Robert Burns

 

 

1759-1796

Freemasonry has no greater name than Robert Burns.

(THE Author of this piece is unknown)

 

If there are those who question his investiture as Poet Laureate of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, owing to the absence of certain documentary evidence, no one denies that he was, and is, the greatest poet of Freemasonry, the singer alike of its faith and its friendship, its philosophy and its fun, its passion and its prophecy.  Nay, more; he was the Laureate, of the hopes and dreams of the lowly of every land.

Higher tribute there is none for any man than to say, justly, that the world is gentler and more joyous for his having lived; and that may be truly said of Robert Burns, whose very name is an emblem of pity, joy, and the magnetism of Brotherly Love.  It is therefore that men love Burns, as much for his weakness as for his strength, and all the more because he was such an un-veneered human being.  It is given to but few men thus to live in the hearts of their fellows and today, from Ayr to Sidney, from Chicago to Calcutta, the memory of Burns is not only a fragrance, but a living force uniting men of many lands into a fellowship of Liberty Justice and Charity.  ”The Memory of Burns!” cried Emerson, “I am afraid Heaven and earth have taken too good care of it to leave anything to say.  The west winds are murmuring it.  Open the windows behind you and hearken to the incoming tide, what the waves say of it.  The doves perching on the eaves of a stone chapel opposite may know something about it.  The Memory of Burns - every man’s, every boy’s, every girl’s head carries snatches of his songs, and they say them by heart; and what is strangest of all, never learned them from a book, but from mouth to mouth.  They are the property and the solace of mankind!”

In a tiny two-roomed cottage, clay-built and thatch-roofed, on the banks of the Doon, in the district of Kyle, two miles south of the town of Ayr, in Scotland, Robert Burns was born on January 25th, 1759.  It was a peasant home, such as he afterward described in “The Cotter’s Saturday Night,” in which poverty was consecrated by piety, where the father was a priest of faith and the mother a guardian angel of the holy things of life.  So far from as schools were concerned, his education was limited to grammar, writing and arithmetic.  Later he picked up a little Latin, a smattering of French, and some knowledge of English and classic poets.  But he knew the Book of Nature, leaf by leaf, and the strange scroll of the Human Heart, as only the swift insight of genius can read them.

At the age of twenty-two Burns was initiated into the Mysteries of Freemasonry, in St. David’s Lodge at Tarbolton, July 4th, 1781.  Lockhart says that he was introduced to the Lodge by John Rankine.  The minute recording his initiation reads:  ”Sederunt for July 4th.  Robert Burns in Lochly was entered an Apprentice.  Jo Norman, Master.”  The second and third degrees were conferred on the same evening, in the month of October following his initiation.  Six years later he was made a Knights Templar as well as a Royal Arch Mason in Eyemouth, as under the old Regime the two were always given together.  By this time he had won some fame as a poet, and the higher degrees were given him in token both of his fame as a poet and his enthusiasm as a Mason.

On July 27th, 1784, Burns was elected Depute Master of St. James Lodge, Tarbolton, a position which he held until St. John’s Day, 1788.

He was made an honorary member of St. John Lodge No. 22, Kilmarnock, on October 26th, 1786.  Major William Parker, the Master of St. John Lodge, became a great friend of Burns, and subscribed for thirty-five copies of the first edition of his poems.  He is the “Willie” in the song “Ye Sons of Auld Killie” (a contraction of Kilmarnock) composed and sung by Burns on the occasion of his admission as an honorary member of St. John Lodge:

 

“Ye Sons of Auld Killie, assembled by William, To follow the noble vocation;

Your thrifty old mother has scarce such another, To sit in that honoured station.

I’ve little to say, but only to pray, As praying’s the ton of your fashion;

A prayer from the muse, you may well excuse, Tis seldom her favorite passion.

Ye powers who preside, o’re the wind and the tide, Who mark each element’s border;

Who formed this frame with beneficent aim, Whose sovereign statute is order;

Within this dear mansion may wayward contention, Or withered envy ne’re enter;

May secrecy round be the mystical bound, And Brotherly Love be the center.”

