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of the simple Highland girl are justly ranked among the most finished efforts of his muse.
The “banks and braes and streams around the Castle o Montgomery” has become classic ground to thousands who never heard of the wooded slopes of Parnassus; Doon has been found more inspiring than Castaly; and to the Coilsfield dairymaid has been vouchsafed an immortality rivalling the Laura of Petrarch or the Beatrice of Dante. On her merits and her fame public opinion has long since set its seal. It is so far as the subject touches the poet that it has an interest for inquirers. Recent research would almost lead to the conclusion that the “Highland Mary” attachment, instead of being a thing standing apart in the poet's life as a permanent or earnest feeling, was but an episode in a wider domestic drama-only an accidentalmost the accident of an accident. Burns may be permitted in the first instance to tell the story in his own way. In the course of a few notes on some of the Scottish songs printed in the "Museum,” prepared for his neighbour the Laird of Friars' Carse some time after 1788—probably about 1794—the poet writes of the “Highland Lassie” as “a composition of mine in very early life before I was at all known to the world. My Highland lassie was a warm-hearted, charming young creature as ever blest a man with generous love. After a pretty long tract of the most ardent reciprocal attachment we met by appointment on the second Sunday of May in a sequestered spot on the banks of Ayr, where we spent the day in taking a farewell before she should embark for the West Highlands to arrange matters among her friends for our projected change of life. At the close of autumn she crossed the sea to met me at Greenock, where she had scarce landed when she was seized with a malignant fever before I could even hear of her illness.” In a similar strain the poet writes to Thomson in 1792, enclosing the song “Will you go to the Indies, my Mary?” “In my very early years, when I was thinking of going to the West Indies, I took the following farewell of a dear girl.” It is now necessary to set down a few dates, in order to avoid being misled by the poet's phrases about “very early life,” and “very early years." It is known to all acquainted in even a slight degree with the life of Burns, that the West Indies project occupied his mind only once, and that was in the summer of 1786, when the Kilmarnock edition of his poems was passing through the press, and when--and this bears closer on the inquiry—when Jean Armour's father was threatening the hapless bard with the terrors of a jail in order to compel him to provide for his illegitimate offspring Burns at this time could hardly be described as very young. He had quite completed twenty-seven on his last birth-day-not an early age in affairs of gallantry for him who, at seventeen, addressed “ Handsome Nell" to his girl neighbour in the harvest field. If the surmise is correct, and no other theory fits in so well, or fits in at all, with ascertained facts, the romantic parting on the banks of Ayr took place in the summer of 1786—"the second Sunday in May” being the 14th of the month. But the surprise does not end here. Some months before this Burns had placed in the hand of his friend Aiken an irregular but legal certificate of marriage with Jean Armour; nor, as appears from one of the poet's own letters, was it destroyed till some day between the 3rd and 17th of the preceding April. What the poet calls the "pretty long tract of ardent reciprocal attachment” comes, therefore, within thirty days of being inconveniently near formal obligations to his earlier love. Destroyed though the declaration was, Burns was none the less bound by its contents—a responsibility he appears to have overlooked or been misinformed about when he presented Mary Campbell with the famous Bible that summer afternoon. In one of the volumes may yet be seen in the poet's handwriting, “And ye shall not swear by my name falsely—I am the Lord” (Levit. xvi. 12); in the other, “Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oath" (St. Matt. v. 33). According to Dr. R. Chambers, sound lawyers have already given it as their opinion that the destruction of the informal declaration in no way altered the relative position of the parties, but only introduced an element of difficulty, had it been necessary to establish the marriage by evidence in Court. The verbal testimony of any who had seen or even heard of the document would have gone far to fix the conditions it was originally intended to establish. When Burns became first acquainted with Mary Campbell cannot be fixed with great precision. It is not likely to have been earlier than 1784, when he went with the rest of the family to reside in her neighbourhood. Mary Campbell is presumed at this time to have been in the service of Burns' friend, Gavin Hamilton, in Mauchline, but removed, it is thought, afterwards to Coilsfield, where, it is also surmised, she resided during the summer of 1785. Wherever living, she would seem to have left Ayrshire about Whitsunday, 1786, the term day that year being the day following the parting with Burns—“the second Sunday in May.” The date of this parting can otherwise be fixed with reasonable