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resentment instigating him to give Jean a rival in his poems, Burns withholds all reference to his Mary. No poem about her, not a single line, appears. In the Kilmarnock edition we find "The Vision." That poem, as originally written, had contained a reference to “My bonie Jean.” But the poet's fury against Jean had become so intense that at the moment of going to press he resolved to wipe out the compliment. How did he accomplish his end? Why he did not play off Mary against the discarded and faithless one in Paisley is not only not easily solved, but highly suggestive in whatever light we view it. Thus stood the original stanza :
Down flow'd her robe, a tartan sheen,
Could only peer it. Hunting about among the names of his rustic “fillettes,” Burns contented himself with replacing the words italicised by “my Bess, I weèn.” In that time of stress and tumult, when all had forsaken him but his Muse and his Mary, Burns had manifestly strong reasons for refraining from doing what it must have been one of the strongest wishes of his heart to do. If it is too much to say that he dared not enshrine Mary Campbell in his book, the strange fact remains that he did not do so.
The Kilmarnock edition was sold off in a few weeks. Burns began to think of a larger Edinburgh edition, and set to work
new poems to swell the collection. In the midst of his triumph in Edinburgh, when he was still estranged from the Armours, and when Mary Campbell had been dead five months, he published this first Edinburgh edition. It contains no reference to any Mary, alive or dead. The “Mary” poems still lay locked up in the poet's drawer.
In the summer of 1787, Burns wrote, for Dr. Moore of London, his autobiography. This autobiography deals freely with love affairs, and gives particulars of amours with Nelly Kirkpatrick, Peggy Thomson, Ellison Begbie, Betty Paton, and Jean Armour. The account is brought down to August of 1787, but there is not a word in it of Highland Mary or her story.
In 1791 Burns made a collection of his poems (many unpublished) for the private eye of his crony, Robert Riddell
of Glenriddell. This collection has come down to us intact. No line in it refers to Highland Mary. During all these months and years Burns gave no distinct sign to the public that he had known Mary Campbell. Into the second volume of "Johnson's Musical Museum," published in 1788, he had slipped "My Highland Lassie"_but anonymously, although he signs the very next song in the collection-“Though cruel fate should bid us part, I still would love my Jean!" Subsequently, he showed to his wife, Jean, an impassioned idealisation, from the composition of which he came to his bed exhausted, as the story goes, on a frosty morning of October, 1789. It was from this poem he quoted in his first prose hint about Mary, contained in a letter to Mrs. Dunlop, dated December 13, 1789. This letter, we see, was written three years after Mary's death. “To Mary in Heaven," composed so shortly before the letter, was an anniversary threnody. The letter to Mrs. Dunlop begins with the complaint :—“I am groaning under the miseries of a diseased nervous system.” The succeeding sentences are rhapsodical in an unusual degree, and increase in fervour until we reach the following cry of passion, with its transition to a still more startling apostrophe—“There should I, with speechless agony of rapture, again recognise my lost, my ever dear Mary! whose bosom was fraught with truth, honor, constancy and love.
My Mary, dear departed shade,
Where is thy place of heavenly rest?
Hear’st thou the groans that rend his breast?
Jesus Christ, thou aimiablest of characters ! I trust thou art no impostor, and that thy revelation of blissful scenes of existence beyond death and the grave, is not one of the many impositions which time after time have been palmed on credulous mankind.”
This letter gives more evidence of a
" diseased nervous system” than any other letter penned by the Poet. Here, to our thinking, is a man writing in a state of over-worn nerves, without proper sense of the balance of things. Burns lets his excitement run away with him.
He had recently written an ideal poem. In the letter he tries to justify to his poetic conscience, and to his correspondent, the ideal tone of that poem.
What man, poet or not, cannot divine it a luxury for a genius to be able to hint mysteriously to a gentle confidante, that he has been once in a Heaven of love; that he has been mated with Angel, and that she has evanished' amid the very storm of his utmost need?
