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[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 Hughoc2 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!
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;
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.]
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;
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.
[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;
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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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:
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,
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.
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;
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 —
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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’ Buchan6
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-Hole7 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.
[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
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;
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,
[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’s8 a gude auld has been,
An’ wight, an’ wilfu’ a’ his days been.
My lan ahin’s9 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’s11 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,
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.
[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.
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.
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 harrow13
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.
“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
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 Ham15 leugh at his dad,
Which made Canaan a niger;
Or Phineas16 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 Light18 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
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 race20 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’s22 heroic swell;
The chief on Sark23 who glorious fell,
In high command;
And He whom ruthless fates expel
His native land.
There, where a sceptr’d Pictish shade24
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,
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 ward27 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
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
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,
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,
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;
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 Downans29 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 Bruce31 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 stocks32 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 auld guidwife’s weel hoordet nits35
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-clue36 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 apple37 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 three42 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’ns43 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,
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!
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 Taylor44 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.
[“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.”]
April 1st, 1785.
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
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,
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
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,
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.]
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
Or whare wild-meeting oceans boil
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
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;
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,
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’!
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 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
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
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,
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.
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,
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’s48
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
Yon mixtie-maxtie queer hotch-potch,
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!
“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 —
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’Kinlay50 thrawn his heel?
Or Robinson51 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,
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,
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!
[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.
[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,
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!
[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,
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,
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 dreams54 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;
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.
[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,
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,
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:
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:
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.]
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 airles56 an’ the fee,
In legal mode an’ form:
I ken he weel a snick can draw,
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 his57 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.
[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,
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,
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.
“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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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
A sweeping, kindling, bauld strathspey —
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.
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’s60 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’r61 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.
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 gos62 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 Garpal64 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;
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:
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 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.
[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,
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?
[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 Harley68 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;
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’s69 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,
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,
The stiffest o’ them a’ he bow’d;
The bauldest o’ them a’ he cow’d;
They durst nae mair than he allow’d,
That was a law;
We’ve lost a birkie weel worth gowd,
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,
The brethren o’ the Commerce-Chaumer70
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,
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,
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,
Poor Burns — e’en Scotch drink canna quicken,
He cheeps like some bewilder’d chicken,
Scar’d frae its minnie and the cleckin
Grief’s gien his heart an unco kickin’,
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,
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,
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!
[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;
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 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.
[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.
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.
[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;
But till we meet and weet our whistle,
Tak this excuse for nae epistle.
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;
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, 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.
But what dy’e think, my trusty fier,
I’m turn’d a gauger — Peace be here!
Parnassian queans, I fear, I fear,
Ye’ll now disdain me!
And then my fifty pounds a year
Will little gain me.
Ye glaiket, gleesome, dainty damies,
Wha, by Castalia’s wimplin’ streamies,
Lowp, sing, and lave your pretty limbies,
Ye ken, ye ken,
That strang necessity supreme is
’Mang sons o’ men.
I hae a wife and twa wee laddies,
They maun hae brose and brats o’ duddies;
Ye ken yoursels my heart right proud is —
I need na vaunt,
But I’ll sned besoms — thraw saugh woodies,
Before they want.
Lord help me thro’ this warld o’ care!
I’m weary sick o’t late and air!
Not but I hae a richer share
Than mony ithers:
But why should ae man better fare,
And a’ men brithers?
Come, firm Resolve, take then the van,
Thou stalk o’ carl-hemp in man!
And let us mind, faint-heart ne’er wan
A lady fair:
Wha does the utmost that he can,
Will whyles do mair.
But to conclude my silly rhyme,
(I’m scant o’ verse, and scant o’ time,)
To make a happy fire-side clime
To weans and wife,
That’s the true pathos and sublime
Of human life.
My compliments to sister Beckie;
And eke the same to honest Lucky,
I wat she is a dainty chuckie,
As e’er tread clay!
And gratefully, my guid auld cockie,
I’m yours for ay,
[These verses were first printed in the Star newspaper, in May, 1789. It is said that one day a friend read to the poet some verses from the Star, composed on the pattern of Pope’s song, by a Person of Quality. “These lines are beyond you,” he added: “the muse of Kyle cannot match the muse of London.” Burns mused a moment, then recited “Delia, an Ode.”]
Fair the face of orient day,
Fair the tints of op’ning rose,
But fairer still my Delia dawns,
More lovely far her beauty blows.
Sweet the lark’s wild-warbled lay,
Sweet the tinkling rill to hear;
But, Delia, more delightful still
Steal thine accents on mine ear.
The flow’r-enamoured busy bee
The rosy banquet loves to sip;
Sweet the streamlet’s limpid lapse
To the sun-brown’d Arab’s lip; —
But, Delia, on thy balmy lips
Let me, no vagrant insect, rove!
O, let me steal one liquid kiss!
For, oh! my soul is parch’d with love.
[John M’Murdo, Esq., one of the chamberlains of the Duke of Queensberry, lived at Drumlanrig: he was a high-minded, warm-hearted man, and much the friend of the poet. These lines accompanied a present of books: others were added soon afterwards on a pane of glass in Drumlanrig castle.
“Blest be M’Murdo to his latest day!
No envious cloud o’ercast his evening ray;
No wrinkle furrowed by the hand of care,
Nor ever sorrow add one silver hair!
O may no son the father’s honour stain,
Nor ever daughter give the mother pain.”
How fully the poet’s wishes were fulfilled need not be told to any one acquainted with the family.]
O, could I give thee India’s wealth,
As I this trifle send!
Because thy joy in both would be
To share them with a friend.
But golden sands did never grace
The Heliconian stream;
Then take what gold could never buy —
An honest Bard’s esteem.
[This prologue was written in December, 1789, for Mr. Sutherland, who recited it with applause in the little theatre of Dumfries, on new-year’s night. Sir Harris Nicolas, however, has given to Ellisland the benefit of a theatre! and to Burns the whole barony of Dalswinton for a farm!]
No song nor dance I bring from yon great city
That queens it o’er our taste — the more’s the pity:
Tho’, by-the-by, abroad why will you roam?
Good sense and taste are natives here at home:
But not for panegyric I appear,
I come to wish you all a good new year!
Old Father Time deputes me here before ye,
Not for to preach, but tell his simple story:
The sage grave ancient cough’d, and bade me say,
“You’re one year older this important day.”
If wiser too — he hinted some suggestion,
But ’twould be rude, you know, to ask the question;
And with a would-be roguish leer and wink,
He bade me on you press this one word —“think!”
Ye sprightly youths, quite flushed with hope and spirit,
Who think to storm the world by dint of merit,
To you the dotard has a deal to say,
In his sly, dry, sententious, proverb way;
He bids you mind, amid your thoughtless rattle,
That the first blow is ever half the battle:
That tho’ some by the skirt may try to snatch him,
Yet by the forelock is the hold to catch him;
That whether doing, suffering, or forbearing,
You may do miracles by persevering.
Last, tho’ not least in love, ye youthful fair,
Angelic forms, high Heaven’s peculiar care!
To yon old Bald-pate smooths his wrinkled brow,
And humbly begs you’ll mind the important now!
To crown your happiness he asks your leave,
And offers bliss to give and to receive.
For our sincere, tho’ haply weak endeavours,
With grateful pride we own your many favours,
And howsoe’er our tongues may ill reveal it,
Believe our glowing bosoms truly feel it.
[Burns did not shine in prologues: he produced some vigorous lines, but they did not come in harmony from his tongue, like the songs in which he recorded the loveliness of the dames of Caledonia. Sutherland was manager of the theatre, and a writer of rhymes. — Burns said his players were a very decent set: he had seen them an evening or two.]
What needs this din about the town o’ Lon’on,
How this new play an’ that new sang is comin’?
Why is outlandish stuff sae meikle courted?
Does nonsense mend like whiskey, when imported?
Is there nae poet, burning keen for fame,
Will try to gie us songs and plays at hame?
For comedy abroad he need nae toil,
A fool and knave are plants of every soil;
Nor need he hunt as far as Rome and Greece
To gather matter for a serious piece;
There’s themes enough in Caledonian story,
Would show the tragic muse in a’ her glory.
Is there no daring bard will rise, and tell
How glorious Wallace stood, how hapless fell?
Where are the muses fled that could produce
A drama worthy o’ the name o’ Bruce;
How here, even here, he first unsheath’d the sword,
’Gainst mighty England and her guilty lord,
And after mony a bloody, deathless doing,
Wrench’d his dear country from the jaws of ruin?
O for a Shakspeare or an Otway scene,
To draw the lovely, hapless Scottish Queen!
Vain all th’ omnipotence of female charms
’Gainst headlong, ruthless, mad Rebellion’s arms.
She fell, but fell with spirit truly Roman,
To glut the vengeance of a rival woman;
A woman — tho’ the phrase may seem uncivil —
As able and as cruel as the Devil!
One Douglas lives in Home’s immortal page,
But Douglases were heroes every age:
And tho’ your fathers, prodigal of life,
A Douglas follow’d to the martial strife,
Perhaps if bowls row right, and right succeeds,
Ye yet may follow where a Douglas leads!
As ye hae generous done, if a’ the land
Would take the muses’ servants by the hand;
Not only hear, but patronize, befriend them,
And where ye justly can commend, commend them;
And aiblins when they winna stand the test,
Wink hard, and say the folks hae done their best!
Would a’ the land do this, then I’ll be caution
Ye’ll soon hae poets o’ the Scottish nation,
Will gar fame blaw until her trumpet crack,
And warsle time, on’ lay him on his back!
For us and for our stage should ony spier,
“Whose aught thae chiels maks a’ this bustle here!”
My best leg foremost, I’ll set up my brow,
We have the honour to belong to you!
We’re your ain bairns, e’en guide us as ye like,
But like good withers, shore before ye strike. —
And gratefu’ still I hope ye’ll ever find us,
For a’ the patronage and meikle kindness
We’ve got frae a’ professions, sets, and ranks:
God help us! we’re but poor — ye’se get but thanks.
[This is a picture of the Dunlop family: it was printed from a hasty sketch, which the poet called extempore. The major whom it mentions, was General Andrew Dunlop, who died in 1804: Rachel Dunlop was afterwards married to Robert Glasgow, Esq. Another of the Dunlops served with distinction in India, where he rose to the rank of General. They were a gallant race, and all distinguished.]
This day, Time winds th’ exhausted chain,
To run the twelvemonth’s length again:
I see the old, bald-pated follow,
With ardent eyes, complexion sallow,
Adjust the unimpair’d machine,
To wheel the equal, dull routine.
The absent lover, minor heir,
In vain assail him with their prayer;
Deaf as my friend, he sees them press,
Nor makes the hour one moment less.
Will you (the Major’s with the hounds,
The happy tenants share his rounds;
Coila’s fair Rachel’s care to-day,
And blooming Keith’s engaged with Gray)
From housewife cares a minute borrow —
That grandchild’s cap will do to-morrow —
And join with me a moralizing,
This day’s propitious to be wise in.
First, what did yesternight deliver?
“Another year is gone for ever.”
And what is this day’s strong suggestion?
“The passing moment’s all we rest on!”
Rest on — for what? what do we here?
Or why regard the passing year?
Will time, amus’d with proverb’d lore,
Add to our date one minute more?
A few days more — a few years must —
Repose us in the silent dust.
Then is it wise to damp our bliss?
Yes — all such reasonings are amiss!
The voice of nature loudly cries,
And many a message from the skies,
That something in us never dies:
That on this frail, uncertain state,
Hang matters of eternal weight:
That future life in worlds unknown
Must take its hue from this alone;
Whether as heavenly glory bright,
Or dark as misery’s woeful night. —
Since then, my honour’d, first of friends,
On this poor being all depends,
Let us th’ important now employ,
And live as those who never die. —
Tho’ you, with days and honours crown’d,
Witness that filial circle round,
(A sight, life’s sorrows to repulse,
A sight, pale envy to convulse,)
Others now claim your chief regard;
Yourself, you wait your bright reward.
[These sarcastic lines contain a too true picture of the times in which they were written. Though great changes have taken place in court and camp, yet Austria, Russia, and Prussia keep the tack of Poland: nobody says a word of Denmark: emasculated Italy is still singing; opera girls are still dancing; but Chatham Will, glaikit Charlie, Daddie Burke, Royal George, and Geordie Wales, have all passed to their account.]
Kind Sir, I’ve read your paper through,
And, faith, to me ’twas really new!
How guess’d ye, Sir, what maist I wanted?
This mony a day I’ve grain’d and gaunted,
To ken what French mischief was brewin’;
Or what the drumlie Dutch were doin’;
That vile doup-skelper, Emperor Joseph,
If Venus yet had got his nose off;
Or how the collieshangie works
Atween the Russians and the Turks:
Or if the Swede, before he halt,
Would play anither Charles the Twalt:
If Denmark, any body spak o’t;
Or Poland, wha had now the tack o’t;
How cut-throat Prussian blades were hingin’;
How libbet Italy was singin’;
If Spaniard, Portuguese, or Swiss
Were sayin’ or takin’ aught amiss:
Or how our merry lads at hame,
In Britain’s court kept up the game:
How royal George, the Lord leuk o’er him!
Was managing St. Stephen’s quorum;
If sleekit Chatham Will was livin’;
Or glaikit Charlie got his nieve in:
How daddie Burke the plea was cookin’,
If Warren Hastings’ neck was yeukin;
How cesses, stents, and fees were rax’d,
Or if bare a — s yet were tax’d;
The news o’ princes, dukes, and earls,
Pimps, sharpers, bawds, and opera girls;
If that daft buckie, Geordie Wales,
Was threshin’ still at hizzies’ tails;
Or if he was grown oughtlins douser,
And no a perfect kintra cooser. —
A’ this and mair I never heard of;
And but for you I might despair’d of.
So, gratefu’, back your news I send you,
And pray, a’ guid things may attend you!
Ellisland, Monday morning, 1790.
[The history of this Poem is curious. M’Gill, one of the ministers of Ayr, long suspected of entertaining heterodox opinions concerning original sin and the Trinity, published “A Practical Essay on the Death of Jesus Christ,” which, in the opinion of the more rigid portion of his brethren, inclined both to Arianism and Socinianism. This essay was denounced as heretical, by a minister of the name Peebles, in a sermon preached November 5th, 1788, and all the west country was in a flame. The subject was brought before the Synod, and was warmly debated till M’Gill expressed his regret for the disquiet he had occasioned, explained away or apologized for the challenged passages in his Essay, and declared his adherence to the Standard doctrines of his mother church. Burns was prevailed upon to bring his satire to the aid of M’Gill, but he appears to have done so with reluctance.]