The minutes of this meeting concluded as follows :

“Robert Burns, Poet, from Mauchline, a member of St. James, Tarbolton, was made an Honorary Member of this Lodge.”

 

This was the first Lodge to distinguish Burns with the designation “Poet,” and to honour him with honorary membership.

Besides being a faithful and enthusiastic attendant upon the meetings of his own Lodge, Burns was a frequent visitor at Lodge when away from home.  It is said that, with a very few exceptions, all his patrons and acquaintances were members of the Fraternity.

Burns is described at this time as nearly five feet ten inches in height, and of a form agile as well as strong; his high forehead shaded with black, curling hair, his eyes large, dark, full of bright intelligence, his face vividly expressive.  His careless dress and untaught manners gave an impression of coarseness at first, but this was forgotten in the charm of his personality, and his face in repose had a calm thoughtfulness akin to melancholy.  Full of fun and fire, affable and the best of good company, his superior mind did not make him supercilious, and he loved more than all else, a festival that was half frolic and a feast where joy and good will were guests.

Alas, drinking was a habit in the Scotland of those days, to a degree we can hardly imagine, as much in the Church as in the Lodge; and it made the bitter tragedy of Robert Burns.  Truth obliges us to admit that his moral failure was early and pitiful, due alike to his environment and to a fatal frailty of which made him fitful, unstable, and a prey to every whim of fancy and of passion.  It is an awful risk to be endowed with the genius of a Burns; it digs deep pitfalls for the man to whom it is given.  Yet, if in his later years he was a degraded man of genius, he was never a man of degraded genius.  The poison did not enter his song.  Allan Cunningham was right when he said:  ”Few men had so much of the Poet in them, and few poets so much of the man; the man was probably less pure than he ought to have been, but the poet was pure and bright to the end.”

So, and naturally so, men are willing to hide with a veil of charity the debris of character scattered along the starry path of Burns.  On reading his poems Byron exclaimed:  ”What an antithetical mind!  Tenderness, roughness, delicacy, coarseness, sentiments, sensuality; dirt and deity - all mixed up in one compound of inspired clay!”  But that might pass for a description of mankind in general, and of Burns in particular.  If Burns was a sinner he was in that akin to ourselves, as God knows, a little good and a little bad, a little weak and a little strong, foolish when he thought he was wise, and wise, often, when he feared he was foolish.  So we may give Burns the charity which he prayed for others:

 

“Then at the balance let’s be mute,

We can never adjust it;

What’s done we partly may compute,

But know not what’s resisted.”

By the same token, no great poet whose name is linked with our Craft ever owed more to Freemasonry, or gave more to it.  More intimately than any other he was identified with its life, its genius and its ideals.  Its teachings moved his thought; its spirit inspired his song; its genius nurtured that love of freedom and Fraternity which he set to everlasting music.  So much is this true, that it remains a marvel to this day how Shairp could have written a biography of Burns without once mentioning his membership in the Craft.  In the gentle air of Freemasonry he found refuge from hardship and heaviness of spirit; and its fellowship served to shelter him from the poisoned arrows of petty bigots who were unworthy to untie his shoes - men of a kind known in every age, whose hard-heartedness was clad in unctuous hypocrisy.

Surely, if ever of any one, it can be said of Robert Burns, that his soul goes marching on.  He was the harbinger of the nineteenth century, the poet of the rights and reign of the common people, whom, it has been said, God must love because he made so many of them.  The earth was fresh upon the tomb of George Washington when that century was born; it discovered Lincoln and buried him with infinite regret.  But its triumphant melody first found voice in the songs of Robert Burns, as the greek singer inspired Patriarch with the fire which kindled the Revival of Learning, and out of the inertia of the Middle Ages created modern times.  So when Taine, the French critic, came to account for that age he found that it’s spirit “Broke First in the Scotch Peasant, Robert Burns.” - a man of all men most fitted to give it voice, because “scarcely ever was seen together more of misery and of talent.”

