The Letters of Robert Burns
Part 3 out of 7
but I had the pleasure of meeting with Mrs. Chalmers, only Lady
Mackenzie being rather a little alarmingly ill of a sore throat somewhat
marred our enjoyment.
I shall not be in Ayrshire for four weeks. My most respectful
compliments to Mrs. Hamilton, Miss Kennedy, and Doctor Mackenzie. I
shall probably write him from some stage or other.--I am ever; Sir,
yours most gratefully,
[Footnote 47: Step-brother, more correctly.]
[Footnote 48: This is the "Wee Curlie Johnnie" mentioned in Burns's
_Dedication to Gavin Hamilton, Esq._]
* * * *
LX.--To MR. WALKER, BLAIR OF ATHOLE.
INVERNESS, _5th September_ 1787.
MY DEAR SIR,--I have just time to write the foregoing, and to tell
you that it was (at least most part of it) the effusion of an half-hour
I spent at Bruar. I do not mean it was extempore, for I have endeavoured
to brush it up as well as Mr. Nicol's chat, and the jogging of the
chaise, would allow. It eases my heart a good deal, as rhyme is the coin
with which a poet pays his debts of honour or gratitude. What I owe to
the noble family of Athole, of the first kind, I shall ever proudly
boast; what I owe of the last, so help me God in my hour of need! I
shall never forget.
The "little angel-band!" I declare I prayed for them very sincerely
today at the Fall of Fyers. I shall never forget the fine family-piece I
saw at Blair; the amiable, the truly noble duchess, with her smiling
little seraph in her lap, at the head of the table; the lovely "olive
plants," as the Hebrew bard finely says, round the happy mother; the
beautiful Mrs. G---; the lovely, sweet Miss C., etc. I wish I had the
powers of Guido to do them justice! My Lord Duke's kind
hospitality--markedly kind indeed; Mr. Graham of Fintry's charms of
conversation; Sir W. Murray's friendship. In short, the recollection of
all that polite, agreeable company raises an honest glow in my bosom.
[Footnote 49: Mr. Walker was tutor to the children of the Duke of
Athole. He afterwards became Professor of Humanity in the University
[Footnote 50: The Humble Petition of Bruar Water.]
* * * *
LXI.--To His BROTHER, MR. GILBERT BURNS, MOSSGIEL.
EDINBERG, 17_th September_ 1787.
My Dear Sir,--I arrived here safe yesterday evening after a tour of
twenty-two days, and travelling near six hundred miles, windings
included. My farthest stretch was about ten miles beyond Inverness. I
went through the heart of the Highlands by Crieff, Taymouth, the famous
seat of Lord Breadalbane, down the Tay, among cascades and druidical
circles of stones, to Dunkeld, a seat of the Duke of Athole; thence
across Tay, and up one of his tributary streams to Blair of Athole,
another of the duke's seats, where I had the honour of spending nearly
two days with his grace and family; thence many miles through a wild
country among cliffs grey with eternal snows, and gloomy savage glens,
till I crossed Spey and went down the stream through Strathspey, so
famous in Scottish music; Badenoch, etc., till I reached Grant Castle,
where I spent half a day with Sir James Grant and family; and then
crossed the country for Fort George, but called by the way at Cawdor,
the ancient seat of Macbeth; there I saw the identical bed in which
tradition says king Duncan was murdered: lastly, from Fort George to
I returned by the coast through Nairn, Forres, and so on, to Aberdeen,
thence to Stonehive, where James Burness, from Montrose, met me by
appointment. I spent two days among our relations, and found our aunts,
Jean and Isabel, still alive, and hale old women. John Cairn, though
born the same year with our father, walks as vigorously as I can: they
have had several letters from his son in New York. William Brand is
likewise a stout old fellow; but further particulars I delay till I see
you, which will be in two or three weeks. The rest of my stages are not
worth rehearsing; warm as I was for Ossian's country, where I had seen
his very grave, what cared I for fishing-towns or fertile carses? I
slept at the famous Brodie of Brodie's one night, and dined at Gordon
Castle next day, with the Duke, Duchess, and family. I am thinking to
cause my old mare to meet me, by means of John Ronald, at Glasgow; but
you shall hear farther from me before I leave Edinburgh. My duty and
many compliments from the north to my mother; and my brotherly
compliments to the rest. I have been trying for a berth for William,
but am not likely to be successful. Farewell. R. B.
[Footnote 51: Their youngest brother, afterwards a journeyman
* * * *
LXII.--TO MR. PATRICK MILLER, DALSWINTON.
EDINBURGH, 20_th Oct_., 1787.
SIR,--I was spending a few days at Sir William Murray's, Ochtertyre, and
did not get your obliging letter till to-day I came to town. I was still
more unlucky in catching a miserable cold, for which the medical
gentlemen have ordered me into close confinement under pain of death--
the severest of penalties. In two or three days, if I get better, and if
I hear at your lodgings that you are still at Dalswinton, I will take a
ride to Dumfries directly. From something in your last, I would wish to
explain my idea of being your tenant. I want to be a farmer in a small
farm, about a plough-gang, in a pleasant country, under the auspices of
a good landlord. I have no foolish notion of being a tenant on easier
terms than another. To find a farm where one can live at all is not
easy--I only mean living soberly, like an old-style farmer, and joining
personal industry. The banks of the Nith are as sweet poetic ground as
any I ever saw; and besides, Sir, 'tis but justice to the feelings of my
own heart and the opinion of my best friends, to say that I would wish
to call you landlord sooner than any landed gentleman I know. These are
my views and wishes; and in whatever way you think best to lay out your
farms I shall be happy to rent one of them. I shall certainly be able to
ride to Dalswinton about the middle of next week, if I hear that you are
not gone.--I have the honour to be, Sir, your obliged humble servant,
[Footnote 52: His future landlord, at Ellisland.]
* * * *
LXIII.-To REV. JOHN SKINNER.
Edinburgh, _October_ 25_th_, 1787.
Reverend and Venerable Sir,--Accept, in plain, dull prose, my most
sincere thanks for the best poetical compliment I ever received. I
assure you, Sir, as a poet, you have conjured up an airy demon of vanity
in my fancy, which the best abilities in your other capacity would be
ill able to lay. I regret, and while I live I shall regret, that when I
was in the north I had not the pleasure of paying a younger brother's
dutiful respect to the author of the best Scotch song ever Scotland
saw--"Tullochgorum's my delight!" The world may think slightingly of the
craft of song-making if they please; but, as Job says--"O that mine
adversary had written a book!"--let them try. There is a certain
something in the old Scotch songs, a wild happiness of thought and
expression, which peculiarly marks them, not only from English songs,
but also from the modern efforts of song-wrights, in our native manner
and language. The only remains of this enchantment, these spells of the
imagination, rest with you. Our true brother, Ross of Lochlee, was
likewise "owre cannie"--a "wild warlock"--but now he sings among the
"sons of the morning."
I have often wished, and will certainly endeavour, to form a kind of
common acquaintance among all the genuine sons of Caledonian song. The
world, busy in low prosaic pursuits, may overlook most of us; but
"reverence thyself." The world is not our _peers_ so we challenge the
jury. We can lash that world, and find ourselves a very great source of
amusement and happiness independent of that world.
There is a work going on in Edinburgh, just now, which claims your
best assistance. An engraver in this town has set about collecting and
publishing all the Scotch songs, with the music, that can be found.
Songs in the English language, if by Scotchmen, are admitted, but the
music must all be Scotch. Drs. Beattie and Blacklock are lending a hand,
and the first musician in town presides over that department. I have
been absolutely crazed about it, collecting old stanzas, and every
information remaining respecting their origin, authors, etc., etc. This
last is but a very fragment business; but at the end of his second
number--the first is already published--a small account will be given
of the authors, particularly to preserve those of latter times. Your
three songs, "Tullochgorum," "John of Badenyon," and "Ewie wi' the
crookit Horn," go in this second number. I was determined, before I got
your letter, to write you, begging that you would let me know where the
editions of these pieces may be found as you would wish them to continue
in future times: and if you would be so kind to this undertaking as send
any songs, of your own or others, that you would think proper to
publish, your name will be inserted among the other authors. "Nill ye,
will ye," one-half of Scotland already give your songs to other authors.
Paper is done. I beg to hear from you; the sooner the better, as I leave
Edinburgh in a fortnight or three weeks.--I am, with the warmest
sincerity, Sir, your obliged humble Servant, R. B.
[Footnote 53: Johnson's _Musical Museum_.]
* * * *
LXIV.--To Miss MARGARET CHALMERS, HARVIESTON.
(AFTERWARDS MRS. HAY, OF EDINBURGH.)
_Oct_. 26, 1787.
I send Charlotte the first number of the songs; I would not wait for the
second number; I hate delays in little marks of friendship, as I hate
dissimulation in the language of the heart. I am determined to pay
Charlotte a poetic compliment, if I could hit on some glorious old
Scotch air, in number second. You will see a small attempt on a
shred of paper in the book; but though Dr. Blacklock commended it very
highly, I am not just satisfied with it myself. I intend to make it a
description of some kind: the whining cant of love, except in real
passion, and by a masterly hand, is to me as insufferable as the
preaching cant of old Father Smeaton, whig-minister at Kilmaurs. Darts,
flames, cupids, loves, graces, and all that farrago, are just a
Mauchline--a senseless rabble.
I got an excellent poetic epistle yesternight from the old, venerable
author of "Tullochgorum," "John of Badenyon," etc. I suppose you know he
is a clergyman. It is by far the finest poetic compliment I ever got. I
will send you a copy of it.
I go on Thursday or Friday to Dumfries, to wait on Mr. Miller about his
farms. Do tell that to Lady Mackenzie, that she may give me credit for a
little wisdom. "I, Wisdom, dwell with Prudence." What a blessed
fireside! How happy should I be to pass a winter evening under their
venerable roof! and smoke a pipe of tobacco, or drink water-gruel with
them! What solemn, lengthened, laughter-quashing gravity of phiz! What
sage remarks on the good-for-nothing sons and daughters of indiscretion
and folly! And what frugal lessons, as we straitened the fireside
circle, on the uses of the poker and tongs!