Wha believe in John Knox,
Let me sound an alarm to your conscience:
There’s a heretic blast
Has been blawn in the wast,
That what is no sense must be nonsense.
Dr. Mac,77 Dr. Mac,
You should stretch on a rack,
To strike evil doers wi’ terror;
To join faith and sense
Upon ony pretence,
Is heretic, damnable error.
Town of Ayr, town of Ayr,
It was mad, I declare,
To meddle wi’ mischief a-brewing;
Provost John78 is still deaf
To the church’s relief,
And orator Bob79 is its ruin.
D’rymple mild,80 D’rymple mild,
Thro’ your heart’s like a child,
And your life like the new driven snaw,
Yet that winna save ye,
Auld Satan must hav ye,
For preaching that three’s ane an’ twa.
Rumble John,81 Rumble John,
Mount the steps wi’ a groan,
Cry the book is wi’ heresy cramm’d;
Then lug out your ladle,
Deal brimstone like adle,
And roar every note of the danm’d.
Simper James,82 Simper James,
Leave the fair Killie dames,
There’s a holier chase in your view;
I’ll lay on your head
That the pack ye’ll soon lead.
For puppies like you there’s but few.
Singet Sawney,83 Singet Sawney,
Are ye herding the penny,
Unconscious what evil await?
Wi’ a jump, yell, and howl,
Alarm every soul,
For the foul thief is just at your gate.
Daddy Auld,84 Daddy Auld,
There’s a tod in the fauld,
A tod meikle waur than the clerk;
Though yo can do little skaith,
Ye’ll be in at the death,
And gif ye canna bite, ye may bark.
Davie Bluster,85 Davie Bluster,
If for a saint ye do muster,
The corps is no nice of recruits;
Yet to worth let’s be just,
Royal blood ye might boast,
If the ass was the king of the brutes.
Jamy Goose,86 Jamy Goose,
Ye ha’e made but toom roose,
In hunting the wicked lieutenant;
But the Doctor’s your mark,
For the L— d’s haly ark;
He has cooper’d and cawd a wrang pin in’t.
Poet Willie,87 Poet Willie,
Fie the Doctor a volley,
Wi’ your liberty’s chain and your wit;
O’er Pegasus’ side
Ye ne’er laid astride,
Ye but smelt, man, the place where he ——.
Andro Gouk,88, Andro Gouk,
Ye may slander the book,
And the book not the waur, let me tell ye;
Ye are rich and look big,
But lay by hat and wig,
And ye’ll ha’e a calf’s head o’ sma’ value.
Barr Steenie,89 Barr Steenie,
What mean ye, what mean ye?
If ye’ll meddle nae mair wi’ the matter,
Ye may ha’e some pretence
To havins and sense,
Wi’ people wha ken ye nae better.
Irvine side,90 Irvine side,
Wi’ your turkey-cock pride,
Of manhood but sum’ is your share,
Ye’ve the figure ’tis true,
Even your faes will allow,
And your friends they dae grunt you nae mair.
Muirland Jock,91 Muirland Jock,
When the L— d makes a rock
To crush Common sense for her sins,
If ill manners were wit,
There’s no mortal so fit
To confound the poor Doctor at ance.
Holy Will,92 Holy Will,
There was wit i’ your skull,
When ye pilfer’d the alms o’ the poor;
The timmer is scant,
When ye’re ta’en for a saunt,
Wha should swing in a rape for an hour.
Calvin’s sons, Calvin’s sons,
Seize your spir’tual guns,
Ammunition you never can need;
Your hearts are the stuff,
Will be powther enough,
And your skulls are storehouses o’ lead.
Poet Burns, Poet Burns,
Wi’ your priest-skelping turns,
Why desert ye your auld native shire?
Your muse is a gipsie,
E’en tho’ she were tipsie,
She could ca’ us nae waur than we are.
76 This Poem was written a short time after the publication of M’Gill’s Essay.
77 Dr. M’Gill.
78 John Ballantyne.
79 Robert Aiken.
80 Dr. Dalrymple.
81 Mr. Russell.
82 Mr. M’Kinlay.
83 Mr. Moody, of Riccarton.
84 Mr. Auld of Mauchline.
85 Mr. Grant, of Ochiltree.
86 Mr. Young, of Cumnock.
87 Mr. Peebles, Ayr.
88 Dr. Andrew Mitchell, of Monkton.
89 Mr. Stephen Young, of Barr.
90 Mr. George Smith, of Galston.
91 Mr. John Shepherd, Muirkirk.
92 Holy Willie, alias William Fisher, Elder in Mauchline.
[This version is from the papers of Miss Logan, of Afton. The origin of the Poem is thus related to Graham of Fintry by the poet himself: “Though I dare say you have none of the solemn League and Covenant fire Which shone so conspicuous in Lord George Gordon, and the Kilmarnock weavers, yet I think you must have heard of Dr. M’Gill, one of the clergymen of Ayr, and his heretical book, God help him, poor man! Though one of the worthiest, as well as one of the ablest of the whole priesthood of the Kirk of Scotland, in every sense of that ambiguous term, yet the poor doctor and his numerous family are in imminent danger of being thrown out (9th December, 1790) to the mercy of the winter winds. The enclosed ballad on that business, is, I confess too local: but I laughed myself at some conceits in it, though I am convinced in my conscience there are a good many heavy stanzas in it too.” The Kirk’s Alarm was first printed by Stewart, in 1801. Cromek calls it, “A silly satire, on some worthy ministers of the gospel, in Ayrshire.”]
Who believe in John Knox,
Let me sound an alarm to your conscience —
There’s a heretic blast,
Has been blawn i’ the wast,
That what is not sense must be nonsense,
That what is not sense must be nonsense.
Doctor Mac, Doctor Mac,
Ye should stretch on a rack,
And strike evil doers wi’ terror;
To join faith and sense,
Upon any pretence,
Was heretic damnable error,
Was heretic damnable error.
Town of Ayr, town of Ayr,
It was rash I declare,
To meddle wi’ mischief a-brewing;
Provost John is still deaf,
To the church’s relief,
And orator Bob is its ruin,
Town Of Ayr,
And orator Bob is its ruin.
D’rymple mild, D’rymple mild,
Tho’ your heart’s like a child,
And your life like the new-driven snaw,
Yet that winna save ye,
Old Satan must have ye
For preaching that three’s are an’ twa,
For preaching that three’s are an’ twa.
Calvin’s sons, Calvin’s sons,
Seize your spiritual guns,
Ammunition ye never can need;
Your hearts are the stuff,
Will be powder enough,
And your skulls are a storehouse of lead,
And your skulls are a storehouse of lead.
Rumble John, Rumble John,
Mount the steps with a groan,
Cry the book is with heresy cramm’d;
Then lug out your ladle,
Deal brimstone like aidle,
And roar every note o’ the damn’d,
And roar every note o’ the damn’d.
Simper James, Simper James,
Leave the fair Killie dames,
There’s a holier chase in your view;
I’ll lay on your head,
That the pack ye’ll soon lead,
For puppies like you there’s but few,
For puppies like you there’s but few.
Singet Sawnie, Singet Sawnie,
Are ye herding the penny,
Unconscious what danger awaits?
With a jump, yell, and howl,
Alarm every soul,
For Hannibal’s just at your gates,
For Hannibal’s just at your gates.
Andrew Gowk, Andrew Gowk,
Ye may slander the book,
And the book nought the waur — let me tell you;
Tho’ ye’re rich and look big,
Yet lay by hat and wig,
And ye’ll hae a calf’s-head o’ sma’ value,
And ye’ll hae a calf’s-head o’ sma’ value.
Poet Willie, Poet Willie,
Gie the doctor a volley,
Wi’ your “liberty’s chain” and your wit;
O’er Pegasus’ side,
Ye ne’er laid a stride
Ye only stood by when he — —
Ye only stood by when he ——.
Barr Steenie, Barr Steenie,
What mean ye? what mean ye?
If ye’ll meddle nae mair wi’ the matter,
Ye may hae some pretence, man,
To havins and sense, man,
Wi’ people that ken ye nae better,
Wi’ people that ken ye nae better.
Jamie Goose, Jamie Goose,
Ye hae made but toom roose,
O’ hunting the wicked lieutenant;
But the doctor’s your mark,
For the L— d’s holy ark,
He has cooper’d and ca’d a wrong pin in’t,
He has cooper’d and ca’d a wrong pin in’t.
Davie Bluster, Davie Bluster,
For a saunt if ye muster,
It’s a sign they’re no nice o’ recruits,
Yet to worth let’s be just,
Royal blood ye might boast,
If the ass were the king o’ the brutes,
If the ass were the king o’ the brutes.
Muirland George, Muirland George,
Whom the Lord made a scourge,
To claw common sense for her sins;
If ill manners were wit,
There’s no mortal so fit,
To confound the poor doctor at ance,
To confound the poor doctor at ance.
Wi’ your turkey-cock pride,
O’ manhood but sma’ is your share;
Ye’ve the figure, it’s true,
Even our faes maun allow,
And your friends daurna say ye hae mair,
And your friends daurna say ye hae mair.
Daddie Auld, Daddie Auld,
There’s a tod i’ the fauld
A tod meikle waur than the clerk;93
Tho’ ye downa do skaith,
Ye’ll be in at the death,
And if ye canna bite ye can bark,
And if ye canna bite ye can bark.
Poet Burns, Poet Burns,
Wi’ your priest-skelping turns,
Why desert ye your auld native shire?
Tho’ your Muse is a gipsy,
Yet were she even tipsy,
She could ca’ us nae waur than we are,
She could ca’ us nae waur than we are.
Afton’s Laird, Afton’s Laird,
When your pen can be spar’d,
A copy o’ this I bequeath,
On the same sicker score
I mentioned before,
To that trusty auld worthy Clackleith,
To that trusty auld worthy Clackleith.
93 Gavin Hamilton.
[These hasty verses are to be found in a letter addressed to Nicol, of the High School of Edinburgh, by the poet, giving him on account of the unlooked-for death of his mare, Peg Nicholson, the successor of Jenny Geddes. She had suffered both in the employ of the joyous priest and the thoughtless poet. She acquired her name from that frantic virago who attempted to murder George the Third.]
Peg Nicholson was a good bay mare,
As ever trode on airn;
But now she’s floating down the Nith,
And past the mouth o’ Cairn.
Peg Nicholson was a good bay mare,
And rode thro’ thick an’ thin;
But now she’s floating down the Nith,
And wanting even the skin.
Peg Nicholson was a good bay mare,
And ance she bore a priest;
But now she’s flouting down the Nith,
For Solway fish a feast.
Peg Nicholson was a good bay mare,
And the priest he rode her sair;
And much oppress’d and bruis’d she was;
As priest-rid cattle are, &c. &c.
“Should the poor be flattered?”
But now his radiant course is run,
For Matthew’s course was bright;
His soul was like the glorious sun,
A matchless heav’nly light!
[Captain Matthew Henderson, a gentleman of very agreeable manners and great propriety of character, usually lived in Edinburgh, dined constantly at Fortune’s Tavern, and was a member of the Capillaire Club, which was composed of all who desired to be thought witty or joyous: he died in 1789: Burns, in a note to the Poem, says, “I loved the man much, and have not flattered his memory.” Henderson seems indeed to have been universally liked. “In our travelling party,” says Sir James Campbell, of Ardkinglass, “was Matthew Henderson, then (1759) and afterwards well known and much esteemed in the town of Edinburgh; at that time an officer in the twenty-fifth regiment of foot, and like myself on his way to join the army; and I may say with truth, that in the course of a long life I have never known a more estimable character, than Matthew Henderson.” Memoirs of Campbell, of Ardkinglass, p. 17.]
O death! thou tyrant fell and bloody!
The meikle devil wi’ a woodie
Haurl thee hame to his black smiddie,
O’er hurcheon hides,
And like stock-fish come o’er his studdie
Wi’ thy auld sides!
He’s gane! he’s gane! he’s frae us torn,
The ae best fellow e’er was born!
Thee, Matthew, Nature’s sel’ shall mourn
By wood and wild,
Where, haply, pity strays forlorn,
Frae man exil’d!
Ye hills! near neebors o’ the starns,
That proudly cock your cresting cairns!
Ye cliffs, the haunts of sailing yearns,
Where echo slumbers!
Come join, ye Nature’s sturdiest bairns,
My wailing numbers!
Mourn, ilka grove the cushat kens!
Ye haz’lly shaws and briery dens!
Ye burnies, wimplin’ down your glens,
Wi’ toddlin’ din,
Or foaming strang, wi’ hasty stens,
Frae lin to lin!
Mourn, little harebells o’er the lea;
Ye stately foxgloves fair to see;
Ye woodbines, hanging bonnilie,
In scented bow’rs;
Ye roses on your thorny tree,
The first o’ flow’rs.
At dawn, when ev’ry grassy blade
Droops with a diamond at its head,
At ev’n, when beans their fragrance shed
I’ th’ rustling gale,
Ye maukins whiddin thro’ the glade,
Come join my wail.
Mourn, ye wee songsters o’ the wood;
Ye grouse that crap the heather bud;
Ye curlews calling thro’ a clud;
Ye whistling plover;
An’ mourn, ye whirring paitrick brood! —
He’s gane for ever!
Mourn, sooty coots, and speckled teals;
Ye fisher herons, watching eels:
Ye duck and drake, wi’ airy wheels
Circling the lake;
Ye bitterns, till the quagmire reels,
Rair for his sake.
Mourn, clam’ring craiks, at close o’ day,
’Mang fields o’ flowering clover gay;
And when ye wing your annual way
Frae our cauld shore,
Tell thae far warlds, wha lies in clay,
Wham we deplore.
Ye houlets, frae your ivy bow’r,
In some auld tree, or eldritch tow’r,
What time the moon, wi’ silent glow’r,
Sets up her horn,
Wail thro’ the dreary midnight hour
’Till waukrife morn!
O rivers, forests, hills, and plains!
Oft have ye heard my canty strains:
But now, what else for me remains
But tales of woe?
And frae my een the drapping rains
Maun ever flow.
Mourn, spring, thou darling of the year!
Ilk cowslip cup shall kep a tear:
Thou, simmer, while each corny spear
Shoots up its head,
The gay, green, flow’ry tresses shear
For him that’s dead!
Thou, autumn, wi’ thy yellow hair,
In grief thy sallow mantle tear:
Thou, winter, hurling thro’ the air
The roaring blast,
Wide, o’er the naked world declare
The worth we’ve lost!
