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selves compelled to leave their paternal home in search of a livelihood elsewhere, and they turned their faces southwards. The parting of the two brothers took place on a rising ground overlooking the home of their childhood-Robert setting out in one direction, and finding his way ultimately into England: while William, after varied wanderings and experiences, settled in Edinburgh, and found employment there for some years as an ordinary out-door labourer. He must have been in Edinburgh during the time of the young Chevalier's residence in Holyrood in 1745, and, considering the political leanings of the family, and that they had for generations been associated as tenants under the Earl Marischal who was attainted for his share in the Jacobite rising of 1715, it is not improbable that William Burness may have more or less identified himself with Prince Charlie's ill-fated attempt to regain the throne of his ancestors. Be that as it may, we lose all trace of William Burness for fully ten years, and when he at length settles in the quiet, law-abiding neighbourhood of Ayr, it is somewhat suggestive that he takes the precaution to provide himself with a parochial certificate testifying "that he had no concern in the late wicked rebellion."
His occupation in Ayrshire seems to have been in the capacity of gardener, first to the Laird of Fairlie, and afterwards to Mr. Crawford of Doonside. Shortly thereafter he feued seven acres of land near to the town of Ayr, converting the land into a nursery, and erecting with his own hands the "auld clay biggin'," which has since become an object of such deep and powerful interest to every Scottish heart. Here, in the end of 1757, he brought his young bride, Agnes Brown, from her grandmother's house in Maybole; and here, on the ever-memorable 25th of January, 1759, was ushered into the world their illustrious first-born, Robert Burns.
William Burness continued to reside in his cottage on the banks of the Doon for fully seven years after the Poet's birth, and in the interval his family was increased by the birth of his second son, Gilbert, born in 1760; his eldest daughter, Agnes, born in 1762; and his second daughter, Annabella, born in 1764. At Whitsunday, 1766, he was induced to take on lease the farm of Mount Oliphant, extending to about 60 acres, and forming part of the estate of Doonholm, situated about a couple
of miles distant from his former residence. Here he removed his wife and children, and here he toiled with all his natural energy and indomitable perseverance for a period of eleven long toilsome years, only to find that the farm was a barren and unprofitable subject.
An interesting and graphic delineation of William Burness's personality is furnished to us by Mr. Murdoch, who acted as teacher to the Poet and his younger brother Gilbert, and who was a frequent inmate of William Burness's household, both at the cottage near Ayr and at Mount Oliphant. He thus relates his experiences of the Burns family, after he himself had removed to Ayr and his visits had necessarily become more brief and occasional. "I was a frequent visitant at his (the Poet's) father's house when I had my half-holiday, and very often went accompanied with one or two persons more intelligent than myself, that good William Burness might enjoy a mental feast. Then the labouring oar was shifted to some other hand. The father and son sat down with us, when we enjoyed a conversation wherein solid reasoning, sensible remark, and a moderate seasoning of jocularity, were so nicely blended as to render it palatable to all parties. Robert had a hundred questions to ask me about the French language, &c., and the father, who had always rational information in view, had still some question to propose to my more learned friends upon moral or natural philosophy, or some such interesting subject. Mrs Burness, too, was of the party as much as possible,
"But still the house affairs would draw her hence,
Which ever as she could with haste dispatch,
She'd come again, and, with a greedy ear,
At all times and in all
and particularly that of her husband. companies she listened to him with more marked attention than to anybody else. When under the necessity of being absent while he was speaking she seemed to regret as a real loss that she had missed what 'the guid-man' had said. This worthy woman, Agnes Brown, had the most thorough esteem for her husband of any woman I ever knew. I can by no means wonder that she highly esteemed him, for I myself have always considered William Burness as by far the best of the human race that ever I had the pleasure of being acquainted
with, and many a worthy character I have known. I can cheerfully join with Robert in the last line of his epitaph, borrowed from Goldsmith
'And even his failings leaned to virtue's side.'
He was an excellent husband if I may judge from his assiduous attention to the care and comfort of his worthy partner, and from her affectionate behaviour to him, as well as her unwearied attention to the duties of a mother. He was a tender and affectionate father; he took pleasure in leading his children in the path of virtue; not in driving them, as some parents do, to the performance of duties to which they themselves are averse. He took care to find fault but very seldom, and, therefore, when he did rebuke, he was listened to with a kind of reverential awe."
