Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Some of the Haunts of Burns


We left Carlisle at a little past eleven, and within the half-hour were
at Gretna Green. Thence we rushed onward into Scotland through a flat
and dreary tract of country, consisting mainly of desert and bog, where
probably the moss-troopers were accustomed to take refuge after their
raids into England. Anon, however, the hills hove themselves up to view,
occasionally attaining a height which might almost be called mountainous.
In about two hours we reached Dumfries, and alighted at the station
there.

Chill as the Scottish summer is reputed to be, we found it an awfully hot
day, not a whit less so than the day before; but we sturdily adventured
through the burning sunshine up into the town, inquiring our way to the
residence of Burns. The street leading from the station is called
Shakespeare Street; and at its farther extremity we read "Burns Street"
on a corner-house, the avenue thus designated having been formerly known
as "Mill-Hole Brae." It is a vile lane, paved with small, hard stones
from side to side, and bordered by cottages or mean houses of whitewashed
stone, joining one to another along the whole length of the street. With
not a tree, of course, or a blade of grass between the paving-stones, the
narrow lane was as hot as Topbet, and reeked with a genuine Scotch odor,
being infested with unwashed children, and altogether in a state of
chronic filth; although some women seemed to be hopelessly scrubbing the
thresholds of their wretched dwellings. I never saw an outskirt of a
town less fit for a poet's residence, or in which it would be more
miserable for any man of cleanly predilections to spend his days.

We asked for Burns's dwelling; and a woman pointed across the street to a
two-story house, built of stone, and whitewashed, like its neighbors, but
perhaps of a little more respectable aspect than most of them, though I
hesitate in saying so. It was not a separate structure, but under the
same continuous roof with the next. There was an inscription on the
door, hearing no reference to Burns, but indicating that the house was
now occupied by a ragged or industrial school. On knocking, we were
instantly admitted by a servant-girl, who smiled intelligently when we
told our errand, and showed us into a low and very plain parlor, not more
than twelve or fifteen feet square. A young woman, who seemed to be a
teacher in the school, soon appeared, and told us that this had been
Burns's usual sitting-room, and that he had written many of his songs
here.

She then led us up a narrow staircase into a little bedchamber over the
parlor. Connecting with it, there is a very small room, or windowed
closet, which Burns used as a study; and the bedchamber itself was the
one where he slept in his later lifetime, and in which he died at last.
Altogether, it is an exceedingly unsuitable place for a pastoral and
rural poet to live or die in,--even more unsatisfactory than
Shakespeare's house, which has a certain homely picturesqueness that
contrasts favorably with the suburban sordidness of the abode before us.
The narrow lane, the paving-stones, and the contiguity of wretched hovels
are depressing to remember; and the steam of them (such is our human
weakness) might almost make the poet's memory less fragrant.

As already observed, it was an intolerably hot day. After leaving the
house, we found our way into the principal street of the town, which, it
may be fair to say, is of very different aspect from the wretched
outskirt above described. Entering a hotel (in which, as a Dumfries
guide-book assured us, Prince Charles Edward had once spent a night), we
rested and refreshed ourselves, and then set forth in quest of the
mausoleum of Burns.

Coming to St. Michael's Church, we saw a man digging a grave, and,
scrambling out of the hole, he let us into the churchyard, which was
crowded full of monuments. Their general shape and construction are
peculiar to Scotland, being a perpendicular tablet of marble or other
stone, within a framework of the same material, somewhat resembling the
frame of a looking-glass; and, all over the churchyard, those sepulchral
memorials rise to the height of ten, fifteen, or twenty feet, forming
quite an imposing collection of monuments, but inscribed with names of
small general significance. It was easy, indeed, to ascertain the rank
of those who slept below; for in Scotland it is the custom to put the
occupation of the buried personage (as "Skinner," "Shoemaker," "Flesher")
on his tombstone. As another peculiarity, wives are buried under their
maiden names, instead of those of their husbands; thus giving a
disagreeable impression that the married pair have bidden each other an
eternal farewell on the edge of the grave.

