The influence of the Craft of
Freemasonry is exemplified in a very strong and striking manner in the
biography of Scotia's famous poet, Robert Burns. In a humble cottage on
the banks of the Doon, in the district of Kyle, about two miles to the
south of the town of Ayr, Robert Burns was born on 25th January, 1759.
His father was a peasant farmer, and of him the poet wrote:—
father was a farmer upon the Carrick border, O,
carefully he reared me in decency and order, O;
me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing, O,
without an honest, manly heart no man was worth regarding, O."
That father was, during his life, the victim of many
reverses and misfortunes. The cottage in which the poet was born was a
clay-built and thatched one, on the highway which leads from Ayr to the
southern part of the county. The "auld clay biggin'" was afterwards
converted into a neat, whitened publichouse, and for some years was kept
by a Mr. John Goudie, who, with his wife, knew the poet intimately. The
cottage consisted of two rooms only, one of which served as kitchen, and
it was in this room that Robert Burns was born. There was then no
ceiling to the humble apartment—simply the reverse of the thatched roof,
is the cottage as it was of old,
window four small panes, and in the wall
box-bed where the first daylight did fall
their new-born infant: narrow fold And poor,
times were hard and winds were cold.
were still to him. And now, close by,
Corinthian columns mounted high.
famed Choragic Tripod shines in gold:
lumbering carriages of these dull years
passed away, their dust has ceased to whir
the pedestrian; silent to our ears
maelstrom of Scottish men, this son
poor cot we count the kingliest one;
Time's justice—Time the harvester."
W. Bell Scott.
The cottage is now the property of the Ayr Burns
Monument Trustees, by whom it is set apart as a museum for relics of the
poet. In the interior of the kitchen is shown the recess where the poet
The father, William Burnes — for so he spelled his
name — is described, by one who knew him towards the latter end of his
life, as being "above the ordinary stature, thin, and bent down with
labour. His countenance was serious and expressive, and the scanty locks
on his head were grey. He was of a religious turn of mind, and, as is
usual among the Scottish peasantry, a good deal conversant in
speculative theology." He compiled for his own use "A Manual of
Religious Belief for the Instruction of Children." It remained in
manuscript form until 1875, when it was published as a Burns memento.
The manual is curious for its quaint phraseology.
William Burnes looked upon Robert as the best reader
in the house, and used to employ him to read the Bible to the rest.
Burns' mother was Agnes Brown, the daughter of a race of Ayrshire
Burns in his boyhood learned grammar, writing,
arithmetic, a little mathematics, some Latin, and a smattering of
French. He contrived in his earlier years to obtain some knowledge of
many English classical works and of the ancient poets, by means of
Burns had attained his sixteenth year only when he
made his essay into poetry, the subject of his muse being a comely lass
of the name of Nelly, who was associated with him after the usual
fashion in the harvest-rig.
He had acquired considerable local fame when, on 4th
July, 1781, he was initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry in the
St. David's Lodge at Tarbolton, in the twenty -third year of his age.
After this. Freemasonry became to him a great propelling power.
Nine days prior to Burns' initiation, a union — or,
as it was termed, a "junction" — was effected between the two Tarbolton
Lodges, the St. David Lodge, No. 174, and the St. James' Lodge, No. 178,
when it was agreed that the united Lodge should bear the name , of St.
David. The Tarbolton Lodge had been constituted by a Charter from
Kilwinning in 1771, and the St. David's Lodge was formed by a number
of disaffected members of Tarbolton Kilwinning, with a few others, in
1773. The minute recording his initiation reads:—
“Sedarant for July 4th.
Burns in Lochly was entered an apprentice.
Lockhart says that he was introduced to the Lodge by
John Rankine. Rankine is said to have been a- man of considerable
talents and attainments, though very dissipated. He was a well-to-do
farmer of the parish of Craigie, residing near Lochlea, or Lochly, the
poet's home, and, on several occasions, he was the subject of the poet's
verse. Burns on his death-bed wrote the following lines, which were sent
to Rankine after the poet had passed away :—
of Rankine sang lies stiff and dead.
green, grassy hillock haps his head;
alas ! a devilish change indeed !"
