dr. Geddes: they were addressed, it is thought, to the “Dear E.” of his earliest correspondence.]

Once fondly lov’d and still remember’d dear;
Sweet early object of my youthful vows!
Accept this mark of friendship, warm, sincere,—
Friendship! ’tis all cold duty now allows.
And when you read the simple artless rhymes,
One friendly sigh for him—he asks no more,—
Who distant burns in flaming torrid climes,
Or haply lies beneath th’ Atlantic roar.





[The gentleman to whom these manly lines are addressed, was of good birth, and of an open and generous nature: he was one of the first of the gentry of the west to encourage the muse of Coila to stretch her wings at full length. His free life, and free speech, exposed him to the censures of that stern divine, Daddie Auld, who charged him with the sin of absenting himself from church for three successive days; for having, without the fear of God’s servant before him, profanely said damn it, in his presence, and far having gallopped on Sunday. These charges were contemptuously dismissed by the presbyterial court. Hamilton was the brother of the Charlotte to whose charms, on the banks of Devon, Burns, it is said, paid the homage of a lover, as well as of a poet. The poem had a place in the Kilmarnock edition, but not as an express dedication.]

Expect na, Sir, in this narration,
A fleechin’, fleth’rin dedication,
To roose you up, an’ ca’ you guid,
An’ sprung o’ great an’ noble bluid,
Because ye’re surnam’d like his Grace;
Perhaps related to the race;
Then when I’m tir’d—and sae are ye,
Wi’ monie a fulsome, sinfu’ lie,
[124]Set up a face, how I stop short,
For fear your modesty be hurt.
This may do—maun do, Sir, wi’ them wha
Maun please the great folk for a wamefou;
For me! sae laigh I needna bow,
For, Lord be thankit, I can plough;
And when I downa yoke a naig,
Then, Lord be thankit, I can beg;
Sae I shall say, an’ that’s nae flatt’rin’,
It’s just sic poet, an’ sic patron.
The Poet, some guid angel help him,
Or else, I fear some ill ane skelp him,
He may do weel for a’ he’s done yet,
But only—he’s no just begun yet.
The Patron, (Sir, ye maun forgie me,
I winna lie, come what will o’ me,)
On ev’ry hand it will allow’d be,
He’s just—nae better than he should be.
I readily and freely grant,
He downa see a poor man want;
What’s no his ain, he winna tak it;
What ance he says, he winna break it;
Ought he can lend he’ll no refus’t,
’Till aft his guidness is abus’d;
And rascals whyles that do him wrang,
E’en that, he does na mind it lang:
As master, landlord, husband, father,
He does na fail his part in either.
But then, nae thanks to him for a’ that;
Nae godly symptom ye can ca’ that;
It’s naething but a milder feature,
Of our poor sinfu’, corrupt nature:
Ye’ll get the best o’ moral works,
‘Mang black Gentoos and pagan Turks,
Or hunters wild on Ponotaxi,
Wha never heard of orthodoxy.
That he’s the poor man’s friend in need,
The gentleman in word and deed,
It’s no thro’ terror of damnation;
It’s just a carnal inclination.
Morality, thou deadly bane,
Thy tens o’ thousands thou hast slain!
Vain is his hope, whose stay and trust is
In moral mercy, truth and justice!
No—stretch a point to catch a plack;
Abuse a brother to his back;
Steal thro’ a winnock frae a whore,
But point the rake that taks the door;
Be to the poor like onie whunstane,
And haud their noses to the grunstane,
Ply ev’ry art o’ legal thieving;
No matter—stick to sound believing.
Learn three-mile pray’rs an’ half-mile graces,
Wi’ weel-spread looves, and lang wry faces;
Grunt up a solemn, lengthen’d groan,
And damn a’ parties but your own;
I’ll warrant then, ye’re nae deceiver,
A steady, sturdy, staunch believer.
O ye wha leave the springs o’ Calvin,
For gumlie dubs of your ain delvin’!
Ye sons of heresy and error,
Ye’ll some day squeal in quaking terror!
When Vengeance draws the sword in wrath,
And in the fire throws the sheath;
When Ruin, with his sweeping besom,
Just frets ’till Heav’n commission gies him:
While o’er the harp pale Mis’ry moans,
And strikes the ever-deep’ning tones,
Still louder shrieks, and heavier groans!
Your pardon, Sir, for this digression.
I maist forgat my dedication;
But when divinity comes cross me
My readers still are sure to lose me.
So, Sir, ye see ’twas nae daft vapour,
But I maturely thought it proper,
When a’ my works I did review,
To dedicate them, Sir, to you:
Because (ye need na tak it ill)
I thought them something like yoursel’.
Then patronize them wi’ your favour,
And your petitioner shall ever—
I had amaist said, ever pray,
But that’s a word I need na say:
For prayin’ I hae little skill o’t;
I’m baith dead sweer, an’ wretched ill o’t;
But I’se repeat each poor man’s pray’r,
That kens or hears about you, Sir—
“May ne’er misfortune’s gowling bark,
Howl thro’ the dwelling o’ the Clerk!
May ne’er his gen’rous, honest heart,
For that same gen’rous spirit smart!
May Kennedy’s far-honour’d name
Lang beet his hymeneal flame,
Till Hamiltons, at least a dizen,
Are frae their nuptial labours risen:
[125] Five bonnie lasses round their table,
And seven braw fellows, stout an’ able
To serve their king and country weel,
By word, or pen, or pointed steel!
May health and peace, with mutual rays,
Shine on the ev’ning o’ his days;
’Till his wee curlie John’s-ier-oe,
When ebbing life nae mair shall flow,
The last, sad, mournful rites bestow.”
I will not wind a lang conclusion,
With complimentary effusion:
But whilst your wishes and endeavours
Are blest with Fortune’s smiles and favours,
I am, dear Sir, with zeal most fervent,
Your much indebted, humble servant.
But if (which pow’rs above prevent)
That iron-hearted carl, Want,
Attended in his grim advances
By sad mistakes and black mischances,
While hopes, and joys, and pleasures fly him,
Make you as poor a dog as I am,
Your humble servant then no more;
For who would humbly serve the poor!
But by a poor man’s hope in Heav’n!
While recollection’s pow’r is given,
If, in the vale of humble life,
The victim sad of fortune’s strife,
I, thro’ the tender gushing tear,
Should recognise my Master dear,
If friendless, low, we meet together,
Then Sir, your hand—my friend and brother.





[Cromek found these verses among the loose papers of Burns, and printed them in the Reliques. They contain a portion of the character of the poet, record his habitual carelessness in worldly affairs, and his desire to be distinguished.]

Now Robin lies in his last lair,
He’ll gabble rhyme, nor sing nae mair,
Cauld poverty, wi’ hungry stare,
Nae mair shall fear him;
Nor anxious fear, nor cankert care,
E’er mair come near him.
To tell the truth, they seldom fash’t him,
Except the moment that they crush’t him;
For sune as chance or fate had hush’t ‘em,
Tho’ e’er sae short,
Then wi’ a rhyme or song he lash’t ‘em,
And thought it sport.
Tho’ he was bred to kintra wark,
And counted was baith wight and stark.
Yet that was never Robin’s mark
To mak a man;
But tell him he was learned and clark,
Ye roos’d him than!




[The west country farmer to whom this letter was sent was a social man. The poet depended on his judgment in the choice of a farm, when he resolved to quit the harp for the plough: but as Ellisland was his choice, his skill may be questioned.]

Auld comrade dear, and brither sinner,
How’s a’ the folk about Glenconner?
How do you this blae eastlin wind,
That’s like to blaw a body blind?
For me, my faculties are frozen,
My dearest member nearly dozen’d,
I’ve sent you here, by Johnie Simson,
Twa sage philosophers to glimpse on;
Smith, wi’ his sympathetic feeling,
An’ Reid, to common sense appealing.
Philosophers have fought and wrangled,
An’ meikle Greek and Latin mangled,
Till wi’ their logic-jargon tir’d,
An’ in the depth of science mir’d,
To common sense they now appeal,
What wives and wabsters see and feel.
But, hark ye, friend! I charge you strictly
Peruse them, an’ return them quickly,
For now I’m grown sae cursed douce
I pray and ponder butt the house,
My shins, my lane, I there sit roastin’,
Perusing Bunyan, Brown, an’ Boston;
Till by an’ by, if I haud on,
I’ll grunt a real gospel groan:
Already I begin to try it,
To cast my e’en up like a pyet,
When by the gun she tumbles o’er,
Flutt’ring an’ gasping in her gore:
[126]Sae shortly you shall see me bright,
A burning and a shining light.
My heart-warm love to guid auld Glen,
The ace an’ wale of honest men:
When bending down wi’ auld gray hairs,
Beneath the load of years and cares,
May He who made him still support him,
An’ views beyond the grave comfort him,
His worthy fam’ly far and near,
God bless them a’ wi’ grace and gear!
My auld schoolfellow, preacher Willie,
The manly tar, my mason Billie,
An’ Auchenbay, I wish him joy;
If he’s a parent, lass or boy,
May he be dad, and Meg the mither,
Just five-and-forty years thegither!
An’ no forgetting wabster Charlie,
I’m tauld he offers very fairly.
An’ Lord, remember singing Sannock,
Wi’ hale breeks, saxpence, an’ a bannock,
An’ next my auld acquaintance, Nancy,
Since she is fitted to her fancy;
An’ her kind stars hae airted till her
A good chiel wi’ a pickle siller.
My kindest, best respects I sen’ it,
To cousin Kate, an’ sister Janet;
Tell them, frae me, wi’ chiels be cautious,
For, faith, they’ll aiblins fin’ them fashious;
To grant a heart is fairly civil,
But to grant the maidenhead’s the devil
An’ lastly, Jamie, for yoursel’,
May guardian angels tak a spell,
An’ steer you seven miles south o’ hell:
But first, before you see heaven’s glory,
May ye get monie a merry story,
Monie a laugh, and monie a drink,
And aye eneugh, o’ needfu’ clink.
Now fare ye weel, an’ joy be wi’ you,
For my sake this I beg it o’ you.
Assist poor Simson a’ ye can,
Ye’ll fin’ him just an honest man;
Sae I conclude, and quat my chanter,
Your’s, saint or sinner,

Rob the Ranter.




[From letters addressed by Burns to Mrs. Dunlop, it would appear that this “Sweet Flow’ret, pledge o’ meikle love,” was the only son of her daughter, Mrs. Henri, who had married a French gentleman. The mother soon followed the father to the grave: she died in the south of France, whither she had gone in search of health.]

Sweet flow’ret, pledge o’ meikle love,
And ward o’ mony a pray’r,
What heart o’ stane wad thou na move,
Sae helpless, sweet, and fair!
November hirples o’er the lea,
Chill on thy lovely form;
And gane, alas! the shelt’ring tree,
Should shield thee frae the storm.
May He who gives the rain to pour,
And wings the blast to blaw,
Protect thee frae the driving show’r,
The bitter frost and snaw!
May He, the friend of woe and want,
Who heals life’s various stounds,
Protect and guard the mother-plant,
And heal her cruel wounds!
But late she flourish’d, rooted fast,
Fair on the summer-morn:
Now feebly bends she in the blast,
Unshelter’d and forlorn.
Blest be thy bloom, thou lovely gem,
Unscath’d by ruffian hand!
And from thee many a parent stem
Arise to deck our land!





[The beauteous rose-bud of this poem was one of the daughters of Mr. Cruikshank, a master in the High School of Edinburgh, at whose table Burns was a frequent guest during the year of hope which he spent in the northern metropolis.][127]

Beauteous rose-bud, young and gay,
Blooming in thy early May,
Never may’st thou, lovely flow’r,
Chilly shrink in sleety show’r!
Never Boreas’ hoary path,
Never Eurus’ poisonous breath,
Never baleful stellar lights,
Taint thee with untimely blights!
Never, never reptile thief
Riot on thy virgin leaf!
Nor even Sol too fiercely view
Thy bosom blushing still with dew!
May’st thou long, sweet crimson gem,
Richly deck thy native stem:
’Till some evening, sober, calm,
Dropping dews and breathing balm,
While all around the woodland rings,
And ev’ry bird thy requiem sings;
Thou, amid the dirgeful sound,
Shed thy dying honours round,
And resign to parent earth
The loveliest form she e’er gave birth.



[Lockhart first gave this poetic curiosity to the world: he copied it from a small manuscript volume of Poems given by Burns to Lady Harriet Don, with an explanation in these words: “W. Chalmers, a gentleman in Ayrshire, a particular friend of mine, asked me to write a poetic epistle to a young lady, his Dulcinea. I had seen her, but was scarcely acquainted with her, and wrote as follows.” Chalmers was a writer in Ayr. I have not heard that the lady was influenced by this volunteer effusion: ladies are seldom rhymed into the matrimonial snare.]


Wi’ braw new branks in mickle pride,
And eke a braw new brechan,
My Pegasus I’m got astride,
And up Parnassus pechin;
Whiles owre a bush wi’ downward crush
The doitie beastie stammers;
Then up he gets and off he sets
For sake o’ Willie Chalmers.


I doubt na, lass, that weel kenn’d name
May cost a pair o’ blushes;
I am nae stranger to your fame,
Nor his warm urged wishes.
Your bonnie face sae mild and sweet
His honest heart enamours,
And faith ye’ll no be lost a whit,
Tho’ waired on Willie Chalmers.


Auld Truth hersel’ might swear ye’re fair,
And Honour safely back her,
And Modesty assume your air,
And ne’er a ane mistak’ her:
And sic twa love-inspiring een
Might fire even holy Palmers;
Nae wonder then they’ve fatal been
To honest Willie Chalmers.


I doubt na fortune may you shore
Some mim-mou’d pouthered priestie,
Fu’ lifted up wi’ Hebrew lore,
And band upon his breastie:
But Oh! what signifies to you
His lexicons and grammars;
The feeling heart’s the royal blue,
And that’s wi’ Willie Chalmers.


Some gapin’ glowrin’ countra laird,
May warstle for your favour;
May claw his lug, and straik his beard,
And hoast up some palaver.
My bonnie maid, before ye wed
Sic clumsy-witted hammers,
Seek Heaven for help, and barefit skelp
Awa’ wi’ Willie Chalmers.


Forgive the Bard! my fond regard
For ane that shares my bosom,
Inspires my muse to gie ‘m his dues,
For de’il a hair I roose him.
May powers aboon unite you soon,
And fructify your amours,—
And every year come in mair dear
To you and Willie Chalmers.