There was a foot-path through this crowded churchyard, sufficiently well
worn to guide us to the grave of Burns; but a woman followed behind us,
who, it appeared, kept the key of the mausoleum, and was privileged to
show it to strangers. The monument is a sort of Grecian temple, with
pilasters and a dome, covering a space of about twenty feet square. It
was formerly open to all the inclemencies of the Scotch atmosphere, but
is now protected and shut in by large squares of rough glass, each pane
being of the size of one whole side of the structure. The woman unlocked
the door, and admitted us into the interior. Inlaid into the floor of
the mausoleum is the gravestone of Burns,--the very same that was laid
over his grave by Jean Armour, before this monument was built. Displayed
against the surrounding wall is a marble statue of Burns at the plough,
with the Genius of Caledonia summoning the ploughman to turn poet.
Methought it was not a very successful piece of work; for the plough was
better sculptured than the man, and the man, though heavy and cloddish,
was more effective than the goddess. Our guide informed us that an old
man of ninety, who knew Burns, certifies this statue to be very like the
original.

The bones of the poet, and of Jean Armour, and of some of their children,
lie in the vault over which we stood. Our guide (who was intelligent, in
her own plain way, and very agreeable to talk withal) said that the vault
was opened about three weeks ago, on occasion of the burial of the eldest
son of Burns. The poet's bones were disturbed, and the dry skull, once
so brimming over with powerful thought and bright and tender fantasies,
was taken away, and kept for several days by a Dumfries doctor. It has
since been deposited in a new leaden coffin, and restored to the vault.
We learned that there is a surviving daughter of Burns's eldest son, and
daughters likewise of the two younger sons,--and, besides these, an
illegitimate posterity by the eldest son, who appears to have been of
disreputable life in his younger days. He inherited his father's
failings, with some faint shadow, I have also understood, of the great
qualities which have made the world tender of his father's vices and
weaknesses.

We listened readily enough to this paltry gossip, but found that it
robbed the poet's memory of some of the reverence that was its due.
Indeed, this talk over his grave had very much the same tendency and
effect as the home-scene of his life, which we had been visiting just
previously. Beholding his poor, mean dwelling and its surroundings, and
picturing his outward life and earthly manifestations from these, one
does not so much wonder that the people of that day should have failed to
recognize all that was admirable and immortal in a disreputable, drunken,
shabbily clothed, and shabbily housed man, consorting with associates of
damaged character, and, as his only ostensible occupation, gauging the
whiskey, which he too often tasted. Siding with Burns, as we needs must,
in his plea against the world, let us try to do the world a little
justice too. It is far easier to know and honor a poet when his fame has
taken shape in the spotlessness of marble than when the actual man comes
staggering before you, besmeared with the sordid stains of his daily
life. For my part, I chiefly wonder that his recognition dawned so
brightly while he was still living. There must have been something very
grand in his immediate presence, some strangely impressive characteristic
in his natural behavior, to have caused him to seem like a demigod so
soon.

As we went back through the churchyard, we saw a spot where nearly four
hundred inhabitants of Dumfries were buried during the cholera year; and
also some curious old monuments, with raised letters, the inscriptions on
which were not sufficiently legible to induce us to puzzle them out; but,
I believe, they mark the resting-places of old Covenanters, some of whom
were killed by Claverhouse and his fellow-ruffians.

St. Michael's Church is of red freestone, and was built about a hundred
years ago, on an old Catholic foundation. Our guide admitted us into it,
and showed us, in the porch, a very pretty little marble figure of a
child asleep, with a drapery over the lower part, from beneath which
appeared its two baby feet. It was truly a sweet little statue; and the
woman told us that it represented a child of the sculptor, and that the
baby (here still in its marble infancy) had died more than twenty-six
years ago. "Many ladies," she said, "especially such as had ever lost a
child, had shed tears over it." It was very pleasant to think of the
sculptor bestowing the best of his genius and art to re-create his tender
child in stone, and to make the representation as soft and sweet as the
original; but the conclusion of the story has something that jars with
our awakened sensibilities. A gentleman from London had seen the statue,
and was so much delighted with it that he bought it of the father-artist,
after it had lain above a quarter of a century in the church-porch. So
this was not the real, tender image that came out of the father's heart;
he had sold that truest one for a hundred guineas, and sculptured this
mere copy to replace it. The first figure was entirely naked in its
earthly and spiritual innocence. The copy, as I have said above, has a
drapery over the lower limbs. But, after all, if we come to the truth of
the matter, the sleeping baby may be as fully reposited in the
drawing-room of a connoisseur as in a cold and dreary church-porch.

