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THE POET'S DESCENDANTS.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS.
.born....28th September, 1760......died.... 8th April, 1827.
Gilbert Burns married Jean Breckenridge, (a relation of Sir James Shaw), who was born in Kilmarnock, 6th February, 1764. and had issue :—
John Begg, eldest son of Robert Burns Begg, Schoolmaster of Kinross, became partner in Kinneil Ironworks, Linlithgow, and died 28th September, 1878.
Robert Burns Begg, fourth son of Robert Burns Begg, born 1st May, 1833, is a Solicitor in good practice in Kinross.
THE POET'S ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN.
Elizabeth Burns (dear-bought Bess), daughter of Elizabeth Paton, was born in November, 1784; married John Bishop, overseer at Polkemmet, and died on January 8th, 1817, leaving several children.
Elizabeth Burns, daughter of Ann Park (a niece of Mrs. Hyslop of the Globe Tavern, Dumfries), was born on 31st March, 1791; married John Thomson, a retired soldier; and had issue :
Jean Armour Thomson,
Robert Burns Thomson,
Agnes became Mrs. Watson; Eliza became Mrs. M'Lellan; and Maggie, the wife of
Mr. David Wingate, the well-known Scottish Poet.
OBERT BURNS was by nature a scrupulous stickler for truth. He has told us himself that, though he
could sin, he could not lie; and the boast is justified by the tenor of his writings about himself. Not only was he truthful; he was frank to a fault. Those who have had occasion to examine the accounts Poets have given of themselves, must agree that Burns's autobiography, as communicated in 1787 to Dr. Moore, attains an almost unique nobility in its straightforwardness and independence. Even with regard to his "fillettes," as he terms his sweethearts, he usually displays a candour that is surprising. The autobiography and the other statements of more fragmentary character in which Burns makes his confessions, roundly tell the story of nearly every one of his love affairs. Where his indications were slight, they have been generally supplemented by information afforded by his relatives, or by evidence proudly gathered by the friends of the girls whom he courted.
In the case of "Highland Mary" alone, this candour of Burns and his friends, as well as the friends of his sweetheart, is strikingly absent. If Mary was a paragon of rustic gentleness, we should expect to find that her contemporaries would have been loud in their praises of her. Even had it been necessary for Burns silently to conceal the warmth of his devout attachment to Mary, her character must have impressed itself on others so markedly that impressions of her sayings and doings would be committed to lasting tradition, if not to writing. Her own relations, at any rate, would be intensely proud of their "tight, outlandish hizzie's" being elevated by the Poet to a throne in literature, and in the hearts of men. If the story of Mary's brief love affair was as it has been represented, it would have been the most natural thing in the world for her mother, or her sister, or her brothers, to come forward, at Burns's death, if not before, with a full and reliable account of their Mary, now so famous. Instead of receiving from Burns, or his relatives, or Mary's relatives, a clear account of her who inspired "To Mary in Heaven," we find that all concerned in Mary's story have exhibited the most manifest
anxiety to conceal the facts, and prevent posterity from gaining any certain knowledge of them. As for the part that Burns himself took in wilfully shrouding the case in mystery, it is sufficient to say here that for once he forsook candour, inasmuch as he omitted to refer to Mary when we should most have expected him to mention her; and for once he did not tell the whole truth, inasmuch as, when at length he did venture to refer to this sweetheart, he threw out a hint intended to deprive her of the part she really played in the greatest crisis of his life.
First, then, let us venture to examine Burns himself about Mary Campbell. It is not disputed by any of his recent biographers that in April, 1786, Burns and the Armours had a quarrel; that within a few days of the quarrel Jean went away to Paisley; that thereafter Burns had frequent meetings with Mary Campbell; that in this period he wrote about Mary Campbell the poem entitled "Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary?" "Afton Water," and "My Highland Lassie O;" and that on the second Sunday of May (the 14th) Burns and Mary exchanged Bibles, plighted their troth, and bade each other what proved to be their last farewell. We likewise know that during this very period Burns was preparing his poetry for publication at Kilmarnock. At the time when his estrangement with the Armours was at its bitterest—that is to say, at the end of July— the Kilmarnock edition of the poems appeared. Did "Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary?" find a place in this book, or "Afton Water,"* or "My Highland Lassie"? With the keenest
*Modern editors print this exquisite song as "Sweet Afton." I cannot imagine why they have abandoned the title given to it by Burns (see "Johnson's Museum and Currie's Edition)-" Afton Water," surely as sweet a name as ever made a luxury for the lips. I am almost certain that in the original draft Burns wrote Ayr Water, not Afton Water. Gilbert says the song was written about "Highland Mary," who dwelt by the Ayr, which was (as the song informs us) the "theme of his lays.' Burns had no sweetheart near the Afton; nor had he any association at all with the Afton; nor does the Afton "wind" as the song says. We know that when in the neighbourhood of Stairaird, Burns visited Mrs Stewart of Stair, who had a property at Glen Afton, near New Cumnock. He would hear the name "Afton" at Stair, and instantly appropriate it for future use, being a lover of euphonious names. When he contributed the song to the "Museum," it suited him to veil the connexion of Mary with the neighbourhood of the Ayr: here was an additional reason for changing Ayr Water to Afton Water. In Burns's correspondence we find one of several instances in which he abandoned exact geography for fine sound; this instance is apposite, inasmuch as it deals with the name of the Girvan, a stream near the Ayr, and the Lugar, a stream very near the Afton. Burns writes-"In the printed copy of 'My Nannie, O!' [where the name Stinchar originally occurred] the name of the river is horridly prosaic. I will alter it :
Girvan is the river that suits the idea of the stanza best; but "Lugar" is the most agreeable modulation of syllables." Accordingly Lugar was adopted. (See Chambers's 1856 edition, in which that editor treats "Afton Water" as a poem about Mary.)