[Of the origin of those verses Gilbert Burns gives the following account. “The first time Robert heard the spinet played was at the house of Dr. Lawrie, then minister of Loudon, now in Glasgow. Dr. Lawrie has several daughters; one of them played; the father and the mother led down the dance; the rest of the sisters, the brother, the poet and the other guests mixed in it. It was a delightful family scene for our poet, then lately introduced to the world; his mind was roused to a poetic enthusiasm, and the stanzas were left in the room where he slept.”]


O thou dread Power, who reign’st above!
I know thou wilt me hear,
When for this scene of peace and love
I make my prayer sincere.


The hoary sire—the mortal stroke,
Long, long, be pleased to spare;
To bless his filial little flock
And show what good men are.


She who her lovely offspring eyes
With tender hopes and fears,
O, bless her with a mother’s joys,
But spare a mother’s tears!


Their hope—their stay—their darling youth,
In manhood’s dawning blush—
Bless him, thou God of love and truth,
Up to a parent’s wish!


The beauteous, seraph sister-band,
With earnest tears I pray,
Thous know’st the snares on ev’ry hand—
Guide Thou their steps alway.


When soon or late they reach that coast,
O’er life’s rough ocean driven,
May they rejoice, no wanderer lost,
A family in Heaven!





[Verse seems to have been the natural language of Burns. The Master Tootie whose skill he records, lived in Mauchline, and dealt in cows: he was an artful and contriving person, great in bargaining and intimate with all the professional tricks by which old cows are made to look young, and six-pint hawkies pass for those of twelve.]

Mossgiel, May 3, 1786.


I hold it, Sir, my bounden duty,
To warn you how that Master Tootie,
Alias, Laird M’Gaun,
Was here to hire yon lad away
‘Bout whom ye spak the tither day,
An’ wad ha’e done’t aff han’:
But lest he learn the callan tricks,
As, faith, I muckle doubt him,
Like scrapin’ out auld Crummie’s nicks,
An’ tellin’ lies about them;
As lieve then, I’d have then,
Your clerkship he should sair,
If sae be, ye may be
Not fitted otherwhere.


Altho’ I say’t, he’s gleg enough,
An’ bout a house that’s rude an’ rough
The boy might learn to swear;
But then, wi’ you, he’ll be sae taught,
An’ get sic fair example straught,
I havena ony fear.
Ye’ll catechize him every quirk,
An’ shore him weel wi’ Hell;
An’ gar him follow to the kirk—
—Ay when ye gang yoursel’.
If ye then, maun be then
Frae hame this comin’ Friday;
Then please Sir, to lea’e Sir,
The orders wi’ your lady.


My word of honour I hae gien,
In Paisley John’s, that night at e’n,
To meet the Warld’s worm;
To try to get the twa to gree,
An’ name the airles[56] an’ the fee,
In legal mode an’ form:
I ken he weel a snick can draw,
[129]When simple bodies let him;
An’ if a Devil be at a’,
In faith he’s sure to get him.
To phrase you, an’ praise you,
Ye ken your Laureat scorns:
The pray’r still, you share still,
Of grateful Minstrel Burns.


[56] The airles—earnest money.




[It seems that Burns, delighted with the praise which the Laird of Craigen-Gillan bestowed on his verses,—probably the Jolly Beggars, then in the hands of Woodburn, his steward,—poured out this little unpremeditated natural acknowledgment.]

Sir, o’er a gill I gat your card,
I trow it made me proud;
See wha tak’s notice o’ the bard
I lap and cry’d fu’ loud.
Now deil-ma-care about their jaw,
The senseless, gawky million:
I’ll cock my nose aboon them a’—
I’m roos’d by Craigen-Gillan!
’Twas noble, Sir; ’twas like yoursel’,
To grant your high protection:
A great man’s smile, ye ken fu’ well,
Is ay a blest infection.
Tho’ by his[57] banes who in a tub
Match’d Macedonian Sandy!
On my ain legs thro’ dirt and dub,
I independent stand ay.—
And when those legs to gude, warm kail,
Wi’ welcome canna bear me;
A lee dyke-side, a sybow-tail,
And barley-scone shall cheer me.
Heaven spare you lang to kiss the breath
O’ many flow’ry simmers!
And bless your bonnie lasses baith,
I’m tauld they’re loosome kimmers!
And God bless young Dunaskin’s laird,
The blossom of our gentry!
And may he wear an auld man’s beard,
A credit to his country.


[57] Diogenes.




[The person who in the name of a Tailor took the liberty of admonishing Burns about his errors, is generally believed to have been William Simpson, the schoolmaster of Ochiltree: the verses seem about the measure of his capacity, and were attributed at the time to his hand. The natural poet took advantage of the mask in which the made poet concealed himself, and rained such a merciless storm upon him, as would have extinguished half the Tailors in Ayrshire, and made the amazed dominie

“Strangely fidge and fyke.”

It was first printed in 1801, by Stewart.]

What ails ye now, ye lousie b——h,
To thresh my back at sic a pitch?
Losh, man! hae mercy wi’ your natch,
Your bodkin’s bauld,
I didna suffer ha’f sae much
Frae Daddie Auld.
What tho’ at times when I grow crouse,
I gie their wames a random pouse,
Is that enough for you to souse
Your servant sae?
Gae mind your seam, ye prick-the-louse,
An’ jag-the-flae.
King David o’ poetic brief,
Wrought ‘mang the lasses sic mischief,
As fill’d his after life wi’ grief,
An’ bluidy rants,
An’ yet he’s rank’d amang the chief
O’ lang-syne saunts.
And maybe, Tam, for a’ my cants,
My wicked rhymes, an’ druken rants,
I’ll gie auld cloven Clootie’s haunts
An unco’ slip yet,
An’ snugly sit among the saunts
At Davie’s hip get.
But fegs, the Session says I maun
Gae fa’ upo’ anither plan,
Than garrin lasses cowp the cran
Clean heels owre body,
And sairly thole their mither’s ban
Afore the howdy.
This leads me on, to tell for sport,
How I did wi’ the Session sort,
[130]Auld Clinkum at the inner port
Cried three times—“Robin!
Come hither, lad, an’ answer for’t,
Ye’re blamed for jobbin’.”
Wi’ pinch I pat a Sunday’s face on,
An’ snoov’d away before the Session;
I made an open fair confession—
I scorn’d to lee;
An’ syne Mess John, beyond expression,
Fell foul o’ me.



[With the Laird of Adamhill’s personal character the reader is already acquainted: the lady about whose frailties the rumour alluded to was about to rise, has not been named, and it would neither be delicate nor polite to guess.]

I am a keeper of the law
In some sma’ points, altho’ not a’;
Some people tell me gin I fa’
Ae way or ither.
The breaking of ae point, though sma’,
Breaks a’ thegither
I hae been in for’t once or twice,
And winna say o’er far for thrice,
Yet never met with that surprise
That broke my rest,
But now a rumour’s like to rise,
A whaup’s i’ the nest.




[The bank-note on which these characteristic lines were endorsed, came into the hands of the late James Gracie, banker in Dumfries: he knew the handwriting of Burns, and kept it as a curiosity. The concluding lines point to the year 1786, as the date of the composition.]

Wae worth thy power, thou cursed leaf,
Fell source o’ a’ my woe an’ grief;
For lack o’ thee I’ve lost my lass,
For lack o’ thee I scrimp my glass.
I see the children of affliction
Unaided, through thy cursed restriction
I’ve seen the oppressor’s cruel smile
Amid his hapless victim’s spoil:
And for thy potence vainly wished,
To crush the villain in the dust.
For lack o’ thee, I leave this much-lov’d shore,
Never, perhaps, to greet old Scotland more.

R. B.



“Thoughts, words, and deeds, the statute blames with reason;
But surely dreams were ne’er indicted treason.”

On reading, in the public papers, the “Laureate’s Ode,” with the other parade of June 4th, 1786, the author was no sooner dropt asleep, than he imagined himself transported to the birth-day levee; and, in his dreaming fancy, made the following “Address.”

[The prudent friends of the poet remonstrated with him about this Poem, which they appeared to think would injure his fortunes and stop the royal bounty to which he was thought entitled. Mrs. Dunlop, and Mrs. Stewart, of Stair, solicited him in vain to omit it in the Edinburgh edition of his poems. I know of no poem for which a claim of being prophetic would be so successfully set up: it is full of point as well as of the future. The allusions require no comment.]

Guid-mornin’ to your Majesty!
May Heaven augment your blisses,
On ev’ry new birth-day ye see,
A humble poet wishes!
My bardship here, at your levee,
On sic a day as this is,
Is sure an uncouth sight to see,
Amang thae birth-day dresses
Sae fine this day.
I see ye’re complimented thrang,
By many a lord an’ lady;
“God save the King!” ‘s a cuckoo sang
That’s unco easy said ay;
The poets, too, a venal gang,
Wi’ rhymes weel-turn’d and ready,
Wad gar you trow ye ne’er do wrang,
But ay unerring steady,
On sic a day.
For me, before a monarch’s face,
Ev’n there I winna flatter;
For neither pension, post, nor place,
Am I your humble debtor:
So, nae reflection on your grace,
Your kingship to bespatter;
There’s monie waur been o’ the race,
And aiblins ane been better
Than you this day.
’Tis very true, my sov’reign king,
My skill may weel be doubted:
But facts are chiels that winna ding,
An’ downa be disputed:
Your royal nest beneath your wing,
Is e’en right reft an’ clouted,
And now the third part of the string,
An’ less, will gang about it
Than did ae day.
Far be’t frae me that I aspire
To blame your legislation,
Or say, ye wisdom want, or fire,
To rule this mighty nation.
But faith! I muckle doubt, my sire,
Ye’ve trusted ministration
To chaps, wha, in a barn or byre,
Wad better fill’d their station
Than courts yon day.
And now ye’ve gien auld Britain peace,
Her broken shins to plaister;
Your sair taxation does her fleece,
Till she has scarce a tester;
For me, thank God, my life’s a lease,
Nae bargain wearing faster,
Or, faith! I fear, that, wi’ the geese,
I shortly boost to pasture
I’ the craft some day.
I’m no mistrusting Willie Pitt,
When taxes he enlarges,
(An’ Will’s a true guid fallow’s get,
A name not envy spairges,)
That he intends to pay your debt,
An’ lessen a’ your charges;
But, G-d-sake! let nae saving-fit
Abridge your bonnie barges
An’ boats this day.
Adieu, my Liege! may freedom geck
Beneath your high protection;
An’ may ye rax corruption’s neck,
And gie her for dissection!
But since I’m here, I’ll no neglect,
In loyal, true affection,
To pay your Queen, with due respect,
My fealty an’ subjection
This great birth-day
Hail, Majesty Most Excellent!
While nobles strive to please ye,
Will ye accept a compliment
A simple poet gi’es ye?
Thae bonnie bairntime, Heav’n has lent,
Still higher may they heeze ye
In bliss, till fate some day is sent,
For ever to release ye
Frae care that day.
For you, young potentate o’ Wales,
I tell your Highness fairly,
Down pleasure’s stream, wi’ swelling sails,
I’m tauld ye’re driving rarely;
But some day ye may gnaw your nails,
An’ curse your folly sairly,
That e’er ye brak Diana’s pales,
Or rattl’d dice wi’ Charlie,
By night or day.
Yet aft a ragged cowte’s been known
To mak a noble aiver;
So, ye may doucely fill a throne,
For a’ their clish-ma-claver:
There, him at Agincourt wha shone,
Few better were or braver;
And yet, wi’ funny, queer Sir John,
He was an unco shaver
For monie a day.
For you, right rev’rend Osnaburg,
Nane sets the lawn-sleeve sweeter,
Altho’ a ribbon at your lug,
Wad been a dress completer:
As ye disown yon paughty dog
That bears the keys of Peter,
Then, swith! an’ get a wife to hug,
Or, trouth! ye’ll stain the mitre
Some luckless day.
Young, royal Tarry Breeks, I learn,
Ye’ve lately come athwart her;
A glorious galley,[58] stem an’ stern,
Weel rigg’d for Venus’ barter;
But first hang out, that she’ll discern
Your hymeneal charter,
[132]Then heave aboard your grapple airn,
An’, large upon her quarter,
Come full that day.
Ye, lastly, bonnie blossoms a’,
Ye royal lasses dainty,
Heav’n mak you guid as weel as braw,
An’ gie you lads a-plenty:
But sneer na British Boys awa’,
For kings are unco scant ay;
An’ German gentles are but sma’,
They’re better just than want ay
On onie day.
God bless you a’! consider now,
Ye’re unco muckle dautet;
But ere the course o’ life be thro’,
It may be bitter sautet:
An’ I hae seen their coggie fou,
That yet hae tarrow’t at it;
But or the day was done, I trow,
The laggen they hae clautet
Fu’ clean that day.


[58] Alluding to the newspaper account of a certain royal sailor’s amour



[This beautiful and affecting poem was printed in the Kilmarnock edition: Wordsworth writes with his usual taste and feeling about it: “Whom did the poet intend should be thought of, as occupying that grave, over which, after modestly setting forth the moral discernment and warm affections of the ‘poor inhabitant’ it is supposed to be inscribed that

‘Thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stained his name!’

Who but himself—himself anticipating the but too probable termination of his own course? Here is a sincere and solemn avowal—a confession at once devout, poetical, and human—a history in the shape of a prophecy! What more was required of the biographer, than to have put his seal to the writing, testifying that the foreboding had been realized and that the record was authentic?”]

Is there a whim-inspired fool,
Owre fast for thought, owre hot for rule,
Owre blate to seek, owre proud to snool,
Let him draw near;
And owre this grassy heap sing dool,
And drap a tear.
Is there a bard of rustic song,
Who, noteless, steals the crowds among,
That weekly this area throng,
O, pass not by!
But with a frater-feeling strong,
Here heave a sigh.
Is there a man, whose judgment clear,
Can others teach the course to steer,
Yet runs, himself, life’s mad career,
Wild as the wave;
Here pause—and, through the starting tear,
Survey this grave.
The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame,
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain’d his name!
Reader, attend—whether thy soul
Soars fancy’s flights beyond the pole,
Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,
In low pursuit;
Know, prudent, cautious self-control,
Is wisdom’s root.