We went into the church, and found it very plain and naked, without
altar-decorations, and having its floor quite covered with unsightly
wooden pews. The woman led us to a pew cornering on one of the
side-aisles, and, telling us that it used to be Burns's family-pew,
showed us his seat, which is in the corner by the aisle. It is so
situated, that a sturdy pillar hid him from the pulpit, and from the
minister's eye; "for Robin was no great friends with the ministers," said
she. This touch--his seat behind the pillar, and Burns himself nodding
in sermon-time, or keenly observant of profane things--brought him before
us to the life. In the corner-seat of the next pew, right before Burns,
and not more than two feet off, sat the young lady on whom the poet saw
that unmentionable parasite which he has immortalized in song. We were
ungenerous enough to ask the lady's name, but the good woman could not
tell it. This was the last thing which we saw in Dumfries worthy of
record; and it ought to be noted that our guide refused some money which
my companion offered her, because I had already paid her what she deemed
sufficient.

At the railway-station we spent more than a weary hour, waiting for the
train, which at last came up, and took us to Mauchline. We got into an
omnibus, the only conveyance to be had, and drove about a mile to the
village, where we established ourselves at the Loudoun Hotel, one of the
veriest country inns which we have found in Great Britain. The town of
Mauchline, a place more redolent of Burns than almost any other, consists
of a street or two of contiguous cottages, mostly whitewashed, and with
thatched roofs. It has nothing sylvan or rural in the immediate village,
and is as ugly a place as mortal man could contrive to make, or to render
uglier through a succession of untidy generations. The fashion of paving
the village street, and patching one shabby house on the gable-end of
another, quite shuts out all verdure and pleasantness; but, I presume, we
are not likely to see a more genuine old Scotch village, such as they
used to be in Burns's time, and long before, than this of Mauchline. The
church stands about midway up the street, and is built of red freestone,
very simple in its architecture, with a square tower and pinnacles. In
this sacred edifice, and its churchyard, was the scene of one of Burns's
most characteristic productions, "The Holy Fair."

Almost directly opposite its gate, across the village street, stands
Posie Nansie's inn, where the "Jolly Beggars" congregated. The latter is
a two-story, red-stone, thatched house, looking old, but by no means
venerable, like a drunken patriarch. It has small, old-fashioned
windows, and may well have stood for centuries,--though, seventy or
eighty years ago, when Burns was conversant with it, I should fancy it
might have been something better than a beggars' alehouse. The whole
town of Mauchline looks rusty and time-worn,--even the newer houses, of
which there are several, being shadowed and darkened by the general
aspect of the place. When we arrived, all the wretched little dwellings
seemed to have belched forth their inhabitants into the warm summer
evening; everybody was chatting with everybody, on the most familiar
terms; the bare-legged children gambolled or quarrelled uproariously, and
came freely, moreover, and looked into the window of our parlor. When we
ventured out, we were followed by the gaze of the old town: people
standing in their doorways, old women popping their heads from the
chamber-windows, and stalwart men idle on Saturday at e'en, after their
week's hard labor--clustering at the street-corners, merely to stare at
our unpretending selves. Except in some remote little town of Italy
(where, besides, the inhabitants had the intelligible stimulus of
beggary), I have never been honored with nearly such an amount of public
notice.

The next forenoon my companion put me to shame by attending church, after
vainly exhorting me to do the like; and, it being Sacrament Sunday, and
my poor friend being wedged into the farther end of a closely filled pew,
he was forced to stay through the preaching of four several sermons, and
came back perfectly exhausted and desperate. He was somewhat consoled,
however, on finding that he had witnessed a spectacle of Scotch manners
identical with that of Burns's "Holy Fair," on the very spot where the
poet located that immortal description. By way of further conformance to
the customs of the country, we ordered a sheep's head and the broth, and
did penance accordingly; and at five o'clock we took a fly, and set out
for Burns's farm of Moss Giel.