Mourn him, thou sun, great source of light!
Mourn, empress of the silent night!
And you, ye twinkling starnies bright,
My Matthew mourn!
For through your orbs he’s ta’en his flight,
Ne’er to return.
O, Henderson! the man — the brother!
And art thou gone, and gone for ever?
And hast thou crost that unknown river
Life’s dreary bound?
Like thee, where shall I find another,
The world around?
Go to your sculptur’d tombs, ye great,
In a’ the tinsel trash o’ state!
But by thy honest turf I’ll wait,
Thou man of worth!
And weep the ae best fellow’s fate
E’er lay in earth.
Stop, passenger! — my story’s brief,
And truth I shall relate, man;
I tell nae common tale o’ grief —
For Matthew was a great man.
If thou uncommon merit hast,
Yet spurn’d at fortune’s door, man,
A look of pity hither cast —
For Matthew was a poor man.
If thou a noble sodger art,
That passest by this grave, man,
There moulders here a gallant heart —
For Matthew was a brave man.
If thou on men, their works and ways,
Canst throw uncommon light, man,
Here lies wha weel had won thy praise —
For Matthew was a bright man.
If thou at friendship’s sacred ca’
Wad life itself resign, man,
Thy sympathetic tear maun fa’—
For Matthew was a kind man!
If thou art staunch without a stain,
Like the unchanging blue, man,
This was a kinsman o’ thy ain —
For Matthew was a true man.
If thou hast wit, and fun, and fire,
And ne’er guid wine did fear, man,
This was thy billie, dam and sire —
For Matthew was a queer man.
If ony whiggish whingin sot,
To blame poor Matthew dare, man,
May dool and sorrow be his lot!
For Matthew was a rare man.
[This is a local and political Poem composed on the contest between Miller, the younger, of Dalswinton, and Johnstone, of Westerhall, for the representation of the Dumfries and Galloway district of Boroughs. Each town or borough speaks and acts in character: Maggy personates Dumfries; Marjory, Lochmaben; Bess of Solway-side, Annan; Whiskey Jean, Kirkcudbright; and Black Joan, Sanquhar. On the part of Miller, all the Whig interest of the Duke of Queensberry was exerted, and all the Tory interest on the side of the Johnstone: the poet’s heart was with the latter. Annan and Lochmaben stood staunch by old names and old affections: after a contest, bitterer than anything of the kind remembered, the Whig interest prevailed.]
There were five carlins in the south,
They fell upon a scheme,
To send a lad to London town,
To bring them tidings hame.
Not only bring them tidings hame,
But do their errands there;
And aiblins gowd and honour baith
Might be that laddie’s share.
There was Maggy by the banks o’ Nith,
A dame wi’ pride eneugh;
And Marjory o’ the mony lochs,
A carlin auld and teugh.
And blinkin’ Bess of Annandale,
That dwelt near Solway-side;
And whiskey Jean, that took her gill
In Galloway sae wide.
And black Joan, frae Crighton-peel,
O’ gipsey kith an’ kin; —
Five wighter carlins were na found
The south countrie within.
To send a lad to London town,
They met upon a day;
And mony a knight, and mony a laird,
This errand fain wad gae.
O mony a knight, and mony a laird,
This errand fain wad gae;
But nae ane could their fancy please,
O ne’er a ane but twae.
The first ane was a belted knight,
Bred of a border band;
And he wad gae to London town,
Might nae man him withstand.
And he wad do their errands weel,
And meikle he wad say;
And ilka ane about the court
Wad bid to him gude-day.
The neist cam in a sodger youth,
And spak wi’ modest grace,
And he wad gae to London town,
If sae their pleasure was.
He wad na hecht them courtly gifts,
Nor meikle speech pretend;
But he wad hecht an honest heart,
Wad ne’er desert his friend.
Then wham to chuse, and wham refuse,
At strife thir carlins fell;
For some had gentlefolks to please,
And some wad please themsel’.
Then out spak mim-mou’d Meg o’ Nith,
And she spak up wi’ pride,
And she wad send the sodger youth,
Whatever might betide.
For the auld gudeman o’ London court
She didna care a pin;
But she wad send the sodger youth
To greet his eldest son.
Then slow raise Marjory o’ the Lochs
And wrinkled was her brow;
Her ancient weed was russet gray,
Her auld Scotch heart was true.
“The London court set light by me —
I set as light by them;
And I wilt send the sodger lad
To shaw that court the same.”
Then up sprang Bess of Annandale,
And swore a deadly aith,
Says, “I will send the border-knight
Spite o’ you carlins baith.
“For far-off fowls hae feathers fair,
And fools o’ change are fain;
But I hae try’d this border-knight,
I’ll try him yet again.”
Then whiskey Jean spak o’er her drink,
“Ye weel ken, kimmersa’,
The auld gudeman o’ London court,
His back’s been at the wa’.
“And mony a friend that kiss’d his caup,
Is now a fremit wight;
But it’s ne’er be sae wi’ whiskey Jean —
We’ll send the border-knight.”
Says black Joan o’ Crighton-peel,
A carlin stoor and grim —
“The auld gudeman, or the young gudeman,
For me may sink or swim.
“For fools will prate o’ right and wrang,
While knaves laugh in their sleeve;
But wha blaws best the horn shall win,
I’ll spier nae courtier’s leave.”
So how this mighty plea may end
There’s naebody can tell:
God grant the king, and ilka man,
May look weel to himsel’!
[This short Poem was first published by Robert Chambers. It intimates pretty strongly, how much the poet disapproved of the change which came over the Duke of Queensberry’s opinions, when he supported the right of the Prince of Wales to assume the government, without consent of Parliament, during the king’s alarming illness, in 1788.]
The laddies by the banks o’ Nith,
Wad trust his Grace wi’ a’, Jamie,
But he’ll sair them, as he sair’d the King,
Turn tail and rin awa’, Jamie.
Up and waur them a’, Jamie,
Up and waur them a’;
The Johnstones hae the guidin’ o’t,
Ye turncoat Whigs awa’.
The day he stude his country’s friend,
Or gied her faes a claw, Jamie:
Or frae puir man a blessin’ wan,
That day the Duke ne’er saw, Jamie.
But wha is he, his country’s boast?
Like him there is na twa, Jamie,
There’s no a callant tents the kye,
But kens o’ Westerha’, Jamie.
To end the wark here’s Whistlebirk,94
Lang may his whistle blaw, Jamie;
And Maxwell true o’ sterling blue:
And we’ll be Johnstones a’, Jamie.
94 Birkwhistle: a Galloway laird, and elector.
[“I am too little a man,” said Burns, in the note to Fintray, which accompanied this poem, “to have any political attachment: I am deeply indebted to, and have the warmest veneration for individuals of both parties: but a man who has it in his power to be the father of a country, and who acts like his Grace of Queensberry, is a character that one cannot speak of with patience.” This Epistle was first printed in my edition of Burns in 1834: I had the use of the Macmurdo and the Afton manuscripts for that purpose: to both families the poet was much indebted for many acts of courtesy and kindness.]
Fintray, my stay in worldly strife,
Friend o’ my muse, friend o’ my life,
Are ye as idle’s I am?
Come then, wi’ uncouth, kintra fleg,
O’er Pegasus I’ll fling my leg,
And ye shall see me try him.
I’ll sing the zeal Drumlanrig bears,
Who left the all-important cares
Of princes and their darlings;
And, bent on winning borough towns,
Came shaking hands wi’ wabster lowns,
And kissing barefit carlins.
Combustion thro’ our boroughs rode,
Whistling his roaring pack abroad
Of mad unmuzzled lions;
As Queensberry buff and blue unfurl’d,
And Westerha’ and Hopeton hurl’d
To every Whig defiance.
But cautious Queensberry left the war,
Th’ unmanner’d dust might soil his star;
Besides, he hated bleeding:
But left behind him heroes bright,
Heroes in Cæsarean fight,
Or Ciceronian pleading.
O! for a throat like huge Mons-meg,
To muster o’er each ardent Whig
Beneath Drumlanrig’s banner;
Heroes and heroines commix,
All in the field of politics,
To win immortal honour.
M’Murdo95 and his lovely spouse,
(Th’ enamour’d laurels kiss her brows!)
Led on the loves and graces:
She won each gaping burgess’ heart,
While he, all-conquering, play’d his part
Among their wives and lasses.
Craigdarroch96 led a light-arm’d corps,
Tropes, metaphors and figures pour,
Like Hecla streaming thunder:
Glenriddel,97 skill’d in rusty coins,
Blew up each Tory’s dark designs,
And bar’d the treason under.
In either wing two champions fought,
Redoubted Staig98 who set at nought
The wildest savage Tory:
And Welsh,99 who ne’er yet flinch’d his ground,
High-wav’d his magnum-bonum round
With Cyclopeian fury.
Miller brought up th’ artillery ranks,
The many-pounders of the Banks,
While Maxwelton, that baron bold,
’Mid Lawson’s100 port intrench’d his hold,
And threaten’d worse damnation.
To these what Tory hosts oppos’d,
With these what Tory warriors clos’d.
Surpasses my descriving:
Squadrons extended long and large,
With furious speed rush to the charge,
Like raging devils driving.
What verse can sing, what prose narrate,
The butcher deeds of bloody fate
Amid this mighty tulzie!
Grim Horror grinn’d — pale Terror roar’d,
As Murther at his thrapple shor’d,
And hell mix’d in the brulzie.
As highland craigs by thunder cleft,
When lightnings fire the stormy lift,
Hurl down with crashing rattle:
As flames among a hundred woods;
As headlong foam a hundred floods;
Such is the rage of battle!
The stubborn Tories dare to die;
As soon the rooted oaks would fly
Before the approaching fellers:
The Whigs come on like Ocean’s roar,
When all his wintry billows pour
Against the Buchan Bullers.
Lo, from the shades of Death’s deep night,
Departed Whigs enjoy the fight,
And think on former daring:
The muffled murtherer101 of Charles
The Magna Charter flag unfurls,
All deadly gules it’s bearing.
Nor wanting ghosts of Tory fame.
Auld Covenanters shiver.
(Forgive, forgive, much-wrong’d Montrose!
Now death and hell engulph thy foes,
Thou liv’st on high for ever!)
Still o’er the field the combat burns,
The Tories, Whigs, give way by turns;
But fate the word has spoken:
For woman’s wit and strength o’ man,
Alas! can do but what they can!
The Tory ranks are broken.
O that my een were flowing burns,
My voice a lioness that mourns
Her darling cubs’ undoing!
That I might greet, that I might cry,
While Tories fall, while Tories fly,
And furious Whigs pursuing!
What Whig but melts for good Sir James!
Dear to his country by the names
Friend, patron, benefactor!
Not Pulteney’s wealth can Pulteney save!
And Hopeton falls, the generous brave!
And Stewart,104 bold as Hector.
Thou, Pitt, shalt rue this overthrow;
And Thurlow growl a curse of woe;
And Melville melt in wailing!
How Fox and Sheridan rejoice!
And Burke shall sing, O Prince, arise,
Thy power is all prevailing!
For your poor friend, the Bard, afar
He only hears and sees the war,
A cool spectator purely;
So, when the storm the forests rends,
The robin in the hedge descends,
And sober chirps securely.
95 John M’Murdo, Esq., of Drumlanrig.
96 Fergusson of Craigdarroch.
97 Riddel of Friars-Carse.
98 Provost Staig of Dumfries.
99 Sheriff Welsh.
100 A wine merchant in Dumfries.
101 The executioner of Charles I. was masked.
102 Scrimgeour, Lord Dundee.
103 Graham, Marquis of Montrose.
104 Stewart of Hillside.
[This “fine, fat, fodgel wight” was a clever man, a skilful antiquary, and fond of wit and wine. He was well acquainted with heraldry, and was conversant with the weapons and the armor of his own and other countries. He found his way to Friars-Carse, in the Vale of Nith, and there, at the social “board of Glenriddel,” for the first time saw Burns. The Englishman heard, it is said, with wonder, the sarcastic sallies and eloquent bursts of the inspired Scot, who, in his turn, surveyed with wonder the remarkable corpulence, and listened with pleasure to the independent sentiments and humourous turns of conversation in the joyous Englishman. This Poem was the fruit of the interview, and it is said that Grose regarded some passages as rather personal.]
Hear, Land o’ Cakes and brither Scots,
Frae Maidenkirk to Johnny Groat’s;
If there’s a hole in a’ your coats,
I rede you tent it:
A chiel’s amang you taking notes,
And, faith, he’ll prent it!
If in your bounds ye chance to light
Upon a fine, fat, fodgel wight,
O’ stature short, but genius bright,
That’s he, mark weel —
And wow! he has an unco slight
O’ cauk and keel.
By some auld, houlet-haunted biggin,
Or kirk deserted by its riggin,
It’s ten to one ye’ll find him snug in
Some eldritch part,
Wi’ deils, they say, L— d save’s! colleaguin’
At some black art.
Ilk ghaist that haunts auld ha’ or chaumer,
Ye gipsey-gang that deal in glamour,
And you deep read in hell’s black grammar,
Warlocks and witches;
Ye’ll quake at his conjuring hammer,
Ye midnight b —— s!
It’s tauld he was a sodger bred,
And ane wad rather fa’n than fled;
But now he’s quat the spurtle-blade,
And dog-skin wallet,
And ta’en the — Antiquarian trade,
I think they call it.
He has a fouth o’ auld nick-nackets:
Rusty airn caps and jinglin’ jackets,
Wad haud the Lothians three in tackets,
A towmont guid;
And parritch-pats, and auld saut-backets,
Afore the flood.
Of Eve’s first fire he has a cinder;
Auld Tubal-Cain’s fire-shool and fender;
That which distinguished the gender
O’ Balaam’s ass;
A broom-stick o’ the witch o’ Endor,
Weel shod wi’ brass.
Forbye, he’ll shape you aff, fu’ gleg,
The cut of Adam’s philibeg:
The knife that nicket Abel’s craig
He’ll prove you fully,
It was a faulding jocteleg,
Or lang-kail gully. —
But wad ye see him in his glee,
For meikle glee and fun has he,
Then set him down, and twa or three
Guid fellows wi’ him;
And port, O port! shine thou a wee,
And then ye’ll see him!
Now, by the pow’rs o’ verse and prose!
Thou art a dainty chiel, O Grose! —
Whae’er o’ thee shall ill suppose,
They sair misca’ thee;
I’d take the rascal by the nose,
Wad say, Shame fa’ thee!