Miss N. is very well, and begs to be remembered in the old way to you. I
used all my eloquence, all the persuasive flourishes of the hand, and
heart-melting modulation of periods in my power, to urge her out to
Harvieston, but all in vain. My rhetoric seems quite to have lost its
effect on the lovely half of mankind. I have seen the day--but this is
"a tale of other years." In my conscience I believe that my heart has
been so oft on fire that it is absolutely vitrified. I look on the sex
with something like the admiration with which I regard the starry sky in
a frosty December night. I admire the beauty of the Creator's
workmanship; I am charmed with the wild but graceful eccentricity of
their motions, and--wish them good-night. I mean this with respect to a
certain passion _dont j'at eu l'honneur d'etre un miserable esclave_. As
for friendship, you and Charlotte have given me pleasure, permanent
pleasure, "which the world cannot give, nor take away," I hope, and
which will outlast the heavens and the earth.
[Footnote 54: Of the Scots _Musical Museum_.]
* * * *
LXV.--To MRS. DUNLOP OF DUNLOP HOUSE, STEWARTON.
Edin., 4_th Nov_. 1787.
Madam,--... When you talk of correspondence and friendship to me, you
do me too much honour; but, as I shall soon be at my wonted leisure and
rural occupation, if any remark on what I have read or seen, or any new
rhyme that I may twist, be worth the while ... you shall have it with
all my heart and soul. It requires no common exertion of good sense and
philosophy in persons of elevated rank to keep a friendship properly
alive with one much their inferior. Externals, things wholly extraneous
of the man, steal upon the hearts and judgments of almost, if not
altogether, all mankind; nor do I know more than one instance of a man
who fully regards all the world as a stage and all the men and women
merely players, and who (the dancing-school bow excepted) only values
these players, the _dramatis personś_ who build cities and who rear
hedges, who govern provinces or superintend flocks, _merely as they act
their parts_. For the honour of Ayrshire this man is Professor Dugald
Stewart of Catrine. To him I might perhaps add another instance, a
Popish bishop, Geddes of Edinburgh.... I ever could ill endure those ...
beasts of prey who foul the hallowed ground of religion with their
nocturnal prowlings; and if the prosecution against my worthy friend,
Dr. McGill, goes on, I shall keep no measure with the savages, but fly
at them with the _faucons_ of ridicule, or run them down with the
bloodhounds of satire as lawful game wherever I start them.
I expect to leave Edinburgh in eight or ten days, and shall certainly do
myself the honour of calling at Dunlop House as I return to Ayrshire.--I
have the honour to be, Madam, your obliged humble Servant,
* * * *
LXVI.--To MR. JAMES HOY, GORDON CASTLE.
Edinburg, 6_th November_ 1787.
Dear Sir,--I would have wrote you immediately on receipt of your kind
letter, but a mixed impulse of gratitude and esteem whispered to me that
I ought to send you something by way of return. When a poet owes
anything, particularly when he is indebted for good offices, the payment
that usually recurs to him--the only coin, indeed, in which he is
probably conversant--is rhyme. Johnson sends the books by the fly, as
directed, and begs me to inclose his most grateful thanks: my return I
intended should have been one or two poetic bagatelles which the world
have not seen, or, perhaps, for obvious seasons, cannot see. These I
shall send you before I leave Edinburgh. They may make you laugh a
little, which, on the whole, is no bad way of spending one's precious
hours and still more precious breath. At any rate, they will be, though
a small, yet a very sincere mark of my respectful esteem for a gentleman
whose farther acquaintance I should look upon as a peculiar obligation.
The Duke's song, independent totally of his dukeship, charms me. There
is I know not what of wild happiness of thought and expression
peculiarly beautiful in the old Scottish song style, of which his Grace,
old venerable Skinner, the author of "Tullochgorum," etc., and the late
Ross, at Lochlee, of true Scottish poetic memory, are the only modern
instances that I recollect, since Ramsay, with his contemporaries, and
poor Bob Fergusson, went to the world of deathless existence and truly
immortal song. The mob of mankind, that many-headed beast, would laugh
at so serious a speech about an old song; but, as Job says, "O that mine
adversary had written a book!" Those who think that composing a Scotch
song is a trifling business--let them try.
I wish my Lord Duke would pay a proper attention to the Christian
admonition, "Hide not your candle under a bushel," but "let your light
shine before men." I could name half-a-dozen Dukes that I guess are a
deal worse employed; nay, I question if there are half-a-dozen better:
perhaps there are not half that scanty number whom Heaven has favoured
with the tuneful, happy, and, I will say, glorious gift.--I am, dear
Sir, your obliged humble servant, R. B.
[Footnote 55: Librarian to the Duke of Gordon.]
* * * *
LXVII.-To THE EARL OF GLENCAIRN.
Edinburg, (_End of_ 1787.)
My Lord,--I know your lordship will disapprove of my ideas in a request
I am going to make to you; but I have weighed, long and seriously
weighed, my situation, my hopes, and turn of mind, and am fully fixed to
my scheme, if I can possibly effectuate it. I wish to get into the
Excise: I am told that your lordship's interest will easily procure me
the grant from the commissioners; and your lordship's patronage and
goodness, which have already rescued me from obscurity, wretchedness,
and exile, embolden me to ask that interest. You have likewise put it in
my power to save the little tie of home that sheltered an aged mother,
two brothers, and three sisters from destruction. There, my lord, you
have bound me over to the highest gratitude.
My brother's farm is but a wretched lease, but I think he will probably
weather out the remaining seven years of it; and after the assistance
which I have given, and will give him, to keep the family together, I
think, by my guess, I shall have rather better than two hundred pounds,
and instead of seeking, what is almost impossible at present to find, a
farm that I can certainly live by, with so small a stock, I shall lodge
this sum in a banking-house, a sacred deposit, excepting only the calls
of uncommon distress or necessitous old age.
These, my lord, are my views: I have resolved from the maturest
deliberation; and now I am fixed, I shall leave no stone unturned to
carry my resolve into execution. Your lordship's patronage is the
strength of my hopes; nor have I yet applied to anybody else. Indeed my
heart sinks within me at the idea of applying to any other of the great
who have honoured me with their countenance. I am ill-qualified to dog
the heels of greatness with the impertinence of solicitation, and
tremble nearly as much at the thought of the cold promise as the cold
denial; but to your lordship I have not only the honour, the comfort,
but the pleasure of being your lordship's much obliged and deeply
indebted humble servant,
* * * *
LXVIII--To Miss CHALMERS.
Edinburgh, _Nov_. 21, 1787.
I have one vexatious fault to the kindly, welcome, well-filled sheet
which I owe to your and Charlotte's goodness--it contains too much
sense, sentiment, and good spelling. It is impossible that even you two,
whom, I declare to my God, I will give credit for any degree of
excellence the sex are capable of attaining-it is impossible you can go
on to correspond at that rate; so, like those who, Shenstone says,
retire because they have made a good speech, I shall, after a few
letters, hear no more of you. I insist that you shall write whatever
comes first--what you see, what you read, what you hear, what you
admire, what you dislike, trifles, bagatelles, nonsense; or, to fill up
a corner, e'en put down a laugh at full length. Now, none of your polite
hints about flattery; I leave that to your lovers, if you have or shall
have any; though, thank heaven, I have found at last two girls who can
be luxuriantly happy in their own minds and with one another, without
that commonly necessary appendage to female bliss--A LOVER.
Charlotte and you are just two favourite resting-places for my soul in
her wanderings through the weary, thorny wilderness of this world. God
knows, I am ill-fitted for the struggle: I glory in being a poet, and I
want to be thought a wise man--I would fondly be generous, and I wish to
be rich. After all, I am afraid I am a lost subject. "Some folk hae a
hantle o' faults, and I'm but a ne'er-do-well".
_Afternoon_.--To close the melancholy reflections at the end of last
sheet, I shall just add a piece of devotion, commonly known in Carrick
by the title of the "Wabster's grace":--
Some say we're thieves, and e'en sae are we,
Some say we lie, and e'en sae do we!
Gude forgie us, and I hope sae will he!
Up and to your looms, lads.
* * * *
LXIX.--TO MISS CHALMERS.
Edinburgh, _Dec_. 12, 1787.
I am here under the care of a surgeon, with a bruised limb extended on a
cushion, and the tints of my mind vieing with the livid horror preceding
a midnight thunderstorm. A drunken coachman was the cause of the first,
and incomparably the lightest evil; misfortune, bodily constitution,
hell, and myself have formed a "quadruple alliance" to guarantee the
other. I got my fall on Saturday, and am getting slowly better.
I have taken tooth and nail to the Bible, and am got through the five
books of Moses, and half way in Joshua. It is really a glorious book. I
sent for my bookbinder today, and ordered him to get me an octavo Bible
in sheets, the best paper and print in town, and bind it with all the
elegance of his craft.
I would give my best song to my worst enemy--I mean the merit of making
it--to have you and Charlotte by me. You are angelic creatures, and
would pour oil and wine into my wounded spirit.
I inclose you a proof copy of the "Banks of the Devon", which present
with my best wishes to Charlotte. The "Ochil Hills" you shall
probably have next week for yourself. None of your fine speeches!
[Footnote 56: The song in honour of Miss Chalmers, beginning, "Where,
braving angry winter's storms".]
* * * *
LXX.--TO MISS CHALMERS.
Edinburgh, 19_th Dec_. 1787.
I begin this letter in answer to yours of the 17th current, which is not
yet cold since I read it. The atmosphere of my soul is vastly clearer
than when I wrote you last. For the first time, yesterday I crossed the
room on crutches. It would do your heart good to see my hardship, not on
my poetic, but on my oaken stilts; throwing my best leg with an air! and
with as much hilarity in my gait and countenance, as a May frog leaping
across the newly-harrowed ridge, enjoying the fragrance of the refreshed
earth, after the long-expected shower!
I can't say I am altogether at my ease when I see anywhere in my path
that meagre, squalid, famine-faced spectre, poverty; attended as he
always is, by iron-fisted oppression, and leering contempt; but I have
sturdily withstood his buffetings many a hard-laboured day already, and
still my motto is--I DARE! My worst enemy is _moi mÍme_. I lie so
miserably open to the inroads and incursions of a mischievous,
light-armed, well-mounted banditti, under the banners of imagination,
whim, caprice, and passion; and the heavy-armed veteran regulars of
wisdom, prudence, and forethought move so very, very slow, that I am
almost in a state of perpetual warfare, and, alas! frequent defeat.
There are just two creatures I would envy, a horse in his wild state
traversing the forests of Asia, or an oyster on some of the desert
shores of Europe. The one has not a wish without enjoyment, the other
has neither wish nor fear.
* * * *
LXXI.--TO MR. RICHARD BROWN, IRVINE.
Edinburgh, 30_th Dec_. 1787.
