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While surveying the old dwelling-house strange thoughts passed through my mind. At Whitsunday, 1777, the flitting from Mount Oliphant drew up before its door and the Burns family entered, and for seven years they valiantly strove to avert the crisis that had its beginning at the farm they had left. Robert was in the nineteenth year
of his age then, and to him “life was young and love was new, but the tender passion had no sooner animated his bosom than he burst into song and celebrated his amours in verse. Authorship with him may be said to have had its beginning at Lochlea. Within the old dwelling he penned many of his early effusions, and, in the language of Dr Currie, “while the ploughshare under his guidance passed through the sward, or the grass fell under the sweep of his scythe, he was humming the
songs of his country, musing on deeds of ancient valour, or wrapt in the illusions of fancy as her enchantments rose on his view.” Within the old dwelling, also, the poet's father closed his eyes in death. Mrs Begg remembered the event, and affirmed that he had a presentiment of Robert's future career, and more than feared that Robert would wander into paths from which he had preserved his own footsteps. On the day of his death the old man said that there was one of his family for whose future conduct he feared. “Oh, father! is it me you mean ?" said Robert.
Upon learning that it was, he turned to the window, and, with smothered sobs and scalding tears, acknowledged the reproof; but why he did so is more than I can understand, for his brother Gilbert assured Dr Currie that his temperance and frugality were everything that could be wished during his residence at Lochlea.
John Murdoch, a young man who at one time acted as tutor to the poet and his brothers, tells us that William Burness was an excellent husband and a tender and affectionate father, taking a pleasure in leading his children in the path of virtue—“not in driving them, as some parents do, to the performance of duties to which they themselves are
He took care to find fault but very seldom, and therefore, when he did rebuke, he was listened to with a kind of reverential awe; a look of disapprobation was felt, a reproof was severely so, and a stripe with the taws, even on the skirt of the coat, gave heart-felt pain, produced a loud lamentation, and brought forth a flood of tears. He had,"
Gilbert says :
we are told, “the art of gaining the esteem and good-will of those that were labourers under him.” In fact, “ he practised every known duty, and avoided everything that was criminal; or, in the Apostle's words, 'Herein did he exercise himself in living a life void of offence towards God and towards men.' His sons are no less earnest in their expressions of admiration for their father.
.“ My father was for some time almost the only companion we had. He conversed familiarly on all subjects with us as if we had been men, and was at great pains, while we accompanied him in the labours of the farm, to lead the conversation to such subjects as might tend to increase our knowledge, or confirm us in virtuous habits.” Robert, again, writing in February, 1784, says : -“ On the 13th curt. I lost the best of fathers. Though, to be sure, we have had long warning of the impending stroke, still the feelings of nature claim their part, and I cannot recollect the tender endearments and parental lessons of the best of friends and ablest of instructors without feeling what perhaps the calmer dictates of reason would partly condemn.”
The present guidman of Lochlea is William Spiers, Esq., late of Shortlees, in the parish of Riccarton, a jolly goodnatured farmer, who is at all times glad to see visitors. I found him affable, jocular, and hospitable, and will not readily forget the pleasant hour spent with him in his spacious kitchen, nor the courtesy of his amiable daughter, “ A dancin' sweet, young, handsome queen,
O'guileless heart." With a lingering look at the walls of the old dwelling wherein Burns spent some of the happiest days of his life, I returned to the road and resumed my journey, having determined to enter Tarbolton by way of Coilsfield—a round-about approach certainly, but nevertheless best suited to my purpose, because it winds through scenery immortalised by our Poet, and pa places associated with the most pathetic passage in the history of his life. Passing up the road, which is somewhat steep and skirted for some distance by a plantation of young firs, I arrived in the highway between Mauchline and Tarbolton, near to the toll-bar of Mossbog. The country here is unattractive, being composed
of undulating uplands which rise from the bank of the river Ayr, and slope downwards in the direction of Lochlea. After indulging in a little gossip with the toll-wife, as she sat knitting a stocking by the door of her cot, I turned down a road on the right, and, according to her instructions, held “straught on.” The way proved long, hilly, and thoroughly rustic, being skirted on the left for a considerable distance with a long strip of pleasant woodland, through which the sunshine glinted as if toying with the bramble bushes in its shade. The knolls by the wayside were decked with tufts of fragrant broom and whin, and spangled with many a “ bonnie gem” which the summer sun had called from dust to splendour. Dear wild flowers
“Like orphan children silent, lone,
I've met you spread o'er wild and moor,
And sooth'd me, ramble-toil'd and poor.
First dawn'd upon the purpling east,
More eloquent than cassock'd priest.
Breathe fragrance forth to sooth and cheer
Has made thy beauties disappear." At the termination of this really pleasant walk I found myself in the highway between Mauchline and Ayr, and in the immediate vicinity of Coilsfield. Passing through the toll-bar of Woodhead the scene suddenly changed from the commonplace to that of the most romantic description, for down in a gorge by the wayside,
Ayr gurgling kissed its pebbled shore
O’erhung with wildwoods thick’ning green,” and dashed its waters into foam against fragments of rock as it rolled on its way. The scene was enchanting, and to enjoy it more fully I descended to the water edge and sat down on a mossy bank to rest and gaze on the beautiful
How long I remained it is unnecessary to say, but when the journey was resumed it was with a more elastic step and happier frame of mind, for
“ The saddest heart might pleasure take
To see a scene so fair." Reaching Failford—a cluster of neat cottages at the mouth of the rivulet from which the place takes its name-a pleasant walk along a beautiful wood-fringed road brought me to the entrance gate of the grounds which surround Coilsfield House, one of the most romantically situated mansions in the county—but it will be as well to reserve the account of it and King Coil's grave for next chapter.
THE ENTRANCE TO THE DOMAIN OF COILSFIELD-COILSFIELD MAINS
-KING COIL'S GRAVE AND WHAT WAS FOUND IN AND NEAR
AND ASSOCIATIONS FROM COILSFIELD TO TARBOLTON—THE VILLAGE-BURNS-AN OLD
INN-THE DEBATING CLUB AND DANCING SCHOOL-THE OLD
“The banks and braes and streams around
The Castle o' Montgomery are of the most romantic description, and replete with poetical associations—in fact, the foliage-draped road in which the chief entrance to the estate is situated is sylvan in the extreme, and irresistibly fascinating in the eyes of those who feel that they
-“ tread Where Coila's Bard harmonic sung, And mark with awe around them spread
Those scenes which once inspired his tongue.” Admiration for the genius of Burns, and a love of everything associated with his name, caused me to pause and ultimately tap at the door of a circular thatch-covered cot which stands in a shady nook by the wayside, as if guarding the gate of the drive which winds through the domain of Coilsfield and terminates near the village of Tarbolton. The summons was unheeded, for the goodwife had “thrawn the key in the door” while doing an errand, but a passing country-girl, whose face beamed with health and good humour, came to my assistance and answered my queries in a very amusing and coquettish manner.
“ Heelan' Mary's Thorn-div I ken it ? O aye ! brawly that! It's yont the big house there, an' an auld stump it is an’ no worth gaun aff yer gait to see, but I suppose ye'll be keen to get a glower at it?" "I should like very much.” “Weel, weel, then-gang