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possession of the Mossgiel Farm, (the farm-house has been recently modernised), until the Poet settled at Ellisland in Dumfriesshire. We may take it as certain that his acquaintance with Jean Armour and the other “Mauchline Belles" began in 1783, for the first thing he would do on entering a new district, would be to form the acquaintance of all the charming "fillettes” of the place. The most graphic picture of Burns in Mauchline is given in Hew Ainslie's lately reprinted "Pilgrimage.” The scene referred to took place when Burns was in bad odour with the “Belles” and their parents. When Burns was coming,” said Jasper, “to get fun wi' the young fellows, he gaed aye at a braw spanking step, his staff in his han', an' his head heigh; but when ought black was in the win', his oak was in his oxter, the rim o’his hat laigh-wi'a look, bless us ! would turn milk. I hae met him this gait mysel, an' then, by my certy, it would taen a buirdly chiel to say boo to him." "One night”-Hugh Anslie himself continues—"during the time his name was 'teased about in kintra clatter,' he met in the village a female friend, for whom he entertained a high respect; and understanding she had some distance to walk without any trysted companion, he offered to accompany her, provided she could get another to join them, 'for,' said he, 'I must not be seen with you alone, as I'm looked on just now in the country as tar.””
This incident probably took place about the time of the first scandal regarding Jean Armour. In the Mauchline Parish Register I lately found the entry of Jean's birth, which occurred on the 25th of February, 1765.* In the same Register is to be found an entry about Burns's brother John Scott-Douglas tells us that John died in 1783 (Vol. VI. 408), and that “Mrs. Begg believed his remains were carried to Kirk Alloway for interment; and when her own remains were laid there in 1853, the gravedigger is said to have unearthed the bones of the boy, John, along with those of his father.” All this appears to be a mistake. The Mauchline Register says :-"Died John Burns, Mossgiel, buried Nov. ist, 1785”; and it adds that a second quality mortcloth was used at his funeral.
In "The Land of Burns" and several other books, pictures are given of the Montgomery Castle towards which Burns at Mossgiel would often turn longingly with thoughts of Highland Mary serving there. A ludicrous error has been made with regard to these pictures. They represent Coilsfield or Montgomery Castle, a building of semi-Italian design, begun in 1806 and finished in 1809. When the foundations of this structure were laid, the old historic castle of Montgomery, a hundred yards off, was razed to the ground. The current pictures represent nothing with which Mary Campbell can have had any association.
* In the Family Register of Burns, the date given is February 27th, 1767. (See Summary.)
Montgomery Castle lay in Tarbolton Parish. Beyond persistent local tradition, and a remark made by Mrs. Dunlop's daughter, there is little proof that Mary ever served in the place; yet I hold generally to the old tradition. I do believe, for reasons which it is not my intention or duty to give fully at present, that Mary spent some time in service at Stairaird, a farm in the parish of Stair, near Montgomery Castle, and just divided from Mauchline parish by the river Ayr. To show that this belief is not due to mere assumption, I may quote one of the proofs I possess, namely, part of a letter from
Ι the Rev J. K. Hewison, of Rothesay, formerly Parish Minister of Stair. “In 1881, when Minister of Stair Parish, I was told of Highland Mary by an aged woman, Mrs. Janet M'Clymont, who died at Wyndford, Stair, on the 30th December, 1883. She said her mother was at school in that neighbourhood with Robert Burns, knew him intimately, and kept up her acquaintance with him in Tarbolton and Mauchline. I asked Mrs.
M'Clymont if her mother knew Highland Mary. She replied “ma'mither often spoke o’her acquaintance wi' Mary Campbell; they were neebour lassies at the farm o’Stairaird." Those who, like the Editor of this volume, have thoroughly followed up the traces of Mary Campbell in Ayrshire, know that there are other reasons for supposing that this famous girl lived at Stairaird. I only advert to Stairaird and Mary's probable connexion with it, for this reason, that if we think of her as staying at Stairaird during the latter part of her friendship with Burns, then great force is given to a hitherto faint but undoubted tradition that Burns and Mary plighted their troth on the banks of Mauchline Burn, which flows into the Ayr at the very foot of the crag on which Stairaird Farm is perched.
