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scarcely conceive a scene more terribly romantic than the castle of Kenmure. Burns thinks so highly of it, that he meditates a description of it in poetry: indeed, I believe he has begun the work. We spent three days with Mr Gordon, whose polished hospitality is of an original and endearing kind. Mrs Gordon's lap-dog, Echo, was dead. She would have an epitaph for him. Several had been made. Burns was asked for one. This was setting Hercules to his distaff. He disliked the subject, but to please the lady, he would try. Here is what he produced
“In wood and wild, ye warbling throng,
Your heavy loss deplore!
Sweet Echo is no more.
Ye jarring, screeching things around,
Scream your discordant joys!
With Echo silent lies."
"We left Kenmure and went to Gatehouse. I took him the moor - road, where savage and desolate regions extended wide around. The sky was sympathetic with the wretchedness of the soil; it became lowering and dark. The hollow winds sighed, the lightnings gleamed, the thunder rolled. The poet enjoyed the awful scene: he spoke not a word, but seemed rapt in meditation. In a little while, the rain began to fall; it poured in floods upon us.
For three hours did the wild elements rumble their belly full upon our defenceless heads. Oh! oh! 'twas foul. We got utterly wet; and, to revenge ourselves, Burns insisted at Gatehouse on our getting utterly drunk.
* From Gatehouse, we went next day to Kirkcudbright, through a fine country. But here I must tell you that. Burns had got a pair of jemmy boots for the journey, which had been thoroughly wet, and which had been dried in such manner that it was not possible to get them on again. The brawny poet tried force, and tore them to shreds. A whiffling vexa of this sort is more trying to the temper than a serious calamity. We were going to St Mary's Isle, the seat of the Earl of Selkirk, and the forlorn Burns was discomfited at the thought of his ruined boots. A sick stomach and a headache lent their aid, and the man of verse was quite accablé. I attempted to reason with him. Mercy on us, how he did fume and rage ! Nothing could reinstate him in temper. I tried various expedients, and at last hit on one that
succeeded: I shewed him the house of [Garlieston?'], across the
deceased, to the devil went down,
I grant thou’rt as wicked, but not quite so clever.” "Well, I am to bring you to Kirkcudbright along with our poet without boots. I carried the torn ruins across my saddle in spite of his fulminations, and in contempt of appearances; and, what is more, Lord Selkirk 3 carried them in his coach to Dumfries. He insisted they were worth mending.4
We reached Kirkcudbright about one o'clock. I had promised that we should dine with one of the first men in our country, J. Dalzell.5 But Burns was in a wild and obstreperous humour, and swore he would not dine where he should be under the smallest restraint. We prevailed, therefore, on Mr Dalzell to dine with us in the inn, and had a very agreeable party. In the evening, we set out for St Mary's Isle. Robert had not absolutely regained the milkiness of good temper, and it occurred once or twice to him, as he rode along, that St Mary's Isle was the seat of a lord; yet that lord was not an aristocrat, at least in his sense of the word. We arrived about eight o'clock, as the family were at tea
1 Left blank by Currie.
2 Also left blank by Currie. 3 This was the formal Lord Selkirk, of whom Sir Walter Scott tells so amusing an anecdote in his Malagrowther Letters.
4 Mr R. Cole, of London, preserves in his curious collection of original papers, several of the accounts for household and other articles furnished by Dumfries tradesmen to Robert Burns. It is just possible that the reader may feel some interest in learning that the bard had his boots from Robert Anderson, at L.1, 28. a pair, being four times the price of a pair of men's shoes in those days. This is so respectable a price in relation to our poet's income, that one cannot much wonder at his vexation in losing his ‘jemmy boots.'
5 John Dalzell of Barncroch, near Kirkcudbright, was a man of mirthful spirit and social character, highly calculated to gain the love of our bard; and accordingly they were very good friends. Mr Dalzell was also on intimate terms with Mr Gordon of Kenmure, who once sent him a present of a snuff mull. The acknowledgment of the gift was in much the same terms as those which Burns might have been expected to use on a similar occasion :
"Your present I received, and letter;
BURNS AT ST MARY'S ISLE.
and coffee. St Mary's Isle is one of the most delightful places that can, in my opinion, be formed by the assemblage of every soft but not tame object which constitutes natural and cultivated beauty. But not to dwell on its external graces, let me tell you that we found all the ladies of the family (all beautiful) at home, and some strangers; and, among others, who bat Urbani 17 The Italian sang us many Scottish songs, accompanied with instrumental music. The two young ladies of Selkirk sang also. We had the song of Lord Gregory, which I asked for, to have an opportunity of calling on Burns to recite his ballad to that tune. He did recite it; and such was the effect, that a dead silence ensued. It was such a silence as a mind of feeling naturally preserves when it is touched with that enthusiasm which banishes every other thought but the contemplation and indulgence of the sympathy produced. Burns’s Lord Gregory is, in my opinion, a most beautiful and affecting ballad. The fastidious critic may perhaps say, some of the sentiments and imagery are of too elevated kind for such a style of composition; for instance, “ Thou bolt of heaven that passest by;" and, "Ye mustering thunder,” &c.; but this is a cold-blooded objection, which will be said rather than felt.
