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To the EARL of BUCHAN.
THE honour your lordship has done me, by your notice and advice in yours of the 1st instant, I shall ever gratefully remember:
"Praise from thy lips 'tis mine with joy to boast,
Your lordship touches the darling chord of my heart, when you advise me to fire my muse at Scottish story and Scottish scenes. I wish for nothing more than to make a leisurely pilgrimage through my native country; to sit and muse on those once hard-contended fields, where Caledonia, rejoicing, saw her bloody lion borne through broken ranks to victory and
fame; and, catching the inspiration, to pour the deathless names in song. But, my lord, in the midst of these enthusiastic reveries, a longvisaged, dry, moral-looking phantom strides across my imagination, and pronounces these emphatic words.
"I, Wisdom, dwell with Prudence. Friend, I do not come to open the ill-closed wounds of your follies and misfortunes, merely to give you pain: I wish through these wounds to imprint a lasting lesson on your heart. I will not mention how many of my salutary advices you have despised: I have given you line upon line and precept upon precept; and while I was chalking out to you the straight way to wealth and character, with audacious effrontery you have zig-zagged across the path, contemning me to my face: you know the consequences. It is not yet three months since home was so hot for you that you were on the wing for the western shore of the Atlantic, not to make a fortune, but to hide your misfortune.
"Now that your dear-lov'd Scotia puts it in your power to return to the situation of your forefathers, will you follow these Will-o'-wisp meteors of fancy and whim, till they bring you once more to the brink of ruin? I grant that
the utmost ground you can occupy is but half a step from the veriest poverty; but still it is half a step from it. If all that I can urge be ineffectual, let her who seldom calls to you in vain, let the call of pride prevail with you. You know how you feel at the iron-gripe of ruthless oppression: you know how you bear the galling sneer of contumelious greatness. I hold you out the conveniences, the comforts of life, independence and character, on the one hand; I tender you servility, dependence, and wretchedness, on the other. I will not insult your understanding by bidding you make a choice."*
This, my lord, is unanswerable. I must return to my humble station, and woo my rustic muse in my wonted way at the plough-tail. Still, my lord, while the drops of life warm my heart, gratitude to that dear-loved country in which I boast my birth, and gratitude to those her distinguished sons who have honoured me so much with their patronage and approbation, shall, while stealing through my humble shades, ever distend my bosom, and at times, as now, draw forth the swelling tear.
*Copied from the Bee, vol. ii. p. 319, and compared with the Author's MSS.
Ext. Property in favour of Mr. ROBERT BURNS, to erect and keep up a Headstone in memory of Poet FERGUSSON, 1787.
Session-house, within the Kirk of Canongate, the twenty-second day of February, one thousand seven hundred eightyseven years.
Sederunt of the managers of the Kirk and Kirkyard Funds of Canongate.
WHICH day, the treasurer to the said funds produced a letter from Mr. Robert Burns, of date the sixth current, which was read, and appointed to be engrossed in their sederuntbook, and of which letter the tenor follows: "To the Honourable Bailies of Canongate, Edinburgh. Gentlemen, I am sorry to be told that the remains of Robert Fergusson, the so justly celebrated poet, a man whose talents,
for ages to come, will do honour to our Caledonian name, lie in your church-yard, among the ignoble dead, unnoticed and unknown.
"Some memorial to direct the steps of the lovers of Scottish song, when they wish to shed a tear over the "narrow house" of the bard who is no more, is surely a tribute due to Fergusson's memory; a tribute I wish to have the honour of paying.
"I petition you then, Gentlemen, to permit me to lay a simple stone over his revered ashes, to remain an unalienable property to his deathless fame. I have the honour to be, Gentlemen, your very humble servant, (sic subscribitur) ROBERT BURNS.”
Thereafter the said managers, in consideration of the laudable and disinterested motion of Mr. Burns, and the propriety of his request, did, and hereby do, unanimously, grant power and liberty to the said Robert Burns to erect a headstone at the grave of the said Robert Fergusson, and to keep up and preserve the same to his memory in all time coming. Extracted forth of the records of the managers by
WILLIAM SPROTT, Clerk.