« PreviousContinue »
TO MR WALKER, BLAIR OF ATHOLE.*
INVERNESS, 5th September, 1787.
MY DEAR SIR,
I HAVE just time to write the foregoing,† and to tell you that it was (at least most part of it) the effusion of an half-hour I spent at Bruar. I do not mean it was extempore, for I have endeavoured to brush it up as well as Mr
* Professor Walker gives the following account of the Poet's tour to the north :-" Returning to Edinburgh, he chose for his partner in a new and more extended tour, Mr Nicol of the High School, a man in whom the defects of a turbulent temper, and unpolished manners, were scarcely balanced by a superior measure of scholastic attainments, and a vein of coarse irreverent wit, which the Poet was too much disposed to aid and imitate. With this gentleman he set out from Edinburgh in September, and proceeded in a post-chaise by Taymouth, Dunkeld, and Blair, to Inverness, where he turned to the South, and taking the road by the coast, arrived in Edinburgh about the middle of October. In this, as on his former excursions, he was entertained with the most flattering hospitality by various persons of distinction, to whom he was either already known, or carried letters of introduction. He passed two or three days with the Duke of Athole, and was highly delighted by the attention which he received, and the company to whom he was introduced at Blair. These, on the other hand, were no less pleased with the correct and manly deportment of the interesting stranger. At the Duke of Gordon's he appeared as an old acquaintance, the Duchess having stood foremost, during the preceding winter, among his patrons and admirers, promoting his reputation with all that elegant energy of character which so gracefully becomes her. During these visits, however, Burns was led to discover his injudicious selection of a fellow-traveller, by whose presence he was incommoded and harassed. The ill regulated temper and manners of Mr Nicol prevented Burns from introducing him to scenes where delicacy and self-denial were so much required. He was therefore left at the inns while the Poet was regaling in the higher circles; an indignity which his proud and untractable spirit could with difficulty brook. At Athole-house his impatience was suspended by engaging him in his favourite amusement of angling; but as no such device was adopted at Gordon castle, he broke out with
Nicol's chat and the jogging of the chaise would allow. It eases my heart a good deal, as rhyme is the coin with which a poet pays his debts of honour or gratitude. What I owe to the noble family of Athole, of the first kind, I shall ever proudly boast; what I owe of the last, so help me God in my hour of need! I shall never forget.
The "little angel-band!" I declare I prayed for them very sincerely to-day at the Fall of Fyers. I shall never forget the fine family-piece I saw at Blair; the amiable, the truly noble duchess, with her smiling little seraph in her lap, at the head of the table: the lovely "olive plants," as the Hebrew bard finely says, round the happy mother: the beautiful Mrs G-; the lovely, sweet Miss C. &c. I wish I had the powers of Guido to do them justice! My Lord Duke's kind hospitality-markedly kind indeed. Mr Graham of Fintry's charms of conversation-Sir W. Murray's friendship. In short, the recollection of all that polite, agreeable company raises an honest glow in my bosom.
TO MR GILBERT BURNS.
EDINBURGH, 17th, September, 1787.
MY DEAR BROTHER,
I ARRIVED here safe yesterday evening, after a tour of twenty-two days, and travelling near six hundred miles,
unmanageable irritability, and compelled the Poet to abridge his This was not only a mortifying disappointment, but in all probability a serious misfortune to Burns, as a longer stay among persons of such influence might have begot a permanent intimacy, and on their parts an active concern for his future advancement." At this time Mr Walker was tutor in the family of the duke of Athole. He was in the year 1815 appointed to the Humanity chair in the College of Glasgow, and died in 1831. He was a most amiable man and an elegant scholar.-M.
The Humble Petition of Bruar-water, Vol. I. p. 233.
windings included. My farthest stretch was about ten miles beyond Inverness. I went through the heart of the Highlands by Crieff, Taymouth, the famous seat of Lord Breadalbane, down the Tay, among cascades and druidical circles of stones, to Dunkeld, a seat of the Duke of Athole; thence across Tay, and up one of his tributary streams to Blair of Athole, another of the duke's seats, where I had the honour of spending nearly two days with his grace and family; thence many miles through a wild country among cliffs gray with eternal snows and gloomy savage glens, till I crossed Spey and went down the stream through Strathspey, so famous in Scottish music; Badenoch, &c. till I reached Grant Castle, where I spent half a day with Sir James Grant and family; and then crossed the country for Fort George, but called by the way at Cawdor, the ancient seat of Macbeth; there I saw the identical bed in which tradition says king Duncan was murdered; lastly, from Fort George to Inverness.
