Referring to the Bard’s journal under the date of Thursday 24th of May we find the following notes:
“Mr. Kerr and I set out to dine at Mr. Hood’s on our way to England “Charming Rachel! May thy bosom never be wrung by the evils of this life of sorrows, or by the villainy of this worlds sons!” I am taken extremely ill with strong feverish symptoms & take a servant of Mr. Hoods to watch me all night.Embittering remorse scares my fancy at the gloomy forebodings I am determined to live for the future in such a manner as not to be scared at the approach of death. I am sure that I could meet him with indifference, but for “The something beyond the grave”. Mr. Hood agrees to accompany us to England if we will wait him till Sunday”.
The nights rest must have been enough for the poet to have recovered his strength as on the next day,
Friday 25th of May, we find these notes in his journal:
“I go with Mr. Hood to see the roup (an auction) of an unfortunate farmers stock rigid economy and decent industry, do you preserve me from being the principal dramatis Persona in such a scene of horrors! Meet my good old friend Mr. Ainslie who calls on Mr. Hood to take farewell of my Bardship.This day I feel myself warm with sentiments of gratitude to the great preserver of men, who has kindly restored me to health and strength once more. A pleasant walk with my young friend Douglas Ainslie, a sweet, modest, clever young fellow”.
Saturday 26th of May
“Ride out with Mr. Hood to see the curiosities at Mr. Swinton’s his landlord fine collection of Persian & other Oriental paintings, Boydell’s prints, ect”. Mr Hoods landlord Mr. Swinton was Archibald Swinton of Kimmergham, born 1731 died 1804. He was a Captain in the East India Company, and served under Robert Clive. The prints that Burns went to view were those of John Boydell, born 1719 died 1804. He was born in Shropshire and was a skilled engraver and printer. He became Lord Mayor of London in1790.
Sunday 27th of May
“Cross Tweed and traverse the moors through a wild country till I reach Alnwick. Alnwick Castle, a seat of the Duke of Northumberland, furnished in a most princely manner a Mr. Wilkin, an agent of his graces, shows us the house and policies Mr. Wilkin a discreet, sensible, ingenious man”.
Monday 28th of May
“Come, still through byways to Warkworth where we dine,hermitage and old Castle, Warkworth situated very picturesque with Coquet Island, a small rocky spot, the seat of an old monastery, facing it a little in the sea; and the small but romantic river Coquet running through it sleep at Morpeth, a pleasant little town, and on next day to Newcastle. Meet with a very agreeable sensible fellow, a Mr. Chattox, a Scotchman, who shows us a great many civilities and who dines and sups with us”.
The Mr. Wilkin who conducted Burns on a tour of Alnwick castle was Thomas Wilkin, born 1737 died 1798. He was employed as a land surveyor to the Dukes of Northumberland from 1771-1797.
There is a plaque on the wall of the house where Burns lodged in Alnwick.
There is the story that when Burns dined with Mr. Chattox he was startled to see the meat served before the soup. This, explained Mr Chattox jokingly, “is in obedience to a Northumbrian maxim, which enjoins us to eat beef before we sup the broth, lest the hungry Scotch make an inroad and snatch it". Burns does not mention what he did in Newcastle on Tuesday the 29th of May, but he did write one letter from Newcastle to Robert Ainslie in Edinburgh, and because it gives us an insight into his thoughts on certain people and situations I quote it in full.
Mr. Robert Ainslie at Mr. Samuel Mitchelson’s Close, Edinburgh.
Mon Cher compagnon de voyage,
Here am I, a woeful wight on the banks of Tyne, old Mr.Thomas Hood has been persuaded to join our partie, and Mr Kerr and he do very well, but alas! I dare not talk nonsense lest I lose all the little dignity I have among the sober sons of wisdom and discretion, and I have not had one hearty mouthful of laughter since that merry-melancholy moment we parted. Mr. Sherriff tired me to death; but as my good star directed, Sir James Hall detained him on some business as he is Sir James’s tenant, till near eleven at night, which time I spent with Miss (Nancy Sherriff) till I was, in the language of the Royal Voluptuary Solomon, “sick of Love”. Next morning, Sir James, who had been informed by the Sherriff’s of my Bardships arrival, came to breakfast with us and carried me with him, his charming Lady and he did me the honour to accompany the whole afternoon through the glorious, romantic Deane of Dunglass. I could not stay dinner; and when I returned to my horse I found Miss Nancy Sherriff ready equipped to escort me to Dunbar with a view of making a parade of me as a sweetheart among her relations by the way and at Dunbar. She was ‘bien poudr’e, bien frise’ in her fine cream coloured riding clothes, mounted on an old, dun carthorse that had once been fat; a broken old side saddle, without crupper, stirrup or girth, a bridle that in former times had had buckles, and a crooked meandering hazel stick which might have borne a place with credit in a scrubbed besom. In the words of the Highlandman when he saw the Deil on Shanter-hill in the shape of five swine-----“My hair stood and my P—stood, and I swat and trembled”. Nothing could prevail with her, no distant insinuation, no broad hint would make her give over her purpose; at last, vexed, disgusted, enraged, to a high degree, I pretended a fire-haste and rode so hard that she was almost shaken to pieces on old jolly, and to my great joy, found it convenient to stop at an uncle’s house by the way: I refused to call with her, and so we quarrelled and parted.