Moss Giel is not more than a mile from Mauchline, and the road extends
over a high ridge of land, with a view of far hills and green slopes on
either side. Just before we reached the farm, the driver stopped to
point out a hawthorn, growing by the wayside, which he said was Burns's
"Lousie Thorn"; and I devoutly plucked a branch, although I have really
forgotten where or how this illustrious shrub has been celebrated. We
then turned into a rude gateway, and almost immediately came to the
farm-house of Moss Giel, standing some fifty yards removed from the
high-road, behind a tall hedge of hawthorn, and considerably overshadowed
by trees. The house is a whitewashed stone cottage, like thousands of
others in England and Scotland, with a thatched roof, on which grass and
weeds have intruded a picturesque, though alien growth. There is a door
and one window in front, besides another little window that peeps out
among the thatch. Close by the cottage, and extending back at right
angles from it, so as to enclose the farm-yard, are two other buildings
of the same size, shape, and general appearance as the house: any one of
the three looks just as fit for a human habitation as the two others, and
all three look still more suitable for donkey-stables and pigsties. As
we drove into the farm-yard, bounded on three sides by these three
hovels, a large dog began to bark at us; and some women and children made
their appearance, but seemed to demur about admitting us, because the
master and mistress were very religious people, and had not yet come back
from the Sacrament at Mauchline.

However, it would not do to be turned back from the very threshold of
Robert Burns; and as the women seemed to be merely straggling visitors,
and nobody, at all events, had a right to send us away, we went into the
back door, and, turning to the right, entered a kitchen. It showed a
deplorable lack of housewifely neatness, and in it there were three or
four children, one of whom, a girl eight or nine years old, held a baby
in her arms. She proved to be the daughter of the people of the house,
and gave us what leave she could to look about us. Thence we stepped
across the narrow mid-passage of the cottage into the only other
apartment below stairs, a sitting-room, where we found a young man eating
broad and cheese. He informed us that he did not live there, and had
only called in to refresh himself on his way home from church. This
room, like the kitchen, was a noticeably poor one, and, besides being all
that the cottage had to show for a parlor, it was a sleeping-apartment,
having two beds, which might be curtained off, on occasion. The young
man allowed us liberty (so far as in him lay) to go up stairs. Up we
crept, accordingly; and a few steps brought us to the top of the
staircase, over the kitchen, where we found the wretchedest little
sleeping-chamber in the world, with a sloping roof under the thatch,
and two beds spread upon the bare floor. This, most probably, was
Burns's chamber; or, perhaps, it may have been that of his mother's
servant-maid; and, in either case, this rude floor, at one time or
another, must have creaked beneath the poet's midnight tread. On the
opposite side of the passage was the door of another attic-chamber,
opening which, I saw a considerable number of cheeses on the floor.

The whole house was pervaded with a frowzy smell, and also a dunghill
odor; and it is not easy to understand how the atmosphere of such a
dwelling can be any more agreeable or salubrious morally than it appeared
to be physically. No virgin, surely, could keep a holy awe about her
while stowed higgledy-piggledy with coarse-natured rustics into this
narrowness and filth. Such a habitation is calculated to make beasts of
men and women; and it indicates a degree of barbarism which I did not
imagine to exist in Scotland, that a tiller of broad fields, like the
farmer of Mauchline, should have his abode in a pigsty. It is sad to
think of anybody--not to say a poet, but any human being--sleeping,
eating, thinking, praying, and spending all his home-life in this
miserable hovel; but, methinks, I never in the least knew how to estimate
the miracle of Burns's genius, nor his heroic merit for being no worse
man, until I thus learned the squalid hindrances amid which he developed
himself. Space, a free atmosphere, and cleanliness have a vast deal to
do with the possibilities of human virtue.

The biographers talk of the farm of Moss Giel as being damp and
unwholesome; but, I do not see why, outside of the cottage-walls, it
should possess so evil a reputation. It occupies a high, broad ridge,
enjoying, surely, whatever benefit can come of a breezy site, and sloping
far downward before any marshy soil is reached. The high hedge, and the
trees that stand beside the cottage, give it a pleasant aspect enough to
one who does not know the grimy secrets of the interior; and the summer
afternoon was now so bright that I shall remember the scene with a great
deal of sunshine over it.