I returned by the coast, through Nairn, Forres, and so on, to Aberdeen, thence to Stonehive, where James Burness, from Montrose, met me by appointment. I spent two days among our relations, and found our aunts, Jean and Isabel, still alive, and hale old women. John Cairn, though born the same year with our father, walks as vigorously as I can they have had several letters from his son in New York. William Brand is likewise a stout old fellow; but further particulars I delay till I see you, which will be in two or three weeks. The rest of my stages are not worth rehearsing; warm as I was for Ossian's country, where I had seen his very grave, what cared I for fishingtowns or fertile carses? I slept at the famous Brodie of Brodie's one night, and dined at Gordon Castle next day, with the duke, duchess, and family. I am thinking to cause my old mare to meet me, by means of John Ronald, at Glasgow; but you shall hear farther from me before I leave Edinburgh. My duty and many compliments from the north to my mother; and my brotherly compliments
to the rest. I have been trying for a berth for William, but am not likely to be successful.
TO MISS MARGARET CHALMERS,
(NOW MRS HAY, OF EDINBURGH.)
Sept. 26, 1787.
I SEND Charlotte the first number of the songs; I would not wait for the second number; I hate delays in little marks of friendship, as I hate dissimulation in the language of the heart. I am determined to pay Charlotte a poetic compliment, if I could hit on some glorious old Scotch air, in number second.* You will see a small attempt on a shred of paper in the book; but though Dr Blacklock commended it very highly, I am not just satisfied with it myself. I intend to make it a description of some kind: the whining cant of love, except in real passion, and by a masterly hand, is to me as insufferable as the preaching cant of old Father Smeaton, whig-minister at Kilmaurs. Darts, flames, cupids, loves, graces, and all that farrago, are just a Mauchline a senseless rabble.
I got an excellent poetic epistle yesternight from the old, venerable author of Tullochgorum,' John of Badenyon,' &c. I suppose you know he is a clergyman. It is by far the finest poetic compliment I ever got. I will send you a copy of it.
I go on Thursday or Friday to Dumfries, to wait on Mr Miller about his farms.-Do tell that to Lady Mackenzie, that she may give me credit for a little wisdom. "I Wisdom dwell with prudence." What a blessed fire-side!
Of the Scots Musical Museum.
How happy should I be to pass a winter evening under their venerable roof! and smoke a pipe of tobacco, or drink water-gruel with them! With solemn, lengthened, laughter-quashing gravity of phiz! What sage remarks on the good-for-nothing sons and daughters of indiscretion and folly! And what frugal lessons, as we straitened the fireside circle, on the uses of the poker and tongs!
Miss N. is very well, and begs to be remembered in the old way to you. I used all my eloquence, all the persuasive flourishes of the hand, and heart-melting modulation of periods in my power, to urge her out to Harvieston, but all in vain. My rhetoric seems quite to have lost its effect on the lovely half of mankind. I have seen the day -but this is a "tale of other years."-In my conscience I believe that my heart has been so oft on fire that it is absolutely vitrified. I look on the sex with something like the admiration with which I regard the starry sky in a frosty December night. I admire the beauty of the Creator's workmanship; I am charmed with the wild but graceful eccentricity of their motions, and—wish them good night. I mean this with respect to a certain passion dont j'ai eu l'honneur d'etre un miserable esclave: as for friendship, you and Charlotte have given me pleasure, permanent pleasure," which the world cannot give, nor take away" I hope; and which will outlast the heavens and the earth.
TO THE SAME.
I HAVE been at Dumfries, and at one visit more shall be decided about a farm in that country. I am rather hopeless in it but as my brother is an excellent farmer, and is, besides, an exceedingly prudent sober man (qualities which