The house in Tarbolton in which, from 1784, the
meetings of the St. James' Lodge were held, still stands in a street
which has since been named “Burns Street." Its modern appearance differs
from the photograph, and within recent years it has been renovated and
slated. James Humphry, on whom Burns wrote the wellknown epitaph :—
thir stanes lie Jamie's banes;
Death ! it's my opinion.
ne'er took such a bleth'rin' b—tch
thy dark dominion,"
was in early life very intimate with Burns. One day
he said to him: “James, you that are a Brother of the compass and
square, can you tell me what like the Pyramids of Egypt are?” James felt
rather puzzled how to word his reply, but, seldom at a loss for a ready
answer, he said: “Deed, Robin, I think they're shaped gay like your ain
nose—broad at the bottom and narrow at the top." Burns laughed heartily
at the homely solution of the problem by which he hoped to puzzle his
At that time Burns was, in a great measure, unnoticed
and unknown—and, it must be admitted, somewhat unpolished in his
manners. It was by contact with brethren higher in the social scale, but
who recognised his talents and merits, that his manners became more
refined, his intellectual energies were stimulated, and his merits
gradually, but surely, acknowledged and applauded. Freemasonry
influenced his thoughts, inspired his muse, and nurtured that stern love
of independence and brotherhood which became the predominant
characteristic of his manhood.
From the time of his initiation by Alexander Wood, a
tailor, of Tarbolton, he was an enthusiastic Mason, and wherever he went
he always made it his immediate care to identify himself as a member or
a visitor in the local Masonic Lodge. With very few exceptions, all his
patrons and acquaintances were members of the brotherhood.
William Jolly says of him: “Burns was a very keen
Mason, the ideal philanthropy and brotherhood of the system being
irresistible to such a mind, and he used to go to Masonic meetings all
the way to Tarbolton and Kilmarnock."
It has been left to Principal Shairp to achieve what
might almost have been regarded as the impossible task of writing a
biography of Burns without once mentioning Freemasonry or the poet's
connection with the Craft. The second and third degrees were taken by
Burns on the same evening, in the month of October following his
Dr. James Currie gives the following description of
the poet: "He was nearly five feet ten inches in height, and of a form
that indicated agility as well as strength. His well-raised forehead,
shaded with black, curling hair, indicated extensive capacity. His eyes
were large, dark, full of ardour and intelligence. His face was well
-formed, and his countenance uncommonly interesting and expressive. His
mode of dressing, which was often slovenly, and a certain fullness and
bend in his shoulders, characteristic of his original profession,
disguised in some degree the natural symmetry and elegance of his form.
The appearance of Burns was most strikingly indicative of the character
of his mind. On a first view his physiognomy had a certain air of
coarseness, mingled, however, with an expression of deep penetration and
of calm thoughtfulness approaching to melancholy. There appeared in his
first manner and address perfect ease and self-possession, but a stern
and almost supercilious elevation, not, indeed, incompatible with
openness and affability, which, however, bespoke a mind conscious of
He was passed and raised on 1st October, and the
minute runs :—
“Sederant, October ist, 1781.
Burns in Lochly was passed & raised.
Lockhart says that immediately after his initiation
he removed to Irvine, where he resided until the end of the following
In the following December there was again a
disruption and the seceders reconstituted the old Lodge of St. James,
Burns also becoming a member. St. James' Lodge has still in its keeping
the Minute Books containing three minutes in the poet's handwriting, and
twenty-five signed by him as Depute Master. The Lodge treasures also the
mallet used by Burns when presiding at its meetings, the silver badge
referred to in the "Farewell to the Brethren of St. James' Lodge,
Tarbolton "—reprinted on page 42. The Lodge Bible, which bears the date
1775, was one of the poet's possessions. It was purchased by the Lodge
on 29th July, 1786; the minute running: "Bible cost 13s, 'lettering'
(i.e., the painted name of the Lodge outside) cost 3s."
Professor J. Stuart Blackie, in his biography of
Burns, enlarges upon an innuendo, circulated in the first place by an
anonymous scribbler, that his attendance at Masonic meetings led him
into excesses. He says: —
“In the latter part of the last century, in such a
village as Tarbolton or Mauchline, it (Freemasonry) meant only a
convivial meeting of jolly good fellows, which might often be without
wit, but never could be without drink. Into the mystical brotherhood at
Tarbolton the poet had flung himself with all the ardour of social
enjoyment which, next to love, supplied the most potent steam of his
soul. But steam requires regulation, explosion is nigh. As an
essentially social being, beating in every vein with an intense pulse of
human kinship. Burns entered heart and soul into the next company he
could find at the time and place; and if he did not always escape the
contagion of unworthy companionship, he could at all events boast for
himself that he strangled blue devils in the most brilliant style, and,
for his fellow -boozers, that he turned the commonplace level of their
convivial compotations into an intellectual treat of the highest order."
