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"Born in Alloway, Died in Dumfries, Lived in Mauchline"
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Introduction17851786ExcerptsPublishing


The Ayrshire Bard – The Grief Behind The Glory
1786 January 1st to April 3rd age 27

  • The Holy Fair

This was written in Burns’ prolific Spring of 1786. It is suggested that Burns based the title and measure on Fergusson’s ‘The Hallow Fair’ forwarded to him at his request by John Richmond. Burns said that he ‘often had Ramsay and Fergusson in his eye…… but rather with a view to kindle at their flame than for servile imitation’.

  • The Auld Farmer’s New Year Morning Salutation to his Auld Mare, Maggie

On giving her the accustomed ripp of Corn to Hansel in the New Year.

  • A Winter Night

This is another of those pieces which Burns must have had unfinished at the time of his Kilmarnock publication. It is touching that, even in his own personal misery and in a storm, he thinks of the cattle, the sheep and the birds.

  • The Cotter’s Saturday Night

Inscribed to Robert Aitken, Writer in Ayr, who was one of Burns early friends and patrons. On the morning of Monday 8th May Burns crossed the Tweed for the first time into England on his Border tour with Ainslie. Kneeling on English soil with his face toward Scotland and with head bared, he fervently recited this poem. Burns is indebted to the ‘Farmers Ingle’ of Fergusson for suggesting the title and structure of the poem and William Burns, the poet’s father, supplied the model of ‘the Saint, the Father, and the Husband’.

  • The Twa Dogs

A tale. The first we hear of this poem is in one of the Bard’s letters dated 17th February to his Mauchline friend, John Richmond, then in Edinburgh. After mentioning ‘The Ordination’, ‘Scotch Drink’, The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ and ‘An Address to the Deil’ as being newly written he adds – ‘I have likewise completed my poem on The Dogs but have not shown it to the World.’ This Poem was placed at the beginning of The Kilmarnock Edition by request of Wilson, the printer, who felt that it was essential to place one of the more important pieces at the beginning, where potential purchasers might open and read, before deciding to buy the book. Robert had decided to introduce his favourite dog, Luath, at some time into one of his books after Luath was killed by the cruelty of someone the night before his father’s death.

  • The Ordination

On 27th February 1786, Burns wrote to his friend John Richmond, then in Edinburgh in which he says ‘I have been very busy with The Muses since I saw you and have composed among several others, The Ordination, a poem on Mr McKinlay’s being called to Kilmarnock.’

  • Address to a Louse

On seeing one on a ladies’ bonnet in Church.

  • Scotch Drink

  • The Author’s Earnest Cry

To the Right Honorable and Honorable, the Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons. The opening words of the poem ‘Ye Irish Lords’ have given rise to some discussion. The records of that period show several Irish Lords as ‘among the Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons’. Election patronage in Scotland was then in the hands of a very few dominant Dukes and Earls, whose daughters were married to poor Irish Lords who were keen to improve their position and found no difficulty in being elected ‘Scotch Members of Parliament.’ Burns saw this as a disgrace to Scotland and this gave rise to the poem. An Edinburgh Edition of the Poet’s Works dated 1805 changed the first line to ‘Ye Scottish Lords’ instead of ‘Ye Irish Lords’ and this ‘politically correct’ and probably unauthorised change made the rest of the poem a nonsense.

  • The Vision

There are various versions of this poem, the manuscript one was 60 verses but this was trimmed down for first publication. Others include ‘suppressed’ stanzas.

  • The Inventory, Addressed to Mr Aitken
    In answer to a Mandate by The Surveyor of the Taxes

In 1785, in order to address the National Debt, Prime Minister Pitt made a considerable addition to the number of taxed articles and amongst these were female servants. Mr Aitken of Ayr was surveyor of taxes for Burns’ district and hence these curious verses addressed to him.

  • Halloween, a Poem

This poem will be well enough understood by most people. It is thought to be a night when Witches, Devils and other mischief-making beings are out on their errands. The fairies are said to hold a grand Anniversary celebration.

  • Lament, occasioned by the unfortunate issue of a friend’s amour

In his autobiography Burns says ‘The unfortunate story (Jean Armour’s desertion of him in Spring 1786 by command of her father) that gave rise to my printed poem THE LAMENT, was a most melancholy affair, which I cannot yet bear to reflect on, and had very nearly given me one or two of the principal qualifications for those who have lost the chart and mistaken the reckoning of rationality. The very fact of writing such poems as ‘The Lament’ and ‘Despondency, an Ode’ caused his feelings to subside and the excitement and work of supervising the printing of his poems, completed the cure.

  • Despondency, an Ode

It is sad to think that Burns, who was then only 27 years old, writing about despondency and his ‘enviable early days’.

  • Ode To Ruin

Following the same theme as ‘Lament’ and ‘Despondency’, Burns outraged feelings turn into feelings of resignation to his lot.

  • Song –Again Rejoicing Nature sees

Sung to the tune – Jockey’s Gray Breeks. It is thought that this was written around the same time as The Lament, Despondency and Ode to Ruin and it is said that the chorus is part of a song composed by an Edinburgh friend and put in to please him.

This has become a much longer list than I thought and I am sure we could write all day about Burns’s time in Mauchline. The list underlines our statement that Robert Burns was:-

‘Born in Alloway, Died in Dumfries but Lived in Mauchline’

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