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died at Bervie in or about 1795, she would appear to have gone to live with her daughter Elizabeth, wife of Provost Hudson. James, but not his widow, was buried in the Old Kirk-yard, Montrose, within sight of his workshop, and in the same grave his son James, the cousin and well-known correspondent of Robert Burns, was also laid to rest. Several others of the name, in the two forms of Burnes and Burness, lie around, but, so far as known, the above is the whole story of the first James Burnes, of Montrose.
CURRIE'S LIFE ANNOTATED BY
HROUGH the courtesy of Mr John R. W. Clark, banker,
Arbroath, we have been favoured with a perusal of an edition of Burns, published in 1823, by David Hill, Montrose, (2 vols. 24 mo.) containing Dr Currie's “Life of the Poet," with manuscript marginal annotations by John Syme, of Ryedale, who was, perhaps, on closer terms of intimacy with Burns than any other of his Dumfries friends. The volumes bear that they were once the property of H. M'Quhae, Castle-Douglas, who informs us, in a note on the title-page, that the annotations on the text are by “ John Syme, Burns's intimate friend, and favoured me by the kindness of James Napier, Esq., of Crago," the inference being that the originals were in the possession of the last-named gentleman, who allowed him to copy them. From the notes scattered throughout the volumes (which are distinguished from Syme's by being written in pencil), it is evident that Mr M‘Quhae was a Burns enthusiast of the most perfervid kind, careful to note down everything attributed to the Poet, which did not appear in the editions of the era in which he lived. Hill's edition contains. Miss Williams's “Evan Banks,” and Richard Galt's “Farewell to Ayrshire"; and the list of heresies is further augmented by a M.S. copy of Burt's “O’er the mist-shrouded cliffs,” which is inserted before the title of the second volume, with the expressed hope “ that it will be joyfully recognised as the effusion of the Poet's care-worn muse at that gloomy period when he was about to bid adieu to the Banks of Ayr.” On a fly leaf at the end of the same volume appear manuscript copies of the following “ Epigrams by Burns, never published "—to wit, "On Rollo Gillespie,” “On the late Sir D. Maxwell of Cardoness," "On Lascelles," "On Gray of Craig boasting of his high acquaintances,” “On the Earl of Galloway of Burns's time," "On a Numbskull,” and “On Mr. Winter, the Tax Collector.” The first and last of these are new; we therefore give them for what they are worth :
Would'st thou know, gentle reader, who rests in this earth,
There sits Mr Winter, Collector o' Taxes,
For though his name's Winter, his proceedings are summary. The fourth usually appears under the title of “The Toad-eater," whose identity, so far as we know, is here for the first time revealed. The version given is in a different measure from that which appears in Scott Douglas's Edinburgh edition, and the substitution of “a crab louse ” for “an insect,” gives it a Cloaciniad character, which effectually excludes it from every respectable edition. Dr Wallace, however, in the new Chambers' edition, gives a purified version in the same measure. Though we have credited M'Quhae with this collection of epigrams, the fact that they are written in the same small, careful hand as the marginal notes which profess to be copies of the original—a hand, by the way, entirely different from that in which the copy of Burt's song is written--affords grounds for supposing that Syme himself was the collector. This can only be verified by comparison with the original. At the Craibe-Angus sale, if we mistake not, a volume was catalogued as containing annotations by John Syme. If this is the original possessed, circa 1835, by James Napier of Crago, M'Quhae's copy can easily be verified if its present possessor is willing to provide facilities. The probability of the authenticity of the epigrams quoted would undoubtedly be strengthened by the authority of Syme, though he is not to be implicitly trusted, as some of his notes bear witness. Many of the annotations are simply names and designations to fill up the elisions of Currie, and a few are trifling and irrelevant. The former are now so well-authenticated from other sources that their reproduction is unnecessary, while the latter are absolutely valueless as Burnsiana. We therefore give both the go-by, and confine our
attention to those which either pointedly comment on the biography or elucidate the text of the poems.
Currie's Life, as everyone knows, begins with Burns's letter to Dr Moore, concerning which Syme says little beyond emphasis. ing some of the passages. Where Burns speaks of his character as resembling Solornon's save "in the trifling affair of wisdom," Syme writes on the margin “True.” Alongside of the passage referring to the Poet's obligation “to the old woman who resided in the family" for his fairy and folk-lore, appears a laconic “Yes.' Burns's father's death is commented on as “A salve for a sore,"? and the only other criticism on the autobiographical letter appears in connection with the Poet's account of the curious effects pro. duced upon his mind by the knowledge of his father's displeasure --an opinion which Syme enclorses by the remark, “Sands make the mountain." To Syme's own letter to Currie, describing his tour in Galloway in the company of the Poet, the following addenda are added :-"We spent two or three days very happily at Terrochtry, Mr. Heron's house.” When they arrived at Kirkcud. bright, Currie goes on to say that Burns was “in a wild and obstreperous mood, and swore he would not dine where he would be under the smallest restraint.” Syme adds on the margin, “ He expressed it thus at the inn, 'where he might drink like the devil and swear like hell."" There is just a hint of exaggeration in Syme's description of the highly-strung condition of Burns's nerves during this Galloway tour, and it must be remembered he had wounded the Poet's susceptibilities by his "priest-ridden" joke in connection with the ruin of his riding-boots. The “two young ladies of Selkirk," whom they met at St Mary's Isle, are designated " Lady Elizabeth and Lady Helen." Another notable addendum is appended to the Excise enquiry episode which Syme characterises as a “fama clamosa,” and adds the following in a foot-note :
Corbet, Supervisor-General of Excise. Burns wrote a card to John Syme begging him to dine that day with Mr Findlater, Supervisor at Dumfries—a friend of Burns and intimate of John Syme's -observing that the Supervisor-General was on the mission for cashiering Burns. Therefore, Burns pressed J. Syme's support, adding that Corbet had such power as was attributable to Omnipotence."
As appears from Burns's correspondence, he was on the best of terms with Mr Corbet. His wife was an intimate friend of Mrs Dunlop, and the good offices of this lady had been solicited on Burns's behalf by the latter long before any question had emerged as to the manner in which he performed his duties. That he expected Mr Corbet's ir.fluence in securing his promotion is evident from his letter to that gentleman (Sept., 1792), in which hespeaks of sending him some specimens of his rhyming wares, as also in presenting his wife with a copy of the 1793 edition of his poems. Cordial as were the relations between him and this official of the omnipotent powers, it is clear that he did not consider the friendship strong enough to defeat the machinations of his enemies; and the extent of his fears can be pretty accurately gauged by the steps which he took to secure the prompt intervention of Syme and Findlater to ward off the “cashiering,” which doubtless was the common talk of the town. Whether Corbet was prejudiced in his favour, or convinced by the evidence that the complaint was essentially baseless and inspired by malevolence, certain it is that Burns was not officially reprimanded, though a hint may have been conveyed that he might comport himself more carefully in the future. He himself states that he was only partly forgiven, and that all his hopes of getting officially forward were blasted. He was mistaken in this, as subsequent events proved ; yet the extreme alarm he manifested is convincing proof that the episode was not the trifling affair some commentators represent it to be, but a matter of official life and death to the Poet.
Pursuing our investigations, we find that in a letter from Cunningham to Burns, dated 14th October, 1790, Syme is des ignated “Barncailzie,” and described as “a charming fellow lost to society.” A somewhat puzzling commentary is affixed to a passage in the letter to Mrs Dunlop of date March 22nd, 1787, in which Burns refers to the responsibilities of the individual. " Where God and Nature have entrusted the welfare of others to his care, where the trust is sacred and the ties are dear, that man