There are those who dream of a vague blur of cosmopolitism, in which all local loyalties, all heroic national genius shall be merged and forgotten.  Not so Robert Burns.  He was distinctively a national poet, striking deep roots in his native soil, and, for that reason, touching a chord so haunting that it echoes forever.  This at least is true; a man who is not deeply rooted somewhere - to whom one spot on earth is not a little dearer, and the sky over it a little bluer - will not be of much use anywhere.  When Burns appeared the spirit of Scotland was a low ebb.  Her people were crushed and her ancient fire almost quenched.  Her scholars blushed if they used her dialect.  It was at such a time that a God-Endowed singer took up his harp, inspired by the history of his people, the traditions of Wallace and Bruce stirring him like a passion, his soul attuned to the old ballads of love and daring, singing the simple life of his nation in its vivid and picturesque language.  He struck with a delicate but strong hand the deep and noble feelings of his countrymen, and somewhere upon his variegated robe of song will be found embroidered the life, the faith, the genius of his people.  No wonder the men loved a poet, and make his home at once a throne of melody and a shrine of national glory.

Because he was so deeply rooted in the soil of his own land; because he was so sweetly, sadly, joyously - yea, and even sinfully - human, his spirit and appeal are universal, for the human heart beats everywhere the same, and by loyalty to the genius of our own country we best serve our race.  His passion for liberty, his affirmation of the nobility of man, his sense if dignity of labour, his pictures of the pathos and the hard lot of the lowly, find response in every breast where beats the heart of a man.  It is thus that all men love Burns, for it was he who taught, as few have taught since the Son of Man lodged with the fishermen by the sea, the brotherhood of man and the kinship of all breathing things.  Such singers live as long as men love life, and their words become a part of the sacred scriptures of the human heart.

This is no time to deal in literary criticism - a dreary business at best, a dismal business at worst.  It is by all agreed that Robert Burns was a lyric poet of the first order, if not the greatest song writer of the world.  Draw a line from Shakespeare to Browning, and he is one of the few minds tall enough to touch it.  The qualities of Burns are simplicity, naturalness, vividness, fire, sweet-toned pathos, and rollicking humour - qualities rare enough, and still more rarely blended.  His fame rests upon verses written  swiftly, as men write letters, and upon songs as spontaneous, as artless, as lovely as the songs of birds.  He sang of simple things, of the joys and woes and pieties of the common life, where sin be shadows virtue and the cup of death is pressed to the lips of love.  He saw the world as God made it, woven of good and ill, of light and shadow, and his songs come home to rich and poor alike, a comfort and a consecration.

No wonder Burns was the best beloved poet of Lincoln, as much for his democracy as for his humour, his pathos, and his rich humanity.  With him social rank was but a guinea stamp, a bit of tawdry tinsel alongside the native nobility of manhood.  He honoured a man for his worth, not for his wealth.  For the snob, for the fop, he had genuine contempt.  If he flayed the selfish pride of the rich, it was not from envy - just as truly did he scorn the poor man who, instead of standing erect, only cringes and whines.  He told the poor man that it is no sin to be poor, but that it is a sin to be ashamed of it.  He taught that honest poverty is not only nobler, but happier, than indolent or ill-gotten wealth.  The Cotter’s dog and the Laird’s dog are very real dogs, as all admit, but their talk is something more than dog-philosophy.  It is the old, old story of the high and the low, and it is like Burns to take the part of the under dog.  

Still, had the Cotter’s dog given way to self-pity, Burns would have been the first to kick him.  He hated fawning, as he hated sham, and he knew that if toil is tragedy, labor is an honour and joy.  That which lives in Robert Burns, and will live while human nature is the same, is his love of justice, of honesty, of reality, his touch of pathos and melting sympathy, his demand for liberty, his faith in man and God - all uttered with simple speech and the golden voice of song.  His poems were little jets of love and liberty and pity finding their way out through the fissures in the granite-like theology of his day.  They came fresh from the heart of a man whom the death of a little bird set dreaming of the meaning of the world wherein life is woven of beauty, mystery and sorrow.  A flower crushed in the budding, a field mouse turned out of his home by a plowshare, a wounded hare limping along the road to dusty death, or the memory of a tiny bird who sang for him in the days agone, touched him to tears, and made him feel the old hurt and heartache of the world.  The poems of Burns did not grow; they awoke complete.  He was a child of the open air, and about all his songs there is an outdoor feeling - never a smell of the lamp.  He saw nature with the swift glances of a child - saw beauty in the fold of clouds, in the slant of trees, in the lilt and glint of flowing waters, in the immortal game of hide-and-seek played by sunbeams and shadows, in the mists trailing over the hills.  The sigh of the wind in the forest filled him with a kind of wild, sad joy, and the tender face of a mountain daisy was like the thought of one much loved and long dead.  The throb of his heart was warm in his words, and it was a heart in which he carried an alabaster box of pity.  He had a sad life and soul of fire, the instincts of an angel in the midst of hard poverty; yet he lived with dash and daring, sometimes with folly, and, we must add, - else we do not know Burns - with a certain bubbling joyousness, despite his tragedy.

