Robert Burns

(1759 - 1796)

Short Biography

 

Birth and name
Robert Burns was born in Alloway, a village near the sea just south of Ayr, Ayrshire, in south west Scotland, in a two roomed cottage (the 'auld clay biggin') that his father, William Burnes, had built himself. Robert retained the original spelling of his family name (Burnes) until the death of his father in 1784 (25), when he changed it to the Ayrshire spelling 'Burns'. He was the eldest son in a family of four sons and three daughters.

His father's family
His ancestors on his father's side hailed from Mearns on the north east coast of Scotland just south of Aberdeen. They had suffered the consequences of being tenants to the Keiths of Marischal, who were on the wrong (anti British government) side in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, and whose estates were at that time confiscated. In a letter to Dr Moore (2nd August, 1787, 28, the so-called 'autobiographical letter') Robert writes that his father became 'one who dared welcome Ruin and shake hands with Infamy for what they sincerely believe to be the cause of their God or their King'. In the same letter Burns states that these events 'threw my father on the World at large, where after many years Wanderings and sojournings, he pickt up a pretty large quantity of Observation and Experience, to which I am indebted for most of my little pretensions to wisdom'.

His mother's family
His mother was Agnes Brown, an Ayrshire tenant farmer's daughter, born at Craigenton farm near Kirkoswald (see map below). The family were most probably Covenanters, a popular religious movement in south west Scotland in the previous generation, which was brutally suppressed by the government of Charles II. The Covenanters subscribed principally to the view that what is important in religious observance is the direct link between God and the human heart, without the necessity of a church or minister as intermediary.

 

Covenanters in a Glen, Alexander Carse,

His father, the gardener and tenant farmer
Two years before Robert's birth, William took a lease on seven and a half acres of land at Alloway where he intended to establish a market garden, and on which he constructed his 'auld clay biggin'. At the time of Robert's birth, his father also worked as a gardener to Provost William Fergusson, 'a worthy gentleman of small estate in the neighbourhood of Ayr'. In 1765 (6) Fergusson bought a farm at Mount Oliphant, near Alloway, and let it to William on a twelve year lease.

Childhood and education
Burns writes that it was his father's 'dearest wish and prayer to have it in his power to keep his children under his own eye till they could discern between good and evil'. He was consequently well schooled in the principles that all men are equal before God, and that no soul is more important than any other, regardless of wealth or social standing. At the age of six, he, his brother Gilbert, and the children of four neighbouring families were put under the instruction of a Mr John Murdoch, an eighteen year old university graduate, an arrangement that was paid for by the families themselves. Amongst Robert's schoolbooks was Masson's Collection of Prose and Verse in which were to be found excerpts from the writings of Shakespeare, Pope, Milton, Addison, Thomson, Gray, Shenstone, and Akenside. Robert was much impressed by Addison's The Vision of Mirza, and also by The Life of Hannibal and The History of William Wallace, both of which he read a little later, the first inspiring in him military ambitions, while the second 'poured a tide of Scottish prejudice into my veins which will boil along there till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest'. Murdoch departed in 1768 (9), and Burns' father once again took up the education of the brothers himself, an education that was supplemented by the tales of Betty Davidson, a 'credulous old woman' who lived in the family, and who recounted fables and folk stories for the children. He writes later that: 'She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the country of tales and songs, concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons and other trumpery.' From 1772 (13) Burns' father enrolled the brothers in the Dalrymple Parish School, which they attended when work allowed, and by turns.

Hard times
By the age of fifteen, with his father's health failing, he had become the principal labourer on the farm. Farm work was hard, and the benefits meagre. He describes his life at the time as a mixture of 'the chearless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing moil of a galley slave'. Towards the end of the twelve year lease he had taken, Burns' father fell behind with his rent, and, Fergusson having died in 1775 (16), he no longer had the protection of a sympathetic landlord. Fergusson's daughters appointed a factor to chase the arrears, of whom Burns writes: 'my indignation yet boils at the recollection of the scoundrel tyrant's insolent threatening epistles, which used to set us all in tears'.

