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in which he makes his daughter Maria take farewell of the lovely braes.
Through faded groves Maria sang,
Hersel' in beauty's bloom the while,
Fareweel the braes o’ Ballochmyle.” Those lovely braes were a favourite resort of the poet when residing in the farm of Mossgiel. One July evening, when walking on them, he somewhat suddenly met Miss Alexander. The lady's account of the interview—if interview it can be called--is that she encountered the poet, whom she describes as “a plain-looking man,” musing with his shoulder against one of the trees, and that the evening being far advanced and the grounds forbidden to strangers, she was startled, but recovering herself, passed on and thought no more of the matter. Burns, however, was impressed with the glimpse he got of the beauty, and according to the tradition of the district, remained and composed the song in which her charms are celebrated. The place where he is said to have sat and strung the lovely lyric is only a few paces from the grotto. It is situated at the extreme end of a narrow neck of land, jutting out into the ravine through which the river flows, and is in every way a lovely situation for poet or painter to muse in. A few old trees cluster together, and by their interlaced branches form a kind of bower over “ the seat,” while down below the river joins in chorus with the song of the birds.
When I stood there, I did so with a deep sense of enjoyment to the soft buzzings of the insects around and of the myriads of blue-bells which dyed the dell as they kept nodding in the balmy breeze that swayed their fragile stems. All around was life—fresh, delightful, enjoyable life -and as I stood motionless,
“ The merry, young rabbits came leaping
Over the crest of the hill,
Under the sunlight still.” Some months after the incident, Burns wrote the lady, and in a very beautiful letter asked permission to publish the song he had composed in her honour. He says :-“I had roved out, as chance directed, in the favourite haunts of my
muse on the banks of the Ayr, to view nature in all the gaiety of the vernal year. The evening sun was flaming over the distant western hills; not a breath stirred the crimson opening blossom, or the verdant spreading leaf. It was a golden moment for a poetic heart. I listened to the feathered warblers pouring their harmony on every hand, with a congenial, kindred regard, and frequently turned out of my path lest I should disturb their little songs, or frighten them to another station. Surely,' said I to myself, he must be a wretch indeed, who, regardless of your harmonious endeavours to please him, can eye your elusive flights to discover your secret recesses, and to rob you of all the property nature gives you—your dearest comforts, your helpless nestlings. Even the hoary hawthorn twig that shot across the way, what heart at such a time but must have been interested in its welfare, and wished it preserved from the rudely browsing cattle or the withering eastern blast ? Such was the scene, and such was the hour, when, in a corner of my prospect, I spied one of the fairest pieces of nature's workmanship that ever crowned a poetic landscape or met a poet's eye; those visionary bards excepted who hold commerce with aerial beings! Had Calumny and Villainy taken my walk, they had at that moment sworn eternal peace with such an object. What an hour of inspiration for it poet! It would have raised plain, dull, historic prose into metaphor and measure.
To this letter-of which the above is a portion—the bard received no reply. Dr. Currie says :--"Her modesty might prevent her from perceiving that the muse of Tibullus breathed in this nameless poet, and that her beauty was awakening strains destined to immortality on the banks of the Ayr. It may be conceived also that, supposing the verse duly appreciated, delicacy might find it difficult to express its acknowledegments.” Chambers, on the other hand, says :“The apology now presented by the family for Miss Alexander's conduct is, that she unfortunately fell amongst those who entertained an unfavourable opinion of his character. Feeling it to be necessary to decline yielding to his request, she thought that that resolution would be intimated most delicately towards him, as well as in the manner most agreeable to herself, by simply allowing the letter to remain unanswered. It is easy to enter into the feelings of a sensible
woman of thirty in adopting this course, and even to make some allowance for others not acknowledged, which might cause her to shrink from the acquaintance of a humble tenant of her brother (for Mossgiel now belonged to Mr. Alexander) who, the exercise of an assumed poetic privilege, dared to imagine her as his mistress. However this might be, Miss Alexander and her kindred learned afterwards to think the woods of Ballochmyle classic, and herself immortal through the genius of Burns. On a question occurring many years after as to the disposal of the original manuscript of the song, Miss Alexander said that there could be no dispute on that point : 'wherever she went it must go.'" Miss Alexander died unmarried in 1843, in the eighty-ninth year of her age.