[Burns wrote out some antiquarian and legendary memoranda, respecting certain ruins in Kyle, and enclosed them in a sheet of a paper to Cardonnel, a northern antiquary. As his mind teemed with poetry he could not, as he afterwards said, let the opportunity, pass of sending a rhyming inquiry after his fat friend, and Cardonnel spread the condoling inquiry over the North —
“Is he slain by Highlan’ bodies?
And eaten like a wether-haggis?”]
Ken ye ought o’ Captain Grose?
Igo and ago,
If he’s amang his friends or foes?
Iram, coram, dago.
Is he south or is he north?
Igo and ago,
Or drowned in the river Forth?
Iram, coram, dago.
Is he slain by Highlan’ bodies?
Igo and ago,
And eaten like a wether-haggis?
Iram, coram, dago.
Is he to Abram’s bosom gane?
Igo and ago,
Or haudin’ Sarah by the wame?
Iram, coram, dago.
Where’er he be, the L— d be near him!
Igo and ago,
As for the deil, he daur na steer him!
Iram, coram, dago.
But please transmit the enclosed letter,
Igo and ago,
Which will oblige your humble debtor,
Iram, coram, dago.
So may he hae auld stanes in store,
Igo and ago,
The very stanes that Adam bore,
Iram, coram, dago.
So may ye get in glad possession,
Igo and ago,
The coins o’ Satan’s coronation!
Iram, coram, dago.
“Of brownys and of bogilis full is this buke.”
[This is a West-country legend, embellished by genius. No other Poem in our language displays such variety of power, in the same number of lines. It was written as an inducement to Grose to admit Alloway-Kirk into his work on the Antiquities of Scotland; and written with such ecstasy, that the poet shed tears in the moments of composition. The walk in which it was conceived, on the braes of Ellisland, is held in remembrance in the vale, and pointed out to poetic inquirers: while the scene where the poem is laid — the crumbling ruins — the place where the chapman perished in the snow — the tree on which the poor mother of Mungo ended her sorrows — the cairn where the murdered child was found by the hunters — and the old bridge over which Maggie bore her astonished master when all hell was in pursuit, are first-rate objects of inspection and inquiry in the “Land of Burns.” “In the inimitable tale of Tam o’ Shanter,” says Scott “Burns has left us sufficient evidence of his ability to combine the ludicrous with the awful, and even the horrible. No poet, with the exception of Shakspeare, ever possessed the power of exciting the most varied and discordant emotions with such rapid transitions.”]
When chapman billies leave the street,
And drouthy neebors neebors meet,
As market-days are wearing late,
An’ folk begin to tak’ the gate;
While we sit bousing at the nappy,
An’ gettin’ fou and unco happy,
We think na on the lang Scots miles,
The mosses, waters, slaps, and stiles,
That lie between us and our hame,
Where sits our sulky sullen dame,
Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
This truth fand honest Tam O’ Shanter,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter,
(Auld Ayr, wham ne’er a town surpasses,
For honest men and bonny lasses.)
O Tam! hadst thou but been sae wise,
As ta’en thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou wasna sober;
That ilka melder, wi’ the miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on,
The smith and thee gat roaring fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirton Jean till Monday.
She prophesy’d, that late or soon,
Thou would be found deep drown’d in Doon;
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld haunted kirk.
Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet,
To think how mony counsels sweet,
How mony lengthen’d sage advices,
The husband frae the wife despises!
But to our tale:— Ae market night,
Tam had got planted unco right;
Fast by an ingle bleezing finely,
Wi’ reaming swats, that drank divinely;
And at his elbow, Souter Johnny,
His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony;
Tam lo’ed him like a vera brither;
They had been fou’ for weeks thegither!
The night drave on wi’ sangs an’ clatter;
And ay the ale was growing better:
The landlady and Tam grew gracious;
Wi’ favors secret, sweet, and precious;
The Souter tauld his queerest stories;
The landlord’s laugh was ready chorus:105
The storm without might rair and rustle —
Tam did na mind the storm a whistle.
Care, mad to see a man sae happy,
E’en drown’d himself amang the nappy!
As bees flee hame wi’ lades o’ treasure,
The minutes wing’d their way wi’ pleasure:
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
O’er a’ the ills o’ life victorious.
But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white — then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether time or tide;
The hour approaches Tam maun ride;
That hour, o’ night’s black arch the key-stane,
That dreary hour he mounts his beast in;
And sic a night he taks the road in
As ne’er poor sinner was abroad in.
The wind blew as ’twad blawn its last;
The rattling show’rs rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;
Loud, deep, and lang the thunder bellow’d:
That night, a child might understand,
The de’il had business on his hand.
Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg,
A better never lifted leg,
Tam skelpit on thro’ dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire;
Whiles holding fast his guid blue bonnet;
Whiles crooning o’er some auld Scots sonnet;
Whiles glow’ring round wi’ prudent cares,
Lest bogles catch him unawares;
Kirk-Alloway was drawing nigh,
Whare ghaists and houlets nightly cry. —
By this time he was cross the foord,
Whare in the snaw the chapman smoor’d;
And past the birks and meikle stane,
Where drunken Charlie brak’s neck-bane;
And thro’ the whins, and by the cairn,
Where hunters fand the murder’d bairn;
And near the thorn, aboon the well,
Where Mungo’s mither hang’d hersel’.
Before him Doon pours all his floods;
The doubling storm roars thro’ the woods;
The lightnings flash from pole to pole;
Near and more the thunders roll;
When, glimmering thro’ the groaning trees,
Kirk-Alloway seem’d in a bleeze;
Thro’ ilka bore the beams were glancing;
And loud resounded mirth and dancing.
Inspiring, bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippenny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae we’ll face the devil!
The swats sae ream’d in Tammie’s noddle,
Fair play, he car’d nae deils a boddle.
But Maggie stood right sair astonish’d,
’Till, by the heel and hand admonish’d,
She ventur’d forward on the light;
And wow! Tam saw an unco sight!
Warlocks and witches in a dance;
Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels:
A winnock-bunker in the east,
There sat auld Nick, in shape o’ beast;
A towzie tyke, black, grim, and large,
To gie them music was his charge;
He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl,
Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl. —
Coffins stood round, like open presses;
That shaw’d the dead in their last dresses;
And by some devilish cantrip slight
Each in its cauld hand held a light —
By which heroic Tam was able
To note upon the haly table,
A murderer’s banes in gibbet airns;
Twa span-lang, wee, unchristen’d bairns;
A thief, new-cutted frae a rape,
Wi’ his last gasp his gab did gape;
Five tomahawks, wi’ bluid red-rusted;
Five scimitars, wi’ murder crusted;
A garter, which a babe had strangled;
A knife, a father’s throat had mangled,
Whom his ain son o’ life bereft,
The gray hairs yet stack to the heft:106
Wi’ mair o’ horrible and awfu’,
Which ev’n to name would be unlawfu’.
As Tammie glowr’d, amaz’d, and curious,
The mirth and fun grew fast and furious:
The piper loud and louder blew;
The dancers quick and quicker flew;
They reel’d, they set, they cross’d, they cleekit,
’Till ilka carlin swat and reekit,
And coost her duddies to the wark,
And linket at it in her sark!
Now Tam, O Tam! had thae been queans
A’ plump and strapping, in their teens;
Their sarks, instead o’ creeshie flannen,
Been snaw-white seventeen hunder linen,
Thir breeks o’ mine, my only pair,
That ance were plush, o’ guid blue hair,
I wad hae gi’en them off my hurdies,
For ae blink o’ the bonnie burdies!
But wither’d beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags, wad spean a foal,
Lowping an’ flinging on a cummock,
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.
But Tam kenn’d what was what fu’ brawlie,
There was a winsome wench and walie,
That night enlisted in the core,
(Lang after kenn’d on Carrick shore;
For mony a beast to dead she shot,
And perish’d mony a bonnie boat,
And shook baith meikle corn and bear,
And kept the country-side in fear.)
Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That, while a lassie, she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie —
Ah! little kenn’d the reverend grannie,
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
Wi’ twa pund Scots (’twas a’ her riches),
Wad ever grac’d a dance of witches!
But here my muse her wing maun cour;
Sic flights are far beyond her pow’r;
To sing how Nannie lap and flang,
(A souple jade she was and strung,)
And how Tam stood, like ane bewitch’d;
And thought his very een enrich’d;
Even Satan glowr’d, and fidg’d fu’ fain,
And hotch’d and blew wi’ might and main:
’Till first ae caper, syne anither,
Tam tint his reason a’ thegither,
And roars out, “Weel done, Cutty-sark!”
And in an instant all was dark:
And scarcely had he Maggie rallied,
When out the hellish legion sallied.
As bees bizz out wi’ angry fyke,
When plundering herds assail their byke;
As open pussie’s mortal foes,
When, pop! she starts before their nose;
As eager runs the market-crowd,
When “Catch the thief!” resounds aloud;
So Maggie runs, the witches follow,
Wi’ mony an eldritch screech and hollow.
Ah, Tam! Ah, Tam! thou’ll get thy fairin’!
In hell they’ll roast thee like a herrin’!
In vain thy Kate awaits thy comin’!
Kate soon will be a woefu’ woman!
Now do thy speedy utmost, Meg,
And win the key-stane107 of the brig;
There at them thou thy tail may toss,
A running stream they darena cross!
But ere the key-stane she could make,
The fient a tail she had to shake!
For Nannie, far before the rest,
Hard upon noble Maggie prest,
And flew at Tam wi’ furious ettle;
But little wist she Maggie’s mettle —
Ae spring brought off her master hale,
But left behind her ain gray tail:
The carlin claught her by the rump,
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.
Now, wha this tale o’ truth shall read,
Ilk man and mother’s son, take heed:
Whene’er to drink you are inclin’d,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think! ye may buy the joys o’er dear —
Remember Tam O’ Shanter’s mare.
The cricket raised its cheering cry,
The kitten chas’d its tail in joy.
Three lawyers’ tongues turn’d inside out,
Wi’ lies seem’d like a beggar’s clout;
And priests’ hearts rotten black as muck,
Lay stinking vile, in every neuk.
107 It is a well-known fact that witches, or any evil spirits, have no power to follow a poor wight any further than the middle of the next running stream. It may be proper likewise to mention to the benighted traveller, that when he falls in with bogles, whatever danger there may be in his going forward, there is much more hazard in turning back.
[This Poem made its first appearance, as I was assured by my friend the late Thomas Pringle, in the Scots Magazine, for February, 1818, and was printed from the original in the handwriting of Burns. It was headed thus, “To the Right honorable the Earl of Brendalbyne, President of the Right Honourable and Honourable the Highland Society, which met on the 23d of May last, at the Shakspeare, Covent Garden, to concert ways and means to frustrate the designs of four hundred Highlanders, who, as the Society were informed by Mr. M. — — of A——s, were so audacious as to attempt an escape from their lawful lairds and masters, whose property they were, by emigrating from the lands of Mr. Macdonald, of Glengarry, to the wilds of Canada, in search of that fantastic thing —Liberty.” The Poem was communicated by Burns to his friend Rankine of Adam Hill, in Ayrshire.]
Long life, my Lord, an’ health be yours,
Unskaith’d by hunger’d Highland boors;
Lord grant mae duddie desperate beggar,
Wi’ dirk, claymore, or rusty trigger,
May twin auld Scotland o’ a life
She likes — as lambkins like a knife.
Faith, you and A——s were right
To keep the Highland hounds in sight;
I doubt na! they wad bid nae better
Than let them ance out owre the water;
Then up among the lakes and seas
They’ll mak’ what rules and laws they please;
Some daring Hancock, or a Franklin’;
May set their Highland bluid a ranklin’;
Some Washington again may head them,
Or some Montgomery fearless lead them,
Till God knows what may be effected
When by such heads and hearts directed —
Poor dunghill sons of dirt and mire
May to Patrician rights aspire!
Nae sage North, now, nor sager Sackville,
To watch and premier o’er the pack vile,
An’ whare will ye get Howes and Clintons
To bring them to a right repentance,
To cowe the rebel generation,
An’ save the honour o’ the nation?
They an’ be d —— d! what right hae they
To meat or sleep, or light o’ day?
Far less to riches, pow’r, or freedom,
But what your lordship likes to gie them?
But hear, my lord! Glengarry, hear!
Your hand’s owre light on them, I fear;
Your factors, grieves, trustees, and bailies,
I canna’ say but they do gaylies;
They lay aside a’ tender mercies,
An’ tirl the hallions to the birses;
Yet while they’re only poind’t and herriet,
They’ll keep their stubborn Highland spirit;
But smash them! crash them a’ to spails!
An’ rot the dyvors i’ the jails!
The young dogs, swinge them to the labour;
Let wark an’ hunger mak’ them sober!
The hizzies, if they’re aughtlins fawsont,
Let them in Drury-lane be lesson’d!
An’ if the wives an’ dirty brats
E’en thigger at your doors an’ yetts,
Flaffan wi’ duds an’ grey wi’ beas’,
Frightin’ awa your deuks an’ geese,
Get out a horsewhip or a jowler,
The langest thong, the fiercest growler,
An’ gar the tattered gypsies pack
Wi’ a’ their bastards on their back!
Go on, my Lord! I lang to meet you,
An’ in my house at hame to greet you;
Wi’ common lords ye shanna mingle,
The benmost neuk beside the ingle,
At my right han’ assigned your seat
’Tween Herod’s hip an Polycrate —
Or if you on your station tarrow,
Between Almagro and Pizarro,
A seat I’m sure ye’re weel deservin’t;
An’ till ye come — Your humble rervant,
June 1st, Anno Mundi 5790.
[Burns, it appears, was, in one of his excursions in revenue matters, likely to be detained at Wanlockhead: the roads were slippery with ice, his mare kept her feet with difficulty, and all the blacksmiths of the village were pre-engaged. To Mr. Taylor, a person of influence in the place, the poet, in despair, addressed this little Poem, begging his interference: Taylor spoke to a smith; the smith flew to his tools, sharpened or frosted the shoes, and it is said lived for thirty years to boast that he had “never been well paid but ance, and that was by a poet, who paid him in money, paid him in drink, and paid him in verse.”]
With Pegasus upon a day,
Apollo weary flying,
Through frosty hills the journey lay,
On foot the way was plying,
Poor slip-shod giddy Pegasus
Was but a sorry walker;
To Vulcan then Apollo goes,
To get a frosty calker.