My Dear Sir,--I have met with few things in life which have given me
more pleasure, than Fortune's kindness to you since those days in which
we met in the vale of misery; as I can honestly say, that I never knew a
man who more truly deserved it, or to whom my heart more truly wished
it. I have been much indebted, since that time, to your story and
sentiments for steeling my mind against evils, of which I have had a
pretty decent share. My will-o'-wisp fate you know: do you recollect a
Sunday we spent together in Eglinton woods? You told me, on my repeating
some verses to you, that you wondered I could resist the temptation of
sending verses of such merit to a magazine. It was from this remark I
derived that idea of my own pieces, which encouraged me to endeavour at
the character of a poet. I am happy to hear that you will be two or
three months at home. As soon as a bruised limb will permit me I shall
return to Ayrshire, and we shall meet; "and faith, I hope we'll not sit
dumb, nor yet cast out!"
I have much to tell you "of men, their manners, and their ways," perhaps
a little of the other sex. Apropos, I beg to be remembered to Mrs.
Brown. There, I doubt not, my dear friend, but you have found
substantial happiness. I expect to find you something of an altered but
not a different man; the wild, bold, generous young fellow composed into
the steady affectionate husband, and the fond careful parent. For me, I
am just the same will-o'-wisp being I used to be. About the first and
fourth quarters of the moon, I generally set in for the trade wind of
wisdom; but about the full and change, I am the luckless victim of mad
tornadoes, which blow me into chaos. Almighty love still reigns and
revels in my bosom; and I am at this moment ready to hang myself for a
young Edinburgh widow,who has wit and wisdom more murderously fatal
than the assassinating stiletto of the Sicilian bandit, or the poisoned
arrow of the savage African. My Highland dirk, that used to hang beside
my crutches, I have gravely removed into a neighbouring closet, the key
of which I cannot command, in case of spring-tide paroxysms. My best
compliments to our friend Allan. Adieu!
[Footnote 57: The earliest allusion to Clarinda (Mrs. M'Lehose). Her
husband was alive, in the West Indies.]
* * * *
LXXII--TO MRS. DUNLOP.
Edinburg, _January_ 21, 1788.
After six weeks' confinement, I am beginning to walk across the room.
They have been six horrible weeks; anguish and low spirits made me unfit
to read, write, or think.
I have a hundred times wished that one could resign life as an officer
resigns a commission; for I would not take in any poor, ignorant wretch
by selling out. Lately I was a sixpenny private, and, God knows, a
miserable soldier enough; now I march to the campaign, a starving cadet;
a little more conspicuously wretched.
I am ashamed of all this; for though I do want bravery for the warfare
of life, I could wish, like some other soldiers, to have as much
fortitude or cunning as to dissemble or conceal my cowardice.
As soon as I can bear the journey, which will be, I suppose, about the
middle of next week, I leave Edinburgh; and soon after I shall pay my
grateful duty at Dunlop House. R. B.
* * * * *
LXXIII.--TO MRS. DUNLOP.
EDINBURGH, _February_ 12, 1788.
Some things in your late letters hurt me--not that _you say them_, but
that _you mistake me_. Religion, my honoured Madam, has not only been
all my life my chief dependance, but my dearest enjoyment. I have,
indeed, been the luckless victim of wayward follies; but, alas! I have
ever been "more fool than knave." A mathematician without religion is a
probable character; an irreligious poet is a monster.
* * * * *
LXXIV.--TO THE REV. JOHN SKINNER.
EDINBURGH, 14_th February_ 1788.
Reverend and Dear Sir,--I have been a cripple now near three months,
though I am getting vastly better, and have been very much hurried
beside, or else I would have wrote you sooner. I must beg your pardon
for the epistle you sent me appearing in the Magazine. I had given a
copy or two to some of my intimate friends, but did not know of the
printing of it till the publication of the Magazine. However, as it does
great honour to us both, you will forgive it.
The second volume of the songs I mentioned to you in my last is
published to-day. I send you a copy, which I beg you will accept as a
mark of the veneration I have long had, and shall ever have, for your
character, and of the claim I make to your continued acquaintance. Your
songs appear in the third volume, with your name in the index; as I
assure you, Sir, I have heard your "Tullochgorum," particularly among
our west-country folks, given to many different names, and most commonly
to the immortal author of "The Minstrel," who, indeed, never wrote any
thing superior to "Gie's a sang, Montgomery cried." Your brother has
promised me your verses to the Marquis of Huntley's reel, which
certainly deserve a place in the collection. My kind host, Mr.
Cruikshank, of the High School here, and said to be one of the best
Latins in this age, begs me to make you his grateful acknowledgments for
the entertainment he has got in a Latin publication of yours, that I
borrowed for him from your acquaintance and much-respected friend in
this place, the Rev. Dr. Webster. Mr. Cruikshank maintains that you
write the best Latin since Buchanan. I leave Edinburgh to-morrow, but
shall return in three weeks. Your song you mentioned in your last, to
the tune of "Dumbarton Drums," and the other, which you say was done by
a brother in trade of mine, a ploughman, I shall thank you for a copy of
each. I am ever, Reverend Sir, with the most respectful esteem and
sincere veneration, yours, R. B.
[Footnote 58: Half-brother, James, a writer to the Signet.]
* * * *
LXXV.--TO MRS. ROSE, OF KILRAVOCK.
EDINBURGH, _February_ 17_th_, 1788.
MADAM,--You are much indebted to some indispensable business I have had
on my hands, otherwise my gratitude threatened such a return for your
obliging favour, as would have tired your patience. It but poorly
expresses my feelings to say, that I am sensible of your kindness: it
may be said of hearts such as yours is, and such, I hope, mine is, much
more justly than Addison applies it,--
Some souls by instinct to each other turn.
There was something in my reception at Kilravock so different from the
cold, obsequious, dancing-school bow of politeness, that it almost got
into my head that friendship had occupied her ground without the
intermediate march of acquaintance. I wish I could transcribe, or rather
transfuse into language, the glow of my heart when I read your letter.
My ready fancy, with colours more mellow than life itself, painted the
beautifully wild scenery of Kilravock--the venerable grandeur of the
castle--the spreading woods--the winding river, gladly leaving his
unsightly, heathy source, and lingering with apparent delight as he
passes the fairy walk at the bottom of the garden;--your late
distressful anxieties--your present enjoyments--your dear little angel,
the pride of your hopes;--my aged friend, venerable in worth and years,
whose loyalty and other virtues will strongly entitle her to the support
of the Almighty Spirit here, and His peculiar favour in a happier state
of existence. You cannot imagine, Madam, how much such feelings delight
me; they are my dearest proofs of my own immortality. Should I never
revisit the north, as probably I never will, nor again see your
hospitable mansion, were I, some twenty years hence, to see your little
fellow's name making a proper figure in a newspaper paragraph, my heart
would bound with pleasure.
I am assisting a friend in a collection of Scottish songs, set to their
proper tunes; every air worth preserving is to be included; among others
I have given "Morag," and some few Highland airs which pleased me most,
a dress which will be more generally known, though far, far inferior in
real merit. As a small mark of my grateful esteem, I beg leave to
present you with a copy of the work, as far as it is printed; the Man of
Feeling, that first of men, has promised to transmit it by the first
I beg to be remembered most respectfully to my venerable friend, and to
your little Highland chieftain. When you see the "two fair spirits of
the hill," at Kildrummie, tell them that I have done myself the honour
of setting myself down as one of their admirers for at least twenty
years to come, consequently they must look upon me as an acquaintance
for the same period; but, as the Apostle Paul says, "this I ask of grace,
not of debt."--I have the honour to be, Madam, etc., ROBERT BURNS.
* * * *
LXXVI-To RICHARD BROWN, GREENOCK.
MOSSGIEL, 24_th February_ 1788.
MY DEAR SIR,--I cannot get the proper direction for my friend in
Jamaica, but the following will do:--To Mr, Jo. Hutchinson, at Jo.
Brownrigg's, Esq., care of Mr. Benjamin Henriquez, merchant, Orange
Street, Kingston. I arrived here, at my brother's, only yesterday, after
fighting my way through Paisley and Kilmarnock, against those old
powerful foes of mine, the devil, the world, and the flesh--so terrible
in the fields of dissipation. I have met with few incidents in my life
which gave me so much pleasure as meeting you in Glasgow. There is a
time of life beyond which we cannot form a tie worth the name of
friendship, "O youth! enchanting stage, profusely blest." Life is a
fairy scene: almost all that deserves the name of enjoyment or pleasure
is only a charming delusion; and in comes repining age, in all the
gravity of hoary wisdom, and wretchedly chases away the bewitching
phantom. When I think of life, I resolve to keep a strict look-out in
the course of economy, for the sake of worldly convenience and
independence of mind; to cultivate intimacy with a few of the companions
of youth, that they may be the friends of age; never to refuse my
liquorish humour a handful of the sweetmeats of life, when they come not
too dear; and, for futurity,--
The present moment is our ain,
The neist we never saw!
How like you my philosophy? Give my best compliments to Mrs. B., and
believe me to be, my dear Sir, yours most truly, ROBERT BURNS.
* * * *
LXXVII.--To MR. WILLIAM CRUIKSHANK.
MAUCHLINE, _March_ 3_rd_, 1788.
My dear Sir,--Apologies for not writing are frequently like apologies
for not singing--the apology better than the song. I have fought my way
severely through the savage hospitality of this country, the object of
all hosts being to send every guest drunk to bed if they can.
I executed your commission in Glasgow, and I hope the cocoa came safe.
'Twas the same price and the very same kind as your former parcel, for
the gentleman recollected your buying there perfectly well.
I Should return my thanks for your hospitality (I leave a blank for the
epithet, as I know none can do it justice) to a poor, wayfaring bard,
who was spent and almost overpowered fighting with prosaic wickedness in
high places; but I am afraid lest you should burn the letter whenever
you come to the passage, so I pass over it in silence. I am just
returned from visiting Mr. Miller's farm. The friend whom I told you I
would take with me was highly pleased with the farm; and as he is,
without exception, the most intelligent farmer in the country, he has
staggered me a good deal. I have the two plans of life before me; I
shall balance them to the best of my judgment; and fix on the most
eligible. I have written Mr. Miller, and shall wait on him when I come
to town, which shall be the beginning or middle of next week: I would be
in sooner, but my unlucky knee is rather worse, and I fear for some time
will scarcely stand the fatigue of my Excise instructions. I only
mention these ideas to you, and, indeed, except Mr. Ainslie, whom I
intend writing to tomorrow, I will not write at all to Edinburgh till I
return to it. I would send my compliments to Mr. Nicol, but he would be
hurt if he knew I wrote to anybody and not to him; so I shall only beg
my best, kindest, kindest compliments to my worthy hostess, and the
sweet little rose-bud.