The rustic bower, erected in commemoration of the abrupt meeting, is a neat circular erection with an open front. It contains a row of seats and an oaken board, on which the following is inscribed in fac simile of the poet's handwriting:
“ 'Twas even, the dewy fields were green,
On every blade the pearls hang,
And bore its fragrant sweets alang :
All Nature listening seemed the while,
Amang the braes o' Ballochmyle.
My heart rejoiced in Nature's joy,
A maiden fair I chanced to spy :
Her air like Nature's vernal smile;
passing by, Behold the lass o' Ballochmyle !". After sitting in the bower listening to the music of the woods and holding communion with my thoughts, I rose to depart, but had not taken many steps when I was confronted by a man with a double-barrelled gun under his arm. “Ho," said he, “what are you doing here?" A glance was sufficient to show that I stood face to face with the vigilant head keeper, and that a prompt answer was absolutely necessary. This I made, and drew his attention to the fact that we had met
before. In an instant he was at my service, and proffered to assist me in any way.
Being now an authorised visitor, I took leave of my friend after some pleasant conversation, and commenced the journey to Mauchline railway station. As I moved forward I had an excellent view of the wooded precipitous banks of the Ayr, and of the village of Catrine-a circumstance which brought to mind the fact that it was there that Professor Dugald Stewart, the expositor of the Scottish system of metaphysics, had his residence, and that it was at his table Burns “ dinner'd wi' a lord.” The professor narrates that the manners of the poet on the occasion were “simple, manly, and independent; strongly expressive of conscious genius and worth, but without anything that indicated forwardness, arrogance, or vanity.”
The small but startling incidents of the route added a sort of piquancy to the enjoyment of the scene. At one time I startled a partridge, at another a blackbird, which flew with a sudden flutter and a wild cry from a thicket where its nest
The rustling grass and fern fronds, too, bespoke the sudden flight of rabbits—indeed, numbers of them hurried off in timorous haste at my approach, while almost unconsciously muttering-
" Tell me, fellow-creatures, why
At my presence thus you fly?
Nature's gifts to all are free.” A sudden turn in this secluded walk brought me to a neat foot-bridge which spans a broad macadamised road. Here I paused and listened to a party of homeward-bound excursionists who made the wildwood echoes ring, as with stentorian voices they bade a heart-fond adieu to the lovely scenes they were leaving behind. The words of their song were peculiarly appropriate, and, as the sound of their voices became faint by distance, the following snatch smote my ear :
“ But here, alas ! for me nae mair
Shall birdie charm, or floweret smile ;
Fareweel, fareweel! sweet Ballochmyle !"
the river and near to a vast wall of red sandstone towering from its channel. The scene is most imposing, but why the stream is thus imbedded I am unable to say—possibly the rock has been rent asunder by some great convulsion, or (though very doubtful) the water has worn a passage for itself. Upon descending some steps cut in the rock, I came upon an angler straying along the brink of the water casting and trailing his line in hopes to catch a trout, but, although he tried every artifice, the finny tribe remained shy, and he disappointed. However, it was not for want of fish, for several rose farther down the stream in a dark, deep pool to snap at unwary flies hovering near the glassy surface.
Keeping in the shade of the massive rocks which rise from the river bed, I soon reached the stupendous erection called Ballochmyle Bridge. It makes a gigantic sweep across the ravine through which the Ayr flows, and rises to a height of 184 feet above its channel. It has an imposing appearance, and eclipses everything of the kind in Great Britain in point of magnitude and elegance. Its foundation stone was laid with Masonic honours on the 10th of September, 1846, and the structure was completed in the month of August, 1848. Near it is the celebrated quarry from which the beautiful red sandstone is procured that makes buildings throughout Ayrshire so conspicuous. The stone is worked to a great depth, but its bottom has not been reached, and the supply appears to be as inexhaustible as it was when operations first began.
Beyond the bridge a beautiful path winds along the foot of the verdant precipices and steep descents which line the river bank. Holding along it, I soon reached "the never-failing brook ” which propels the wheel of “ the busy mill," and entered Haugh, a very small village consisting of a group of cottages, an agricultural implement maker's shop, a woollen and a curling stone factory.
Finding nothing here worth a sentence, I enquired my way to Barskimming Bridge, and was directed to a small roadway at the end of the village. Out of it, according to instructions, I entered a stile road or beaten track which winds through a couple of fields. Cattle were browsing in them. approach they lifted their heads and looked at me with long and wary observation ; but being satisfied that my mission