According to Dr. Currie, William Burness is described by one who knew him personally in the later years of his life, as above the common stature, thin and bent with labour. His countenance was serious and composed, and the scanty locks on his head were grey. He was of a religious turn of mind, and, as is usual among the Scottish peasantry, he was a good deal conversant with speculative theology. As evidence of these facts, reference may here be made to the "Manual of Religious Belief," which he composed for the use of his family, and which was published some years ago as a contribution towards the ever-increasing mass of Burns Bibliography. The Manual is in the form of a dialogue between a father and son, and it displays not only great ease, dignity, and lucidity of expression, but also a marvellous faculty for logical reasoning. It exhibits, too, in the benevolence of spirit in which the then generally accepted Calvinistic tenets are softened down in their rigidity, a liberality of sentiment far in advance of the age in which he lived.
Owing to the failure of the farm of Mount Oliphant, William Burness, at Whitsunday, 1777, removed to a somewhat more promising farm, situated in the parish of Tarbolton, and called Lochlea. By this time the family had been still further increased by the birth of two additional sons, William and John, and of his youngest daughter, Isobel, afterwards Mrs. Begg, who within the last forty years occupied along with her two daughters a picturesque cottage on the Banks of the Doon,
and whose dignified form, and calm, self-possessed bearing must still be in the recollection of not a few of my readers.
The farm of Lochlea was larger than that of Mount Oliphant, and the lease seems to have been adjusted on terms apparently favourable to the tenant. Burns himself says of it, "that the bargain was such as to throw a little ready money into my father's hand at the commencement, otherwise the affair would have been impracticable." For four years William Burness and his household enjoyed at Lochlea comparative comfort. Their life, it is true, continued to be one of hard and unremitting toil, but it was undergone in a spirit of thorough contentment and of single-hearted devotion to the common family interest. Dr. Chambers in his biography of Burns, in treating of the Lochlea experiences, says,-" It was a time of comparative comfort for the Burness family, although marked not less than any other by extreme application to labour. The family was a remarkable one in the district. They kept more by themselves than is common in their class. Their superior intelligence and refinement, and a certain air of self-respect which they bore amid all the common drudgeries of their situation, caused them to be looked upon as people of a superior sort. Country neighbours who happened to enter their family room at the dinner hour, were surprised to find them all-father, brothers, and sisters—sitting with a book in one hand, while they used their spoons with the other."
William Burness himself was now verging on sixty years of age, and his health was beginning to fail, but he was ably aided in his industrious efforts by his loving and devoted wife and children. Robert, then in his nineteenth year, and Gilbert, aged seventeen, were a great assistance to him in his agricultural labours, and although the Poet in after life graphically characterises his experiences at this period "as the cheerless gloom of a hermit, with the unceasing moil of a galley slave," it is clear that there was mingled with their care and toil a considerable amount of genuine domestic comfort and happiness. Even the younger members of the household had each his or her appropriate and suitable part to bear in the family industry, and Mrs. Begg, then a mere child of ten years, had her special duty assigned to her, and after a lapse of fully four-score years, she used to recall with delight the happy experiences of her youthful
days at Lochlea. One of these reminiscences as related by her to the late Dr. Robert Chambers, presents the Poet's father in an exceedingly pleasing light. "Her main occupation," Mrs. Begg said, "was one suited to her tender years, that of 'herding' the cattle in the field. Her father would often visit her, sit down by her side, and tell her the names of the various grasses and wild flowers, as if to lose no opportunity of imparting instruction. When it thundered she was sure he would come to her, because he knew that on such occasions she was apt to suffer much from terror."
Graphic sketches of the family life at Lochlea are to be found scattered over the pages of the various editions of the Poet's Life and Works, and not the least interesting of these is furnished by the following characteristic letter addressed by William Burness himself, within three years of his death, to his nephew, James Burness, Montrose.
"Dear Nephew,-I received your affectionate letter by the bearer, who came five miles with it to my house. I received it with the same warmth you wrote it, and I am extremely glad you express yourself with so warm regard for your parents and friends. I wish you much joy of your wife and child. I would have been glad had you sent me their names, with the name of your brother-in-law.
I have a family of four sons and three daughters; two of my sons and two of my daughters are men and women, and all with me in the farm way. I have the happiness to hope they are virtuously inclined. My youngest daughter is ten years of age. My eldest son is named Robert; my second, Gilbert; the third, John; the fourth, William. My eldest daughter is named Agnes; the second, Anabella; the third, Isobel. My brother lives at Stewarton, by Kilmarnock. one daughter, named John, William, and Fanny. are very indifferent.
He has two sons and
I shall be happy to hear from you when it is convenient, when I shall write to you from time to time. Please give my respects to your brother and sister in the kindest manner, and to your wife, which will greatly oblige your affectionate uncle,
Lochlea, 14th April, 1791."
The reminiscences of Mrs Begg, the youngest member of William Burness' household, of the early period of her life which she passed at Lochlea, continued to be a never-failing source of deep and genuine happiness to her during her lengthened existence of nearly fourscore and ten years. These were of too sacred a character to be alluded to except within