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ROBERT AIKEN EARLY FRIEND OF BURNS.
Mr. Chambers, after mentioning several of the friends of Burns, wrote
“And finally Robert Aiken, perhaps the most sensible “ of all to the charms of divine poesy. This Mr Aiken “to whom Burns has given the immortality of a “ dedication of his “Cotter's Saturday Night” was a
legal practitioner, scottice writer, and also Surveyor of · Taxes in the town of Ayr. Such was his external “position in life; the internal man presents us with
warm affections, a cultivated mind, and a power of eloquence most extraordinary for his place and time.”
He once had occasion at a large party to make a speech in answer to a toast, his uncle, “the Rev. Dr. Dalrymple, being present. He addressed “his venerable relative in such moving terms as to draw "tears from every eye. An Irish officer caught the “infection and looking round upon the company,
wiped his cheeks and said, now can any body tell “me what is the maning of all this? Such was the “man whose notice Burns had attracted.
Can we “wonder that two such men should have speedily “ become attached to each other, all disparity of “ worldly condition notwithstanding. Burns committed “many of his poems to the care of Mr. Aiken, and he “read them to all whom he thought likely to appreciate
them, giving them the benefit of a style of elocution “ which is allowed to have been of wonderful effect. “ Burns himself said · Mr. Aiken read me into fame.'
In February 1786 Burns wrote to Mr. Richmond in Edinburgh from Mossgiel "My chief patron now is Mr. Aiken in Ayr, who is pleased to express great approbation of my works."* TO ROBERT AIKEN, Esq.,
MOSSGIEL, 3rd April, 1786, DEAR SIR,
I received your kind letter with double pleasure on account of the second flattering instance of
Robert Aiken as proprietor of a farm called Whitehill could also sympathize with Burns in agricultural pursuits,
LETTER OF BURNS TO AIKEN. Mrs. C's notice and approbation, I assure you I “ Turn out the brunt side of
shin' as the famous Ramsay of jingling memory says, at such a patroness. Present her my most grateful acknowledgments in your very best manner of telling truth. I have inscribed the following stanza on the blank leaf of Miss More's works :
TO MRS. C—,
ON RECEIVING A WORK OF HANNAH MORE.
Thou flattering mark of friendship kind,
The dear, the beauteous donor !
Does both the sexes honour.
When she selected thee,
But kind still, I mind still
The giver in the gift;
A friend above the Lift.*
My proposals for publishing I am just going to send to the press. I expect to hear from you by the first opportunity.
I am ever dear Sir, yours,
After this he changed the spelling of his name to the orthography common in Ayrshire.
It is to be remembered that between the 3rd and the 17th of April, 1786, was the date of the obnoxious letter said to have been sent to Mr. Ballantine.
BURNS EXPECTING EXILE.
On the 30th of july in that year, Burns wrote to his friend Mr. Richmond, “my hour is come--you and I “ will never meet in Britain more. I have orders “ within three weeks at farthest to repair aboard the
Nancy, Captain Smith, from Clyde to Jamaica, and "to call at Antigua-I write in a moment of rage,
reflecting on my miserable situation, exiled, abandoned, forlorn."
The proposals for publishing his poems by subscription referred to in the letter, on which Cunningham founded his mistaken theory, were dated 14th of April, 1786; and on the 31st of July, the first, or Kilmarnock edition of the poems appeared, published for Burns himself, and containing the “Cotter's Saturday Night,” with its dedication “to his loved and honoured, much respected friend." He did not write quondam friend in that or any future publication of his works, and he was not given to flattery or hypocrisy.
About this time he wrote a farewell,—the last stanza of which is :
What bursting anguish tears my heart !
Thou weeping answerest no !
I for thy sake must go;
Wafts me from the dear shore !
I'll never see thee more!
Mr. Chambers writes during August the poet seems “ to have been busied collecting the money for his
poems. In all the principal towns of his own district “ he had friends who had exerted themselves in
AIKEN'S ZEALOUS FRIENDSHIP.
“procuring subscribers, and who were now drawing
money on his behalf. His friend Aiken had been “ the medium for distributing no fewer than a hundred “and forty five copies, being nearly a fourth of the “ whole impression."
“In these circumstances (and in September) his 'generous friends Aiken and Hamilton took some “ trouble to ascertain if there was not a chance for "securing an appointment in the excise."
The publication and sale of his poems thus encouraged and promoted, was the first thing to give him hope when in despair, to bring other friends and admirers to his aid, to send him to Edinburgh on the road to fame, instead of to the West Indies, as a ruined exile. From Edinburgh he wrote to Mr. Hamilton thus cheerily.
“TO GAVIN HAMILTON, Esq.,
“Edinburgh, Dec. 7th, 1786. “For my own affairs, I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas â Kempis or John Bunyan; “and you may expect henceforth to see my birth-day “inserted among the wonderful events, in the Poor 'Robin's and Aberdeen Almanacks, along with the “black Monday, and the battle of Bothwell bridge.
My Lord Glencairn and the Dean of Faculty, Mr H.
Erskine, have taken me under their wing; and by “all probability I shall soon be the tenth worthy, and “the eighth wise man of the world. Through my “lord's influence it is inserted in the records of the “ Caledonian Hunt, that they universally, one and all, “ subscribe for the second edition.—My subscription “ bills come out to-morrow, and you shall have some “ of them next post.—I have met in Mr. Dalrymple, of
Orangefield, what Solomon emphatically calls ‘A “ friend that sticketh closer than a brother.'- The “ warmth with which he interests himself in my affairs “is of the same enthusiastic kind which you, Mr. Aiken,
LETTERS OF BURNS TO BALLANTINE.
“and the few patrons that took notice of my earlier “poetic days showed for the poor unlucky devil of a
Five days later he wrote
“To JOHN BALLANTINE Esq., BANKER, AYR,
Edinburgh, 12th December, 1786. “I have found a worthy, warm friend in Mr. “Dalrymple of Orangefield, who introduced me to “Lord Glencairn, a man whose worth and brotherly “kindness I shall ever remember. By his interest it “ is passed in the Caledonian Hunt and entered in “their books, that they are to take each a copy of the “ second edition for which they are to pay one guinea. “ I have been introduced to a good many of the noblesse, " but my avowed patrons and patronesses are the “Duchess of Gordon, the Countess of Glencairn, with “my Lord and Lady Betty (Cunningham, a sister of “ the Earl) the Dean of Faculty, and Sir John White“ ford. I have likewise warm friends among the literati, “ Professors Stewart, Blair, and Mr. Mackenzie “the ‘Man of Feeling.. He states that Mr. Patrick “ Miller had anonymously sent him ten guineas “I
am nearly agreed with Creech to print my book and “I suppose I will begin on Monday. I will send a
subscription bill or two next post, when I intend “writing to my first kind patron Mr. Aiken. I saw his son to day and he is well.”
On 14th January 1787, he wrote again to Mr. Ballantine about the progress of the new edition, and a conversation with Mr. Patrick Miller as to the lease of Ellisland, concluding “My best good wishes to Mr. Aiken.”
The above quotations fully confirm the statements in his daughter's letter, whose knowledge from living with her father, and whose accuracy and strict regard to truth, render them worthy of all credit. And even in the absence of the lost correspondence, the fact that her collection of the poems of Burns was so numerous,