Burns, as is well known, enjoyed a convivial gathering, and doubtless
wrote with sympathy and gusto the words:—
fill up a bumper and make it o'erflow.
honours Masonic prepare for to throw.
every true Brother of the compass and square
big-belly'd bottle when harass'd with care."
This was a stanza added to the song, “No Churchman am
I." But the most effective reply to the statement of Professor Blackie,
as well as to other statements of a similar character, is to quote from
his Brother Gilbert's testimony on this point. It is as follows: —
"Towards the end of the period under review (in
his twenty -fourth year), and soon after his father's death, he was
furnished with the subject of his epistle to John Rankin. During this
period, also, he became a Freemason, which was his first introduction to
the life of a boon companion. Yet, notwithstanding these circumstances,
and the praise he has bestowed on Scotch drink (which seems to have
misled his historians, I do not recollect during these seven years, nor
till towards the end of his commencing author (when his growing
celebrity occasioned his often being in company), to have ever seen him
intoxicated; nor was he at all given to drinking."
not ye, whose thoughts are fingers.
hands that witch the lyre —
Greenland has its mountain icebergs,
has its heart of fire; Calculation has its plummet;
Self-control has iron rules;
has its sparkling fountains;
Dullness has its stagnant pools;
halcyon on the waters,
chart disdain'd a plan —
soarings he was Heavenly,
sinkings he was man."
The following letter, addressed to Sir John
Whitefoord, Bart., of Ballochmyle, is in Burns' handwriting, and the
date, of it is believed to be towards the end of 1782:
" Sir,—We who subscribe to this are both members
of St. James's Lodge, Tarbolton, and one of us is in the office of
Warden, and as we have the honour of having you for Master of our Lodge,
we hope you will excuse this freedom, as you are the proper person to
whom we ought to apply. We look on our Mason Lodge to be a serious
matter, both with respect to the character of Masonry itself, and
likewise as it is a Charitable Society. This last, indeed, does not
interest you farther than a benevolent heart is interested in the
welfare of its fellow creatures ; but to us. Sir, who are of the lower
orders of mankind, to have a fund in view, on which we may with
certainty depend to be kept from want should we be in circumstances of
distress, or old age, that is a matter of high importance.'
‘We are sorry to observe that our Lodge's affairs,
with respect to its finances, have for a good while been in a wretched
situation. We have considerable sums in bills which lye by without being
paid, or put in execution, and many of our members never mind their
yearly dues, or anything else belonging to our Lodge. And since the
separation from St. David's, we are not sure even of our existence as a
Lodge. There has been a dispute before the Grand Lodge, but how decided,
r if decided at all, we know not. For these and other reasons, we humbly
beg he favour of you, as soon as convenient, to call meeting, and let us
consider on some means to etrieve our wretched affairs.—We are," etc.
Sir Whitefoord, or Whiteford, was initiated n the
Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2, under he rule of Lord Provost George
Drummond, in 1765, and in the following year was appointed Senior Grand
Warden of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, which fifice he held for two
years. His eldest daughter, ary Anne, was Burns' heroine in "The Braes
of Ballochmyle." Sir John Whitefoord died at Edinburgh n 1803.
The first Worshipful Master of the St. James' Lodge
after its reconstruction was Major –General then Captain) Montgomery—the
name is sometimes spelt "Montgomerie"—a scion of the noble house of
Eglintoun, and Burns, in course of time, became the Depute Master, and,
although he removed to Mossgiel, about three miles distant, he was a
regular attendant at its meetings. Tarbolton, although an obscure
village, was destined to become famous as the birthplace of many
important and permanent friendships. Professor Dugald Stewart, who was
then resident at Catrine, was admitted as an honorary member of this
Lodge, and the minute recording his admission is signed by "Robert
Burns, D.M." It was on 27th July, 1784, that Burns was elected Depute
Master of the St. James' Lodge, Tarbolton, and he held that position
until St. John's Day, 1788. In that capacity he attended, in 1785, on
29th June, 20th July, and and 18th August, 15th September, 26th
October, l0th November, and 1st and 7th December. In 1786 he attended on
7th January, 1st March, 25th May, 7th, 15th, 24th, and 29th June, 18th
August, 5th October, and l0th November.
