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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 all— namely, the Alton (a tributary of the Fail), and the Mauchline Burn. 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.
I walked up the pretty Fail for some distance from its
junction with the Ayr, and found its water averaged a breadth of twelve feet, and never was narrower than ten feet.
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
cross going to or coming from Stairaird, which overhangs it; and no nook in Ayrshire could be sweeter or more appropriate for "a day of parting love." The reader can judge for himself if the Mauchline Burn looks like a ditch.
EARLY PORTRAITURE AND THE
T has been generally allowed that of the legacies the past has bequeathed to us, the collections of portraits of the world's illustrious men are not the least valuable. In, early Greece, nearly thirty centuries ago, when Homer, Hesiod, and "burning Sappho loved and sung," there were eminent sculptors. Long before the Christian era, Rome too had such men, probably young Greeks from Athens, who, attracted by the wealth and power of the Roman State, passed into Italy; we have, in consequence, busts of all of both nations who were most distinguished in statesmanship, war, art, and letters; which make us familiar with the facial traits of
"The great of old,
The dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule
In the early dawn of our own history we have no record of art or artists; we have not the slightest pictorial tracings of our early warrior queen, Boadicea; but there is somewhere a bust of our patriot prince and ancient Silurian king, Caractacus, executed no doubt in Rome, whither he was carried prisoner, but eventually pardoned by the Roman Senate, for the crime of daring to defend his country.
From the period of the Roman occupation, seventeen centuries elapsed before we had a native School of Art in this country. The Romans themselves would be accompanied by artists of various kinds, probably gold and silver chasers, die cutters, coiners, and medallists-adjuncts of civilization-and whose works at a very early period formed, as it were, the mile-stones of history.
The Normans and Plantagenets must have had continental artists as retainers of their courts, for the portraits of those princes, good, bad, and indifferent, have come down to us; those limners, too, must have found their way north of the Tweed, for have we not in our own palace of Holyrood, paintings of the entire genealogy of our Scottish Kings? From Fergus the First