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also faint echoes from several English poets; but the similarities and the echoes are almost too indefinite to deserve notice. The assimilation is rendered almost complete by the emotional energy, while the finishing polish is almost equal to that of “Tam o' Shanter".
Stanza IV, Is. 3-4. Compare Fergusson's On the Death of Scots Music:
“Or todlin burns that smoothly play
Oer gowden bed.”
THE FIVE CARLINS. This mere political squib is of interest as an admirable parody of the traditional ballad. The “five Carlins” are a personification of the five Dumfries burghs, enjoying the joint privilege of returning a member to parliament. The election contest alluded to, began in the late autumn of 1789.
Stanza III, 1. 1. "Maggie by the banks o’ Nith":-Dumfries, the principal burgh of the group, situated on the Nith, whose banks are there rather steep. L. 2. "Marjorie o' the monie lochs”:-Lochmaben-early associated with an ancestral castle of the Bruces, is situated in the immediate neighbourhood of no less than seven lochs [lakes).
Stanza IV, 1. 1. "Blinkin Bess o' Annandale”:-Annan, having association with Bruce, and after Burns's time with Thomas Carlyle. L. 2. "Brandy Jean":-Kirkcudbright, much addicted, as Burns well knew, to the smuggling of French brandy.
Stanza V, 1. 1. "Joan frae Crichton Peel":—“Sanquhar which is the old castle of the Crichtons" (B.).
TAM O' SHANTER. This marvellously vivid piece of description, represents more fully than any of Burns' other poems the greatness of his imaginative gifts; and apart from songs and the Elegy on Caplain Henderson is the only very notable example of his muse during the last nine years of his life. Yet it owes its origin to mere accident. The churchyard surrounding the ruined kirk of Alloway was the burial place of his father, and when Burns in 1789 met Captain Grose, then visiting Scotland to making drawings for his work on The Antiquities of Scotland, he suggested to Grose to insert a picture of the ruined kirk in his volume. But as no architectural
interest attaches to the ruin, Grose, very properly, only agreed to the request on condition that Burns should "furnish a witch story to be printed along with it”. Apparently what Grose expected and Burns first intended was a witch story in prose, for he sent three samples from which Grose might chose; and it was only by a happy second thought that Burns found in one of the tales the theme for his immortal Tam o' Shanter.
Here is the story in Burns's prose:
"On a market-day in the town of Ayr, a farmer from Carrick and consequently whose way lay by the very gate of Alloway kirkyard, in order to cross the river Doon at the old bridge, which is about two or three hundred yards further on than the said gate, had been detained by his business till by the time he reached Alloway it was the wizard hour between night and morning. Though he was terrified with a blaze shining from the kirk, yet, as it is a well-known fact that to turn back on these occasions is running by far the greatest risk of mischief, he prudently advanced on his road. When he had reached the gate of the kirkyard, he was surprised and entertained, through the ribs and arches of an old Gothic window, which still faces the highway, to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round their old sooty blackguard master, who was keeping them all alive with the power of his bagpipe. The farmer, stopping his horse to observe them a little, could plainly descry the faces of many old women of his acquaintance and neighbourhood. How the gentleman was dressed tradition does not say, but that the ladies were all in their smocks: and one of them happening unluckily to have a smock which was considerably short to answer all the purposes of that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled that he involuntarily burst out with a loud laugh, 'Weel luppen Maggy wi' the short sark!, and, recollecting himself, instantly spurred his horse to the top of his speed. I need not mention the universally known fact, that no diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream. Lucky it was for the poor farmer that the river Doon was so near, for notwithstanding the speed of the horse, which was a good one, when he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge, and consequently the middle of the stream, the pursuing vengeful hags were so close at his heels that one of them actually sprang to seize him; but it was too late; nothing was on her side of the stream but the horses tail, which immediately gave way at her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke
of lightning; but the farmer was beyond her reach. However the unsightly tailless condition of the vigorous steed was, to the last hour of the noble creature's life, an awful warning to the Carrick farmers not to stay too long in Ayr markets."
This narrative in prose sufficiently disposes of Dr. Meyerfeld's theory (Robert Burns, Berlin 1899) that the poem was suggested by Cowper's Diverting History of John Gilpin. Almost the only similarity between the two poems is that the heroes of both happen to be on horseback.
"Chapman billies":-It so happens that Fergusson mentions "Chapman billies,” both in his Eclogue to the Memory of Dr. William Wilkie, and in Hallow Fair; but since those worthies were a conspicuous feature of old Scottish town and village life, it is unnecessary to suppose that Burns got the suggestion of this picturesque line from Fergusson.