Obliging Vulcan fell to work,
Threw by his coat and bonnet,
And did Sol’s business in a crack;
Sol paid him with a sonnet.
Ye Vulcan’s sons of Wanlockhead,
Pity my sad disaster;
My Pegasus is poorly shod —
I’ll pay you like my master.
Ramages, 3 o’clock, (no date.)
[The poet communicated this “Lament” to his friend, Dr. Moore, in February, 1791, but it was composed about the close of the preceding year, at the request of Lady Winifred Maxwell Constable, of Terreagles, the last in direct descent of the noble and ancient house of Maxwell, of Nithsdale. Burns expressed himself more than commonly pleased with this composition; nor was he unrewarded, for Lady Winifred gave him a valuable snuff-box, with the portrait of the unfortunate Mary on the lid. The bed still keeps its place in Terreagles, on which the queen slept as she was on her way to take refuge with her cruel and treacherous cousin, Elizabeth; and a letter from her no less unfortunate grandson, Charles the First, calling the Maxwells to arm in his cause, is preserved in the family archives.]
Now Nature hangs her mantle green
On every blooming tree,
And spreads her sheets o’ daisies white
Out o’er the grassy lea:
Now Phœbus cheers the crystal streams,
And glads the azure skies;
But nought can glad the weary wight
That fast in durance lies.
Now lav’rocks wake the merry morn,
Aloft on dewy wing;
The merle, in his noontide bow’r,
Makes woodland echoes ring;
The mavis wild wi’ mony a note,
Sings drowsy day to rest:
In love and freedom they rejoice,
Wi’ care nor thrall opprest.
Now blooms the lily by the bank,
The primrose down the brae;
The hawthorn’s budding in the glen,
And milk-white is the slae;
The meanest hind in fair Scotland
May rove their sweets amang;
But I, the Queen of a’ Scotland,
Maun lie in prison strang!
I was the Queen o’ bonnie France,
Where happy I hae been;
Fu’ lightly rase I in the morn,
As blythe lay down at e’en:
And I’m the sov’reign o’ Scotland,
And mony a traitor there;
Yet here I lie in foreign bands
And never-ending care.
But as for thee, thou false woman!
My sister and my fae,
Grim vengeance yet shall whet a sword
That thro’ thy soul shall gae!
The weeping blood in woman’s breast
Was never known to thee;
Nor th’ balm that draps on wounds of woe
Frae woman’s pitying e’e.
My son! my son! may kinder stars
Upon thy fortune shine;
And may those pleasures gild thy reign,
That ne’er wad blink on mine!
God keep thee frae thy mother’s faes,
Or turn their hearts to thee:
And where thou meet’st thy mother’s friend
Remember him for me!
O! soon, to me, may summer suns
Nae mair light up the morn!
Nae mair, to me, the autumn winds
Wave o’er the yellow corn!
And in the narrow house o’ death
Let winter round me rave;
And the next flow’rs that deck the spring
Bloom on my peaceful grave!
[“As the authentic prose history,” says Burns, “of the ‘Whistle’ is curious, I shall here give it. In the train of Anne of Denmark, when she came to Scotland with our James the Sixth, there came over also a Danish gentleman of gigantic stature and great prowess, and a matchless champion of Bacchus. He had a little ebony whistle, which at the commencement of the orgies, he laid on the table, and whoever was the last able to blow it, everybody else being disabled by the potency of the bottle, was to carry off the whistle as a trophy of victory. The Dane produced credentials of his victories, without a single defeat, at the courts of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Moscow, Warsaw, and several of the petty courts in Germany; and challenged the Scotch Bacchanalians to the alternative of trying his prowess, or else of acknowledging their inferiority. After many overthrows on the part of the Scots, the Dane was encountered by Sir Robert Lawrie, of Maxwelton, ancestor of the present worthy baronet of that name; who, after three days and three nights’ hard contest, left the Scandinavian under the table,
‘And blew on the whistle his requiem shrill.’
“Sir Walter, son to Sir Robert before mentioned, afterwards lost the whistle to Walter Riddel, of Glenriddel, who had married a sister of Sir Walter’s. — On Friday, the 16th of October, 1790, at Friars-Carse, the whistle was once more contended for, as related in the ballad, by the present Sir Robert of Maxwelton; Robert Riddel, Esq., of Glenriddel, lineal descendant and representative of Walter Riddel, who won the whistle, and in whose family it had continued; and Alexander Fergusson, Esq., of Craigdarroch, likewise descended of the great Sir Robert; which last gentleman carried off the hard-won honours of the field.”
The jovial contest took place in the dining-room of Friars-Carse, in the presence of the Bard, who drank bottle and bottle about with them, and seemed quite disposed to take up the conqueror when the day dawned.]
I sing of a whistle, a whistle of worth,
I sing of a whistle, the pride of the North,
Was brought to the court of our good Scottish king,
And long with this whistle all Scotland shall ring.
Old Loda,108 still rueing the arm of Fingal,
The god of the bottle sends down from his hall —
“This whistle’s your challenge — to Scotland get o’er,
And drink them to hell, Sir! or ne’er see me more!”
Old poets have sung, and old chronicles tell,
What champions ventur’d, what champions fell;
The son of great Loda was conqueror still,
And blew on his whistle his requiem shrill.
Till Robert, the Lord of the Cairn and the Scaur,
Unmatch’d at the bottle, unconquer’d in war,
He drank his poor godship as deep as the sea,
No tide of the Baltic e’er drunker than he.
Thus Robert, victorious, the trophy has gain’d;
Which now in his house has for ages remain’d;
Till three noble chieftains, and all of his blood,
The jovial contest again have renew’d.
Three joyous good fellows, with hearts clear of flaw;
Craigdarroch, so famous for wit, worth, and law;
And trusty Glenriddel, so skill’d in old coins;
And gallant Sir Robert, deep-read in old wines.
Craigdarroch began, with a tongue smooth as oil,
Desiring Glenriddel to yield up the spoil;
Or else he would muster the heads of the clan,
And once more, in claret, try which was the man.
“By the gods of the ancients!” Glenriddel replies,
“Before I surrender so glorious a prize,
I’ll conjure the ghost of the great Rorie More,109
And bumper his horn with him twenty times o’er.”
Sir Robert, a soldier, no speech would pretend,
But he ne’er turn’d his back on his foe — or his friend,
Said, toss down the whistle, the prize of the field,
And, knee-deep in claret, he’d die or he’d yield.
To the board of Glenriddel our heroes repair,
So noted for drowning of sorrow and care;
Bur for wine and for welcome not more known to fame
Than the sense, wit, and taste of a sweet lovely dame.
A bard was selected to witness the fray,
And tell future ages the feats of the day;
A bard who detested all sadness and spleen,
And wish’d that Parnassus a vineyard had been.
The dinner being over, the claret they ply,
And ev’ry new cork is a new spring of joy;
In the bands of old friendship and kindred so set,
And the bands grew the tighter the more they were wet.
Gay Pleasure ran riot as bumpers ran o’er;
Bright Phœbus ne’er witness’d so joyous a core,
And vow’d that to leave them he was quite forlorn,
Till Cynthia hinted he’d find them next morn.
Six bottles a-piece had well wore out the night,
When gallant Sir Robert, to finish the fight,
Turn’d o’er in one bumper a bottle of red,
And swore ’twas the way that their ancestor did.
Then worthy Glenriddel, so cautions and sage,
No longer the warfare, ungodly, would wage;
A high-ruling Elder to wallow in wine!
He left the foul business to folks less divine.
The gallant Sir Robert fought hard to the end;
But who can with fate and quart-bumpers contend?
Though fate said — a hero shall perish in light;
So up rose bright Phœbus — and down fell the knight.
Next up rose our bard, like a prophet in drink; —
“Craigdarroch, thou’lt soar when creation shall sink;
But if thou would flourish immortal in rhyme,
Come — one bottle more — and have at the sublime!
“Thy line, that have struggled for freedom with Bruce,
Shall heroes and patriots ever produce:
So thine be the laurel, and mine be the bay;
The field thou hast won, by yon bright god of day!”
[This beautiful and accomplished lady, the heavenly Burnet, as Burns loved to call her, was daughter to the odd and the elegant, the clever and the whimsical Lord Monboddo. “In domestic circumstances,” says Robert Chambers, “Monboddo was particularly unfortunate. His wife, a very beautiful woman, died in child-bed. His son, a promising boy, in whose education he took great delight, was likewise snatched from his affections by a premature death; and his second daughter, in personal loveliness one of the first women of the age, was cut off by consumption, when only twenty-five years old.” Her name was Elizabeth.]
Life ne’er exulted in so rich a prize
As Burnet, lovely from her native skies;
Nor envious death so triumph’d in a blow,
As that which laid th’ accomplish’d Burnet low.
Thy form and mind, sweet maid, can I forget?
In richest ore the brightest jewel set!
In thee, high Heaven above was truest shown,
As by his noblest work, the Godhead best is known.
In vain ye flaunt in summer’s pride, ye groves;
Thou crystal streamlet with thy flowery shore,
Ye woodland choir that chant your idle loves,
Ye cease to charm — Eliza is no more!
Ye heathy wastes, immix’d with reedy fens;
Ye mossy streams, with sedge and rushes stor’d;
Ye rugged cliffs, o’erhanging dreary glens,
To you I fly, ye with my soul accord.
Princes, whose cumb’rous pride was all their worth,
Shall venal lays their pompous exit hail?
And thou, sweet excellence! forsake our earth,
And not a muse in honest grief bewail?
We saw thee shine in youth and beauty’s pride,
And virtue’s light, that beams beyond the spheres;
But like the sun eclips’d at morning tide,
Thou left’st us darkling in a world of tears.
The parent’s heart that nestled fond in thee,
That heart how sunk, a prey to grief and care;
So leck’d the woodbine sweet yon aged tree;
So from it ravish’d, leaves it bleak and bare.
[Burns lamented the death of this kind and accomplished nobleman with melancholy sincerity: he moreover named one of his sons for him: he went into mourning when he heard of his death, and he sung of his merits in a strain not destined soon to lose the place it has taken among the verses which record the names of the noble and the generous. He died January 30, 1791, in the forty-second year of his age. James Cunningham was succeeded in his title by his brother, and with him expired, in 1796, the last of a race, whose name is intimately connected with the History of Scotland, from the days of Malcolm Canmore.]
The wind blew hollow frae the hills,
By fits the sun’s departing beam
Look’d on the fading yellow woods
That wav’d o’er Lugar’s winding stream:
Beneath a craggy steep, a bard,
Laden with years and meikle pain,
In loud lament bewail’d his lord,
Whom death had all untimely ta’en.
He lean’d him to an ancient aik,
Whose trunk was mould’ring down with years;
His locks were bleached white with time,
His hoary cheek was wet wi’ tears;
And as he touch’d his trembling harp,
And as he tun’d his doleful sang,
The winds, lamenting thro’ their caves,
To echo bore the notes alang.
“Ye scattered birds that faintly sing,
The reliques of the vernal quire!
Ye woods that shed on a’ the winds
The honours of the aged year!
A few short months, and glad and gay,
Again ye’ll charm the ear and e’e;
But nocht in all revolving time
Can gladness bring again to me.
“I am a bending aged tree,
That long has stood the wind and rain;
But now has come a cruel blast,
And my last hold of earth is gane:
Nae leaf o’ mine shall greet the spring,
Nae simmer sun exalt my bloom;
But I maun lie before the storm,
And ithers plant them in my room.
“I’ve seen sae mony changefu’ years,
On earth I am a stranger grown;
I wander in the ways of men,
Alike unknowing and unknown:
Unheard, unpitied, unrelieved,
I bear alane my lade o’ care,
For silent, low, on beds of dust,
Lie a’ that would my sorrows share.
“And last (the sum of a’ my griefs!)
My noble master lies in clay;
The flow’r amang our barons bold,
His country’s pride! his country’s stay —
In weary being now I pine,
For a’ the life of life is dead,
And hope has left my aged ken,
On forward wing for ever fled.
“Awake thy last sad voice, my harp!
The voice of woe and wild despair;
Awake! resound thy latest lay —
Then sleep in silence evermair!
And thou, my last, best, only friend,
That fillest an untimely tomb,
Accept this tribute from the bard
Though brought from fortune’s mirkest gloom.
“In poverty’s low barren vale
Thick mists, obscure, involve me round;
Though oft I turn’d the wistful eye,
Nae ray of fame was to be found:
Thou found’st me, like the morning sun,
That melts the fogs in limpid air,
The friendless bard and rustic song
Became alike thy fostering care.
“O! why has worth so short a date?
While villains ripen fray with time;
Must thou, the noble, gen’rous, great,
Fall in bold manhood’s hardy prime!
Why did I live to see that day?
A day to me so full of woe! —
O had I met the mortal shaft
Which laid my benefactor low.
“The bridegroom may forget the bride
Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
But I’ll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a’ that thou hast done for me!”
[Sir John Whitefoord, a name of old standing in Ayrshire, inherited the love of his family for literature, and interested himself early in the fame and fortunes of Burns.]
Thou, who thy honour as thy God rever’st,
Who, save thy mind’s reproach, nought earthly fear’st,
To thee this votive offering I impart,
The tearful tribute of a broken heart.
The friend thou valuedst, I, the patron, lov’d;
His worth, his honour, all the world approv’d,
We’ll mourn till we too go as he has gone,
And tread the dreary path to that dark world unknown.
[“Lord Buchan has the pleasure to invite Mr. Burns to make one at the coronation of the bust of Thomson, on Ednam Hill, on the 22d of September: for which day perhaps his muse may inspire an ode suited to the occasion. Suppose Mr. Burns should, leaving the Nith, go across the country, and meet the Tweed at the nearest point from his farm, and, wandering along the pastoral banks of Thomson’s pure parent stream, catch inspiration in the devious walk, till he finds Lord Buchan sitting on the ruins of Dryburgh. There the Commendator will give him a hearty welcome, and try to light his lamp at the pure flame of native genius, upon the altar of Caledonian virtue.” Such was the invitation of the Earl of Buchan to Burns. To request the poet to lay down his sickle when his harvest was half reaped, and traverse one of the wildest and most untrodden ways in Scotland, for the purpose of looking at the fantastic coronation of the bad bust of on excellent poet, was worthy of Lord Buchan. The poor bard made answer, that a week’s absence in the middle of his harvest was a step he durst not venture upon — but he sent this Poem.
