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Tradition imputes the following origin to this ode One day when the Poet was at Brownhill, in Nithsdale, a friend read some verses composed after the pattern of Pope's song by a person of quality, and said, "Burns, this is beyond you; the muse of Kyle cannot match the muse of London City." The Poet took the paper, hummed the verses over for a minute or two, and then recited, “ Delia, an Ode.” I have some suspicion, nevertheless, that the verses are not by Burns.
The inn of Brownhill, in the parish of Closeburn, was a favourite resting-place for Burns. Dalgarnock, where the heroine of one of his songs went on a tryste, forms part of the parish, and its old burial-ground has since become famous as the place where Old Mortality employed his chisel: Creehope-Linn, too, where the Cameronians sought shelter, is in the neighbourhood; moreover, the landlord, Mr. Bacon, was a well-informed and very facetious person-loved a dram and a joke, and had the art of making his presence acceptable to very polite visiters. The diamond of the Poet had not been idle on the windows; but accident and curiosity have now removed all marks of his hand.
TO JOHN M'MURDO, ESQ.
O, COULD I give thee India's wealth
As I this trifle send!
Because thy joy in both would be
But golden sands did never grace
The Heliconian stream;
Then take what gold could never buy
An honest Bard's esteem.
John M'Murdo, Esq., steward to the Duke of Queensberry, was the faithful friend of Burns during the whole period of his residence in Nithsdale. At his fireside he enjoyed many happy hours; nor was his muse silent. The daughters of his friend were beautiful and accomplished, and inspired some exquisite lyrics. These verses accompanied a present of books or verse. Afterwards, when on a visit, he took out a diamond, and wrote the following lines on a pane of glass :
"Blest be M'Murdo to his latest day!
No envious cloud o'ercast his evening ray;
SPOKEN AT THE THEATRE, DUMFRIES, ON NEW
No song nor dance I bring from yon great city
I come to wish you all a good new year!
But 'twould be rude, you know, to ask the question ;
Ye sprightly youths, quite flushed with hope and
Who think to storm the world by dint of merit,
In his sly, dry, sententious, proverb way;
He bids you mind, amid your thoughtless rattle,
Last, tho' not least in love, ye youthful fair,
For our sincere, tho' haply weak endeavours,
It has been related in the Life of Burns that he turned his thoughts on the drama, and even went so far as to select a subject, and compose some verses. To enable him to give a proper effect to his musings, he visited sometimes, even while he lived at Ellisland, the Dumfries theatre, and appeared to take pleasure in the performances. We know not, however, that he went so far as to lay down a regular plot, arrange the characters, and distribute the actions to be performed in his drama. His time was much occupied in the distracting duties of
the Excise, and the contest had commenced abroad that was soon to be felt through all the cottages of Scotland, and which promised more than it performed for the happiness of mankind. Burns was too fervent of nature not to think and speak on the subject: arguing about liberty and equality with hot-tempered and impetuous people was any thing but favourable for a work which, whether composed for a Scottish or English audience, required repose and abstraction: no wonder, therefore, that his drama stood stil!." Those who recollect," says Scott, "the masculine and lofty tone of martial spirit which glows in the poem of Bannockburn, will sigh to think what the character of the gallant Bruce might have proved under the hand of Burns."
On the 11th of January, 1790, he thus writes to his brother Gilbert: "We have gotten a set of very decent players here just now: I have seen them an evening or two. David Campbell, in Ayr, wrote to me by the manager of the company, a Mr. Sutherland, who is a man of apparent worth. On New-year's-day I gave him the following prologue, which he spouted to his audience with applause.' Of this manager the Poet lived to say something more, and in verse, too. The theatre of Dumfries is small and neat, and there is not a little taste for the drama among the people of the vale of Nith.