Page images
PDF
EPUB

FRIENDLINESS OF CAPTAIN HAMILTON.

135

opponents had been grievously misjudged and wronged. Burns, amongst others, appears to have experienced the benefit of this relenting mood.

Both the house which he had occupied in the Wee Vennel, and that now tenanted by him, belonged to Captain John Hamilton of Allershaw; a gentleman of the highest respectability and most amiable character, who had treated him from the first with great kindness. For a twelvemonth past, there had been no intercourse between the landlord and his distinguished tenant; but now, on Burns sending a small sum of money towards the liquidation of arrears of rent, Hamilton sent him a friendly note :

TO MR BURNS.

DUMFRIES, 30th Jan. 1795. DEAR SIR–At same time that I acknowledge the receipt of three guineas to account of house-rent, will you permit me to enter a complaint of a different nature ? When you first came here, I courted your acquaintance; I wished to see you; I asked you to call in, and take a family dinner now and then, when it suited your convenience.

For more than twelve months, you have never entered my door, but seemed rather shy when we met. This kept me from sending any further particular invitation.

If I have in any shape offended, or from inadvertency hurt the delicacy of your feelings, tell me so, and I'will endeavour to set it to rights.

If you are disposed to renew our acquaintance, [I] will be glad to see you to a family dinner at 3 o'clock on Sunday, and, at anyrate, hope you will believe me, dear sir, your sincere friend,

JOHN HAMILTON. Burns's answer came next morning :

TO CAPTAIN HAMILTON.

Saturday Morning, (January 31.] SIR-I was from home, and had not the opportunity of seeing your more than polite, your most friendly card. It is not possible, most worthy sir, that you could do anything to offend anybody. My backwardness proceeds alone from the abashing consciousness of my obscure station in the ranks of life. Many an evening have I sigh to call in and spend it at your social fireside; but a shyness of appearing obtrusive amid the fashionable visitants occasionally there, kept me at a distance. It shall do so no more. On Monday, I must be in the country, and most part of the week; but the first leisure evening I shall avail myself of your hospitable goodness. With the most ardent sentiments of gratitude and respect, I have the honour to be, sir, your highly-obliged humble servant, ROBT. BURNS.

It is tolerably clear, that the reason which Burns here assigns for his conduct could not be the sole one. So modest a sense of his position in life was not characteristic of the bard who had just sung, A Man's a Man for a' that. And it might have been asked, how he had come to act on this feeling for the last twelvemonth, when no such sentiment had withheld his visits to Hamilton's mansion before. One can scarcely doubt, that there were other considerations pressing upon him—the unpleasant sense of debt towards his landlord, and the consciousness that he was under the ban of a large part of respectable society on account of politics, the Riddel quarrel, and his own many imprudences. He had clearly set forward as the sole and all-sufficient reason one comparatively weak, but that which could alone be gracefully acknowledged. On the other hand, the warmth of Hamilton's letter, so unlike the spirit of the M'Culloch anecdote of June '94, shews tolerably well how Burns was beginning to recover in the good graces of the respectables.

The movement towards a reconciliation with Maria Riddel, which commenced in November, had not been allowed to stop short. About this time, the lady had sent Burns a book which she probably supposed him likely to enjoy in the perusal. She had also communicated a new poetical expression of her feelings on their late estrangement, in the form of a song, which she desired the poet to correct or criticise, for in this strange confusion of love and literature, it seems to have been thought not unfitting that Burns should, in the way of his art, help to polish the shaft of tender reproach aimed at his own bosom.

TO MRS RIDDEL.

MR BURNS's compliments to Mrs Riddel— is much obliged to her for her polite attention in sending him the book. Owing to Mr B. at present acting as supervisor of Excise, a department that occupies his every hour of the day, he has not that time to spare which is necessary for any belles-lettres pursuit; but as he will in a week or two again return to his wonted leisure, he will then pay that attention to Mrs R.'s beautiful song, To thee, loved Nith, which it so well deserves. When Anacharsis's Travels come to hand, which Mrs Riddel mentioned as her gift to the public library, Mr B. will feel honoured by the indulgence of a perusal of them before presentation: it is a book he has never yet seen, and the regulations of the library allow too little leisure for deliberate reading

RECONCILIATION WITH MRS RIDDEL.

137

Friday evening. P.S.-Mr Burns will be much obliged to Mrs Riddel, if she will favour him with a perusal of any of her poetical pieces which he may not have seen.

The song has fortunately been preserved.

TO THEE, LOVED NITH.