Such was the spirit of Robert Burns, a man passionate and piteous, compact of light and flame and loveliness, capable of withering scorn of wrong, quickly shifting from the ludicrous to the horrible in his fancy, poised between laughter and tears - and if by some art se could send his soul into all the dark places of the world, pity and joy would return to the common ways of man.  His feet may have been in the furrow, but the nobility of manhood was in his heart, on his lips the voice of eternal melody, and in his face the light of the morning star.  Long live the spirit of Robert Burns, Poet and Freemason!  May it grow and glow to the confounding of all injustice, all unkindness!

“He haunts his native land As an immortal youth; his hand Guides every plow.

His presence haunts this room tonight, A form of mingled mist and light

From that far coast.”

The Master’s Apron

Burns 1786

 

Ther’s mony a badge that’s unco braw ;

Wi ribbon, lace and tape on ;

Let kings an’ princes wear them a’ ,

Gie me the masters apron!

 

The honest craftsman’s apron,

The jolly freemason’s apron,

Be he at hame or roam afar,

Before his touch fa’s bolt and bar,

The gates of fortune fly ajar,

Gin he but wears the apron!

 

For wealth and honour, pride and power

Are crumbling stanes to base on;

Fraternity suld rule the hour,

And ilka worthy mason!

Each free accepted mason,

Each ancient crafted mason!

 

Then brithers let a halesome sang

Arise your friendly ranks alang .

Guid wives and bairnies blithely sing

To the ancient badge wi’ the apron string

That is worn by the master mason!

 

 

 

Ye Sons of old Killie

(Robert Burns)

 

Ye sons of old Killie, assembled by Willie,

To follow the noble vocation;

Your thrifty old mother has scarce such another

To sit in that honoured station.

I’ve little to say, but only to pray,

As praying’s the ton of your fashion;

A prayer from the muse you may well excuse,

‘Tis seldom her favourite passion.

 

Ye powers who preside o’er the wind and the tide,

Who marked each element’s border;

Who formed this frame with benificent aim,

Whose sovereign statute is order;

Within this dear mansion may wayward contention

Or withered envy ne’er enter;

May secrecy round be the mystical bound,

And brotherly love be the centre.

 

 

 

Farewell

(Robert Burns)

 

Adieu! a heart-warm, fond adieu;

Dear Brothers of the Mystic Tye!

Ye favoured, ye enlighten’d few,

Companions of my social joy!

Tho’ I to foreign lands must hie,

Pursuing Fortune’s slidd’ry ba’;

With melting heart and brimful eye,

I’ll mind you still, tho’ far awa’.

 

Oft have I met your social band,

And spent the cheerful, festive night:

Oft, honour’d with supreme command,

Presided o’er the Sons of Light;

And by that Hieroglyphic bright,

Which none but Craftsmen ever saw!

Strong Mem’ry on my heart shall write

Those happy scenes, when far awa’.

 

May Freedom, Harmony, and Love,

Unite you in the Grand Design,

Beneath th’ Omniscient Eye above-

The glorious Architect Divine,

That you may keep th’ Unerring Line,

Still rising by the Plummet’s Law,

Till Order bright completely shine,

Shall be my pray’r when far awa.

 

And you, farewell! whose merits claim

Justly that Highest Badge to wear:

Heav’n bless your honour’d, noble name,

To Masonry and Scotia dear!