First poetry and first loves
It was, nevertheless, during this difficult period that Robert 'first committed the sin of RHYME', and fell in love. The girl was Nellie Kirkpatrick of Dalrymple, a ‘bonie, sweet, sonsie lass’ a year younger than himself, who was his working partner at harvest time. It was for her that he wrote the song Handsome Nell. He notes later that: '... she altogether unwittingly to herself initiated me in a certain delicious Passion, which in spite of acid Disappointment, gin-horse Prudence, and bookworm Philosophy, I hold to be the first of human joys, our dearest pleasure here below'. In 1775 (16) William sent Robert to school in Kirkoswald, where he stayed with his maternal uncle, Sam Brown, a farm labourer. Robert writes later that he spent the summer on a smuggling coast a good distance from home at a noted school to learn Mensuration, Surveying, Dialling etc in which I made a pretty good progress. But I made greater progress in the knowledge of mankind. The contraband trade was at that time very successful - scenes of swaggering riot and roaring dissipation were as yet new to me; and I was no enemy to social life.' He also encountered a 'charming fillette', one Peggy Thomson, who lived next door to the school, and who sent him off on a 'tangent from his studies'.

Further reading
Returning to his father's farm, Robert nevertheless maintained contact with some of his schoolfellows at Kirkoswald, entering into correspondence with them, and comparing his letters with those of a collection of letters by the wits of Queen Anne's reign (1702-1714) given to him by his uncle. He also further expanded and extended his reading. Concerning a book of songs he possessed at the time, he writes later: 'I pored over them, driving my cart or walking to labor, song by song, verse by verse, carefully noticing the true, tender or sublime, from affectation and fustian.'  

End of one lease and the beginning of another
The lease on Mount Oliphant ended in 1777 (18), and Burns' father was released from his burden. He took a lease on another, larger farm at Lochlie, some three miles north west of Mauchline, and, for a time, things went well.

 

Map of south west Scotland

Clubs
In 1780 (21) he formed the Tarbolton Batchelors Club, a social club and debating society for young men, which gave him the opportunity to expand and develop his talents for oratory. The rules of the club prescribed that 'no haughty, self conceited person, who looks upon himself as superior to the rest of the club, and especially no mean-spirited worldly mortal whose only will is to heap up money shall on any pretense whatever be admitted', accurately embodying the moral and religious principles inculcated by his father. He also joined the local Masonic Lodge in 1781 (22). His masonic connections were later to prove very important in bringing his works to publication and to wider public notice. At this time, he says, ‘vive l’amour et vive la bagatelle’ were his sole principles of action. 

He proposes marriage to Ellison Begbie, and continues writing poetry
In 1781 (22) he met and made a marriage proposal to Ellison Begbie, the daughter of a farmer from Galston, near Kilmarnock, whom he describes as 'a belle-fille whom I adored and who had pledged her soul to meet me in the field of matrimony', but who jilted him 'in peculiar circumstances of mortification'. She is the inspiration of his his song On Cessnock banks a Lassie dwells. As far as composing poetry is concerned, he writes: 'Poesy was still a darling walk for my mind, but 'twas only the humour of the hour. I had usually half a dozen or more pieces on hand. I took up one or other as it suited the momentary tone of this mind, and dismissed it as it bordered on fatigue. My passions once they were lighted up, raged like so many devils, till they got vent in rhyme. And then, conning over my verses, like a spell, soothed all into quiet.'

Further adventures abroad
He decided, 'partly through whim and partly that I wished to set about doing something in life', to join with a flax dresser in Irvine to learn his trade. He formed a partnership with the man, 'a scoundrel of the first water who made his money by the mystery of thieving'. The partnership did not last long as they lost everything when their shop burnt down in a fire caused by the 'drunken carelessness' of his partner's wife. He was left 'like a true Poet, not worth sixpence', but, most importantly for his future development as a poet, he met with Robert Fergusson's Scottish Poems. Fergusson's example showed him that it was eminently possible to write poetry in the Scot's dialect.

Death of William Burnes
William Burnes' landlord fell into financial difficulties himself, and he began a process of litigation against Burnes for arrears of rent which continued for three years. Robert writes: 'my father was just saved from absorption in a jail by phthysical consumption, which after two years promises, kindly stept in and snatched him away'. He died in 1784 (25). Robert wrote that: 'his all went among the hell-hounds that prowl in the kennel of justice'. He also wrote the epitaph which appears at the end of this short biography, and the following lines:

My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
And carefully he bred me in decency and order, O,
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing, O,
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding, O.