So soon as I am settled in the routine of life, either as an
Excise-officer, or as a farmer, I propose myself great pleasure from a
regular correspondence with the only man almost I ever saw, who joined
the most attentive prudence with the warmest generosity.
I am much interested for that best of men, Mr. Wood; I hope he is in
better health and spirits than when I saw him last.--I am ever, my
dearest friend, your obliged, humble servant, R. B.
[Footnote 59: One of the masters of the High School of Edinburgh.]
* * * *
LXXVIII.--To MR. ROBERT AINSLIE.
MAUCHLINE, 3_rd March_ 1788.
MY DEAR FRIEND,--I am just returned from Mr. Miller's farm. My old
friend whom I took with me was highly pleased with the bargain, and
advised me to accept of it. He is the most intelligent sensible farmer
in the county, and his advice has staggered me a good deal. I have the
two plans before me; I shall endeavour to balance them to the best of my
judgment, and fix on the most eligible. On the whole, if I find Mr.
Miller in the same favourable disposition as when I saw him last, I
shall, in all probability, turn farmer.
I have been through sore tribulation and under much buffetting of the
wicked one, since I came to this country. Jean I found banished,
forlorn, destitute, and friendless; I have reconciled her to her fate,
and I have reconciled her to her mother.... I swore her privately and
solemnly never to attempt any claim on me as a husband, even though
anybody should persuade her she had such a claim....
I shall be in Edinburgh middle of next week. My farming ideas I shall
keep private till I see. I got a letter from Clarinda yesterday, and she
tells me she has got no letter of mine but one. Tell her that I wrote to
her from Glasgow, from Kilmarnock, from Mauchline, and yesterday from
Cumnock as I returned from Dumfries. Indeed she is the only person in
Edinburgh I have written to till this day. How are your soul and body
putting up?--a little like man and wife I suppose.--Your
* * * *
LXXIX.--To MR. RICHARD BROWN.
MAUCHLINE, 7_th March_ 1788.
I have been out of the country, my dear friend, and have not had an
opportunity of writing till now, when, I am afraid, you will be gone out
of the country too. I have been looking at farms, and, after all,
perhaps I may settle in the character of a farmer. I have got so vicious
a bent to idleness, and have ever been so little a man of business, that
it will take no ordinary effort to bring my mind properly into the
routine: but you will say a "great effort is worthy of you." I say so
myself; and butter up my vanity with all the stimulating compliments I
can think of. Men of grave, geometrical minds, the sons of "which was to
be demonstrated," may cry up reason as much as they please; but I have
always found an honest passion, or native instinct, the truest auxiliary
in the warfare of this world. Reason almost always comes to me like an
unlucky wife to a poor devil of a husband, just in sufficient time to
add her reproaches to his other grievances.
I am gratified with your kind inquiries after Jean; as, after all, I may
say with Othello--
Perdition catch my soul, but I do love thee!
I go for Edinburgh on Monday.--Yours,
* * * * *
LXXX.--TO MR. ROBERT MUIR.
MOSSGIEL, 7_th March_ 1788.
DEAR SIR,--I have partly changed my ideas, my dear friend, since I saw
you. I took old Glenconner with me to Mr. Miller's farm, and he was so
pleased with it, that I have wrote an offer to Mr. Miller, which, if he
accepts, I shall sit down a plain farmer, the happiest of lives when a
man can live by it. In this case I shall not stay in Edinburgh above a
week. I set out on Monday, and would have come by Kilmarnock; but there
are several small sums owing me for my first edition about Galston and
Newmilns, and I shall set off so early as to despatch my business and
reach Glasgow by night. When I return, I shall devote a forenoon or two
to make some kind of acknowledgment for all the kindness I owe your
friendship. Now that I hope to settle with some credit and comfort at
home, there was not any friendship or friendly correspondence that
promised me more pleasure than yours; I hope I will not be disappointed.
I trust the spring will renew your shattered frame, and make your
friends happy. You and I have often agreed that life is no great
blessing on the whole. The close of life, indeed, to a reasoning age, is
Dark as was chaos, ere the infant sun
Was roll'd together, or had tried his beams
Athwart the gloom profound.
But an honest man has nothing to fear. If we lie down in the grave, the
whole man a piece of broken machinery, to moulder with the clods of the
valley, be it so; at least there is an end of pain, care, woes, and
wants. If that part of us called mind does survive the apparent
destruction of the man--away with old-wife prejudices and tales. Every
age and every nation has had a different set of stories; and as the many
are always weak, of consequence they have often, perhaps always, been
deceived. A man conscious of having acted an honest part among his
fellow-creatures--even granting that he may have been the sport at times
of passions and instincts--he goes to a great unknown Being, who could
have no other end in giving him existence but to make him happy, who
gave him those passions and instincts, and well knows their force.
These, my worthy friend, are my ideas; and I know they are not far
different from yours. It becomes a man of sense to think for himself,
particularly in a case where all men are equally interested, and where,
indeed, all men are equally in the dark.
Adieu, my dear Sir; God send us a cheerful meeting!
* * * *
LXXXI--To MRS. DUNLOP.
MOSSGIEL, 7_th March_ 1788.
MADAM,--The last paragraph in yours of the 30th February affected me
most; so I shall begin my answer where you ended your letter. That I am
often a sinner with any little wit I have, I do confess; but I have
taxed my recollection to no purpose to find out when it was employed
against you. I hate an ungenerous sarcasm a great deal worse than I do
the devil--at least as Milton describes him; and though I may be
rascally enough to be sometimes guilty of it myself, I cannot endure it
in others. You, my honoured friend, who cannot appear in any light but
you are sure of being respectable--you can afford to pass by an occasion
to display your wit, because you may depend for fame on your sense; or,
if you choose to be silent, you know you can rely on the gratitude of
many, and the esteem of all; but, God help us, who are wits or witlings
by profession, if we stand not for fame there, we sink unsupported!
I am highly flattered by the news you tell me of Coila. I may say to the
fair painter who does me so much honour, as Dr. Beattie says to
Ross, the poet of his muse Scota, from which, by the by, I took the idea
of Coila: ('tis a poem of Beattie's in the Scottish dialect, which,
perhaps, you have never seen):--
Ye shak your head, but o' my fegs,
Ye've set auld Scota on her legs;
Lang had she lien wi' beffs and flegs,
Bumbaz'd and dizzie,
Her fiddle wanted strings and pegs,
Wae's me, poor hizzie.
[Footnote 60: One of Mrs. Dunlop's daughters was painting a sketch
from the "Coila of the Vision".]
* * * * *
LXXXII--TO MR. WM. NICOL (PERHAPS).
MAUCHLINE, 7_th March_ 1788.
MY DEAR SIR,--My life, since I saw you last, has been one continued
hurry; that savage hospitality which knocks a man down with strong
liquors, is the devil. I have a sore warfare in this world; the devil,
the world, and the flesh, are three formidable foes. The first I
generally try to fly from; the second, alas! generally flies from me;
but the third is my plague, worse than the ten plagues of Egypt.
I have been looking over several farms in this country; one in
particular, in Nithsdale, pleased me so well, that if my offer to the
proprietor is accepted, I shall commence farmer at Whit-Sunday. If
farming do not appear eligible, I shall have recourse to any other
shift; but this to a friend.
I set out for Edinburgh on Monday morning; how long I stay there is
uncertain, but you will know so soon as I can inform you myself. However
I determine, poesy must be laid aside for some time; my mind has been
vitiated with idleness, and it will take a good deal of effort to
habituate it to the routine of business.--I am, my dear Sir, yours
sincerely, R. B.
* * * *
LXXXIII.--To Miss Chalmers.
EDINBURGH, _March_ 14_th_, 1788.
I know, my ever dear friend, that you will be pleased with the news when
I tell you I have at last taken a lease of a farm. Yesternight I
completed a bargain with Mr. Miller, of Dalswinton, for the farm of
Ellisland, on the banks of the Nith, between five and six miles above
Dumfries. I begin at Whit-Sunday to build a house, drive lime, etc., and
Heaven be my help! for it will take a strong effort to bring my mind
into the routine of business. I have discharged all the army of my
former pursuits, fancies, and pleasures--a motley host! and have
literally and strictly retained only the ideas of a few friends, which I
have incorporated into a life-guard. I trust in Dr. Johnson's
observation, "Where much is attempted, something is done." Firmness,
both in sufferance and exertion, is a character I would wish to be
thought to possess: and have always despised the whining yelp of
complaint, and the cowardly, feeble resolve.
Poor Miss K. is ailing a good deal this winter, and begged me to
remember her to you the first time I wrote to you. Surely woman, amiable
woman, is often made in vain. Too delicately formed for the rougher
pursuits of ambition; too noble for the dirt of avarice, and even too
gentle for the rage of pleasure; formed, indeed, for, and highly
susceptible of enjoyment and rapture; but that enjoyment, alas! almost
wholly at the mercy of the caprice, malevolence, stupidity, or
wickedness of an animal at all times comparatively unfeeling, and often
[Footnote 61: Miss Kennedy, sister of Gavin Hamilton. She lived
nearly half a century after this.]
* * * *
THE CLARINDA LETTERS.
NOTE PREFATORY TO THE LETTERS TO CLARINDA.
We have now arrived, in the history of Burns, as his general
correspondence reveals it, at the middle of March 1788. Before the end
of the month he had broken off from Clarinda, and shortly afterwards he
married Jean Armour. The correspondence with Clarinda began in the last
month of 1787, and ran its course in three months. It is now necessary
to go back to the commencement of this correspondence, and to follow it
down to its first conclusion at the point to which his general
correspondence has brought us. It has been thought preferable to take it
Clarinda's maiden name was Agnes Craig. She was the daughter of Mr.
Andrew Craig, who had been a surgeon in Glasgow. Lord Craig of the Court
of Session was her cousin. She was born in the same year as Burns, but
three months later. At the age of seventeen she was married to Mr. James
M'Lehose, a law agent in Glasgow. Incompatibility of temper resulted in
a separation of the unhappy pair five years after their marriage. The
lady went home to her father, and on his death in 1782 removed to
Edinburgh, where she lived independently on a small annuity. Her two
sons lived with her. Her husband meanwhile went out to the West Indies
to push his fortune.
LETTERS TO CLARINDA.
_Thursday Evening_ [_Dec_. 6_th_, 1787].
