The Life of Robert Burns
Burns in the South, West and North
BURNS, ere leaving Edinburgh, had got acquainted with James Johnson, an engraver, who was already projecting his “Museum of Scottish Songs,” with their appropriate tunes, to which the Poet became a contributor, sending him “Green Grows the Rashes” and “Young Peggy blooms the fairest Lass.”
He left Edinburgh 5th May, 1787, along with Ainslie, for Berrywell, near Dunse, where the father of the latter, land-steward to Lord Douglas, resided. He travelled on horseback, and had just mounted when a letter was shot into his hand from Dr. Blair (which will be found in the Correspondence). It is kind, but formal and stilted. It recommends Burns to take time and leisure to mature and improve his talents, “for on any second production you give to the world your fate as a poet will very much depend.” Burns laughed, thrust the letter into his pocket, and exclaimed, “Thank you, doctor; but whiles a manÕs first book, lik
e his first bairn, is his best.” It was, in fact, BurnsÕ first and last book. he was constantly adding to it, and new editions of it were issued, but no supplementary volume ever appeared in his lifetime.
Perhaps the moment when Burns mounted his horse for the South may be called his completed culmination. He was leaving Edinburgh triumphant in literary success, and outwardly unstained, respected, and beloved by several circlesÑleaving it a free, unfettered man, with a little money in his pocket, a kindred spirit by his side, the lands of Scottish romance and poetry before him, and the blue sky of early summer above him, reflecting the joy of his bosom; and he felt with George Herbert as if
“There was no month but May.”
Ayrshire, with all its sorrows and humiliations, was far distant. And yet now and then as he rode gaily along, and, like the Canterbury Pilgrims, carolled as he pursued his way, his prophetic soul might whisper to him that, though the main wing of the
storm was scatteredÑ
“The sullen rear
Was, with its stored thunder, labouring up.”
He was carrying his temperament, his pride, his passions, as well as his genius and his prestige, with him to the South; and if with the latter there was great glory, with the former there was danger equally great. He was ostensibly in this journey a farmer in search of a farm; less ostensibly, he was a “Coelebs in search of a wife,” and we find him more than once on the point of finding, or rather being found of, one. But his matrimonial destiny did not lieÑperhaps it had been better had it lainÑin the South.
We quote here the “Journal” as far as Carlisle, and append a few remarks:-
“Left Edinburgh (May 5, 1787)ÑLammermuir hills miserably dreary, but at times very picturesque. Langtonedge, a glorious view of the Merse; reach Berrywell. Old Mr. Ainslie an uncommon characterÑhis hobbies, agriculture, natural philosophy, and politics. In the first he is unexceptionably the clearest-heade
d, best-informed man I ever met with; in the other two, very intelligent. As a man of business he has uncommon merit, and by fairly deserving it has made a very decent independence. Mrs. Ainslie, an excellent, sensible, cheerful, amiable old woman. (The account of the Ainslie family is not more flattering than we believe true. Of RachelÕs fate we know nothing, but that lie died in single blessedness. Her brother Robert had several daughters and a son. His eldest daughter was very beautiful, and married, we believe, a Dr. Farquhareon of Edinburgh. His younger, Esther, married the Rev. John Robertson, Secession minister of Dunse. She had been originally engaged to Swinton of Swinton., Berwickshire, who died before marriage. Before marriage she kept the house of Douglas Ainslie of Cairnbank, near Dunse, who was a writer, and factor for many estates in the county, made a great deal of money, ard left it partly to Esther and partly to a nephew, Sir Douglas Ainslie, whose only child is
now Mrs. Grant Duff. Chambers says that Robert Ainslie, whom he met often, always spoke of Burns with the greatest affection, as the finest felkw as well as the greatest genius he ever knew) Miss AinslieÑher person a little embonpoint, but handsome; her face, particularly her eyes, full of sweetness and good-humour; she unites three qualities rarely to be found togetherÑkeen, solid observation; sly witty observation and remark ; and the gentlest, most unaffected female modesty. Douglas, a clever, fine, promising young fellow. The family – meeting with their brother, my compagnon ole voyage, very charming Ñparticularly the sister. The whole family remarkably attached to their menials Mrs. A. full of stories of the sagacity and sense of the little girl in the kitchen. Mr. A. high in the praises of an African, his house-servant; all his people old in his service. DouglasÕs old nurse came to Berrywell yesterday to remind them of its being his birthday.
