TOUR OF THE SCOTTISH BORDERS
The Bard’s journey through the Borders began from Edinburgh on Saturday the 5th of May 1787, before we leave the Capital City it may be of interest to know of some of the happenings that occurred which had some bearing on his tour.
On the 21st of April the first Edinburgh edition of his works were published, and was an immediate success. He sold the copyright of his works to his publisher, William Creech, for the sum of 100 guineas. On the evening before he began his tour, Burns wrote a letter to the Earl of Glencairn, thanking him for his many kindnesses. The Earl was a great admirer of the works of the poet, and it was he who introduced Burns to many of the Edinburgh Gentry.
Another admirer of the Bard was Robert Ainslie, a law student in an Edinburgh office. A young man of carefree disposition, a man who liked the lassies, and if there was a glass of wine to be had, or a song to be sung, so much the better. A man who fitted very well into the character of the poet, and it was he who was to accompany Burns on part of his tour. Before leaving Edinburgh Burns bought himself a mare for the sum of over four pounds sterling, quite a considerable amount of money in those days. Burns named her “Jenny Geddes”, after the lady who threw the stool at the Bishop of Edinburgh, when he tried to force the Scottish Church to accept the book of common prayer. Patrick Miller, who owned an estate in Dumfriesshire, had offered Burns the lease of a farm on this estate, and the poet intended to visit this farm sometime during his tour. So it was that on that Saturday morning, Burns left Edinburgh a very happy man, he was looking forward with glee to the many places he would visit where so much of Scotland’s history had been made. Elated by the enormous success of the first Edinburgh edition of his works, with money in his pocket and a companion suited to his needs, he set off on his first visit to the Scottish Borders.
The first destination of the two friends was the market town of Duns, and the route they followed was through Haddington, Gifford and Longformacus. It was about this time that Border towns such as Berwick, Kelso, Jedburgh and Hawick were being linked to Edinburgh by post roads, and the whole area was much more heavily wooded than it is today, with the moorland encroaching on the poorly laid roads. During his tour Burns kept a notebook, and at various times he would note something that interested him, or write his impression of someone he had met. Reading this notebook we find him saying that:
“The Lammermuir hills were miserably dreary” but as he approaches Duns he had a “glorious view of the Merse, Reach Berrywell.”
His notebook continues:
Old Mr. Ainslie an uncommon character his hobbies agriculture, natural philosophy and politics In the first he is sensible, unexceptionably the clearest headed, best informed man I ever met with; in the other two very intelligent As a man of business he has uncommon merit, and by fairly deserving it has made a very decent independence Mrs Ainslie an excellent, cheerful, amiable old woman Miss Ainslie an angel her person a little of the embonpoint but handsome her face, particularly her eyes full of sweetness and good humour she unites three qualities rarely to be found together, keen, solid penetration; sly, witting observation and remark; and the gentlest, most unaffected female Modesty Douglas a clever fine, promising young fellow The family meeting with their brother, my compagnion (sic) de voyage, very charming, particularly the sister. The whole family remarkably attached to their menials Mrs Ainslie full of stories of the sagacity and sense of the little girl in the kitchen Mr Ainslie high in the praises of an African, his house servant all his people old in his service Douglas’s old nurse came to Berrywell yesterday to remind them of its being Douglas’s birthday.
A Mr. Dudgeon a poet at times, a worthy, remarkable character, natural penetration, a great deal of information, some genius, and extreme modesty.
Burns spent that first Saturday night with the Ainslie family and some of their friends, and as he notes in his diary he accompanied the Ainslies to the morning service in the local parish church, where the Rev. Robert Bowmaker had chosen as the text for his sermon a severe denunciation of obstinate sinners.
The poet, observing that Rachel Ainslie was having difficulty finding the text in her bible, wrote and passed to her the following note:
“Fair maid, you need not take the hint,
Nor idle text pursue,
‘Twas guilty sinners that he meant
Not angels such as you”.
Burns gives his impression of the Rev. R. Bowmaker in these words:
“He has strong lungs, pretty judicious remark, but unskilled in propriety, and altogether unconscious of his want of it”.
The Bard’s companion, Robert Ainslie, was born at Berrywell, and became a writer to the Signet in 1789. He is the hero of the Burns song “Robin Shure in Hairst” one verse and the chorus of which will be sufficient to give the reader an idea of the theme of the song.
“I gaed up to Dunse,
To warp a wab o’ plaiden,
At his daddie’s yett,
Wha met me but Robin”.
“Robin shure in hairst,
I shure wi’ him,
Fient a heuk had I,
Yet I stack by him”.
Owing to his intimacy with the Bard, Robert Ainsley was welcomed into the leading literary circles of Edinburgh. Burns introduced him to Mrs Nancy McLehose (Clarinda), a Glasgow girl then living in Edinburgh, and he is frequently mentioned in the correspondence connected with that interesting episode in the poet’s career.
He became an Elder in the Church of Scotland and wrote two small religious works, “A father’s gift to his children” and “Reasons for the hope that is within us”.Sometime before he died on the 11th of April 1838, he presented Sir Walter Scott with a manuscript copy of “Tam o’ Shanter”, which he had received from the Bard. Robert Ainslie is buried in the churchyard of St. Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh.
His tombstone is inscribed thus:
“Sacred to the memory of Robert Ainslie, Writer to the Signet, who was born at Berrywell near Dunse, on the 13th January, 1767, and died at Edinburgh on 11th April 1838, in the 72nd year of his age.
