Page images









The name of Wallace appears to be greatly revered by the people of Ayr, for a little above Kirk Port

, at the corner of a lane leading to the Ducat stream-as a ford referred to in • The Brigs of Ayr” is termed—there is a handsome Gothic tower one hundred and thirteen feet high to his memory. It is a striking object; but the lank, ungainly figure of the hero, peering from a nicbe in its front, is a decided failure as a work of art, for it has a closer resemblance to an inebriated individual assunuing a sober appearance than to the burly wight who

“Dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride." An old tower, with which several juvenile traditions of Wallace are connected, occupied the site, but in an attempt to repair it the walls gave way, and the whole was removed to ensure the safety of the lieges. It was a rude square block with arrow slits, and possibly was some place of strength in former times, for its situation was close to the site of a port or gate of the town.

That Wallace was imprisoned in it is possible, but there is no authority but oral tradition for the statement.

A short distance above this memorial tower, and on the same side of High Street, an antique thatched-covered public house attracts attention. It is two storeys in height, and has

[ocr errors]

a large oil painting over its doorway, the subject of which is Tam o' Shanter taking leave of his friend, Souter Johnnie. Tam is mounted on his mare Meg, and is gesticulating with his cronie, who, to all appearance, has somewhat more than

a wee drap in his e'e,” while the landlord holds aloft a lantern, and the landlady shelters in the doorway. The daub is good enough in its way, but the following announcement is the bait to lure customers : “ THE HOUSE WHEREIN TAM O' SHANTER AND THE SOUTER HELD THEIR MEETINGS. CHAIRS AND CAUP ARE IN THE HOUSE.” Now, what pilgrim to the land of Burns could resist the temptation of having a bicker of ale in what is stated to be the veritable house wherein "the Souter tauld his queerest stories,” and Tam o' Shanter got "o'er a'the ills o’life victorious?” So it must be confessed that I yielded to temptation and entered, notwithstanding the fact that I have often looked upon relics which had the appearance of having been manufactured to serve the purpose. Being met on the threshold by a courteous, neatly-attired young lady, I was conducted up a narrow staircase, and ushered into a lowroofed oblong apartment in which a merry group of lads and lasses were seated, wbo to all appearance were out for the day.” A reaning measure being placed before me, I began to look round, and was not a little surprised to find the walls literally covered with pictures illustrating scenes in the life and writings of Burns, and also with masonic emblems sufficient to satisfy the most enthusiastic brother of “the mystic tie.” From these my eyes wandered to the far end of the room, where, in a darkened window, stood a life-sized bust of Burns, and before it a small table with a quaint arm chair on each side, with brass plates affixed to their backs bearing quotations from “Tam o' Shanter," and the affirmation that the one was the favourite seat of the redoubtable Tam and the other that of his friend the Souter. There was also a moderately-sized silver-hooped wooden caup out of which the celebrated topers are said to have quaffed the “reaming swats that drank divinely,” which was being merrily pushed about by the company referred to, but not in a selfish manner, for it was handed me, and I had the pleasure of drinking to the memory of Tam and the Souter. In the course of couversation I more than hinted that I was doubtful of the authenticity of the

caup and chairs, but my scepticism being scouted, I took

my departure rejoicing that the genius of Robert Burns exercises such an influence over the hearts of his countrymen that the remotest thing connected with him and his writings commands reverence.

That Burns haà real personages in his eye when he wrote “Tam o' Shanter” has never been disputed, but who the personages were was long a matter of dispute, and, in fact, various individuals have been vain enough to aspire to the dubious honour of being one or other of the leading characters in the poem. However, this identity is now fully established, for it is agreed by all parties that Douglas Graham of Sbanter—a farm between Turnberry and Culzean

- was none other than the redoubtable Tam, and that his “drouthy cronie," Souter Johnny, was a shoemaker named John Davidson who dwelt in the immediate neighbourhood of the Shanter farm. Besides farming, Graham dealt in malt (for publicans brewed their own ale at the period) and to the business of shoemaking Davidson added that of a "dealer in leather.” Being big men in a small way, their avocations brought them very often to Ayr, which then, as now, was the market town, and on such journeys they generally bore each other company. Davidson, after transacting his own business, often accompanied his neighbour, the malster, through his customers, for in every shop where he made a sale he was in the habit of calling a gill for “the good of the house," and to show gratitude for orders received. Having more liquor on these occasions than he could well make use of, there is little wonder

6. That frae November till October

Ae market day he wasna sober,” and was glad of the Souter or any other person to help him to consume it. Now, like all who tipple at the “ barley bree,” Graham had a favourite call-house-a tavern (possibly the one mentioned) at which he regularly put up.

