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selves an appetite, it might be said that the week was one entire and perfect chrysolite of merry-making. One day, when they were to dine at the Globe, they found, on coming in at three, that no dinner had been ordered. As Burns had taken on himself this duty, the fault was his, and the other two gentlemen were wroth with him accordingly. “Just like him,' quoth Mrs Hyslop: 'ye might hae kent that he's ne'er to lippen to.' 'Well, but can we have anything to eat? You know we must dine some how.' Mrs Hyslop, or as Burns called her, Meg, proved propitious. There was a tup’s-head in the pot for John and herself; and, if they pleased, they might have the first of it.
Now a good tup's-head, with the accompanying trotters—seeing that, in the Scottish cuisine, nothing is taken off but the woolis a dish which will amply satisfy six, or even eight persons;' so it was no contemptible resource for the hungry trio. When it had been disposed on the board, ‘Burns,' said Nicol, 'we fine you for your neglect of arrangements: you give us something new as a grace.' Our poet instantly, with appropriate gesture and tone,
O Lord, when hunger pinches sore,
Do thou stand us in need,
A tup or wether head! Amen.
They fell to and enjoyed their fare prodigiously, leaving, however, a miraculously ample sufficiency for the host and hostess. Now, Burns, we've not done with you. We fine you again. Return thanks.' He as promptly said:
O Lord, since we have feasted thus,
Which we so little merit,
And Jock to bring the spirit! Amen.?
MR THOMSON TO BURNS.
7th November 1793. MY GOOD SIR– After so long a silence, it gave me peculiar pleasure to recognise your well-known hand, for I had begun to be apprehensive that all was not well with you. I am happy to find, however, that your silence did not proceed from that cause, and that you have got among the ballads once more.
1 The editor begs to say, that he here speaks with due caution: he has been one of a party of eight persons who dined heartily on a tup's-head with its accompanying broth.
* From a gentleman who was intimate with Burns at that time.
MY SPOUSE NANCY.'
I have to thank you for your English song to Leiger m' cho88, which I think extremely good, although the colouring is warm. Your friend Mr Turnbull's songs have doubtless considerable merit; and as you have the command of his manuscripts, I hope you may find out some that will answer as English songs, to the airs yet unprovided.
BURNS TO MR THOMSON.
December 1793. Tell me how you like the following verses to the tune of My Jo Janet ?-
MY SPOUSE NANCY.
TÚNE-My Jo Janet.
Nor longer idly rave, sir;
Yet I am not your slave, sir.'
One of two must still obey,
My spouse, Nancy?
Service and obedience;
And so good-by allegiance!'
My spouse, Nancy:
My last hour I'm near it:
Think, think how you will bear it.'
'I will hope and trust in Heaven,
My spouse, Nancy?
Still I'll try to daunt you;
Horrid sprites shall haunt you.'
"I'll wed another like my dear,
My spouse, Nancy.' 1
TO JOHN M'MURDO, ESQ.
DUMFRIES, December 1793. SIR—It is said that we take the greatest liberties with our greatest friends, and I pay myself a very high compliment in the manner in which I am going to apply the remark. I have owed you money longer than ever I owed it to any man. Here is Ker's account, and here are six guineas ; and now, I don't owe a shilling to man-or woman either. But for these d
dirty, dog-eared little had done myself the honour to have waited on you long ago. Independent of the obligations your hospitality has laid me under, the consciousness of your superiority in the rank of man and gentleman, of itself was fully as much as I could ever make head against; but to owe you money, too, was more than I could face.
I think I once mentioned something of a collection of Scots songs I have for some years been making- I send you a perusal of what I have got together. I could not conveniently spare them above five or six days, and five or six glances of them will probably more than suffice you. A very few of them are my own. When you are tired of them, please leave them with Mr Clint, of the King's Arms. There is not another copy of the collection in the world; and I should be sorry that any unfortunate negligence should deprive me of what has cost me a good deal of pains.
It seems far from unlikely that Mr M‘Murdo was the friend to whom Burns applied for the loan of a few guineas in summer, and that, having discharged an account of Mr Ker against that gentleman, he was now clearing off the balance of the debt by the enclosure spoken of.