We enjoyed a most happy evening at Lord Selkirk's. We had, in every sense of the word, a feast, in which our minds and our senses were equally gratified. The poet was delighted with his company, and acquitted himself to admiration. The lion that had raged so violently in the morning, was now as mild and gentle as a lamb. Next day we returned to Dumfries; and so ends our peregrination. I told you that, in the midst of the storm, on the wilds of Kenmure, Burns was rapt in meditation. What do you think he was about ? He was charging the English army, along with Bruce, at Bannockburn. He was engaged in the same manner on our ride home from St Mary's Isle, and I did not disturb him. Next day, he produced me the following address of Bruce to his troops, and gave me a copy for Dalzell:
“Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,” ' &c.
By the kindness of Mr Joseph Train, I am enabled to add a statement by Mr Carson, one of the gentlemen whom Burns and Syme met at Kenmure:
" The only friends of the host and hostess invited to meet the travellers, Burns and Syme, at Kenmure, were the Rev. John Gillespie, the highly-esteemed minister of the parish (Kells), and myself.
? Pietro Urbani, an Italian musician, now settled in Edinburgh. He edited a mollection of the Song-Music of Scotland.
On the evening preceding their departure, the bard having expressed his intention of climbing to the top of "the highest hill that rises o'er the source of Dee,” there to see the arbour of Lowe, the author of the celebrated song, Mary's Dream, Mr Gordon proposed that they should all sail down the loch in his barge Glenkens, to the Airds Hill below Lowe's seat. Seeing that this proposal was intended in compliment by the worthy host both to the bard and to Mr Gillespie, who had been the patron of Lowe, the gentlemen all concurred; and the weather proving propitious next morning, the vessel soon dropt down to the foot of Loch Ken with all the party on board. Meanwhile, Mr Gordon's groom led the travellers' horses round to the Boat-o'-Rhone, saddled and bridled, that each rider might mount on descending from the poet's seat; but the barge unfortunately grounded before reaching the proposed landing-place--an obstruction not anticipated by any of the party. Mr Gordon, with the assistance of an oar, vaulted from the prow of the little vessel to the beach, and was soon followed in like manner by Mr Syme and myself; thus leaving only the venerable pastor of Kells and the bard on board. The former, being too feeble to jump, as we had done, to land, expressed a desire to remain in the vessel till Mr Gordon and I returned; upon hearing which, the generous bard instantly slipt into the water, which was, however, so deep as to wet him to the knees. After a short entreaty, he succeeded in getting the clergyman on his shoulders; on observing which, Mr Syme raised his hands, laughed immoderately, and exclaimed: “Well, Burns, of all the men on earth, you are the last that I could have expected to see priest-ridden !” We laughed also, but Burns did not seem to enjoy the joke. He made no reply, but carried his load silently through the reeds to land.
* When Mr Syme's account of this excursion with the bard into Galloway appeared in Dr Currie's first edition of the Life and Works of Robert Burns, the Glenkens people, who were actors in this part of the drama, were very much surprised to find the above incident not even alluded to; but we plainly perceived that Syme had only taken a few incidents of the journey as pegs to hang other drapery upon. We were all fully satisfied that it was by the bard's wading in the loch that his new boots were so thoroughly wet, and that the choler or independence next day manifested by him to Syme was only the result of his wounded feelings at having been made such a laughing-stock by his friend for merely rendering the assistance due by common humanity to old age or infirmity, which Mr Gordon and myself charged ourselves afterwards for having overlooked in that instance.”'
The impulsive, irritable, wayward temper of Burns is strongly
PAINFUL VIEW OF THE PORT'S DESTINY.
shewn in Mr Syme's narration. This, however, is not the Burns of former days: it is the Burns of a troubļous time, exasperated by national movements in politics contrary to his judgment and best feelings, and by a tyrannous control of circumstances over the natural privileges which he most dearly esteemed. Reflections on his own impulsive career, which had embayed him in a position destructive of his independence and humiliating to his pride, probably mingled with his mood. He growls and vents epigrams at persons with whom he was causelessly offended; he starts at the idea of going to the house of a nobleman, though that nobleman was a Whig, and the father of his old acquaintance Lord Daer, by whose easy manners he had been disabused of earlier prejudices of the like kind, and who was now distinguishing himself by his demonstrations in favour of that cause which Burns had at heart. These are traits which we could not have expected from the poet in the days of Blair and Castle-Gordon. It is worthy of remark, that Syme himself, Mr Gordon of Kenmure, Mr Dalzell, and the earl, were all Whigs. Burns had been from the first, notwithstanding his Jacobitism, taken up by that party; and his present circle of friends was mainly composed of it.
We see the aggravated sensitiveness of the poet in a letter written very soon after the excursion with Syme.
TO MISS CRAIK.1
DUMFRIES, August 1793. MADAM-Some rather unlooked-for accidents have prevented my doing myself the honour of a second visit to Arbigland, as I was so hospitably invited, and so positively meant to have done. However, I still hope to have that pleasure before the busy months of harvest begin.
I enclose you two of my late pièces, as some kind of return for the pleasure I have received in perusing a certain MS. volume of poems in the possession of Captain Riddel. To repay one with an old song is a proverb whose force you, madam, I know, will not allow. What is said of illustrious descent is, I believe, equally true of a talent for poetry-none ever despised it who had pretensions to it. The fates and characters of the rhyming tribe often employ my thoughts when I am disposed to be melancholy. There is not, among all the martyrologies that ever were penned, so rueful a narrative as the lives of the poets. In the comparative view of wretches, the criterion is not what they are doomed to suffer, but how they are formed to bear. Take a being of our kind, give him a stronger imagination and a more delicate sensibility, which between them will ever engender a more ungovernable set of passions than are the usual lot of man; implant in him an irresistible impulse to some idle vagary,
Daughter of Mr Craik of Arbigland, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.