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An' ye have laid nae tax on misses;
And now, remember, Mr. Aiken,
This list wi' my ain han' I wrote it,
ROBERT BURNS. Mossgiel, February 22nd, 1786.
* Vide the notes on “ the Poet's welcome to his illegitimate child."
* Burns says, “As the authentic prose history of the Whistle is curious, I shall here give it. - In the train of Anne of Denmark, when she came to Scotland with our James the Sixth, there came over also a Danish gentleman of gigantic stature and great prowess, and a matchless champion of Bacchus. He had a little ebony Whistle, which at the commencement of the orgies he laid on the table; and whoever was last able to blow it, everybody else being disabled by the potency of the bottle, was to carry off the Whistle as a trophy of victory.—The Dane produced credentials of his victories, without a single defeat, at the courts of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Moscow, Warsaw, and several of the petty courts in Germany; and challenged the Scots Bacchanalians to the alternative of trying his prowess, or else of acknowledging their inferiority.-After many overthrows on the part of the Scots, the Dane was encountered by Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton, ancestor of the present worthy Baronet of that name: who, after three days and three nights' hard contest, left the Scandinavian under the table,
“And blew on the Whistle his requiem shrill.” Sir Walter, son to Sir Robert before mentioned, afterwards lost the Whistle to Walter Riddel of Glenriddel, who had married a sister of Sir Walter's.-On Friday, the 16th October, 1790, at Friars-Carse, the Whistle was once more contended for, as related in the ballad, by the present Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton; Robert Riddel, Esq. of Glenriddel, lineal descendant and representative of Walter Riddel, who won the Whistle, and in whose family it had continued; and Alexander Ferguson, Esq. of Craigdarroch, likewise de
Old Loda,* still rueing the arm of Fingal,
scended of the great Sir Robert; which last gentleman carried off the hard-won honours of the field. R. B.”
The preceding note states that the contest occurred on the 16th October, 1790; but it is evident from a letter written by Burns to Captain Riddel, from Ellisland, on the same day in the preceding year, that it was then intended to take place.
“ Big with the idea of this important day at Friars-Carse, I have watched the elements and skies in the full persuasion that they would announce it to the astonished world by some phenomena of terrific portent,” &c. . . “The elements however seem to take the matter very quietly; they did not even usher in this morning with triple suns and a shower of blood, symbolical of the three potent heroes and the mighty claret-shed of the day. For me, as Thomson says, I shall 'hear astonished, and astonished sing,'
“ The Whistle and the man I sing,
The man that won the Whistle,” &c.
“Here are we met, three merry boys,” &c. He concluded by wishing that his correspondent's “head may be crowned with laurels to-night, and free from aches to-morrow.”
Mr. Allan Cunningham says the Bard appears to have prepared himself for a contest which did not take place until a year afterwards; and that the Whistle was contended for on the 16th October, 1790, “in the dining-room of Friars-Carse in Burns' presence, who drank bottle and bottle with the competitors, and seemed disposed to take up the conqueror.” As Burns was living within a very short distance of Friars-Carse, it is singular he should have been ignorant of the postponement of the contest, on the very morning of the day on which it was to occur. That some mistake exists on this point, is evident from the note which the Poet has prefixed to the Ballad, for he there says the Whistle was contended for on Friday, the 16th of October, 1790; whereas, in 1789, the 16th October fell on a Friday, but in 1790 it happened on Saturday. It is most probable that the Ballad was written in 1789, even if the contest itself did not occur until the following year.
* See Ossian's Caric-thura. R. B.
“ This Whistle's your challenge, in Scotland get
“ o'er, “ And drink them to hell, Sir, or ne'er see me
Old poets have sung, and old chronicles tell,
Till Robert, the lord of the Cairn and the Scaur,
Thus Robert, victorious, the trophy has gain'd, Which now in his house has for ages remain'd; Till three noble chieftains, and all of his blood, The jovial contest again have renew'd.
Three joyous good fellows, with hearts clear of
flaw; Craigdarroch, so famous for wit, worth, and law; And trusty Glenriddel, so skill'd in old coins; And gallant Sir Robert, deep-read in old wines.
Craigdarroch began with a tongue smooth as oil,
. By the gods of the ancients !' Glenriddel replies, * Before I surrender so glorious a prize,
I'll conjure the ghost of the great Rorie More,* And bumper his horn with him twenty times o’er.'
Sir Robert, a soldier, no speech would pretend, But he ne'er turn’d his back on his foe—or his friend, Said, toss down the Whistle, the prize of the field, And knee-deep in claret, he'd die ere he'd yield.
To the board of Glenriddel our heroes repair,
fame, Than the sense, wit, and taste of a sweet lovely
dame. A bard was selected to witness the fray, And tell future ages the feats of the day; A bard who detested all sadness and spleen, And wish'd that Parnassus a vineyard had been.
The dinner being over, the claret they ply,
Gay Pleasure ran riot as bumpers ran o'er;
Six bottles a-piece had well wore out the night, When gallant Sir Robert, to finish the fight,
* See Johnson's Tour to the Hebrides. R. B.