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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367. (18) [Mr Robert Ain]slie [W]riter to the Signet Edinr

Ellisland 1st November 1789

My dear Friend

I had written you long ere now, could I have guessed where to find you; [but (deleted)] for I am sure you have more good sense than to waste the precious days of vacation time in the dirt of Business & Edinr.—Wherever you are, God bless you, & lead you not into temptation but deliver you from evil!

I do not know if I have informed you that I am now appointed to an Excise Division, in the middle of which my house & farm lie.—In this I was extremely lucky.—Without ever having been an Expectant, as they call their Journeymen Excisemen, I was directly planted down to all intents & purposes an officer of Excise, there to flourish & bring forth fruits—worthy of repentance.—I know how the word, Exciseman, or still more opprobrious, Gauger, will sound in your ears.—I too have seen the day when my auditory nerves would have felt very delicately on this subject, but a wife & children are things which have a wonderful power in blunting these kind of sensations.—Fifty pounds a year for life, & a provision for widows & orphans, you will allow, is no bad settlement for a Poet.—For the ignominy of the Profession, I have the encouragement which I once heard a recruiting Sergeant give to a numerous if not a respectable audience in the Streets of Kilmarnock—"Gentlemen, for your farther & "better encouragement, I can assure you that our regiment is "the most blackguard corps under the crown, and consequently pg 447"with us an honest fellow has the surest chance for "preferment."—

You need not doubt that I find several very unpleasant and disagreable circumstances in my business; but I am tired with and disgusted at the language of complaint against the evils of life.—Human existence in the most favourable situations does not abound with pleasures, and has its inconveniences and ills; capricious, foolish Man mistakes these inconveniences & ills as if they were the peculiar property of his particular situation; and hence that eternal fickleness [and (deleted)] that love of change which has ruined & daily does ruin many a fine fellow as well as many a Blockhead; and is almost without exception a constant source of disappointment & misery.—

So far from being [dissatisfied with my] present lot, I earnestly pray the Great [Disposer of Events] that it may never be worse, & I thin[k I can lay my ha]nd on my heart and say, "I shall [be content."]

[I long to hear from you how you go on—not so much in business as in life. Are you pretty well satisfied with your own exertions, and tolerably at ease in your internal reflections? 'Tis much to be a great character as a lawyer, but beyond comparison more to be a great character as a man. That you may be both the one and the other is the earnest wish, and that you will be both is the firm persuasion of,

My dear Sir, &c]

[Cromek, 1808, from the Scots Magazine, Oct. 1801. Here collated with the original MS. in the Birthplace Museum, Alloway. The MS. is mutilated, the gaps being filled in another hand. There is no signature present. Cromek added the last paragraph, evidently from another letter. In answer to a letter from Ainslie of 19 Sept.]

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