Page images
[blocks in formation]

"as too many are, with merely giving money, although “her considerable income was fully taxed to bear out “the demands of a liberality that never tired, it was in “her personal offices of kindness to the sick, the un

fortunate, and the young and aged poor, that the “principal charm of all her generosity lay. Amongst “many other schemes of benevolence with which she

charged herself (and indeed there was not a charity in Ayr which did not receive her warm support) within a very few years of her decease, she established, sup“ported, and actively presided over a female school, “whose pupils it was her delight to use her influence “ with acquaintances and friends to settle in situations, as domestics or otherwise, where they might virtu"ously practise the instructions they had received. To

many a poor girl she was thus an earthly providence; "and all the merciful acts she did will never be fully “told till that Great Day of Acknowledgment and

Award when to have done it 'to the very least' will “be the noblest guerdon bestowed by Him, to whom

are as dear as Himself Earth's friendless and forlorn. “ All her days devotedly attached to the church

established—the church of her baptism and her “youth—her piety was as free from sectarianism as “from show; her life in the truest of all senses, was “religion, and her end was peace."

She had a life-long, intimate friendship with a widow lady, Mrs. Mair, (née Hunter) whose two sons died early or abroad. After Mr. Aiken's death the two ladies built houses next door to each other, and after her mother's death they parted with them and lived under the same roof, and as in other things, they were also associated in good works. Mrs. Mair did not long survive her beloved friend, and when I went to Ayr to attend my aunt's funeral she gave to me, as had been agreed between them, a handsome service of plate for the breakfast table having this inscription : “ Presented to “Mrs. Mair and Miss Aiken by the first female friendly

society of Ayr, instituted by them in 1800, in testimony

[blocks in formation]

“ of the society's gratitude for their faithful management “ of its funds and affairs during the period of twenty "years, May, 1826."

Her benevolence had its pure and abiding source in a well-balanced, well-cultivated and devout mind, of strong affections, good sense, deep and generous sympathy, superior ability and active administrative power. It began at home in loving, dutiful obedience to her parents, and as they advanced in years, the management of household and other affairs devolved upon her; and in every particular she acted with superior skill, courtesy and kindness. She had more than one offer of marriage, but none that induced her to resign the duties of her happy home. Her second brother John commanded his own ship in the East India trade, and he and one of his cousins, who had a similar occupation, were captured with their ships in time of war by the enemy's cruisers and carried into the Isle of France. He began life again as an Indigo planter but never returned to his native land, and although his sister always corresponded with him, letters from India were then few and far between. An answer to a letter might be looked for in nine or ten months from its date. Her sisterly love, therefore, chiefly but not entirely, found its object in my father and his family. His three sons were under her care while at Ayr academy, and in their mother's absence, her affection, her beautiful and wise direction and example were to us invaluable, and through life we enjoyed her constant love and friendship. In illness her presence was cheering as a sunbeam. Her sympathy, tact, tenderness, ability and benevolence made her the confidant, adviser, friend and helper of many beyond the home circle, among relations and friends, high and low, rich and poor. Thus she was often to be found a “ministering angel” in the house of mourning, supporting and soothing the dying, and the afflicted mourners in their agony of grief. Two such cases among others occurred in my youth.—Mrs. Campbell, wife of Major Campbell,



who having quarrelled with a brother officer in Ireland, fought a fatal duel with him in a room without seconds. The jury found a verdict of wilful murder against Campbell, who was executed. The other instance was a young widow whose husband committed suicide, leaving her to take care of several children and provide for the management of a fine estate. To both these ladies my aunt was a steadfast and most valuable friend, adviser and comforter in their difficulties and sorrow.

An early and constant friend of hers, of warm affections, but also of hot temper, who married a nobleman, was for a time at variance with her own family, to whom she was happily reconciled chiefly by the judicious mediation of Grace Aiken as a peacemaker; and I have reason to believe that there were other such occasions in which her friendly offices were attended with the same happy result.