accuracy. The Bible itself is of date 1782, and, in addition to the verses quoted, bears the signature, “Robert Burns, Mossgiel," a place with which Burns had no connection till 1784, as mentioned above. In the absence of positive information about the closing days of Mary Campbell, the Bibles are not the least important link in the chain of evidence. Their history has been singular enough. On the death of “Highland Mary” at Greenock, as we think in October, 1786, the volumes were treasured by her mother, Burns being a forbidden subject with her father. Mrs. Campbell died in extreme poverty at Greenock, in 1828. Some time before this date the old woman had presented the Bibles to her daughter, Mrs. Anderson, from whom they passed through two sisters to her son, William Anderson, mason, Renton, Dumbartonshire. On emigrating to Canada, in 1834, the volumes were taken with him, and for a time lost trace of; but, being heard of accidentally by a few of the poet's admirers in Montreal, the precious relics were secured for £25, and handsomely restored to the old country for the purpose of being placed in the monument at Brig o' Doon, where they are now to be seen in fitting company with other memorials of the bard. There are other discrepancies not easily reconciled in the account given by Burns of Highland Mary. He writes of her as proceeding to the Highlands “to arrange matters among her friends for our projected change of life." Very little appears to have been known about Mary in the household at Mossgiel. Mrs. Begg recollected no sort of reference being made to her more than once when the poet remarked to John Blane, gaudsman, that Mary had refused to meet him in the old castle—the dismantled tower of the priory near Coilsfield House. Even presuming that Burns as well as the Armours acted under a sincere though erroneous impression that a complete and valid separation had been effected, it is difficult, from what we know of Mary's character, to see how the sad position of Jean Armour a position as painful as it was notorious-could be accepted by her as a reason for hastening on in any way a union to which she was previously averse. With his passage taken out, his chest on the road to Greenock, and the sails filling with the breeze that was to waft him from old Caledonia, matrimony, one would have said, was the last thing likely to be thought of by the poet, either for his own advantage or the comfort of her on whom he had again set his changing affections. There is still another particle of proof militating strongly against a marriage at this dark period in Burns's history. On the 22nd July of the year in question—1786—the poet executed a deed investing his brother Gilbert with all his “goods, gear, and moveable effects,” profits from poems included, to be held by him in trust for the upbringing of his illegitimate daughter, known as “Sonsie, smirking, dear-bought Bess.” In particular, provision was made by the same deed for continuing his daughter's exclusive interest in the copyright after she had reached the age of fifteen years. With what then was he going to endow Mary Campbell in the way of worldly goods? Marriage in such circumstances was as indiscreet as after events proved it improper. Months after the first blast of the Armour strife was over, early in January, 1787, when being caressed by the rank, fashion, and learning of Edinburgh, he wrote to his friend Hamilton at Mauchline, “To tell the truth, among friends, I feel a miserable blank in my heart for the want of her,” referring to Jean Armour. All these relations and responsibilities are alluded to in the touching “ Farewell," wherein, however, Mary, whom he may be presumed to have just asked if she would "go to the Indies," is not once mentioned :
Farewell, old Scotland's bleak domains,
Where rich annanas blow;
My Jean's heart-rending throe !
Of my paternal care,
Adieu, too, to you too,
My Smith, my bosom frien',
Oh then befriend my Jean!
What bursting anguish tears my heart !
Thou weeping answer'st “No!”
I, for thy sake, must go.
A grateful warm adieu,
All hail then, the gale then
Wafts me from thee, dear shore ! It rustles and whistles
I'll never see thee more!
Instead of returning from the Highlands after arranging, as the poet writes, “for our projected change in life," Dr. R. Chambers (to whom all inquirers on this point are under great obligations), thinks Highland Mary had agreed, at the recommendation of a former patroness, to accept for the Martinmas term a new situation at Glasgow in the family of Colonel M'Ivor. This careful biographer also mentions as a tradition that the illness under which the fair girl suffered at Greenock was superstitiously believed to have been inflicted by the cast of an evil eye, and friends, therefore, seriously recommended her father to go to a spot where two burns met, select seven smooth stones from the channel, boil them in new milk, and give her the same to drink. Mary's illness was far too serious for either charms or skill. Burns's “Highland Lassie" sickened of fever, died in a few days, and was buried in a lair at the West Church belonging to a distant relative of her mother, thus closing what the impassioned poet described in after years as “one of the most interesting episodes of my youthful days."