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MENAGE OF BURNS AT DUMFRIES.
some reasonable degree of comfort. I have consulted the eldest son of the bard on this subject, and find his views of the paternal ménage at Dumfries very much the same as those with which many little circumstances have impressed myself. Mr R. B. speaks of the house in the Mill Vennel as being one of a good order, such as were used in those days by the better class of citizens, and the life of his father and mother as being comparatively genteel life. They always had a maid-servant, and sat in their parlour. That room, and the two principal bedrooms, were carpeted, and otherwise well furnished. The poet possessed a mahogany dining-table, where he often had good company assembled. In the same room stood his folding-down desk, at which he had to do a considerable amount of business in the granting of licences, permits, &c. and where the son remembers seeing him writing his letters to Mr Thomson, always a business requiring a good deal of care. There was much rough comfort in the house not to have been found in those of ordinary citizens; for, besides the spoils of smugglers, as above mentioned, the poet received many presents of game and country produce from the rural gentlefolk, besides occasional barrels of oysters from Hill, Cunningham, and other friends in town, so that he possibly was as much envied by some of his neighbours as he has since been pitied by the general body of his countrymen.
An intimate friend of Mrs Burns during the life of the poetthe Jessy of his songs, now Mrs James Thomson-has similar recollections of the household in the Mill Vennel. She speaks of the large seizures of rum, and the frequent presents, as only leading to a degree of hospitality somewhat excessive. At the same time, as far as circumstances left Burns to his own inclinations, his personal domestic habits were generally simple and temperate. As he was often detained by company from the dinner provided for him by his wife, she sometimes, on a conjecture of his probable absence, would not prepare that meal for him. When he chanced to come home, and find no dinner ready, he was never in the least troubled or irritated, but would address himself with the greatest cheerfulness to any succedaneum that could be readily set before him. They generally had abundance of good Dunlop cheese, sent to them by their Ayrshire friends. The poet would sit down to that wholesome fare, with bread and butter, and his book by his side, and seem to any casual visitor as happy as a courtier at the feasts of kings.
He was always anxious that his wife should have a neat and genteel appearance. In consequence, as she alleged, of the duties of nursing, and attending to her infants, she could not help being sometimes a little out of order. Burns disliked this, and not only remonstrated against it in a gentle way, but did the utmost that in him lay to counteract it, by buying for her the best clothes he could afford. Any little novelty in female dress was almost sure to meet with patronage from Burns—all with the aim of keeping up a spirit for neat dressing in his wife. She was, for instance, one of the first persons in Dumfries who appeared in a dress of gingham-a stuff now common, but, at its first introduction, rather costly, and almost exclusively used by persons of superior condition.
On the whole, it must be admitted that Burns's poverty at this, and perhaps at several other periods of his life, has been overstated. After settling in Dumfries, he certainly was without spare funds, or anything that could be considered as a provision for his family. But of the necessaries of life he never was in any want, nor, down to the few last months, were even the comforts deficient.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
[Post-mark, Dec. 9), 1794. It is, I assure you, the pride of my heart to do anything to forward or add to the value of your book; and as I agree
that the Jacobite song in the Museum to There'll never be Peace till Jamie comes Hame, would not so well consort with Peter Pindar's excellent love-song to that air, I have just framed for you the following :
[The song here transcribed was one entitled My Nannie's awa, referring to Mrs MʻLehose's absence in the West Indies. Though perhaps not completed till now, it has been printed in the third volume of the present edition, p. 217.]
How does this please you? As to the point of time for the expression, in your proposed print from my Sodger's Return, it must certainly be atShe gazed. The interesting dubiety and suspense taking possession of her countenance, and the gushing fondness, with a mixture of roguish playfulness in his, strike me as things of which a master will make a great deal. In great haste, but in great truth, yours.
TO MRS DUNLOP,
DUMFRIES, 20th December 1794.1 I HAVE been prodigiously disappointed in this London journey of yours. In the first place, when your last to me reached Dumfries, I was in the country, and did not return until too late to answer your letter; in the next place, I thought you would certainly take this route; and now I know not what has become of you, or whether this may reach you at all. God grant that it may
yours in prospering health and good spirits! Do let me hear from you the soonest possible.
1 Misplaced by Dr Currie under December 1795.
LETTER TO MRS DUNLOP.
As I hope to get a frank from my friend Captain Miller, I shall, every leisure hour, take up the pen, and gossip away whatever comes first-prose or poetry, sermon or song. In this last article I have abounded of late. I have often mentioned to you a superb publication of Scottish songs, which is making its appearance in your great metropolis, and where I have the honour to preside over the Scottish verse, as no less a personage than Peter Pindar does over the English.
December 29th, Since I began this letter, I have been appointed to act in the capacity of supervisor here; and I assure you, what with the load of business, and what with that business being new to me, I could scarcely have commanded ten ininutes to have spoken to you, had you been in town, much less to have written you an epistle. This appointment is only temporary, and during the illness of the present incumbent; but I look forward to an early period when I shall be appointed in full form-a consummation devoutly to be wished ! My political sins seem to be forgiven me.
