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months past. I wish to God I was a great man, that my correspondence might throw light upon you, to let the world see what you really are; and then I would make your fortune without putting my hand in my pocket for you, which, like all other great men, I suppose I would avoid as much as possible. What are you doing, and how are you doing? Have you lately seen any of my few friends ? What has become of the BOROUGH REFORM, or how is the fate of my poor namesake Mademoiselle Burns decided ? Which of their grave lordships can lay his hand on his heart, and say that he has not taken advantage of such frailty ? * * * O man! but for thee and thy selfish appetites and dishonest artifices, that beauteous form, and that once innocent and still ingenuous mind, might have shone conspicuous and lovely in the faithful wife and the affectionate mother; and shall the unfortunate sacrifice to thy pleasures have no claim on thy humanity!
I saw lately in a review some extracts from a new poem, called The Village Curate; send it me. I want, likewise, a cheap copy of The World. Mr Armstrong, the young poet, who does me the honour to mention me so kindly in his works, please give him my best thanks for the copy of his book. I shall write him my first leisure hour. I like his poetry much, but I think his style in prose quite astonishing.
What is become of that veteran in genius, wit, and * * *, Smellie, and his book? Give him my compliments. Does Mr Graham of Gartmore ever enter your shop now? He is the noblest instance of great talents, great fortune, and great worth that ever I saw in conjunction. Remember me to Mrs Hill; and believe me to be, my dear sir, ever yours,
TO MR WILLIAM NICOL.
ELLISLAND, Feb. 9, 1790. MY DEAR SIR– That mare of yours is dead. I would freely have given her price to have saved her; she has vexed me beyond description. Indebted as I was to your goodness beyond what I can ever repay, I eagerly grasped at your offer to have the mare with me. That I might at least shew my readiness in wishing to be grateful, I took every care of her in my power. She was never crossed for riding above half a score of times by me or in my
· The frail female here alluded to had been the subject of some rather oppressive magisterial proceedings, which took their character from Creech, and roused some public feeling in her behalf.
* The Village Curate, a poem (8vo, 28. 6d. sewed. Johnson, London), is reviewed in the Scots Magazine for October 1789.
3 A volume entitled Juvenile Poems, by John Armstrong, student in the University of Edinburgh, appeared in the latter part of 1789.
LETTER TO MR WILLIAM NICOL.
keeping. I drew her in the plough, one of three, for one poor week. I refused fifty-five shillings for her, which was the highest bode I could squeeze for her. I fed her up, and had her in fine order for Dumfries fair; when, four or five days before the fair, she was seized with an unaccountable disorder in the sinews, or somewhere in the bones of the neck; with a weakness or total want of power in her fillets; and, in short, the whole vertebræ of her spine seemed to be diseased and unhinged; and in eight-and-forty hours, in spite of the two best farriers in the country, she died, and be — to her! The farriers said that she had been quite strained in the fillets beyond cure before you had bought her; and that the poor devil, though she might keep a little flesh, had been jaded and quite worn out with fatigue and oppression. While she was with me, she was under my own eye, and I assure you, my much-valued friend, everything was done for her that could be done; and the accident has vexed me to the heart. In fact, I could not pluck up spirits to write to you on account of the unfortunate business.
There is little new in this country. Our theatrical company, of which you must have heard, leave us this week. Their merit and character are indeed very great, both on the stage and in private life: not a worthless creature among them; and their encouragement has been accordingly. Their usual run is from eighteen to twenty-five pounds a night: seldom less than the one, and the house will hold no more than the other. There have been repeated instances of sending away six, and eight, and ten pounds a night for want of room. A new theatre is to be built by subscription; the first stone is to be laid on Friday first to come. Three hundred guineas have been raised by thirty subscribers, and thirty more might have been got if wanted. The manager, Mr Sutherland, was
, introduced to me by a friend from Ayr; and a worthier or cleverer fellow I have rarely met with. Some of our clergy have slipt in by stealth now and then; but they have got up a farce of their own. You must have heard how the Rev. Mr Lawson of Kirkmahoe, seconded by the Rev. Mr Kirkpatrick of Dunscore,' and the rest of that faction, have accused, in formal process, the unfortunate and Rev. Mr Heron of Kirkgunzeon, that in ordaining Mr Nielson to the cure of souls in Kirkbean, he, the said IIeron, feloniously and treasonably bound the said Nielson to the confession of faith, so far as it was agreeable to reason and the Word of God.
Mrs B. begs to be remembered most gratefully to you. Little Bobby and Frank are charmingly well and healthy. I am jaded to death with fatigue. For these two or three months, on an average, I have not ridden less than 200 miles per week. I have done little in the poetic way. I have given Mr Sutherland two Prologues, one of which was delivered last week. I have, likewise, strung four or five barbarous stanzas, to the tune of Chevy Chase, by way of
· Burns's own parish priest.