The poet’s manuscript affords the following interesting variations:—
“While cold-eyed Spring, a virgin coy,
Unfolds her verdant mantle sweet,
Or pranks the sod in frolic joy,
A carpet for her youthful feet:
“While Summer, with a matron’s grace,
Walks stately in the cooling shade,
And oft delighted loves to trace
The progress of the spiky blade:
“While Autumn, benefactor kind,
With age’s hoary honours clad,
Surveys, with self-approving mind,
Each creature on his bounty fed.”]
While virgin Spring, by Eden’s flood,
Unfolds her tender mantle green,
Or pranks the sod in frolic mood,
Or tunes Æolian strains between:
While Summer, with a matron grace,
Retreats to Dryburgh’s cooling shade,
Yet oft, delighted, stops to trace
The progress of the spiky blade:
While Autumn, benefactor kind,
By Tweed erects his aged head,
And sees, with self-approving mind,
Each creature on his bounty fed:
While maniac Winter rages o’er
The hills whence classic Yarrow flows,
Rousing the turbid torrent’s roar,
Or sweeping, wild, a waste of snows:
So long, sweet Poet of the year!
Shall bloom that wreath thou well hast won;
While Scotia, with exulting tear,
Proclaims that Thomson was her son.
[By this Poem Burns prepared the way for his humble request to be removed to a district more moderate in its bounds than one which extended over ten country parishes, and exposed him both to fatigue and expense. This wish was expressed in prose, and was in due time attended to, for Fintray was a gentleman at once kind and considerate.]
Late crippl’d of an arm, and now a leg,
About to beg a pass for leave to beg:
Dull, listless, teas’d, dejected, and deprest,
(Nature is adverse to a cripple’s rest;)
Will generous Graham list to his Poet’s wail?
(It soothes poor misery, hearkening to her tale,)
And hear him curse the light he first survey’d,
And doubly curse the luckless rhyming trade?
Thou, Nature, partial Nature! I arraign;
Of thy caprice maternal I complain:
The lion and the bull thy care have found,
One shakes the forests, and one spurns the ground:
Thou giv’st the ass his hide, the snail his shell,
Th’ envenom’d wasp, victorious, guards his cell;
Thy minions, kings, defend, control, devour,
In all th’ omnipotence of rule and power;
Foxes and statesmen, subtile wiles insure;
The cit and polecat stink, and are secure;
Toads with their poison, doctors with their drug,
The priest and hedgehog in their robes are snug;
Ev’n silly woman has her warlike arts,
Her tongue and eyes, her dreaded spear and darts; —
But, oh! thou bitter stepmother and hard,
To thy poor fenceless, naked child — the Bard!
A thing unteachable in world’s skill,
And half an idiot too, more helpless still;
No heels to bear him from the op’ning dun;
No claws to dig, his hated sight to shun;
No horns, but those by luckless Hymen worn,
And those, alas! not Amalthea’s horn:
No nerves olfact’ry, Mammon’s trusty cur,
Clad in rich dullness’ comfortable fur; —
In naked feeling, and in aching pride,
He bears the unbroken blast from every side.
Vampyre booksellers drain him to the heart,
And scorpion critics cureless venom dart.
Critics! — appall’d I venture on the name,
Those cut-throat bandits in the paths of fame.
Bloody dissectors, worse than ten Monroes!
He hacks to teach, they mangle to expose.
His heart by causeless wanton malice wrung,
By blockheads’ daring into madness stung;
His well-won bays, than life itself more dear,
By miscreants torn, who ne’er one sprig must wear:
Foil’d, bleeding, tortur’d, in the unequal strife,
The hapless poet flounders on through life;
Till, fled each hope that once his bosom fir’d,
And fled each muse that glorious once inspir’d,
Low sunk in squalid, unprotected age,
Dead, even resentment, for his injur’d page,
He heeds or feels no more the ruthless critic’s rage!
So, by some hedge, the gen’rous steed deceas’d,
For half-starv’d snarling curs a dainty feast:
By toil and famine wore to skin and bone,
Lies senseless of each tugging bitch’s son.
O dullness! portion of the truly blest!
Calm sheltered haven of eternal rest!
Thy sons ne’er madden in the fierce extremes
Of fortune’s polar frost, or torrid beams.
If mantling high she fills the golden cup,
With sober selfish ease they sip it up;
Conscious the bounteous meed they well deserve,
They only wonder “some folks” do not starve.
The grave sage hern thus easy picks his frog,
And thinks the mallard a sad worthless dog.
When disappointment snaps the clue of hope,
And thro’ disastrous night they darkling grope,
With deaf endurance sluggishly they bear,
And just conclude that “fools are fortune’s care.”
So, heavy, passive to the tempest’s shocks,
Strong on the sign-post stands the stupid ox.
Not so the idle muses’ mad-cap train,
Not such the workings of their moon-struck brain;
In equanimity they never dwell,
By turns in soaring heav’n or vaulted hell
I dread thee, fate, relentless and severe,
With all a poet’s, husband’s, father’s fear!
Already one strong hold of hope is lost,
Glencairn, the truly noble, lies in dust;
(Fled, like the sun eclips’d as noon appears,
And left us darkling in a world of tears:)
O! hear my ardent, grateful, selfish pray’r! —
Fintray, my other stay, long bless and spare!
Thro’ a long life his hopes and wishes crown;
And bright in cloudless skies his sun go down!
May bliss domestic smooth his private path;
Give energy to life; and soothe his latest breath,
With many a filial tear circling the bed of death!
[Graham of Fintray not only obtained for the poet the appointment in Excise, which, while he lived in Edinburgh, he desired, but he also removed him, as he wished, to a better district; and when imputations were thrown out against his loyalty, he defended him with obstinate and successful eloquence. Fintray did all that was done to raise Burns out of the toiling humility of his condition, and enable him to serve the muse without fear of want.]
I call no goddess to inspire my strains,
A fabled muse may suit a bard that feigns;
Friend of my life! my ardent spirit burns,
And all the tribute of my heart returns,
For boons accorded, goodness ever new,
The gift still dearer, as the giver, you.
Thou orb of day! thou other paler light!
And all ye many sparkling stars of night;
If aught that giver from my mind efface;
If I that giver’s bounty e’er disgrace;
Then roll to me, along your wandering spheres,
Only to number out a villain’s years!
[This Vision of Liberty descended on Burns among the magnificent ruins of the College of Lincluden, which stand on the junction of the Cluden and the Nith, a short mile above Dumfries. He gave us the Vision; perhaps, he dared not in those yeasty times venture on the song, which his secret visitant poured from her lips. The scene is chiefly copied from nature: the swellings of the Nith, the howling of the fox on the hill, and the cry of the owl, unite at times with the natural beauty of the spot, and give it life and voice. These ruins were a favourite haunt of the poet.]
As I stood by yon roofless tower,
Where the wa’-flower scents the dewy air,
Where th’ howlet mourns in her ivy bower
And tells the midnight moon her care;
The winds were laid, the air was still,
The Stars they shot along the sky;
The fox was howling on the hill,
And the distant echoing glens reply.
The stream, adown its hazelly path,
Was rushing by the ruin’d wa’s,
Hasting to join the sweeping Nith,1
Whose distant roaring swells and fa’s.
The cauld blue north was streaming forth
Her lights, wi’ hissing eerie din;
Athort the lift they start and shift,
Like fortune’s favours, tint as win.
By heedless chance I turn’d mine eyes,
And, by the moon-beam, shook to see
A stern and stalwart ghaist arise,
Attir’d as minstrels wont to be.2
Had I a statue been o’ stane,
His darin’ look had daunted me;
And on his bonnet grav’d was plain,
The sacred posy —‘Libertie!’
And frae his harp sic strains did flow,
Might rous’d the slumb’ring dead to hear;
But, oh! it was a tale of woe,
As ever met a Briton’s ear.
He sang wi’ joy the former day,
He weeping wail’d his latter times;
But what he said it was nae play —
I winna ventur’t in my rhymes.
[John Maxwell of Terraughty and Munshes, to whom these verses are addressed, though descended from the Earls of Nithsdale, cared little about lineage, and claimed merit only from a judgment sound and clear — a knowledge of business which penetrated into all the concerns of life, and a skill in handling the most difficult subjects, which was considered unrivalled. Under an austere manner, he hid much kindness of heart, and was in a fair way of doing an act of gentleness when giving a refusal. He loved to meet Burns: not that he either cared for or comprehended poetry; but he was pleased with his knowledge of human nature, and with the keen and piercing remarks in which he indulged. He was seventy-one years old when these verses were written, and survived the poet twenty years.]
Health to the Maxwell’s vet’ran chief!
Health, ay unsour’d by care or grief:
Inspir’d, I turn’d Fate’s sybil leaf
This natal morn;
I see thy life is stuff o’ prief,
Scarce quite half worn.
This day thou metes three score eleven,
And I can tell that bounteous Heaven
(The second sight, ye ken, is given
To ilka Poet)
On thee a tack o’ seven times seven
Will yet bestow it.
If envious buckies view wi’ sorrow
Thy lengthen’d days on this blest morrow,
May desolation’s lang teeth’d harrow,
Nine miles an hour,
Rake them like Sodom and Gomorrah,
In brunstane stoure —
But for thy friends, and they are mony,
Baith honest men and lasses bonnie,
May couthie fortune, kind and cannie,
In social glee,
Wi’ mornings blythe and e’enings funny
Bless them and thee!
Fareweel, auld birkie! Lord be near ye,
And then the Deil he daur na steer ye;
Your friends ay love, your faes ay fear ye;
For me, shame fa’ me,
If neist my heart I dinna wear ye
While Burns they ca’ me!
Dumfries, 18 Feb. 1792.
[Miss Fontenelle was one of the actresses whom Williamson, the manager, brought for several seasons to Dumfries: she was young and pretty, indulged in little levities of speech, and rumour added, perhaps maliciously, levities of action. The Rights of Man had been advocated by Paine, the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecroft, and nought was talked of, but the moral and political regeneration of the world. The line
“But truce with kings and truce with constitutions,”
got an uncivil twist in recitation, from some of the audience. The words were eagerly caught up, and had some hisses bestowed on them.]
While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
While quacks of state must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.
First on the sexes’ intermix’d connexion,
One sacred Right of Woman is protection.
The tender flower that lifts its head, elate,
Helpless, must fall before the blasts of fate,
Sunk on the earth, defac’d its lovely form,
Unless your shelter ward th’ impending storm.
Our second Right — but needless here is caution,
To keep that right inviolate’s the fashion,
Each man of sense has it so full before him,
He’d die before he’d wrong it —’tis decorum. —
There was, indeed, in far less polish’d days,
A time, when rough, rude man had haughty ways;
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay, even thus invade a lady’s quiet.
Now, thank our stars! these Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men — and you are all well-bred —
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.
For Right the third, our last, our best, our dearest,
That right to fluttering female hearts the nearest,
Which even the Rights of Kings in low prostration
Most humbly own —’tis dear, dear admiration!
In that blest sphere alone we live and move;
There taste that life of life — immortal love. —
Smiles, glances, sighs, tears, fits, flirtations, airs,
’Gainst such an host what flinty savage dares —
When awful Beauty joins with all her charms,
Who is so rash as rise in rebel arms?
But truce with kings and truce with constitutions,
With bloody armaments and revolutions,
Let majesty your first attention summon,
Ah! ça ira! the majesty of woman!
[The heroine Of this rough lampoon was Mrs. Riddel of Woodleigh Park: a lady young and gay, much of a wit, and something of a poetess, and till the hour of his death the friend of Burns himself. She pulled his displeasure on her, it is said, by smiling more sweetly than he liked on some “epauletted coxcombs,” for so he sometimes designated commissioned officers: the lady soon laughed him out of his mood. We owe to her pen an account of her last interview with the poet, written with great beauty and feeling.]
How cold is that bosom which folly once fired,
How pale is that cheek where the rouge lately glisten’d!
How silent that tongue which the echoes oft tired,
How dull is that ear which to flattery so listen’d!
If sorrow and anguish their exit await,
From friendship and dearest affection remov’d;
How doubly severer, Maria, thy fate,
Thou diest unwept as thou livedst unlov’d.
Loves, Graces, and Virtues, I call not on you;
So shy, grave, and distant, ye shed not a tear:
But come, all ye offspring of Folly so true,
And flowers let us cull for Maria’s cold bier.
We’ll search through the garden for each silly flower,
We’ll roam through the forest for each idle weed;
But chiefly the nettle, so typical, shower,
For none e’er approach’d her but rued the rash deed.
We’ll sculpture the marble, we’ll measure the lay;
Here Vanity strums on her idiot lyre;
There keen indignation shall dart on her prey,
Which spurning Contempt shall redeem from his ire.
Here lies, now a prey to insulting neglect,
What once was a butterfly, gay in life’s beam:
Want only of wisdom denied her respect,
Want only of goodness denied her esteem
[Williamson, the actor, Colonel Macdouall, Captain Gillespie, and Mrs. Riddel, are the characters which pass over the stage in this strange composition: it is printed from the Poet’s own manuscript, and seems a sort of outpouring of wrath and contempt, on persons who, in his eyes, gave themselves airs beyond their condition, or their merits. The verse of the lady is held up to contempt and laughter: the satirist celebrates her
“Motley foundling fancies, stolen or strayed;”
and has a passing hit at her
“Still matchless tongue that conquers all reply.”]
From those drear solitudes and frowsy cells,
Where infamy with sad repentance dwells;
Where turnkeys make the jealous portal fast,
And deal from iron hands the spare repast;
Where truant ’prentices, yet young in sin,
Blush at the curious stranger peeping in;
Where strumpets, relics of the drunken roar,
Resolve to drink, nay, half to whore, no more;
Where tiny thieves not destin’d yet to swing,
Beat hemp for others, riper for the string:
From these dire scenes my wretched lines I date,
To tell Maria her Esopus’ fate.
“Alas! I feel I am no actor here!”
’Tis real hangmen, real scourges bear!
Prepare, Maria, for a horrid tale
Will turn thy very rouge to deadly pale;
Will make they hair, tho’ erst from gipsy polled,
By barber woven, and by barber sold,
Though twisted smooth with Harry’s nicest care,
Like hoary bristles to erect and stare.
The hero of the mimic scene, no more
I start in Hamlet, in Othello roar;
Or haughty Chieftain, ’mid the din of arms,
In Highland bonnet woo Malvina’s charms;
While sans culottes stoop up the mountain high,
And steal from me Maria’s prying eye.
Blest Highland bonnet! Once my proudest dress,
Now prouder still, Maria’s temples press.
I see her wave thy towering plumes afar,
And call each coxcomb to the wordy war.
I see her face the first of Ireland’s sons,110
And even out-Irish his Hibernian bronze;
The crafty colonel111 leaves the tartan’d lines,
For other wars, where he a hero shines;
The hopeful youth, in Scottish senate bred,
Who owns a Bushby’s heart without the head;
Comes, ’mid a string of coxcombs to display
That veni, vidi, vici, is his way;
The shrinking bard adown the alley skulks,
And dreads a meeting worse than Woolwich hulks;
Though there, his heresies in church and state
Might well award him Muir and Palmer’s fate:
Still she undaunted reels and rattles on,
And dares the public like a noontide sun.
(What scandal call’d Maria’s janty stagger
The ricket reeling of a crooked swagger,
Whose spleen e’en worse than Burns’ venom when
He dips in gall unmix’d his eager pen —
And pours his vengeance in the burning line,
Who christen’d thus Maria’s lyre divine;
The idiot strum of vanity bemused,
And even th’ abuse of poesy abused!
Who call’d her verse, a parish workhouse made
For motley foundling fancies, stolen or stray’d?)
A workhouse! ah, that sound awakes my woes,
And pillows on the thorn my rack’d repose!
In durance vile here must I wake and weep,
And all my frowsy couch in sorrow steep;
That straw where many a rogue has lain of yore,
And vermin’d gipsies litter’d heretofore.
Why, Lonsdale, thus thy wrath on vagrants pour?
Must earth no rascal save thyself endure?
Must thou alone in guilt immortal swell,
And make a vast monopoly of hell?
Thou know’st, the virtues cannot hate thee worse,
The vices also, must they club their curse?
Or must no tiny sin to others fall,
Because thy guilt’s supreme enough for all?
Maria, send me too thy griefs and cares;
In all of thee sure thy Esopus shares.
As thou at all mankind the flag unfurls,
Who on my fair one satire’s vengeance hurls?
Who calls thee, pert, affected, vain coquette,
A wit in folly, and a fool in wit?
Who says, that fool alone is not thy due,
And quotes thy treacheries to prove it true?
Our force united on thy foes we’ll turn,
And dare the war with all of woman born:
For who can write and speak as thou and I?
My periods that deciphering defy,
And thy still matchless tongue that conquers all reply.
[Though Gilbert Burns says there is some doubt of this Poem being by his brother, and though Robert Chambers declares that he “has scarcely a doubt that it is not by the Ayrshire Bard,” I must print it as his, for I have no doubt on the subject. It was found among the papers of the poet, in his own handwriting: the second, the fourth, and the concluding verses bear the Burns’ stamp, which no one has been successful in counterfeiting: they resemble the verses of Beattie, to which Chambers has compared them, as little as the cry of the eagle resembles the chirp of the wren.]
Hail Poesie! thou Nymph reserv’d!
In chase o’ thee, what crowds hae swerv’d
Frae common sense, or sunk enerv’d
’Mang heaps o’ clavers;
And och! o’er aft thy joes hae starv’d
Mid a’ thy favours!
Say, Lassie, why thy train amang,
While loud the trump’s heroic clang,
And sock or buskin skelp alang,
To death or marriage;
Scarce ane has tried the shepherd-sang
But wi’ miscarriage?
In Homer’s craft Jock Milton thrives;
Eschylus’ pen Will Shakspeare drives;
Wee Pope, the knurlin, ’till him rives
In thy sweet sang, Barbauld, survives
Even Sappho’s flame.
But thee, Theocritus, wha matches?
They’re no herd’s ballats, Maro’s catches;
Squire Pope but busks his skinklin patches
O’ heathen tatters;
I pass by hunders, nameless wretches,
That ape their betters.
In this braw age o’ wit and lear,
Will nane the Shepherd’s whistle mair
Blaw sweetly in its native air
And rural grace;
And wi’ the far-fam’d Grecian share
A rival place?
Yes! there is ane; a Scottish callan —
There’s ane; come forrit, honest Allan!
Thou need na jouk behint the hallan,
A chiel sae clever;
The teeth o’ time may gnaw Tantallan,
But thou’s for ever!
Thou paints auld nature to the nines,
In thy sweet Caledonian lines;
Nae gowden stream thro’ myrtles twines,
While nightly breezes sweep the vines,
Her griefs will tell!
In gowany glens thy burnie strays,
Where bonnie lasses bleach their claes;
Or trots by hazelly shaws and braes,
Wi’ hawthorns gray,
Where blackbirds join the shepherd’s lays
At close o’ day.
Thy rural loves are nature’s sel’;
Nae bombast spates o’ nonsense swell;
Nae snap conceits, but that sweet spell
O’ witchin’ love;
That charm that can the strongest quell,
The sternest move.
[Burns was fond of a saunter in a leafless wood, when the winter storm howled among the branches. These characteristic lines were composed on the morning of his birthday, with the Nith at his feet, and the ruins of Lincluden at his side: he is willing to accept the unlooked-for song of the thrush as a fortunate omen.]
Sing on, sweet thrush, upon the leafless bough,
Sing on, sweet bird, I listen to thy strain:
See, aged Winter, ’mid his surly reign,
At thy blythe carol clears his furrow’d brow.
So, in lone Poverty’s dominion drear,
Sits meek Content with light unanxious heart,
Welcomes the rapid moments, bids them part,
Nor asks if they bring aught to hope or fear.
I thank Thee, Author of this opening day!
Thou whose bright sun now gilds yon orient skies!
Riches denied, Thy boon was purer joys,
What wealth could never give nor take away.
Yet come, thou child of poverty and care,
The mite high Heaven bestow’d, that mite with thee I’ll share.
[The death of Glencairn, who was his patron, and the death of Glenriddel, who was his friend, and had, while he lived at Ellisland, been his neighbor, weighed hard on the mind of Burns, who, about this time, began to regard his own future fortune with more of dismay than of hope. Riddel united antiquarian pursuits with those of literature, and experienced all the vulgar prejudices entertained by the peasantry against those who indulge in such researches. His collection of what the rustics of the vale called “queer quairns and swine-troughs,” is now scattered or neglected: I have heard a competent judge say, that they threw light on both the public and domestic history of Scotland.]
No more, ye warblers of the wood — no more!
Nor pour your descant, grating, on my soul;
Thou young-eyed Spring, gay in thy verdant stole,
More welcome were to me grim Winter’s wildest roar.
How can ye charm, ye flow’rs, with all your dyes?
Ye blow upon the sod that wraps my friend:
How can I to the tuneful strain attend?
That strain flows round th’ untimely tomb where Riddel lies.
Yes, pour, ye warblers, pour the notes of woe!
And soothe the Virtues weeping on this bier:
The Man of Worth, who has not left his peer,
Is in his “narrow house” for ever darkly low.
Thee, Spring, again with joy shall others greet,
Me, mem’ry of my loss will only meet.
[By compliments such as these lines contain, Burns soothed the smart which his verses “On a lady famed for her caprice” inflicted on the accomplished Mrs. Riddel.]
Old Winter, with his frosty beard,
Thus once to Jove his prayer preferr’d —
What have I done of all the year,
To bear this hated doom severe?
My cheerless suns no pleasure know;
Night’s horrid car drags, dreary, slow:
My dismal months no joys are crowning,
But spleeny English, hanging, drowning.
Now, Jove, for once be mighty civil,
To counterbalance all this evil;
Give me, and I’ve no more to say,
Give me Maria’s natal day!
That brilliant gift shall so enrich me,
Spring, Summer, Autumn, cannot match me;
’Tis done! says Jove; so ends my story,
And Winter once rejoiced in glory.
[Fragment of verse were numerous, Dr. Currie said, among the loose papers of the poet. These lines formed the commencement of an ode commemorating the achievement of liberty for America under the directing genius of Washington and Franklin.]
Thee, Caledonia, thy wild heaths among,
Thee, fam’d for martial deed and sacred song,
To thee I turn with swimming eyes;
Where is that soul of freedom fled?
Immingled with the mighty dead!
Beneath the hallow’d turf where Wallace lies!
Hear it not, Wallace, in thy bed of death!
Ye babbling winds, in silence sweep;
Disturb not ye the hero’s sleep,
Nor give the coward secret breath.
Is this the power in freedom’s war,
That wont to bid the battle rage?
Behold that eye which shot immortal hate,
Crushing the despot’s proudest bearing!
[This young lady was the daughter of the poet’s friend, Graham of Fintray; and the gift alluded to was a copy of George Thomson’s Select Scottish Songs: a work which owes many attractions to the lyric genius of Burns.]
Here, where the Scottish muse immortal lives,
In sacred strains and tuneful numbers join’d,
Accept the gift; — tho’ humble he who gives,
Rich is the tribute of the grateful mind.
So may no ruffian feeling in thy breast,
Discordant jar thy bosom-chords among;
But peace attune thy gentle soul to rest,
Or love ecstatic wake his seraph song.
Or pity’s notes in luxury of tears,
As modest want the tale of woe reveals;
While conscious virtue all the strain endears,
And heaven-born piety her sanction seals.
[Burns admired genius adorned by learning; but mere learning without genius he always regarded as pedantry. Those critics who scrupled too much about words he called eunuchs of literature, and to one, who taxed him with writing obscure language in questionable grammar, he said, “Thou art but a Gretna-green match-maker between vowels and consonants!”]
’Twas where the birch and sounding thong are ply’d,
The noisy domicile of pedant pride;
Where ignorance her darkening vapour throws,
And cruelty directs the thickening blows;
upon a time, Sir Abece the great,
In all his pedagogic powers elate,
His awful chair of state resolves to mount,
And call the trembling vowels to account. —
First enter’d A, a grave, broad, solemn wight,
But, ah! deform’d, dishonest to the sight!
His twisted head look’d backward on the way,
And flagrant from the scourge he grunted, ai!
Reluctant, E stalk’d in; with piteous race
The justling tears ran down his honest face!
That name! that well-worn name, and all his own,
Pale he surrenders at the tyrant’s throne!
The pedant stifles keen the Roman sound
Not all his mongrel diphthongs can compound;
And next the title following close behind,
He to the nameless, ghastly wretch assign’d.
The cobweb’d gothic dome resounded Y!
In sullen vengeance, I, disdain’d reply:
The pedant swung his felon cudgel round,
And knock’d the groaning vowel to the ground!
In rueful apprehension enter’d O,
The wailing minstrel of despairing woe;
Th’ Inquisitor of Spain the most expert
Might there have learnt new mysteries of his art;
So grim, deform’d, with horrors entering U,
His dearest friend and brother scarcely knew!
As trembling U stood staring all aghast,
The pedant in his left hand clutched him fast,
In helpless infants’ tears he dipp’d his right,
Baptiz’d him eu, and kick’d him from his sight.
[With the “rough, rude, ready-witted Rankine,” of Adamhill, in Ayrshire, Burns kept up a will o’-wispish sort of a correspondence in rhyme, till the day of his death: these communications, of which this is one, were sometimes graceless, but always witty. It is supposed, that those lines were suggested by Falstaff’s account of his ragged recruits:—
“I’ll not march through Coventry with them, that’s flat!”]
Ae day, as Death, that grusome carl,
Was driving to the tither warl’
A mixtie-maxtie motley squad,
And mony a guilt-bespotted lad;
Black gowns of each denomination,
And thieves of every rank and station,
From him that wears the star and garter,
To him that wintles in a halter:
Asham’d himsel’ to see the wretches,
He mutters, glowrin’ at the bitches,
“By G— d, I’ll not be seen behint them,
Nor ’mang the sp’ritual core present them,
Without, at least, ae honest man,
To grace this d — d infernal clan.”
By Adamhill a glance he threw,
“L— d G— d!” quoth he, “I have it now,
There’s just the man I want, i’ faith!”
And quickly stoppit Rankine’s breath.
[These verses were occasioned, it is said, by some sentiments contained in a communication from Mrs. Dunlop. That excellent lady was sorely tried with domestic afflictions for a time, and to these he appears to allude; but he deadened the effect of his sympathy, when he printed the stanzas in the Museum, changing the fourth line to,
“Dearest Nancy, thou canst tell!”
and so transferring the whole to another heroine.]
Sensibility how charming,
Thou, my friend, canst truly tell:
But distress with horrors arming,
Thou host also known too well.
Fairest flower, behold the lily,
Blooming in the sunny ray:
Let the blast sweep o’er the valley,
See it prostrate on the clay.
Hear the woodlark charm the forest,
Telling o’er his little joys:
Hapless bird! a prey the surest,
To each pirate of the skies.
Dearly bought, the hidden treasure,
Finer feeling can bestow;
Chords that vibrate sweetest pleasure,
Thrill the deepest notes of woe.
[The too hospitable board of Mrs. Riddel occasioned these repentant strains: they were accepted as they were meant by the party. The poet had, it seems, not only spoken of mere titles and rank with disrespect, but had allowed his tongue unbridled license of speech, on the claim of political importance, and domestic equality, which Mary Wolstonecroft and her followers patronized, at which Mrs. Riddel affected to be grievously offended.]
The friend whom wild from wisdom’s way,
The fumes of wine infuriate send;
(Not moony madness more astray;)
Who but deplores that hapless friend?
Mine was th’ insensate frenzied part,
Ah, why should I such scenes outlive
Scenes so abhorrent to my heart!
’Tis thine to pity and forgive.
[This address was spoken by Miss Fontenelle, at the Dumfries theatre, on the 4th of December, 1795.]
Still anxious to secure your partial favour,
And not less anxious, sure, this night than ever,
A Prologue, Epilogue, or some such matter,
’Twould vamp my bill, said I, if nothing better;
So sought a Poet, roosted near the skies,
Told him I came to feast my curious eyes;
Said nothing like his works was ever printed;
And last, my Prologue-business slyly hinted!
“Ma’am, let me tell you,” quoth my man of rhymes,
“I know your bent — these are no laughing times:
Can you — but, Miss, I own I have my fears,
Dissolve in pause — and sentimental tears;
With laden sighs, and solemn-rounded sentence,
Rouse from his sluggish slumbers, fell Repentance;
Paint Vengeance as he takes his horrid stand,
Waving on high the desolating brand,
Calling the storms to bear him o’er a guilty land?”
I could no more — askance the creature eyeing,
D’ye think, said I, this face was made for crying?
I’ll laugh, that’s poz — nay more, the world shall know it;
And so your servant: gloomy Master Poet!
Firm as my creed, Sirs, ’tis my fix’d belief,
That Misery’s another word for Grief;
I also think — so may I be a bride!
That so much laughter, so much life enjoy’d.
