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&T. 31.)

LETTER TO WILLIAM BURNS.

75

I cannot meet you anywhere. No less than an order from the Board of Excise at Edinburgh is necessary, before I can have so much time as to meet you in Ayrshire. But do you come and see me. We must have a social day, and perhaps lengthen it out with half the night, before you go again to sea. You are the earliest friend I now have on earth, my brothers excepted; and is not that an endearing circumstance? When you and I first met, we were at the green period of human life. The twig would easily take a bent, but would as easily return to its former state. You and I not only took a mutual bent, but by the melancholy, though strong influence of being both of the family of the unfortunate, we were entwined with one another in our growth towards advanced age; and blasted be the sacrilegious hand that shall attempt to undo the union! You and I must have one bumper to my favourite toast: May the companions of our youth be the friends of our old age!' Come and sec me one year; I shall see you at Port-Glasgow the next; and if we can contrive to have a gossipping between our two bedfellows, it will be so much additional pleasure. Mrs Burns joins me in kind compliments to you and Mrs Brown. Adieu! I am ever, my dear sir, yours,

R. B.

TO MR WILLIAM BURN S.

ELLISLAND, 10th Nov. 1789. DEAR WILLIAM—I would have written you sooner, but I am so hurried and fatigued with my Excise business, that I can scarcely pluck up resolution to go through the effort of a letter to anybody. Indeed you hardly deserve a letter from me, considering that you have spare hours in which you have nothing to do at all, and yet it was near three months between your two last letters.

I know not if you heard lately from Gilbert. I expect him here with me about the latter end of this week. **** My mother is returned, now that she has seen my little boy Francis fairly set to the world. I suppose Gilbert has informed you that you have got a new nephew. He is a fine thriving fellow, and promises to do honour to the name he bears. I have named him Francis Wallace, after my worthy friend, Mrs Dunlop of Dunlop.

The only Ayrshire news that I remember in which I think you will be interested, is that Mr Ronald is bankrupt. You will easily guess, that from his insolent vanity in his sunshine of life, he will now feel a little retaliation from those who thought themselves eclipsed by him; for, poor fellow, I do not think he ever intentionally injured any one. I might, indeed, perhaps except his wife, whom he certainly has used very ill, but she is still fond of him to distraction, and bears up wonderfully—much superior to him—under this severe shock of fortune. Women have a kind of sturdy sufferance, which qualifies them to endure beyond, much beyond, the common run of men; but perhaps part of that fortitude is owing to their shortsightedness, for they are by no means famous for seeing remote consequences in all their real importance.

I am very glad at your resolution to live within your income, be that what it will. Had poor Ronald done so, he had not this day been a prey to the dreadful miseries of insolvency. You are at the time of life when those habitudes are begun which are to mark the character of the future man. Go on and persevere, and depend on less or more success. I am, dear William, your brother, R. B.

The dutiful kindness of Burns to this young brother has already been alluded to. We have before us a letter of William Burns, dated from Morpeth, 29th November 1789, including an account of moneys and articles of clothing furnished for him by the poet during the preceding eighteen months, to the amount of £5, 9s. In August of this year, two guineas had been advanced, which the young man says he intended to repay about Christmas; 'but, he adds, as you can spare them, I will keep them till I go to London, when I expect soon to be able to clear you off in full.' He goes on to express a hope that 'young Wallace bids fair to rival his great predecessor in strength and wisdom. He apologises for seldom writing by the fact, that he is devoting his leisure time to reading from a circulating library. He has read Kames's Sketches of the History of Man, Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, Burns's Poems, and Beattie's Dissertations, and will be glad if his brother will set down the names of a few other books which he should inquire for.

A contest for the representation of the Dumfries group of burghs commenced in September between Sir James Johnston of Westerhall, the previous member, and Captain Miller, younger of Dalswinton, son of Burns's landlord. In this affair the bard stood variously affected. Professing only a whimsical Jacobitism, he had hitherto taken no decided part with either of the two great factions of his time; but he had a certain leaning towards Mr Pitt and his supporters. On the other hand, some of his best

1 On the subject of Burns's politics, Sir Walter Scott makes a remark in sending some of the poet's letters to Mr Lockhart : In one of them to that singular old curmudgeon, Lady Winifred Constable, you will see he plays high Jacobite, and on that account it is curious; though I imagine his Jacobitism, like my own, belonged to the fancy rather than the reason. He was, however, a great Pittite down to a certain period. There were some passing stupid verses in the papers, attacking and defending his satire on a certain preacher whom he termed an unco call.” In one of them occurred these lines in vituperation of the adversary :

“A Whig, I guess. But Rab's a Tory,

And gies us monie a funny story." This was in 1787.'