From an early period of his career, Burns had begun to dabble in verse conceived in a strain of licentious humour. Into this taste he was led by his enthusiastic love of all the forms of his country's elder muse. With a strange contradiction to the grave and religious character of the Scottish people, they possessed a wonderful quantity of indecorous traditionary verse—not of an inflammatory character, but simply expressive of a profound sense
i Dr Currie here added the song, Wilt thou be my Dearie? It does not appear in the original manuscript. The reader will find it afterwards in a different connection.
of the ludicious in connection with the sexual affections. Such things, usually kept from public view, oozed out in merry companies such as Burns loved to frequent. Men laughed at them for the moment, and, in the sober daylight of next morning, had forgotten them. When our poet was particularly struck by any free-spoken ditty of the old school, he would scribble it down, and transfer it to a commonplace - book. In time, what he thus collected, he was led to imitate, apparently for no other object than that of amusing such rough good-fellows as himself in their moments of conviviality. We see that, in establishing his commonplace - book in spring 1787, he designed to commit to it a few of his compositions of this class. He afterwards repeated copies of them, which he would, with his usual heedlessness, allow to pass into the hands of his friends. We now see from the above letter to Mr M‘Murdo, that he had at length transcribed them into a volume, which he would occasionally intrust to the keeping of a friend. These facts have been the cause of much reproach to Burns; and I do not say that his conduct was excusable. I am, nevertheless, convinced that it originated mainly in nothing worse than his strong sense of the ludicrous. Of this, I venture to say, there could be no doubt entertained by the public, if it were allowable to bring the proper evidence into court. It is also to be admitted that, to heighten the effect, he was too apt to bring in a dash of levity respecting Scriptural characters and incidents—a kind of bad taste, however, which was likewise exemplified to his hand by the common conversation of his countrymen; for certain it is, that the piety of the old Scotch people did not exclude a very considerable share of what may be called an unconscious profanity. There is a jocular ballad of Burns, of the kind described, which he exhibited to his friends as if designed for the press, with a prose note from the publisher : Courteous Reader—The following is certainly the production of one of those licentious ungodly (too much abounding in this our day) wretches, who take it as a compliment to be called wicked, provided you allow them to be witty, Pity it is, that while so many tar-barrels in the country are empty, and so many gibbets untenanted, some example is not made of these profligates.' Unluckily, Burns's collection of these facetiæ, including his own essays in the same walk, fell after his death into the hands of one of those publishers who would sacrifice the highest interests of humanity to put an additional penny into their own purses; and, to the lasting grief of all the friends of our poet, they were allowed the honours of the press. The mean-looking volume which resulted should be a warning to all honourable men of letters against the slightest connection with clandestine literature, much more the degradation of contributing to it. It may also serve as a curious study to those who take a delight in estimating the possible varieties of intellectual mood and of moral sensation of which our nature is capable.
1 * In Britain, and particularly in reading Scotland, you know that the library of the peasant is composed chiefly of such coarse fictions as the Exploits of George Buchanan, the histories of John Cheap the Chapman, Leper the Tailor, Lothian Tom, Paddy from Cork, the Creelman's Courtship, Simple John and his Twelve Misfortunes, and such like ; all of them saturated with indecency, and forming a library of facetiæ, which, in spite of the cant of the day about the moral and religious character of the country, prove how much the national humour and peculiarities of the people have been and still are imbued with coarseness and indelicacy.
'In Prussia, I am inclined to think that the vulgar taste is different; at least if the selection which I made be taken as a criterion. It is clear that there is far less love of the prurient and coarsely humorous about the German people, than among either the French or the British.'--Strang's Germany in 1831. 2 vols. 1836.
· With his usual anxiety to communicate his new compositions to his friends, Burns sent copies of Bruce's Address to various gentlemen of the liberal complexion of politics, whom he thought likely to be pleased with such an effusion at such a crisis. The three following letters were all employed as enclosures of copies
of that poem:
DUMFRIES, 5th December 1793. SIR Heated as I was with wine yesternight, I was perhaps rather seemingly impertinent in my anxious wish to be honoured with your acquaintance. You will forgive it—it was the impulse of heartfelt respect. “He is the father of the Scottish county reform, and is a man who does honour to the business, at the same time that the business does honour to him,' said my worthy friend Glenriddel to somebody by me, who was talking of your coming to this country with your corps. Then,I said, 'I have a woman's longing to take him by the hand, and say to him : “Sir, I honour you as a man to whom the interests of humanity are dear, and as a patriot to whom the rights of your country are sacred.” ?
In times like these, sir, when our commoners are barely able, by the glimmering of their own twilight understandings, to scrawl a frank, and when lords are what gentlemen would be ashamed to be, to whom shall a sinking country call for help? To the independent country gentleman. To him who has too deep a stake in his country not to be in earnest for her welfare; and who, in the honest pride of man, can view with equal contempt the insolence of office and the allurements of corruption.
I mentioned to you a Scots ode or song I had lately composed, and which, I think, has some merit. Allow me to enclose it. When I fall in with you at the theatre, I shall be glad to have your opinion of it. Accept of it, sir, as a very humble, but most sincere tribute of respect from a man who, dear as he prizes poetic fame, yet holds dearer an independent mind. I have the honour to be, R. B.
| Not unlikely, Captain Robertson of Lude,