“A Mr. Dudgeon, (Dudgeon was the author of
the once popular songÑ” Up amang yon cliffy rocks.”) a poet at times, a worthy, remarkable character – natural penetration, a great deal of information, some genius, and extreme modesty.
“Sunday (May 6)ÑWent to church at DunseÑDr. Bowmaker, a man of strong lungs and pretty judicious remark; but ill-skilled in propriety, and altogether unconscious of his want of it.
“Monday (May 7)ÑColdstream Ñ went over to EnglandÑCornhillÑ-glorious river TweedÑclear, and majestic Ñfine bridge.
“Dine at Coldstream (It was at Coldstream that the famous scene described by Ainslie occurred. .Ainslie suggested that they should cross the Tweed, and then Burns could say he had been in England. They did so, and were walking slowly along, when suddenly Burns, to Mr. AinslieÕs great surprise, threw off his hat, knelt down, and lifted up his hands and in an attitude and tones of the greatest enthusiasm, looking the while back to Scotland, proceeded to repeat the last stanzas in the “Cottars Satur
day Night ) with Mr. Ainslie and Mr. Foreman; beat Mr. F. in a dispute about Voltaire. Tea at Lennel House with Mr. Brydone. Mr. Brydone a most excellent heart, kind, joyous, and benevolent, but a good deal of the French indiscriminate complaisanceÑfrom his situation, past and present, an admirer of everything that bears a splendid title or that possesses a large estate. Mrs. Brydone a most elegant woman in her person and manners, the tones of her voice remarkably sweet; my reception extremely flattering. Sleep at Coldstream.
“Tuesday (May 8) Ñ Breakfast at KelsoÑcharming situation of KelsoÑflne bridge over the TweedÑenchanting views and prospects on both sides of the river, particularly the Scotch side ; introduced to Mr. Scott of the Royal Bank, an excellent, modest fellowÑfine situation of itÑruins of Roxburgh CastleÑa holly-bush growing where James II. of Scotland was accidentally killed by the bursting of a cannon. A small old religious ruin and a fine old garden planted by the
religious, rooted out and destroyed by an English HottentotÑa maitre dÕHotel of the dukeÕs, a Mr. Cole. Climate and soil of Berwickshire, and even Roxburghshire, superior to AyrshireÑbad roads. Turnip and sheep husbandry, their great improvements. Mr. MÕDowal at Caverton Mill, a friend of Mr. AinslieÕs, with whom I dined to-day, sold his sheep, ewe and lamb together, at t\ve guineas a piece. Wash their sheep before shearingÑseven or eight pounds of washing wool in a fleece Ñ low markets, consequently low rents Ñ fine lands not above sixteen shillings a Scotch acreÑmagnificence of farmers and farm-houses. Come up Teviot and up Jed to Jedburgh to lie, and so wish myself a good-night.
Wednesday (May 9)ÑBreakfast with Mr. ÑÑ in JedburghÑa squabble between Mrs. ÑÑ, a crazed, talkative slattern, and a sister of herÕs, an old maid, respecting a Relief minister. Miss gives Madam the lie and Madam, by way of revenge, upbraids her that she laid snares to entangle the said minister, then a widower, i
n the net of matrimony. Go about two miles out of Jedburgh to a roup of parksÑmeet a polite soldier-like gentleman, Captain Rutherford, who had been many years through the wilds of America, a prisoner among the Indians. Charming, romantic situation of Jedburgh, with gardens, orchards, &c., intermingled among the housesÑ fine old ruinsÑa once magnificent cathedral and strong castle. All the towns here have the appearance of old, rude grandeur, but the people extremely idleÑJed, a fine romantic little river.