The meeting on 25th May, 1786, was eleven days
subsequent to the assumed date of the parting with Mary Campbell.
The Lodge Minutes of 15th June, 1786, contain a
curious entry, which reads as follows : "It was proposed by the Lodge
that, as they much wanted a Lodge-room, a proposal be laid before the
heritors, who are intending to build a steeple here, that the Lodge
shall contribute to the building of a Lodge room here as the basis of
that steeple, and that from the funds of the Lodge they allow fifteen
pounds, besides what will be advanced from the particular friends of the
Lodge : in order that this proposal be properly laid before the
heritors, five persons—namely, the Right Worshipful Master, Brother
M'Math, Brother Burns, Brother Woodrow, Brother William Andrew—are
appointed to meet on Saturday at one o'clock to draw up a proposal to
lay before the heritors on Friday first."
On 30th November, 1786, there was a public daylight
Masonic procession, in which Burns took part. The Brethren marched to
St. Andrew's Church, Newtown, Edinburgh, where a sermon on Brotherly
Love was preached by Rev. Bro. Wright, A.M., Maybole, Grand Chaplain.
On ist March, 1786, the poet's brother Gilbert took
the second and third degrees, and it was then that both first signed
their names as Burns instead of Burness. Until that date the poet had
always signed as “Robert Burness."
Chambers says that his first notable deviation from "
Burness " was in the poem " Mossgiel," which was probably taken to suit
the necessities of rhyme, and that he made the final change to "Burns"
on 14th April, 1786.
Gilbert Burns, who later on became a factor in East
Lothian, survived his brother by about forty years. He has left it on
record that Robert was at a Masonic meeting one night in Tarbolton when
the village dominie made an ostentatious display of his medical skill.
The poet applied to him the epithet of Dr. Hornbook, by way of censure;
and after parting, his muse, on the road home, gave vent to "Death and
Chambers' account of the incident is as follows: "
In the seed-time of 1785—the date is given on the poet's own
authority—Burns attended a Masonic meeting at Tarbolton, at which one of
the brethren present was John Wilson, schoolmaster of the parish. To eke
out a living, as Gilbert tells us, Wilson had set up a shop of grocery
goods. Having accidentally fallen in with some medical books, and become
most hobby-horsically attached to the study of medicine, he had added
the sale of a few medicines to his little trade. He had got a shop-bill
printed, at the bottom of which, overlooking his own incapacity, he had
advertised that 'Advice would be given in common disorders at the shop
gratis.' On this occasion he made a somewhat ostentatious display of his
medical attainments. It is said that he and Burns had a dispute, in
which the schoolmaster paraded his therapeutics too offensively. Be this
as it may, going home that night, Burns conceived and partly composed
his poem, ' Death and Dr. Hornbook.' 'These circumstances,' adds
Gilbert, 'he related to me when he repeated the verses next afternoon,
as I was holding the plough, and he was letting the water off the field
Wilson was Secretary of the Tarbolton Lodge from 8th
August, 1782, until some time in 1787. He wrote many of the Minutes and
signed two of them as “Master pro tempore," and a third as "M. p. t." In
1787 the poet attended the Lodge on 4th and 25th July, and in 1788 on
7th and 23rd May, 1 6th June, 21st October, and nth November. At the
meetings in October and November, 1788, he made flying visits from
Ellisland. That of nth November is his last recorded appearance at St.
James' Lodge, Tarbolton. Burns has referred to his duties as Depute
Master in the lines : —
honoured with supreme command.
Presided o'er the Sons of Light."
His first initiate was Matthew Hall, a noted
musician, long after a resident in Newton-upon-Ayr. Hugh Andrew, who in
Burns' time acted as whipper-in to General Montgomery, was a Steward in
the Tarbolton Lodge, and to him Burns has made reference in his poem, "
The Twa Dogs " : —
whipper-in, wee blastit wonner,
worthless elf, he eats a dinner
than ony tenant man
honour has in a' the lan'."
Andrew, in 1833, was still living in a cottage in the
Coilsfield Woods, where Mary Campbell, the subject of the poem “To Mary
in Heaven," served as a byres-woman or dairymaid.
This Tarbolton Lodge was the subject on which Bro. A.
Glass, of the Ayr Operative Lodge, No. 138, some years ago wrote the
following poem, which appeared in The Freemason of 5th August, 1871 : —
sat beneath the old rooftree
Bums oft spent the festive night,
happy as a king could be
the honoured 'Sons of Light.'
it was as Mecca's shrine
ardent Eastern devotee.