My Father was a Farmer (1782, 23)

Another lease
After his father's death, Robert Burns and his brother, Gilbert, took a lease on Mossgiel, a neighbouring farm owned by Gavin Hamilton, the lawyer who had advised William Burnes during his litigation, who was also a freemason. Robert writes: 'I entered on the farm with a full resolution, 'Come, go to, I will be wise!' I read farming books, I calculated crops, I attended markets, and in short in spite of 'the devil, the world and the flesh', I believe I would have been a wise man; but the first year from unfortunately buying in bad seed, the second from a late harvest, we lost half of both our crops; this overset all my wisdom, and I returned like a dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire'.

More poetry and he becomes a father
He turned his poetic attention to religious subjects, and became known locally as a 'maker of rhymes'. He writes that: 'The first of my poetic offspring that saw the light was a burlesque lamentation on a quarrel between two reverend Calvinists, both of them dramatis personae in my Holy Fair (1785, 26).... With a certain side of both clergy and laity it met with a roar of applause - Holy Willie's Prayer next made its appearance, and alarmed the kirk-Session so much that they held three several meetings to look over their holy artillery, if any of it was pointed against profane Rhymers - Unluckily for me, my idle wanderings led me, on another side, point-blank within the reach of their heaviest metal.' He is here referring to his liaison with Elizabeth Paton, who had been his mother's maid at Lochlie, which resulted in the birth of a daughter out of wedlock (May 1785, 26), welcomed into the world by A Poet’s Welcome to a Bastart Wean.

The kirk Elders
Burns and Elizabeth Paton
were brought before the kirk Elders, and he was made to sit on the stool of repentance wearing the black sack-cloth of the fornicator, an experience he later recounted in the poem The Fornicator :

My handsome Betsy by my side
We gat our ditty rarely;
But my downcast eye by chance did spy
What made my lips to water,
Those limbs so clean where I, between,
Commenc'd a Fornicator.

His brother Gilbert and his sisters prevented him from marrying Elizabeth, considering her unsuitable. The child was, however, brought up in the Burns household at Mossgiel.

 

The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk, John Henry Lorimer, 1891

Further poetry
His poetry became increasingly provocative, dealing with both sexual and social themes, sometimes celebrating drunkenness and riot, often ridiculing the pompous and the self-important in the community around him, and often very funny, especially to those who knew the characters presented. His poetry was also always rooted in accurate and sometimes caustic observation of current events:

A fig for those by law protected!
Liberty's a glorious feast!
Courts for cowards were erected,
Churches built to please the priest.

The Jolly Beggars: a Cantata (1785, 26) 

Jean Armour and his first book of poetry
He first met his future wife, Jean Armour, in Mauchline, where she was 'spreading clothes on a bleach-green along with some other girls'. They met subsequently at a dance, and by December 1785, she was pregnant. They arranged an 'irregular marriage' by signing a document together, but James Armour, Jean's outraged father, and a proud member of the established church, in fact, one of the very type of person Burns had ridiculed in his satirical poems, took it to Robert Aiken, an Ayr lawyer, and prevailed on him to 'mutilate that unlucky paper'. Jean was made to pledge not to marry Burns, and sent to stay with her aunt in Paisley. Burns quickly took up with Margaret Campbell, known as 'Highland Mary', of whom he writes in a note to The Highland Lassie O she '.. was a warm-hearted charming young creature as ever blessed a man with generous love'.  In a letter to John Arnott (April 1786, 27) concerning these events, he writes: 'My chained faculties broke loose; my maddening passions, roused to ten-fold fury, bore over their banks with impetuous, resistless force, carrying every check and principle before them- Counsel, was an unheeded call to the passing hurricane; Reason, a screaming elk in the vortex of Moskoe strom; Religion a feebly-struggling beaver down the roaring Niagara....'  In June, he wrote to David Brice, a friend from Mauchline: 'Poor, ill-advised, ungrateful Armour came home on Friday last.... One thing I know, she has made me completely miserable. - Never man lov'd or rather ador'd, a woman more than I did her: and to confess a truth between you and me, I do still love her to destraction after all, tho' I won't tell her so.... I have tried often to forget her: I have run into all kinds of dissipation and riot, Mason-meetings, drinking matches, and other mischief, to drive her out of my head, but all in vain...' At the end of the letter he announces: 'You will have heard that I am going to commence Poet in print: and tomorrow, my work goes to the press. - I expect it will be a Volume about two hundred pages. - It is just the last foolish action I intend to do; and then turn a wise man as fast as possible'.

