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 354296. (2) To Mr [John] Mcmurdo at Drumlanrig, inclosing a Song

Ellisland Jan: 9th 1789


A Poet and a Beggar are in so many points of view alike, that one might take them for the same individual character under different designations; were it not that though, with a trifling Poetic license, most Poets may be styled Beggars, yet the converse of the proposition does not hold, that every Beggar is a Poet.—In one particular however they remarkably agree; if you help either the one or the other to a mug of ale or the picking of a bone, they will very willingly repay you with a Song.—This occurs to me at present, as I have just dispatched a well-lined rib of J. Kilpatrick's Highlander; a bargain for which I am indebted to you, in the style of our Ballad-printers, "Five excellent new Songs."—The inclosed is nearly my newest Song, and one that has cost me some pains, though that is but an equivocal mark of its excellence.—Two or three others which I have by me shall do themselves the honor to wait on your after-leisure: petitioners for admittance into favour must not harass the condescension of their Benefactor.—

You see, Sir, what it is to patronise a Poet.—'Tis like being a magistrate in a petty Borough; you do them the favour to preside in their Council for one year, and your name bears the prefatory stigma of Bailie, for life.—

With, not the Compliments, but the best wishes the sincerest prayers of the Season for you, that you may see many and happy years with Mrs Mcmurdo and your family—two blessings, by the by, to which your rank does not by any means entitle you; a loving wife and fine family being almost the only good things of this life to which the Farm-house and Cottage have an exclusive right—

I have the honor to be

  • Sir, your much indebted And very humble servt
  •                                Robt Burns

[Cunningham, 1834. Here collated with the original MS. in the Birthplace Museum, Alloway. The address is taken from the poet's transcript of the letter in the Glenriddel MS. The transcript lacks the final paragraph and differs in numerous minor particulars. A facsimile exists.]

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