To thee, loved Nith, thy gladsome plains,

Where late with careless thought I ranged,
Though prest with care, and sunk in wo,

To thee I bring a heart unchanged.
I love thee, Nith, thy banks and braes,

Though Memory there my bosom tear,
For there he roved, that broke my heart,

Yet to that heart, ah, still how dear!

And now your banks and bonnie braes

But waken sad remembrance' smart;
The very shades I held most dear,

Now strike fresh anguish to my heart:
Deserted bower! where are they now

Ah! where the garlands that I wove
With faithful care, each morn to deck

The altars of ungrateful love?

The flowers of spring, how gay they bloomed,

When last with him I wandered here!
The flowers of spring are passed away

For wintry horrors dark and drear.
Yon osiered stream, by whose lone banks

My songs have lulled him oft to rest,
Is now in icy fetters locked-

Cold as my false love's frozen breast.

MR THOMSON TO BURNS.

EDINBURGH, 30th January 1795. MY DEAR SIR-I thank you heartily for Nannie's Awa, as well as for Craigieburn, which I think a very comely pair. Your observation on the difficulty of original writing in a number of efforts, in the same style, strikes me very for bly; and it has, again and again, excited my wonder to find you continually surmounting this difficulty, in the many delightful songs you have sent me. Your vive la bagatelle song, For a that, shall undoubtedly be included in

my list.

The supervising duties which Burns had taken up, brought him early in February to the village of Ecclefechan, in Annandale-a

place which will continue to be memorable in Scottish biography as the birthplace of several remarkable men, all of them connected with the history of our bard. The first was the schooltyrant Nicol, of whom we have not heard for some time. The second was Dr Currie of Liverpool, the amiable editor of Burns, and most effective friend of his family. A third, who would be first seeing the light just about this time, was Thomas Carlyle, than whom no man has written about Burns with a fairer apprehension of his merits, or a truer expression of sympathy for his misfortunes. Burns, little thinking of the destinies of Ecclefechan infants, had come there in the midst of an extraordinary fall of snow, which threatened to keep him a prisoner to his inn for many days. It was such a snow-fall as no living man remembered. Most people throughout Scotland, on wakening in the morning, found their houses absorbed in it up to the second tier of windows; and in some hollows of the Campsie Fells, near Glasgow, it was drifted to the depth of from eighty to a hundred feet. Some roads were impassable for weeks, and even in the streets of Edinburgh, it had not entirely disappeared on the king's birthday, the 4th of June. The immediate consequences to Burns are amusingly described by himself :

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

ECCLEFECHAN, 7th February 1795. MY DEAR THOMSON—You cannot have any idea of the predicament in which I write to you. In the course of my duty as supervisorin which capacity I have acted of late--I came yesternight to this unfortunate, wicked little village. I have gone forward, but snows of ten feet deep have impeded my progress; I have tried to gae back the gait I cam again, but the same obstacle has shut me up within insuperable bars. To add to my misfortune, since dinner, a scraper has been torturing catgut, in sounds that would have insulted the dying agonies of a sow under the hands of a butcher, and thinks himself, on that very account, exceeding good company. In fact, I have been in a dilemma, either to get drunk, to forget these miseries; or to hang myself, to get rid of them: like a prudent man-a character congenial to my every thought, word, and deed I, of two evils, have chosen the least, and am very drunk, at your service!

I wrote you yesterday from Dumfries. I had not time then to tell you all I wanted to say; and, Heaven knows, at present I have not capacity.

i Dr Currie remarks, that the poet must have been tipsy indeed to abuse sweet Ecclefechan at this rate.

2 The handwriting confirms the poet's confession, for it lacks his usual clearness and regularity.

SONG—' O LASSIE, ART THOU SLEEPING YET?'

139

Do you know an air-I am sure you must know it-We'll gang nae mair to yon Town? I think, in slowish time, it would make an excellent song. I am highly delighted with it; and if you should think it worthy of your attention, I have a fair dame in my eye, to whom I would consecrate it. Try it with this doggrel-until I give you a better:

CHORUS.

O wat ye wha's in yon town,

Ye see the e'enin' sun upon ?
The dearest maid's in yon town

That e'enin' sun is shinin' on.

O sweet to me yon spreading tree,

Where Jeanie wanders aft her lane;
The hawthorn flower that shades her bower,

Oh, when shall I behold again?

As I am just going to bed, I wish you a good-night.

R. B.

P.S.-As I am likely to be storm-staid here to-morrow, if I am in the humour, you shall have a long letter from me.

[blocks in formation]
« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »