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repeated to me her Death and dying Words pretty much in the way they now stand.
Among the earliest of his poems was the Epistle to Davie, Robert often composed without any regular plan. When any thing made a strong impression on his mind, so as to rouse it to poetic exertion, he would give way to the impulse, and embody the thought in rhyme. If he hit on two or three stanzas to please him, he would then think of proper introductory, connecting, and concluding stanzas; hence the middle of a poem was often first produced. It was, I think, in summer 1784, when, in the interval of harder labour, he and I were weeding in the garden (kail-yard), that he repeated to me the principal part of this epistle. I believe the first idea of Robert's becoming an author was started on this occasion. I was much pleased with the epistle, and said to him I was of opinion it would bear being printed, and that it would be well received by people of taste; that I thought it at least equal, if not superior, to many of Allan Ramsay's epistles, and that the merit of these, and much other Scotch poetry, seemed to consist principally in the knack of the expression, but here, there was a strain of interesting sentiment, and the Scotticism of the language scarcely seemed affected, but appeared to be the natural language of the poet; that besides there was certainly some novelty in a poet pointing out the consolations that were in store for him when he should go a-begging. Robert seemed very well pleased with my criticism and we talked of sending it to some magazine ; but as this plan afforded no opportunity of knowing how it would take, the idea was dropped.
It was, I think, in the winter following, as we were going together with carts for coal to the family fire (and I could yet point out the particular spot), that the author first repeated to me the Address to the Deil. The curious idea of such an address was suggested to him by running over in his mind, the many ludicrous accounts and representations we have from various quarters of this august personage.
Death and Doctor Hornbook, though not published in the Kilmarnock edition, was produced early in the year 1785. The schoolmaster of Tarbolton parish, to eke up the scanty subsistence allowed to that useful class of men, had set up a shop of grocery goods. Having accidentally fallen in with some medical books, and become most hobby-horsically attached to the study of medicine, he had added the sale of a few medicines to his little trade. He had got a shop-bill printed, at the bottom of which, overlooking his own incapacity, he had advertised, that “ Advice would be given in common disorders at the shop gratis.” Robert was at a mason-meeting in Tarbolton, when the Dominie unfortunately made too ostentatious a display of his medical skill. As he parted in the evening from this mixture of pedantry and physic, at the place where he describes his meeting with Death, one of those floating ideas of apparition he mentions in his letter to Dr. Moore, crossed his mind; this set him to work for the rest of the way home. These circumstances he related when he repeated the verses to me next afternoon, as I was bolding the plough, and he was letting the water off the field beside me. The Epistle to John Lapraik was produced exactly on the occasion described by the author. He says in that poem, On fasten-e'en we had a rockin, (p. 133.) I believe he has omitted the word rocking in the glossary. It is a term derived from those primitive times, when the country-women employed their spare hours in spinning on the rock, or distaff.
This simple implement 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 rock. As the connexion the phrase had with the implement was forgotten when the rock gave place to the spinning-wheel, the phrase came to be used by both sexes on social occasions, and men talks of going with their rocks as well as women.
It was at one of these rockings at our house, when we had twelve or fifteen young people with their rocks, that Lapraik's song, beginning“ When I upon thy bosom lean," was sung, and we were informed who was the author. Upon this Robert wrote his first epistle to Laprajk, and his second in reply to his answer.
The verses to the Mouse and Mountain-Daisy were composed on the occasions mentioned, and while the author was holding the plough ; I could point out the particular spot where each was composed. Holding the plough was a favourite situation with Robert for poetic compositions, and some of his best verses were produced while he was at that exercise. Several of the poems were produced for the purpose of bringing forward some favourite sentiment of the author. He used to remark to me, that he could not well conceive a more mortifying picture of human life, than a man seeking work. In casting about in his mind how this sentiment might be brought forward, the elegy Man was made to mourn, was composed. Robert had frequently remarked to me, that he thought that 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. The hint of the plan, and title of the poem, were taken from Fergusson's Farmer's Ingle. When Robert had not some pleasure in view in which I was not thought fit to participate, we used frequently to walk together when the weather was favourable, on the Sunday afternoons, (those precious breathing-times to the labouring part of the community,) and enjoyed such Sundays as would make one regret to see their number abridged. It was in one of these walks that I first had the pleasure of hearing the author repeat the Cotter's Saturday Night. I do not recollect to have read or heard any thing by which I was more highly electrified. The fifth
and sixth stanzas, and the eighteenth, thrilled with peculiar extasy through my soul. I mention this to you, that you may see what hit the taste of unlettered criticism. I should be glad to know, if the enlightened mind and refined taste of Mr. Roscoe, who has borne such honourable testimony to this poem, agrees with me in the selection. Fergusson, in his Hallow Fair of Edinburgh, I believe, likewise furnished a hint of the title and plan of the Holy Fair. The farcical scene the poet there describes was often a favourite field of his observation, and the most of the incidents he mentions had actually passed before his eyes. It is scarcely necessary to mention, that the Lament was composed on that unfortunate passage in his matrimonial history, which I have mentioned in my letter to Mrs. Dunlop, after the first distraction of his feelings had a little subsided. The Tale of Twa Dogs was composed after the resolution of publishing was nearly taken. -Robert had a dog, which he called Luath, that was a great favourite. The dog had been killed by the wanton cruelty of some person the night before my father's death. Robert said to me, that he should like to confer such immortality -as he could bestow upon his old friend Luath, and that he had a great mind to introduce some. thing into the book under the title of Stanzas to the Memory of a quadruped Friend; but this plan was given up for the Tale as it now stands. Cæsar was merely the creature of the poet's imagination, created for the purpose of holding chat with his favourite Luath. The first time Robert heard the spinnet played upon, was at the house of Dr. Lawrie, then minister of the parish of Loudon, now in Glasgow, having given up the parish in favour of his son. Dr. Lawrie bas several daughters : one of them played; the father
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, p. 118, were left in the room where he slept. It was to Dr. Lawrie that Dr. Blacklock's letter was addressed, which my brother, in his letter to Dr. Moore, mentions as the reason of his going to Edinburgh.
When my father feued his little property near Alloway-Kirk, the wall of the churchyard had gone to ruin, and cattle had free liberty of pas. turing in it. My father, with two or three other neighbours, joined in an application to the town council of Ayr, who were superiors of the adjoining land, for liberty to rebuild it, and raised by subscription a for inclosing this ancient cemetery with a wall; hence he came to con-. sider it as his burial-place, and we learned that reverence for it, people generally have for the burial-place of their ancestors. My brother was living in Elisland, when Captain Grose, on his peregrinations through Scotland, staid some time at Carse-house, in the neighbourhood, with Captain Robert Riddel, of Gļen-Riddel, a particular friend of my brother's. The antiquarian and the poet were “ Unco pack and thick thegither." Robert requested of Captain Grose, when he should come to Ayrshire, that he would make a drawing of Alloway-Kirk, as it was the burialplace of his father, and where he himself had a sort of claim to lay down his bones, when they should be no longer serviceable to him; and added, by way of encouragement, that it was the scene of many a good story of witches and apparitions, of which he knew the captain was very fond. The captain agreed to the request, provided the poet would furnish a witch-story, to be printed along with it. Tam o' Shanter was produced on this occasion, and was first published in Grose's' Antiquities of Scotland.
This poem is founded on a traditional story. The leading circumstances of a man riding home very late from Ayr, in a stormy night, his seeing a light in Alloway-Kirk, his having the curiosity