[Cromek, an anxious and curious inquirer, informed me, that the Twa Dogs was in a half-finished state, when the poet consulted John Wilson, the printer, about the Kilmarnock edition. On looking over the manuscripts, the printer, with a sagacity common to his profession, said, “The Address to the Deil” and “The Holy Fair” were grand things, but it would be as well to have a calmer and sedater strain, to put at the front of the volume. Burns was struck with the remark, and on his way home to Mossgiel, completed the Poem, and took it next day to Kilmarnock, much to the satisfaction of “Wee Johnnie.” On the 17th February Burns says to John Richmond, of Mauchline, “I have completed my Poem of the Twa Dogs, but have not shown it to the world.” It is difficult to fix the dates with anything like accuracy, to compositions which are not struck off at one heat of the fancy. “Luath was one of the poet’s dogs, which some person had wantonly killed,” says Gilbert Burns; “but Cæsar was merely the creature of the imagination.” The Ettrick Shepherd, a judge of collies, says that Luath is true to the life, and that many a hundred times he has seen the dogs bark for very joy, when the cottage children were merry.]

Twas in that place o’ Scotland’s isle
That bears the name o’ Auld King Coil,
[133]Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearing through the afternoon,
Twa dogs that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather’d ance upon a time.
The first I’ll name, they ca’d him Cæsar,
Was keepit for his honour’s pleasure;
His hair, his size, his mouth, his lugs,
Show’d he was nane o’ Scotland’s dogs;
But whalpit some place far abroad,
Where sailors gang to fish for cod.
His locked, letter’d, braw brass collar
Show’d him the gentleman and scholar;
But though he was o’ high degree,
The fient a pride—nae pride had he;
But wad hae spent an hour caressin’,
Ev’n wi’ a tinkler-gypsey’s messin’.
At kirk or market, mill or smiddie,
Nae tawted tyke, though e’er sae duddie,
But he wad stan’t, as glad to see him,
And stroan’t on stanes and hillocks wi’ him.
The tither was a ploughman’s collie,
A rhyming, ranting, raving billie,
Wha for his friend an’ comrade had him,
And in his freaks had Luath ca’d him,
After some dog in Highland sang,[59]
Was made lang syne—Lord know how lang.
He was a gash an’ faithful tyke,
As ever lap a sheugh or dyke.
His honest, sonsie, baws’nt face,
Ay gat him friends in ilka place.
His breast was white, his touzie back
Weel clad wi’ coat o’ glossy black;
His gaucie tail, wi’ upward curl,
Hung o’er his hurdies wi’ a swirl.
Nae doubt but they were fain o’ ither,
An’ unco pack an’ thick thegither;
Wi’ social nose whyles snuff’d and snowkit,
Whyles mice and moudiewarts they howkit;
Whyles scour’d awa in lang excursion,
An’ worry’d ither in diversion;
Until wi’ daffin weary grown,
Upon a knowe they sat them down,
And there began a lang digression
About the lords o’ the creation.


I’ve aften wonder’d, honest Luath,
What sort o’ life poor dogs like you have;
An’ when the gentry’s life I saw,
What way poor bodies liv’d ava.
Our laird gets in his racked rents,
His coals, his kain, and a’ his stents;
He rises when he likes himsel’;
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca’s his coach, he ca’s his horse;
He draws a bonnie silken purse
As lang’s my tail, whare, through the steeks,
The yellow letter’d Geordie keeks.
Frae morn to e’en its nought but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An’ though the gentry first are stechin,
Yet even the ha’ folk fill their pechan
Wi’ sauce, ragouts, and sic like trashtrie,
That’s little short o’ downright wastrie.
Our whipper-in, wee, blastit wonner,
Poor worthless elf, eats a dinner,
Better than ony tenant man
His honour has in a’ the lan’;
An’ what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it’s past my comprehension.


Trowth, Cæsar, whyles they’re fash’t eneugh
A cotter howkin in a sheugh,
Wi’ dirty stanes biggin’ a dyke,
Baring a quarry, and sic like;
Himself, a wife, he thus sustains,
A smytrie o’ wee duddie weans,
An’ nought but his han’ darg, to keep
Them right and tight in thack an’ rape.
An’ when they meet wi’ sair disasters,
Like loss o’ health, or want o’ masters,
Ye maist wad think a wee touch langer
An’ they maun starve o’ cauld and hunger;
But, how it comes, I never kenn’d yet,
They’re maistly wonderfu’ contented:
An’ buirdly chiels, an’ clever hizzies,
Are bred in sic a way as this is.


But then to see how ye’re negleckit,
How huff’d, and cuff’d, and disrespeckit!
L—d, man, our gentry care as little
For delvers, ditchers, an’ sic cattle;
They gang as saucy by poor folk,
As I wad by a stinking brock.
I’ve notic’d, on our Laird’s court-day,
An’ mony a time my heart’s been wae,
[134]Poor tenant bodies, scant o’ cash,
How they maun thole a factor’s snash:
He’ll stamp an’ threaten, curse an’ swear,
He’ll apprehend them, poind their gear;
While they maun stan’, wi’ aspect humble,
An’ hear it a’, an’ fear an’ tremble!
I see how folk live that hae riches;
But surely poor folk maun be wretches!


They’re no sae wretched’s ane wad think;
Tho’ constantly on poortith’s brink:
They’re sae accustom’d wi’ the sight,
The view o’t gies them little fright.
Then chance an’ fortune are sae guided,
They’re ay in less or mair provided;
An’ tho’ fatigu’d wi’ close employment,
A blink o’ rest’s a sweet enjoyment.
The dearest comfort o’ their lives,
Their grushie weans, an’ faithfu’ wives;
The prattling things are just their pride,
That sweetens a’ their fire-side;
An’ whyles twalpennie worth o’ nappy
Can mak’ the bodies unco happy;
They lay aside their private cares,
To mind the Kirk and State affairs:
They’ll talk o’ patronage and priests;
Wi’ kindling fury in their breasts;
Or tell what new taxation’s comin’,
And ferlie at the folk in Lon’on.
As bleak-fac’d Hallowmass returns,
They get the jovial, ranting kirns,
When rural life, o’ ev’ry station,
Unite in common recreation;
Love blinks, Wit slaps, an’ social Mirth
Forgets there’s Care upo’ the earth.
That merry day the year begins,
They bar the door on frosty win’s;
The nappy reeks wi’ mantling ream,
An’ sheds a heart-inspiring steam;
The luntin pipe, an sneeshin mill,
Are handed round wi’ right guid will;
The cantie auld folks crackin’ crouse,
The young anes rantin’ thro’ the house,—
My heart has been sae fain to see them,
That I for joy hae barkit wi’ them.
Still it’s owre true that ye hae said,
Sic game is now owre aften play’d.
There’s monie a creditable stock
O’ decent, honest, fawsont folk,
Are riven out baith root and branch,
Some rascal’s pridefu’ greed to quench,
Wha thinks to knit himsel’ the faster
In favour wi’ some gentle master,
Wha aiblins, thrang a parliamentin’,
For Britain’s guid his saul indentin’—


Haith, lad, ye little ken about it!
For Britain’s guid! guid faith, I doubt it!
Say rather, gaun as Premiers lead him,
An’ saying, aye or no’s they bid him,
At operas an’ plays parading,
Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading;
Or may be, in a frolic daft,
To Hague or Calais takes a waft,
To mak a tour, an’ tak’ a whirl,
To learn bon ton, an’ see the worl’.
There, at Vienna or Versailles,
He rives his father’s auld entails;
Or by Madrid he takes the rout,
To thrum guitars, an’ fecht wi’ nowt;
Or down Italian vista startles,
Wh—re-hunting amang groves o’ myrtles
Then bouses drumly German water,
To mak’ himsel’ look fair and fatter,
An’ clear the consequential sorrows,
Love-gifts of carnival signoras.
For Britain’s guid!—for her destruction
Wi’ dissipation, feud, an’ faction.


Hech, man! dear sirs! is that the gate
They waste sae mony a braw estate!
Are we sae foughten an’ harass’d
For gear to gang that gate at last!
O, would they stay aback frae courts,
An’ please themsels wi’ countra sports,
It wad for ev’ry ane be better,
The Laird, the Tenant, an’ the Cotter!
For thae frank, rantin’, ramblin’ billies,
Fient haet o’ them’s ill-hearted fellows;
Except for breakin’ o’ their timmer,
Or speakin’ lightly o’ their limmer,
Or shootin’ o’ a hare or moor-cock,
The ne’er a bit they’re ill to poor folk.
But will ye tell me, Master Cæsar,
Sure great folk’s life’s a life o’ pleasure?
Nae cauld or hunger e’er can steer them,
The vera thought o’t need na fear them.


L—d, man, were ye but whyles whare I am,
The gentles ye wad ne’er envy ‘em.
It’s true, they needna starve or sweat,
Thro’ winters cauld, or simmer’s heat;
They’ve nae sair wark to craze their banes,
An’ fill auld age wi’ grips an’ granes:
But human bodies are sic fools,
For a’ their colleges and schools,
That when nae real ills perplex them,
They mak enow themsels to vex them;
An’ ay the less they hae to sturt them,
In like proportion, less will hurt them.
A country fellow at the pleugh,
His acres till’d, he’s right eneugh;
A country girl at her wheel,
Her dizzen’s done, she’s unco weel:
But Gentlemen, an’ Ladies warst,
Wi’ ev’n down want o’ wark are curst.
They loiter, lounging, lank, an’ lazy;
Tho’ deil haet ails them, yet uneasy;
Their days insipid, dull, an’ tasteless;
Their nights unquiet, lang an’ restless;
An’ even their sports, their balls an’ races,
Their galloping thro’ public places,
There’s sic parade, sic pomp, an’ art,
The joy can scarcely reach the heart.
The men cast out in party matches,
Then sowther a’ in deep debauches;
Ae night they’re mad wi’ drink and wh-ring,
Niest day their life is past enduring.
The Ladies arm-in-arm in clusters,
As great and gracious a’ as sisters;
But hear their absent thoughts o’ ither,
They’re a’ run deils an’ jads thegither.
Whyles, o’er the wee bit cup an’ platie,
They sip the scandal potion pretty;
Or lee-lang nights, wi’ crabbit leuks
Pore owre the devil’s pictur’d beuks;
Stake on a chance a farmer’s stack-yard,
An’ cheat like onie unhang’d blackguard.
There’s some exception, man an’ woman;
But this is Gentry’s life in common.
By this, the sun was out o’ sight,
An’ darker gloaming brought the night:
The bum-clock humm’d wi’ lazy drone;
The kye stood rowtin i’ the loan;
When up they gat, and shook their lugs,
Rejoic’d they were na men, but dogs;
An’ each took aff his several way,
Resolv’d to meet some ither day.


[59] Cuchullin’s dog in Ossian’s Fingal.





[“The first time I saw Robert Burns,” says Dugald Stewart, “was on the 23rd of October, 1786, when he dined at my house in Ayrshire, together with our common friend, John Mackenzie, surgeon in Mauchline, to whom I am indebted for the pleasure of his acquaintance. My excellent and much-lamented friend, the late Basil, Lord Daer, happened to arrive at Catrine the same day, and, by the kindness and frankness of his manners, left an impression on the mind of the poet which was never effaced. The verses which the poet wrote on the occasion are among the most imperfect of his pieces, but a few stanzas may perhaps be a matter of curiosity, both on account of the character to which they relate and the light which they throw on the situation and the feelings of the writer before his work was known to the public.” Basil, Lord Daer, the uncle of the present Earl of Selkirk, was born in the year 1769, at the family seat of St. Mary’s Isle: he distinguished himself early at school, and at college excelled in literature and science; he had a greater regard for democracy than was then reckoned consistent with his birth and rank. He was, when Burns met him, in his twenty-third year; was very tall, something careless in his dress, and had the taste and talent common to his distinguished family. He died in his thirty-third year.]

This wot ye all whom it concerns,
I, Rhymer Robin, alias Burns,
October twenty-third,
A ne’er-to-be-forgotten day,
Sae far I sprachled up the brae,
I dinner’d wi’ a Lord.
I’ve been at druken writers’ feasts,
Nay, been bitch-fou’ ‘mang godly priests,
Wi’ rev’rence be it spoken:
I’ve even join’d the honour’d jorum,
When mighty squireships of the quorum
Their hydra drouth did sloken.
But wi’ a Lord—stand out, my shin!
A Lord—a Peer—an Earl’s son!—
Up higher yet, my bonnet!
And sic a Lord!—lang Scotch ells twa,
Our Peerage he o’erlooks them a’,
As I look o’er my sonnet.
But, oh! for Hogarth’s magic pow’r!
To show Sir Bardie’s willyart glow’r,
And how he star’d and stammer’d,
When goavan, as if led wi’ branks,
An’ stumpan on his ploughman shanks,
He in the parlour hammer’d.
I sidling shelter’d in a nook,
An’ at his lordship steal’t a look,
Like some portentous omen;
Except good sense and social glee,
An’ (what surpris’d me) modesty,
I marked nought uncommon.
I watch’d the symptoms o’ the great,
The gentle pride, the lordly state,
The arrogant assuming;
The fient a pride, nae pride had he,
Nor sauce, nor state, that I could see,
Mair than an honest ploughman.
Then from his lordship I shall learn,
Henceforth to meet with unconcern
One rank as weel’s another;
Nae honest worthy man need care
To meet with noble youthful Daer,
For he but meets a brother.



[“I enclose you two poems,” said Burns to his friend Chalmers, “which I have carded and spun since I passed Glenbuck. One blank in the Address to Edinburgh, ‘Fair B——,’ is the heavenly Miss Burnet, daughter to Lord Monboddo, at whose house I have had the honour to be more than once. There has not been anything nearly like her, in all the combinations of beauty, grace, and goodness the great Creator has formed, since Milton’s Eve, on the first day of her existence.” Lord Monboddo made himself ridiculous by his speculations on human nature, and acceptable by his kindly manners and suppers in the manner of the ancients, where his viands were spread under ambrosial lights, and his Falernian was wreathed with flowers. At these suppers Burns sometimes made his appearance. The “Address” was first printed in the Edinburgh edition: the poet’s hopes were then high, and his compliments, both to town and people, were elegant and happy.]


Edina! Scotia’s darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and tow’rs,
Where once beneath a monarch’s feet
Sat Legislation’s sov’reign pow’rs!
From marking wildly-scatter’d flow’rs,
As on the banks of Ayr I stray’d,
And singing, lone, the ling’ring hours,
I shelter in thy honour’d shade.


Here wealth still swells the golden tide,
As busy Trade his labour plies;
There Architecture’s noble pride
Bids elegance and splendour rise;
Here Justice, from her native skies,
High wields her balance and her rod;
There Learning, with his eagle eyes,
Seeks Science in her coy abode.


