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EDITED FROM THE BEST PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT AUTHORITIES

WITH GLOSSARIAL INDEX AND A BIOGRAPHICAL MEMOIR

BY

ALEXANDER SMITH

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

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First Edition, 1868. Reprinted, 1869, 1873, 1875, 1879, 1884, 1891, 1900, 1904, 1906, 1910.

PR4300.19.10.152. MAIN

BIOGRAPHICAL PREFACE,

The

Robert BURNS was born about two miles to the south of Ayr, in the neighbour hood of Alloway Kirk and the Bridge of Doon, on the 25th January, 1759. cottage, a clay one, had been constructed by his father, and a week after the poet's birth it gave way in a violent wind, and mother and child were carried at midnight to the shelter of a neighbour's dwelling.

When Burns became famous he wore, more however for ornament than use like the second jacket of a hussar—a certain vague Jacobitism. Both in his verses and his letters he makes allusion to the constancy with which his ancestors followed the banner of the Stuarts, and to the misfortunes which their loyalty brought upon them. The family was a Kincardineshire one-in which county, indeed, it can be traced pretty far back by inscriptions in churchyards, documents appertaining to leases and the like—and the poet's grandfather and uncles were out, it is said, in the Rebellion of 1715. When the title and estates of the Earl Marischal were forfeited on account of the uprising, Burns's grandfather seems to have been brought into trouble. He lost his farm, and his son came southward in search of employment The poet's father, who spelt his name Burnes, and who was suspected of having a share in the Rebellion of 1745, came into the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, where he obtained employment as a gardener. Afterwards he went into Ayrshire, where, becoming overseer to Mr. Ferguson of Doonholm and leasing a few acres of land, he erected a house and brought home his wife, Agnes Brown, in December 1757. Robert was the firstborn. Brain, hypochondria, and general superiority he inherited from his father ; from his mother he drew his lyrical gift, his wit, his mirth. She had a fine complexion, bright dark eyes, cheersul spirits, and a memory stored with song and ballad-a love for which Robert drew in with her milk.

In 1766, William Burnes removed to the farm of Mount Oliphant in the parish of Ayr ; but the soil was sour and bitter, and on the death of Mr. Ferguson, to whom Mount Oliphant belonged, the management of the estate fell into the hands of a factor, of whom all the world has heard. Disputes arose between the official and the tenant. Harsh letters were read by the fireside at Mount Oliphant, and were remembered years afterwards, bitterly enough, by at least one of the listeners. Burness left his farm after an occupancy of six years, and removed to Lochlea, a larger and better one in the parish of Tarbolton. Here, however, an unfortunate difference arose between tenant and landlord as to the conditions of lease. Arbiters were chosen, and a decision was given in favour of the proprietor. This

misfortune seems to have broken the spirit of Burnes. He died of consumption on the 13th February, 1784, aged 63, weary enough of his long strise with poverty and ungenial soils, but not before he had learned to take pride in the abilities of his eldest son, and to tremble for his passions.

Burnes was an admirable specimen of the Scottish yeoman, or small farmer, of the last century; for peasant he never was, nor did he come of a race of peasants. In his whole mental build and training he was superior to the people by whom he was surrounded. He had forefathers he could look back to; he had family traditions which he kept sacred. Hard-headed, industrious, religious, somewhat austere, he ruled his household with a despotism, which affection and respect on the part of the ruled made light and easy. To the blood of the Burneses a love of knowledge was native as valour, in the old times, was native to the blood of the Douglasses. The poet's grandfather built a school at Clockenhill in Kincardine, the first known in that part of the country. Burnes was of the same strain, and he resolved that his sons should have every educational advantage his means could allow. To secure this he was willing to rise early and drudge late. Accordingly, Robert, when six years old, was sent to a school at Alloway Mill; and on the removal of the teacher a few months afterwards to another post, Burnes, in conjunction with a few of his neighbours, engaged Mr. John Murdoch, boarding him in their houses by turns, and paying him a small sum of money quarterly. Mr. Murdoch entered upon his duties, and had Robert and Gilbert for pupils. Under him they acquired reading, spelling, and writing ; they were drilled in English grammar, taught to turn verse into prose, to substitute synonymous expressions for poetical words, and to supply ellipses. He also attempted to teach them a little Church music, but with no great success. He seems to have taken to the boys, and to have been pleased with their industry and intelligence. Gilbert was his favourite on account of his gay spirits and frolicksome look. Robert was by comparison taciturn-distinctly stupid in the matter of psalmody - and his countenance was swarthy, serious, and grave.

