« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
FEARS ABOUT AN INSCRIPTION.
upon the library-namely, Humphry Clinker, Julia de Roubigné, Knox's History of the Reformation, and Delolme on the British Constitution. The present intelligent librarian, Mr M‘Robert, reports, respecting the last-mentioned work, a curious anecdote, which he learned directly from the late Provost Thomson of Dumfries. Early in the morning after Delolme had been presented, Burns came to Mr Thomson's bedside before he was up, anxiously desiring to see the volume, as he feared he had written something upon it which might bring him into trouble. On the volume being shewn to him, he looked at the inscription which he had written upon it the previous night, and, having procured some paste, he pasted over it the fly-leaf in such a way as completely to conceal it.
The gentleman who has been good enough to communicate these particulars, adds:- I have seen the volume, which is the edition of 1790, neatly bound, with a portrait of the author at the beginning. Some stains of ink shine through the paper, indicating that there is something written on the back of the engraving; but the fly-leaf being pasted down upon it, there is nothing legible. On holding the leaf up to the light, however, I distinctly read, in the undoubted manuscript of the poet, the following words :
“Mr Burns presents this book to the Library, and begs they will take it as a creed of British liberty- until they find a better.
R. B." "The 'words, “until they find a better,” are evidently those which the poet feared "might bring him into trouble.” Probably, if the inscription had not been written on the back of the engraving, he might have removed it altogether : at all events, his anxiety to conceal it shews what trivial circumstances were in those days sufficient to constitute a political offence.' Ay, and to think of this happening in the same month with the writing of Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled !
Fully to appreciate the feelings of alarm under which Burns acted on this occasion, it must be kept in view that the trial of Mr Thomas Muir for sedition had taken place on the 30th of August, when, in the evidence against him, appeared that of his servant, Ann Fisher, to the effect that he had purchased and distributed certain copies of Paine's Rights of Man. The stress laid upon that testimony by the crown-counsel had excited much remark. It might well appear to a government officer like Burns, that his own conduct at such a crisis ought to be in the highest degree circumspect. We do not know exactly the time when the incident which we are about to relate took place, but it appears likely to have been nearly that of Muir's trial. Our poet one day called upon his quondam neighbour, George Haugh, the blacksmith, and, handing him a copy of Paine's Common Sense and Rights of Man, desired him to keep these books for him, as, if they were found in his own house, he should be a ruined man. Haugh readily accepted the trust, and the books remained in possession of his family down to a recent period.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
[29th] October 1793. Your last letter, my dear Thomson, was indeed laden with heavy news. Alas, poor Erskine!! The recollection that he was a coadjutor in your publication, has till now scared me from writing to you, or turning my thoughts on composing for you.
I am pleased that you are reconciled to the air of the Quaker's Wife, though, by the by, an old Highland gentleman, and a deep antiquarian, tells me it is a Gaelic air, and known by the name of Leiger m'choss. The following verses, I hope, will please you, as an English song to the air.
[The poet here transcribed his song, beginning Thine I am, my faithful Fair, already printed in volume iii. p. 106.]
Your objection to the English song I proposed for John Anderson, my jo, is certainly just. The following is by an old acquaintance of mine, and I think has merit. The song was never in print, which I think is so much in your favour. The more original good poetry your collection contains, it certainly has so much the more merit:
SONG.-BY GAVIN TURNBULL.
O condescend, dear charming maid,
My wretched state to view;
And bad despair, by you.
My passion I deplore,
I love thee more and more.
I heard of love, and with disdain
The urchin's power denied;
And mocked them when they sighed.
1 The Honourable A. Erskine, whose melancholy death Mr Thomson had communicated ip an excellent letter, which he has suppressed.-CURRIE. Mr Erskine was found d wned in the Firth of Forth, with his pockets full of stones. distressing event was believed to have been the consequence of a habit of gambling.
LYRICS OF GAVIN TURNBULL.
But how my state is altered !
Those happy days are o'er ;
I love thee more and more.
O yield, illustrious beauty, yield!
No longer let me mourn;
Thy captive do not scorn.
My wonted peace restore;
And love thee more and more.
The following address of Turnbull's to the Nightingale, will suit
as an English song to the air, There was a Lass, and she was Fair. By the by, Turnbull has a great many songs in MS. which I can command, if you like his manner. Possibly, as he is an old friend of mine, I may be prejudiced in his favour; but I like some of his pieces very much.
Thou sweetest minstrel of the grove,
That ever tried the plaintive strain,
And soothe a poor forsaken swain.
For though the Muses deign to aid,
And teach him smoothly to complain ;
Is deaf to her forsaken swain.
All day, with fashion's gaudy sons,
In sport she wanders o'er the plain :
The notes of her forsaken swain.
When evening shades obscure the sky,
And bring the solemn hours again,
And soothe a poor forsaken swain.
I shall just transcribe another of Turnbull's, which would go charmingly to Lewie Gordon.
Let me wander where I will,
If at rosy dawn I choose
When at night the drowsy god
The rest of your letter I shall answer at some other opportunity.
Gavin Turnbull was the author of a now forgotten volume, published at Glasgow in 1788, under the title of Poetical Essays. Burns's overestimate of his merits must be obvious from the pieces selected. Our bard had in this respect a resemblance to Sir Walter Scott, so remarkable for the generosity of his judgments on the works of his friends.
ON MRS RIDDEL'S BIRTHDAY, 4TH NOVEMBER 1793.
Old Winter, with his frosty beard,
Though we have not many professed impromptus of Burns, it is certain that he shewed a remarkable readiness in producing
such trifles. His surviving companions could relate many instances of his giving forth epigrams and (what was a favourite form of verse with him) epitaphs upon individuals, as well as graces before and after meat, almost instantaneously after being requested to do so. It seemed to them something like a miracle. Most of the versicles published under these names were produced in this unpremeditated manner, and with no design beyond the raising of a laugh for the moment. It is scarcely just, therefore, to criticise them as a department of his works. Many others, we are assured, have been forgotten, or rest only in the memory of a few of those few who remain to describe Burns from personal knowledge.
As an example of his ready powers of versification : A Mr Ladyman, an English commercial traveller, alighting one day at Brownhill Inn, in Dumfriesshire, found that he should have to dine with a company in which was Robert Burns. The dinner, at which the landlord, Bacon, presided, passed off well, the principal dish being the well-known namesake of the host, who, it may be remarked, appeared to be looked on as something of a superfluity at his own table. The man had retired for a few minutes to see after a fresh supply of toddy, when some one called upon
Burns to give the young Englishman some proof of his being really Burns the poet, by composing some verses on the spur of the moment; and it was with hardly an interval for reflection that the bard pronounced as follows:
At Brownhill we always get dainty good cheer,
Another instance: Nicol and Masterton had come to spend a week of their vacation at Dumfries, for the purpose of enjoying the society of their friend Burns. The scene of the Peck o' Maut was renewed every evening in the Globe Tavern. Excepting, indeed, that Burns attended to his duty in the forenoon, and that Willie and Allan took a rattling walk before dinner, to give them
1 From Mr Ladyman's own report of the incident, in 1824.
At the sale of the effects of Mr Bacon, Brownhill Inn, after his death in 1825, his snuff-box, being found to bear the inscription
THE EXCISE although only a horn plainly mounted with silver, brought L.5. It was understood to have been presented by Burns to Bacon, with whom he had spent many a merry night.'-Ayrshire Monthly News-Letter, April 5, 1844. VOL. IV