Thy sons, Edina! social, kind,
With open arms the stranger hail;
Their views enlarg’d, their liberal mind,
Above the narrow, rural vale;
Attentive still to sorrow’s wail,
Or modest merit’s silent claim;
And never may their sources fail!
And never envy blot their name!


Thy daughters bright thy walks adorn,
Gay as the gilded summer sky,
Sweet as the dewy milk-white thorn,
Dear as the raptur’d thrill of joy!
Fair Burnet strikes th’ adoring eye,
Heav’n’s beauties on my fancy shine;
I see the Sire of Love on high,
And own his work indeed divine!


There, watching high the least alarms,
Thy rough, rude fortress gleams afar,
Like some bold vet’ran, gray in arms,
And mark’d with many a seamy scar:
The pond’rous wall and massy bar,
Grim-rising o’er the rugged rock,
Have oft withstood assailing war,
And oft repell’d th’ invader’s shock.


With awe-struck thought, and pitying tears,
I view that noble, stately dome,
Where Scotia’s kings of other years,
Fam’d heroes! had their royal home:
Alas, how chang’d the times to come!
Their royal name low in the dust!
Their hapless race wild-wand’ring roam,
Tho’ rigid law cries out, ’twas just!


Wild beats my heart to trace your steps,
Whose ancestors, in days of yore,
[137]Thro’ hostile ranks and ruin’d gaps
Old Scotia’s bloody lion bore:
Ev’n I who sing in rustic lore,
Haply, my sires have left their shed,
And fac’d grim danger’s loudest roar,
Bold-following where your fathers led!


Edina! Scotia’s darling seat!
All hail thy palaces and tow’rs,
Where once beneath a monarch’s feet
Sat Legislation’s sov’reign pow’rs!
From marking wildly-scatter’d flow’rs,
As on the hanks of Ayr I stray’d,
And singing, lone, the ling’ring hours,
I shelter in thy honour’d shade.



[Major Logan, of Camlarg, lived, when this hasty Poem was written, with his mother and sister at Parkhouse, near Ayr. He was a good musician, a joyous companion, and something of a wit. The Epistle was printed, for the first time, in my edition of Burns, in 1834, and since then no other edition has wanted it.]

Hail, thairm-inspirin’, rattlin’ Willie!
Though fortune’s road be rough an’ hilly
To every fiddling, rhyming billie,
We never heed,
But tak’ it like the unback’d filly,
Proud o’ her speed.
When idly goavan whyles we saunter
Yirr, fancy barks, awa’ we canter
Uphill, down brae, till some mishanter,
Some black bog-hole,
Arrests us, then the scathe an’ banter
We’re forced to thole.
Hale be your heart! Hale be your fiddle!
Lang may your elbuck jink and diddle,
To cheer you through the weary widdle
O’ this wild warl’,
Until you on a crummock driddle
A gray-hair’d carl.
Come wealth, come poortith, late or soon,
Heaven send your heart-strings ay in tune,
And screw your temper pins aboon
A fifth or mair,
The melancholious, lazy croon
O’ cankrie care.
May still your life from day to day
Nae “lente largo” in the play,
But “allegretto forte” gay
Harmonious flow:
A sweeping, kindling, bauld strathspey—
Encore! Bravo!
A blessing on the cheery gang
Wha dearly like a jig or sang,
An’ never think o’ right an’ wrang
By square an’ rule,
But as the clegs o’ feeling stang
Are wise or fool.
My hand-waled curse keep hard in chase
The harpy, hoodock, purse-proud race,
Wha count on poortith as disgrace—
Their tuneless hearts!
May fireside discords jar a base
To a’ their parts!
But come, your hand, my careless brither,
I’ th’ ither warl’, if there’s anither,
An’ that there is I’ve little swither
About the matter;
We check for chow shall jog thegither,
I’se ne’er bid better.
We’ve faults and failings—granted clearly,
We’re frail backsliding mortals merely,
Eve’s bonny squad, priests wyte them sheerly
For our grand fa’;
But stilt, but still, I like them dearly—
God bless them a’!
Ochon! for poor Castalian drinkers,
When they fa’ foul o’ earthly jinkers,
The witching curs’d delicious blinkers
Hae put me hyte,
And gart me weet my waukrife winkers,
Wi’ girnan spite.
But by yon moon!—and that’s high swearin’—
An’ every star within my hearin’!
An’ by her een wha was a dear ane!
I’ll ne’er forget;
I hope to gie the jads a clearin’
In fair play yet.
My loss I mourn, but not repent it,
I’ll seek my pursie whare I tint it,
Ance to the Indies I were wonted,
Some cantraip hour,
By some sweet elf I’ll yet be dinted,
Then, vive l’amour!
Faites mes baisemains respectueuse,
To sentimental sister Susie,
An’ honest Lucky; no to roose you,
Ye may be proud,
That sic a couple fate allows ye
To grace your blood.
Nae mair at present can I measure,
An’ trowth my rhymin’ ware’s nae treasure;
But when in Ayr, some half-hour’s leisure,
Be’t light, be’t dark,
Sir Bard will do himself the pleasure
To call at Park.

Robert Burns.

Mossgiel, 30th October, 1786.





[Burns took the hint of this Poem from the Planestanes and Causeway of Fergusson, but all that lends it life and feeling belongs to his own heart and his native Ayr: he wrote it for the second edition of his poems, and in compliment to the patrons of his genius in the west. Ballantyne, to whom the Poem is inscribed, was generous when the distresses of his farming speculations pressed upon him: others of his friends figure in the scene: Montgomery’s courage, the learning of Dugald Stewart, and condescension and kindness of Mrs. General Stewart, of Stair, are gratefully recorded.]

The simple Bard, rough at the rustic plough,
Learning his tuneful trade from ev’ry bough;
The chanting linnet, or the mellow thrush,
Hailing the setting sun, sweet, in the green thorn bush:
The soaring lark, the perching red-breast shrill,
Or deep-ton’d plovers, gray, wild-whistling o’er the hill;
Shall he, nurst in the peasant’s lowly shed,
To hardy independence bravely bred,
By early poverty to hardship steel’d,
And train’d to arms in stern misfortune’s field—
Shall he be guilty of their hireling crimes,
The servile, mercenary Swiss of rhymes?
Or labour hard the panegyric close,
With all the venal soul of dedicating prose?
No! though his artless strains he rudely sings,
And throws his hand uncouthly o’er the strings,
He glows with all the spirit of the Bard,
Fame, honest fame, his great, his dear reward!
Still, if some patron’s gen’rous care he trace,
Skill’d in the secret to bestow with grace;
When Ballantyne befriends his humble name,
And hands the rustic stranger up to fame,
With heart-felt throes his grateful bosom swells,
The godlike bliss, to give, alone excels.

’Twas when the stacks get on their winter hap,
And thack and rape secure the toil-won crap;
Potato-bings are snugged up frae skaith
Of coming Winter’s biting, frosty breath;
The bees, rejoicing o’er their summer toils,
Unnumber’d buds, an’ flow’rs delicious spoils,
Seal’d up with frugal care in massive waxen piles,
Are doom’d by man, that tyrant o’er the weak,
The death o’ devils smoor’d wi’ brimstone reek
The thundering guns are heard on ev’ry side,
The wounded coveys, reeling, scatter wide;
The feather’d field-mates, bound by Nature’s tie,
Sires, mothers, children, in one carnage lie:
(What warm, poetic heart, but inly bleeds,
And execrates man’s savage, ruthless deeds!)
Nae mair the flow’r in field or meadow springs;
Nae mair the grove with airy concert rings,
Except, perhaps, the robin’s whistling glee,
Proud o’ the height o’ some bit half-lang tree:
The hoary morns precede the sunny days,
Mild, calm, serene, wide spreads the noontide blaze,
While thick the gossamer waves wanton in the rays.
’Twas in that season, when a simple bard,
Unknown and poor, simplicity’s reward,
Ae night, within the ancient brugh of Ayr,
By whim inspired, or haply prest wi’ care,
He left his bed, and took his wayward rout,
And down by Simpson’s[60] wheel’d the left about:
(Whether impell’d by all-directing Fate,
To witness what I after shall narrate;
Or whether, rapt in meditation high,
He wander’d out he knew not where nor why)
The drowsy Dungeon-clock,[61] had number’d two,
And Wallace Tow’r[61] had sworn the fact was true:
The tide-swol’n Firth, with sullen sounding roar,
Through the still night dash’d hoarse along the shore.
[139]All else was hush’d as Nature’s closed e’e:
The silent moon shone high o’er tow’r and tree:
The chilly frost, beneath the silver beam,
Crept, gently-crusting, o’er the glittering stream.—
When, lo! on either hand the list’ning Bard,
The clanging sugh of whistling wings is heard;
Two dusky forms dart thro’ the midnight air,
Swift as the gos[62] drives on the wheeling hare;
Ane on th’ Auld Brig his airy shape uprears,
The ither flutters o’er the rising piers:
Our warlock Rhymer instantly descry’d
The Sprites that owre the brigs of Ayr preside.
(That Bards are second-sighted is nae joke,
And ken the lingo of the sp’ritual folk;
Fays, Spunkies, Kelpies, a’, they can explain them,
And ev’n the vera deils they brawly ken them.)
Auld Brig appear’d of ancient Pictish race,
The very wrinkles gothic in his face:
He seem’d as he wi’ Time had warstl’d lang,
Yet, teughly doure, he bade an unco bang.
New Brig was buskit in a braw new coat,
That he at Lon’on, frae ane Adams got;
In’s hand five taper staves as smooth’s a bead,
Wi’ virls and whirlygigums at the head.
The Goth was stalking round with anxious search,
Spying the time-worn flaws in ev’ry arch;—
It chanc’d his new-come neebor took his e’e,
And e’en a vex’d and angry heart had he!
Wi’ thieveless sneer to see his modish mien,
He, down the water, gies him this guid-e’en:—


I doubt na’, frien’, ye’ll think ye’re nae sheep-shank,
Ance ye were streekit o’er frae bank to bank!
But gin ye be a brig as auld as me,
Tho’ faith, that day I doubt ye’ll never see;
There’ll be, if that date come, I’ll wad a boddle,
Some fewer whigmeleeries in your noddle.


Auld Vandal, ye but show your little mense,
Just much about it wi’ your scanty sense;
Will your poor, narrow foot-path of a street,
Where twa wheel-barrows tremble when they meet—
Your ruin’d formless bulk o’ stane en’ lime,
Compare wi’ bonnie Brigs o’ modern time?
There’s men o’ taste wou’d tak the Ducat-stream,[63]
Tho’ they should cast the vera sark and swim,
Ere they would grate their feelings wi’ the view
Of sic an ugly, Gothic hulk as you.


Conceited gowk! puff’d up wi’ windy pride!—
This mony a year I’ve stood the flood an’ tide;
And tho’ wi’ crazy eild I’m sair forfairn,
I’ll be a Brig, when ye’re a shapeless cairn!
As yet ye little ken about the matter,
But twa-three winters will inform ye better.
When heavy, dark, continued a’-day rains,
Wi’ deepening deluges o’erflow the plains;
When from the hills where springs the brawling Coil,
Or stately Lugar’s mossy fountains boil,
Or where the Greenock winds his moorland course,
Or haunted Garpal[64] draws his feeble source,
Arous’d by blust’ring winds an’ spotting thowes,
In mony a torrent down the snaw-broo rowes;
While crashing ice born on the roaring speat,
Sweeps dams, an’ mills, an’ brigs, a’ to the gate;
And from Glenbuck,[65] down to the Ratton-key,[66]
Auld Ayr is just one lengthen’d tumbling sea—
Then down ye’ll hurl, deil nor ye never rise!
And dash the gumlie jaups up to the pouring skies.
A lesson sadly teaching, to your cost,
That Architecture’s noble art is lost!


Fine Architecture, trowth, I needs must say’t o’t!
The L—d be thankit that we’ve tint the gate o’t!
Gaunt, ghastly, ghaist-alluring edifices,
Hanging with threat’ning jut like precipices;
O’er-arching, mouldy, gloom-inspiring coves,
Supporting roofs fantastic, stony groves;
Windows and doors, in nameless sculpture drest,
With order, symmetry, or taste unblest;
Forms like some bedlam Statuary’s dream,
The craz’d creations of misguided whim;
Forms might be worshipp’d on the bended knee,
And still the second dread command be free,
Their likeness is not found on earth, in air, or sea.
Mansions that would disgrace the building taste
Of any mason reptile, bird or beast;
Fit only for a doited monkish race,
Or frosty maids forsworn the dear embrace;
Or cuifs of later times wha held the notion
That sullen gloom was sterling true devotion;
Fancies that our guid Brugh denies protection!
And soon may they expire, unblest with resurrection!



O ye, my dear-remember’d ancient yealings,
Were ye but here to share my wounded feelings!
Ye worthy Proveses, an’ mony a Bailie,
Wha in the paths o’ righteousness did toil ay;
Ye dainty Deacons and ye douce Conveeners,
To whom our moderns are but causey-cleaners:
Ye godly Councils wha hae blest this town;
Ye godly Brethren o’ the sacred gown,
Wha meekly gie your hurdies to the smiters;
And (what would now be strange) ye godly writers;
A’ ye douce folk I’ve borne aboon the broo,
Were ye but here, what would ye say or do!
How would your spirits groan in deep vexation,
To see each melancholy alteration;
And, agonizing, curse the time and place
When ye begat the base, degen’rate race!
Nae langer rev’rend men, their country’s glory,
In plain braid Scots hold forth a plain braid story!
Nae langer thrifty citizens an’ douce,
Meet owre a pint, or in the council-house;
But staumrel, corky-headed, graceless gentry,
The herryment and ruin of the country;
Men, three parts made by tailors and by barbers,
Wha waste your weel-hain’d gear on d—d new Brigs and Harbours!