MADAM,--I had set no small store by my tea-drinking tonight, and have
not often been so disappointed. Saturday evening I shall embrace the
opportunity with the greatest pleasure. I leave this town this day
se'ennight, and, probably, for a couple of twelvemonths; but must ever
regret that I so lately got an acquaintance I shall ever highly esteem,
and in whose welfare I shall ever be warmly interested.
Our worthy common friend, in her usual pleasant way, rallied me a good
deal on my new acquaintance, and in the humour of her ideas I wrote some
lines, which I inclose you, as I think they have a good deal of poetic
merit: and Miss Nimmo tells me you are not only a critic, but a poetess.
Fiction, you know, is the native region of poetry; and I hope you will
pardon my vanity in sending you the bagatelle as a tolerably off-hand
_jeu-d'esprit_. I have several poetic trifles, which I shall gladly
leave with Miss Nimmo, or you, if they were worth house room; as there
are scarcely two people on earth by whom it would mortify me more to be
forgotten, though at the distance of ninescore miles.--I am, Madam, with
the highest respect, your very humble servant,
* * * *
_Saturday Evening, Dec_. 8_th_, 1787.
I can say with truth, Madam, that I never met with a person in my life
whom I more anxiously wished to meet again than yourself. To-night I was
to have had that very great pleasure; I was intoxicated with the idea,
but an unlucky fall from a coach has so bruised one of my knees, that I
can't stir my leg; so if I don't see you again, I shall not rest in my
grave for chagrin. I was vexed to the soul I had not seen you sooner; I
determined to cultivate your friendship with the enthusiasm of religion;
but thus has Fortune ever served me. I cannot bear the idea of leaving
Edinburgh without seeing you. I know not how to account for it--I am
strangely taken with some people, nor am I often mistaken. You are a
stranger to me; but I am an odd being: some yet unnamed feelings,
things, not principles, but better than whims, carry me farther than
boasted reason ever did a philosopher. Farewell! every happiness be
yours! ROBERT BURNS.
* * * *
_Dec_. 12, 1787.
I stretch a point indeed, my dearest Madam, when I answer your card on
the rack of my present agony. Your friendship, Madam! By heavens, I was
never proud before. Your lines, I maintain it, are poetry, and good
poetry; mine were indeed partly fiction and partly a friendship, which,
had I been so blest as to have met with you in time, might have led
me--god of love only knows where. Time is too short for ceremonies. I
swear solemnly, in all the tenor of my former oath, to remember you in
all the pride and warmth of friendship until I cease to be! To-morrow,
and every day till I see you, you shall hear from me. Farewell! May you
enjoy a better night's repose than I am likely to have. R. B.
* * * *
_Thursday, Dec_. 20, 1787.
Your last, my dear Madam, had the effect on me that Job's situation had
on his friends when they sat down seven days and seven nights astonished
and spake not a word. "Pay my addresses to a married woman!" I started
as if I had seen the ghost of him I had injured. I recollected my
expressions; some of them were indeed in the law phrase "habit and
repute," which is being half guilty. I cannot possibly say, Madam,
whether my heart might not have gone astray a little; but I can declare
upon the honour of a poet that the vagrant has wandered unknown to me. I
have a pretty handsome troop of follies of my own, and, like some other
people's, they are but undisciplined blackguards; but the luckless
rascals have something like honour in them--they would not do a
To meet with an unfortunate woman, amiable and young, deserted and
widowed by those who were bound by every tie of duty, nature, and
gratitude to protect, comfort and cherish her; add to all, when she is
perhaps one of the first of lovely forms and noble minds--the mind, too,
that hits one's taste as the joys of Heaven do a saint--should a faint
idea, the natural child of imagination, thoughtfully peep over the
fence--were you, my friend, to sit in judgment, and the poor, airy
straggler brought before you, trembling, self-condemned, with artless
eyes, brimful of contrition, looking wistfully on its judge--you could
not, my dear Madam, condemn the hapless wretch to death without benefit
of clergy? I won't tell you what reply my heart made to your raillery of
seven years, but I will give you what a brother of my trade says on the
The patriarch to gain a wife,
Chaste, beautiful, and young,
Served fourteen years a painful life,
And never thought it long.
O were you to reward such cares,
And life so long would stay,
Not fourteen but four hundred years
Would seem but as a day.
I have written you this scrawl because I have nothing else to do, and
you may sit down and find fault with it, if you have no better way of
consuming your time. But finding fault with the vagaries of a poet's
fancy is much such another business as Xerxes chastising the waves of
My limb now allows me to sit in some peace: to walk I have yet no
prospect of, as I can't mark it to the ground.
I have just now looked over what I have written, and it is such a chaos
of nonsense that I daresay you will throw it into the fire and call me
an idle, stupid fellow; but, whatever you may think of my brains,
believe me to be, with the most sacred respect and heart-felt esteem, my
dear Madam, your humble Servant, ROBT. BURNS.
[Footnote 62: Tom D'Urfey's Songs.]
* * * *
_Friday Evening_, 28_th December_ 1787.
I beg your pardon, my dear "Clarinda," for the fragment scrawl I sent
you yesterday. I really do not know what I wrote. A gentleman, for whose
character, abilities, and critical knowledge I have the highest
veneration, called in just as I had begun the second sentence, and I
would not make the porter wait. I read to my much-respected friend
several of my own bagatelles, and, among others, your lines, which I had
copied out. He began some criticisms on them as on the other pieces,
when I informed him they were the work of a young lady in this town,
which, I assure you, made him stare. My learned friend seriously
protested that he did not believe any young woman in Edinburgh was
capable of such lines; and if you know anything of Professor Gregory,
you will neither doubt of his abilities nor his sincerity. I do love
you, if possible, still better for having so fine a taste and turn for
poesy. I have again gone wrong in my usual unguarded way, but you may
erase the word, and put esteem, respect, or any other tame Dutch
expression you please in its place. I believe there is no holding
converse, or carrying on correspondence, with an amiable woman, much
less a _gloriously amiable fine woman_, without some mixture of that
delicious passion, whose most devoted slave I have more than once had
the honour of being. But why be hurt or offended on that account? Can no
honest man have a prepossession for a fine woman, but he must run his
head against an intrigue? Take a little of the tender witchcraft of
love, and add to it the generous, the honourable sentiments of manly
friendship, and I know but _one_ more delightful morsel, which few, few
in any rank ever taste. Such a composition is like adding cream to
strawberries; it not only gives the fruit a more elegant richness, but
has a deliciousness of its own.
I inclose you a few lines I composed on a late melancholy occasion. I
will not give above five or six copies of it in all, and I should be
hurt if any friend should give any copies without my consent.
You cannot imagine, Clarinda (I like the idea of Arcadian names in a
commerce of this kind), how much store I have set by the hopes of your
future friendship. I do not know if you have a just idea of my
character, but I wish you to see me as _I am_. I am, as most people of
my trade are, a strange Will-o'-Wisp being: the victim, too frequently,
of much imprudence and many follies. My great constituent elements are
_pride_ and _passion_. The first I have endeavoured to humanise into
integrity and honour; the last makes me a devotee to the warmest degree
of enthusiasm, in love, religion, or friendship--either of them, or all
together, as I happen to be inspired. 'Tis true, I never saw you but
once; but how much acquaintance did I form with you in that once? Do not
think I flatter you, or have a design upon you, Clarinda; I have too
much pride for the one, and too little cold contrivance for the other;
but of all God's creatures I ever could approach in the beaten way of my
acquaintance, you struck me with the deepest, the strongest, the most
permanent impression. I say the most permanent, because I know myself
well, and how far I can promise either on my prepossessions or powers.
Why are you unhappy? And why are so many of our fellow-creatures,
unworthy to belong to the same species with you, blest with all they can
wish? You have a hand all benevolent to give-why were you denied the
pleasure? You have a heart formed--gloriously formed--for all the most
refined luxuries of love:-why was that heart ever wrung? O Clarinda!
shall we not meet in a state, some yet unknown state of being, where the
lavish hand of plenty shall minister to the highest wish of benevolence;
and where the chill north-wind of prudence shall never blow over the
flowery fields of enjoyment? If we do not, man was made in vain! I
deserved most of the unhappy hours that have lingered over my head; they
were the wages of my labour: but what unprovoked demon, malignant as
hell, stole upon the confidence of unmistrusting busy Fate, and dashed
your cup of life with undeserved sorrow?
Let me know how long your stay will be out of town; I shall count the
hours till you inform me of your return. Cursed _etiquette_ forbids your
seeing me just now; and so soon as I can walk I must bid Edinburgh
adieu. Lord! why was I born to see misery which I cannot relieve, and to
meet with friends whom I cannot enjoy? I look back with the pang of
unavailing avarice on my loss in not knowing you sooner: all last
winter, these three months past, what luxury of intercourse have I not
lost! Perhaps, though,'twas better for my peace. You see I am either
above, or incapable of dissimulation. I believe it is want of that
particular genius. I despise design, because I want either coolness or
wisdom to be capable of it. I am interrupted. Adieu! my dear Clarinda!
* * * *
_Thursday, Jan_. 3, 1788.
You are right, my dear Clarinda: a friendly correspondence goes for
nothing, except one writes his or her undisguised sentiments. Yours
please me for their instrinsic merit, as well as because they are
_yours_, which I assure you, is to me a high recommendation. Your
religious sentiments, Madam, I revere. If you have, on some suspicious
evidence, from some lying oracle, learned that I despise or ridicule so
sacredly important a matter as real religion, you have, my Clarinda,
much misconstrued your friend. "I am not mad, most noble Festus!" Have
you ever met a perfect character? Do we not sometimes rather exchange
faults, than get rid of them? For instance, I am perhaps tired with, and
shocked at a life too much the prey of giddy inconsistencies and
thoughtless follies; by degrees I grow sober, prudent, and statedly
pious--I say statedly, because the most unaffected devotion is not at
all inconsistent with my first character--I join the world in
congratulating myself on the happy change. But let me pry more narrowly
into this affair. Have I, at bottom, any thing of a sacred pride in
these endowments and emendations? Have I nothing of a presbyterian
sourness, an hypocritical severity, when I survey my less regular
neighbours? In a word, have I missed all those nameless and numberless
modifications of indistinct selfishness, which are so near our own eyes,
that we can scarcely bring them within the sphere of our vision, and
which the known spotless cambric of our character hides from the
My definition of worth is short; truth and humanity respecting our
fellow-creatures; reverence and humility in the presence of that Being,
my Creator and Preserver, and who, I have every reason to believe, will
one day be my Judge. The first part of my definition is the creature of
unbiassed instinct; the last is the child of after reflection. Where I
found these two essentials I would gently note and slightly mention any
attendant flaws--flaws, the marks, the consequences of human nature.
