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Hear me, Powers divine !
Oh, in pity hear me!
But my Chloris spare me !
How do you like the foregoing? The Irish air, Humours of Glen, is a great favourite of mine, and as, except the silly stuff in the Poor Soldier, there are not any decent verses for it, I have written for it as follows:
THEIR GROVES O SWEET MYRTLE.
TUNE-Humours of Glen.
Where bright-beaming summers exalt the perfume;
Wi’ the burn stealing under the lang yellow broom.
Where the blue-bell and gowan lurk lowly unseen:
Though rich is the breeze in their gay sunny valleys,
And cauld Caledonia's blast on the wave;
What are they?~the haunt of the tyrant and slave!
The brave Caledonian views wi' disdain ;
Save love's willing fetters—the chains o' his Jean!
P.S.–Stop! turn over.
'TWAS NA. HER BONNIE BLUE EE WAS MY RUIN.
TUNE-Laddie, lie near me.
PRESENT OF A PICTURE FROM MR THOMSON.
Mary, I'm thine wi' a passion sincerest,
Sooner the sun in his motion would falter.
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
You must not think, my good sir, that I have any intention to enhance the value of my gift, when I say, in justice to the ingenious and worthy artist, that the design and execution of the Cotter's Saturday Night is, in my opinion, one of the happiest productions of Allan's pencil. I shall be grievously disappointed if you are not quite pleased with it.
The figure intended for your portrait, I think strikingly like you, as far as I can remember your phiz. This should make the piece interesting to your family every way. Tell me whether Mrs Burns finds you out among the figures.
I cannot express the feeling of admiration with which I have read your pathetic Address to the Woodlark, your elegant panegyric on Caledonia, and your affecting verses on Chloris's illness. Every repeated perusal of these gives new delight. The other song to Laddie, lie near me, though not equal to these, is very pleasing.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
[Post-mark, May 9,] 1796. HOW CRUEL ARE THE PARENTS!
ALTERED FROM AN OLD ENGLISH SONG.
TUNE-John Anderson my Jo.
Who riches only prize ;
Poor woman sacrifice !
Has but a choice of strife ;-
Become a wretched wife.
The trembling dove thus flies,
Awhile her pinions tries :
No shelter or retreat,
And drops beneath his feet.
MARK YONDER POMP OF COSTLY FASHION.
TUNE-Deil tak the IVars.
Mark yonder pomp of costly fashion,
Round the wealthy, titled bride :
Poor is all that princely pride.
What are the noisy pleasures ?
The polished jewel's blaze
The fancy may delight,
But did you see my dearest Chloris,
In simplicity's array ;
Shrinking from the gaze of day.
And all resistless charming,
Ambition would disown
His worshipped deity,
Well! this is not amiss. You see how I answer your ordersyour tailor could not be more punctual. I am just now in a high fit for poetising, provided that the strait-jacket of criticism don't cure
If you can, in a post or two, administer a little of the intoxicating potion of your applause, it will raise your humble servant's frenzy to any height you want. I am at this moment' holding high converse' with the Muses, and have not a word to throw away on such a prosaic dog as you are.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
May 1795. Ten thousand thanks for your elegant present—though I am ashamed of the value of it being bestowed on a man who has not, by any means, merited such an instance of kindness. I have shewn it to two or three judges of the first abilities here, and they all agree with me in classing it as a first-rate production. My phiz is sae ALLAN'S PICTURE-COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT.
kenspeckle, that the very joiner's apprentice, whom Mrs Burns employed to break up the parcel (I was out of town that day), knew it at once. My most grateful compliments to Allan, who has honoured my rustic Muse so much with his masterly pencil. One strange coincidence is, that the little one who is making the felonious attempt on the cat's tail, is the most striking likeness of an ill-deedie, d-n'd, wee, rumble-gairie urchin of mine, whom, from that propensity to witty wickedness, and manfu' mischief, which, even at twa days' auld, I foresaw would form the striking features of his disposition, I named Willie Nicol, after a certain friend of mine, who is one of the masters of a grammar-school in a city which shall be nameless. Several people think that Allan's likeness of me is more striking than Nasmyth's, for which I sat to him half-a-dozen times. However, there is an artist of considerable merit just now in this town, who has hit the most remarkable likeness of what I am at this moment, that I think ever was taken of anybody. It is a small miniature, and as it will be in your town getting itself be-crystallised, &c. I have some thoughts of suggesting to you to prefix a vignette taken from it to my song, Contented wi' Little and Canty wi Mair, in order the portrait of my face and the picture of my mind may go down the stream of time together.
