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Jessie Lewars, the daughter of Mr. John Lewars, supervisor in Dumfries, who resided opposite the poet's dwelling, hovered by his bedside, and attended to his wants like a ministering angel. She was the subject of at least two songs, and even on the bed of death he fancied himself her lover, and wrote the following on the back of a menagerie bill, which his physician handed her upon entering the room :
· Talk not to me of savages
From Afric's burning sun ;
As, Jessie, thou hast done.
A mutual faith to plight,
Would be so blest a sight.” Upon another occasion, when she was attending upon him, he took up a crystal goblet containing wine and water, and wrote on it :
“ Fill me with the rosy wine,
Call a toast-a toast divine ;
Thou hast given a peerless toast.” When she became slightly indisposed, he proffered to write her epitaph, and on another goblet inscribed :
“Say, sages, what's the charm on earth
Can turn Death's dart aside ?
Else Jessie had not died." When she recovered he said there was “a poetic reason for it," and wrote as follows :
“But rarely seen since Nature's birth
The natives of the sky;
For Jessie did not die." In the "memoranda” already quoted, Mrs. Burns states that before his death he was scarce himself for an hour together," that is, his mind wandered. He was aware of this, and told her to touch him, and remind him that be was going wrong. The day before he died, he called very
quickly, and with a hale voice,“ Gilbert, Gilbert !” On the morning of the 21st (July, 1796) the children were brought into the chamber to take a last look of their illustrious parent, “They stood round the bed,” says Chambers, “while calmly and gradually he sank into his last repose.” The eldest son (he was ten years of age) retained a distinct recollection of the scene, and has reported the sad fact that the last words of the bard were a muttered exe cration against the legal agent by whose letter, wittingly or unwittingly, the parting days of Burns had been embittered. These words were very probably uttered while unconscious. On the 25th the remains were removed to the Town Hall preparatory to the funeral, which the Volunteers had resolved to make public and conduct with military honours. On the day following the funeral took place. “A party of the Volunteers, selected to perform the military duty in the churchyard,” says Dr. Currie, “stationed themselves in front of the procession, with their arms reversed ; the main body of the corps surrounded and supported the coffin, on which were placed the hat and sword of their friend and fellowsoldier; the numerous body of attendants ranged themselves in the rear ; while the fencible regiments of infantry and cavalry lined the streets from the Town Hall to the burial ground in the southern churchyard—a distance of more than half a mile. The whole procession moved forward to that sublime and affecting strain of music, “The Dead March in Saul, and three volleys fired over the grave marked the return of Burns to his parent earth. The spectacle was in a high degree grand and solemn, and accorded with the general sentiments of sympathy and sorrow which the occasion called forth.” The same writer adds :—" It was an affecting circumstance that on the morning of the day of her husband's funeral Mrs. Burns was undergoing the pains of labour, and that during the solemn service we have just been describing the posthumous son of our Poet was born.”
Burns had nine children by his Jean-five sons and four daughters. Two of the former and the whole of the latter - died in childhood. The eldest son (Robert), Chambers tells
us, "excited admiration by his general intelligence during his attendance of two sessions at the University of Edinburgh and one at Glasgow." He inherited in no slight degree his father's temperament and poetical taste, and wrote verses, of which the following may serve as a specimen :
“ Hae ye seen, in the calm, dewy morning,
The redbreast wild warbling sae clear,
Surcharg'd wi' mild e'ening's soft tear?
The lassie I lo'e best of a';
I'm mony a lang mile awa'.
Her eye is the eye of the dove,
Her bosom's the palace of love.
Thy beauties ne'er charm me ava;
My heart is wi' her that's awa'.
The sweetest we mortals here know;
O'ercast with the darkness of woe ;
Delights the lone mariner's eye,
And dark billows tumble on high. Mrs. Burns continued to reside in the house which had been hallowed by her husband's presence. She used to relate that shortly after his death she thought he came to her bedside, and, upon drawing the curtains, said—“Are you sleeping ? I have been permitted to return and take one look of you and the child, but I have not time to stay." The vision was so vivid that she started up and ever after thought it a reality. Perhaps it was, for there are many similar occurrences on record which cannot be altogether explained away.
By the proceeds of a public subscription, and the publication of a posthumous edition of her husband's works, Mrs. Burns was enabled to bring up her sons in a creditable way and maintain herself in comfort. Mr. M‘Diarmid of Dumfries states that “hers was one of those well-balanced minds which cling instinctively to propriety and a medium in all things.
In her tastes she was frugal, simple, and pure ; and delighted in music, pictures, and flowers. In Spring and
Summer it was impossible to pass her windows without being struck with the beauty of the floral treasures they contained ; and if extravagant in anything it was in the article of roots and plants of the finest sorts. Fond of the society of young people, she mingled as long as able in their innocent pleasures, and cheerfully filled up for them the cup 'which cheers but not inebriates.' Although neither a sentimentalist nor a • blue stocking,' she was a clever woman, possessed great shrewdness, discriminated character admirably, and frequently made very pithy remarks.” She survived her husband nearly thirty-eight years, and died of paralysis, in the room in which he breathed his last, on the 26th of March, 1834, in the 70th year of her age.
At her death, the household effects were sold by public auction, and no sale ever created such an excitement in Dumfries. People were so anxious to possess relics of the celebrated family that they paid fabulous prices for mere trifles. According to the Dumfries Courier, the auctioneer commenced with small articles, and when he came to a broken copper coffee-pot, there were so many bidders that the price paid exceeded twenty-fold the intrinsic value. A tea kettle of the same metal succeeded and reached £2 sterling. Of the linens, a table-cloth marked 1792, which, speaking commercially, may be worth half-a-crown or five shillings, was knocked down at £5 7s. Many other articles commanded handsome prices, and the older and plainer the furniture the better it sold. The rusty iron top of a shower bath which Mrs Dunlop of Dunlop sent to the Poet when afflicted with rheumatism was bought by a Carlisle gentleman for £1 8s; and a low wooden kitchen chair, on which the late Mrs Burns sat when nursing her children, was run up to £7 33. The crystal and china were much coveted, and brought, in most cases, splendid prices. Even an old fender reached a figure which would go far to buy half-a-dozen new ones, and everything towards the close attracted notice, down to grey-beards, bottles, and a half-worn pair of bellows. The poet's eight-day clock, made by a Mauchline artist, attracted great attention from the circumstance that it had frequently been wound up by his own hand. In a few seconds it was bid up to £15 or guineas, and was finally disposed of for £35. It was understood that the purchaser would have advanced, if necessary, to £60.
Such, reader, are some of the associations of the house in which Burns died. Sorrowfully I lingered on the threshold of the room where the last sad scene in the drama of his life was enacted, and when I took my leave and descended the steps at the front door, I felt as if they were consecrated by the footsteps of him who will tread them no more.
“Rear high thy bleak majestic hills,
Thy shelter'd valleys proudly spread,
And wave thy heaths with blossoms red.
Thy airy height, thy woodland reign,
That ever breathed the soothing strain.”