I can easily enter into the sublime pleasures that your strong
imagination and keen sensibility must derive from religion, particularly
if a little in the shade of misfortune; but I own I cannot, without a
marked grudge, see Heaven totally engross so amiable, so charming a
woman, as my friend Clarinda; and should be very well pleased at _a
circumstance_ that would put it in the power of somebody (happy
somebody!) to divide her attention, with all the delicacy and tenderness
of an earthly attachment.
You will not easily persuade me that you have not a grammatical
knowledge of the English language. So far from being inaccurate, you are
elegant beyond any woman of my acquaintance, except one,--whom I
wish you knew.
Your last verses to me have so delighted me, that I have got an
excellent old Scots air that suits the measure, and you shall see them
in print in the Scots _Musical Museum_, a work publishing by a friend of
mine in this town. I want four stanzas, you gave me but three, and one
of them alluded to an expression in my former letter; so I have taken
your two first verses, with a slight alteration in the second, and have
added a third, but you must help me to a fourth. Here they are; the
latter half of the first stanza would have been worthy of Sappho; I am
in raptures with it.
Talk not of Love, it gives me pain,
For Love has been my foe:
He bound me with an iron chain,
And sunk me deep in woe.
But Friendship's pure and lasting joys
My heart was formed to prove:
There welcome, win and wear the prize,
But never talk of Love.
Your friendship much can make me blest,
O why that bliss destroy!
Why urge the odious one request,
You know I must deny.
The alteration in the second stanza is no improvement, but there was a
slight inaccuracy in your rhyme. The third I only offer to your choice,
and have left two words for your determination. The air is "The banks of
Spey," and is most beautiful.
To-morrow evening I intend taking a chair, and paying a visit at Park
Place to a much-valued old friend. If I could be sure of finding you
at home (and I will send one of the chairmen to call), I would spend
from five to six o'clock with you, as I go past. I cannot do more at
this time, as I have something on my hand that hurries me much. I
propose giving you the first call, my old friend the second, and Miss
Nimmo as I return home. Do not break any engagement for me, as I will
spend another evening with you at any rate before I leave town.
Do not tell me that you are pleased, when your friends inform you of
your faults. I am ignorant what they are; but I am sure they must be
such evanescent trifles, compared with your personal and mental
accomplishments, that I would despise the ungenerous narrow soul, who
would notice any shadow of imperfections you may seem to have, any other
way than in the most delicate agreeable raillery. Coarse minds are not
aware how much they injure the keenly feeling tie of bosom friendship,
when, in their foolish officiousness, they mention what nobody cares for
recollecting. People of nice sensibility, and generous minds, have a
certain intrinsic dignity, that fires at being trifled with, or lowered,
or even too nearly approached.
You need make no apology for long letters; I am even with you. Many
happy new years to you, charming Clarinda! I can't dissemble, were it to
shun perdition. He who sees you as I have done, and does not love you,
deserves to be damn'd for his stupidity! He who loves you, and would
injure you, deserves to be doubly damn'd for his villany! Adieu.
P.S. What would you think of this for a fourth stanza?
Your thought, if love must harbour there,
Conceal it in that thought,
Nor cause me from my bosom tear
The very friend I sought.
[Footnote 63: Probably Mr. Nicol, who lived in Buccleuch Pend, a
short distance from Clarinda's residence.]
* * * * *
_Saturday Noon_ [_5th January_].
Some days, some nights, nay, some _hours_, like the "ten righteous
persons in Sodom," save the rest of the vapid, tiresome, miserable
months and years of life. One of these hours my dear Clarinda blest me
One well-spent hour,
In such a tender circumstance for friends,
Is better than an age of common time!
My favourite feature in Milton's Satan is his manly fortitude in
supporting what cannot be remedied--in short, the wild broken fragments
of a noble exalted mind in ruins. I meant no more by saying he was a
favourite hero of mine.
I mentioned to you my letter to Dr. Moore, giving an account of my life:
it is truth, every word of it; and will give you a just idea of the man
whom you have honoured with your friendship. I am afraid you will hardly
be able to make sense of so torn a piece. Your verses I shall muse on,
deliciously, as I gaze on your image in my mind's eye, in my heart's
core: they will be in time enough for a week to come. I am truly happy
your headache is better. O, how can pain or evil be so daringly
unfeeling, cruelly savage, as to wound so noble a mind, so lovely
My little fellow is all my namesake. Write me soon. My every, strongest
good wishes attend you, Clarinda!
I know not what I have written--I am pestered with people around me.
* * * *
_Jan. 8, 1788, Tuesday Night._
I am delighted, charming Clarinda, with your honest enthusiasm for
religion. Those of either sex, but particularly the female, who are
lukewarm in that most important of all things, "O my soul, come not thou
into their secrets!" I feel myself deeply interested in your good
opinion, and will lay before you the outlines of my belief. He who is
our Author and Preserver, and will one day be our Judge, must be (not
for his sake in the way of duty, but from the native impulse of our
hearts), the object of our reverential awe and grateful adoration: He is
Almighty and all-bounteous, we are weak and dependent; hence prayer and
every other sort of devotion. "He is not willing that any should perish,
but that all should come to everlasting life;" consequently it must be
in every one's power to embrace his offer of "everlasting life;"
otherwise he could not, in justice, condemn those who did not. A mind
pervaded, actuated, and governed by purity, truth, and charity, though
it does not merit heaven, yet is an absolute necessary prerequisite,
without which heaven can neither be obtained nor enjoyed; and, by divine
promise, such a mind shall never fail of attaining "everlasting life;"
hence the impure, the deceiving, and the uncharitable extrude themselves
from eternal bliss, by their unfitness for enjoying it. The Supreme
Being has put the immediate administration of all this, for wise and
good ends known to himself, into the hands of Jesus Christ, a great
personage, whose relation to him we cannot comprehend, but whose
relation to us is a guide and Saviour; and who, except for our own
obstinacy and misconduct, will bring us all, through various ways, and
by various means, to bliss at last.
These are my tenets, my lovely friend; and which I think cannot well be
disputed. My creed is pretty nearly expressed in the last clause of
Jamie Dean's grace, an honest weaver in Ayrshire,--"Lord, grant that we
may lead a gude life; for a gude life maks a gude end, at least it
I am flattered by the entertainment you tell me you have found in my
packet. You see me as I have been, you know me as I am, and may guess at
what I am likely to be. I too may say, "Talk not of love," etc., for
indeed he has "plunged me deep in woe!" Not that I ever saw a woman who
pleased unexceptionably, as my Clarinda elegantly says, "in the
companion, the friend, and the mistress." _One_ indeed I could
except--_One_, before passion threw its mists over my discernment, I
knew--_the_ first of women! Her name is indelibly written in my heart's
core--but I dare not look in on it--a degree of agony would be the
consequence. Oh! thou perfidious, cruel, mischief-making demon, who
presidest over that frantic passion--thou mayest, thou dost poison my
peace, but thou shalt not taint my honour. I would not, for a single
moment, give an asylum to the most distant imagination, that would
shadow the faintest outline of a selfish gratification, at the expense
of her whose happiness is twisted with the threads of my existence.--May
she be as happy as she deserves! and if my tenderest, faithfullest
friendship, can add to her bliss, I shall at least have one solid mine
of enjoyment in my bosom! _Don't guess at these ravings_!
I watched at our front window to-day, but was disappointed. It has been
a day of disappointments. I am just risen from a two hours' bout after
supper, with silly or sordid souls, who could relish nothing in common
with me but the Port.--_One!_--Tis now "witching time of night;" and
whatever is out of joint in the foregoing scrawl, impute it to
enchantments and spells; for I can't look over it, but will seal it up
directly, as I don't care for to-morrow's criticisms on it.
You are by this time fast asleep, Clarinda; may good angels attend and
guard you as constantly and faithfully as my good wishes do.
Beauty, which, whether waking or asleep,
Shot forth peculiar graces.
John Milton, I wish thy soul better rest than I expect on my own pillow
to-night! O for a little of the cart-horse part of human nature! Good
night, my dearest Clarinda!
* * * *
_Thursday Noon_, 10_th January_ 1788.
I am certain I saw you, Clarinda; but you don't look to the proper
storey for a poet's lodging--
Where speculation roosted near the sky.
I could almost have thrown myself over for vexation. Why didn't you look
higher? It has spoiled my peace for this day. To be so near my charming
Clarinda; to miss her look while it was searching for me--I am sure the
soul is capable of disease, for mine has convulsed itself into an
You have converted me, Clarinda. (I shall love that name while I live:
there is heavenly music in it.) Booth and Amelia I know well. Your
sentiments on that subject, as they are on every subject, are just and
noble. "To be feelingly alive to kindness, and to unkindness," is a
charming female character.
What I said in my last letter, the powers of fuddling sociality only
know for me. By yours, I understand my good star has been partly in my
horizon, when I got wild in my reveries. Had that evil planet, which has
almost all my life shed its baleful rays on my devoted head, been, as
usual, in my zenith, I had certainly blabbed something that would have
pointed out to you the dear object of my tenderest friendship, and, in
spite of me, something more. Had that fatal information escaped me, and
it was merely chance, or kind stars, that it did not, I had been undone!
You would never have written me, except perhaps _once_ more! O, I could
curse circumstances, and the coarse tie of human laws, which keeps fast
what common sense would loose, and which bars that happiness itself
cannot give--happiness which otherwise Love and Honour would warrant!
But hold--I shall make no more "hair-breadth 'scapes."
My friendship, Clarinda, is a life-rent business. My likings are both
strong and eternal. I told you I had but one male friend: I have but two
female. I should have a third, but she is surrounded by the
blandishments of flattery and courtship. The name I register in my
heart's core is _Peggy Chalmers_. Miss Nimmo can tell you how divine she
is. She is worthy of a place in the same bosom with my Clarinda. That is
the highest compliment I can pay her.
Farewell, Clarinda! Remember
[Footnote 64: See Fielding's _Amelia_.]
* * * *
_Saturday Morning_, 12_th January_.
Your thoughts on religion, Clarinda, shall be welcome. You may perhaps
distrust me, when I say 'tis also my favourite topic; but mine is the
religion of the bosom. I hate the very idea of a controversial divinity;
as I firmly believe, that every honest upright man, of whatever sect,
will be accepted of the Deity. If your verses, as you seem to hint,
contain censure, except you want an occasion to break with me, don't
send them. I have a little infirmity in my disposition, that where I
fondly love, or highly esteem, I cannot bear reproach.