“Dine with Captain RutherfordÑthe captain a polite fellow, fond of money in his fanning way; showed a particular respect to my bardshipÑhis lady, exactly a proper matrimonial second part for him. Miss Rutherford, a beautiful girl.
“Return to Jedburgh-Ñwa]k up Jed with some ladies, to be shown Love Lane and Blackburn, two fairy scenes. Introduced to Mr. Potts, writer, a very clever fellow and Mr. Somerville, the clergyman of the place, a man and
a gentleman, but sadly addicted to punning. The walking party of ladies, Mrs. ÑÑ and Miss ÑÑ her sister, before mentioned. .N.B.ÑThese two appear still more comfortably ugly and stupid, and bore me most shockingly. Two Miss ÑÑ tolerably agreeable. Miss Hope, a tolerably pretty girl, fond of laughing and fun. Miss Lindsay, a good-humoured, amiable girl; rather short et embonpoint, but handsome, and extremely graceful; beautiful hazel eyes, full of spirit, and sparkling with delicious moisture ; an engaging face, un tout ensemble that speaks her of the first order of female minds; her sister, a bonnie, strappinÕ, rosy, sonsie lass. Shake myself loose, after several unsuccessful efforts, of Mrs. and Miss Ñ, and, somehow or other, get hold of Miss LindsayÕs arm. My heart is thawed into melting pleasure after being so long frozen up in the Greenland bay of indifference, amid the noise and nonsense of Edinburgh. Miss seems very well pleased wit
h my bardshipÕs distinguishing her; and after some slight qualms, which I could easily mark, she sets the titter round at defiance, and kindly allows me to keep my hold; and when parted by the ceremony of my introduction to Mr. Somerville, she met me half, to resume my situation. Nota Bene.Ñ The poet within a point and a half of beingÑÑ in love; I am afraid my bosom is still nearly as much tinder as ever.
“The old, cross – grained, Whiggish, ugly, slanderous MissÑÑ , with all the poisonous spleen of a disappointed, ancient maid, stops me very unseasonably to ease her bursting breast, by falling abusively foul on the Miss Lindsays, particularly on my Dulcinea; I hardly refrain from cursing her to her face for daring to mouth her calumnious slander on one of the finest pieces of the workmanship of Almighty Excellence! Sup at Mr. ÑÑÔs; vexed that the Miss Lindsays are not of the supper party, as they only are wanting. Mrs. ÑÑand Miss still improve infernally
on my hands.
“Set out next morning for Wauchope, the seat of my correspondent, Mrs. ScottÑbreakfast by the way with Dr. Elliot, an agreeable, good-hearted, climate-beaten old veteran, in the medical line, now retired to a romantic, but rather moorish place, on the banks of the RuleÑhe accompanies us almost to Wauchope; we traverse the country to the top of Bochester, the scene of an old encampment, and Woolee Hill.
“Wauchope.ÑMr. Scott exactly the figure and face commonly given to Sancho Panza; very shrewd in his farming matters, and not unfrequently stumbles on what may be called a strong thing rather than a good thing. Mrs. Scott all the sense, taste, intrepidity of face, and bold, critical decision, which usually distinguish female authors. Sup with Mr. PottsÑagreeable party. Breakfast next morning with Mr. SomervilleÑthe bruit of Miss Lindsay and my bardship, by means of the invention and malice of Miss ÑÑ Mr. Somerville sends to Dr. Lindsay, begging him and family to breakfa
st if convenient, but at all events to send Miss Lindsay; accordingly, Miss Lindsay only comes. I find Miss Lindsay would soon play the devil with me; I met with some little flattering attentions from her. Mrs. Somerville, an excellent, motherly, agreeable woman, and a fine family. Mr. Ainslie and Mrs. S Ñ, junr., with Mr. ÑÑ, Miss Lindsay, and myself, go to see Esther [Easton], a very remarkable woman for reciting poetry of all kinds, and sometimes making Scotch doggerel herselfÑshe can repeat by heart almost everything she has ever read, particularly PopeÕs ÔHomerÕ from end to end; has studied Euclid by herself; and, in short, is a woman of very extraordinary abilities. On conversing with her, I find her fully equal to the character given of her. She is very much flattered that I send for her, and that she sees a poet who has put out a book, as she says. She is, among other things, a great florist, and is rather past the meridian of once celebrated beauty.