A last request permit me here

When yearly ye assemble a’,

One round, I ask it with a tear,

To him, the Bard that’s far awa’

 

Robert Burns and Mrs Dunlop

 

She was born Frances Anna Wallace, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Wallace of Craigie — who claimed descent from Sir Richard, cousin to the great Sir William Wallace — and Dame Eleanora Agnew. In 1748, Frances Anna Wallace married John Dunlop of Dunlop (1707 — 85); according to a tradition quoted by Wallace, she made a run away match from Dunskey House. She seems to have lived happily with her elderly husband, bearing him 7 sons and 6 daughters. In 1761, on her mother’s death, she fell heiress to the estate of Lochryan. When her father died in 1774, the estate of Craigie went to her eldest surviving son, Thomas Wallace, who took his father’s surname; but owing to ‘heavy encumbrances’ and mismanagement, Craigie had to be sold in 1785, which caused her considerable distress. On 5th June 1785, too, Mrs Dunlop’s husband died. The double blow resulted in a ‘long and severe illness, which reduced her mind to the most distressing state of depression‘. Then Miss Betty M’Adam gave her ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ to read. It led Mrs Dunlop to communicate with its author, and resulted in a friendship, which, except for a break towards the end of the poet’s life, gave her a new and absorbing interest.’

As Gilbert Burns recorded: ‘Mrs Dunlop sent off a person express to Mossgiel, distant 15 or 16 miles, with a very obliging letter to my brother, desiring him to send her half a dozen copies of his Poems, if he had them to spare, and begging he would do her the pleasure of calling at Dunlop House as soon as convenient. This was the beginning of a correspondence which ended only with the poet’s life (nearly); the last use he made of his pen was writing a short letter to this lady a few days before his death.’

Burns replied to Mrs Dunlop’s note from Mossgiel on 15th November 1786, in autobiographical vein, adding: ‘I have only been able to send you 5 copies: they are all I can command. I am thinking to go to Edinburgh in a week or two at farthest, to throw off a second Impression of my book; but on my return, I shall certainly do myself the honor to wait on you…’ Burns visited Mrs Dunlop at least five times — June 1787; February 1788, when he stayed for 2 days; May 1789, another 2 day visit; 21st June 1791, a call on the occasion of Gilbert’s marriage; and December 1792, when, with Dr Adair, he stayed 4 days.

She herself stated the relationship she wished to establish when she told Burns: ‘I have been told Voltaire read all his manuscripts to an old woman and printed nothing but what she would have approved. I wish you would name me to her office.’ Burns never so named her, so she named herself. She gossiped; she criticised him; she treated him like a son whose affection a mother craves, whose achievements she feels pride in, but whose passions she fears and half resents, particularly where sex is concerned. On 30th December 1786, she was already trying to cure him of what he called his ‘undecency’: ‘I can wish you catch no one thing from Thomson, unless it were the resolution with which he plucked up every one of those luxuriant weeds that will be rising in too rich a soil, and from which I would be glad to see you wholly exempt.’

She gave a copy of the Poems to Dr Moore, and urged Burns to write to Moore himself. He was somewhat tardy in doing so, but when he did, there was established that curious exaggerated regard which the man of genius had for the man of talent, but which led to Burns sending Moore his Autobiographical Letter. While Mrs Dunlop’s first flush of praise must have warmed his heart, he cautioned her on 15th January 1787, as he had cautioned others:

‘You are afraid I shall grow intoxicated with my prosperity as Poet; alas! Madam, I know myself and the world too well. I do not mean any airs of affected modesty; I am willing to believe that my abilities deserve some notice; but in a most enlightened, informed age and nation, when poetry is and has been the study of men of the first natural genius, aided with all the powers of polite learning, polite books, and polite company — to be dragged forth to the full glare of learned and polite observation, with all my imperfections of rusticity and crude unpolished ideas on my head — I assure you, Madam, I do not dissemble when I tell you I tremble for the consequences. The novelty of a Poet in my obscure station, without any of those advantages which are reckoned necessary for that character, at least at the time of day, has raised a partial tide of public notice which has borne me to a height, where I am absolutely, feelingly certain my abilities are inadequate to support me; and too surely do I see that time when the same tide will leave me, and recede, perhaps, as far below the mark or truth…