"Reverence thyself" is a sacred maxim, and I wish to cherish it. I think
I told you Lord Bolingbroke's saying to Swift--"Adieu, dear Swift, with
all thy faults I love thee entirely; make an effort to love me with all
mine." A glorious sentiment, and without which there can be no
friendship! I do highly, very highly, esteem you indeed, Clarinda--you
merit it all! Perhaps, too, I scorn dissimulation! I could fondly love
you: judge then what a maddening sting your reproach would be. "O! I
have sins to _Heaven_ but none to _you!_" With what pleasure would I
meet you to-day, but I cannot walk to meet the fly. I hope to be able to
see you on _foot_ about the middle of next week.
I am interrupted--perhaps you are not sorry for it, you will tell
me--but I won't anticipate blame. O Clarinda! did you know how dear to
me is your look of kindness, your smile of approbation! you would not,
either in prose or verse, risk a censorious remark.
Curst be the verse, how well soe'er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe!
* * * *
_Saturday_, _Jan_. 12, 1788.
You talk of weeping, Clarinda! Some involuntary drops wet your lines as
I read them. _Offend me_, my dearest angel! You cannot offend me, you
never offended me! If you had ever given me the least shadow of offence
so pardon me, God, as I forgive Clarinda! I have read yours again; it
has blotted my paper. Though I find your letter has agitated me into a
violent headache, I shall take a chair and be with you about eight. A
friend is to be with us to tea on my account, which hinders me from
coming sooner. Forgive, my dearest Clarinda, my unguarded expressions.
For Heaven's sake, forgive me, or I shall never be able to bear my own
mind. Your unhappy Sylvander.
* * * *
_Monday Evening_, 11 _o'clock_, 14_th January_.
Why have I not heard from you, Clarinda? To-day I expected it; and
before supper when a letter to me was announced, my heart danced with
rapture: but behold, 'twas some fool, who had taken it into his head to
turn poet, and made me an offering of the first-fruits of his nonsense.
"It is not poetry, but prose run mad." Did I ever repeat to you an
epigram I made on a Mr. Elphinstone, who has given a translation of
Martial, a famous Latin poet? The poetry of Elphinstone can only equal
his prose notes. I was sitting in a merchant's shop of my acquaintance,
waiting somebody; he put Elphinstone into my hand, and asked my opinion
of it; I begged leave to write it on a blank leaf, which I did,--
TO MR. ELPHINSTONE.
O thou, whom poesy abhors!
Whom prose has turned out of doors!
Heardst thou yon groan? proceed no further!
'Twas laurel'd Martial calling murther!
I am determined to see you, if at all possible, on Saturday evening.
Next week I must sing--
The night is my departing night,
The morn's the day I maun awa;
There's neither friend nor foe o' mine
But wishes that I were awa!
What I hae done for lack o' wit,
I never, never can reca';
I hope ye're a' my friends as yet,
Gude night, and joy be wi' you a'!
If I could see you sooner, I would be so much the happier; but I would
not purchase the _dearest gratification_ on earth, if it must be at your
expense in worldly censure, far less inward peace!
I shall certainly be ashamed of thus scrawling whole sheets of
incoherence. The only _unity_ (a sad word with poets and critics!) in my
ideas, is CLARINDA. There my heart "reigns and revels."
What art thou, Love? whence are those charms,
That thus thou bear'st an universal rule?
For thee the soldier quits his arms,
The king turns slave, the wise man fool.
In vain we chase thee from the field,
And with cool thoughts resist thy yoke:
Next tide of blood, alas! we yield;
And all those high resolves are broke!
I like to have quotations for every occasion They give one's ideas so
pat, and save one the trouble of finding expression adequate to one's
feelings. I think it is one of the greatest pleasures attending a poetic
genius, that we can give our woes, cares, joys, loves, etc., an embodied
form in verse, which, to me, is ever immediate ease. Goldsmith says
finely of his Muse--
Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe;
Thou foundst me poor at first, and keep'st me so.
My limb has been so well to-day, that I have gone up and down stairs
often without my staff. To-morrow I hope to walk once again on my own
legs to dinner. It is only next street.--Adieu. Sylvander.
[Footnote 65: A native of Edinburgh, and a schoolmaster in London. He
was a friend of Samuel Johnson]
* * * *
_Tuesday Evening_, _Jan_. 15.
That you have faults, my Clarinda, I never doubted; but I knew not where
they existed, and Saturday night made me more in the dark than ever. O
Clarinda! why will you wound my soul, by hinting that last night must
have lessened my opinion of you? True, I was "behind the scenes with
you;" but what did I see? A bosom glowing with honour and benevolence; a
mind ennobled by genius, informed and refined by education and
reflection, and exalted by native religion, genuine as in the climes of
heaven: a heart formed for all the glorious meltings of friendship,
love, and pity. These I saw--I saw the noblest immortal soul creation
ever showed me.
I looked long, my dear Clarinda, for your letter; and am vexed that you
are complaining. I have not caught you so far wrong as in your idea,
that the commerce you have with _one_ friend hurts you, if you cannot
tell every tittle of it to _another_. Why have so injurious a suspicion
of a good God, Clarinda, as to think that Friendship and Love, on the
sacred inviolate principles of Truth, Honour, and Religion! can be
anything else than an object of His divine approbation.
I have mentioned in some of my former scrawls, Saturday evening next. Do
allow me to wait on you that evening. Oh, my angel! how soon must we
part! and when can we meet again! I look forward on the horrid interval
with tearful eyes! What have I lost by not knowing you sooner. I fear, I
fear my acquaintance with you is too short, to make that _lasting_
impression on your heart I could wish.
* * * *
_Saturday Morning_, 19_th Jan_
There is no time, my Clarinda, when the conscious thrilling chords of
Love and Friendship give such delight, as in the pensive hours of what
our favourite Thomson calls, "philosophic melancholy." The sportive
insects, who bask in the sunshine of prosperity; or the worms that
luxuriantly crawl amid their ample wealth of earth, they need no
Clarinda: they would despise Sylvander--if they durst. The family of
Misfortune, a numerous group of brothers and sisters! they need a
resting place to their souls: unnoticed, often condemned by the
world--in some degree, perhaps, condemned by themselves, they feel the
full enjoyment of ardent love, delicate tender endearments, mutual
esteem and mutual reliance.
In this light I have often admired religion. In proportion as we are
wrung with grief, or distracted with anxiety, the ideas of a
compassionate Deity, an Almighty Protector, are doubly dear.
'_Tis this_, my friend, that streaks our morning bright;
'_Tis this_ that gilds the horrors of our night.'
I have been this morning taking a peep through, as Young finely says,
"the dark postern of time long elaps'd;" and, you will easily
guess,'twas a rueful prospect. What a tissue of thoughtlessness,
weakness, and folly! My life reminded me of a ruined temple; what
strength, what proportion in some parts! what unsightly gaps, what
prostrate ruin in others! I kneeled down before the Father of mercies,
and said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and
am no more worthy to be called thy son!" I rose, eased and strengthened.
I despise the superstition of a fanatic, but I love the religion of a
man. "The future," said I to myself, "is still before me;" there let me
on reason build resolve,
That column of true majesty in man!
"I have difficulties many to encounter," said I; "but they are not
absolutely insuperable; and where is firmness of mind shown but in
exertion? mere declamation is bombast rant." Besides, wherever I am, or
in whatever situation I may be--
'Tis nought to me:
Since God is ever present, ever felt,
In the void waste as in the city full;
And where He vital breathes, there must be joy!
_Saturday night--half after Ten_.
What luxury of bliss I was enjoying this time yesternight! My ever
dearest Clarinda, you have stolen away my soul; but you have refined,
you have exalted it; you have given it a stronger sense for virtue, and
a stronger relish for piety. Clarinda, first of your sex, if ever I am
the veriest wretch on earth to forget you, if ever your lovely image is
effaced from my soul,
May I be lost, no eye to weep my end;
And find no earth that's base enough to bury me!
What trifling silliness is the childish fondness of the every-day
children of the world! 'tis the unmeaning toying of the younglings of
the fields and forests; but where Sentiment and Fancy unite their
sweets, where Taste and Delicacy refine, where Wit adds the flavour, and
Good Sense gives strength and spirit to all, what a delicious draught is
the hour of tender endearment! Beauty and Grace, in the arms of Truth
and Honour, in all the luxury of mutual love.
Clarinda, have you ever seen the picture realised? Not in all its very
Last night, Clarinda, but for one slight shade, was the glorious
Look'd gaily smiling on; while rosy Pleasure
Hid young Desire amid her flowery wreath,
And pour'd her cup luxuriant; mantling high,
The sparkling heavenly vintage, Love and Bliss!
Clarinda, when a poet and poetess of Nature's making, two of Nature's
noblest productions! when they drink together of the same cup of Love
and Bliss--attempt not, ye coarser stuff of human nature, profanely to
measure enjoyment ye never can know! Good night, my dear Clarinda!
* * * *
_Sunday Night_, 20_th January_.
The impertinence of fools has joined with a return of an old
indisposition, to make me good for nothing to-day. The paper has lain
before me all this evening, to write to my dear Clarinda, but--
Fools rush'd on fools, as waves succeed to waves.
I cursed them in my soul; they sacrilegiously disturbed my meditations
on her who holds my heart. What a creature is man! A little alarm last
night and to-day, that I am mortal, has made such a revolution on my
spirits! There is no philosophy, no divinity, comes half so home to the
mind. I have no idea of courage that braves heaven. 'Tis the wild
ravings of an imaginary hero in bedlam. I can no more, Clarinda; I can
scarcely hold up my head; but I am happy you do not know it, you would
be so uneasy.
I am, my lovely friend, much better this morning on the whole; but I
have a horrid languor on my spirits.
Sick of the world, and all its joys,
My soul in pining sadness mourns;
Dark scenes of woe my mind employs,
The past and present in their turns.
Have you ever met with a saying of the great, and like wise good Mr.
Locke, author of the famous _Essay on the Human Understanding_? He wrote
a letter to a friend, directing it, "not to be delivered till after my
decease;" it ended thus--"I know you loved me when living, and will
preserve my memory now I am dead. All the use to be made of it is, that
this life affords no solid satisfaction, but in the consciousness of
having done well, and the hopes of another life. Adieu! I leave my best
wishes with you. J. LOCKE."
