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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 Their circumstances
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
the limits of her own family circle, or to some specially favoured and sympathetic listener; but when she was induced to speak of her father she never failed to express the profoundest reverence for, and devotion to, his memory. Proud as she naturally was of her illustrious eldest brother, and fondly as she clung all her life through to her every recollection of him, she was still prouder of, and clung more fondly and tenderly to, her memories of her father. Him she regarded as a far higher object of admiration, and her favourite delineation of his personality was to point to him as the veritable original of "the saint, the father, and the husband," so reverently depicted by her brother in "The Cottar's Saturday Night."
From Mrs. Begg's reminiscences we derive the deeply interesting information that her father had, from a very early period of the Poet's childhood, discerned the exceptional gifts of his eldest son, and had expressed to his wife the solemn prediction "Whoever may live to see it, something extraordinary will come from that boy." From the same source, too, we have the information that the Poet's father actually lived to realize in some measure, and probably not without a mysterious blending of parental pride with parental anxiety, the truth of his own prediction. Some of the earliest effusions of his son's marvellous genius he actually lived to read and to appreciate very highly, and among these he especially admired the exquisite simplicity and tenderness of sentiment in the matchless pastoral song "My Nanny, O!" Mrs. Begg, too, used to relate with much enjoyment, a domestic incident at Lochlea, which revealed her austere father and his gifted son in a very real and characteristic light. In the winter of 1781-2, while Burns was paying court to the first of his innumerable successive divinities -Ellison Begbie, a sweet and interesting girl, who dwelt on the banks of the Cessnock, about two miles from Lochlea-his father naturally became much concerned at the lateness of the hour at which his son occasionally returned to the parental roof, and in order to administer a fitting rebuke to the "rover," he one night insisted on sitting up to await his return. When, therefore, the youthful bard arrived at Lochlea, he found his father awaiting him in his severest admonitory mood. On being asked the reason for his detention to such a late hour, the son, at once in his gayest and happiest strain, began to give his
father so humorous and fanciful a description of his experiences and difficulties in his journey homewards, that the father not only forgot the intended rebuke, but actually became so interested in and amused at his son's recital, that he continued sitting at the kitchen fireside for fully two hours enjoying his son's fascinating conversation.
The operations on the farm of Lochlea seem to have been of a more than usually arduous character, for there was a house and barn to build, and waste land-referred to in William Burness's jottings as "the loch," extending to 21 acres-to drain and dress with lime, so as to make it suitable for cultivation. These operations seem to have extended over the earlier years of the occupancy of Lochlea, and before they were fully completed a dispute seems to have arisen between William Burness and his landlord, Mr. M‘Lure, and impending misfortune like an ever-darkening cloud began to gather around the household. This vexatious and troublesome matter seems to have painfully harassed and distressed William Burness, and his health becoming more and more undermined, he, after a lingering illness, departed this life on the 13th February, 1784, in the 64th year of his age. Mrs. Begg has left a touching and graphic sketch of the melancholy scene around her father's bedside on the day of his death. "She remembered being at her father's bedside on that morning with no other company besides her brother Robert. Seeing her cry bitterly at the thought of the impending parting, her father endeavoured to speak, but could only murmur a few words of comfort, such as might be suitable to a child (she was then only twelve years of age), concluding with an injunction to walk in virtue's paths and to shun every vice. After a pause he said there was one of his family for whose future conduct he feared. He repeated the same expression when the young Poet came up and said, 'Oh, father, is it me that you mean?' The old man said that it was. Robert turned to the window with the tears running down his cheeks, and his bosom heaving as if it would burst from the straint he put upon himself."
Actuated by that strong attachment to locality, which forms so marked a characteristic of the Celtic race, the Burns family resolved to inter their father's remains in the burying ground attached to "Alloway's Auld Haunted Kirk," the burying ground
of the parish in which William Burness and his wife had spent the first years of their wedded life. Accordingly at considerable expense and inconvenience, the funeral procession wended its weary way over the eight miles which intervened between Lochlea and the place of interment-the coffin, according to the then prevailing custom, being supported by two horses, placed one after the other. On the tombstone, shortly afterwards erected to mark the site of his father's grave, Burns inscribed the following genuine and touching tribute to his father's worth--lines which, inartistic as they are, express more sincerely the true sentiments of his heart, than the most impassioned stanza he ever composed :—
"O! Ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,
Draw near in pious rev'rence and attend !
The dauntless heart that feared no human pride,
The friend of man, to vice alone a foe,
'For e'en his failings leaned to virtue's side.'”