This memorial is erected by his disconsolate Widow, Isabella Munro, daughter of the late Rev. Robert Munro, Ullapool, Ross-shire”.
Robert is also named on the tombstone of the Ainslie family in the churchyard in Duns, and that memorial is inscribed as follows:
To the memory of
Of Darnchester, who died at
Cairnbank on the 10th April 1795
of Whitelaw in East Lothian, his spouse,
who also died there on the 18th Dec. 1803.
Their only daughter, who also died at
Cairnbank on the 14th November 1828.
Sir Whitelaw Ainslie,
Who died at London on the 29th of April,
1837, & is interred at King Edward
Robert Ainslie, W.S.
Who died at Edinburgh on 11th April 1838,
Their youngest son who died near
Banff at Eden, Aberdeenshire 19th August
1850, aged 79, and is interred near to his
brother Whitelaw, in the old Church of King Edward.
Robert Ainslie Senior was a land steward on the estates of Lord Douglas Berwickshire, and when Burns was leaving to go to England he presented the Bard with a copy of “The Letters of Junius”, in testimony of the most sincere friendship and esteem. Douglas Ainslie (1771-1850), succeeded his father as lawyer and land steward to Lord Douglas’s estates in Berwickshire, and made a considerable fortune. He bought Cairnbank in Berwickshire, (The house on the opposite side of the road from Berrywell), but died at Eden Bank, near Banff.
The Mr. Dudgeon, whom Burns met on that first Saturday night, was William Dudgeon (1753-1813). William was a poet of local reputation, whose song “Up among yon cliffy rocks”, enjoyed a great deal of local popularity. He was born at Tynyngham, East Lothian in 1753 and had a large farm near Duns. He worked as a farmer all of his life, and died at Newmains, Whitekirk, in 1813.
Miss Rachel Ainslie was born at Duns in 1768, and died, unmarried, in 1828. She is buried in the Duns Parish Kirkyard
The Duns Burns club has erected a cairn near the spot where Burns stopped to admire the view. This view would reveal to him the largest and richest tract of agricultural land in the whole of Scotland.
During his stay at Berrywell Burns received several unsolicited parcels of poems from a local rhymer named Simon Gray. Simon invited Burns to make some comment on his verses, hoping that the Bard would make some flattering remarks.
Burns made his first reply very short:
“ Simon Gray, you’re dull today”.
Simon persisted and Burns wrote a second time:
“Dullness, with redoubted sway, has seized the wits of Simon Gray”.
Simon was still unabashed, so Burns wrote for the third time:
“Dear Simon Gray, the other day, when you sent me some rhyme
I could not then just ascertain, its worth, for want of time
But now today good Mr. Gray, I’ve read it o’er and o’er,
Tried all my skill, but find I’m still, just where I was before.
We auld wives’ minions gie our opinions, solicited or no;
Then of its fau’ts my honest thoughts, I’ll give and here I go .
Such damn’d bombast no time that’s past will show or time to come
So Simon dear, your song I’ll tear, and with it wipe my Bum.”
Legend has it that Duns Parish church dates back to Norman times, but the church that Burns knew was demolished in 1790. The present building was restored in 1880.
William Cruikshank M.A. was born in Duns and was trained by his uncle and namesake, William Cruikshank, a famous schoolmaster at Duns. In 1770 he was appointed Rector of the High School of the Canongate in Edinburgh, and in 1772 he received a classical Mastership in the High School. Burns and he became close friends and the poet resided with him at No. 2, (afterwards No. 30), St. James Square, which is now part of the Register House in Princes Street. William Cruikshank had only one daughter, Jenny, and at 12 years old she was a great favourite of the poet. During the Bard’s stay with her father Jenny played the songs of Burns on her harpsichord and sang them to him while he adjusted them to the music, which resulted in the perfect marriage of words and music. Burns acknowledged his indebtedness to her in “A Rosebud by my early walk” and “Beauteous Rosebud, young and gay”. Jenny became the wife of James Henderson, a writer in Jedburgh, and when she died in 1835 she was buried in Jedburgh Abbey.
William Cruikshank died in 1795 and is buried in the “Old Calton Burying ground” in Edinburgh.
On his death Burns wrote this epitaph:
“Honest Will to heaven is gane,
An’ mony shall lament him,
His faults they all in Latin lay,
In English nane e’er kent them”
The Rev. James Gray. M.A. (1770-1830)
James Gray was born at Duns and received part of his education under William Cruikshank. Though apprenticed to his father as a shoemaker or leather merchant, Gray followed literary pursuits in his leisure time, and in 1794 he became Rector of the Grammar School of Dumfries. The sons of Robert Burns were his pupils there, and he became intimately acquainted with the poet.
He wrote a vindication of the character of Robert Burns and sent it to Alexander Peterkin, and he published Gray’s letter in his edition of Burns’s works (1815). The Rev. Gray’s second wife was Miss Mary Peacock, the “Dear female friend of Clarinda”. He died at Rhiy in India in 1830.
In the Bard’s diary for this Monday he notes:
“Coldstream, went over to England Cornhill glorious river Tweed clear and majestic fine bridge dine at Coldstream with Mr. Ainslie and Mr. Foreman beat Mr. F. in a dispute about Voltaire. Tea at Lennel House with Mr.Brydone. Mr. Brydone a most excellent heart, kind, joyous, and benevolent; but a good deal of the French indiscriminate complaisance from his situation past and present, an admirer of everything that bears a splendid title, or that possesses a large estate. Mrs. Brydone a most elegant woman in her person and manners; the tones of her voice remarkably sweet my reception extremely flattering sleep at Coldstream”.
