Robert Burns

J. De Lancey Ferguson and G. Ross Roy (eds), The Letters of Robert Burns, Vol. 1: 1780–1789 (Second Edition)

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pg 301260. (19) Mrs Dunlop of Dunlop Haddington

Mauchline 2d August 1788

Honored Madam,

Your kind letter welcomed me, yesternight, to Ayr-shire.—I am indeed seriously angry with you at the Quantum of your "Luckpenny"; but vexed & hurt as I was, I could not help laughing very heartily at the noble Lord's apology for the miss'd Napkin.—1

I would write to you from Nithsdale, & give you my direction there, but I have scarce any opportunity of calling at a Post Office [there (deleted)], once in a fortnight.—I am six miles from Dumfries; am scarcely ever in it myself; and as yet, have little acquaintance in the neighbourhood.—Besides, I am now very busy on my farm, building a dwelling-house; as at present I am almost an Evangelical man in Nithsdale, for I have scarce "Where to lay my head."—2

There are some passages in your last that brought tears in my eyes.—"The heart knoweth its own sorrows, and a Stranger intermeddleth not therewith."—3 The repository of these "Sorrows of the heart" is a kind of Sanctum Sanctorum; & 'tis only a Chosen Friend, and that too at particular, sacred times, who dare enter into them.—

  •                "Heaven oft tears the bosom-chords
  •                "That nature finest strung"—4

You will excuse this quotation, for the sake of the Author.— Instead of entering on this subject farther, I shall transcribe you a few lines I wrote in a Hermitage belonging to a gentleman in my Nithsdale neighbourhood.—They are almost pg 302the only favors the Muses have conferred on me in that Country.—

Thou whom Chance may hither lead

[The first version of the Lines in Friars Carse Hermitage. See Poems, 223.]

Since I am in the way of transcribing, the following were the production of yesterday, as I jogged through the wild hills of New Cumnock.—I intend inserting them, or something like them, in an epistle I am going to write [to (deleted)] the Gentleman on whose friendship my excise hopes depend—Mr Graham of Fintry, one of the worthiest and most accomplished Gentlemen, not only of this Country, but I will dare to say it, of this Age.—The following are just the first crude thoughts "unhousell'd, unannointed, unanneal'd."—5

  •   Pity the tuneful Muses' helpless train;
  •   Weak, timid Landsmen on Life's stormy main:
  •   The world were blest, did bliss on them depend;
  •   Ah, that "the Friendly e'er should want a Friend!"
  •   Their little Fate bestows they share as soon:
  •   Unlike sage, proverb'd Wisdom's hard-wrung boon.
  •   Let Prudence number o'er each sturdy son
  •   Who Life & Wisdom at one race begun;
  •   Who feel by Reason, & who give by Rule;
  •   Instinct's a brute and Sentiment a fool!
  •   Who make poor "will do" wait upon "I should;"
  •   We own they're Prudent—but who owns they're Good?
  •   Ye Wise Ones, hence! ye hurt the Social Eye;
  •   God's image rudely etch'd on base alloy!
  •   But come—

[a first draft of To Robt Graham of Fintry Esqr, with a request for an Excise Division—. See Poems, 230, lines 49–65.]

Here the Muse left me.—I am astonished at what you tell me of Antony's writing me: I never received it.—Poor fellow! you vex me much by telling me that he is unfortunate.—I shall be in Ayrsh. ten days from this date.—I have just room for an old Roman Farewell!

Robt Burns

[Currie, 1800; corrected by Ferguson, 1931, from the original MS. which was privately owned.]

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Notes

Editor’s Note
1 In answer to his letter to Mrs. Dunlop informing her of his marriage (#254) the latter had sent him on 22 July a 'luckpenny … as a pledge of future good-will to the contracted pair' in the form of a bank draft for £5. Mrs. Dunlop continued, '… as Lord Bankton [William M'Douall, a Lord of Session] said when his fourth wife mist one napkin of a dozen fine ones in a parcel. "My dr., when my last wife was buried, I forgot to draw it out in putting her corpse into the coffin. I shall behave better next time."'
Editor’s Note
2 Matthew 8:20, paraphrased.
Editor’s Note
3 Proverbs 14:10.
Editor’s Note
4 Burns: On Reading … the Death of John M'Leod, lines 13–14. See Poems, 162.
Editor’s Note
5 Shakespeare: Hamlet, Act IV, sc. 5, misquoted.
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