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55 Praise from thy lips 'tis mine with joy to boast, They best can give it who deserve it most."
Your lordship touches the darling chord of my heart, when you advise me to fire my muse at Scottish story and Scottish seenes. I wish for nothing more than to make a leisurely pilgrimage through my native country; to sit and muse on those once hard-contended fields, where Caledonia, rejoicing, saw her bloody lion borne through broken ranks to victory and fame ; and, catching the inspiration, to pour the deathless names in song But, my lord, in the midst of these enthusiastic reveries, a long-visaged, dry, moral-looking phantom strides across my imagination, and pronounces these emphatic words, I, Wisdom, dwell zvith Prudence.
This, my lord, is unanswerable. I must return to my humble station, and woo my rustic muse in my wonted way at the plough-tail. Still, my lord, while the drops of life warm my heart, gratitude to that dear-loved country in which I boast my birth, and gratitude to those her distinguished sons, who have honoured me so much with their patronage and approbation, shall, while stealing through my humble shades, ever distend my bo. som, and at times draw forth the swelling tear.
Ext. Property in favour of Mr. Robert Burns,
to erect and keep up a headstone in memory of poet Fergusson, 1787.
Session-house, within the Kirk of Canoni.
gate, the twenty-second day of February, one thousand seven hundred cighty seven years.
Sederunt of the Managers of the Kirk and Kirk
Yard funds of Canongate.
Which day the treasurer to the said funds produced a letter from Mr. Robert Burns, of date the sixth current, which was read and appointed to be engrossed in their sederunt book, and of which letter the tenor follows. * To the honourable bajllies of Canongate, Edinburgh. Gentlemen, I am sorry to be told that the remains of Robert Fergusson, the so justly celebrated poet, a man whose talents for ages to come will do honour to our Ca. ledonian name, lie in your church-yard among the ignoble dead, unnoticed and unknown.
“ Some memorial to direct the steps of the lovers of Scottish song, when they wish to shed a tear over the “ narrow house" of the bard who is no more, is surely a tribute due to Fergusson's memory: a tribute I wish to have the honour of paying.
“I petition you then, gentlemen, to permit me to lay a simple stone over his revered ashes, to remain an unalienable property to his deathless fame. I have the honour to be, gentlemen, your very hamble servant (sic subscribitur),
Thereafter the said managers, in consideration of the laudable and disinterested motion of Mr. Burns, and the propriety of his request, did, and hereby do, unanimously, grant power and liberty to the said Robert Burns, to erect a headstone at the grave of the said Robert Fergusson, and to keep up and preserve the same to his memory in all time coming. Extracted forth of the records of the managers by
WILLIAM SPROTT, Clerķ.
My dear sir,
You may think, and too justly, that I am a selfish ungrateful fellow, having received so many repeated instances of kindness from you, and yet never putting pen to paper to say, thank you ; but if you knew what a devil of a life my conscience has led me on that account, your good heart would think yourself too much avenged. By the bye, there is nothing in the whole frame of man, which seems to me so unaccountable as that thing called conscience. Had the troublsome yelping cur powers sufficient to prevent a mischief, he might be of use; but at the beginning of the business, his feeble efforts are to the workings of passion as the infant frosts of an autumnal morning to the unclouded fervor of the rising sun: and no sooner are the tumultuous doings of the wicked deed over, than, amidst the bitter native consequences of folly, in the very vortex of our horrors, up staris conscience and harrows us with the feelings of the d*****.
I have inclosed you, by way of expiation, some verse and prose, that, if they merit a place in your truly entertaining miscellany, you are welcome to. The prose extract is literally as Mr. Sprott sent
The inscription on the stone is as follows:
HERE LIES ROBERT FERGUSSON, POET,
Born, September 5th, 1751.-Died, 16th October,
No sculptur'd marble here, nor pompous lay,
* No storied urn nor animated bust;" This simple stone directs pa] Scotia's way
To pour her sorrows o'er her poet's dust.
On the other side of the stone is as follows :
“By special grant of the managers to Robert Burns, who erected this stone, this burial-place is to remain for ever sacred to the memory of Robert Fergusson.”
Extract of a Letter from
8th March, 1787. I am truly happy to know you have found a friend in ********* ; his patronage of you does him great honour. He is truly a good man ; by far the best I ever knew, or perhaps ever shall know in this world. But I must not speak all I think of him, lest I should be thought partial.
So you have obtained liberty from the magistrates to erect a stone over Fergusson's grave? I do not doubt it; such things have been, as Shakespeare says, " in the olden-time.”
* The poet's fate is here in emblem shewn, He ask'd for bread, and be received a stone."
It is I believe upon poor Butler's tomb that this is written. But how many brothers of Parnassus, as well as poor Butler and poor Fergusson, have asked for bread, and been served with the same sauce!
The magistrates gave you liberty, did they? Ol generous magistrates ! *******, celebrated over the three kingdoms for his public spirit, gives a poor poet liberty to raise a tomb to a poor poet's memory! most generous ! ******* once upon a time gave that same poet the mighty sum of eighteen pence for a copy of his works.
But then it must
be considered that the poet was at this time absolutely starving, and besought his aid with all the earnestness of hunger. And over and above he reeeived a ********, worth at least one third of the value, in exchange, but which I believe the poet afterwards very ungratefully expunged.
Next week I hope to have the pleasure of seeing you in Edinburgh; and, as my stay will be for eight or ten days, I wish you or ***** would take a snug well-aired bed-room for me, where I may have the pleasure of seeing you over a morning cup of tea.
But by all accounts it will be a matter of some difficulty to see you at all, unless your company is bespoke a week before hand. There is a great rumour here concerning your great intimacy with the Duchess of —, and other ladies of distinction. I am really told that “ cards to invite fly by thousands each night;" and, if you had one, I suppose there would also be “bribes to your old secretary.” It seems you are resolved to make hay while the sun shines, and avoid if possible the fate of poor Fergusson, *************** Quærenda pecunia primum est, virtus post nummos, is a good maxim to thrive by: you seemed to despise it while in this country, but probably some philosopher in Edinburgh has taught you better sense.
Pray are you yet engraving as well as printing? are you yet seized
“ With itch of picture in the front,
But I must give up this trifling, and attend to matters that more concern myself; so, as the Aberdeen wit says, adieu dryly, we sal drink phan we meet*.
The above extract is from a letter of one of the ablest of our poet's correspondents, which contains some interesting anecdotes of Fei sson, that we should have been happy to have inserted, if they could have been authenticated. The writer