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This Abbey was founded about 1154, and was at first a convent for Benedictine Nuns, but at the close of the fourteenth century they were expelled by Archibald Earl of Douglas, surnamed the GRI, on account, as it is alleged, of the impurity of their lives. Afterwards it was converted into a collegiate church for a provost and twelve bedesmen, and in that condition it remained till the Reformation. Like sister fabrics it underwent the usual vicissitudes of peaceful and troublous times, increased its proportions under mindful custodiers, and suffered neglect, decay, and dismemberment at the hands of the destructive and the indifferent.
While Burns lived in Dumfries a favourite recreation with him was to stroll along the bank of the Nith in the evening to the ruins of Lincluden Abbey and linger there till the moon rose on the scene.
“ If you would see Melrose aright,
Go view it in the pale moonlight,” says Scott, and doubtless when Lincluden is lit up by
“ The orb of tranquil light, Whose soften'd radiance makes the night
Seem fairer than the day," the scene will not be readily forgotten.
We have an account of one of his visits in the following
“ As I stood by yon roofless tower,
Where the wa’-flower scents the dewy air,
And tells the midnight moon her care.
The stars they shot alang the sky;
And the distant-echoing glens reply.
By heedless chance I turned mine eyes,
And by the moonbeam shook to see
Attired as minstrels wont to be.
His darin' look had daunted me ;
The sacred posy, “Libertie !'
“He sang wi' joy the former day,
He weeping wailed his latter times ;
I winna venture't in my rhymes.” His caution in this instance is commendable. However, he was not so guarded on all occasions, but uttered his political sentiments fearlessly, and in such an open manner that his superiors in the Excise were doubtful of his loyalty and regarded him with suspicion.
With many a glance at the architectural adornments of the old pile, I strolled to the summit of a small wooded hill in its immediate vicinity and rapturously gazed on the beautiful scene it commands. At my feet lay the Abbey, a little beyond it the birch and alder-fringed banks of the limpid Cluden, and gleaming through the trees were the broad waters of the Nith and a vast track of the lovely scenery through which it winds. Little wonder, thought I, that Burns loved to wander here, for most assuredly the surroundings are eminently calculated to invite the footsteps of a poet. Time, however, did not permit me to linger, so, reluctantly withdrawing my gaze, I descended the slope to the bank of the river, and " with measured steps and slow” began to pace the path which the poet loved to traverse. It winds along the verge of a series of fields, and is within the sight and sound of the rushing stream. A pleasant walk brought me to its termination, which, by the by, is neither romantic nor savoury. Passing along a narrow old-fashioned looking street I crossed the New Bridge and entered Dumfries.
- THE OLD BRIDGE GREYFRIARS MONASTERY - THE CASTLE-A HOUSE IN WHICH BURNS LIVED-HIGH STREET THE GLOBE INN AND ITS ASSOCIATIONS-THE HOUSE IN WHICH BURNS DIED.
DUMFRIES is a town of pleasing aspect, its streets being regularly built and its outskirts studded with handsome villas. It possesses a provost, three bailies, and a town council; and its population, including that of Maxweltown
a suburb separated from it by the Nith, but connected by bridges, parliamentary interest, and trade—is 19,500. Formerly it was only notable as a great rural mart and a place of residence for the gentry of the district, but since the Glasgow and South-Western Railway, and the southern section of the Caledonian, have brought it into connection with the entire railway system of the country, its commercial prosperity has been marked, and it is now one of the chief seats of tweed manufacture in Britain. Besides this industry, engineering, ironfounding, basket-making, tanning, and other trades are carried on with great spirit, and afford employment to hundreds of the inhabitants. The river being navigable until within a short distance of the town, an extensive coasting trade is carried on by vessels of a good size, and also a foreign trade, which is chiefly in timber from America. The imports are principally hemp, tallow, coals, iron, tea, and wine ; and the exports cattle, sheep, barley, oats, potatoes, wool, woollen goods, and freestone.
Dumfries contains thirteen places of worship, nine banking establishments, and many really handsome buildings. It also forms the scene of many a border story, and not a few interesting historic incidents; but as a minute account of these would be out of place, I will resume the narrative and merely call the reader's attention to notable objects and places met with in the course of a walk to the grave of him
“ Who lives upon all memories, Though with the buried gone."