Thou man of crazy care and ceaseless sigh,
Still under bleak Misfortune’s blasting eye;
Doom’d to that sorest task of man alive —
To make three guineas do the work of five:
Laugh in Misfortune’s face — the beldam witch!
Say, you’ll be merry, tho’ you can’t be rich.
Thou other man of care, the wretch in love,
Who long with jiltish arts and airs hast strove;
Who, us the boughs all temptingly project,
Measur’st in desperate thought — a rope — thy neck —
Or, where the beetling cliff o’erhangs the deep,
Peerest to meditate the healing leap:
Would’st thou be cur’d, thou silly, moping elf?
Laugh at their follies — laugh e’en at thyself:
Learn to despise those frowns now so terrific,
And love a kinder — that’s your grand specific.
To sum up all, be merry, I advise;
And as we’re merry, may we still be wise.
[The good looks and the natural acting of Miss Fontenelle pleased others as well as Burns. I know not to what character in the range of her personations he alludes: she was a favourite on the Dumfries boards.]
Sweet naiveté of feature,
Simple, wild, enchanting elf,
Not to thee, but thanks to nature,
Thou art acting but thyself.
Wert thou awkward, stiff, affected,
Spurning nature, torturing art;
Loves and graces all rejected,
Then indeed thou’dst act a part.
[Chloris was a Nithsdale beauty. Love and sorrow were strongly mingled in her early history: that she did not look so lovely in other eyes as she did in those of Burns is well known: but he had much of the taste of an artist, and admired the elegance of her form, and the harmony of her motion, as much as he did her blooming face and sweet voice.]
’Tis Friendship’s pledge, my young, fair friend,
Nor thou the gift refuse,
Nor with unwilling ear attend
The moralizing muse.
Since thou in all thy youth and charms,
Must bid the world adieu,
(A world ’gainst peace in constant arms)
To join the friendly few.
Since, thy gay morn of life o’ercast,
Chill came the tempest’s lower;
(And ne’er misfortune’s eastern blast
Did nip a fairer flower.)
Since life’s gay scenes must charm no more,
Still much is left behind;
Still nobler wealth hast thou in store —
The comforts of the mind!
Thine is the self-approving glow,
On conscious honour’s part;
And, dearest gift of heaven below,
Thine friendship’s truest heart.
The joys refin’d of sense and taste,
With every muse to rove:
And doubly were the poet blest,
These joys could he improve.
[It was the fashion of the feverish times of the French Revolution to plant trees of Liberty, and raise altars to Independence. Heron of Kerroughtree, a gentleman widely esteemed in Galloway, was about to engage in an election contest, and these noble lines served the purpose of announcing the candidate’s sentiments on freedom.]
Thou of an independent mind,
With soul resolv’d, with soul resign’d;
Prepar’d Power’s proudest frown to brave,
Who wilt not be, nor have a slave;
Virtue alone who dost revere,
Thy own reproach alone dost fear,
Approach this shrine, and worship here.
[This is the first of several party ballads which Burns wrote to serve Patrick Heron, of Kerroughtree, in two elections for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, in which he was opposed, first, by Gordon of Balmaghie, and secondly, by the Hon. Montgomery Stewart. There is a personal bitterness in these lampoons, which did not mingle with the strains in which the poet recorded the contest between Miller and Johnstone. They are printed here as matters of poetry, and I feel sure that none will be displeased, and some will smile.]
Whom will you send to London town,
To Parliament and a’ that?
Or wha in a’ the country round
The best deserves to fa’ that?
For a’ that, and a’ that;
Thro Galloway and a’ that;
Where is the laird or belted knight
That best deserves to fa’ that?
Wha sees Kerroughtree’s open yett,
And wha is’t never saw that?
Wha ever wi’ Kerroughtree meets
And has a doubt of a’ that?
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that,
The independent patriot,
The honest man, an’ a’ that.
Tho’ wit and worth in either sex,
St. Mary’s Isle can shaw that;
Wi’ dukes and lords let Selkirk mix,
And weel does Selkirk fa’ that.
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that!
The independent commoner
Shall be the man for a’ that.
But why should we to nobles jouk,
And it’s against the law that;
For why, a lord may be a gouk,
Wi’ ribbon, star, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that!
A lord may be a lousy loun,
Wi’ ribbon, star, an’ a’ that.
A beardless boy comes o’er the hills,
Wi’ uncle’s purse an’ a’ that;
But we’ll hae ane frae ’mang oursels,
A man we ken, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that!
For we’re not to be bought an’ sold
Like naigs, an’ nowt, an’ a’ that.
Then let us drink the Stewartry,
Kerroughtree’s laird, an’ a’ that,
Our representative to be,
For weel he’s worthy a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that,
A House of Commons such as he,
They would be blest that saw that.
[In this ballad the poet gathers together, after the manner of “Fy! let us a’ to the bridal,” all the leading electors of the Stewartry, who befriended Heron, or opposed him; and draws their portraits in the colours of light or darkness, according to the complexion of their politics. He is too severe in most instances, and in some he is venomous. On the Earl of Galloway’s family, and on the Murrays of Broughton and Caillie, as well as on Bushby of Tinwaldowns, he pours his hottest satire. But words which are unjust, or undeserved, fall off their victims like rain-drops from a wild-duck’s wing. The Murrays of Broughton and Caillie have long borne, from the vulgar, the stigma of treachery to the cause of Prince Charles Stewart: from such infamy the family is wholly free: the traitor, Murray, was of a race now extinct; and while he was betraying the cause in which so much noble and gallant blood was shed, Murray of Broughton and Caillie was performing the duties of an honourable and loyal man: he was, like his great-grandson now, representing his native district in parliament.]
An’ there will be black-lippit Johnnie,114
The tongue o’ the trump to them a’;
And he get na hell for his haddin’
The deil gets na justice ava’;
And there will Kempleton’s birkie,
A boy no sae black at the bane,
But, as for his fine nabob fortune,
We’ll e’en let the subject alane.
An’ there will be Wigton’s new sheriff,
Dame Justice fu’ brawlie has sped,
She’s gotten the heart of a Bushby,
But, Lord, what’s become o’ the head?
An’ there will be Cardoness,115 Esquire,
Sae mighty in Cardoness’ eyes;
A wight that will weather damnation,
For the devil the prey will despise.
But we winna mention Redcastle,118
The body, e’en let him escape!
He’d venture the gallows for siller,
An’ ’twere na the cost o’ the rape.
An’ where is our king’s lord lieutenant,
Sae fam’d for his gratefu’ return?
The billie is gettin’ his questions,
To say in St. Stephen’s the morn.
An’ there will be lads o’ the gospel,
Muirhead,119 wha’s as gude as he’s true;
An’ there will be Buittle’s120 apostle,
Wha’s more o’ the black than the blue;
An’ there will be folk from St. Mary’s,121
A house o’ great merit and note,
The deil ane but honours them highly —
The deil ane will gie them his vote!
An’ there will be wealthy young Richard,122
Dame Fortune should hing by the neck;
For prodigal, thriftless, bestowing,
His merit had won him respect:
An’ there will be rich brother nabobs,
Tho’ nabobs, yet men of the first,
An’ there will be Collieston’s123 whiskers,
An’ Quintin, o’ lads not the worst.
An’ can we forget the auld major,
Wha’ll ne’er be forgot in the Greys,
Our flatt’ry we’ll keep for some other,
Him only ’tis justice to praise.
An’ there will be maiden Kilkerran,
And also Barskimming’s gude knight,
An’ there will be roarin’ Birtwhistle,
Wha luckily roars in the right.
An’ there, frae the Niddisdale borders,
Will mingle the Maxwells in droves;
Teugh Johnnie, staunch Geordie, an’ Walie,
That griens for the fishes an’ loaves;
An’ there will be Logan Mac Douall,126
Sculdudd’ry an’ he will be there,
An’ also the wild Scot of Galloway,
Sodgerin’, gunpowder Blair.
Then hey the chaste interest o’ Broughton,
An’ hey for the blessings ’twill bring?
It may send Balmaghie to the Commons,
In Sodom ’twould make him a king;
An’ hey for the sanctified M——y,
Our land who wi’ chapels has stor’d;
He founder’d his horse among harlots,
But gied the auld naig to the Lord.
112 Murray, of Broughton and Caillie.
113 Gordon of Balmaghie.
114 Bushby, of Tinwald-Downs.
115 Maxwell, of Cardoness.
116 The Douglasses, of Orchardtown and Castle-Douglas.
117 Gordon, afterwards Viscount Kenmore.
118 Laurie, of Redcastle.
119 Morehead, Minister of Urr.
120 The Minister of Buittle.
121 Earl of Selkirk’s family.
122 Oswald, of Auchuncruive.
123 Copland, of Collieston and Blackwood.
124 John Syme, of the Stamp-office.
125 Heron, of Kerroughtree.
126 Colonel Macdouall, of Logan.
[This third and last ballad was written on the contest between Heron and Stewart, which followed close on that with Gordon. Heron carried the election, but was unseated by the decision of a Committee of the House of Commons: a decision which it is said he took so much to heart that it affected his health, and shortened his life.]
Wha will buy my troggin,
Fine election ware;
Broken trade o’ Broughton,
A’ in high repair.
Buy braw troggin,
Frae the banks o’ Dee;
Wha wants troggin
Let him come to me.
There’s a noble Earl’s127
Fame and high renown
For an auld sang —
It’s thought the gudes were stown.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here’s the worth o’ Broughton128
In a needle’s ee;
Here’s a reputation
Tint by Balmaghie.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here’s an honest conscience
Might a prince adorn;
Frae the downs o’ Tinwald —129
So was never worn.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here’s its stuff and lining,
Fine for a sodger
A’ the wale o’ lead.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here’s a little wadset
Buittle’s131 scrap o’ truth,
Pawn’d in a gin-shop
Quenching holy drouth.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here’s armorial bearings
Frae the manse o’ Urr;132
The crest, an auld crab-apple
Rotten at the core.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here is Satan’s picture,
Like a bizzard gled,
Pouncing poor Redcastle,133
Sprawlin’ as a taed.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here’s the worth and wisdom
Collieston134 can boast;
By a thievish midge
They had been nearly lost.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Here is Murray’s fragments
O’ the ten commands;
Gifted by black Jock135
To get them aff his hands.
Buy braw troggin, &c.
Saw ye e’er sic troggin?
If to buy ye’re slack,
Hornie’s turnin’ chapman,
He’ll buy a’ the pack.
Buy braw troggin,
Frae the banks o’ Dee;
Wha wants troggin
Let him come to me.
[The gentlemen to whom this very modest, and, under the circumstances, most affecting application for his salary was made, filled the office of Collector of Excise for the district, and was of a kind and generous nature: but few were aware that the poet was suffering both from ill-health and poverty.]
Friend of the Poet, tried and leal,
Wha, wanting thee, might beg or steal;
Alake, alake, the meikle deil
Wi’ a’ his witches
Are at it, skelpin’ jig and reel,
In my poor pouches!
I modestly fu’ fain wad hint it,
That one pound one, I sairly want it,
If wi’ the hizzie down ye sent it,
It would be kind;
And while my heart wi’ life-blood dunted
I’d bear’t in mind.
So may the auld year gang out moaning
To see the new come laden, groaning,
Wi’ double plenty o’er the loanin
To thee and thine;
Domestic peace and comforts crowning
The hale design.
Ye’ve heard this while how I’ve been licket,
And by felt death was nearly nicket;
Grim loon! he got me by the fecket,
And sair me sheuk;
But by guid luck I lap a wicket,
And turn’d a neuk.
But by that health, I’ve got a share o’t,
And by that life, I’m promised mair o’t,
My hale and weel I’ll tak a care o’t,
A tentier way:
Then farewell folly, hide and hair o’t,
For ance and aye!
[Miss Jessy Lewars watched over the declining days of the poet, with the affectionate reverence of a daughter: for this she has the silent gratitude of all who admire the genius of Burns; she has received more, the thanks of the poet himself, expressed in verses not destined soon to die.]
Thine be the volumes, Jessy fair,
And with them take the Poet’s prayer;
That fate may in her fairest page,
With every kindliest, best presage
Of future bliss, enrol thy name:
With native worth and spotless fame,
And wakeful caution still aware
Of ill — but chief, man’s felon snare;
All blameless joys on earth we find,
And all the treasures of the mind —
These be thy guardian and reward;
So prays thy faithful friend, The Bard.
June 26, 1796.
[This is supposed to be the last Poem written by the hand, or conceived by the muse of Burns. The person to whom it is addressed was Colonel of the gentlemen Volunteers of Dumfries, in whose ranks Burns was a private: he was a Canadian by birth, and prided himself on having defended Detroit, against the united efforts of the French and Americans. He was rough and austere, and thought the science of war the noblest of all sciences: he affected a taste for literature, and wrote verses.]
My honoured colonel, deep I feel
Your interest in the Poet’s weal;
Ah! now sma’ heart hae I to speel
The steep Parnassus,
Surrounded thus by bolus, pill,
And potion glasses.
O what a canty warld were it,
Would pain and care and sickness spare it;
And fortune favour worth and merit,
As they deserve!
(And aye a rowth, roast beef and claret;
Syne, wha wad starve?)
Dame Life, tho’ fiction out may trick her,
And in paste gems and frippery deck her;
Oh! flickering, feeble, and unsicker
I’ve found her still,
Ay wavering like the willow-wicker,
’Tween good and ill.
Then that curst carmagnole, auld Satan,
Watches, like baudrons by a rattan,
Our sinfu’ saul to get a claut on
Wi’ felon ire;
Syne, whip! his tail ye’ll ne’er cast saut on —
He’s aff like fire.
Ah Nick! ah Nick! it is na fair,
First shewing us the tempting ware,
Bright wines and bonnie lasses rare,
To put us daft;
Syne, weave, unseen, thy spider snare
O’ hell’s damn’d waft.
Poor man, the flie, aft bizzes bye,
And aft as chance he comes thee nigh,
Thy auld danm’d elbow yeuks wi’ joy,
And hellish pleasure;
Already in thy fancy’s eye,
Thy sicker treasure!
Soon heels-o’er gowdie! in he gangs,
And like a sheep head on a tangs,
Thy girning laugh enjoys his pangs
And murd’ring wrestle,
As, dangling in the wind, he hangs
A gibbet’s tassel.
But lest you think I am uncivil,
To plague you with this draunting drivel,
Abjuring a’ intentions evil,
I quat my pen:
The Lord preserve us frae the devil,
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005