Now haud you there! for faith ye’ve said enough,
And muckle mair than ye can mak to through;
As for your Priesthood, I shall say but little,
Corbies and Clergy, are a shot right kittle:
But under favour o’ your langer beard,
Abuse o’ Magistrates might weel be spar’d:
To liken them to your auld-warld squad,
I must needs say, comparisons are odd.
In Ayr, wag-wits nae mair can have a handle
To mouth ‘a citizen,’ a term o’ scandal;
Nae mair the Council waddles down the street,
In all the pomp of ignorant conceit;
Men wha grew wise priggin’ owre hops an’ raisins,
Or gather’d lib’ral views in bonds and seisins,
If haply Knowledge, on a random tramp,
Had shor’d them with a glimmer of his lamp,
And would to Common-sense for once betray’d them,
Plain, dull Stupidity stept kindly in to aid them

What farther clishmaclaver might been said,
What bloody wars, if Spirites had blood to shed,
No man can tell; but all before their sight,
A fairy train appear’d in order bright:
Adown the glitt’ring stream they featly danc’d;
Bright to the moon their various dresses glanc’d:
They footed owre the wat’ry glass so neat,
The infant ice scarce bent beneath their feet:
While arts of minstrelsy among them rung,
And soul-ennobling bards heroic ditties sung.—
O had M’Lauchlan,[67] thairm-inspiring Sage,
Been there to hear this heavenly band engage,
When thro’ his dear strathspeys they bore with highland rage;
Or when they struck old Scotia’s melting airs,
The lover’s raptur’d joys or bleeding cares;
How would his highland lug been nobler fir’d,
And ev’n his matchless hand with finer touch inspir’d!
No guess could tell what instrument appear’d,
But all the soul of Music’s self was heard,
Harmonious concert rung in every part,
While simple melody pour’d moving on the heart.
The Genius of the stream in front appears,
A venerable Chief advanc’d in years;
His hoary head with water-lilies crown’d,
His manly leg with garter tangle bound.
Next came the loveliest pair in all the ring,
Sweet Female Beauty hand in hand with Spring;
Then, crown’d with flow’ry hay, came Rural Joy,
And Summer, with his fervid-beaming eye:
[141]All-cheering Plenty, with her flowing horn,
Led yellow Autumn, wreath’d with nodding corn;
Then Winter’s time-bleach’d looks did hoary show,
By Hospitality with cloudless brow.
Next follow’d Courage, with his martial stride,
From where the Feal wild woody coverts hide;
Benevolence, with mild, benignant air,
A female form, came from the tow’rs of Stair:
Learning and Worth in equal measures trode
From simple Catrine, their long-lov’d abode:
Last, white-rob’d Peace, crown’d with a hazel wreath,
To rustic Agriculture did bequeath
The broken iron instruments of death;
At sight of whom our Sprites forgat their kindling wrath.


[60] A noted tavern at the auld Brig end.

[61] The two steeples.

[62] The gos-hawk or falcon.

[63] A noted ford, just above the Auld Brig.

[64] The banks of Garpal Water is one of the few places in the West of Scotland, where those fancy-scaring beings, known by the name of Ghaists, still continue pertinaciously to inhabit.

[65] The source of the river Ayr.

[66] A small landing-place above the large key.

[67] A well known performer of Scottish music on the violin.






[At the request of Advocate Hay, Burns composed this Poem, in the hope that it might interest the powerful family of Dundas in his fortunes. I found it inserted in the handwriting of the poet, in an interleaved copy of his Poems, which he presented to Dr. Geddes, accompanied by the following surly note:—“The foregoing Poem has some tolerable lines in it, but the incurable wound of my pride will not suffer me to correct, or even peruse it. I sent a copy of it with my best prose letter to the son of the great man, the theme of the piece, by the hands of one of the noblest men in God’s world, Alexander Wood, surgeon: when, behold! his solicitorship took no more notice of my Poem, or of me, than I had been a strolling fiddler who had made free with his lady’s name, for a silly new reel. Did the fellow imagine that I looked for any dirty gratuity?” This Robert Dundas was the elder brother of that Lord Melville to whose hands, soon after these lines were written, all the government patronage in Scotland was confided, and who, when the name of Burns was mentioned, pushed the wine to Pitt, and said nothing. The poem was first printed by me, in 1834.]

Lone on the bleaky hills the straying flocks
Shun the fierce storms among the sheltering rocks;
Down from the rivulets, red with dashing rains,
The gathering floods burst o’er the distant plains;
Beneath the blasts the leafless forests groan;
The hollow caves return a sullen moan.
Ye hills, ye plains, ye forests and ye caves,
Ye howling winds, and wintry swelling waves!
Unheard, unseen, by human ear or eye,
Sad to your sympathetic scenes I fly;
Where to the whistling blast and waters’ roar
Pale Scotia’s recent wound I may deplore.
O heavy loss, thy country ill could bear!
A loss these evil days can ne’er repair!
Justice, the high vicegerent of her God,
Her doubtful balance ey’d, and sway’d her rod;
Hearing the tidings of the fatal blow
She sunk, abandon’d to the wildest woe.
Wrongs, injuries, from many a darksome den,
Now gay in hope explore the paths of men:
See from this cavern grim Oppression rise,
And throw on poverty his cruel eyes;
Keen on the helpless victim see him fly,
And stifle, dark, the feebly-bursting cry:
Mark ruffian Violence, distain’d with crimes,
Rousing elate in these degenerate times;
View unsuspecting Innocence a prey,
As guileful Fraud points out the erring way:
While subtile Litigation’s pliant tongue
The life-blood equal sucks of Right and Wrong:
Hark, injur’d Want recounts th’ unlisten’d tale,
And much-wrong’d Mis’ry pours th’ unpitied wail!
Ye dark waste hills, and brown unsightly plains,
To you I sing my grief-inspired strains:
Ye tempests, rage! ye turbid torrents, roll!
Ye suit the joyless tenor of my soul.
Life’s social haunts and pleasures I resign,
Be nameless wilds and lonely wanderings mine,
To mourn the woes my country must endure,
That wound degenerate ages cannot cure.





[John M’Leod was of the ancient family of Raza, and brother to that Isabella M’Leod, for whom Burns, in his correspondence, expressed great regard. The little [142]Poem, when first printed, consisted of six verses: I found a seventh in M’Murdo Manuscripts, the fifth in this edition, along with an intimation in prose, that the M’Leod family had endured many unmerited misfortunes. I observe that Sir Harris Nicolas has rejected this new verse, because, he says, it repeats the same sentiment as the one which precedes it. I think differently, and have retained it.]

Sad thy tale, thou idle page,
And rueful thy alarms:
Death tears the brother of her love
From Isabella’s arms.
Sweetly deck’d with pearly dew
The morning rose may blow;
But cold successive noontide blasts
May lay its beauties low.
Fair on Isabella’s morn
The sun propitious smil’d;
But, long ere noon, succeeding clouds
Succeeding hopes beguil’d.
Fate oft tears the bosom chords
That nature finest strung:
So Isabella’s heart was form’d,
And so that heart was wrung.
Were it in the poet’s power,
Strong as he shares the grief
That pierces Isabella’s heart,
To give that heart relief!
Dread Omnipotence, alone,
Can heal the wound He gave;
Can point the brimful grief-worn eyes
To scenes beyond the grave.
Virtue’s blossoms there shall blow,
And fear no withering blast;
There Isabella’s spotless worth
Shall happy be at last.




JAN. 1, 1787.

[Burns was fond of writing compliments in books, and giving them in presents among his fair friends. Miss Logan, of Park house, was sister to Major Logan, of Camlarg, and the “sentimental sister Susie,” of the Epistle to her brother. Both these names were early dropped out of the poet’s correspondence.]

Again the silent wheels of time
Their annual round have driv’n,
And you, tho’ scarce in maiden prime,
Are so much nearer Heav’n.
No gifts have I from Indian coasts
The infant year to hail:
I send you more than India boasts
In Edwin’s simple tale.
Our sex with guile and faithless love
Is charg’d, perhaps, too true;
But may, dear maid, each lover prove
An Edwin still to you!




[Dr. Blair said that the politics of Burns smelt of the smithy, which, interpreted, means, that they were unstatesman-like, and worthy of a country ale-house, and an audience of peasants. The Poem gives us a striking picture of the humorous and familiar way in which the hinds and husbandmen of Scotland handle national topics: the smithy is a favourite resort, during the winter evenings, of rustic politicians; and national affairs and parish scandal are alike discussed. Burns was in those days, and some time after, a vehement Tory: his admiration of “Chatham’s Boy,” called down on him the dusty indignation of the republican Ritson.]


When Guildford good our pilot stood,
And did our hellim thraw, man,
Ae night, at tea, began a plea,
Within America, man:
Then up they gat the maskin-pat,
And in the sea did jaw, man;
An’ did nae less in full Congress,
Than quite refuse our law, man.


Then thro’ the lakes Montgomery takes,
I wat he was na slaw, man;
Down Lowrie’s burn he took a turn,
And Carleton did ca’, man;
But yet, what-reck, he, at Quebec,
Montgomery-like did fa’, man,
Wi’ sword in hand, before his band,
Amang his en’mies a’, man.


Poor Tammy Gage, within a cage,
Was kept at Boston ha’, man;
Till Willie Howe took o’er the knowe
For Philadelphia, man;
Wi’ sword an’ gun he thought a sin
Guid Christian blood to draw, man:
But at New York, wi’ knife an’ fork,
Sir-loin he hacked sma’, man.


Burgoyne gaed up, like spur an’ whip,
Till Fraser brave did fa’, man,
Then lost his way, ae misty day,
In Saratoga shaw, man.
Cornwallis fought as lang’s he dought,
An’ did the buckskins claw, man;
But Clinton’s glaive frae rust to save,
He hung it to the wa’, man.


Then Montague, an’ Guilford, too,
Began to fear a fa’, man;
And Sackville dour, wha stood the stoure,
The German Chief to thraw, man;
For Paddy Burke, like ony Turk,
Nae mercy had at a’, man;
An’ Charlie Fox threw by the box,
An’ lows’d his tinkler jaw, man.


Then Rockingham took up the game,
Till death did on him ca’, man;
When Shelburne meek held up his cheek,
Conform to gospel law, man;
Saint Stephen’s boys, wi’ jarring noise,
They did his measures thraw, man,
For North an’ Fox united stocks,
An’ bore him to the wa’, man.


Then clubs an’ hearts were Charlie’s cartes,
He swept the stakes awa’, man,
Till the diamond’s ace, of Indian race,
Led him a sair faux pas, man;
The Saxon lads, wi’ loud placads,
On Chatham’s boy did ca’, man;
An’ Scotland drew her pipe, an’ blew,
“Up, Willie, waur them a’, man!”


Behind the throne then Grenville’s gone,
A secret word or twa, man;
While slee Dundas arous’d the class,
Be-north the Roman wa’, man:
An’ Chatham’s wraith, in heavenly graith,
(Inspired Bardies saw, man)
Wi’ kindling eyes cry’d “Willie, rise!
Would I hae fear’d them a’, man?”


But, word an’ blow, North, Fox, and Co.,
Gowff’d Willie like a ba’, man,
Till Suthron raise, and coost their claise
Behind him in a raw, man;
An’ Caledon threw by the drone,
An’ did her whittle draw, man;
An’ swoor fu’ rude, thro’ dirt an’ blood
To make it guid in law, man.




[The Hal and Bob of these satiric lines were Henry Erskine, and Robert Dundas: and their contention was, as the verses intimate, for the place of Dean of the Faculty of Advocates: Erskine was successful. It is supposed that in characterizing Dundas, the poet remembered “the incurable wound which his pride had got” in the affair of the elegiac verses on the death of the elder Dundas. The poem first appeared in the Reliques of Burns.]


Dire was the hate at old Harlaw,
That Scot to Scot did carry;
And dire the discord Langside saw,
For beauteous, hapless Mary:
But Scot with Scot ne’er met so hot,
Or were more in fury seen, Sir,
Than ’twixt Hal and Bob for the famous job—
Who should be Faculty’s Dean, Sir.—


This Hal for genius, wit, and lore,
Among the first was number’d;
But pious Bob, ‘mid learning’s store,
Commandment tenth remember’d.—
Yet simple Bob the victory got,
And won his heart’s desire;
Which shows that heaven can boil the pot,
[144]Though the devil p—s in the fire.—


Squire Hal besides had in this case
Pretensions rather brassy,
For talents to deserve a place
Are qualifications saucy;
So, their worships of the Faculty,
Quite sick of merit’s rudeness,
Chose one who should owe it all, d’ye see,
To their gratis grace and goodness.—


As once on Pisgah purg’d was the sight
Of a son of Circumcision,
So may be, on this Pisgah height,
Bob’s purblind, mental vision:
Nay, Bobby’s mouth may be open’d yet
Till for eloquence you hail him,
And swear he has the angel met
That met the Ass of Balaam.




[To Mrs. M’Lehose, of Edinburgh, the poet presented the drinking-glasses alluded to in the verses: they are, it seems, still preserved, and the lady on occasions of high festival, indulges, it is said, favourite visiters with a draught from them of “The blood of Shiraz’ scorched vine.”]

Fair Empress of the Poet’s soul,
And Queen of Poetesses;
Clarinda, take this little boon,
This humble pair of glasses.
And fill them high with generous juice,
As generous as your mind;
And pledge me in the generous toast—
“The whole of human kind!”
“To those who love us!”—second fill;
But not to those whom we love;
Lest we love those who love not us!—
A third—“to thee and me, love!”



[This is the lady of the drinking-glasses; the Mrs. Mac of many a toast among the poet’s acquaintances. She was, in those days, young and beautiful, and we fear a little giddy, since she indulged in that sentimental and platonic flirtation with the poet, contained in the well-known letters to Clarinda. The letters, after the poet’s death, appeared in print without her permission: she obtained an injunction against the publication, which still remains in force, but her anger seems to have been less a matter of taste than of whim, for the injunction has been allowed to slumber in the case of some editors, though it has been enforced against others.]

Clarinda, mistress of my soul,
The measur’d time is run!
The wretch beneath the dreary pole
So marks his latest sun.
To what dark cave of frozen night
Shall poor Sylvander hie;
Depriv’d of thee, his life and light,
The sun of all his joy.
We part—but, by these precious drops
That fill thy lovely eyes!
No other light shall guide my steps
Till thy bright beams arise.
She, the fair sun of all her sex,
Has blest my glorious day;
And shall a glimmering planet fix
My worship to its ray?




[Who the young lady was to whom the poet presented the portrait and Poems of the ill-fated Fergusson, we have not been told. The verses are dated Edinburgh, March 19th, 1787.]

Curse on ungrateful man, that can be pleas’d,
And yet can starve the author of the pleasure!
O thou my elder brother in misfortune,
By far my elder brother in the muses,
With tears I pity thy unhappy fate!
Why is the bard unpitied by the world,
Yet has so keen a relish of its pleasures?





MONDAY, 16 April, 1787.

[The Woods for whom this Prologue was written, was in those days a popular actor in Edinburgh. He had other claims on Burns: he had been the friend as well as comrade of poor Fergusson, and possessed some poetical talent. He died in Edinburgh, December 14th, 1802.]