This ends the Poets notes concerning Coldstream, but I think that there are one or two stories that should be noted here, regarding the people he met, and events that occurred.
The architect of the five arched bridge was a man named Smeaton. Robert Ainslie tells the story of how when he and Burns crossed the Smeaton bridge, setting foot on English soil for the first time, the Bard doffed his blue bonnet, and kneeling on the turf by the roadside, prayed and invoked a blessing on Scotland, using the last two stanzas of his “Cotter’s Saturday Night”.
“O Scotia! My dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent!
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace and sweet content!
And Oh, may Heaven their simple lives prevent
From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile;
Then, howe’er crowns and coronets be rent,
A virtuous populace may rise the while,
And stand a wall of fire around our much-loved isle.
O Thou! who pour’d the patriotic tide
That stream’d thro’ Wallace’s undaunted heart;
Who dar’d to, nobly, stem tyrannic pride,
Or nobly die, the second glorious part,
(The patriot’s God, peculiarly thou art,
His friend, inspirer, guardian and reward!)
O never, never, Scotia’s realm desert,
But still the patriot, and the patriot-bard,
In bright succession raise, her ornament and guard!”.
This story was sent to James Hogg, the “Ettrick Shepherd”, in a letter dated 20th of April 1834, some 47 years after this event was supposed to have taken place, and because of the great lapse of time taken by Robert Ainslie to relate the story, and the fact that Burns makes no note or comment about it, I believe that the story is a nice one, but is only a figment of Robert Ainslie’s imagination.
Mr. Foreman was a farmer in the locality of Coldstream, and the dispute that Burns says he won, was about the great French philosopher Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire.
Mr. Patrick Brydone of Lennel House was born at Dumbarton in 1741, and was educated at Glasgow. He was the son of Robert Brydone, parish minister of Coldingham, and at one time he held the office of comptroller of the stamp office. He travelled to many parts of the world, and in 1773 he published two volumes entitled “A tour of Sicily and Malta”, which were republished in many new editions, and were translated into French and German.
Mrs. Brydone was the daughter of Dr. Robertson, the noted historian.
As Robert Ainslie, the father of Robert Ainslie, (the Bard’s companion on part of his tour) was born at Darnchester near Coldstream, it can be assumed with near certainty that he would be acquaint with Mr. And Mrs. Brydone of Lennel House, as would his son Robert, and as Burns notes in his journal that he dined in the middle of the day with Mr. Foreman, the local farmer, and later had tea at Lennel House with Mr. and Mrs. Brydone, I believe that the Brydone’s would invite the two Roberts to stay over that night.
The present Lennel House was built after 1787.
Many years after the Bard’s visit to Coldstream, Sir Walter Scott visited Patrick Brydone, and in Scott’s “Marmion” he is spoken as:
“Well worth the whole bernandine brood,
That e’er wore sandal, frock or hood”.
Next morning, Tuesday 8th of May, Burns set off for Kelso, and he notes the following in his diary:
Tuesday Breakfast at Kelso charming situation of Kelso fine bridge over the Tweed enchanting views and prospects on both sides of the river, particularly the Scotch side; introduced to Mr. Scott of the Royal Bank, an excellent, modest fellow visit Roxburgh Palace fine situation of it ruins of Roxburgh Castle a holly-bush growing where James 11. Of Scotland was accidentally killed by the bursting of a cannon. A small old religious ruin, and a fine old garden planted by the religious, rooted out and destroyed by an English Hottentot, a maitre d’hotel of the Duke’s, a Mr. Cole. Climate and soil of Berwickshire, and even Roxburghshire, superior to Ayrshire bad roads. Turnip and sheep husbandry, their great improvements Mr. McDowal, at Caverton Mill, a friend of Mr. Ainslies, with whom I dined today, sold his sheep, ewe and lamb together, at two guineas apiece wash their sheep before shearing seven or eight pounds of washen wool in a fleece low markets consequently low rents fine lands not above sixteen shillings a Scotch acre magnificence of farmers and farm houses come up Teviot and up Jed to Jedburgh to lie, and so wish myself a good night.
Robert Ainslie was a friend of Mr. David Mcdowall of Caverton Mill, and Burns and he both dined at the Mcdowall home. The Mcdowall family had been farmers in the district of Kalewater, since the late 1500s.
The “Fine bridge” that Burns speaks of was washed away by the great flood of 26th October 1797, and it was replaced by Rennie’s five-arch bridge between 1800-1803.
The Mr.Scott, who was introduced to Burns in Kelso, was Robert Scott, of the Royal Bank. He was appointed agent for the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1774, and had formerly been employed as agent to the Duke of Buccleuch.
Returning to the Bard’s Journal we read under the date Wednesday 9th of May:
Breakfast with Mr. Fair in Jedburgh, a blind man but the first man of business as a writer in town.