Entering Dumfries from the Maxweltown side of the river by the New Bridge one cannot fail to be impressed with the magnificent street in front and the beautiful buildings by which it is lined. Being more intent in this instance, however, on viewing the ancient than the modern portion of Dumfries, I turned into an open space on the bank of the river which leads to the Dock Green, a once favourite pro menade of our poet. The scene, although commonplace, is pleasing. Spanning the river a little below the new is the old bridge, a ponderous old-fashioned narrow structure resembling the Auld Brig o’ Ayr, not only in appearance but from the circumstance that it has withstood the floods and weathered the blasts of six centuries and is now fated to bear no heavier burdens than what may be imposed by occasional pedestrians. Devorgilla, daughter of Allan, Lord of Galloway, and widow of Baliol, Lord of Barnard Castle, has the merit of its erection, and also the founding of a monastery for Grey Friars, which she endowed with the bridge customs.
This institution stood at the top of Friars' Vennel (an antique thoroughfare opposite the bridge), and is historic on account of Bruce having slain Comyn beside its high altar. Near to it was the Castle of Dumfries, a stronghold of great importance which underwent many vicissitudes in the olden time owing to its nearness to the debateable ground between England and Scotland ; but, like its ecclesiastical neighbour, no vestige of it remains, and its site is now occupied by a building dedicated to the worship of God and the brotherhood of man.
After gazing curiously up the vennel, and watching the water of the river as it tumbled over a beautiful weir and churned itself into fleecy foam in its haste, I entered Bank Street, and paused before a humble three-storied tenement near its left corner and read the following on a stone tablet on the front of its second floor “ ROBERT BURNS, THE NATIONAL POET, LIVED IN THIS HOUSE WITH HIS FAMILY ON COMING TO DUMFRIES, FROM ELLISLAND, IN 1791."
Venturing into the low-roofed, causewayed, narrow passage, leading into its interior, I climbed a badly-lighted ricketty stair, and tapped at the front door on the landing, and while I did so, wondered why Burns and his Jean began life anew in such an abode. Receiving no response, I re
newed the tapping, but this time in a more authorative
“She's no' in," said a woman whom I passed in the entry
" Is this the house in which Burns lived ?" said I. “O aye, an' gin ye come doon you'll see the windows,"
he replied, as she led the way and pointed them out. • It was at that ane,” she went on, pointing to the mid one, " that he wrote a lot o' his sangs an' poetry, an' mony a look folk has at it on that account, but mair especially since the stane wi' the readin' on't was put up.” “Do you not think this a very humble dwelling for such a great poet as Burns to have lived in ?" I enquired. 6 There's nae doubt o' that,” she replied, “but ye see Burns was never weel aff, an' had but little to come an' gang wi' when he left Ellisland-hooever, the house is no what ij was when he leeved in't, for it's a' gaun tae wrack for want o' repair.” Chambers states that “the first eighteen months of Burns' life in Dumfries present him occupying a very small dwelling on the first floor of the house in Wee Vennel (now Bank Street). He has three small apartments, each with a window to the street, besides, perhaps, a small kitchen in the rear. The small central room, about the size of a bed closet, is the only place in which he can seclude himself for study. On the groundfloor, immediately underneath, his friend John Syme has his office for the distribution of stamps. Overhead is an honest blacksmith, called George Haugh, whom Burns treats on a familiar footing as a neighbour; on the opposite side of the street is the poet's landlord, Captain Hamilton, a gentleman of fortune and worth, who admires Burns and often asks him to a family Sunday dinner.” While residing in this tenement, Burns composed some of his most popular dities, among which may be enumerated“ The Soldier's Return,' “Duncan Gray,” “ Mickle thinks my love o' my beauty,”
," “ What can a young lassie do wi' an auld man ?" “ Last May a braw wooer cam' doon the lang glen,” “My heart is sair, I daurna tell," "Wandering Willie," “ My wife's a winsome wee thing,
“ Flow gently, sweet Afton, My love is like a red, red rose, “ Scots wha “ Auld Langsyne,
“A man's a man for a' that," and a host of others, which in themselves would have been sufficient to stamp him a lyric poet of the first order. John Syme's office is now that of a grain mill in the vicinity, and