You shall hear from me at Dumfries—Farewell! Robt Burns.
Newcastle 29th May 1787.
The following notes appear in ALLAN CUNNINGHAM’S “The complete works of Robert Burns”
Wednesday 30th May
“Left Newcastle early in the morning and rode over a fine country to Hexham to breakfast,from Hexham to Wardrue, the celebrated Spa, where we slept”.
Thursday 31st May
Reach Longtown to dine, and part there with my good friends Messrs Hood and Kerr. A hiring day in Longtown. I am uncommonly happy to see so many young folks enjoying life. I come to Carlisle. Meet a strange enough romantic adventure by the way, in falling in with a girl and her married sister the girl, after some overtures of gallantry on my side, sees me a little cut with the bottle, and offers to take me in for a Gretna-Green affair, (ie,an elopement). I, not being quite such a gull as she imagines, make an appointment with her, by way of vive la bagatelle, to hold a conference on it when we reach town. I meet her in town and give her a brush of caressing and a bottle of cider; but finding herself un peu trompe’e in her man, she sheers off.
Next day (1st June) I meet my good friend Mr. Mitchell, and walk with him round the town and its environs, and through his printing works, &c. four or five hundred people employed, many of them women and children. Dine with Mr. Mitchell, and leave Carlisle. Come by coast to Annan. Overtaken on the way by a curious old fish of a shoemaker, and miner from Cumberland mines.
Here notes Allan Cunningham, the manuscript abruptly ends.
Burns stayed in the now demolished “Malt Shovel Inn”,Rickergate, Carlisle on the first of June, and from there he wrote a letter to William Nicol, Master of the High school in Edinburgh. I quote this letter because it is written in the language that the Bard would be using in every day conversation.
Carlisle 1st June 1787 or rather I believe the 39th O’ May.
“Kind, Honest-hearted Willie,
I’m sitten down here, after forty miles ridin’, e’en as forjesket and forniaw’d as a forfoughtencock, to gie you some notion o’ my landlowper-like stravaguin sin the sorrowfu’ hour that I Sheuk hands and parted wi’ auld Reekie. My auld, ga’d gleyde o’ a mere has huch-yall’d uphill and down brae, in Scotland and England, as teugh and birnie as a vera devil wi’ me.Its true, she as poor’s a sang-maker and as hard’s a kirk, and tipper-taipers when she taks the gate first like a lady’s gentlewoman in a minuet or a hen on a het girdle, but she’s a yauld, poutherie Girranfor a’ that; and has a stomach like Willie Stalker’s mere that wad hae digested tumbler-wheels, for she’ll whip me aff her five stimparts o’ the best aits at a down-sittin’ and ne’er fash her thumb----When ance her ring-banes and spavies, her crucks and cramps, are fairly soupl’d she beets to, and ay the hindmost hour the tightest. I could wager her price to a thretty pennies that, for twa or three wooks ridin at fifty mile a day, the deil-sticket a five gallopers acqueesh Clyde and Whithorn could cast saut on her tail. I hae daunder’d ower a’ the kintra frae Dunbar to Selcraig, and hae forrgather’d wi’ monie a guid fallow and monie a weel-far’d hizzie. I met wi’ twa quines in particular, ane o’ them a sonsi, fine, fodgel lass, baith braw and bonie; the tither was a clean-shankit, straight, tight, weel-far’d winch, as blythes a lintwhite on a flowrie thorn, and as sweet and modest’s a new blawn plumrose in a hazle shaw. They were baith bred to mainers by the buik, and onie ane o’ them has as muckle smeddum and rumble-gumtion as the half o’ some Presbytries that you and I baith. They played sik a devil o’ a shavie that I daur say that if my harigals were turn’d out, ye wad see twa nicks i’the heart o’ me like the mark o’ a kail-whittle in a castock. I was myself sae notouriously bitchify’d the day after kail-time that I can hardly stouter but and ben. My best respects to the guidwife and a’ our common friens, especiall Mr. and Mrs Cruikshank and the honest guidman o’ Jock’s Lodge.