When by a generous Public’s kind acclaim,
That dearest meed is granted—honest fame;
When here your favour is the actor’s lot,
Nor even the man in private life forgot;
What breast so dead to heavenly virtue’s glow,
But heaves impassion’d with the grateful throe?
Poor is the task to please a barbarous throng,
It needs no Siddons’ powers in Southerne’s song;
But here an ancient nation fam’d afar,
For genius, learning high, as great in war—
Hail, Caledonia, name for ever dear!
Before whose sons I’m honoured to appear!
Where every science—every nobler art—
That can inform the mind, or mend the heart,
Is known; as grateful nations oft have found
Far as the rude barbarian marks the bound.
Philosophy, no idle pedant dream,
Here holds her search by heaven-taught Reason’s beam;
Here History paints, with elegance and force,
The tide of Empires’ fluctuating course;
Here Douglas forms wild Shakspeare into plan,
And Harley[68] rouses all the god in man.
When well-form’d taste and sparkling wit unite,
With manly lore, or female beauty bright,
(Beauty, where faultless symmetry and grace,
Can only charm as in the second place,)
Witness my heart, how oft with panting fear,
As on this night, I’ve met these judges here!
But still the hope Experience taught to live,
Equal to judge—you’re candid to forgive.
Nor hundred-headed Riot here we meet,
With decency and law beneath his feet:
Nor Insolence assumes fair Freedom’s name;
Like Caledonians, you applaud or blame.
O Thou dread Power! whose Empire-giving hand
Has oft been stretch’d to shield the honour’d land!
Strong may she glow with all her ancient fire:
May every son be worthy of his sire;
Firm may she rise with generous disdain
At Tyranny’s, or direr Pleasure’s chain;
Still self-dependent in her native shore,
Bold may she brave grim Danger’s loudest roar,
Till Fate the curtain drop on worlds to be no more.


[68] The Man of Feeling, by Mackenzie.



[This Sketch is a portion of a long Poem which Burns proposed to call “The Poet’s Progress.” He communicated the little he had done, for he was a courter of opinions, to Dugald Stewart. “The Fragment forms,” said he, “the postulata, the axioms, the definition of a character, which, if it appear at all, shall be placed in a variety of lights. This particular part I send you, merely as a sample of my hand at portrait-sketching.” It is probable that the professor’s response was not favourable for we hear no more of the Poem.]

A little, upright, pert, tart, tripping wight,
And still his precious self his dear delight;
Who loves his own smart shadow in the streets
Better than e’er the fairest she he meets:
A man of fashion, too, he made his tour,
Learn’d vive la bagatelle, et vive l’amour:
So travell’d monkeys their grimace improve,
Polish their grin, nay, sigh for ladies’ love.
Much specious lore, but little understood;
Veneering oft outshines the solid wood:
His solid sense—by inches you must tell.
But mete his cunning by the old Scots ell;
His meddling vanity, a busy fiend,
Still making work his selfish craft must mend.




[The lady to whom this epistle is addressed was a painter and a poetess: her pencil sketches are said to have been beautiful; and she had a ready skill in rhyme, as the verses addressed to Burns fully testify. Taste and poetry belonged to her family; she was the niece of Mrs. Cockburn, authoress of a beautiful variation of The Flowers of the Forest.]

I mind it weel in early date,
When I was beardless, young and blate,
An’ first could thresh the barn;
[146]Or hand a yokin at the pleugh;
An’ tho’ forfoughten sair enough,
Yet unco proud to learn:
When first amang the yellow corn
A man I reckon’d was,
An’ wi’ the lave ilk merry morn
Could rank my rig and lass,
Still shearing, and clearing,
The tither stooked raw,
Wi’ claivers, an’ haivers,
Wearing the day awa.
E’en then, a wish, I mind its pow’r,
A wish that to my latest hour
Shall strongly heave my breast,
That I for poor auld Scotland’s sake
Some usefu’ plan or beuk could make,
Or sing a sang at least.
The rough burr-thistle, spreading wide
Amang the bearded bear,
I turn’d the weeder-clips aside,
An’ spar’d the symbol dear:
No nation, no station,
My envy e’er could raise,
A Scot still, but blot still,
I knew nae higher praise.
But still the elements o’ sang
In formless jumble, right an’ wrang,
Wild floated in my brain;
’Till on that har’st I said before,
My partner in the merry core,
She rous’d the forming strain:
I see her yet, the sonsie quean,
That lighted up her jingle,
Her witching smile, her pauky een
That gart my heart-strings tingle:
I fired, inspired,
At every kindling keek,
But bashing and dashing
I feared aye to speak.
Health to the sex, ilk guid chiel says,
Wi’ merry dance in winter days,
An’ we to share in common:
The gust o’ joy, the balm of woe,
The saul o’ life, the heaven below,
Is rapture-giving woman.
Ye surly sumphs, who hate the name,
Be mindfu’ o’ your mither:
She, honest woman, may think shame
That ye’re connected with her.
Ye’re wae men, ye’re nae men
That slight the lovely dears;
To shame ye, disclaim ye,
Ilk honest birkie swears.
For you, no bred to barn and byre,
Wha sweetly tune the Scottish lyre,
Thanks to you for your line:
The marled plaid ye kindly spare,
By me should gratefully be ware;
’Twad please me to the nine.
I’d be mair vauntie o’ my hap,
Douce hingin’ owre my curple
Than ony ermine ever lap,
Or proud imperial purple.
Fareweel then, lang heel then,
An’ plenty be your fa’;
May losses and crosses
Ne’er at your hallan ca’.



[A storm of rain detained Burns one day, during his border tour, at Selkirk, and he employed his time in writing this characteristic epistle to Creech, his bookseller. Creech was a person of education and taste; he was not only the most popular publisher in the north, but he was intimate with almost all the distinguished men who, in those days, adorned Scottish literature. But though a joyous man, a lover of sociality, and the keeper of a good table, he was close and parsimonious, and loved to hold money to the last moment that the law allowed.]

Selkirk, 13 May, 1787.

Auld chukie Reekie’s[69] sair distrest,
Down droops her ance weel-burnisht crest,
Nae joy her bonnie buskit nest
Can yield ava,
Her darling bird that she lo’es best,
Willie’s awa!
O Willie was a witty wight,
And had o’ things an unco slight;
Auld Reekie ay he keepit tight,
An’ trig an’ braw:
But now they’ll busk her like a fright,
Willie’s awa!
The stiffest o’ them a’ he bow’d;
The bauldest o’ them a’ he cow’d;
[147]They durst nae mair than he allow’d,
That was a law;
We’ve lost a birkie weel worth gowd,
Willie’s awa!
Now gawkies, tawpies, gowks, and fools,
Frae colleges and boarding-schools,
May sprout like simmer puddock stools
In glen or shaw;
He wha could brush them down to mools,
Willie’s awa!
The brethren o’ the Commerce-Chaumer[70]
May mourn their loss wi’ doofu’ clamour;
He was a dictionar and grammar
Amang them a’;
I fear they’ll now mak mony a stammer,
Willie’s awa!
Nae mair we see his levee door
Philosophers and poets pour,[71]
And toothy critics by the score
In bloody raw!
The adjutant o’ a’ the core,
Willie’s awa!
Now worthy Gregory’s Latin face,
Tytler’s and Greenfield’s modest grace;
Mackenzie, Stewart, sic a brace
As Rome n’er saw;
They a’ maun meet some ither place,
Willie’s awa!
Poor Burns—e’en Scotch drink canna quicken,
He cheeps like some bewilder’d chicken,
Scar’d frae its minnie and the cleckin
By hoodie-craw;
Grief’s gien his heart an unco kickin’,
Willie’s awa!
Now ev’ry sour-mou’d girnin’ blellum,
And Calvin’s fock are fit to fell him;
And self-conceited critic skellum
His quill may draw;
He wha could brawlie ward their bellum,
Willie’s awa!
Up wimpling stately Tweed I’ve sped,
And Eden scenes on crystal Jed,
And Ettrick banks now roaring red,
While tempests blaw;
But every joy and pleasure’s fled,
Willie’s awa!
May I be slander’s common speech;
A text for infamy to preach;
And lastly, streekit out to bleach
In winter snaw;
When I forget thee! Willie Creech,
Tho’ far awa!
May never wicked fortune touzle him!
May never wicked man bamboozle him!
Until a pow as auld’s Methusalem
He canty claw!
Then to the blessed New Jerusalem,
Fleet wing awa!


[69] Edinburgh.

[70] The Chamber of Commerce in Edinburgh, of which Creech was Secretary.

[71] Many literary gentlemen were accustomed to meet at Mr. Creech’s house at breakfast.






[The Falls of Bruar in Athole are exceedingly beautiful and picturesque; and their effect, when Burns visited them, was much impaired by want of shrubs and trees. This was in 1787: the poet, accompanied by his future biographer, Professor Walker, went, when close on twilight, to this romantic scene: “he threw himself,” said the Professor, “on a heathy seat, and gave himself up to a tender, abstracted, and voluptuous enthusiasm of imagination. In a few days I received a letter from Inverness, for the poet had gone on his way, with the Petition enclosed.” His Grace of Athole obeyed the injunction: the picturesque points are now crowned with thriving woods, and the beauty of the Falls is much increased.]


My Lord, I know your noble ear
Woe ne’er assails in vain;
Embolden’d thus, I beg you’ll hear
Your humble slave complain,
How saucy Phœbus’ scorching beams
In flaming summer-pride,
Dry-withering, waste my foamy streams,
And drink my crystal tide.


The lightly-jumpin’ glowrin’ trouts,
That thro’ my waters play,
If, in their random, wanton spouts,
They near the margin stray;
[148]If, hapless chance! they linger lang,
I’m scorching up so shallow,
They’re left the whitening stanes amang,
In gasping death to wallow.


Last day I grat wi’ spite and teen,
As Poet Burns came by,
That to a bard I should be seen
Wi’ half my channel dry:
A panegyric rhyme, I ween,
Even as I was he shor’d me;
But had I in my glory been,
He, kneeling, wad ador’d me.


Here, foaming down the shelvy rocks,
In twisting strength I rin;
There, high my boiling torrent smokes,
Wild-roaring o’er a linn:
Enjoying large each spring and well,
As Nature gave them me,
I am, altho’ I say’t mysel’,
Worth gaun a mile to see.


Would then my noble master please
To grant my highest wishes,
He’ll shade my banks wi’ tow’ring trees,
And bonnie spreading bushes.
Delighted doubly then, my Lord,
You’ll wander on my banks,
And listen mony a grateful bird
Return you tuneful thanks.


The sober laverock, warbling wild,
Shall to the skies aspire;
The gowdspink, music’s gayest child,
Shall sweetly join the choir:
The blackbird strong, the lintwhite clear,
The mavis mild and mellow;
The robin pensive autumn cheer,
In all her locks of yellow.


This, too, a covert shall insure
To shield them from the storm;
And coward maukin sleep secure,
Low in her grassy form:
Here shall the shepherd make his seat,
To weave his crown of flow’rs;
Or find a shelt’ring safe retreat
From prone-descending show’rs.


And here, by sweet, endearing stealth,
Shall meet the loving pair,
Despising worlds with all their wealth
As empty idle care.
The flow’rs shall vie in all their charms
The hour of heav’n to grace,
And birks extend their fragrant arms
To screen the dear embrace.


Here haply too, at vernal dawn,
Some musing bard may stray,
And eye the smoking, dewy lawn,
And misty mountain gray;
Or, by the reaper’s nightly beam,
Mild-chequering thro’ the trees,
Rave to my darkly-dashing stream,
Hoarse-swelling on the breeze.


Let lofty firs, and ashes cool,
My lowly banks o’erspread,
And view, deep-bending in the pool,
Their shadows’ wat’ry bed!
Let fragrant birks in woodbines drest
My craggy cliffs adorn;
And, for the little songster’s nest,
The close embow’ring thorn.


So may old Scotia’s darling hope,
Your little angel band,
Spring, like their fathers, up to prop
Their honour’d native land!
So may thro’ Albion’s farthest ken,
To social-flowing glasses,
The grace be—“Athole’s honest men,
And Athole’s bonnie lasses?”




[When Burns wrote these touching lines, he was staying with Sir William Murray, of Ochtertyre, during one of his Highland tours. Loch-Turit is a wild lake among the recesses of the hills, and was welcome from its loneliness to the heart of the poet.]

Why, ye tenants of the lake,
For me your wat’ry haunt forsake?
Tell me, fellow-creatures, why
At my presence thus you fly?
Why disturb your social joys,
Parent, filial, kindred ties?—
Common friend to you and me,
Nature’s gifts to all are free:
Peaceful keep your dimpling wave,
Busy feed, or wanton lave:
Or, beneath the sheltering rock,
Bide the surging billow’s shock.
Conscious, blushing for our race,
Soon, too soon, your fears I trace.
Man, your proud usurping foe,
Would be lord of all below:
Plumes himself in Freedom’s pride,
Tyrant stern to all beside.
The eagle, from the cliffy brow,
Marking you his prey below,
In his breast no pity dwells,
Strong necessity compels:
But man, to whom alone is giv’n
A ray direct from pitying heav’n,
Glories in his heart humane—
And creatures for his pleasure slain.
In these savage, liquid plains,
Only known to wand’ring swains,
Where the mossy riv’let strays,
Far from human haunts and ways;
All on Nature you depend,
And life’s poor season peaceful spend.
Or, if man’s superior might
Dare invade your native right,
On the lofty ether borne,
Man with all his pow’rs you scorn;
Swiftly seek, on clanging wings,
Other lakes and other springs;
And the foe you cannot brave,
Scorn at least to be his slave.




[The castle of Taymouth is the residence of the Earl of Breadalbane: it is a magnificent structure, contains many fine paintings: has some splendid old trees and romantic scenery.]

Admiring Nature in her wildest grace,
These northern scenes with weary feet I trace;
O’er many a winding dale and painful steep,
Th’ abodes of covey’d grouse and timid sheep,
My savage journey, curious I pursue,
’Till fam’d Breadalbane opens to my view.—
The meeting cliffs each deep-sunk glen divides,
The woods, wild scatter’d, clothe their ample sides;
Th’ outstretching lake, embosom’d ‘mong the hills,
The eye with wonder and amazement fills;
The Tay, meand’ring sweet in infant pride,
The palace, rising on its verdant side;
The lawns, wood-fring’d in Nature’s native taste;
The hillocks, dropt in Nature’s careless haste;
The arches, striding o’er the new-born stream;
The village, glittering in the noontide beam—

Poetic ardours in my bosom swell,
Lone wand’ring by the hermit’s mossy cell:
The sweeping theatre of hanging woods;
Th’ incessant roar of headlong tumbling floods—

Here Poesy might wake her heav’n-taught lyre,
And look through Nature with creative fire;
Here, to the wrongs of fate half reconcil’d,
Misfortune’s lighten’d steps might wander wild;
And Disappointment, in these lonely bounds,
Find balm to soothe her bitter—rankling wounds:
Here heart-struck Grief might heav’nward stretch her scan,
And injur’d Worth forget and pardon man.