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&T. 31.)

ELECTION CONTEST.

77

friends—as Henry Erskine, the Earl of Glencairn, Mr Miller, Captain Riddel—were Whigs, and these persons he was fearful to offend. The ferment of democracy had already commenced in France, and Lafayette brought Louis and his wife and children through the mob from Versailles to Paris only a fortnight before Burns was apostrophising the shade of Mary in the barn-yard at Ellisland. But the frenzy had not yet spread to Scotland, and our poet nowhere makes any allusion to it. On this canvass becoming keen, Burns threw in his pen, but rather from the contagion of local excitement than from partisanship. One feeling, indeed, he had in earnest, and this was detestation of the Duke of Queensberry. The duke, who was the greatest landlord in Nithsdale, was considered as having proved something like a traitor to the king on the late occasion of the Regency Bill, when he was in the minority which voted for the surrender of the power of the crown into the hands of the Prince of Wales without restriction. For this, and for his mean personal character and heartless debaucheries, Burns held his Grace in extreme contempt. In the first place, then, he penned an election ballad, chiefly against the duke.

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' A Border proverb, significant of the great local power of this family in former times. The Gordons were the subject of a similar proverb, which forms the title of a beautiful melody.

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TO ROBERT GRAHAM, ESQ., OF FINTRY.

6

9th December 1789. SIR-I have a good while had a wish to trouble you with a letter, and had certainly done it long ere now but for a humiliating something that throws cold water on the resolution, as if one should say: 'You have found Mr Graham a very powerful and kind friend indeed, and that interest he is so kindly taking in your concerns you ought, by everything in your power, to keep alive and cherish.' Now, though, since God has thought proper to make one powerful and another helpless, the connection of obliger and obliged is all fair; and though my being under your patronage is to me highly honourable, yet, sir, allow me to flatter myself that as a poet and an honest man you first interested yourself in my welfare, and principally as such still you permit me to approach you.

I have found the Excise business go on a great deal smoother with me than I expected, owing a good deal to the generous friendship of Mr Mitchel, my collector, and the kind assistance of Mr Findlater, my supervisor. I dare to be honest, and I fear no labour. Nor do I find my hurried life greatly inimical to my correspondence with the Muses. Their visits to me, indeed, and I believe to most of their acquaintance, like the visits of good angels, are short and far between; but I meet them now and then, as I jog through the hills of Nithsdale, just as I used to do on the banks of Ayr. I take the liberty to enclose you a few bagatelles, all of them the productions of my leisure thoughts in my Excise rides.

If you know or have ever seen Captain Grose, the antiquary, you will enter into any humour that is in the verses on him. Perhaps you have seen them before, as I sent them to a London newspaper. Though, I daresay, you have none of the Solemn-League-andCovenant fire which shone so conspicuous in Lord George Gordon and the Kilmarnock weavers, yet I think you must have heard of Dr MʻGill, one of the clergymen of Ayr, and his heretical book. God help him, poor man! Though he is 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 to the

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Alexander Birtwhistle, Esq., merchant at Kirkcudbright, and provost of the burgh. A contemporary chronicle notices him as carrying on a brisk foreign trade from that little port,

ÆT. 31.]
THE FIVE CARLINES.'

79 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 that there are a good many heavy stanzas in it too.

The election ballad, as you will see, alludes to the present canvass in our string of boroughs. I do not believe there will be such a hard-run match in the whole general election,

I am too little a man to have any political attachments: 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 ***, is a character that one cannot speak of with patience.

Sir James Johnston does 'what man can do, but yet I doubt his fate.

R. B.

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The ballad alluded to was one in which he presents the five burghs under figurative characters most felicitously drawn : Dumfries, as Maggy on the banks of Nith; Annan, as Blinking Bess of Annandale; Kirkcudbright, as Whisky Jean of Galloway; Sanquhar, as Black Joan frae Crichton Peel; and Lochmaben, as Marjory of the many Lochs—appellations all of which have some appropriateness from local circumstances.

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Dr Currie has here obriously suppressed a bitter allusion to the Duke of Queensberry.

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