Leaving the cottage, we drove through a field, which the driver told us
was that in which Burns turned up the mouse's nest. It is the enclosure
nearest to the cottage, and seems now to be a pasture, and a rather
remarkably unfertile one. A little farther on, the ground was whitened
with an immense number of daisies,--daisies, daisies everywhere; and in
answer to my inquiry, the driver said that this was the field where Burns
ran his ploughshare over the daisy. If so, the soil seems to have been
consecrated to daisies by the song which he bestowed on that first
immortal one. I alighted, and plucked a whole handful of these "wee,
modest, crimson-tipped flowers," which will be precious to many friends
in our own country as coming from Burns's farm, and being of the same
race and lineage as that daisy which he turned into an amaranthine flower
while seeming to destroy it.

From Moss Giel we drove through a variety of pleasant scenes, some of
which were familiar to us by their connection with Burns. We skirted,
too, along a portion of the estate of Auchinleck, which still belongs to
the Boswell family,--the present possessor being Sir James Boswell [Sir
James Boswell is now dead], a grandson of Johnson's friend, and son of
the Sir Alexander who was killed in a duel. Our driver spoke of Sir
James as a kind, free-hearted man, but addicted to horse-races and
similar pastimes, and a little too familiar with the wine-cup; so that
poor Bozzy's booziness would appear to have become hereditary in his
ancient line. There is no male heir to the estate of Auchinleck. The
portion of the lands which we saw is covered with wood and much
undermined with rabbit-warrens; nor, though the territory extends over a
large number of acres, is the income very considerable.

By and by we came to the spot where Burns saw Miss Alexander, the Lass of
Ballochmyle. It was on a bridge, which (or, more probably, a bridge that
has succeeded to the old one, and is made of iron) crosses from bank to
bank, high in air, over a deep gorge of the road; so that the young lady
may have appeared to Burns like a creature between earth and sky, and
compounded chiefly of celestial elements. But, in honest truth, the
great charm of a woman, in Burns's eyes, was always her womanhood, and
not the angelic mixture which other poets find in her.

Our driver pointed out the course taken by the Lass of Ballochmyle,
through the shrubbery, to a rock on the banks of the Lugar, where it
seems to be the tradition that Burns accosted her. The song implies no
such interview. Lovers, of whatever condition, high or low, could desire
no lovelier scene in which to breathe their vows: the river flowing over
its pebbly bed, sometimes gleaming into the sunshine, sometimes hidden
deep in verdure, and here and there eddying at the foot of high and
precipitous cliffs. This beautiful estate of Ballochmyle is still held
by the family of Alexanders, to whom Burns's song has given renown on
cheaper terms than any other set of people ever attained it. How slight
the tenure seems! A young lady happened to walk out, one summer
afternoon, and crossed the path of a neighboring farmer, who celebrated
the little incident in four or five warm, rude, at least, not refined,
though rather ambitious,--and somewhat ploughman-like verses. Burns has
written hundreds of better things; but henceforth, for centuries, that
maiden has free admittance into the dream-land of Beautiful Women, and
she and all her race are famous. I should like to know the present head
of the family, and ascertain what value, if any, the members of it put
upon the celebrity thus won.

We passed through Catrine, known hereabouts as "the clean village of
Scotland." Certainly, as regards the point indicated, it has greatly the
advantage of Mauchline, whither we now returned without seeing anything
else worth writing about.

There was a rain-storm during the night, and, in the morning, the rusty,
old, sloping street of Mauchline was glistening with wet, while frequent
showers came spattering down. The intense heat of many days past was
exchanged for a chilly atmosphere, much more suitable to a stranger's
idea of what Scotch temperature ought to be. We found, after breakfast,
that the first train northward had already gone by, and that we must wait
till nearly two o'clock for the next. I merely ventured out once, during
the forenoon, and took a brief walk through the village, in which I have
left little to describe. Its chief business appears to be the
manufacture of snuff-boxes. There are perhaps five or six shops, or
more, including those licensed to sell only tea and tobacco; the best of
them have the characteristics of village stores in the United States,
dealing in a small way with an extensive variety of articles. I peeped
into the open gateway of the churchyard, and saw that the ground was
absolutely stuffed with dead people, and the surface crowded with
gravestones, both perpendicular and horizontal. All Burns's old
Mauchline acquaintance are doubtless there, and the Armours among them,
except Bonny Jean, who sleeps by her poet's side. The family of Armour
is now extinct in Mauchline.