Let us examine the current theories concerning the spot where this lovers' pledge took place. Because Burns has said "we met in a sequestered spot by the Banks of Ayr," numbers of people suppose that this betrothal took place actually on the Ayr itself: and to this day a thorn-tree is shown on the Ayr, under which Burns and Mary are said to have sat on that famous day. The thorn-tree has of course grown into repute in answer to the needs of myth. Burns says “by the Banks of Ayr.” The Ayr, in that part of the country, is a river perhaps thirty yards broad. How could lovers clasp hands over that? Some Burns students perceived the absurdity of supposing that the parting took place on the Ayr itself; and casting about for a smaller stream (still blindly believing the vague tradition about Coilsfield to imply that all Mary's experiences in Ayrshire were confined to Coilsfield), selected the Fail, which bounds part of the Coilsfield estate, as the proper place for the scene. One of the earliest writers, if not the earliest writer, to take up this notion was the Rev. Hamilton Paul, who in 1819 used these words :
“Let the traveller from Ayr to Mauchline pause at the spot where the Fail disembogues itself into the Ayr. Let him take his station near the neat little cottage on the sloping green at the side of the wood, and let him cast his eyes across the stream where the trees recede from one another and form a vista, on the grey rocks, which, mantled over with tangling shrubs, wild roses, heath and honeysuckle, project from the opposite side, and we will tell him that there, or thereabout, the Poet took his last farewell.of his sweet Highland Mary.”
In volume IV. of Paterson's six-volume “Burns” edited by Scott-Douglas, will be found a beautiful engraving from a sketch by Sam Bough, evidently drawn from the cottage indicated by Paul. The cottage itself figures in our own picture here, which was taken to supplement Sam Bough's sketch. Bough's sketch shows the Ayr at its junction with the Fail. Our engraving shows the Fail immediately above this junction.
In studying the large survey map of this district, I was impressed with the idea that even the Fail would be too broad for two people to span with their arms; and I also became convinced that if the Fail were abandoned, only two other streams of the neighbourhood would remain as suiting the story at allnamely, the Alton (a tributary of the Fail), and the Mauchline
urn. This idea I reached before I gained any knowledge of Mary's having been at Stairaird.
I wrote to a Burns student of that neighbourhood, about the Fail, and he replied that the Mauchline Burn was just a ditch, unworthy of consideration, and that the Fail dried up so much in summer that two people could easily join hands over it. But I determined to go and see for myself, and thereby obtained another lesson about the necessity of examining with one's own eyes and ears, and hands and feet, in any enquiry of this sort. junction with the Ayr, and found its water averaged a breadth of twelve feet, and never was narrower than ten feet. This was
PLAN OF TARBOLTON, STAIR. AND MAL'CHLINE PARISHES.
in July. In May the stream would be broader. Common sense might solve the difficulty by saying that Burns and Mary, although they could not clasp hands over even ten or eight or six feet of water, would simply wade in a little.
All they required was some quantity of running water between them. Even this plan is not likely to have been adopted on the Fail anywhere near its mouth, because the banks of the stream are quite open. The ancient village of Failford straggles up and down the junction of the river (on the further side of the Fail from the cottage), and any love-making on the rivulet here would have been preposterous. Mr Archibald Munro has noticed this, and therefore, in a Scotsman article published on October 7, 1891, he takes us to the Fail's tributary, the Alton, and says the plighting probably occurred on that stream. But the Alton joins the Fail a mile and a quarter from the Ayr; what, then, comes of Burns's statement that the betrothal was accomplished “by the Banks of the Ayr?" By this selective process of criticism we arrive at the Mauchline Burn as the only stream of the neighbourhood that fits in with the facts of the story. At the spot from which our picture of the Burn is taken, the rivulet averages a breadth of four feet. The water is covered in thickly with trees, and probably was so covered a hundred years ago; the spot is but a few yards from the ford which Mary had to