It was kept by a Carrick man named Benjamin Graham, who occasionally shared the good things of his table with them. To make some slight return for this hospitality, Graham and Davidson resolved to have "a nicht o't” at his house, and give him a treat in return. The time appointed arrived, and found the guidman o' Shanter

“ Planted unco richt,
Fast by an ingle, bleezing finely,
Wi' reaming swats, that drank divinely,
And at his elbow Souter Johnny-

His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony.” The social hours winged past, and about “the wee short hour ayont the twal” Graham mounted his mare and started home alone, annid a storm of wind and rain. When crossing Carrick Hills his bonnet blew off, but he was too far gone to recover it, it being as much as he could do to keep on the mare's back. Being “sensible drunk,” however, he noted the place it fell, resolving to return and recover it before people stirred, for in its lining were secreted the bank-notes he had drawn the day before.

Mrs. Graham was of a very superstitious turn of mind, and to account for the loss of his bonnet Tarn trumped up a story about having seen a dance of witches in Alloway Kirk, and of being chased by them to the Bridge of Doon, where, thanks to the mare, he escaped with the loss of his bonnet. That there was a row in the farmhouse of Shanter no one need doubt; but the domestic storm would likely be allayed when the bonnet was found in a whin bush next morning with its contents uninjured.

This, courteous reader, according to Chambers and local authority, is the myth-divested story of Tam o' Shanter. Burns knew Graham, and doubtless heard of the exploit when he resided with his uncle at Ballochneil and attended school at Kirkoswald. Although but nineteen years of age then, he got introduced to the half-farming, half-smuggling class in the district--of whom the guidman o' Shanter was a specimen, and, to use his own words, “Here he first learned to fill his glass and to mix without fear in a drunken squabble.”

Upon leaving the Tam o' Shanter inn I gleefully sped on to the birthplace of Burns, to

“ Gaze on the scenes he loved and sung,

And gather feelings not of earth,

His fields and streams among." What a din there is at the top of the High Street of Ayr on a fine day! Every conceivable vehicle, and every skinful of-bones about the town resembling a horse, seems to be brought into requisition to convey visitors to and from the monument on the banks of Doon. The car-men have quick

6 like a

eyes, and intuitively single out strangers from the passers by,
but to their cry of “ The Monument, the Monument !" I
turned a deaf ear, and strove to get beyond the precincts of
the town as quickly as possible ; for dearer far to me are the
hedge-bordered, foliage-shaded highways and byways of the
open country, than the rattling of wheels and the busy hum
of life in those hives of industry called towns. Gradually
the business portion of Ayr was left behind, and the suburbs
reached. Passing the cattle-market, and on through a toll-
bar, and by several neat villa residences, a gorgeous natural
panorama—which I enjoyed for some time as I strolled along
-burst upon my vision. In the distance, Carrick Hill spread
its brown bosom to the sunshine and formed a most romantic
background to the wood-interspersed scene which lay between
it and the town. The blue waters of the Frith and the
wave-washed isle of Arran in the far distance, and the rugged
margin of the bay sweeping into dim perspective, with the
old castle of Greenan frowning over the surge
monarch, gray and grim,” went to make up a scene of beauty
which was doubly interesting from its historic and poetic
associations. Of course the face of the country and the
characteristics of the locality have undergone a great change
since Burns wrote the glowing piece of descriptive imagery,
but there are sufficient landmarks remaining to indicate the
route pursued by worthy Tam o' Shanter, as he

“Skelpit on through dub and mire,
Despising wind, and rain, and fire ;
Whyles holding fast his guid blue bonnet ;
Whyles crooning o'er some auld Scotch sonnet;
Whyles glow'ring round wi' prudent cares

Lest bogles catch him unawares. At Slaphouse-a neat farm-steading near the wayside--the road makes a gradual descent and passes over a bridge through which a burnie flows as it wimples on its way to the Some 150 yards below the spot the celebrated

Ford, Where in the snaw the chapman smoor’d," is still pointed out and shows that the road Burns had in his mind when penning

- Tam o' Shanter ran in a westerly direction than the present modern and probably more commodious highway. After resting on the parapet of the




« PreviousContinue »