[This is one of the many fine scenes, in the Celtic Parnassus of Ossian: but when Burns saw it, the Highland passion of the stream was abated, for there had been no rain for some time to swell and send it pouring down its precipices in a way worthy of the scene. The descent of the water is about two hundred feet. There is another fall further up the stream, very wild and[150] savage, on which the Fyers makes three prodigious leaps into a deep gulf where nothing can be seen for the whirling foam and agitated mist.]

Among the heathy hills and ragged woods
The roaring Fyers pours his mossy floods;
Till full he dashes on the rocky mounds,
Where, thro’ a shapeless breach, his stream resounds,
As high in air the bursting torrents flow,
As deep-recoiling surges foam below,
Prone down the rock the whitening sheet descends,
And viewless Echo’s ear, astonish’d, rends.
Dim seen, through rising mists and ceaseless show’rs,
The hoary cavern, wide surrounding, low’rs.
Still thro’ the gap the struggling river toils,
And still below, the horrid cauldron boils—





[When these verses were written there was much stately Jacobitism about Edinburgh, and it is likely that Tytler, who laboured to dispel the cloud of calumny which hung over the memory of Queen Mary, had a bearing that way. Taste and talent have now descended in the Tytlers through three generations: an uncommon event in families. The present edition of the Poem has been completed from the original in the poet’s handwriting.]

Revered defender of beauteous Stuart,
Of Stuart, a name once respected,
A name, which to love, was once mark of a true heart,
But now ’tis despis’d and neglected.
Tho’ something like moisture conglobes in my eye,
Let no one misdeem me disloyal;
A poor friendless wand’rer may well claim a sigh,
Still more, if that wand’rer were royal.
My fathers that name have rever’d on a throne,
My fathers have fallen to right it;
Those fathers would spurn their degenerate son,
That name should he scoffingly slight it.
Still in prayers for King George I most heartily join,
The Queen and the rest of the gentry,
Be they wise, be they foolish, is nothing of mine;
Their title’s avow’d by my country.
But why of that epocha make such a fuss,
That gave us th’ Electoral stem?
If bringing them over was lucky for us,
I’m sure ’twas as lucky for them.
But loyalty truce! we’re on dangerous ground,
Who knows how the fashions may alter?
The doctrine, to-day, that is loyalty sound,
To-morrow may bring us a halter.
I send you a trifle, the head of a bard,
A trifle scarce worthy your care;
But accept it, good Sir, as a mark of regard,
Sincere as a saint’s dying prayer.
Now life’s chilly evening dim shades on your eye,
And ushers the long dreary night;
But you, like the star that athwart gilds the sky,
Your course to the latest is bright.





JUNE. 1788.


[The interleaved volume presented by Burns to Dr. Geddes, has enabled me to present the reader with the rough draught of this truly beautiful Poem, the first-fruits perhaps of his intercourse with the muses of Nithside.]

Thou whom chance may hither lead,
Be thou clad in russet weed,
Be thou deck’d in silken stole,
Grave these maxims on thy soul.
Life is but a day at most,
Sprung from night, in darkness lost;
Day, how rapid in its flight—
Day, how few must see the night;
Hope not sunshine every hour,
Fear not clouds will always lower.
Happiness is but a name,
Make content and ease thy aim.
Ambition is a meteor gleam;
Fame, a restless idle dream:
Pleasures, insects on the wing
Round Peace, the tenderest flower of Spring;
Those that sip the dew alone,
Make the butterflies thy own;
Those that would the bloom devour,
Crush the locusts—save the flower.
For the future be prepar’d,
Guard wherever thou canst guard;
But, thy utmost duly done,
Welcome what thou canst not shun.
Follies past, give thou to air,
Make their consequence thy care:
Keep the name of man in mind,
And dishonour not thy kind.
Reverence with lowly heart
Him whose wondrous work thou art;
Keep His goodness still in view,
Thy trust—and thy example, too.
Stranger, go! Heaven be thy guide!
Quod the Beadsman on Nithside.






[Of this Poem Burns thought so well that he gave away many copies in his own handwriting: I have seen three. When corrected to his mind, and the manuscripts showed many changes and corrections, he published it in the new edition of his Poems as it stands in this second copy. The little Hermitage where these lines were written, stood in a lonely plantation belonging to the estate of Friars-Carse, and close to the march-dyke of Ellisland; a small door in the fence, of which the poet had the key, admitted him at pleasure, and there he found seclusion such as he liked, with flowers and shrubs all around him. The first twelve lines of the Poem were engraved neatly on one of the window-panes, by the diamond pencil of the Bard. On Riddel’s death, the Hermitage was allowed to go quietly to decay: I remember in 1803 turning two outlyer stots out of the interior.]

Thou whom chance may hither lead,
Be thou clad in russet weed,
Be thou deck’d in silken stole,
Grave these counsels on thy soul.
Life is but a day at most,
Sprung from night, in darkness lost;
Hope not sunshine ev’ry hour.
Fear not clouds will always lour.
As Youth and Love with sprightly dance
Beneath thy morning star advance,
Pleasure with her siren air
May delude the thoughtless pair:
Let Prudence bless enjoyment’s cup,
Then raptur’d sip, and sip it up.
As thy day grows warm and high,
Life’s meridian flaming nigh,
Dost thou spurn the humble vale?
Life’s proud summits would’st thou scale?
Check thy climbing step, elate,
Evils lurk in felon wait:
Dangers, eagle-pinion’d, bold,
Soar around each cliffy hold,
While cheerful peace, with linnet song,
Chants the lowly dells among.
As the shades of ev’ning close,
Beck’ning thee to long repose;
As life itself becomes disease,
Seek the chimney-nook of ease.
There ruminate, with sober thought,
On all thou’st seen, and heard, and wrought;
And teach the sportive younkers round,
Saws of experience, sage and sound.
Say, man’s true genuine estimate,
The grand criterion of his fate,
Is not—Art thou high or low?
Did thy fortune ebb or flow?
Wast thou cottager or king?
Peer or peasant?—no such thing!
Did many talents gild thy span?
Or frugal nature grudge thee one?
Tell them, and press it on their mind,
As thou thyself must shortly find,
The smile or frown of awful Heav’n,
To virtue or to vice is giv’n.
Say, to be just, and kind, and wise,
There solid self-enjoyment lies;
That foolish, selfish, faithless ways
Lead to the wretched, vile, and base.
Thus, resign’d and quiet, creep
To the bed of lasting sleep;
Sleep, whence thou shalt ne’er awake,
Night, where dawn shall never break,
Till future life, future no more,
To light and joy the good restore,
To light and joy unknown before.
Stranger, go! Hea’vn be thy guide!
Quod the beadsman of Nithside.






[Captain Riddel, the Laird of Friars-Carse, was Burns’s neighbour, at Ellisland: he was a kind, hospitable man, and a good antiquary. The “News and Review” which he sent to the poet contained, I have heard, some sharp strictures on his works: Burns, with his usual strong sense, set the proper value upon all contemporary criticism; genius, he knew, had nothing to fear from the folly or the malice of all such nameless “chippers and hewers.” He demanded trial by his peers, and where were such to be found?]

Ellisland, Monday Evening.

Your news and review, Sir, I’ve read through and through, Sir,
With little admiring or blaming;
The papers are barren of home-news or foreign,
No murders or rapes worth the naming.
Our friends, the reviewers, those chippers and hewers,
Are judges of mortar and stone, Sir,
But of meet or unmeet in a fabric complete,
I’ll boldly pronounce they are none, Sir.
My goose-quill too rude is to tell all your goodness
Bestow’d on your servant, the Poet;
Would to God I had one like a beam of the sun,
And then all the world, Sir, should know it!




[“The Mother’s Lament,” says the poet, in a copy of the verses now before me, “was composed partly with a view to Mrs. Fergusson of Craigdarroch, and partly to the worthy patroness of my early unknown muse, Mrs. Stewart, of Afton.”]

Fate gave the word, the arrow sped,
And pierc’d my darling’s heart;
And with him all the joys are fled
Life can to me impart.
By cruel hands the sapling drops,
In dust dishonour’d laid:
So fell the pride of all my hopes,
My age’s future shade.
The mother-linnet in the brake
Bewails her ravish’d young;
So I, for my lost darling’s sake,
Lament the live day long.
Death, oft I’ve fear’d thy fatal blow,
Now, fond I bare my breast,
O, do thou kindly lay me low
With him I love, at rest!





[In his manuscript copy of this Epistle the poet says “accompanying a request.” What the request was the letter which enclosed it relates. Graham was one of the leading men of the Excise in Scotland, and had promised Burns a situation as exciseman: for this the poet had qualified himself; and as he began to dread that farming would be unprofitable, he wrote to remind his patron of his promise, and requested to be appointed to a division in his own neighbourhood. He was appointed in due time: his division was extensive, and included ten parishes.]

When Nature her great master-piece designed,
And fram’d her last, best work, the human mind,
Her eye intent on all the mazy plan,
She form’d of various parts the various man.
Then first she calls the useful many forth;
Plain plodding industry, and sober worth:
Thence peasants, farmers, native sons of earth,
And merchandise’ whole genus take their birth:
Each prudent cit a warm existence finds,
And all mechanics’ many-apron’d kinds.
Some other rarer sorts are wanted yet,
The lead and buoy are needful to the net;
The caput mortuum of gross desires
Makes a material for mere knights and squires;
The martial phosphorus is taught to flow,
She kneads the lumpish philosophic dough,
Then marks th’ unyielding mass with grave designs,
Law, physic, politics, and deep divines:
Last, she sublimes th’ Aurora of the poles,
The flashing elements of female souls.
The order’d system fair before her stood,
Nature, well pleas’d, pronounc’d it very good;
But ere she gave creating labour o’er,
Half-jest, she tried one curious labour more.
[153]Some spumy, fiery, ignis fatuus matter,
Such as the slightest breath of air might scatter;
With arch alacrity and conscious glee
(Nature may have her whim as well as we,
Her Hogarth-art perhaps she meant to show it)
She forms the thing, and christens it—a Poet.
Creature, tho’ oft the prey of care and sorrow,
When blest to-day, unmindful of to-morrow.
A being form’d t’amuse his graver friends,
Admir’d and prais’d—and there the homage ends:
A mortal quite unfit for fortune’s strife,
Yet oft the sport of all the ills of life;
Prone to enjoy each pleasure riches give,
Yet haply wanting wherewithal to live;
Longing to wipe each tear, to heal each groan,
Yet frequent all unheeded in his own.
But honest Nature is not quite a Turk,
She laugh’d at first, then felt for her poor work.
Pitying the propless climber of mankind,
She cast about a standard tree to find;
And, to support his helpless woodbine state,
Attach’d him to the generous truly great,
A title, and the only one I claim,
To lay strong hold for help on bounteous Graham.
Pity the tuneful muses’ hapless train,
Weak, timid landsmen on life’s stormy main!
Their hearts no selfish stern absorbent stuff,
That never gives—tho’ humbly takes enough;
The little fate allows, they share as soon,
Unlike sage proverb’d wisdom’s hard-wrung boon.
The world were blest did bliss on them depend,
Ah, that “the friendly e’er should want a friend!”
Let prudence number o’er each sturdy son
Who life and wisdom at one race begun,
Who feel by reason and who give by rule,
(Instinct’s a brute, and sentiment a fool!)
Who make poor will do wait upon I should
We own they’re prudent, but who feels they’re good?
Ye wise ones, hence! ye hurt the social eye!
God’s image rudely etch’d on base alloy!
But come ye who the godlike pleasure know,
Heaven’s attribute distinguished—to bestow!
Whose arms of love would grasp the human race:
Come thou who giv’st with all a courtier’s grace;
Friend of my life, true patron of my rhymes!
Prop of my dearest hopes for future times.
Why shrinks my soul half blushing, half afraid,
Backward, abash’d to ask thy friendly aid?
I know my need, I know thy giving hand,
I crave thy friendship at thy kind command;
But there are such who court the tuneful nine—
Heavens! should the branded character be mine!
Whose verse in manhood’s pride sublimely flows,
Yet vilest reptiles in their begging prose.
Mark, how their lofty independent spirit
Soars on the spurning wing of injur’d merit!
Seek not the proofs in private life to find;
Pity the best of words should be but wind!
So to heaven’s gates the lark’s shrill song ascends,
But grovelling on the earth the carol ends.
In all the clam’rous cry of starving want,
They dun benevolence with shameless front;
Oblige them, patronize their tinsel lays,
They persecute you all your future days!
Ere my poor soul such deep damnation stain,
My horny fist assume the plough again;
The pie-bald jacket let me patch once more;
On eighteen-pence a week I’ve liv’d before.
Tho’, thanks to Heaven, I dare even that last shift!
I trust, meantime, my boon is in thy gift:
That, plac’d by thee upon the wish’d-for height,
Where, man and nature fairer in her sight,
My muse may imp her wing for some sublimer flight.




[I found these lines written with a pencil in one of Burns’s memorandum-books: he said he had just composed them, and pencilled them down lest they should escape from his memory. They differed in nothing from the printed copy of the first Liverpool edition. That they are by Burns there cannot be a doubt, though they were, I know not for what reason, excluded from several editions of the Posthumous Works of the poet.]