The kirk Elders intervene again
Jean Armour contacted the kirk Elders to apprise them of her situation, and named Burns as the father of the child. They required Burns to appear before them, and, when he did, the punishment was given to appear before the Kirk three times to do penance as a fornicator. In the meantime, Jean's father was not idle. Burns wrote to a friend: 'Armour has got a warrant to throw me in jail till I find security for an enormous sum... and I am wandering from one friend's house to another, and like a true son of the Gospel have nowhere to lay my head.... I write.. in a moment of rage.... exiled, abandoned, forlorn...' He immediately assigned what he owned of the Mossgiel farm to his brother, Gilbert. He also assigned to him the right to any profits from his book, and the copyright thereof, and he began to make plans to depart for Jamaica.

Publication of the Kilmarnock edition of his Poems, Chiefly in the Scotch Dialect, and birth of twins
In the midst of this turmoil, his first book of poetry, comprising thirty poems and fourteen songs and epigrams, was printed on 31st July 1786 (27). He writes: 'I threw off six hundred copies, of which I had got subscriptions for about three hundred and fifty. My vanity was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the Publick.... So soon as I was master of nine guineas, the price of wafting me to the torrid zone, I bespoke a passage in the very first ship that was to sail...' In fact, he booked his passage for the 1st September, but was unable to wind up his affairs in time, and put the sailing off until the 30th. In the meantime, Jean had assured him that her father would not pursue the warrant for his arrest, and she was, according to Burns, keen for a reconciliation, but he refused. She gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. He went to see her on 3rd September, and wrote later to his friend John Richmond: 'Wish me luck, dear Richmond! Armour has just brought me a fine boy and girl at one throw. God bless the little dears!' He was clearly in a turmoil concerning what he should do, but his mind was finally made up by news that Dr Thomas Blacklock of Edinburgh had suggested a reprint of the book 'as it appears certain that its intrinsic merit, and the exertions of the authors friends, might give it a more universal circulation than any thing of the kind which has been published within my memory'.

Fame at last
Burns made his way to Edinburgh, where his masonic connections proved useful in getting him an introduction to James Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, who became a subscriber to and used his influence in support of the Edinburgh Edition, which proved a great success when published in April 1787 (28). He was acclaimed as 'Caledonia's Bard', and a London edition of his works appeared in July of the same year.

He departs on two tours, and pays for one of his amours
He made two tours in 1787 (28) the first of which took him with Robert Ainslie through the borders and then beyond to Newcastle and Carlisle in northern England. On his return to Dumfries, he was greeted by a letter from Peggy Cameron, an Edinburgh servant, who claimed to be pregnant by him. He was also given the freedom of the burgh of Dumfries. On his return to Edinburgh, he settled the matter with Peggy Cameron by paying a fixed sum, then, responding to some of the many invitations he had received from all over Scotland, he departed on a second tour which took him into the Highlands.

Edinburgh again
Returning to Edinburgh in October 1787 (28), he signed a lease on a farm at Ellisland, just north of Dumfries, the property of his friend Patrick Miller. He stayed on in Edinburgh, waiting for his publisher Creech to settle what he owed, and, during this time, became increasingly involved in a project first undertaken by James Johnson, and later continued by George Thomson, to gather together old Scots songs in the Scots Musical Museum to preserve them for future generations. Before his death in 1796, he had contributed more than 160 songs, work for which he refused any remuneration. Another affair, this time with Agnes Craig McLehose, resulted in a ton of correspondence, but it was her maid, Jenny Clow, who succumbed to Burns' charms, and fell pregnant.

Ellisland and Jenny Clow
Burns married Jean Armour in April 1788 (29), and in June began farming at Ellisland, just north of Dumfries, but it was almost a year before he could take up residence with his wife in the newly built farmhouse. It was also during the month of June that he was informed of Jenny Clow's pregnancy. He visited Edinburgh in February 1789 (30) to make provision for his son, Robert.

Political views and work for the Excise Department
He continued to express radical political views in both his poetry and his letters to various magazines, including the London Star, the Edinburgh Evening Courant, the Edinburgh Magazine, the Glasgow Advertiser, and the Caledonian Mercury, but generally anonymously as he had made an application to become an exciseman (customs officer), a position that was confirmed in August 1789 (30). It is unlikely that the anti-government views expressed in his poetry and letters would have been found acceptable in a government official.