A squabble between Mrs Fair, a craz’d talkative Slattern and a sister of hers, an old maid, respecting a relief minister Miss gives Madam the lie, & Madam by way of revenge upbraids her that she laid snares to entangle the said Minister, then a widower, in the net of matrimony go about two miles out of Jedburgh to a roup of Parks meet a polite soldier-like gentleman, a Captain Rutherford who had been many years thro the wilds of America, a prisoner among the Indians Charming, romantic situation of Jedburgh, with gardens, orchards, &c. intermingled among the houses fine old ruins, a once magnificent Cathedral All the towns here have the appearance of old, rude grandeur; but extremely idle Jed a fine romantic little river Dine with Captn. Rutherford. The Captn. A specious polite fellow, very fond of money in his farming way, but showed a particular respect to My Bardship his lady exactly a proper matrimonial second part of him Miss Rutherford a beautiful girl, but too far gone woman to expose so much of so fine a swelling bosom-her face tho’ very fine rather inanimately heavy return to Jedburgh walk up Jed with some ladies to be shown Love-lane & Black-burn two fairy scenes introduced to Mr. Potts, Writer, a very clever fellow; & Mr Somerville, the clergyman of the place, a man and a gentleman, but sadly addicted to punning The walking partie of ladies Mrs.Fair & Miss Lookup her sister before mentioned, N.B. these two appear still more comfortably ugly and stupid, and bore me most shockingl The two Miss Fairs, tolerably agreeable but too much of the Mother’s half-ell mouth & hag-like features Miss Hope, a tolerably pretty girl, fond of laughing and fun Miss Lindsay, a good-humor’d amiable girl; rather short et embonpoint, but handsome and extremely graceful beautiful hazel eyes full of spirit & sparkling with delicious moister an engaging face & manner, un tout ensemble that speaks her of the first order of female minds her sister, a bonie, strappan, rosy, sonsie lass Shake myself loose, after several unsuccessful efforts, of Mrs Fair & Miss Lookup and somehow or other get hold of Miss Lindsay’s arm my heart thawed into melting pleasure after being so long frozen up in the Greenland bay of indifference amid the noise and nonsense of Edinr. Miss seems very well pleased with my Bardship’s distinguishing her, and after some slight qualms which I could easily mark, she sets the titter round at defiance, and kindly allows me to keep my hold; and when departed by the ceremony of my introduction to Mr. Somerville she met me half to resume my situation Nota Bene the Poet within a point and a half of being damnably in love I am afraid my bosom still nearly as much tinder as ever— The old, cross-grained, whiggish, ugly, slanderous hag Miss Lookup with all the poisonous spleen of a disappointed ancient maid, stops me very unseasonably to ease her hell-rankling bursting breast by falling abusively foul on the Miss Lindsays particularly my Dulcinea; I hardly refrain from cursing her to her face May she, for her pains, be curst with eternal desire and damn’d with endless disappointment! Hear me, O heavens, and give ear, O Earth! May the burden of antiquated Virginity crush her down to the lowest regions of the bottomless Pit! for daring to mouth her calumnious slander on one of the finest pieces of the workmanship of almighty Excellence. Sup at Mr. Fair’s vexed that the Miss Lindsays are not of the supper party as they only are wanting Mrs Fair & Miss Lookup still improve infernally on my hands Set out next morning (May 10th) for Wauchope the seat of my correspondent Mrs Scott breakfast by the way with Dr. Elliot, an agreeable good-hearted, climate-beaten, old veteran in the medical line; now retired to a romantic but rather moorish on the banks of the Roole he accompanies us almost to Wauchope we traverse the country to the top of Bonchester, the scene of an old encampment, & Woolee hill Wauchope Mr. Scott exactly the figure and face commonly given to Sancho Panca very shrewd in his farming matters and not infrequently stumbles on what may be called a strong thing rather than a good thing but in other respects a complete Hottentot Mrs Scott all the sense, taste, intrepidity of face, & bold, critical decision which usually distinguish female authors Sup with Mr. Potts a fine agreeable partie Breakfast next morning (11th May) with Mr. Sommerville the bruit of Miss Lindsay and my Bardship by means of the invention & malice of Miss Lookup-Mr. Sommerville sends to Dr. Lindsay begging him and family to breakfast if convenient, but at all events to send Miss Lindsay accordingly Miss Lindsay only comes I find Miss Lindsay would soon play the devil with me I meet with some little flattering attentions from her Mrs. Sommerville an excellent motherly, agreeable woman, and a fine family. Mr. Ainslie and Mrs. Sommerville junrs., with Mr. Fair, Miss Lindsay and myself, go to see Esther, a very remarkable woman for reciting poetry of all kinds, and sometimes making Scotch doggrel herself; she can repeat by heart almost everything she has ever read, particularly Pope’s Homer from end to end; has studied Euclid by herself, and, in short, is a woman of very extraordinary abilities. On conversing with her I find her fully equal to the character given of her. She is very flattered that I send for her, and that she sees a poet who has “put out a book,” as she says. She is, among other things, a great florist and is rather past the meridian of once celebrated beauty , but alas! tho very well married, before that period she was violently suspected for some of the tricks of the Cytherean De’esse I walk in Esther’s garden with Miss Lindsay, and after some little chit-chat of the tender kind, I presented her with a proof print of my Nob, which she accepted with something more tender than gratitude. She told me many little stories which Miss Lookup had retailed concerning her and me, with prolonging pleasure God bless her! Was waited on by the magistrates, and presented with the freedom of the burgh. Took farewell of Jedburgh, with some melancholy, disagreeable sensations Jed, pure be thy crystal streams, and hallowed thy sylvan banks! Sweet Isabella Lindsay, may peace dwell in thy bosom, uninterrupted except by the tumultuous throbbings of rapturous love! That love-kindling eye must beam on another, not on me; that graceful form must bless another’s arms, not mine!