“I walk in
EstherÕs garden with Miss Lindsay, and after some little chit-chat of the tender kind, I presented her with a proof print of my nob, which she accepted with something more tender than gratitude. She told me many little stories which Miss ÑÑ had retailed concerning her and me with prolonging pleasureÑGod bless her I Was waited on by the magistrates, and presented with the freedom of the burgh.
“Took farewell of Jedburgh, with some melancholy, disagreeable sensations. Jed, pure be thy crystal streams, and hallowed be thy sylvan banks! Sweet Isabella Lindsay, may peace dwell in thy bosom, uninterrupted except by the tumultuous throbbings of rapturous love! That love-kindling eye must beam on another, not on me; that graceful form must bless anotherÕs arms, not mine!
“Kelso.ÑDine with the FarmersÕ ClubÑall gentlemen, talking of high matters; each of them keeps a hunter from £30 to £50 value, and attends the fox-huntings in the county. Go out with Mr. Ker, one of
the club, and a friend of Mr. AinslieÕs, to lie. Mr. Ker, a most gentlemanly, clever, handsome fellow, a widower with some fine children; his mind and manner astonishingly like my dear old friend Robert Muir in Kilmarnock; everything in Mr. KerÕs most elegant; he offers to accompany me in my English tour. Dine with Sir Alexander Don, a pretty clever fellow, but far from being a match for his divine lady. A very wet day. . . .. Sleep at Stodrig again, and set out for Melrose; visit Dryburgh, a fine old ruined abbey; still bad weather; cross Leader, and come up Tweed to Melrose; dine there, and visit that far-famed, glorious ruin; come to Selkirk, up Ettrick; the whole country hereabout, both on Tweed and Ettrick, remarkably stony.
Monday (May 14).ÑCome to Inverleithen, a famous spa, and in the vicinity of the palace of Traquair, where, having dined, and drank some Galloway-whey, I here remain till to-morrow; saw Elibanks and Elibraes, on the other side of the Twced
Tuesday.ÑDrank tea yesternight at Pirn with Mr. Horsburgh. Breakfasted to-day with Mr. Ballantyne of Hollylee. Proposal for a four-horse team, to consist of Mr. Scott of Wauchope, Fittieland; Logan of Logan, Fittiefur; Ballantyne of Hollylee, Forewynd; Horsbnrgh of Horsburgh. Dine at a country inn, kept by a miller, in Earlston, the birthplace and residence of the celebrated Thomas a RhymerÑsaw the ruins of his castleÑcome to Berrywell.
“Wednesday.ÑDine at Dunse with the FarmersÕ Club Ñcompany, impossible to do them justiceÑ Rev. Mr. Smith, a famous punster, and Mr. Meikle, a celebrated mechanic, and inventor of the thrashing-mill. Thursday, breakfast at Berrywell, and walk into Dunse to see a famous knife made by a cutler there, and to be presented to an Italian prince. A pleasant ride with my friend Mr Robert Ainslie and his sister to Mr. ThomsonÕs, a man who has newly commenced farmer, and has married a Miss
Patty Grieve, formerly a flame of Mr. Robert AinslieÕs. Company, Miss Jacky Grieve, an amiable sister of Mrs. Thomsons, and Mr. Hood, an honest, worthy, facetious farmer in the neighbourhood.
“Saturday.ÑSpend the day at Mr. GrieveÕs; made a royal-arch mason of St. AbbÕs Lodge. Mr. William Grieve, the eldest brothers a joyous, warm-hearted, jolly, clever fellowÑtakes a hearty glass, and sings a good song. Mr. Robert, his brother and partner in trade, a good fellow, but says little. Take a sail after dinner. Fishing of all lands pays tithes at Eyemouth.