Arriving at the railway-station, we found a tall, elderly, comely
gentleman walking to and fro and waiting for the train. He proved to be
a Mr. Alexander,--it may fairly be presumed the Alexander of Ballochmyle,
a blood relation of the lovely lass. Wonderful efficacy of a poet's
verse, that could shed a glory from Long Ago on this old gentleman's
white hair! These Alexanders, by the by, are not an old family on the
Ballochmyle estate; the father of the lass having made a fortune in
trade, and established himself as the first landed proprietor of his name
in these parts. The original family was named Whitefoord.

Our ride to Ayr presented nothing very remarkable; and, indeed, a cloudy
and rainy day takes the varnish off the scenery and causes a woful
diminution in the beauty and impressiveness of everything we see. Much
of our way lay along a flat, sandy level, in a southerly direction. We
reached Ayr in the midst of hopeless rain, and drove to the King's Arms
Hotel. In the intervals of showers I took peeps at the town, which
appeared to have many modern or modern-fronted edifices; although there
are likewise tall, gray, gabled, and quaint-looking houses in the
by-streets, here and there, betokening an ancient place. The town lies
on both sides of the Ayr, which is here broad and stately, and bordered
with dwellings that look from their windows directly down into the
passing tide.

I crossed the river by a modern and handsome stone bridge, and recrossed
it, at no great distance, by a venerable structure of four gray arches,
which must have bestridden the stream ever since the early days of
Scottish history. These are the "Two Briggs of Ayr," whose midnight
conversation was overheard by Burns, while other auditors were aware only
of the rush and rumble of the wintry stream among the arches. The
ancient bridge is steep and narrow, and paved like a street, and defended
by a parapet of red freestone, except at the two ends, where some mean
old shops allow scanty room for the pathway to creep between. Nothing
else impressed me hereabouts, unless I mention, that, during the rain,
the women and girls went about the streets of Ayr barefooted to save
their shoes.

The next morning wore a lowering aspect, as if it felt itself destined to
be one of many consecutive days of storm. After a good Scotch breakfast,
however, of fresh herrings and eggs, we took a fly, and started at a
little past ten for the banks of the Doon. On our way, at about two
miles from Ayr, we drew up at a roadside cottage, on which was an
inscription to the effect that Robert Burns was born within its walls.
It is now a public-house; and, of course, we alighted and entered its
little sitting-room, which, as we at present see it, is a neat apartment,
with the modern improvement of a ceiling. The walls are much
overscribbled with names of visitors, and the wooden door of a cupboard
in the wainscot, as well as all the other wood-work of the room, is cut
and carved with initial letters. So, likewise, are two tables, which,
having received a coat of varnish over the inscriptions, form really
curious and interesting articles of furniture. I have seldom (though I
do not, personally adopt this mode of illustrating my bumble name) felt
inclined to ridicule the natural impulse of most people thus to record
themselves at the shrines of poets and heroes.

On a panel, let into the wall in a corner of the room, is a portrait of
Burns, copied from the original picture by Nasmyth. The floor of this
apartment is of boards, which are probably a recent substitute for the
ordinary flag-stones of a peasant's cottage. There is but one other room
pertaining to the genuine birthplace of Robert Burns: it is the kitchen,
into which we now went. It has a floor of flag-stones, even ruder than
those of Shakespeare's house,--though, perhaps, not so strangely cracked
and broken as the latter, over which the hoof of Satan himself might seem
to have been trampling. A new window has been opened through the wall,
towards the road; but on the opposite side is the little original window,
of only four small panes, through which came the first daylight that
shone upon the Scottish poet. At the side of the room, opposite the
fireplace, is a recess, containing a bed, which can be hidden by
curtains. In that humble nook, of all places in the world, Providence
was pleased to deposit the germ of the richest, human life which mankind
then had within its circumference.