The house in which Burns stayed for three nights was situated at 27 Canongate, adjoining Deans Close. In 1913 a plague was erected to commemorate his visit. His host, Mr. James Fair, was a lawyer in the town, and had been unfortunate to receive attention from a quack doctor, who caused permanent damage to his eyesight. He purchased the estate of Langlee and married Miss Catherine Lookup. For some years James Fair was an agent for the British Linen Bank The house he lived in was one of the chief houses in the burgh, it had large rooms, and the marble jambs and carved woodwork around the fireplace of the largest room, were relics of sixteenth century grandeur.
John Rutherford, pursued a military career in the 42nd Regiment based at New York, after he was rescued from the Indians. After he retired he acquired the estate of Mossburnford, and it was here that Burns visited him.
Miss Isabella Lindsay was the daughter of the Jedburgh doctor Robert Lindsay, whose home at that time was the house associated with Mary, Queen of Scots. She had a mild flirtation with Robert Burns, and as she was engaged to Adam Armstrong at that time, she was criticised locally for her “easy manners” with the Bard. Twenty four days after parting with Burns she married Adam, and as he was employed by the Russian government she went with him to that country, and never again returned to Scotland.
The Rev. Thomas Sommerville was the author of “A history of Great Britain during the reign of Queen Anne”, but his most important work was a very interesting book, “My own life and times”, which gives valuable information on local and national affairs, 1741-1814.
Doctor Gilbert Elliot (born 1717) with whom Burns breakfasted on his way to Bonchester Bridge, had a chair that had belonged to “James Thomson”, author of “The Seasons”, which Burns much admired. Thomson was born at Ednam and educated at Jedburgh.
Cytherean was a common eighteenth century euphemism for a prostitute, so Burns was saying that Esther Easton was wanton.
Esther Easton lived in a house on Dr. Lindsay’s property, so the garden of the “Queen Mary house” must have been much larger than it is today. She was the wife of a poor gardener, and kept school for a short time. She died in 1789.
The “proof-print of my nob” which Burns gave to Isabella Lindsay, was one of the thirty-six prints of the Bard’s head engraved by John Beugo, (1759 – 1841), the famed Edinburgh engraver.
On the 11th of May the Bard was asked to attend the magistrates of Jedburgh, and was presented with the “Freedom of the Burgh”.
It was usual for the magistrates to present a “Riddle of Claret” to the person receiving this honour, and although Burns offered to pay for the claret, the magistrates over-ruled him. Burns says very little about this honour, and the local records show that he did not sign the Burgess roll, but this was not too unusual in these days, when the clerk responsible for seeing this duty done quite often neglected his task. For nearly two centuries his Burgess ticket was thought to be lost or destroyed, until in 1939 the ticket suddenly appeared at a sale. Unfortunately the Jedburgh people could not raise the necessary funds to purchase it, and it was not until 1971 that the Burgess ticket presented to Robert Burns in 1787, finally returned to Jedburgh.
The ticket records that-----
“ On the 11th of May 1787, Robert Burns Esqu. was entered and received into the liberties of this burgh, and made a free Burgess and guild brother of the same, who gave his oath with all ceremonies used and wont. Whereupon he required acts of court and protested for an extract of the same under the common seal of the burgh”.
On the same day that Burns received his Burgess ticket from the magistrates, he took his farewell of Jedburgh with some regrets, mostly because he was leaving Miss Isabella Lindsay behind. About the end of February or the beginning of March, while Burns was in Edinburgh he received a letter from Mrs. Scott of Wauchope House which was in rhyme. In this letter she praises his poetic skills, but doubts that such skills could come from one who had not gone to university or college. Mrs. Scott was a niece of Mrs. Cockburn, the Author of “The Flowers of the Forest”, and it was she who sent Mrs. Scott a copy of the “Kilmarnock Edition”, which prompted her to write to Burns.
One verse of her rhyming letter to Burns states:
“My canty, witty, rhyming ploughman,
I hafflins doubt it isn’a true man,
That thee between the stilts were bred,
Wi’ ploughman schooled, wi’ ploughman fed,
I doubt it sair, ye’ve drawn your knowledge,
Either frae grammar school or college”.
In his reply Burns reminds her that she had promised in her letter to give him a marled plaid to keep him warm on a winter’s night, and that he would be pleased to receive it.
One verse of the Bard’s reply says:
“For you no bred to barn or byre,
Wha sweetly tune the Scottish lyre,
Thanks to you for your line,
The marled plaid ye kindly spare,
By me should gratefully be ware,
‘Twad please me to the nine”.
The home of Mrs. Scott was demolished 1n the 1800s, and in 1985 the Hawick Burns Club erected a cairn on the site of Wauchope House, to commemorate the visit of Robert Burns to the District of Hawick
A plaque on this cairn has a quote from a part of a verse of the Bard’s reply to Mrs. Scott’s letter:
“That I for poor auld Scotland’s sake,
Some usefu’ plan or beuk could make,
Or sing a sang at least”.
Mrs. Scott died on the 19th of February 1789, and after her death a book of poems entitled “Alonza and Cora” was published, in which the reply of Robert Burns appears in print for the first time.