resentment instigating him to give Jean a rival in his poems, Burns withholds all reference to his Mary. No poem about her, not a single line, appears. In the Kilmarnock edition we find "The Vision." That poem, as originally written, had contained a reference to "My bonie Jean." But the poet's fury against Jean had become so intense that at the moment of going to press he resolved to wipe out the compliment. How did he accomplish his end? Why he did not play off Mary against the discarded and faithless one in Paisley is not only not easily solved, but highly suggestive in whatever light we view it. Thus stood the original stanza :—
Down flow'd her robe, a tartan sheen,
An' such a leg: my bonie Jean
Could only peer it.
Hunting about among the names of his rustic "fillettes," Burns contented himself with replacing the words italicised by "my Bess, I ween." In that time of stress and tumult, when all had forsaken him but his Muse and his Mary, Burns had manifestly strong reasons for refraining from doing what it must have been one of the strongest wishes of his heart to do. If it is too much to say that he dared not enshrine Mary Campbell in his book, the strange fact remains that he did not do so.
The Kilmarnock edition was sold off in a few weeks. began to think of a larger Edinburgh edition, and set to work on new poems to swell the collection. In the midst of his triumph in Edinburgh, when he was still estranged from the Armours, and when Mary Campbell had been dead five months, he published this first Edinburgh edition. It contains no reference to any Mary, alive or dead. The "Mary" poems still lay locked up in the poet's drawer.
In the summer of 1787, Burns wrote, for Dr. Moore of London, his autobiography. This autobiography deals freely with love affairs, and gives particulars of amours with Nelly Kirkpatrick, Peggy Thomson, Ellison Begbie, Betty Paton, and Jean Armour. The account is brought down to August of 1787, but there is not a word in it of Highland Mary or her story.
In 1791 Burns made a collection of his poems (many unpublished) for the private eye of his crony, Robert Riddell
This collection has come down to us intact. No line in it refers to Highland Mary. During all these months and years Burns gave no distinct sign to the public that he had known Mary Campbell. Into the second volume of "Johnson's Musical Museum," published in 1788, he had slipped "My Highland Lassie"-but anonymously, although he signs the very next song in the collection-"Though cruel fate should bid us part, I still would love my Jean!" Subsequently, he showed to his wife, Jean, an impassioned idealisation, from the composition of which he came to his bed exhausted, as the story goes, on a frosty morning of October, 1789. It was from this poem he quoted in his first prose hint about Mary, contained in a letter to Mrs. Dunlop, dated December 13, 1789. This letter, we see, was written three years after Mary's death. "To Mary in Heaven," composed so shortly before the letter, was an anniversary threnody. The letter to Mrs. Dunlop begins with the complaint:-"I am groaning under the miseries of a diseased nervous system." The succeeding sentences are rhapsodical in an unusual degree, and increase in fervour until we reach the following cry of passion, with its transition to a still more startling apostrophe "There should I, with speechless agony of rapture, again recognise my lost, my ever dear Mary! whose bosom was fraught with truth, honor, constancy and love.
My Mary, dear departed shade,
Where is thy place of heavenly rest?
See'st thou thy lover lowly laid?
Hear'st thou the groans that rend his breast?
Jesus Christ, thou aimiablest of characters! I trust thou art no impostor, and that thy revelation of blissful scenes of existence beyond death and the grave, is not one of the many impositions which time after time have been palmed on credulous mankind."
This letter gives more evidence of a "diseased nervous system" than any other letter penned by the Poet. to our thinking, is a man writing in a state of over-worn nerves, without proper sense of the balance of things. Burns lets his excitement run away with him. He had recently written an ideal poem. In the letter he tries to justify to his poetic conscience, and to his correspondent, the ideal tone of