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THE HOLY FAIR.
"A robe of seeming truth and trust
And secret hung, with poisoned crust,
A mask that like the gorget showed,
The transactions described in this piece are those which attended a rural celebration of the communion in Scotland till a very recent period, if not till the present day. But it is important to notice that the rite itself, and even the place where it was administered, form no part of the picture. Burns limits himself to the assemblage, partly composed of parishioners and partly of strangers, which takes place on such occasions, in some open space near the church, where a succession of clergymen, usually from the neighboring parishes, give from a tent or movable pulpit a succession of services, while a lesser body are attending the more solemn ritual within doors. That Burns's de
scription is not exaggerated in any particular, is rendered certain by a passage which we shall take leave to adduce from a pamphlet published in the year of the poet's birth, under the title of A Letter from a Blacksmith to the Ministers and Elders of the Church of Scotland. "In Scotland,” says this writer, "they run from kirk to kirk, and flock to see a sacrament, and make the same use of it that the papists do of their pilgrimages and processions; that is, indulge themselves in drunkenness, folly, and idleness. Most of the servants, when they agree to serve their masters in the western parts of the kingdom, make a special provision that they shall have liberty to go to a certain number of fairs, or to an equal number of sacraments; and as they consider a sacrament, or an occasion (as they call the administration of the Lord's Supper), in a neighboring parish in the same light in which they do at a fair, so they behave at it much in the same manner."
It may be added, that the Leith Races of Fergusson served Burns as a literary model. The Edinburgh poet is there conducted to the festive scene by an imaginary being, whom he names MIRTH, exactly as Burns is conducted to the Holy Fair by FUN; but the poetical painting of the Ayrshire bard far distances that of his predecessor.
UPON a simmer Sunday-morn,
When Nature's face is fair,
And snuff the cauler air.
The rising sun o'er Galston muirs,
Wi' glorious light was glintin'; flashing
The hares were hirplin' down the
The lav'rocks they were chantin'
As lightsomely I glowr'd abroad,
Cam skelpin' up the way.
Twa had manteeles o' dolefu' black,
But ane wi' lyart lining;
The third, that gaed a-wee a-back,
Fu' gay that day.
The twa appeared like sisters twin,
The third cam up, hap-step-an'-lowp,1
As light as ony lambie,
And wi' a curchie low did stoop,
Wi' bonnet aff, quoth I: "Sweet lass,
Quo' she, and laughin' as she spak,
And taks me by the hands:
"Ye, for my sake, hae gien the feck
Of a' the ten commands
A screed some day.
"My name is Fun- your cronie dear,
The nearest friend ye hae;
And this is Superstition here,
And that's Hypocrisy.
I'm gaun to Mauchline Holy Fair,
Gin ye'll go there, yon runkled pair,
We will get famous laughin'
At them this day."
Quoth I: "With a' my heart, I'll do't;
Wi' mony a weary body,
In droves that day.
Here farmers gash, in ridin' graith, sensible
Gaed hoddin by their cotters;
There, swankies young, in braw braid
Are springin' o'er the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin' barefit, thrang, walking along
Wi' sweet-milk cheese, in monie a whang,
Fu' crump that day.
When by the plate we set our nose,
Some carrying dails, some chairs, and stools, portions,
And some are busy blethrin'
Right loud that day.
Here stands a shed to fend the showers,
Are blinkin' at the entry.
Here sits a raw of tittlin' jauds,
Wi' heaving breast and bare neck, And there a batch o' wabster lads, Blackguarding frae Kilmarnock
For fun this day,
(of food)? chatting
1 Black-bonnet, a cant name for the elder stationed beside the plate at the door for receiving the offerings of the congregation.
2 A poor half-witted girl of the name of Gibson (daughter of Poosie Nansie), who was remarkable for pedestrian powers,. and sometimes went with messages for hire.