Elegy on your poor unfortunate mare, beginning (the name she got here was Peg Nicholson)"
As ever trode on airn;
And past the mouth o' Cairn.
And rode through thick and thin;
And wanting even the skin.
And ance she bore a priest;
For Solway fish a feast.
And the priest he rode her sair ;
As priest-rid cattle are.—&c. &c.
ELLISLAND, 1790. Dear Sir-Whether in the way of my trade I can be of any service to the Rev. Doctor, is, I fear, very doubtful. Ajax's shield consisted, I think, of seven bull-hides and a plate of brass, which altogether set Hector's utmost force at defiance. Alas! I am not a Hector, and the worthy doctor's foes are as securely armed as Ajax was. Ignorance, superstition, bigotry, stupidity, malevolence, self-conceit, envy—all strongly bound in a massy frame of brazen impudence. Good God, sir, to such a shield, humour is the peck of a sparrow, and satire the pop-gun of a school-boy. Creation-disgracing scélérats such as they, God only can mend, and the devil only can punish. In the comprehending way of Caligula, I wish they all had but one neck. I feel impotent as a child to the ardour of my wishes !
In burlesque allusion, it may be presumed, to the insane woman, Margaret Nicholson, who made an attempt to stab George III. with a knife, August 1786,
? Dr M'Gill, of Ayr.
111 The poet's young brother, William, who had latterly been employed at Newcastle, was now resolved to adventure into the great field of London, and he wrote (24th January 1790) to Robert for a letter of introduction to his old preceptor Murdoch. "You promised,' he adds, 'when I was intending to go to Edinburgh, to write me some instructions about behaviour in companies rather above my station, to which I might be eventually introduced. As I may be introduced into such companies at Murdoch's or on his account, when I go to London, I wish you would write me some such instructions now: I never had more need of them, for having spent little of my time in company of any sort since I came to Newcastle, I have almost forgot the common civilities of life. To these instructions pray add some of a moral kind, for though-either through the strength of early impressions, or the frigidity of my constitution-I have hitherto withstood the temptation to those vices to which young men are so much addicted, yet I do not know if my virtue will be able to withstand the more powerful temptations of the metropolis ; yet, through God's assistance and your instructions, I hope to weather the storm.'
The innocence of this is certainly very charming; and one cannot but be amused at seeing Robert Burns applied to for an edification against the vices most besetting to young and hot blood.
TO MR WILLIAM BURNS, SADDLER, NEWCASTLE-ON-TYNE.
ELLISLAND, 10th February 1790. MY DEAR WILLIAM- ... Now that you are setting out for that place (London), put on manly resolve, and determine to persevere; and in that case you will less or more be sure of success. One or two things allow me to particularise to you. London swarms with worthless wretches, who prey on their fellowcreatures' thoughtlessness or inexperience. Be cautious in forming connections with comrades and companions. You can be pretty good company to yourself, and you cannot be too shy of letting anybody know you further than to know you as a saddler. Another caution. It is an impulse the hardest to be restrained ; but if once a man accustoms himself to gratifications of that impulse, it is then nearly or altogether impossible to restrain it. ....
I have gotten the Excise division, in the middle of which I live.
1 Cromek's Reliques,
Poor little Frank is this morning at the height of the small-pox. I got him inoculated, and I hope he is in a good way.
Write me before you leave Newcastle, and as soon as you reach London. In a word, if ever you be, as perhaps you may be, in a strait for a little ready cash, you know my direction. I shall not see you beat while you fight like a man.-Farewell ! God bless you.
The above letter shews how well Burns could point out prudential rules for others. He might well have added to some parts of his preachment
And may you better reck the rede,
Than ever did th' adviser!' Dr Currie published a little, jocular, rhyming epistle which Burns had sent to 'a gentleman who had sent the poet a newspaper, and offered to continue it free of expense.' There can scarcely be a doubt that this gentleman was Peter Stuart, to whose newspaper, The Star, Burns had sent various contributions in prose
and verse. Stuart desired to have the occasional assistance of Burns, and seems to have thought of sending his paper as an inducement and a remuneration. Mr Daniel Stuart reported in 1838that his brother had at this time offered Burns a salary for contributions, 'quite as large as his Excise endowments. He had forgot particulars; but he remembered his brother shewing Burns's letters, and boasting of the correspondence of so great a genius. It is to be feared that this is not true as to time, if true at all. Neither can we think Mr Daniel Stuart right in calling this jocular epistle of Burns 'a sneering, unhandsome return for his brother's offer, whatever that might be. It is a piece of mere pleasantry, conceived in the purest good-humour, and with all desirable marks of good feeling towards the person addressed :
WRITTEN TO GENTLEMAN WHO HAD SENT THE POET A
Kind Sir, I 've read your paper through,
See a communication of Mr Daniel Stuart, regarding some allegations of Mr Coleridge, Gentleman's Magazine, July 1838.