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visitors passing in and out, and at the number who lovingly lingered “ower a wee drappie o't.” By a side glance I noticed that the room I first entered was full, and that while stentorian voices sang “There was a lad was born in Kyle,” “Drink gaed round in cogs and caups Among the forms and benches; And cheese and bread frae women's laps Was dealt about in lunches And dauds that day.”
My thoughts and opinions are of little consequence, but I must give expression to them in this instance. A mausoleum in St. Michael's Churchyard, Dumfries, has been reared to the memory of our national poet, as also statues in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and America, not to speak of the beautiful monuments on the banks of the Doon and at Kilmarnock. All this has been done by the liberality of his countrymen, but why the cot wherein he first drew the breath of life has not been rescued and raised to something better than a road-side public house I know not. Englishmen have done for Shakespere what Scotchmen have failed to do for Burns—they have saved his birthplace from degradation and secured it not only for the present age but for posterity. Why is this Can the banks of the Avon be considered more sacred than those of “bonnie Doon” and gurgling Ayr Certainly not ; so the sooner the clay biggin' is retrieved from its present position the better, or else people of good taste and feeling will begin to look upon it with disgust. A brief summary of the history of the cottage will form a fitting conclusion to this chapter.
Some time after settling in Ayrshire, William Burness, the poet's father, wooed and won the daughter of a Carrick farmer named Agnes Brown. Before being united to her he leased seven acres of land, and built upon it, with his own hands, a house wherein to lodge his bride. The walls were of clay, and the roof of thatch; but to convey to the reader an accurate description of “the biggin',” it will be as well to quote what Gilbert Burns has said regarding it in a communication to Dr. Currie —“That you may not think too meanly of this house, or my father's taste in building, by supposing the poet's description in the “Vision” (which is entirely a fancy picture) applicable to it, allow me to take notice to you that the house consisted of a kitchen in one end and a room
in the other, with a fireplace and chimney; and that my father had constructed a concealed bed in the kitchen, with a small closet at the end, of the same materials with the house, and when altogether cast over, outside and in, with lime, it had a neat comfortable appearance, such as no family of the same rank, in the present improved style of living, would think themselves ill-lodged in.” To this humble edifice, in December, 1757, William Burness led his bride, and in thirteen months thereafter, within its precincts, Robert Burns their illustrious son was born. When William Burness leased the ground, he did so with the idea of carrying on business as a market gardener, but this he shortly afterwards abandoned, and became gardener on the estate of Doonholm. After an eight years' residence in "the clay biggin',” the worthy man removed with his family to Mount Oliphant, a cold-soiled farm about two miles distant, but after a twelve years' struggle with poverty and a bad bargain, he removed to Lochlea—a more genial farm in the parish of Tarbolton. Either from straitened circumstances or a desire to break his connection with the district of Alloway, he then disposed of the cottage and grounds to the corporation of shoemakers in Ayr for £120, and to them it still belongs. * Since the days of Burns the clay cot has undergone may changes, and, as already stated, is now incorporated with other buildings similar in construction and appearance.
The idea of turning the cottage into a public-house originated in the fertile brain of a person known as
“ Miller Goudie." He was born at Riccarton Mill on the banks of the Irvine, a short distance from Kilmarnock, but at an early age left the paternal roof and settled in Alloway, having obtained employment in the mill of that district. He married a sharp little woman named Flora Hastings, who made good the old adage, that “The grey mare is often the better horse." After their union they started “The sign of the bush small thatched cottage that stood close to the auld brig o' Doon, and continued in it for a long series of years, but about the beginning of the present century, in response to what was to them a lucky idea, they removed their business to Burns cottage, and turned the interest it possesses in the eyes of
* Ils present rental is £110 a year.
travellers into a profitable speculation, and since then it has continued to be a house of entertainment. Flora took care of the cash and managed the business, and left her husband no other duty to perform than that of helping customers to consume surplus liquor. The consequence was that he was seldom or ever sober, and must have been in his wonted state of inebriety when Curran, the Irish orator, visited the cot in 1810. “ We found,” says he in his account of the visit, “the keeper of it tipsy. He pointed to the corner on one side of the fire, and, with a most mul-a-propos laugh, observed—“There is the very spot where Robert Burns was born.' The genius and the fate of the man were already heavy on my heart ; but the drunken laugh of the landlord gave me such a view of the rock on which he foundered, I could not stand it, but burst into tears." Since then full many a sympathetic admirer of the poet's genius has shared the same feelings, and left the place overcome with disgust and shame.