L. 13. “Tam O'Shanter”:— The hero of the adventure has been identified with Douglas Graham (1739–1811) tenant of the farm of Shanter.
L. 28. “Kirkton Jean":-Jean Kennedy, who kept a tavern at Kirkoswald, is supposed to be the person referred to. It was at Kirkoswald that Burns, while spending his seventeenth summer in the study of mensuration, “learned to look unconcemedly on a large tavern-bill, and mix without fear in a drunken squabble”.
“Souter Johnie”:--A shoemaker, John Davidson (1728-1806), who lived not far from the farm of Shanter, is said to have been a drinking cronie of Douglas Graham; but it is doubtful if Burns knew of this, and the name may be borrowed from Fergusson's Election.
L. 116. “Nae cottillon brent new frae France":-Cf. The Piper o’Dundee "A spring brent new frae yout the seas"; but the phrase, “brent new”, was a common one in rustic circles.
“There sat auld Nick in shape o' beast”:- The assumption of a beast shape by the Devil is an accepted folk-tradition. “Nick” is either related to the low German nikker an executioner, or the Icelandic nykr, a water spirit.
L. 164. “There was ae winsome wench and waly":-Probably suggested by a similar line in Ramsay's Three Bonnets.
L. 193. “As bees bizz out":—The simile is quite common; and there is no reason to suppose that Burns needed to borrow it from a previous writer.
Ll. 219 &c. "Now wha" &c.: It was customary with the old “Makaris” to tag all the more humorous tales with a moral.
IN LAMINGTON KIRK. First published in Lockhart's Life of Burns. Lamington is a very thinly inhabited rural parish in Lanarkshire. It was a common jibe against the “moderate” clergy that they preached only "cauld morality.” There is of course a double entendre in the last line.
IN THE COURT OF SESSION. Those clever portraits of the opposing counsel in an Ayrshire divorce case in the supreme judiciary court at Edinburgh, show that Burns had as keen an eye for the oratorical peculiarities of the bar as for those of the pulpit. The “Lord Advocate” was Islay Campbell, who as Lord Succoth, become President of the Court of Session. Henry Erskine, then the leading advocate of the opposition, was a friend of Burns, and one of the most brilliant counsel of his day. Indeed Lord Brougham refers to one of his addresses as “the most consummate exhibition of forensic talent” he had ever witnessed.
A HIGHLAND WELCOME. Written at Dalnacardoch, in the parish of Blair Atholl, Perthshire. It is now a shooting lodge, but when Burns visited it, it was a stage-coach hostelry. To Burns it would be of special interest, from the fact that Prince Charlie spent a night (29th August 1745) there. On leaving, Burns is said to have recited the lines to his host. Qween Victoria and the Prince Consort, when they called incognito at the hostelry, 9th October 1861, were not so favourably impressed with its equipments. They had here a “shabby pair of horses put in, with a shabby driver, driving from the box.”
ON TAM THE CHAPMAN. The epitaph is meant to indicate the cordial air of the Chapman to all and sundry, and the power of his insinuating manners.
JOHN BARLEYCORN. A re-reading of an old ballad, of which there are a great variety of sets, one of the best in this form being that reprinted in David Laings Early Metrical Tales, 1825, 2d ed. 1889. In some sets the hero is Allan-a-Maut (Malt). The oldest authenticated set is that in the Bannatiyne Ms. It dates from the early sixteenth century, or before this, and may have been the work of Dunbar. It begins:
“When he wes young and cled in grene,
When he grew on yon hillis. he:
MY NANNIE O. Written sometime before April 1784, under which date it appears in the First Common Place Book. The heroine, according to Gilbert Burns was Agnes Fleming, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer, to whom he was then paying "some of that roving attention which he was continually devoting to some one." The song may have been suggested by Allan Ramsay's "Nanny 0"; but there is also a broadside, “The Scotch Wooing of Willie and Nannie,” as well as others in a similar strain, with heroines of other Christian names.
THE GLOOMY NIGHT IS GATHERING FAST. Composed in September 1786 while he was conveying his chest to Greenock, with a view to set sail Jamaica. His purpose was shortly afterwards set aside by the prospect of getting a new edition of his poems published in Edinburgh. The most striking portion of the song is the first stanza, and especially the first quatrain, describing the approach of a stormy evening on the moors. The first quatrain of Stanza III was afterwards echoed in the last quatrain of The Silver Tassie:
"It's not the roar o sea or shore,” &c.