Clarinda, may I reckon on your friendship for life? I think I may. Thou
Almighty Preserver of men! thy friendship, which hitherto I have too
much neglected, to secure it shall, all the future days and nights of my
life, be my steady care! The idea of my Clarinda follows--
Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise,
Where, mix'd with God's, her lov'd idea lies.
But I fear that inconstancy, the consequent imperfection of human
weakness. Shall I meet with a friendship that defies years of absence,
and the chances and changes of fortune? Perhaps "such things are;" _one
honest_ man[65a] I have great hopes from that way: but who, except a
romance writer, would think on a _love_ that could promise for life, in
spite of distance, absence, chance, and change; and that, too, with
slender hopes of fruition? For my own part, I can say to myself in both
requisitions, "Thou art the man!" I dare, in cool resolve I dare,
declare myself that friend, and that lover. If womankind is capable of
such things, Clarinda is. I trust that she is; and I feel I shall be
miserable if she is not. There is not one virtue which gives worth, or
one sentiment which does honour to the sex, that she does not possess
superior to any woman I ever saw; her exalted mind, aided a little
perhaps by her situation, is, I think, capable of that nobly-romantic
May I see you on Wednesday evening, my dear angel? The next Wednesday
again will, I conjecture, be a hated day to us both. I tremble for
censorious remark, for your sake, but, in extraordinary cases, may not
usual and useful precaution be a little dispensed with? Three evenings,
three swift-winged evenings, with pinions of down, are all the past; I
dare not calculate the future. I shall call at Miss Nimmo's to-morrow
evening;'twill be a farewell call.
I have wrote out my last sheet of paper, so I am reduced to my last
half-sheet. What a strange mysterious faculty is that thing called
imagination! We have no ideas almost at all of another world; but I have
often amused myself with visionary schemes of what happiness might be
enjoyed by small alterations--alterations that we can fully enter into,
in this present state of existence. For instance, suppose you and I,
just as we are at present; the same reasoning powers, sentiments, and
even desires; the same fond curiosity for knowledge and remarking
observation in our minds; and imagine our bodies free from pain, and the
necessary supplies for the wants of nature at all times, and easily,
within our reach: imagine further, that we were set free from the laws
of gravitation, which bind us to this globe, and could at pleasure fly,
without inconvenience, through all the yet unconjectured bounds of
creation, what a life of bliss would we lead, in our mutual pursuit of
virtue and knowledge, and our mutual enjoyment of friendship and love!
I see you laughing at my fairy fancies, and calling me a voluptuous
Mahometan; but I am certain I would be a happy creature, beyond anything
we call bliss here below; nay, it would be a paradise congenial to you
too. Don't you see us, hand in hand, or rather, my arm about your lovely
waist, making our remarks on Sirius, the nearest of the fixed stars; or
surveying a comet, flaming innoxious by us, as we just now would mark
the passing pomp of a travelling monarch; or in a shady bower of Mercury
or Venus, dedicating the hour to love, in mutual converse, relying
honour, and revelling endearment, whilst the most exalted strains of
poesy and harmony would be the ready spontaneous language of our souls!
Devotion is the favourite employment of your heart; so it is of mine:
what incentives then to, and powers for reverence, 'gratitude, faith,
and hope, in all the fervours of adoration and praise to that Being,
whose unsearchable wisdom, power, and goodness, so pervaded, so inspired
every sense and feeling! By this time, I daresay, you will be blessing
the neglect of the maid that leaves me destitute of paper!
[Footnote 65a: Alluding to Captain Brown.]
* * * *
[_Monday_, 21_st Jan_. 1788.]
... I am a discontented ghost, a perturbed spirit. Clarinda, if ever you
forget Sylvander, may you be happy, but he will be miserable. O what a
fool I am in love! What an extraordinary prodigal of affection! Why are
your sex called the tender sex, when I have never met with one who can
repay me in passion? They are either not so rich in love as I am, or
they are niggards where I am lavish.
O Thou, whose I am, and whose are all my ways! Thou seest me here, the
hapless wreck of tides and tempests in my own bosom: do Thou direct to
Thyself that ardent love for which I have so often sought a return in
vain from my fellow-creatures! If Thy goodness has yet such a gift in
store for me as an equal return of affection from her who, Thou knowest,
is dearer to me than life, do Thou bless and hallow our bond of love and
friendship; watch over us in all our outgoings and incomings for good:
and may the tie that unites our hearts be strong and indissoluble as the
thread of man's immortal life!...
I am just going to take your "Blackbird," the sweetest, I am sure,
that ever sung, and prune its wings a little.
[Footnote 66: Her verses, "To a Blackbird Singing."]
* * * *
_Thursday Morning_, 24_th January._
Unlavish Wisdom never works in vain.
I have been tasking my reason, Clarinda, why a woman, who, for native
genius, poignant wit, strength of mind, generous sincerity of soul, and
the sweetest female tenderness, is without a peer, and whose personal
charms have few, very very few parallels, among her sex; why, or how she
should fall to the blessed lot of a poor _hairum scairum_ poet, whom
Fortune had kept for her particular use, to wreak her temper on whenever
she was in ill humour. One time I conjectured, that as Fortune is the
most capricious jade ever known, she may have taken, not a fit of
remorse, but a paroxysm of whim, to raise the poor devil out of the
mire, where he had so often and so conveniently served her as a stepping
stone, and given him the most glorious boon she ever had in her gift,
merely for the maggot's sake, to see how his fool head and his fool
heart will bear it. At other times I was vain enough to think, that
Nature, who has a great deal to say with Fortune, had given the
coquettish goddess some such hint as, "Here is a paragon of female
excellence, whose equal, in all my former compositions, I never was
lucky enough to hit on, and despair of ever doing so again; you have
cast her rather in the shades of life; there is a certain Poet of my
making; among your frolics it would not be amiss to attach him to this
masterpiece of my hand, to give her that immortality among mankind,
which no woman, of any age, ever more deserved, and which few rhymsters
of this age are better able to confer."
_Evening_, 9 _o'clock._
I am here, absolutely unfit to finish my letter--pretty hearty after a
bowl, which has been constantly plied since dinner till this moment. I
have been with Mr. Schetki, the musician, and he has set it[66a]
finely.----I have no distinct ideas of anything, but that I have drunk
your health twice to-night, and that you are all my soul holds dear in
[Footnote 66a: "Clarinda, Mistress of my Soul, etc."--See Poems.]
* * * *
[_Friday, Jan_. 25.]
Clarinda, my life, you have wounded my soul. Can I think of your being
unhappy, even though it be not described in your pathetic elegance of
language, without being miserable? Clarinda, can I bear to be told from
you that you "will not see me to-morrow night"--that you "wish the hour
of parting were come?" Do not let us impose on ourselves by sounds. If
in the moment of tender endearment I perhaps trespassed against the
letter of decorum's law I appeal even to you whether I ever sinned in
the very least degree against the spirit of her strictest statute. But
why, my love, talk to me in such strong terms?--every word of which cuts
me to the very soul. You know a hint, the slightest signification of
your wish is to me a sacred command. Be reconciled, my angel, to your
God, yourself, and me: and I pledge you Sylvander's honour--an oath I
daresay you will trust without reserve--that you shall never more have
reason to complain of his conduct. Now, my love, do not wound our next
meeting with any averted looks or restrained caresses. I have marked the
line of conduct, a line I know exactly to your taste, and which I will
inviolably keep; but do not you shew the least inclination to make
boundaries. Seeming distrust where you know you may confide is a cruel
sin against sensibility. "Delicacy, you know, it was, which won me to
you at once--take care you do not loosen the dearest, most sacred tie
that unites us." Clarinda, I would not have stung _your_ soul, I would
not have bruised _your_ spirit, as that harsh, crucifying _"Take Care"_
did mine--no, not to have gained Heaven! Let me again appeal to your
dear self, if Sylvander, even when he seemingly half-transgressed the
laws of decorum, if he did not shew more chastened trembling, faltering
delicacy than the many of the world do in keeping these laws?
O Love and Sensibility, ye have conspired against my peace! I love to
madness and I feel to torture! Clarinda, how can I forgive myself that I
have ever touched a single chord in your bosom with pain! Would I do it
willingly? Would any consideration, any gratification make me do so? Oh,
did you love like me, you would not, you could not, deny or put off a
meeting with the man who adores you--who would die a thousand deaths
before he would injure you; and who must soon bid you a long farewell!
I had proposed bringing my bosom friend, Mr. Ainslie, to-morrow evening
at his strong request to see you, as he has only time to stay with us
about ten minutes for an engagement. But I shall hear from you--this
afternoon, for mercy's sake! for till I hear from you I am wretched. O
Clarinda, the tie that binds me to thee is intwisted, incorporated with
my dearest threads of life!
* * * *
[_Sat_., 26 _Jan_.]
I was on the way, _my Love_, to meet you (I never do things by halves),
when I got your card. Mr. Ainslie goes out of town to-morrow morning, to
see a brother of his who is newly arrived from France. I am determined
that he and I shall call on you together; so, look you, lest I should
never see to-morrow, we will call on you to-night; Mary and you may put
off tea till about seven; at which time, in the Galloway phrase, "an the
beast be to the fore, and the branks bide hale," expect the humblest of
your humble servants, and his dearest friend. We propose staying only
half-an-hour, "for ought we ken." I could suffer the lash of misery
eleven months in the year, were the twelfth to be composed of hours like
yesternight. You are the soul of my enjoyment: all else is of the stuff
of stocks and stones.
* * * *
_Sunday Noon, Jan_. 27_th_.
I have almost given up the excise idea. I have been just now to wait on
a great person, Miss----'s friend, ----. Why will great people not only
deafen us with the din of their equipage, and dazzle us with their
fastidious pomp, but they must also be so very dictatorially wise? I
have been questioned like a child about my matters, and blamed and
schooled for my inscription on Stirling window. Come Clarinda-Come!
curse me Jacob, and come defy me Israel!
I have been with Miss Nimmo; she is indeed a good soul, as my Clarinda
finely says. She has reconciled me in a good measure to the world with
her friendly prattle.
Schetki has sent me the song set to a fine air of his composing. I have
called the song "Clarinda." I have carried it about in my pocket and
hummed it over all day.
If my prayers have any weight in heaven, this morning looks in on you
and finds you in the arms of Peace, except where it is charmingly
interrupted by the ardours of devotion. I find so much serenity of soul,
so much positive pleasure, so much fearless daring toward the world when
I warm in devotion, or feel the glorious sensation of a consciousness of
Almighty friendship, that I am sure I shall soon be an honest
How are Thy Servants blest, O Lord,
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