These two rooms, as I have said, make up the whole sum and substance of
Burns's birthplace: for there were no chambers, nor even attics; and the
thatched roof formed the only ceiling of kitchen and sitting-room, the
height of which was that of the whole house. The cottage, however, is
attached to another edifice of the same size and description, as these
little habitations often are; and, moreover, a splendid addition has been
made to it, since the poet's renown began to draw visitors to the wayside
alehouse. The old woman of the house led us through an entry, and showed
a vaulted hall, of no vast dimensions, to be sure, but marvellously large
and splendid as compared with what might be anticipated from the outward
aspect of the cottage. It contained a bust of Burns, and was hung round
with pictures and engravings, principally illustrative of his life and
poems. In this part of the house, too, there is a parlor, fragrant with
tobacco-smoke; and, no doubt, many a noggin of whiskey is here quaffed to
the memory of the bard, who professed to draw so much inspiration from
that potent liquor.

We bought some engravings of Kirk Alloway, the Bridge of Doon, and the
monument, and gave the old woman a fee besides, and took our leave. A
very short drive farther brought us within sight of the monument, and to
the hotel, situated close by the entrance of the ornamental grounds
within which the former is enclosed. We rang the bell at the gate of the
enclosure, but were forced to wait a considerable time; because the old
man, the regular superintendent of the spot, had gone to assist at the
laying of the corner-stone of a new kirk. He appeared anon, and admitted
us, but immediately hurried away to be present at the concluding
ceremonies, leaving us locked up with Burns.

The enclosure around the monument is beautifully laid out as an
ornamental garden, and abundantly provided with rare flowers and
shrubbery, all tended with loving care. The monument stands on an
elevated site, and consists of a massive basement-story, three-sided,
above which rises a light and elegant Grecian temple,--a mere dome,
supported on Corinthian pillars, and open to all the winds. The edifice
is beautiful in itself; though I know not what peculiar appropriateness
it may have, as the memorial of a Scottish rural poet.

The door of the basement-story stood open; and, entering, we saw a bust
of Burns in a niche, looking keener, more refined, but not so warm and
whole-souled as his pictures usually do. I think the likeness cannot be
good. In the centre of the room stood a glass case, in which were
reposited the two volumes of the little Pocket Bible that Burns gave to
Highland Mary, when they pledged their troth to one another. It is
poorly printed, on coarse paper. A verse of Scripture, referring to the
solemnity and awfulness of vows, is written within the cover of each
volume, in the poet's own hand; and fastened to one of the covers is a
lock of Highland Mary's golden hair. This Bible had been carried to
America--by one of her relatives, but was sent back to be fitly treasured
here.

There is a staircase within the monument, by which we ascended to the
top, and had a view of both Briggs of Doon; the scene of Tam O'Shanter's
misadventure being close at hand. Descending, we wandered through the
enclosed garden, and came to a little building in a corner, on entering
which, we found the two statues of Tam and Sutor Wat,--ponderous
stone-work enough, yet permeated in a remarkable degree with living
warmth and jovial hilarity. From this part of the garden, too, we again
beheld the old Brigg of Doon, over which Tam galloped in such imminent
and awful peril. It is a beautiful object in the landscape, with one
high, graceful arch, ivy-grown, and shadowed all over and around with
foliage.

When we had waited a good while, the old gardener came, telling us that
he had heard an excellent prayer at laying the corner-stone of the new
kirk. He now gave us some roses and sweetbrier, and let us out from his
pleasant garden. We immediately hastened to Kirk Alloway, which is
within two or three minutes' walk of the monument. A few steps ascend
from the roadside, through a gate, into the old graveyard, in the midst
of which stands the kirk. The edifice is wholly roofless, but the
side-walls and gable-ends are quite entire, though portions of them
are evidently modern restorations. Never was there a plainer little
church, or one with smaller architectural pretension; no New England
meeting-house has more simplicity in its very self, though poetry and fun
have clambered and clustered so wildly over Kirk Alloway that it is
difficult to see it as it actually exists. By the by, I do not
understand why Satan and an assembly of witches should hold their revels
within a consecrated precinct; but the weird scene has so established
itself in the world's imaginative faith that it must be accepted as an
authentic incident, in spite of rule and reason to the contrary.
Possibly, some carnal minister, some priest of pious aspect and hidden
infidelity, had dispelled the consecration of the holy edifice by his
pretence of prayer, and thus made it the resort of unhappy ghosts and
sorcerers and devils.