The lamp of day, with ill-presaging glare,
Dim, cloudy, sunk beneath the western wave;
Th’ inconstant blast howl’d thro’ the darkening air,
And hollow whistled in the rocky cave.
Lone as I wander’d by each cliff and dell,
Once the lov’d haunts of Scotia’s royal train;[72]
Or mus’d where limpid streams once hallow’d well,[73]
Or mould’ring ruins mark the sacred fane.[74]
Th’ increasing blast roared round the beetling rocks,
The clouds, swift-wing’d, flew o’er the starry sky,
The groaning trees untimely shed their locks,
And shooting meteors caught the startled eye.
The paly moon rose in the livid east,
And ‘mong the cliffs disclos’d a stately form,
In weeds of woe that frantic beat her breast,
And mix’d her wailings with the raving storm.
Wild to my heart the filial pulses glow,
’Twas Caledonia’s trophied shield I view’d:
Her form majestic droop’d in pensive woe,
The lightning of her eye in tears imbued.
Revers’d that spear, redoubtable in war,
Reclined that banner, erst in fields unfurl’d,
That like a deathful meteor gleam’d afar,
And brav’d the mighty monarchs of the world.—
“My patriot son fills an untimely grave!”
With accents wild and lifted arms—she cried;
“Low lies the hand that oft was stretch’d to save,
Low lies the heart that swell’d with honest pride.
“A weeping country joins a widow’s tear,
The helpless poor mix with the orphan’s cry;
The drooping arts surround their patron’s bier,
And grateful science heaves the heart-felt sigh!
“I saw my sons resume their ancient fire;
I saw fair freedom’s blossoms richly blow:
But ah! how hope is born but to expire!
Relentless fate has laid their guardian low.
“My patriot falls, but shall he lie unsung,
While empty greatness saves a worthless name!
No; every muse shall join her tuneful tongue,
And future ages hear his growing fame.
“And I will join a mother’s tender cares,
Thro’ future times to make his virtues last;
That distant years may boast of other Blairs!”—
She said, and vanish’d with the sweeping blast.


[72] The King’s Park, at Holyrood-house.

[73] St. Anthony’s Well.

[74] St. Anthony’s Chapel.



[This little lively, biting epistle was addressed to one of the poet’s Kilmarnock companions. Hugh Parker was the brother of William Parker, one of the subscribers to the Edinburgh edition of Burns’s Poems: he has been dead many years: the Epistle was recovered, luckily, from his papers, and printed for the first time in 1834.]

In this strange land, this uncouth clime,
A land unknown to prose or rhyme;
Where words ne’er crost the muse’s heckles,
Nor limpet in poetic shackles:
A land that prose did never view it,
Except when drunk he stacher’t thro’ it,
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 red peat gleams, a fiery kernel,
Enhusked by a fog infernal:
Here, for my wonted rhyming raptures,
I sit and count my sins by chapters;
For life and spunk like ither Christians,
I’m dwindled down to mere existence,
Wi’ nae converse but Gallowa’ bodies,
Wi’ nae kend face but Jenny Geddes.[75]
Jenny, my Pegasean pride!
Dowie she saunters down Nithside,
And ay a westlin leuk she throws,
While tears hap o’er her auld brown nose!
Was it for this, wi’ canny care,
Thou bure the bard through many a shire?
At howes or hillocks never stumbled,
And late or early never grumbled?—
O had I power like inclination,
I’d heeze thee up a constellation,
To canter with the Sagitarre,
Or loup the ecliptic like a bar;
Or turn the pole like any arrow;
Or, when auld Phœbus bids good-morrow,
Down the zodiac urge the race,
And cast dirt on his godship’s face;
For I could lay my bread and kail
He’d ne’er cast saut upo’ thy tail.—
Wi’ a’ this care and a’ this grief,
And sma,’ sma’ prospect of relief,
And nought but peat reek i’ my head,
How can I write what ye can read?—
Tarbolton, twenty-fourth o’ June,
Ye’ll find me in a better tune;
[155]But till we meet and weet our whistle,
Tak this excuse for nae epistle.

Robert Burns.


[75] His mare.





[Burns placed the portraits of Dr. Blacklock and the Earl of Glencairn, over his parlour chimney-piece at Ellisland: beneath the head of the latter he wrote some verses, which he sent to the Earl, and requested leave to make public. This seems to have been refused; and, as the verses were lost for years, it was believed they were destroyed: a rough copy, however, is preserved, and is now in the safe keeping of the Earl’s name-son, Major James Glencairn Burns. James Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, died 20th January, 1791, aged 42 years; he was succeeded by his only and childless brother, with whom this ancient race was closed.]

Whose is that noble dauntless brow?
And whose that eye of fire?
And whose that generous princely mien,
E’en rooted foes admire?
Stranger! to justly show that brow,
And mark that eye of fire,
Would take His hand, whose vernal tints
His other works inspire.
Bright as a cloudless summer sun,
With stately port he moves;
His guardian seraph eyes with awe
The noble ward he loves—
Among th’ illustrious Scottish sons
That chief thou may’st discern;
Mark Scotia’s fond returning eye—
It dwells upon Glencairn.





[This Poem was first printed by Stewart, in 1801. The poet loved to indulge in such sarcastic sallies: it is full of character, and reflects a distinct image of those yeasty times.]

For Lords or Kings I dinna mourn,
E’en let them die—for that they’re born,
But oh! prodigious to reflec’!
A Towmont, Sirs, is gane to wreck!
O Eighty-eight, in thy sma’ space
What dire events ha’e taken place!
Of what enjoyments thou hast reft us!
In what a pickle thou hast left us!
The Spanish empire’s tint a-head,
An’ my auld toothless Bawtie’s dead;
The tulzie’s sair ’tween Pitt and Fox,
And our guid wife’s wee birdie cocks;
The tane is game, a bluidie devil,
But to the hen-birds unco civil:
The tither’s something dour o’ treadin’,
But better stuff ne’er claw’d a midden—
Ye ministers, come mount the pu’pit,
An’ cry till ye be hearse an’ roupet,
For Eighty-eight he wish’d you weel,
An’ gied you a’ baith gear an’ meal;
E’en mony a plack, and mony a peck,
Ye ken yoursels, for little feck!
Ye bonnie lasses, dight your e’en,
For some o’ you ha’e tint a frien’;
In Eighty-eight, ye ken, was ta’en,
What ye’ll ne’er ha’e to gie again.
Observe the very nowt an’ sheep,
How dowf and dowie now they creep;
Nay, even the yirth itsel’ does cry,
For Embro’ wells are grutten dry.
O Eighty-nine, thou’s but a bairn,
An’ no owre auld, I hope, to learn!
Thou beardless boy, I pray tak’ care,
Thou now has got thy daddy’s chair,
Nae hand-cuff’d, mizl’d, hap-shackl’d Regent,
But, like himsel’ a full free agent.
Be sure ye follow out the plan
Nae waur than he did, honest man!
As muckle better as ye can.

January 1, 1789.





[“I had intended,” says Burns to Creech, 30th May, 1789, “to have troubled you with a long letter, but at present the delightful sensation of an omnipotent toothache so engrosses all my inner man, as to put it out of my power even to write nonsense.” The poetic Address to the Toothache seems to belong to this period.]

My curse upon thy venom’d stang,
That shoots my tortur’d gums alang;
[156]And thro’ my lugs gies mony a twang,
Wi’ gnawing vengeance;
Tearing my nerves wi’ bitter pang,
Like racking engines!
When fevers burn, or ague freezes,
Rheumatics gnaw, or cholic squeezes;
Our neighbours’ sympathy may ease us,
Wi’ pitying moan;
But thee—thou hell o’ a’ diseases,
Ay mocks our groan!
Adown my beard the slavers trickle!
I kick the wee stools o’er the mickle,
As round the fire the giglets keckle,
To see me loup;
While, raving mad, I wish a heckle
Were in their doup.
O’ a’ the num’rous human dools,
Ill har’sts, daft bargains, cutty-stools,
Or worthy friends rak’d i’ the mools,
Sad sight to see!
The tricks o’ knaves, or fash o’ fools,
Thou bears’t the gree.
Where’er that place be priests ca’ hell,
Whence a’ the tones o’ mis’ry yell,
And ranked plagues their numbers tell,
In dreadfu’ raw,
Thou, Toothache, surely bear’st the bell
Amang them a’!
O thou grim mischief-making chiel,
That gars the notes of discord squeel,
’Till daft mankind aft dance a reel
In gore a shoe-thick!—
Gie’ a’ the faes o’ Scotland’s weal
A towmond’s Toothache.






[The origin of this harsh effusion shows under what feelings Burns sometimes wrote. He was, he says, on his way to Ayrshire, one stormy day in January, and had made himself comfortable, in spite of the snow-drift, over a smoking bowl, at an inn at the Sanquhar, when in wheeled the whole funeral pageantry of Mrs. Oswald. He was obliged to mount his horse and ride for quarters to New Cumnock, where, over a good fire, he penned, in his very ungallant indignation, the Ode to the lady’s memory. He lived to think better of the name.]

Dweller in yon dungeon dark,
Hangman of creation, mark!
Who in widow-weeds appears,
Laden with unhonoured years,
Noosing with care a bursting purse,
Baited with many a deadly curse?


View the wither’d beldam’s face—
Can thy keen inspection trace
Aught of Humanity’s sweet melting grace?
Note that eye, ’tis rheum o’erflows,
Pity’s flood there never rose.
See these hands, ne’er stretch’d to save,
Hands that took—but never gave.
Keeper of Mammon’s iron chest,
Lo, there she goes, unpitied and unblest
She goes, but not to realms of everlasting rest!


Plunderer of armies, lift thine eyes,
(Awhile forbear, ye tort’ring fiends;)
Seest thou whose step, unwilling hither bends?
No fallen angel, hurl’d from upper skies;
’Tis thy trusty quondam mate,
Doom’d to share thy fiery fate,
She, tardy, hell-ward plies.


And are they of no more avail,
Ten thousand glitt’ring pounds a-year?
In other worlds can Mammon fail,
Omnipotent as he is here?
O, bitter mock’ry of the pompous bier,
While down the wretched vital part is driv’n!
The cave-lodg’d beggar, with a conscience clear,
Expires in rags, unknown, and goes to Heav’n.




[It was late in life before Burns began to think very highly of Fox: he had hitherto spoken of him rather as a rattler of dice, and a frequenter of soft company, than as a statesman. As his hopes from the Tories vanished,[157] he began to think of the Whigs: the first did nothing, and the latter held out hopes; and as hope, he said was the cordial of the human heart, he continued to hope on.]

How wisdom and folly meet, mix, and unite;
How virtue and vice blend their black and their white;
How genius, th’ illustrious father of fiction,
Confounds rule and law, reconciles contradiction—
I sing: if these mortals, the critics, should bustle,
I care not, not I—let the critics go whistle!
But now for a patron, whose name and whose glory
At once may illustrate and honour my story.
Thou first of our orators, first of our wits;
Yet whose parts and acquirements seem mere lucky hits;
With knowledge so vast, and with judgment so strong,
No man with the half of ‘em e’er went far wrong;
With passions so potent, and fancies so bright,
No man with the half of ‘em e’er went quite right;—
A sorry, poor misbegot son of the muses,
For using thy name offers fifty excuses.
Good L—d, what is man? for as simple he looks,
Do but try to develope his hooks and his crooks;
With his depths and his shallows, his good and his evil,
All in all he’s a problem must puzzle the devil.
On his one ruling passion Sir Pope hugely labours,
That, like th’ old Hebrew walking-switch, eats up its neighbours;
Mankind are his show-box—a friend, would you know him?
Pull the string, ruling passion the picture will show him.
What pity, in rearing so beauteous a system,
One trifling particular, truth, should have miss’d him;
For spite of his fine theoretic positions,
Mankind is a science defies definitions.
Some sort all our qualities each to its tribe,
And think human nature they truly describe;
Have you found this, or t’other? there’s more in the wind,
As by one drunken fellow his comrades you’ll find.
But such is the flaw, or the depth of the plan,
In the make of that wonderful creature, call’d man,
No two virtues, whatever relation they claim,
Nor even two different shades of the same,
Though like as was ever twin brother to brother,
Possessing the one shall imply you’ve the other.
But truce with abstraction, and truce with a muse,
Whose rhymes you’ll perhaps, Sir, ne’er deign to peruse:
Will you leave your justings, your jars, and your quarrels,
Contending with Billy for proud-nodding laurels.
My much-honour’d Patron, believe your poor poet,
Your courage much more than your prudence you show it;
In vain with Squire Billy, for laurels you struggle,
He’ll have them by fair trade, if not, he will smuggle;
Not cabinets even of kings would conceal ‘em,
He’d up the back-stairs, and by G—he would steal ‘em.
Then feats like Squire Billy’s you ne’er can achieve ‘em;
It is not, outdo him, the task is, out-thieve him.






[This Poem is founded on fact. A young man of the name of Thomson told me—quite unconscious of the existence of the Poem—that while Burns lived at Ellisland—he shot at and hurt a hare, which in the twilight was feeding on his father’s wheat-bread. The poet, on observing the hare come bleeding past him, “was in great wrath,” said Thomson, “and cursed me, and said little hindered him from throwing me into the Nith; and he was able enough to do it, though I was both young and strong.” The boor of Nithside did not use the hare worse than the critical Dr. Gregory, of Edinburgh, used the Poem: when Burns read his remarks he said, “Gregory is a good man, but he crucifies me!”]

Inhuman man! curse on thy barb’rous art,
And blasted be thy murder-aiming eye;
May never pity soothe thee with a sigh,
Nor ever pleasure glad thy cruel heart.
Go live, poor wanderer of the wood and field!
The bitter little that of life remains:
No more the thickening brakes and verdant plains
To thee shall home, or food, or pastime yield.
Seek, mangled wretch, some place of wonted rest,
No more of rest, but now thy dying bed!
The sheltering rushes whistling o’er thy head,
The cold earth with thy bloody bosom prest.
Oft as by winding Nith, I, musing, wait
The sober eve, or hail the cheerful dawn;
I’ll miss thee sporting o’er the dewy lawn,
And curse the ruffian’s aim, and mourn thy hapless fate.




[This blind scholar, though an indifferent Poet, was an excellent and generous man: he was foremost of the Edinburgh literati to admire the Poems of Burns, promote their fame, and advise that the author, instead of shipping himself for Jamaica, should come to Edinburgh and publish a new edition. The poet reverenced the name of Thomas Blacklock to the last hour of his life.—Henry Mackenzie, the Earl of Glencairn, and the Blind Bard, were his three favourites.]

Ellisland, 21st Oct. 1789.

Wow, but your letter made me vauntie!
And are ye hale, and weel, and cantie?
I kenn’d it still your wee bit jauntie
Wad bring ye to:
Lord send you ay as weel’s I want ye,
And then ye’ll do.
The ill-thief blaw the heron south!
And never drink be near his drouth!
He tauld mysel’ by word o’ mouth,
He’d tak my letter:
I lippen’d to the chief in trouth,
And bade nae better.
But aiblins honest Master Heron,
Had at the time some dainty fair one,
To ware his theologic care on,
And holy study;
And tir’d o’ sauls to waste his lear on
E’en tried the body