Mr. John Ballantine, banker, in Ayr, was Provost or Chief-Magistrate at the time the new bridge was built, and Burns dedicated the poem of “The Twa Brigs” to his kind patron, who was a highly honorable and muchrespected gentleman. His estate at Castle Hill was near Ayr, and the house was visible for miles around. He was a friend of my grandfather and his family, whom I often met when a boy, both in Ayr and at his own fine mansion. Having no child, the house and estate, after the death of his widow, were inherited by his nephew James Ballantine, an advocate, a contemporary and a friend of mine, who lived with his mother and sisters before he succeeded to Castle Hill. One summer they had a charming residence near Hawthornden and Roslin Castle, and I had the great enjoyment of spending two or three weeks with them in that classic and beautiful valley, when the woods began to show the tints of autumn. John Ballantine's unmarried sister had a good house in Wellington Square, Ayr. One fine Sunday morning when unavoidably detained at home, as she sat reading at her open window, after the church bells had ceased and there were no sounds of labour, but only the murmur of the waves as they rippled to



the sandy shore, the good lady was disturbed by the loud talk of some young men of the working class planning how they were to spend the sacred day in amusement. Miss Ballantine surprised them by an exhortation to go to church or chapel, and warned them that the neglect to do so led to the breach of other commandments besides the fourth. Having heard her address, the spokesman of the party replied in a loud voice by a quotation from the general assembly's catechism, “No mere man since the fall hath ever kept the commandments.” And after that rejoinder they walked off to their amusement.

In the poem of “The Twa Brigs” is this line :

A female form came from the towers of Stair."

And in the “Epistle to Davie

are these verses :

There's a' the pleasures o' the heart,

The lover and the frien ;
Ye have your Meg, your dearest part,

And I my darling Jean." The Meg of whom David Sillar was enamoured had charge of the children of Mrs. Stewart, of Stair, the wife of General Stewart. Sillar's suit was unsuccessful ; but during the courtship Burns went with him to Stair and there meeting some Ayrshire lasses who could sing Scotch songs,


gave them some of his own to practise. They were shown to Mrs. Stewart who at once discerned their merit, and she was the first lady who patronized him. After her husband's death she removed to herown paternal property of Afton Lodge, near New Cumnock, and not far from Stair and the river Ayr, on which Stair is situated. It is believed that the verses on Afton water were intended for that lady; and Mrs. Fergusson, of Craigdarroch's lamentation on the death of her son, was also sent to Mrs. Stewart, whose only son, Alexander Gordon Stewart, died about the same time at a military academy at Strasburg.



In August, 1786, Burns wrote to Mrs. Stewart :“One feature of your character I shall ever with great * pleasure remember, the reception I got when I had " the honour of waiting on you at Stair. I am little

acquainted with politeness, but I know a good deal

of benevolence of temper, and goodness of heart. “Surely did those in exalted stations know how happy “they could make some classes of their inferiors by “condescension and amiability; they would never stand "so high, measuring out with every look the height of “their elevation, but condescend as sweetly as did Mrs. “ Stewart of Stair."


About twenty-three years after this letter was written I first had the happiness of becoming acquainted with that kind and charming lady, then living at Afton Lodge with her daughters Grace and Anne, and her grandson William Cunninghame, younger, of Enterkine and Anbank, now William Allason Cunninghame, Esq., of Logan House. My younger brother and myself with our grandmother and aunt were invited for a long visit during our autumn holiday. It was followed by other holiday visits when it was not previously arranged that

were to be at Doonhòlm. The kindness and hospitality of Mrs. Stewart and her daughters, and the enjoyment of the country both at Afton Lodge and at Enterkine and in the neighbourhood, made those seasons pleasant and ever welcome.

When Mr. Cunninghame succeeded to his estate, he gave a fete champetre, celebrated by Burns. Several years after the death of his first wife, who was the daughter of Mrs. Stewart, he married Miss Grace Maxwell, youngest daughter of Sir David Maxwell, of Cardoness, baronet, whose brother, Colonel Maxwell, married my grandaunt. Having lived with her in Edinburgh during her widowhood for twelve years, I thus became well acquainted with Mr. and Mrs. Cunninghame, visited them repeatedly at Enterkine, and although he was many years older I remember our intercourse with much pleasure. For he was truly kind, and had the courtesy

« PreviousContinue »