Thursday, August 18th.
Went to the churchyard where Burns is buried. A bookseller accompanied us. He showed us the outside of Burns's house, where he had lived the last three years of his life, and where he died. It has a mean appearance, and is in a bye situation, whitewashed; dirty about the doors, as almost all Scotch houses are; flowering plants in the windows.
Went on to visit his grave. He lies at a corner of the churchyard, and his second son, Francis Wallace, beside him. There is no stone to mark the spot; but a hundred guineas have been collected, to be expended on some sort of monument. 'There,' said the bookseller, pointing to a pompous monument, 'there lies Mr. Such-a-one' - I have forgotten his name, - 'a remarkably clever man; he was an attorney, and hardly ever lost a cause he undertook. Burns made many a lampoon upon him, and there they rest, as you see.' We looked at the grave with melancholy and painful reflections, repeating to each other his own verses: -
'Is there a man whose judgment clear
Can others teach the course to steer,
Yet runs himself life's mad career
Wild as the wave? -
Here let him pause, and through a tear
Survey this grave.
The Poor Inhabitant below
Was quick to learn, and wise to know,
And keenly felt the friendly glow
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name.'
The churchyard is full of grave-stones and expensive monuments in all sorts of fantastic shapes - obelisk-wise, pillar-wise, etc. In speaking of Gretna Green, I forgot to mention that we visited the churchyard. The church is like a huge house; indeed, so are all the churches, with a steeple, not a square tower or spire, - a sort of thing more like a glass-house chimney than a Church of England steeple; grave-stones in abundance, few verses, yet there were some - no texts. Over the graves of married women the maiden name instead of that of the husband, 'spouse' instead of 'wife,' and the place of abode preceded by 'in' instead of 'of.' When our guide had left us, we turned again to Burns's house. Mrs. Burns was gone to spend some time by the sea-shore with her children. We spoke to the servant-maid at the door, who invited us forward, and we sate down in the parlour.
The walls were coloured with a blue wash; on one side of the fire was a mahogany desk, opposite to the window a clock, and over the desk a print from the 'Cotter's Saturday Night,' which Burns mentions in one of his letters having received as a present. The house was cleanly and neat in the inside, the stairs of stone, scoured white, the kitchen on the right side of the passage, the parlour on the left. In the room above the parlour the Poet died, and his son after him in the same room. The servant told us she had lived five years with Mrs. Burns, who was now in great sorrow for the death of 'Wallace.' She said that Mrs. Burns's youngest son was at Christ's Hospital.
We were glad to leave Dumfries, which is no agreeable place to them who do not love the bustle of a town that seems to be rising up to wealth. We could think of little else but poor Burns, and his moving about on that unpoetic ground. In our road to Brownhill, the next stage, we passed Ellisland at a little distance on our right, his farmhouse. We might there have had more pleasure in looking round, if we had been nearer to the spot; but there is no thought surviving in connexion with Burns's daily life that is not heart-depressing. Travelled through the vale of Nith, here little like a vale, it is so broad, with irregular hills rising up on each side, in outline resembling the old-fashioned valances of a bed. There is a great deal of arable land; the corn ripe; trees here and there - plantations, clumps, coppices, and a newness in everything. So much of the gorse and broom rooted out that you wonder why it is not all gone, and yet there seems to be almost as much gorse and broom as corn; and they grow one among another you know not how. Crossed the Nith; the vale becomes narrow, and very pleasant; cornfields, green hills, clay cottages; the river's bed rocky, with woody banks.
Left the Nith about a mile and a half, and reached Brownhill, a lonely inn, where we slept. The view from the windows was pleasing, though some travellers might have been disposed to quarrel with it for its general nakedness; yet there was abundance of corn. It is an open country - open, yet all over hills. At a little distance were many cottages among trees, that looked very pretty. Brownhill is about seven or eight miles from Ellisland. I fancied to myself, while I was sitting in the parlour, that Burns might have caroused there, for most likely his rounds extended so far, and this thought gave a melancholy interest to the smoky walls. It was as pretty a room as a thoroughly dirty one could be - a square parlour painted green, but so covered over with smoke and dirt that it looked not unlike green seen through black gauze. There were three windows, looking three ways, a buffet ornamented with tea-cups, a superfine largeish looking-glass with gilt ornaments spreading far and wide, the glass spotted with dirt, some ordinary alehouse pictures, and above the chimney-piece a print in a much better style - as William guessed, taken from a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds - of some lady of quality, in the character of Euphrosyne. 'Ay,' said the servant girl, seeing that we looked at it, 'there's many travellers would give a deal for that, it's more admired than any in the house.' We could not but smile; for the rest were such as may be found in the basket of any Italian image and picture hawker.
William and I walked out after dinner; Coleridge was not well, and slept upon the carriage cushions. We made our way to the cottages among the little hills and knots of wood, and then saw what a delightful country this part of Scotland might be made by planting forest trees. The ground all over heaves and swells like a sea; but for miles there are neither trees nor hedgerows, only 'mound' fences and tracts; or slips of corn, potatoes, clover - with hay between, and barren land; but near the cottages many hills and hillocks covered with wood. We passed some fine trees, and paused under the shade of one close by an old mansion that seemed from its neglected state to be inhabited by farmers. But I must say that many of the 'gentlemen's' houses which we have passed in Scotland have an air of neglect, and even of desolation. It was a beech, in the full glory of complete and perfect growth, very tall, with one thick stem mounting to a considerable height, which was split into four 'thighs,' as Coleridge afterwards called them, each in size a fine tree. Passed another mansion, now tenanted by a schoolmaster; many boys playing upon the lawn. I cannot take leave of the country which we passed through to-day, without mentioning that we saw the Cumberland mountains within half a mile of Ellisland, Burns's house, the last view we had of them. Drayton has prettily described the connexion which this neighbourhood has with ours when he makes Skiddaw say -
'Scurfell from the sky,
That Anadale doth crown, with a most amorous eye,
Salutes me every day, or at my pride looks grim,
Oft threatning me with clouds, as I oft threatning him.'
These lines recurred to William's memory, and we talked of Burns, and of the prospect he must have had, perhaps from his own door, of Skiddaw and his companions, indulging ourselves in the fancy that we might have been personally known to each other, and he have looked upon those objects with more pleasure for our sakes. We talked of Coleridge's children and family, then at the foot of Skiddaw, and our own new-born John a few miles behind it; while the grave of Burns's son, which we had just seen by the side of his father, and some stories heard at Dumfries respecting the dangers his surviving children were exposed to, filled us with melancholy concern, which had a kind of connexion with ourselves. In recollection of this, William long afterwards wrote the following Address to the sons of the ill-fated poet: -
Ye now are panting up life's hill,
'Tis twilight time of good and ill,
And more than common strength and skill
Must ye display,
If ye would give the better will
Its lawful sway.
Strong-bodied if ye be to bear
Intemperance with less harm, beware,
But if your Father's wit ye share,
Then, then indeed,
Ye Sons of Burns, for watchful care
There will be need.
For honest men delight will take
To shew you favour for his sake,
Will flatter you, and Fool and Rake
Your steps pursue,
And of your Father's name will make
A snare for you.
Let no mean hope your souls enslave,
Be independent, generous, brave;
Your Father such example gave,
And such revere,
But be admonished by his grave,
And think and fear.
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