Anne Park and Jenny Clow
Inspiration for his love songs continued to arrive, as did pregnancies which resulted from his amours. The niece of the landlord of the Globe Inn at Dumfries gave birth in March 1791 (32) to a baby girl. The little girl came to live with the Burns before the end of 1792 (33). In November of 1791 (32) he received news that Jenny Clow was dying, and arranged time off work to visit her, and make arrangements for the care of their son. He told his friend Ainslie that he 'proposed a Bill of Reform regarding his amours with the opposite sex but he feared stiff opposition from the Lower House'.

Renounces his lease on Ellisland
He renounced his lease on the Ellisland farm in September 1791 (32), and the family moved into lodgings in Dumfries.

Second Edinburgh edition
The Edinburgh publisher William Creech approached him about bringing out a second edition with new work added. Burns promised fifty extra pages, and the second edition appeared in 1793 (34).

Political unrest
In the wake of the French Revolution of 1792 (33), the government became increasingly sensitive to radical people and organisations. Burns was reported as a radical for being a member of a political group (the Friends of the People), for receiving copies of the Edinburgh Gazetteer (a radical journal), for sending poetry and prose to the same journal, for being part of the rabble at the Dumfries theatre who shouted down the national anthem, and for drinking toasts critical of King George. He wrote to Robert Graham in December 1792 (33): 'I have been surprised, confounded and distracted by Mr Mitchel, the Collector (of the Excise), telling me just now, that he has received an order from your Honble Board to enquire into my political conduct and blaming me as a person disaffected to Government. Sir, you are a Husband - and a father - you know what you would feel, to see the much-loved wife of your bosom, and your helpless, prattling little ones, turned adrift into the world, degraded and disgraced from a situation in which they had been respectable and left almost without the necessary support of a miserable existence - Alas, Sir! must I think that such, soon, will be my lot!' But he was not dismissed. He wrties to John Francis Erskine a little later: 'In the year 1792-3, when Royalist and Jacobin had set all Britain by the ears, because I unguardedly, rather under the temptation of being witty than disaffected, had declared my sentiments in favor of Parliamentary Reform, in the manner of that time, I was accused to the Board of Excise of being a Republican; and was very near being turned adrift in the wide world on that account.' The end result was that he was told: 'that my business was to act, not to think; and that whatever might be Men or Measures, it was for me to be silent and obedient'. But he was neither silent nor obedient. He writes further: 'Burns was a poor man, from birth; and an Exciseman, by necessity: but - I will say it - the sterling of his honest worth, no poverty could debase; and his independant British mind, Oppression might bend, but could not subdue! - Have not I, to me, a more precious stake in my Country's welfare than the richest Dukedom in it? - I have a large family of children, and the probability of more. - I have three sons, who, I see already, have brought with them into the world souls ill qualified to inhabit the bodies of Slaves. - Can I look tamely on, and see any machination to wrest from them, the birthright of my boys, the little independant Britons in whose veins runs my own blood?' But the government crackdown continued with the arrest, trial and deportation of leading figures in the Scottish reform movement on charges of 'sedition' in late 1793 (34). Burns nonetheless continued to supply both prose and poetry to various magazines, including the radical London Morning Chronicle.

Fear of a French invasion
By 1795 (36), the government fear of a domestic insurrection had faded and the fear of a French invasion took its place. Burns, as an Exciseman, was recruited into the Dumfries Volunteers.

Illness and death
He was ill for most of 1796 (37). He writes to George Thomson in April: 'Alas! my dear Thomson, I fear it will be some time ere I tune my lyre again!..... Almost ever since I wrote you last, I have only known Existence by the pressure of the heavy hand of Sickness; and have counted time by the repercussions of PAIN! Rheumatism, Cold, and Fever have formed, to me, a terrible Trinity in Unity which makes me close my eyes in misery, and open them without hope.' He moved to Brow Well on the coast just outside Dumfries on the recommendation of his doctor in an effort to convalesce. The tailor, David Williamson, began pursuing him for a debt of £7 which he owed for his Dumfries Volunteer's uniform, and he feared that he would be thrown in debtor's prison. He wrote despairing letters to Thomson: 'After all my boasted independance, curst necessity compels me to implore you for five pounds. - A cruel scoundrel of a Haberdasher to whom I owe an account, taking it into his head that I am dying, has commenced a process, and will infallibly put me into jail' and to James Burness: 'When you offered me money assistance, little did I think I should want it so soon.' He died on 21st July, 1796 (37).

