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all ranks, that little remains for a new adventurer in the realms of biography save to extract from the works of others a clear and judicious narrative. But, like the artist who founds a statue out of old materials, he has to reproduce them in a new shape, touch them with the light of other feeling, and inform them with fresh spirit and sentiment.
Robert Burns, eldest son of William Burness and Agnes Brown his wife, was born 25th January, 1759, in a clay-built cottage, raised by his father's own hands, on the banks of the Doon, in the district of Kyle, and county of Ayr. The season was ungentle and rough, the walls weak and new :-some days after his birth a wind arose which crushed the frail structure, and the unconscious Poet was carried unharmed to the shelter of a neighbouring house. He loved to allude, when he grew up, to this circumstance; and ironically claim some commiseration for the stormy passions of one ushered into the world by a tempest. This rude edifice is now an alehouse, and belongs to the shoemakers of Ayr : the recess in the wall, where the bed stood in which he was born, is pointed out to inquiring guests; the sagacious landlord remembers, too, as he brings in the ale, that he has seen and conversed with Burns, and ventures to relate traits of his person and manners. There is nothing very picturesque about the cottage. or its surrounding grounds: the admirers of the Muses' haunts will see little to call romantic in low meadows, flat enclosures, and long lines of public road. Yet the district, now emphatically called "The Land of Burns," has many attractions. There
are fair streams, beautiful glens, rich pastures, picturesque patches of old natural wood; and, if we may trust proverbial rhyme, "Kyle for a man" is a boast of old standing. The birth of the illustrious Poet has caused the vaunt to be renewed in our own days.
The mother of Burns was a native of the county of Ayr; her birth was humble, and her personal attractions moderate; yet, in all other respects, she was a remarkable woman. She was blessed with singular equanimity of temper; her religious feeling was deep and constant ; she loved a well-regulated household; and it was frequently her pleasure to give wings to the weary hours of a chequered life by chaunting old songs and ballads, of which she had a large store. In her looks she resembled her eldest son; her eyes were bright and intelligent; her perception of character, quick and keen. She lived to a great age, rejoiced in the fame of the Poet, and partook of the fruits of his genius.
His father was from another district. He was the son of a farmer in Kincardineshire, and born on the lands of the noble family of Keith Marischall. The retainer, like his chief, fell into misfortunes; his household was scattered, and William Burness, with a small knowledge of farming, and a large stock of speculative theology, was obliged to leave his native place, in search of better fortune, at the age of nineteen. He has been heard to relate with what bitter feelings he bade farewell to his younger brother on the top of a lonely hill, and turned his face toward the border. His first resting-place was
Edinburgh, where he obtained a slight knowledge of gardening; thence he went into Ayrshire, and procured employment, in the double capacity of steward and gardener, from Ferguson of Doonside. Imagining now that he had established a restingplace, he took a wife, leased a small patch of land for a nursery, and raised that frail shealing, the catastrophe of which has already been related.
During his residence with the laird of Doonside, a rumour was circulated that William Burness had fought for our old line of princes in the late rebellion-the fatal 1745. His austere and somewhat stately manners caused him to be looked on as a man who had a secret in reserve, which he desired to conceal; and, as a report of that kind was not calculated for his good, he procured a contradiction from the hand of the clergyman of his native parish, acquitting him of all participation in the late "wicked rebellion." I mention this, inasmuch as the Poet, speaking of his forefathers, says, "they followed boldly where their leaders led," and hints that they suffered in the cause which crushed the fortunes of their chief. Gilbert Burns, a sensible man, but no poet, imagined he read in his brother's words an imputation on the family loyalty, and hastened to contradict it, long after his father had gone where the loyal or rebellious alike find peace. He considered his father's religious turn of mind, and the certificate of his parish minister as decisive and so they are, as far as regards William Burness; but the Keiths Marischall were forfeited before he was born, and the Poet plainly alludes to earlier matters
than the affair of the " Forty-five.' -"My ancestors," he says, rented lands of the noble Keiths Marischall, and had the honour of sharing their fate. I mention this circumstance, because it threw my father on the world at large." Here he means that the misfortunes of the fathers were felt by the children; he was accurate in all things else, and it is probable he related what his father told him. The feelings of the Poet were very early coloured with Jacobitism.
Though William Burness sought only at first to add the profits of a small stewardship to those of a little garden or nursery, and toiled along with his wife to secure food and clothing, his increasing family induced him to extend his views; and he accordingly ventured to lease Mount Oliphant, a neighbouring farm of a hundred acres, and entered upon it when Robert was between six and seven years old. The elder Burns seems to have been but an indifferent judge of land in a district where much fine ground is in cultivation, he sat down on a sterile and hungry spot, which no labour could render fruitful. He had commenced, too, on borrowed money; the seasons as well as the soil, proved churlish; and Ferguson his friend dying, "a stern factor," says Robert, "whose threatening letters set us all in tears," interposed; and he was compelled, after a six years' struggle, to relinquish the lease. This harshness was remembered in other days: the factor sat for that living portrait of insolence and wrong in the "Twa Dogs." How easily may endless infamy be purchased!
From this inhospitable spot William Burness removed his household to Lochlea, a larger and better farm, some ten miles off, in the parish of Tarbolton. Here he seemed at once to strike root and prosper. He was still strong in body, ardent in mind, and unsubdued in spirit. Every day, too, was bringing vigour to his sons, who, though mere boys, took more than their proper share of toil; while his wife superintended, with care and success, the whole system of in-door economy. But it seemed as if fortune had determined that nought he set his heart on should prosper. For four years, indeed, seasons were favourable, and markets good; but, in the fifth year, there ensued a change. It was in vain that he laboured with head and hand, and resolved to be economical and saving. In vain Robert held the plough with the dexterity of a man by day, and thrashed and prepared corn for seed or for sale, evening and morning, before the sun rose and after it set. "The gloom of hermits, and the unceasing moil of galley slaves," were endured to no purpose; and, to crown all, a difference arose between the tenant and his landlord, as to terms of lease and rotation of crop. The farmer, a stern man, self-willed as well as devoutly honest, admitted but of one interpretation to ambiguous words. The proprietor, accustomed to give law rather than receive it, explained them to his own advantage; and the declining years of this good man, and the early years of his eminent son, were embittered by disputes, in which sensitive natures suffer and worldly ones thrive.