“Sanday (May 20). ÑA Mr. Robertson, brewer at Ednam, sets out with us to Dunbar.
2″Breakfast next morning at Skateraw, at Mr. LeeÕs, a farmer of great note. Mr. Lee, an excellent, hospitable, social fellow, rather oldishÑwarm-hearted and chattyÑa most judicious, sensible farmer. Mr. Lee detains me till next morning. Company at dinner; my rev, acquaintance, Dr. Bowmaker, a rattling old
fellow. Two sea lieutenants; a cousin of the landlordÕs, a fellow whose looks are of that kind which deceived me in a gentleman at Kelso, and have often deceived me : a goodly handsome figure and face, which incline one to give them credit for parts which they have not. Mr. Clarke a much cleverer fellow, but whose looks a little cloudy, and his appearance rather ungainly, with an everyday observer may prejudice the opinion against him. Dr. Brown, a medical young gentleman from Dunbar, a fellow whose face andÕ manners are open and engaging. Leave Skateraw for Dunse text day, along with Collector ÑÑ, a lad of slender abilities, and bashfully diffident to an extreme.
“Found Miss .AinslieÑthe amiable, the sensible, the good-humoured, the sweet Miss Ainslie Ñ all alone at Berrywell. Heavenly Powers, who know the weakness of human hearts, support mine! What happiness must I see, only to remind me that I cannot enj
Z”Friday.ÑI go with Mr. Hood to see a roup of an unfortunate farmerÕs stock; rigid economy and decent industry, do you preserve me from being the principal dramatis personna in such a scene of horror! “Meet my good old friend Mr. .Ainslie, who calls on Mr. Hood in the evening to take farewell of my hardship. This day I feel myself warm with sentiments of gratitude to the Great Preserver of men, who has kindly restored me to health and strength once more. “A pleasant walk with my young friend Douglas AinslieÑa sweet, modest, clever young fellow.
“Sunday (May 27).ÑCross Tweed, and traverse the moors through a wild country till I reach AlnwickÑ Alnwick Castle, a seat of the Duke of Northumberland, furnishedÕ in a most princely manner. A Mr. Wilkin, agent of his GraceÕs, shows us the house and policies. Mr. Wilkin a discreet, sensible, ingenious man.
“Ride up Tummel River to Blair; Fascally. a beautiful romantic nest; wild grandeur of the Pass of Killiecrankie; visit the gallant Lord DundeeÕs stone.
“Blair; sup with the Duchess; easy and happy from the manners of the family; confirmed in my good opinion of my friend Walker.
“Saturday (Sept. 1)ÑVisit the scenes round BlairÑ fine, but spoiled with bad taste; Tilt and Garry rivers; Falls on the Tilt; heather seat ride in company with Sir William Murray arid Mr. Walker to Loch Tummel; meanderings of the Rannoch, which runs thr
ough quondam Struan RobertsonÕs estate from Loch Rannoch to Loch Tummel; dine at Blair. Company ÑGeneral Murray; Captain Murray, an honest tar; Sir William Murray, an honest, worthy man, but tormented with the hypochondria; Mrs. Graham, belle et aimable; Miss Cathcart; Mrs. Murray, a painter; Mrs. King; Duchess and fine family, the Marquis, Lords James, Edward, and Robert; Ladies Charlotte, Emilia, and children dance; sup; Mr. Graham of Fintry.
[Burns, at Blair, again met with Josiah Walker, who was now acting as tutor in the Duke of AtholeÕs family. We copy Walkers account of Burns at the Tilt, by far the best bit contributed by him to Isis Recollections of the Poet. ” On reaching Blair, he sent me notice of his arrival (as I had been previously acquainted with him), and I hastened to meet him at the inn. The Duke, to whom he brought a letter of introduction, was from home: but the Duchess, being informed of his arrival, gave him an invitation to sup and sleep at Athole House.