A Select Collection of Scottish Airs
George Thomson’s A Select Collection Of Scottish Airs was published in six volumes between 1793 (34) and 1841 (d45), and included 114 songs by Burns. 

Bibliography:
Robert Burns, the Patriot Bard, Hogg, R.S. Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh and London 2008
The Selected Letters of Robert Burns, edited with an introduction by DeLancey Ferguson, Oxford University Press 1953
Life of Robert Burns, Thomas Carlyle


Robert Burns Biography :
Quotes

'I have not the most distant pretensions to what the pyecoated guardians of escutcheons call, A Gentleman. When at Edinburgh last winter, I got acquainted in the Herald's Office, and looking through that granary of Honors I there found almost every name in the kingdom; but for me, 'My ancient but ignoble blood / Has crept thro' Scoundrels ever since the flood.'

'Gilbert (Robert Burns' brother) always appeared to me to possess a more lively imagination, and to be more of the wit, than Robert. I attempted to teach them a little church music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear in particular was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to distinguish one tune from another. Robert's countenance was generally grave, and expressive of a serious, contemplative and thoughtful mind. Gilbert's face said Mirth, with thee I mean to live, and certainly if anybody who knew the two boys had been asked which of them was the most likely to court the muses, he would never have guessed that Robert had a propensity of that kind.' (John Murdoch quoted in Thomas Carlyle's Life of Robert Burns, p29)

'We lived very poorly. I was a dextrous ploughman for my years, and the next eldest to me was a brother, who could drive the plough very well, and help me to thrash - a Novel-Writer might perhaps have viewed these scenes with some satisfaction - but so did not I.'

John Murdoch, Robert's former teacher, recalled later that William was a 'tender and affectionate father of whose many qualitities and rational and Christian virtues he would not pretend to give description... In this mean cottage I really believe there dwelt a larger portion of content than in any palace in Europe.'

Burns later wrote to the Reverend James Greenfield: 'When proud fortune's ebbing tide recedes you may bear me witness, when my bubble of fame was at the highest, I stood, unintoxicated, with the inebriating cup in my hand, looking forward, with rueful resolve, to the hastening time when the stroke of envious Calumny, with all the eagerness of vengeful triumph, should dash it to the ground'.

He writes to James Hoy on 20th October: 'An engraver, James Johnson, in Edinburgh has, not from mercenary views but from an honest Scotch enthusiasm, set about collecting all our native Songs and setting them to music; particularly those that have never been set before - Clarke, the well known Musician, presides over the musical arrangement; and Drs Beattie and Blacklock, Mr Tytler, Woodhouselee, and your humble servant to the utmost of his small power, assist in collecting the old poetry, or sometimes to a fine air to make a stanza, when it has no words.'

 

Handsome Nell

Once I lov'd a bonie lass, 
Ay, and I love her still; 
And whilst that virtue warms my breast, 
I'll love my handsome Nell. 

As bonie lasses I hae seen, 
And mony full as braw; 
But, for a modest gracefu' mein, 
The like I never saw. 

A bonie lass, I will confess, 
Is pleasant to the e'e; 
But, without some better qualities, 
She's no a lass for me. 

But Nelly's looks are blythe and sweet, 
And what is best of a', 
Her reputation is complete, 
And fair without a flaw. 

She dresses aye sae clean and neat, 
Both decent and genteel; 
And then there's something in her gait 
Gars ony dress look weel. 

A gaudy dress and gentle air
May slightly touch the heart; 
But
it's innocence and modesty 
That polishes the dart. 

'Tis this in Nelly pleases me, 
'Tis this enchants my soul; 
For absolutely in my breast 
She reigns without control.


Burns epitaph for William, his father
O ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,
Draw near with pious rev'rence, and attend!
Here lie the loving husmand's dear remains,
The tender father, and the gen'rous friend.
The pitying heart that felt for human woe,
The dauntless heart that fear'd no human pride,
The friend of man - to vice alone a foe;
'For even his failings lean'd to virtues side'.

The poet biographies, criticism, translations, and textual notes on this site are the copyright of Paul Scott
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