Returning once more to the Bard’s journal it notes:
Kelso dine with the farmer’s club all gentlemen, talking of high matters each of them keeps a hunter from thirty to fifty pounds value, and attend the fox-huntings in the country Go out with Mr. Kerr, one of the club, and a friend of Mr. Ainslie’s, to lie Mr. Kerr, a most gentlemanly, clever, handsome fellow, a widower with some fine children his mind & manner astonishingly like my dear old friend Robert Muir in Kilmarnock every thing in Mr. Kerrs most elegant he offers to accompany me in my English tour dine next day (12th May), a devilish wet day, with Sir Alexander Don a pretty clever fellow but little in him far, from being a match for his devine lady poverty and pride the reigning features of the family lie at Stodrig again; and set out (Sunday 13th May) for Melrose visit Dryburgh, a fine old ruined Abbey, by the way still bad weather cross river Leader & come up Tweed to Melrose dine there and visit that far-fam’d glorious ruins come to Selkirk, up Ettrick the whole country here-about, both on Tweed and Ettrick, remarkably stony.
The Farmer’s Club of these 1787s invited Burns to dine with them in Kelso and after much research I am unable to say where they dined.
According to the Royal Commission on the ancient monuments of Scotland, a Mr. John Chatto built a house in Roxburgh Street in 1666. The entrance to this building was in “Jamieson’s Entry”, and this house is assumed to have become “The King’s Head Hotel”, “Clow Furnishings” replaced it in 1956 and “More’s Stores” now occupy the building. This hostelry could well have been the venue that the Farmer’s Club used, but so also could “The Queen’s Head” or “The Spread Eagle” or “The Cross Keys”, and I do not know of any written record or minute of the Farmer’s Club of 1787, which could prove where they dined with Robert Burns.
Mr. Gilbert Kerr, who was a member of the Farmer’s Club, invited Burns to stay the night at his “Stodrig” farm, and knowing that Burns intended to visit the north of England, he offered to accompany him on that part of his tour.
Sir Alexander and Lady Henrietta Don invited the Bard to dine with them at their home of Newton Don. She was the elder daughter of the 13th Earl of Glencairn, and sister to Earl James, the Patron of Robert Burns. She was in receipt of a parcel of Burns’s self-styled “Epistolary Performances”, which today make up the “Don Manuscripts”, now in the library of the Edinburgh University.
Mr. Samuel Robinson, a Brewer at Ednam, was in Eyemouth on 20th of May 1787 when Burns was visiting that town, and he accompanied the Bard on his visit to Dunbar.
Alexander Peterkin was the Editor of “The Kelso Chronicle” in 1883, and among other works he published was an edition of Robert Ferguson’s poems, and a reprint of Currie’s “Life of Burns”. When it was the fashionable thing to denigrate the character of Robert Burns, Alexander Peterkin spoke up in defence of the Bard.
In 1787 the Grammar School was situated on the left hand side of the ruins of Kelso Abbey, and Baillie George Jordon conducted Robert Burns on a tour of this school. Sir Walter Scott received some of his education at this Grammar School.
When Robert Burns was living at “Ellisland Farm”, near Dumfries, he was introduced to “Captain Francis Grose”, who was the author of “The Antiquities of England and Wales”. This gentleman was gathering material for his new book, “The Antiquities of Scotland”, and during some conversation the Captain asked Burns to help him by relating some of the folklore and superstitions of Ayrshire. Burns answered that he would be pleased to do this if Captain Grose would include a sketch of Alloway Kirkyard, where his father was buried, in his book. The result of this transaction was the composition of “Tam o’ Shanter”, which first appeared in “The Edinburgh Magazine”, for March 1791, a month before it appeared in “The Antiquities of Scotland”. Burns wrote two poems and one epigram to Captain Grose, and one of those poems “On the late Captain Grose’s peregrinations through Scotland”, was first published in “The Kelso Chronicle” on May 4th 1789.
Captain Grose was a very stout man, and his bed would require to be very well built to bear his weight.
Burns made fun of his bulk in his epigram, when he says:
“The devil got notice that Grose was a-dying
So whip! At the summons old Satan came flying;
But when he approach’d where poor Francis lay moaning,
And saw each bedpost with its burden a-groaning,
Astonish’d, confounded, cried Satan, “By God”.
I’ll want ‘im, ere I take such a damnable load”.
Anyone who visits Kelso and looks towards the village of Ednam, will see on Ednam Hill a plinth, and that plinth is a memorial to James Thomson, the author of that lovely poem “The Seasons”, and that stirring patriotic Anthem “Rule Britannia”. James Thomson was born at the Manse of Ednam in 1700, and was educated at Jedburgh.
David Stewart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan was born in 1742. He delighted to pose as a patron of literature, and it was he who caused the mighty statue of Sir William Wallace to be erected in the area of Dryburgh. He arranged for a celebration of James Thomson’s birthday at Ednam Hill, and among the invited guests was Robert Burns, who, because the ceremony was taking place too near harvest time, wrote his apologies.
However, the ceremony turned out to be a fiasco, the bust of Thomson, which was to be crowned at the height of the ceremony, was smashed to pieces in a drunken frolic before its erection, and the Earl had to be content with laying a wreath of bay leaves on a volume of Thomson’s poems. When Burns sent his letter of apology to the Earl of Buchan, he enclosed a poem called “Address to the Shade of Thomson”, and some time later he presented the Earl with a copy of “Scots Wha Hae”.