‘Your patronising me and interesting yourself in my fame and character as a Poet, I rejoice in; it exalts me in my own idea; and whether you can or cannot aid me in my subscription is a trifle. Has a paltry subscription bill any charms to the heart of a bard, compared with the patronage of the descendant of the immortal Wallace?…’

Her criticism, though womanly, was frank enough: ‘You ought to take off a few patches which consummate beauty has no use for, which in a polite and enlightened age are seldom wore, and which a delicate, manly mind cannot regret the want of. Forgive my saying that every indecency is below you, and sinks the voice of your fame by putting to silence your female admirers.’

Mrs Dunlop gave him her views on possible future careers. On 29th March 1787, having heard of Burns’s notion to buy a commission she told him that ‘a military line wears several attractions, not wholly to be slighted’, though she advised him never to give way to his hankering after militaristic glamour unless he could ‘command at least £250 more than the £400 which is the regulated price… At any rate, the pomp of war is more for poetry than practice and although warriors may be heroes, peace soldiers are mostly powdered monkies.’

She also told Burns of Adam Smith’s suggestions that he should become a Salt Officer, a plan which came to nothing, probably because of Smith’s illness in 1786 and 1787. Later, she even talked of Burns becoming a Professor of Agriculture!

When her copies of the first Edinburgh Edition reached her, she was angry with the poet for failing to bowdlerise some of his reprinted pieces, as she had suggested. Burns replied from Edinburgh on 30th April 1787: ‘Your criticisms, Madam, I understand very well, and could have wished to pleased you better. You are right in your guess that I am not very amenable to counsel. Poets, much my superiors, have so flattered those who possessed the adventitious qualities of wealth and power that I am determined to flatter no created being, either in prose or verse, so help me God!’

Soon after 9th June, when Burns made his ‘eclatant return’ to Mauchline after his Border tour, he called on Mrs Dunlop for the first time. In August, he sent her the original copy of his Autobiographical Letter, intended for Doctor Moore, which she read with ‘more pleasure than Richardson or Fielding could have afforded me’.

Their correspondence went on, in spite of the offence which Burns sometimes gave the old lady when she suspected that he was not reading her letters properly — they were written in a cramped, rather illegible hand — people, affairs and books being discussed with friendliness and freedom. Burns valued her intelligent and kindly interest in him, even when he discreetly chose to overlook her well meant but frequently unsound, literary advice. She, for her part said: ‘Take my honest word; I consider your correspondence as an acquisition for which mine can make no return, as a commerce in which I alone am the gainer; the sight of your hand gives me inexpressible pleasure…’

Burns wrote more letters to her than to any other correspondent. Her family troubles — the death of her son-in-law, Henri, followed, not long afterwards by the death of her daughter, Mrs Henri, the illness of Agnes Eleanor, another daughter married to Joseph Elias Perochon, a French Royalist, and the instability of her son, Anthony — aroused Burns’s deepest sympathies.

The correspondence, which meant so much to both of them, ran into difficulties late in 1794. As far back as November 1792, Mrs Dunlop had expressed fears at the spread of the revolutionary spirit in her part of the country, but Burns did not take the hint. In a letter of 5th January 1793, just after his loyalty had been called in question, Burns poured imprections on the ‘miscreant wretch’ who would turn over a man’s ‘faithful wife and prattling innocents’ to ‘Beggary and Ruin’, continuing: ‘Can such things be? Oui! Telles choses se font! Je viens d’en faire une epreuve maudite. (By the way, I don’t know whether that is French; and much would it go against my soul, to mar anything belonging to that gallant people; though my real sentiments of them shall be confined alone in my correspondence with you.)’

