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“ The warblers around me seem proud to repeat
The wild notes that gave rapture to him ;
Have their birth from the one of his theme;
That it caught Robin's ear every day ;
Can but sigh that their minstrel’s away!" My arrival in Mossgiel farm-yard was announced by a demonstrative collie dog, whose“ bow-wows” not only startled but caused me to think seriously about taking to my heels. Finding, however, that it kept at a respectful distance, I ventured forward, and as unconcernedly as possible addressed a sturdy servant girl and enquired for her master. Just bide ye a wee, sir," said she, when she had left off scolding the guardian of the steading for kicking up suo a row, I'll find him for you.” Off she went on her mission, and left me to watch the dog and the dog to watch me, but he proved a good-natured brute and offered no further molestation. The dwelling-house is a substantial two-storeyed slated building, and bears no resemblance whatever to “the auld clay biggin' which rises before the mind's eye when perusing “The Vision,” while the offices which form an angle round the paved court are all modern and roofed in the same manner. The master soon made his appearance, and, in answer to my request, led the way into the house and began to show the little about the place which is associated with the poet's name. “ This," said he, as he opened the door of a neatly-furnished room, “ is 'the spence, but the roof, as you will observe, is heightened, and the set-in beds which occnpied the apartment when the Poet lived here are torn out.” Yes, torn out and the place spoiled, thought I, but nevertheless I felt gratified to stand within the walls which had sheltered the most wonderful peasant that ever lived.
On the walls the original copy of “The Lass o' Ballochmyle,” and the letter which accompanied it, hang in separate frames, having been kindly placed there by the late Boyd Alexander, Esq. of Ballochmyle, for the inspection of visitors. The documents are somewhat faded and aged looking, but the bold vigorous writing of the poet is still legible, and almost as clear as it was when it left his pen. On the table lay a bulky visitors' book, which I was informed might have been filled over and over again had a
tithe of the pilgrims recorded their names.
The first entry is dated “August 30, 1872," and is as follows:—“W. H. Glen, Melbourne, Australia, and Mrs W. H. Glen, Melbourne, Australia--both delighted with Mossgiel and country round.” Not a few are those of persons of distinction, and very many names belong to individuals who have travelled long distances to visit the lone farm steading. After a pleasant chat my cicerone next led me to the front of the house and pointed out a tall neatly-cut hedge, which the poet had planted with his own hands, and afterwards the fields wherein he turned up the "wee sleekit, cow'rin', timorous beastie's” nest, and turned down the “modest crimson-tipped flower” with the plough. These fields adjoin each other, and are in much the same condition as they were when the poet traversed them. An old man named John Blane, who had served in Mossgiel when a boy, told Robert Chambers that he had a distinct recollection of the mouse's nest. “Burns was holding the plough, with Blane for his driver, when the little creature was observed running off across the field. Blane, having the pettle, or plough-cleaning utensil, in his hand at the moment, was thoughtlessly running after it to kill it, when Burns checked him, but not angrily, asking what ill the poor mouse had ever done him. The poet then seemed to his driver to turn very thoughtful, and during the remainder of the afternoon he spoke not. In the night-time he awoke Blane, who slept with him, and reading the poem which had in the meantime been composed, asked what he thought of the mouse now.'
The incident was trivial, but it formed the groundwork of a beautiful and interesting poem, and evidenced his tenderness of heart : he saw in the smallest of all quadrupeds an 66 earthborn companion and fellow-mortal,” and felt equally for a pet ewe, an auld mare, and a wounded limping hare.
The lines to “ The Daisy ” were composed while the poet was ploughing, but I am not aware of any anecdote associated with the incident. “ These two poems,” says a celebrated writer, “ derive additional interest from the attitude in which the poet is himself presented to our view. We behold him engaged in the labours of the field, and moving in his humble sphere with all the dignity of honest independence and conscious genius."