Scotia's minstrel passed langsyne
hours of joyous glee.
hallowed recollections throng
that spot endeared to fame?
happy scenes of love and song
conjured up in Burns' name?
mystic fane, however grand,
with the lowly Lodge compare.
'honoured with supreme command
Presided Fame's eternal heir?
the corridors of Time
ever sweep his deathless lays.
Scotia's sons, in every clime.
sweetly of their native braes;
fancy rove 'whaur Lugar flows,'
hermit Ayr ' delights to stray.
bonny Doon ' in beauty goes
hoary, haunted Alloway.
sylvan bower, nor tiny flower,
blooms where wimplin' bumie strays.
possessed the innate power
twine around them fadeless bays.
Nature's Lodge, supreme and grand.
as Master in the chair,
shed a glory o'er the land
time nor change can e'er impair.
was the keen, prophetic eye.
see afar the glorious birth
Great Power, whose mystic tie
make ' One Lodge ' of all the earth;
usher in the reign of light,
out the false, ring in the true,'
man to walk ' square ' and ' upright,'
wisdom's path of peace pursue."
It was while acting in the capacity of Depute Master
that Burns made the acquaintance of Professor Dugald Stewart, to whom
reference has already been made. He was a member of Lodge Canongate
Kilwinning, No. 2, and afterwards befriended Burns in Edinburgh.
Professor Dugald Stewart, writing to a friend about this time, said:—
"In summer, 1787, I passed some weeks in Ayrshire,
and saw Burns occasionally. I think he told me that he had an excursion
that season to the West Highlands, and that he also visited what Beattie
calls the Arcadian Ground of Scotland, upon the banks of the Teviot and
the Tweed. In the course of the same season I was led by curiosity to
attend for an hour or two a Mason Lodge at Mauchline where Burns
preisided. He had occasion to make some short, unpremeditated
compliments to different individuals, from whom he had no reason to
expect a visit, and everything he said was happily conceived and
forcibly as well as fluently expressed. His manner of speaking in public
had evidently the marks of some practice in extempore education."
This meeting was held on 25th July, 1787, and is duly
recorded, in the poet's own handwriting, in a Minute of the Lodge, from
which we learn that, in addition to the Depute Master and the Professor,
there were also present: Claude Alexander of Ballochmyle ; Claude
Neilson from Paisley ; Dr. George Grierson of Glasgow ; John Farquhar
Gray of Gilmiscroft ; and Alexander Allison of Barnmuir.
Burns' opinion of Professor Dugald Stewart was given
afterwards in a letter which he wrote to Dr. Mackenzie, in which he
said: "I never spent an afternoon with half that pleasure as when, in
company with you, I had the honour of paying my devoirs to that plain,
honest, worthy man, the Professor. I think his character, divided into
ten parts, stands thus: four parts, Socrates; four parts, Nathaniel; and
two parts, Shakespeare's Brutus."
It was about this time that Burns wrote to a
friend—James Smith: “I have yet fixed on nothing with respect to the
serious business of life. I am, as usual, a rhyming, Mason-making,
rattling, aimless, idle fellow."
The meeting of the Lodge at Mauchline was, as a
matter of fact, irregular, as the Charter of the Lodge did not empower
the members to hold a meeting outside Tarbolton, but it is stated that
Burns, in his Masonic zeal, held Lodges even in his own house for the
purpose of admitting new members into the Order. Lodges, however, were
not then tied to a single meeting place as now. At that time the regular
meetings of the Lodge were held at an inn, known as "The Cross Keys,"
which was kept by a person of the name of Manson. The building still
stands and has been renovated, but the Lodge now meets in a commodious
hall of its own. Among its treasured possessions are the chair in which
Burns sat as Depute Master, the gavel he used in ruling the Lodge, the
minute book in which are records written and signed by him, and the
Bible, afterwards acquired by the Lodge. The candlesticks in use at the
time he was Depute Master are preserved and are in use at the present
time. There is also kept, as a relic, in excellent condition, the
following letter which he wrote on one occasion when he was away in
Edinburgh and was prevented from attending a certain meeting :—
"Men and Brethren: "I am truly sorry it is not in
my power to be at your quarterly meeting. If I must be absent in body,
believe me I shall be present in spirit. I suppose those who owe us
monies by bill or otherwise will appear : I mean those we summoned. If
you please I wish you would delay prosecuting defaulters till I come
home. The Court is up and I will be home before it sits down. In the
meantime to take a note of who appear and who do not of our faulty
debtors will be right in my humble opinion and those who confess debt
and crave days I think we should spare them. Farewell!
your dear mansion may wayward contention
withered envy ne'er enter;
secrecy round be the mystical bound.
brotherly love be the center.