I’ll be in Dumfries the morn gif the beast be to the fore and the branks
Guid be wi’ you, Willie, Amen
Roughly translating the Bard’s letter into English we read:
“I am sitting here after riding forty-seven miles. Although I am as jaded and fatigued as an exhausted cockerel. I will give you some idea of my extensive wanderings since that unhappy hour when I shook your hand for the last time and left Edinburgh. My old flea-bitten, cross eyed, mare has hauled me up hill and down dale in Scotland and England, but remains tough and brawny. It is true that the mare is no soft mount and totters when she first sets off like a lady’s maid dancing a minuet, or a hen on a hot stove. Even so she is a sprightly horse if of an inferior breed: she has an enormous appetite and could digest carriage-wheels, indeed she soon ate her peck and a quarter of oats with no difficulty. Once her bones, spavins, limps and cramps are well flexed she canters well, with an extra burst of energy at the end of a journey. I could bet thirty that for endurance during a fortnights continual riding of fifty miles a day, she would beat all the thorough-bred horses between Clyde and Whithorn, even if they had the devil at their tails.I have roamed over all the country-side from Dunbar to Selkirk, andhave met many a pleasant fellow, and many a good-looking lass. I met two neat wenches in particular : one of them was a buxom, dumpy girl, who was both gaily dressed and handsome. The other was a clean-limbed, straight, well made, good-looking wench, as gay as a linnet in a hazel bush. They were both well-mannered, and either of them would have matched in wit and wisdom many of the self-opinionated Presbyterian snobs we both know My best respects to your wife and our mutual friends, especially Mr. and Mrs . Cruikshank and the honest man we nickname “Guidman o’ Jock’s Lodge”.I’ll be in Dumfries tomorrow if my horse is up to time and her bridle does not break.
God be with you, Willie, Amen.
When the bard returned to the Malt Shovel Inn after dining with Mr. Mitchell he was informed by Peter reid, the landlord, that his horse had been found trespassing on a piece of un-enclosed corporation grass called “The Bitts”. His horse had been impounded by the powers that be, and in order to have the horse released Burns was required to pay a fine. Being a little annoyed at this imposition the Bard wrote the following epigram, lampooning the mayor.
“Was e’er puir poet sae befitted,
The maister drunk, the horse committed
Puir harmless beast! Tak’ thee nae care,
Thou’lt be a horse, when he’s nae mair”
There is another story reputed to concern the bards visit to Carlisle which appears in “Memories of old Carlisle” by a writer named Topping, but I do not know of the story ever being mentioned by Burns. It is said that the Bard was out walking, and while he was passing through the market square he lost contact with his companions. As he and his friends had made an arrangement to meet at a particular Inn, Burns made his way there. Looking about the Inn on his arrival the Bard could not see any of his friends, and after a little time he put his head round the door of one of the rooms where three men were sitting and enjoying their drinks. As Burns was about to withdraw one of the three called out, “Come in, Johnny Peep”. It is said that Burns joined the three companions and in a short time was as merry as they were. It was decided that the four men would engage in a competition, where each of them would write a verse of poetry, and put a half crown on the table, with the idea that the writer of the best verse take back his half crown, and the remaining seven and sixpence would be used to bye ale for the four of them. The Bard is said to have won the competition with this verse.
“Here am I, Johnny Peep,
I saw three sheep
And these three sheep saw me;
Will pay for their fleece
And so Johnny Peep gets free”
According to Allan Cunningham Burns left Carlisle on 1st of June and made his way through Annan to Dumfries where he arrived on the 4th of June. The magistrates of Dumfries, following in the footsteps of the Jedburgh magistrates a month before, made Robert Burns a Freeman of the Burgh on this day, the highest honour in their power to bestow, the ceremony being conducted by Provost William Clark in the town council chambers. It may be appropriate to mention here that no less than six Royal Burghs conferred their “Freedom” on Robert Burns, viz. Jedburgh, Dumfries, Dumbarton, Linlithgow, Sanquhar, and Lochmaben.
From Dumfries the Bard made his leisurely way to view the farms on on Patrick Miller’s estate of Dalswinton, but being unable to make any decision regarding leasing one of these farms, he made his way up the river Nith, through Sanquhar to Mauchline, where he arrived on the 8th of June.