The poem which Burns dedicated to Thomson says:
“While virgin Spring, by Eden’s flood
Unfolds her tender mantle green,
Or pranks the sod in frolic mood
Or tunes Eolian strains between;
While Summer with a matron grace
Retreats to Dryburgh’s cooling shade,
Yet oft, delighted, stops to trace
The progress of the spiky blade;
While Autumn, benefactor kind,
By Tweed erects his ag’ed head
,And sees, with self approving mind,
Each creature on his bounty fed;
While maniac Winter rages o’er
The hills where classic Yarrow flows,
Rousing the turbid torrent’s roar,
Or sweeping, wild, a waste of snows;
So long, sweet poet of the year,
Shall bloom that wreath thou well hast won;
While Scotia, with exulting tear
Proclaims that Thomson was her son.”
A bust of James Thomson has a place of honour in the “Poet’s corner” of Westminster Abbey.
The pilasters which separate the different clustered pillars which support the vaulted roof of the Gothic Temple in Scott’s monument in Edinburgh, are crowned with finely ornamented capitals, containing the likenesses of sixteen Scottish poets, and one of these is of James Thomson of Ednam.
Burns does not say anything more about the Dryburgh Abbey in his Journal, only what is recorded above. The Abbey was founded by Hugh de Morville during the reign of David 1 (1124-1153). The graves of Sir Walter Scott and Earl Haig lie within the present ruins.
Robert Burns dined in this market town of Roxburghshire, and he notes that he visited “That far-famed glorious ruins”, in his Journal.
This Cistercian Abbey was founded by David 1, and within its ruins is buried the heart of King Robert the Bruce.
The Bard’s note concerning Selkirk is very brief, merely stating that on Sunday 13th May “the rain was continual”. The two travellers sought shelter in “The Old Forest Inn ”and while Burns does not relate what happened that evening anywhere in his writings, the following story is told in John Stuart Blackie’s “Life of Burns”, published in 1888, and the story is attributed to James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd.
“I have often heard Doctor Clarkson tell……that when Mr. Ainslie and Burns arrived in Selkirk that evening, they were just like “twa drookit craws”. The Doctor and other two gentlemen were sitting in Veitch’s Inn near the West Port, taking their glass…….When the travellers arrived, the trio within viewed them from the window as they alighted, and certainly conceived no very high opinion of them. In a short time, however, they sent Mr. Veitch to the Doctor and his friends, requesting permission for two strangers to take a glass with them. The Doctor objected, and asked Mr. Veitch what the men were like. Mr. Veitch said he could not well say; the one spoke rather like a gentleman but the other was a drover-looking chap; so they refused to admit them, sending them word that they were sorry they were engaged elsewhere, and obliged to go away. The Doctor saw them riding off next morning; and it was not till the third day, that he learned it had been the celebrated Scotch poet whom they had refused to admit.
That refusal hangs about the Doctor’s heart like a dead-weight to this day, and will do till the day of his death, for the Bard had not a more enthusiastic admirer”
Today a plaque marks the site of “The Old Forest Inn”
Burns wrote one letter while he stayed at The Old Forest Inn, and that was addressed to William Creech, his Edinburgh publisher.
I reprint that letter here:
William Creech, Esq: London
(Selkirk 13 May 1787)
My honoured Friend, The enclosed I have just wrote, nearly extempore, in a solitary Inn in Selkirk, after a miserable wet day’s riding------I have been over most of East Lothian, Berwick, Roxburgh & Selkirk shires; and next week I begin a tour through the north of England-----Yesterday I dined with Lady Hariot, sister to my noble Patron----Quem Deus conservet! I would write till I would tire you as much with dull prose as I dare say by this time you are with wretched verse, but I am jaded to death; so with grateful farewell, I have the honour to be,
Good Sir, yours sincerely Robt. Burns.
William Creech was the publisher of the Edinburgh edition of the Bard’s works, and enclosed in his letter Burns sent the following poem, of which I give two verses:
“ Auld chuckie Reekie’s sair distrest,
Down droops her ance weel-burnish’d crest,
Nae joy her bonie buskit nest
Can yield ava;
Her darling bird that she lo’es best
Up wimpling stately Tweed I’ve sped,
And Eden scenes on chrystal Jed,
And Ettrick banks now roaring red
While tempests blaw;
But ev’ry joy and pleasure’s fled,
William Creech was a very mean bookseller who subscribed for and sold copies of the Bard’s works. He became a member of the Edinburgh Town Council in 1780, was a magistrate in 1788, and Provost in 1811. The fore-going poem reflects the relationship Burns had with Creech before they quarrelled over the constant delay in paying the Bard his dues.
Although Burns must have known that he was within a few hundred yards of the ruined church where his hero William Wallace was proclaimed “Guardian of Scotland”, his journal says nothing of this important fact.
Burns left Selkirk on Monday 14th of May and he notes in his journal:
“Come to Inverleithing a famous Spaw, & in the vicinity of the palace of Traquair, where having dined, and drank some Galloway-whey, I remain here till tomorrow-----saw Elibanks & Elibraes so famous in baudy song today---on the other side of Tweed---
Tuesday (15 May)
Drank tea yesternight at Pirn with Mr. Horseburgh—Breakfasted today with Mr. Ballantine of Hollowlee Proposal for a four-horse team to consist of Mr. Scott of Wauchope Fitti-land; Logan of Logan Fittie-furr; Ballantine of Hollowlee Fore-wynd; Horseburgh of Horseburgh Fore-furr Dine at a country Inn kept by a Miller, in Earlstone, the birth-place and residence of the celebrated Thomas A Rhymer saw the ruins of his castle Come to Berrywell--------
The earliest mention of Innerleithen is in the reign of Malcolm 1V in the twelfth century, when the parish church was given by the Monarch to the monks of Kelso.At the time of Burns visit the village was merely a collection of thatched cottages irregularly spaced out along the main thoroughfare named “Piccadilly”, now “High Street”. The Bard stayed in an Inn, which stood in Piccadilly, and this Inn was demolished in the 1860s.