This is the season (New-Year's Day is now my date) of wishing; and mine are most fervently offered up for you! May life to you be a positive blessing while it lasts, for your own sake; and that it may yet be greatly prolonged, is my wish for my own sake, and for the sake of the rest of your friends! What a transient business is life! Very lately, I was a boy; but t'other day, I was a young man; and I already begin to feel the rigid fibre and stiffening joints of old age coming fast o'er my frame. With all my follies of youth, and, I fear, a few vices of manhood, still I congratulate myself on having had, in early days, religion strongly impressed on my mind. I have nothing to say to any one as to which sect he belongs to or what creed he believes; but I look on the man who is firmly persuaded of infinite wisdom and goodness superintending and directing every circumstance that can happen in his lot—I felicitate such a man as having a solid foundation for his mental enjoyment--a firm prop and sure stay in the hour of difficulty, trouble, and distress—and a never-failing anchor of hope when he looks beyond the grave.
12th January (1795.] You will have seen our worthy and ingenious friend, the doctor [Dr Moore), long ere this. I hope he is well, and beg to be remembered to him. I have just been reading over again, I daresay for the hundred-and-fiftieth time, his View of Society and Manners; and still I read it with delight. His humour is perfectly original it is neither the humour of Addison, nor Swift, nor Sterne, nor of anybody but Dr Moore. By the by, you have deprived me of Zeluco; remember that, when you are disposed to rake up the sins of my neglect from among the ashes of my laziness.
He has paid me a pretty compliment, by quoting me in his last publication.
Burns had learned to conduct vicarious courtships in his early days, and had not yet lost the art. According to a recital by one who has given much attention to our subject: 'In the neighbourhood of Dumfries, on the estate of Rockhall, some fifty years since, lived a worthy farmer, whom Burns was in the habit of occasionally visiting. They had spent many a merry evening together, enriched with those sallies of wit and humour which stamped the poet's conversation with even more attraction and fascination than all the marvels of his poetry. The progress of their intercourse was varied by an event which must have afforded Burns no little amusement—the farmer fell in love. The lady was of respectable connexions; and the farmer, though excellent at a song or anecdote, was unable for the task of writing a proper declaration of his passion. In this extremity, he called in the assistance of the poet. Burns furnished him with two draughts of a love-letter, and the draughts are certainly curiosities in their way. They are not quite so formal and grandiloquent in tone as the famous epistle which Tom Pipes in Peregrine Pickle procured from the village schoolmaster, which commenced, “Divine empress of my soul," and implored the favourite fair one to "let the genial rays of her benevolence melt the icy emanations of disdain." Burns's letters, however, are of the same character. His prose style was always stiff and unnatural, being in this respect the antipodes of his verse, which flowed with such inimitable grace and simplicity. On the present occasion, too, he was writing in a feigned character, without the prompting of those genial impulses which made him so thriving a wooer himself. We believe the farmer was successful in his suit. Miss G-listened to the passion so ardently proclaimed by proxy, and lived to be the happy wife of the farmer. We have no doubt that the worthy pair and the poet often laughed over this adventure, during the few remaining years and evil days which darkened the close of the poet's life.'
MADAM — What excuse to make for the liberty I am going to assume in this letter, I am utterly at a loss. If the most unfeigned respect for your accomplished worth—if the most ardent attachment_if sincerity and truth—if these, on my part, will in any degree weigh with you, my apology is these, and these alone. Little as I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance, it has been enough to convince me what enviable happiness must be his whom you shall honour with your particular regard, and more than enough to convince me how unworthy I am to offer myself a candidate for that partiality. In this kind of trembling hope, madam, I intend
1 Mr Robert Carruthers-Inverness Courier, September 1840.
very soon doing myself the honour of waiting on you, persuaded that, however little Miss G may be disposed to attend to the suit of a lover as unworthy of her as I am, she is still too good to despise an honest man, whose only fault is loving her too much for his own peace. I have the honour to be, madam, your most devoted humble servant.
DEAR MADAM-The passion of love had need to be productive of much delight; as where it takes thorough possession of the man, it almost unfits him for anything else. The lover who is certain of an equal return of affection, is surely the happiest of men; but he who is a prey to the horrors of anxiety and dreaded disappointment, is a being whose situation is by no means enviable. Of this, my present experience gives me sufficient proof. To me, amusement seems impertinent, and business intrusion, while you alone engross every faculty of my mind. May I request you to drop me a line, to inform me when I may wait on you? For pity's sake, do; and let me have it soon. In the meantime, allow me, in all the artless sincerity of truth, to assure you, that I truly am, my dearest madam, your ardent lover, and devoted humble servant.i
On an occasion of a totally different kind, Burns held the pen for one who could not do it well for himself. According to Mr Cromek: "A neighbour of the poet's at Dumfries called on him, and complained that he had been greatly disappointed in the irregular delivery of the paper of the Morning Chronicle. Burns asked: “Why do not you write to the editors of the paper ?” “Good God! sir, can I presume to write to the learned editors of a newspaper?" “Well, if you are afraid of writing to the editors of a newspaper, I am not; and, if you think proper, I'll draw up a sketch of a letter, which you may copy."
· Burns tore a leaf from his excise-book, and instantly produced the sketch which I have transcribed, and which is here printed. The poor man thanked him, and took the letter home. However, that caution which the watchfulness of his enemies had taught him to exercise, prompted him to the prudence of begging a friend to wait on the person for whom it was written, and request the favour to have it returned. This request was complied with, and the paper never appeared in print.'
TO THE EDITOR OF THE MORNING CHRONICLE.
SIR-You will see, by your subscribers’ list, that I have been about nine months of that number.
I am sorry to inform you, that in that time seven or eight of your
The originals of these curious letters are in the possession of a very successful collector of curiosities—the warm-hearted and entertaining Mr William Smith, Derfumer, Dumfries.'