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CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF
LIFE AND WORKS.
January 25.—Robert Burns born at Alloway, parish of Ayr, in a clay-built cottage, the work of his father's own hands. His father, William Burnes (so the family name was always written until changed by the poet), was a native of Kincardineshire, born November 11, 1721. His mother, Agnes Brown, born March 17, 1732, was daughter of a farmer in Carrick, Ayrshire. The poet's parents were married December 15, 1757. William Burnes was then a gardener and farm
1765–(Etat. Six). Sent to a school at Alloway Mill, kept by one Campbell, who was succeeded in May by John Murdoch, a young teacher of uncommon merit, engaged by William Burnes and four of his neighbors, who boarded him alternately at their houses, and guaranteed him a small salary. Two advantages were thus possessed by the poet-an excellent father and an excellent teacher.
MOUNT OLIPHANT.-1766—(SEVEN). William Burnes removed to the (farm of Mount Oliphant, two miles distant. His sons still attended Alloway school. The books used were a spelling-book, the New Testament, the Bible, Mason's Collection of Prose and Verse, and Fisher's English Grammar.
1768—(Nine). Murdoch gave up Alloway school. Visiting the Burnes family before his departure, he took with him, as a present, the play of Titus Andronicus. He read part of the play aloud, but the horror of the scene shocked and distressed the children, and Robert threatened to burn the book if it was left. Instead of it, Murdoch gave them a comedy, the School for Love (translated from the French) and an English Grammar. He had previously lent Robert a Life of Hannibal. The latent seeds of poetry were further cultivated in his mind by an old woman living in the family, Betty Davidson, who had a great store of tales, songs, ghost-stories, and legendary lore.
1770—(ELEVEN). By the time he was ten or eleven years of age he was an excellent English scholar, "a critic in substantives, verbs, and particles.” After the departure of Murdoch, William Burnes was the only instructor of his sons and other children. He taught them arithmetic, and procured for their use Salmon's Geographical 'Grammar, Derham's Physics and Astro-Theology, and Ray's Wisdom of God'in the Creation. These gave the boys some idea of Geography, Astronomy, and Natural History He had also Stackhouse's History of the Bible, Taylor's Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin, a volume of English History (reigns of James I. and Charles I.). The blacksmith lent the common metrical Life of Sir William Wallace (which was read with Scottish fervor and enthusiasm), and a maternal uncle supplied a Collection of Letters by the wits of Queen Anne's reign, which inspired Robert with a strong desire to excel in letter-writing.
1772—(THIRTEEN). To improve their penmanship, William Burnes sent his sons, week about, during the summer quarter, to the parish school of Dalrymple, two or three miles distant. This year Murdoch was appointed teacher, of English in Ayr school, and he renewed his acquaintance with the Burnes family, sending them Pope's Wurks and “some other poetry.”
1773—(FOURTEEN). Robert boarded three weeks with Murdoch at Ayr in order to revise his English Grammar. He acquired also a smattering of French, and on returning home he took with him a French Dictionary and. French Grammar, and a copy of Télémaque. He attempted Latin, but soon abandoned it.
1774—(FIFTEEN). His knowledge of French introduced him to some respecto able families in Ayr (Dr. Malcolm's and others). A lady lent
him the Spectator, Pope's Homer, and several other books. In this year began with him love and poetry. His partner in the harvest-field was a “ bewitching creature a year younger than himself, Nelly Kilpatrick, daughter of the blacksmith, who sang sweetly, and on her he afterwards wrote his first song and first effort at rhyme, O, once I loved a bonnie iass.
1775—(SIXTEEN). About this time Robert was the principal laborer on the farm. From the unproductiveness of the soil, the loss of cattle, and other causes, William Burnes had got into pecuniary difficulties, and the threatening letters of the factor (the landlord being dead) used to set the distressed family all in tears. The character of the factor is drawn in the Tale of Twa Dogs. The hard labor, poor living, and sorrow of this period formed the chief cause of the poet's subsequent melancholy, frequent headaches, and palpitation of the heart.
1776-(SEVENTEEN). Spent his seventeenth summer (so in poet's MS. British Museum ; Dr. Currie altered the date to nineteenth) on a smuggling coast in Ayrshire, at Kirkoswald, on purpose to learn mensuration, surveying, etc.
He made good progress, though mixing somewhat in the dissipation of the place, which had then a flourishing contraband trade. Met the second of his poetical heroines, Peggy Thompson, on whom he afterwards wrote his fine song, Now westlin winds and slaughť ring guns:
The charms of this maiden “ overset his trigonometry and set him off at a tangent from the sphere of his studies." At Kirkoswald he had enlarged his readin - by the addition of Thomson's and Shenstone's Works, and amung the other books to which he had access at this period, besides those mentioned above, were some plays of Shakespeare, Allan Ramsay's Works, Hervey's Meditations, and a Select Collection of English Songs (“ The Lark,” 2 vols.). This last work was, he says, his vade mecum ; he pored over it driving his cart or walking to labor, and carefully noted the true, tender or sublime from affectation and fustian. He composed this year two stanzas, I dream'd I lay where flowers were springing.
LOCHLEA.-1777—(EIGHTEEN). William Burnes and family remove to a larger farm at Lochlea, parish of Tarbolton. Take possession at Whitsunday. Affairs for a time look brighter, and all work diligently, Robert and Gilbert had £7 per annum each as wages from their father, and they also take land from him for the purpose of raising flax on their own account.
1778—(NINETEEN). “I was,” he says, “ about eighteen or nineteen when I sketched the outlines of a tragedy.” The whole had escaped his memory, except a fragment of twenty lines: All devil às 1
1780—(TWENTY-ONE). The “Bachelors' Club," established at Tarbolton by Robert and Gilbert Burns, and five other young men. Meetings were held once a month, and questions debated. The sum expended by each member was not to exceed threepence.
1781.-(TWENTY-TWO). David Sillar admitted a member of the Bachelors' Club. He describes Burns: “I recollect hearing his reighbors observe he had a great deal to say for himself and that they suspected his principles (his religious principles). He wore the only tied hair in the parish, and in the church his plaid, which was of a particular color, I think fillemot, he wrapped in a particular manner round his shoulders. Between sermons we often took a walk in the fields ; in these walks I have frequently been struck by his facility in addressing the fair sex, and it was generally a death-blow to our conversation, however agreeable, to meet a female acquaintance. The poet had now added to his collection of books Mackenzie's Man of Feeling (which he said he prized next to the Bible) and Man of the World, Sterne's Works, and Macpherson's Ossian. He would appear also to have had the poetical works of Young. Among the fair ones whose society he courted was a superior young woman, bearing the unpoetical name of Ellison Begbie. She was the daughter of a small farmer at Galston, but was servant with a family on the banks of the Cessnock. On her he wrote a “song of similes,” beginning On Cessnock banks there lives a lass, and the earliest of his printed correspondence is addressed to Ellison. His letters are grave, sensible epistles, written with remarkable purity and correctness of language. At this time poesy was, he says, a darling walk for his mind." The oldest of his printed pieces were Winter, a Dirge, the Death of Poor Mailie, John Barleycorn, and the three songs It was upon a Lammas
isht, Now westlin winds and slaughtring guns, and Behind