The poet tones his next reference to her with more earthly colours. " Johnson's Museum ” appeared as a four-volume
a book in August, 1792. Burns annotated a set of this edition for Mr. Robert Riddell, and in one of his notes he now unburdened his mind to a male confidant in the following allusion to Mary :-“This was a composition of mine in very early life, before I was known at all in the world. My Highland lassie was a warm-hearted, charming young creature as ever blessed a man with generous love. After a pretty long tract of the most ardent reciprocal attachment, we met by appointment, on the second Sunday of May, in a sequestered spot by the banks of Ayr, where we spent the day in taking a farewell, before she should embark for the West Highlands, to arrange matters among her friends for her projected change of life. At the close of the Autumn following she crossed the sea to meet me at Greenock, where she had scarce landed, when she was seized with a malignant fever, which hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days, before I could even hear of her illness.” It is worth while to pause and study the motives mingling in the mind of the Poet, when he penned this note. “My Highland Lassie” had been published anonymously in the “Museum.” This note was meant to establish his claim to its authorship. He found it pleasant at last to indulge in a few warm words about the subject of the poem. He was on delicate ground, inasmuch as the poem contains allusions to “crossing the raging sea”—
Although through foreign climes I range,
I know her heart will never change. Yet the name “ Mary” does not occur in the verses; and Burns,
; strange to say, does not mention it in the note. to the Indies, my Mary ?" was meanwhile still lying in his desk, and so was “ Afton Water." But in case Riddell, or anyone else, should experience curiosity about the references to love and emigration that are to be found in “My Highland Lassie,” Burns, with a slight, yet effectual obscuration of fact, throws
“Will ye go
the whole incident back into his very early life," leaving his readers to infer that the poem cannot apply to his plan of emigrating in 1786, when he was in his twenty-eighth year, and known throughout Ayrshire for his poems, one or two of which had already been circulated in print. To one familiar with Burns's phraseology and style of thought regarding young women, the second phrase that I have italicised in this carefullyworded note must suggest reflection. He was writing, in this note, to a high-living squire, whose notions about such loveattachments were probably too familiar to Burns, consequently the exact mieaning to be attributed to the words we can only guess at in the connection indicated. Finally, we have to notice the studied ambiguity of the phrase about Mary's preparation for “her projected change of life.” It must suffice at present to say that it is not my opinion that marriage is by any means necessarily indicated by these ambiguous words.
As the year 1792 progressed, Burns found himself more and more enamoured of song-writing for the old Scottish tunes. George Thomson had asked him to find a song to suit the tune of “Ewe-Buchts, Marion.” It happened that Burns had in his desk “Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary,” in the very metre required for this tune. Out it came therefore from the hidingplace to which he had so long consigned it; and it was presented to Thomson with another note about its very early origin, although this time, the note had to incorporate a clause hinting somehow at ideas of emigration as early” also :—“In my very early years, when I was thinking of going to the West Indies, I took the following farewell of a dear girl. It is quite trifling, and has nothing of the merits of “Ewe-buchts”
:; but it will fill up this page. You must know that all my earlier love-songs were the breathings of ardent passion, and though it might have been easy in after-times to have given them a polish, yet that polish, to me whose they were, and who perhaps alone cared for them, would have defaced the legend of the heart, which was so faithfully inscribed on them. Their uncouth simplicity was, as they say of wines, their race.” Thomson rejected “Will ye go to the Indies.” Burns had sent it to him in a letter dated October 26th. In another letter, of November 14th, 1792, Burns sends him “Highland Mary." "I agree with you that the song, ‘Katherine Ogie,' is very
poor stuff, and unworthy, altogether unworthy, of so beautiful an air. I tried to mend it, but the awkward sound “Ogie,” recurring so often in the rhyme, spoils every attempt at introducing sentiment into the piece. The foregoing song “Highland Mary” pleases myself; I think it is in my happiest manner; you will see at first glance that it suits the air. The subject of the song is one of the most interesting passages of my youthful days, and I own that I would be much flattered to see the verses set to an air which would ensure celebrity. Perhaps, after all, 'tis the still glowing prejudice of my heart that throws a borrowed lustre over the merits of the composition.” To the same volume of the “Museum” (1792) “ Afton Water contributed. These three poems were not written in Burns's “youthful days.” They were all written (as Scott-Douglas has proved) in 1786, the year of his maturest powers, when he com posed many of his greatest poems, such as “To a Mountain Daisy,” “To the Unco Guid,” “The Holy Fair," "A Bard's Epitaph,” and “To Ruin;" while ere that year he had written “Holy Willie's Prayer," “ Halloween,” “The Cottar's Saturday Night,” and “The Jolly Beggars," of which many copies had been circulated throughout the South of Scotland.
Beyond the material that has now been put before the reader, Burns did not offer any further explanation of his amour with Highland Mary. The three or four notes that he did write about her were distributed among three private correspondents. To none of them did he disclose her full name or real history. His intentionally misleading notes to Riddell and Thomson effected their purpose until long after the Poet's death. Currie, Cromek, Lockhart, Cunningham, and all the biographers up till 1851, accepted Burns's statement that the affair with Mary belonged to his "very early days;" and the general idea was that Mary's death occurred in 1784. In 1851 Mr Scott-Douglas and Robert Chambers showed how all these biographers had been misled.
If we turn now to Gilbert Burns, we shall find him more reticent, and more misleading than his illustrious brother. When Dr. Currie, in his second edition of the “Life of Burns," annotated "Sweet Afton” as a song written out of compliment to Mrs. Stewart of Stair, Gilbert was worried by George Thom