Ten weeks past before Mrs. Dunlop replied, on 16th March. Her letter was full of reproof: ”Tis not enough, my dr. Sir, never to write improperly but to one; that one cannot wish you as well as I do and encourage it.’ When Burns wrote to her, from a ‘solitary inn’ at Castle Douglas on 25th June 1794, he sent her his ‘Ode for General Washington’s Birthday’. On 8th September she replied, noting that he was: ‘enthusiastically fond of the theme. So was I once, but your Goddess has behaved in such a way as to injure her reputation, and acquire so very bad a name, that I find it no longer fit to acknowledge my favour for her, since her company is not now profuse of bliss nor pregnant with delight; and she is too much attached of late to the society of butcher’s….’ Burns failed to take this second warning, and on 20th December 1794 — part of the letter was not finished until 12th January 1795 — wrote strongly in criticism of Dr. Moore’s journal during a residence in France. (Mrs.Dunlop, incidentally, considered Moore something of a radical!)

‘He has paid me a pretty compliment, by quoting me, in his last Publication, though I must beg leave to say, that he has not written this last work in his usual happy manner. Entre nous, you know my Politics; & I cannot approve of the Doctor’s whining over the deserved fate of a certain pair of Personages. What is there in the delivering over a purged Blockhead & an unprincipled Prostitute to the hands of the hangman, that it should arrest for a moment, attention in an eventful hour, when, as my friend, Roscoe in Liverpool gloriously expresses it —

“When the welfare of Millions is hung in the scale

And the balance yet trembles with fate!”

But our friend is already indebted to people in power, & still looks forward for his Family, so I can apologise for him; for at bottom I am sure he is a staunch friend to liberty. Thank God, these London trials have given us a little more breath, & I imagine that the time is not far distant when a man may freely blame Billy Pitt, without being called an enemy to his Country.’

Two of Mrs.Dunlop’s daughters had married French royalist refugees and four of her sons and one grandsons had Army connections. She naturally took deep offence at this apparently deliberate attack on her views; offence so deep, indeed, that she ignored two letters, one written during the summer of 1795; the second, the pathetic letter of 31st January 1796:

‘These many months you have been two packets in my debt. What sin of ignorance I have committed against so highly a valued friend I am utterly at a loss to guess. Your son, John, whom I had the pleasure of seeing here, told me that you had gotten an ugly accident of a fall, but told me also the comfortable news that you were gotten pretty well again. Will you be so obliging, dear Madam, as to condescend on that my offence which you seem determined to punish with a deprivation of that friendship which once was the source of my highest enjoyments? Alas! Madam, ill can I afford, at this time to be deprived of any of the small remnant of my pleasures. I have lately drank deep of the cup of affliction. The autumn robbed me of my only daughter & darling child, & that a t a distance too & so rapidly as to put it out of my power to pay the last duties to her. I had scarcely began to recover from that shock, when I became myself the victim of a most severe Rheumatic fever, and long the die spun doubtful; until after many weeks of a sickbed it seems to have turned up more life, & I am beginning to crawl across my room, & once indeed hve been before my own door in the street.’

Within a few days of his death, Burns wrote her his last letter:

‘Madam
‘I have written you so often without rec.g any answer, that I would not trouble you again but for the circumstances in which I am. An illness which has long hung about me in all probability will speedily send me beyond that bourne whence no traveller returns. Your friendship with which for many years you honored me was a friendship dearest to my soul. Your conversation & especially your correspondence were at once highly entertaining & instructive. With what pleasure did I use to break up the seal! The remembrance yet adds one pulse more to my poor palpitating heart!
‘Farewell !!!’

At that pathetic cry she relented. A letter from John Lewars to her, written just after Burns’s death confirms Currie’s statement that almost the last line the poet was able to read on his death bed was a reconcilatory message from her. She herself survived the poet by 19 years. When she died, her total movable estate was worth £800.

Both sides of the Burns/Mrs Dunlop correspondence were published in 1898, by William Wallace, under the title: Robert Burns and Mrs Dunlop. Several of her letters, discovered later, were printed in the Burns Chronicle for 1904. It was from Wallace’s book that a few lines from her own verse-picture, part caricature of Burns, are taken:

“Genius and humour sparkle in the eyes,
Frank independence native ease supplys.
Good sense and manly spirit mark the air,
And mirth and obstinacy too were there.
A peering glance sarcastic wit confest,
The milk of human kindness fill’d the breast.
While pride and parts the features thus control,
Good-nature lurk’d an inmate of the soul.
So the green nut’s sweet, milky juice comprest
In a hard shell and acid hunk is drest…”

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