On a lovely July morning in 1818, John Keats, the poet, walked from Maybole to Ayr. As he crossed Carrick hills and came down by the old bridge of Doon, he was fairly enchanted with the scenery; but, alas ! his enthusiasm received a check when he crossed the threshold of the cottage. “ A prophet,” he writes, “is no prophet in his own country. We went to the cottage, and took some whisky. I wrote a sonnet for the mere sake of writing some lines under the roof: they are so bad I cannot transcribe them. The man at the cottage was a great bore with his anecdotes. I hate the rascal. His life consists in fuzy, fuzzy, fuzziest. He drinks glasses, five for the quarter, and twelve for the hour; he is a mahogany-faced old jackass who knew Burns : he ought to have been kicked for having spoken to him. He calls himself ' a curious old but he is a flat old dog. I should like to employ Caleb Vathek to kick him. Oh, the flummary of a birthplace !" “ The Miller” appeared sensibly clear on one point, and that was that he had often seen and conversed with the poet. 6. The last time I saw him," he used to tell,
was whan he cam' through frae Dumfries to tak' his fareweel o here awa.
We met roun' by the auld kirk-yard dyke there, and he was walkin' unco slow an' dowie like. We gaed down to my bit house beside the auld brig an' had just
three gills, but I drank the maist o' them, for he spak' little, an' only askit a question noo an' than about auld ne'bours as he sat wi' his brow restin' on his hand." There was little wonder that the greater portion of the three gills fell to “the miller," for the thoughts that passed through the mind of Burns on the occasion must have been of the most saddening description.
“ The miller" died in 1843, at the advanced age of eighty. His wife survived him a few years. Any reader wishing to see what the old couple looked like may turn up Blackie's edition of Burns, where correct portraits of them will be found in the picture of “ John Anderson my Joe, John.”
The first meeting to celebrate the anniversary of the Poet's birth was held in the cottage on the 25th January, 1801. The Rev. Hamilton Paul, who was present, says :—"The party was small but select, and formed a most interesting group from the circumstance of nearly one half of the company having their names associated with some of the most gratifying particulars in the poet's history. The meeting consisted of the following friends and admirers of their far famed countryman : -William Crawford, Esq. of Doonside, by whose father the father of Burns had been employed in the capacity of a gardener ; John Ballantyne, Esq., to whom Burns addressed *The Twa Brigs ;' Robert Aitken, Esq., to whom he dedicated
The Cottar's Saturday Night ;' Patrick Douglas, Esq. of Garallan, by whose interest he was to bave obtained a situation in Jamaica had he followed out his intention of repairing to that island; Primrose Kennedy, Esq. of Drumellan; Hew Ferguson, Esq., Barrackmaster, Ayr; David Scott, Esq., Banker, Ayr; Thomas Jackson, Esq., LL.D., Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of St. Andrews; and the Rev. Hamilton Paul.” This, the oldest Burns Club, is still in existence, and meets annually in the hall attached to “ The Cottage” to
“ Honour Scotia's Bard,
'Tis his that yields the sweetest charm.” The business carried on in “ the cottage” has changed hands several times since the decease of “Miller Goudie,” but no landlord appears to have thriven by it. One is said to
have shot himself, and another to have cut his throat. The land belonging to it is curtailed to five acres, and a sum of £3000, it is affirmed, has been asked for the whole. Some gentlemen, I am informed, offered £2000 for the house and land, in order that they may be kept in a creditable manner, and that the cottage of the pious father of the “Cottar's Saturday Night” may be saved from further degradation. Unfortunately, they failed to procure it; but I trust the time is not far distant when the classic little property will fall into the hands of some respectable person, instead of being continued as a low public house, the disgust of the neighbourhood and of all strangers visiting a spot hallowed by so many interesting and affecting associations.
[The birthplace of Burns is now (February 1879) in the hands of Mr Thomas Morley, a retired soldier—and very curiously an Englishman--who deserves more than a passing notice, from the circumstance that he took part in the charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, and with the last remnant of that ill-fated squadron under his command cut his way through the Russian lines and rejoined the British forces when the blundering order which almost annihilated his regiment had been fulfilled. Finding that this and other heroic achievements performed by him during the arduous campaign were slightingly passed over by the War Department, he joined the American Army, and during the civil war of that country rose to the post of Captain. When. peace was restored, he returned to this country and became Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Ayrshire Yeomanry Cavalry, and latterly tenant of “The Cottage." Under his judicious management, drink is no longer dispensed within its precincts, but is wholly confined to the adjoining slated house, where all visitors desirous of indulging must consume their potations.]