The interior of the kirk, even now, is applied to quite as impertinent a
purpose as when Satan and the witches used it as a dancing-hall; for it
is divided in the midst by a wall of stone-masonry, and each compartment
has been converted into a family burial-place. The name on one of the
monuments is Crawfurd; the other bore no inscription. It is impossible
not to feel that these good people, whoever they may be, had no business
to thrust their prosaic bones into a spot that belongs to the world, and
where their presence jars with the emotions, be they sad or gay, which
the pilgrim brings thither. They slant us out from our own precincts,
too,--from that inalienable possession which Burns bestowed in free gift
upon mankind, by taking it from the actual earth and annexing it to the
domain of imagination. And here these wretched squatters have lain down
to their long sleep, after barring each of the two doorways of the kirk
with an iron grate! May their rest be troubled, till they rise and let
us in!

Kirk Alloway is inconceivably small, considering how large a space it
fills in our imagination before we see it. I paced its length, outside
of the wall, and found it only seventeen of my paces, and not more than
ten of them in breadth. There seem to have been but very few windows,
all of which, if I rightly remember, are now blocked up with mason-work
of stone. One mullioned window, tall and narrow, in the eastern gable,
might have been seen by Tam O'Shanter, blazing with devilish light, as he
approached along the road from Ayr; and there is a small and square one,
on the side nearest the road, into which he might have peered, as he sat
on horseback. Indeed, I could easily have looked through it, standing on
the ground, had not the opening been walled up. There is an odd kind of
belfry at the peak of one of the gables, with the small bell still
hanging in it. And this is all that I remember of Kirk Alloway, except
that the stones of its material are gray and irregular.

The road from Ayr passes Alloway Kirk, and crosses the Doon by a modern
bridge, without swerving much from a straight line. To reach the old
bridge, it appears to have made a bend, shortly after passing the kirk,
and then to have turned sharply towards the river. The new bridge is
within a minute's walk of the monument; and we went thither, and leaned
over its parapet to admire the beautiful Doon, flowing wildly and sweetly
between its deep and wooded banks. I never saw a lovelier scene;
although this might have been even lovelier, if a kindly sun had shone
upon it. The ivy-grown, ancient bridge, with its high arch, through
which we had a picture of the river and the green banks beyond, was
absolutely the most picturesque object, in a quiet and gentle way, that
ever blessed my eyes. Bonny Doon, with its wooded banks, and the boughs
dipping into the water!

The memory of them, at this moment, affects me like the song of birds,
and Burns crooning some verses, simple and wild, in accordance with their
native melody.

It was impossible to depart without crossing the very bridge of Tam's
adventure; so we went thither, over a now disused portion of the road,
and, standing on the centre of the arch, gathered some ivy-leaves from
that sacred spot. This done, we returned as speedily as might be to Ayr,
whence, taking the rail, we soon beheld Ailsa Craig rising like a pyramid
out of the sea. Drawing nearer to Glasgow, Bell Lomond hove in sight,
with a dome-like summit, supported by a shoulder on each side. But a man
is better than a mountain; and we had been holding intercourse, if not
with the reality, at least with the stalwart ghost of one of Earth's
memorable sons, amid the scenes where he lived and sung. We shall
appreciate him better as a poet, hereafter; for there is no writer whose
life, as a man, has so much to do with his fame, and throws such a
necessary light, upon whatever he has produced. Henceforth, there will
be a personal warmth for us in everything that he wrote; and, like his
countrymen, we shall know him in a kind of personal way, as if we had
shaken hands with him, and felt the thrill of his actual voice.


Nathaniel Hawthorne

Sorry, no summary available yet.