He accepted the invitation; but as the hour of supper was at some distance, begged I would, in the interval, be his guide through the grounds. It was already growing dark; yet the softened though faint and uncertain view of their beauties, which the moonlight afforded us, seemed exactly suited to the state of his feeling at the time. I had often like others, experienced the pleasures which arise from the sublime or elegant landscape, but I never saw those feelings so intense as in Burns. When we reached a rustic hut on the river ÔTilt, where it is overhung by a woody precipice, from which there is a noble waterfall, he threw himself on the heathy seat, and gave himself up to a tender, abstracted, and voluptuous enthusiasm of imagination. I cannot help thinking it might have been here that he conceived the idea of the following lines, which he afterwards introduced into his poem on Benny Water, when only fancying such a combination of objects as were now present to his eye:
Or by the reaperÕs nightly beam
Mild, chequering through the trees,
Rave to my darklyÑdashing stream,
HoarseÑswelling on the breeze.Õ
It was with much difficulty I prevailed on him to quit this spot, and to be introduced in proper time to supper.
¥ Ainslie, John. Scotland. [Edinburgh]:
Thomas Brown, [c.1800]. 1 map: hand col.; 48 x 44 cm. Scale: [ca. 1:1,013,760].
¥ John Ainslie (1745-1828) was the leading mapmaker of late 18th century Scotland. Unusually, he excelled at all three skills necessary for map production – surveying, drafting and engraving – and he also published maps. This map was first published in 1792, and sold by James Ainslie in Edinburgh (who was a brother or cousin). This later state was published by Thomas Brown, who then re-issued it in 1800, together with William Faden of London. Brown (1764-1820) was a prolific publisher of guidebooks, maps and atlases. The faint grid lines on the map, dividing it into nine sections, and the advertisement for Ainslie’s 1789 Large map of Scotland, a huge map in nine s
heets, suggest that this map also served as an index to the larger map.
¥ Ainslie, John and Bald, William. The estate of Harwood belonging to William Elliot … in the parish of Hobkirk and County of Roxburgh. Surveyed by John Ainslie and William Bald his assistant. [c.1803-5?] 1 manuscript map: hand col.
¥ This splendid estate plan of Harwood (near Hawick) is typical of the period, showing the extent of the land holding, the tenants, type of land use, and various other information required for the management of such an estate. The title cartouche is an attractive pastoral scene of sheep, cows, shepherd, house and farm implements. It represents the profession of land surveying at its peak in Scotland, while agricultural impr
novement was at its height, and before the arrival of large scale Ordnance Survey maps in the mid-19th century removed the need for individual estate mapping.
¥ The National Library holds many printed maps by John Ainslie (1745-1828), but no manuscript estate plans. Such plans are usually still in private hands and the Library has been fortunate to acquire this example of Scotland’s greatest land surveyor. As an added bonus, this plan is also associated with William Bald (1789-1857). Bald left school in Burntisland at the age of 12 and, after a brief period of schooling in Edinburgh, was apprenticed to John Ainslie, ‘commencing his professional career …in 1803’. By 1805-6 he was competent to survey the Western Isles alone,
John Ainslie (1745 – 1828)
Surveyor and cartographer.Ê Born in Jedburgh (Scottish Borders), he began his career as a surveyor and engraver for
n the English County Series maps.Ê He established a reputation as an excellent surveyor, producing updated maps of Scotland in 1782 and 1789. His Comprehensive Treatise on Land Surveying comprising the Theory and Practice of all its Branches was an important early text on surveying practice.
University of Edinburgh Gazetteer for Scotland
John Ainslie was considered an outstanding surveyor of his time for both the quality and quantity of his work.Ê He worked with Thomas Jefferys on Surveys of a number of English counties before setting up business in Edinburgh as a bookseller and land surveyor.Ê His output of county and coastal surveys and estate plans was prolific.Ê He is best known for his 1783 “Ainslie’s Travelling Map” and his large-scale map of Scotland “Drawn and Engrav’d from a Series of Angles and Astronomical Observations” published in 1789.