Our information respecting the family circle at Mount Oliphant, more interesting now than that of any other contemporary Scottish family circle, is derived entirely from the reminiscences of the tutor, and of Gilbert and Robert themselves. And however we may value every trivial fact and hint, and attempt to make it a window of insight, these days, as they passed on, seemed dull and matter-of-fact enough to all concerned. Mr. Murdoch considered his pupils creditably diligent, but nowise remarkable. To Gilbert, these early years were made interesting when looked back upon in the light of his brother's glory. Of that period, Robert wrote a good deal at varicus times to various correspondents, when the world had become curious;

but as in the case of all such writings, he unconsciously mixes the past with the present—looks back on his ninth year with the eyes of his thirtieth. He trils us that he was by no means a favourite with anybody; that though it cost the

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master some thrashings, “I made an excellent English scholar; and by the time I was ten or eleven years of age, I was a critic in substantives, verbs, and particles." Also we are told that in the family resided a certain old woman-Betty Davidson by name, as research has discovered—who had the largest collection in the country of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, &c.; and that to the recital of these Robert gave attentive ear, unconsciously laying up material for future Tams-O-Shanter, and Aildresses to the Deil. As for books, he had procured the Life of Hannibal, and the History of Sir William Wallace ; the first of a classical turn, lent by Mr. Murdoch, the second, purely traditionary, the property of a neighbouring blacksmith, constituting probably his entire secular library ; and in in letter to Mrs. Dunlop, he describes how the perusal of the latter moved him, –

“In those boyish days, I remember in particular being struck with that part of Wallace's story where these lines occur :

Syne to the Leglen wood when it was late,

To make a silent and a safe retreat. I chose a fine summer Sunday, the only day my line of life allowed, and walked half a dozen miles to pay my respects to the Leglen wood, with as much devout enthusiasm as ever pilgrim did to Loretto, and explored every den and dell where I could suppose my heroic countryman to have lodged.”

When Mr. Murdoch left Mount Oliphant, the education of the family fell on the father, who, when the boys came in from labour on the edge of the wintry twilight, lit his candle and taught them arithmetic. He also when engaged in work with his sons, directed the conversation to improving subjects. He got books for them from a book society in Ayr; among which are named Derham's Physico and AstroTheology, and Ray's Wisdom of God. Stackhouse's History of the Bible was in the house, and from it Robert contrived to extract a considerable knowledge of ancient history. Mr. Murdoch sometimes visited the family and brought books with him. On one occasion he read Titus Andronicus aloud at Mount Oliphant, and Robert's pure taste rose in a passionate revolt against its coarse cruelties and unspiritual horrors. When about fourteen years of age, he and his brother Gilbert were sent "week about during a summer quarter to a parish school two or three miles distant from the farm to improve themselves in penmanship. Next year, about midsummer, Robert spent three weeks with his tutor, Murdoch, who had established himself in Ayr. The first week was given to a careful revision of the English Grammar, the remaining fortnight was devoted to French, and on his return he brought with him the Adventures of Telemachus and a French Dictionary, and with these he used to work alone during his evenings. He also turned his attention to Latin, but does not seem to have made much progress therein, although in after-life he could introduce a sentence or so of the ancient tongue to adorn his correspondence. By the time the family had left Mount Oliphant, he had torn the heart out of a good many books, among which were several theological works,

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