Give the enclosed epigram to my much-valued friend Cunningham, and tell him, that on Wednesday I go to visit a friend of his, to whom his friendly partiality in speaking of me in a manner introduced me I mean a well-known military and literary character, Colonel Dirom.
You do not tell me how you liked my two last songs. Are they condemned?
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
13th May 1795. It gives me great pleasure to find that you are all so well satisfied with Mr Allan's production. The chance resemblance of your little fellow, whose promising disposition appeared so very early, and suggested whom he should be named after, is curious enough. I am acquainted with that person, who is a prodigy of learning and genius, and a pleasant fellow, though no saint.
You really make me blush, when you tell me you have not merited the drawing from me. I do not think I can ever repay you, or sufficiently esteem and respect you, for the liberal and kind manner in which you have entered into the spirit of my undertaking, which could not have been perfected without you. So I beg you would not make a fool of me again by speaking of obligation.
I like your two last songs very much, and am happy to find you are in such a high fit of poetising. Long may it last !
Clarke has made a fine pathetic air to Mallets superlative ballad of William and Margaret, and is to give it to me, to be enrolled among the elect.
These letters refer to a very interesting picture of the Cotter's Saturday Night, which had been executed by the first Scottish artist of his day for such subjects—the ingenious David Allan. Mr Thomson, it is to be observed, had from the beginning thought Burns entitled to pecuniary remuneration for his songs, and, though not rich himself, and his work was far from being a promising adventure, he had pressed one small pecuniary gift upon the poet. Burns, on the other hand, as we have seen, was decidedly repugnant to such gifts, and threatened, in the event of a second, to discontinue his assistance. In these circumstances, Mr Thomson's sense of obligation sought relief in small presents to the poet. On one occasion, he ventured on a shawl for Mrs Burns, of a kind then novel and fashionable. He now sends an original picture by an artist of reputation, and with a subject the selection of which must have been felt as a compliment by the bard. He had also been, as we have seen, liberal in the bestowal of copies of his first half volume, which was all that was published in Burns's lifetime.
In the letter of Burns to Mr Thomson, in which the poet describes the arrival of the picture, there is a passage which Dr Currie omitted : “ As to what you hint of my coming to Edinburgh, I know of no such arrangement.' One cannot well resist the inclination to believe, that this relates to a plan of the benevolent Laird of Fintry for the benefit of Burns. Professor Walker speaks of such a scheme as belonging to an earlier period of the poet's official career. “Mr Graham,' he says, 'taking advantage of the reasonable measure of official reputation which Burns possessed, had, with no less judgment than kindness, projected a plan for his benefit. Could this plan have been executed, it would in all probability have been equally effectual in providing him with the means of comfortable subsistence, with a stimulus to mental exertion, and with those moral restraints which his character appears to have required. The plan was to appoint him to a respectable office at Leith, with an easy duty, and with emoluments rising nearly to 1.200 per annum. There he would naturally have formed a stricter intimacy with his literary patrons in Edinburgh. His ambition to renew their applause, would have urged him to employ his leisure in poetical compositions; and his desire to retain their favourable notice, would have been the most efficient correction of those irregular habits, and that neglect of character, into which he was betrayed by his passions.... But all these friendly designs of his patron were frustrated by the imprudence of the poet.' It seems not unlikely that, now the blast of 1792 was fairly overblown, and Burns's official qualifications had stood the test of three more years, Mr Graham had renewed his well-meant plan, and entertained some hopes of carrying it into effect.