A plaque was erected on the site in 1913.
It is rather strange that while he was so near to the Vale of Yarrow he did not go to see what are undoubtedly among the Border’s most beautiful scenes.
Yarrow gives its name to the river and the parish in Selkirkshire, and has been extolled by many songwriters.
Horseburgh of Pirn
Pirn was one of the most ancient houses in the county, and the family have been extinct in the male line since 1911. The house has been demolished and Innerleithen Primary school has been built on its site.
The Bard immortalised Gala Water in his “Braw Lads o’ Gala Water”, and like many other poems written by the poet, the theme was taken from an old song.
“Braw lads on Yarrow braes,
They rove amang the blooming heather;
But Yarrow braes not Ettrick shaws
Can match the lads o’ Gala Water.
But there is ane, a secret ane,
Abune them a’ I lo’e him better;
And I’ll be his, and he’ll be mine,
The bonnie lad o’ Gala Water.
Altho’ his daddie was nae laird,
And tho’ I hae nae meikle tocher,
Yet rich in kindest, truest love,
We’ll tent our flocks by Gala Water.
It ne’er was wealth, it ne’er was wealth,
That coft contentment, peace or pleasure;
The bands and bliss o’ mutual love,
O that’s the chiefest warld’s treasure.
This was the seat of Lord Elibank, and it lay some four miles east of Innerleithen. Burns collected this very old, ribald song, (among others), while he was touring the Borders, and in a letter written to Robert Ainslie dated November 1791, he tells of his distress of mind when trying to clean up this song. The Bard speaks of the proposal for a four horse team, and uses the term Fittie-Land and Fittie-Furr; These terms were used to describe the position of the horse in the team, thus:
Fittie- Land was the rear left-hand plough horse.
Fittie-Furr was the rear right-hand plough horse.
Fore-Wynd was the fore left-hand plough horse.
Fore-Furr was the fore right-hand plough horse.
The Inn that Burns dined at in Earlston is demolished, but a plaque was erected by a member of “Earlston Burns Club” to mark its site.
The castle referred to by Burns is the “Rhymer’s Tower”, the ruins of which can still be seen.
The route that Burns chose to return to Duns was quite a long detour from the direct route, but perhaps he wished to visit Cowdenknowes on the Leader river.
During his stay at Duns it is almost certain that the Bard would pass through Greenlaw, but no where in his writings does he mention the town.
There is a local legend which says that the Bard stopped at Greenlaw and had a meal there. Apparently he was not too pleased with the meal nor with the landlord, and it is alleged that he wrote the following piece of doggerel to commemorate the event:
If ever I pass by this door,
I’ll eat that devil’s head, by God!
Ane and saxpence for a dinner,
Aye, the damned confounded sinner”.
On Wednesday the 16th May the poet wrote in his journal:
Dined at Dunse with the farmer’s club company impossible to do them justice Rev. Mr Smith, a famous punster and Mr. Meikle a celebrated mechanic and inventor of the threshing mills lie again at Berrywell.
Thursday 17th May
Breakfast at Berrywell & walk into Dunse To see a famous knife made by a cutler in Dunse and to be presented to an Italian Prince A pleasant ride with my friend Mr. Robert Ainslie & his angelic sister to Mr. Thomson’s, a man who has newly commenced farmer, & has married a Miss Patty Grieve , formerly a flame of Mr. R. Ainslie’s Company Miss Jacky Grieve, an amiable sister of Mrs. Thomson’s and Mr. Hood, an honest, worthy facetious farmer in the neighbourhood.
Friday 18th May
Ride to Berwick An idle town, but rudely picturesque Meet Lord Errol in walking round the walls his Lordship’s flattering notice of me dine with Mr. Clunzie Merch. nothing particular in company or conversation come up a bold shore & over a wild country to Eyemouth sup & sleep at Mr. Grieves.
Saturday 19th May
Spend the day at Mr. Grieves Made a Royal Arch Mason of St. Ebbe’s Lodge Mr. Wm. Grieve, the eldest brother, a joyous, warm-hearted, jolly, clever fellow takes a hearty glass & sings a good song Mr Robert Grieve, his brother and partner in trade a good fellow but says little Mr. James Carmichael, schoolmaster, of the partie an agreeable fellow take a sail after dinner fishing of all kinds pays tithes at Eyemouth.
Shortly after the publication of the “Kilmarnock Edition” of the works of Robert Burns, his name and fame became widely known, not only in his native Ayrshire, but also in ever-widening circles throughout Scotland and beyond.
It is well documented that the Bard was the Depute-Master of Lodge St. James Tarbolton, and respected as a mason, a poet, and a songwriter, among his many influential and respected friends within the Masonic order.
It is also well documented that when he was seeking to publish his Edinburgh Edition, it was his fellow Mason the Earl of Glencairn who introduced him to Edinburgh society, and that his publisher, William Creech, was also a member of the Craft. During his stay in Edinburgh the Bard attended the Masonic Lodge of St. Andrew’s on the 12th of January 1787, when the Grand Lodge of Scotland was making its annual visit.