The view from the height on which the farm-steading
stands is well described by William Wordsworth in the following sonnet :
« « There,' said a stripling, pointing with much pride,
Is Mossgiel farm ; and that's the very field
The tender charm of poetry and love." Mossgiel possesses very many interesting associations, but the only thing pertaining to the original steading is the walls. When they were heightened and repaired, every scrap of wood about the roof and floor was purchased by a boxmaking firm in Mauchline and converted into fancy ornaments, “ warranted from the farm of Mossgiel.” When the Burns family dwelt in it, it was a simple thatched cottage of one storey, which afforded the limited accommodation of a room and kitchen and a small garret which was reached by a trap stair. It contained a bed and a small table, which stood under a sloping window in the roof, and there Burns committed to paper the verses he composed during the day. John Blane, the gaudsman or driver already referred to shared the bed with the poet, and in after years told of his services to him in amorous nocturnal visits to farm steadings, and how he was often roused from sleep to listen to newly-composed poems. These effusions were stored in a little drawer, and Chambers relates that the poet's young sister orten stole up after he had gone out to his afternoon labour to search it for verses he had just written off.
“When my father's affairs grew near a crisis," says the stolid, worldly-wise Gilbert in his memoir of the Poet, “ Robert and I took the farm of Mossgiel, consisting of 118 acres, at the rent of £90 per annum (the farm on which I live at present), from Mr Gavin Hamilton, as an asylum for the family in case of the worst. It was stocked by the property and individual savings of the whole family, and was a
joint concern amongst us. Every member of the family was allowed ordinary wages for the labour he performed on the farm. My brother's allowance and mine was seven pounds per annum each, and during the whole time this family concern lasted, which was four years, as well as during the preceding period at Lochlea, his expenses never in any one year exceeded his slender income. As I was entrusted with the keeping of the family accounts, it is not possible that there can be any fallacy in this statement in my brother's favour. His temperance and frugality were everything that could be wished." Really! and so they might, for whatever charges may be brought against the poet, his bitterest traducer cannot add that of extravagance to the list. Seven pounds a year! Egad, the sum is barely sufficient now-a-days to keep some of our young men in pipes and tobacco.
The room, or spence" as it was termed, was the scene of “ The Vision.” To its seclusion the bard often withdrew of an evening when tired with “the thresher's weary flingintree." “Ben i' the spence right pensivelie,
I gaed to rest.”
The auld clay biggin’;
About the riggin'.
I backward mused on wasted time ;
And done nae thing,
For fools to sing.
“When, click! the string the sneck did draw,
And jee! the door gaed to the wa',
Now bleezing bright,
Come full in sight.
“ With musing deep, astonished stare,
I viewed the heavenly-seeming fair,
A whispering throb did witness bear
Of kindred sweet,
She did me greet.
In me thy native muse regard !
Thus poorly low !
As we bestow..
" • And wear thou this,' she solemn said,
And bound the holly round my head;
Did rustling play,
In light away.' His father's death and parting words seem to have made a deep impression on the poet's heart. When he entered Mossgiel he did so with the determination of becoming wise. He read farming books, calculated crops, attended markets, and believed that “in spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil” he would succeed ; but alas ! the first year he purchased bad seed and the second lost half his crops by inclement weather and a late harvest. Things were trying enough, but when they were at their worst he solaced himself with song, and laid the foundation of his fame by composing the very cream of his poetry
The four years the bard spent on this farm may be considered the most eventful of his chequered career. What agony of mind, what cares, troubles, and disappointments he experienced in the brief period, and what scenes of social enjoyments and literary triumphs he passed through! From obscurity he rose to fame, and from abject poverty to comparative affluence—an affluence, however, of short duration.
After lingering about the celebrated and now classic spot, and gazing upon some stately plane trees beneath which the poet loved to recline, I took leave of my cicerone, and in passing the front of the house plucked a sprig from off the thorn hedge and carried it away as a keepsake. It lies on my desk withered and dry, but serves as a memento of a visit to the farm wherein Burns composed his keenest satires and