RoBT. Burns. Edin. 23 Aug., 1787."
The defaulters referred to were not, as might at
first be supposed, brethren in arrear with their Masonic dues. The St.
James' Lodge, in common with many other Lodges at the time, had been
victimised by brethren borrowing money upon the guarantee of bills
which, not being met by the borrowers upon maturity, had caused
depletion of the Lodge funds. In 1786 the members had decided that they
would press for payment of these overdue amounts, and it was in
reference to these proposed proceedings that the poet interposed to
prevent the resolution being put into execution, as he thought, too
rigorously. Many Scotch Lodges were lending societies in these days.
Gilbert Burns had a loan from St. James' Lodge of ;^6 5s. in July, 1787,
which was repaid in June, 1788.
The letter, framed with glass on both sides, so as to
show the addressing of the epistle, is kept in the Lodge -room, beyond
the walls of which it is not allowed to be taken. It was in this Lodge
that Gavin Hamilton, of whom Burns wrote—
poor man's friend in need.
gentleman in word and deed,"
suggested to the poet that he should collect and
publish an edition of his poems, advice also tendered by Aiken, Goudie
and Ballantine. Burns acted on the advice, and a collected edition of
the poems was published in Kilmarnock in 1786, dedicated to Gavin
Hamilton. Of him Burns wrote: —
poor man weeps, here Gavin sleeps.
canting wretches blamed;
such as he, where'er he be.
be saved or damned."
Gavin Hamilton died on 8th February, 1805, aged
fifty-two. No tombstone marks his grave in the Auld Kirkyard, the reason
for the omission being, according to local tradition, at his own
request. He was known affectionately by his countrymen as "the puir
man's friend." "How did he get that name?" asked Mr. William Jolly of
Willie Patrick, the Mossgiel herd, who, in his younger days, had worked
for both the poet and Gavin Hamilton, when visiting Mauchline in 1859.
“He was aye kind to the puir man, and aye took his pairt," was the ready
reply. Of Gavin Hamilton Burns also wrote:—
(which powers above prevent)
iron-headed carl. Want,
Attended in her grim advances
mistakes and black mischances.
hopes and joys and pleasures fly him
you as poor a dog as I am.
humble servant then no more;
would humbly serve the poor,
a poor man's hopes in heaven !
recollection's power is given.
the veil of humble life.
victim sad of fortune's strife,
the tender gushing tear,
recognise my master dear.
friendless, low, we meet together.
Sir, your hand, my Friend and Brother ! "
Gavin Hamilton was a later member of the St. Mungo
Lodge, No. 240, Mauchline. His three sons were also initiated in that
lodge : John Hamilton, his eldest son, on 25th October, 1797. He died in
August, 1863, at the age of 84, and had been a factor in the service of
the Marquess of Hastings and of the Duke of Portland. Alexander
Hamilton, the second son, was initiated on 4th December, 1805. He became
W.M. in 1808. Dr. Dugald Stewart Hamilton was initiated on nth June,
1808, and became W.M. in the following year. He also joined the St.
James Lodge, Tarbolton, in the management of which he took an active
interest, resigning the Mastership in the late fifties. He died at
Mauchline in June, 1863.
The site of the Burns Monument at Kilmarnock, erected
in the Kay Park in August, 1879, is very appropriate, as it overlooks
what was once the little printing office of the printer of the first
Kilmarnock edition of his poems. John Wilson was initiated in the St.
John Kilwinning Lodge, No. 22, on 13th April, 1784. He suggested to
Burns the placing of a piece of a grave nature at the beginning of his
poems, and in the walk home one night from Kilmarnock to Mossgiel Burns
composed “The Twa Dogs." Another member of the St. John Kilwinning Lodge
was Begbie, of “The Ordination " poem :—
aff to ' Begbie's ' in a raw.
pour divine libation,"
He was initiated in that lodge on 22nd December,
1786, and, as will be gathered from these lines, was an inn-keeper.
There is in the Kay Park a museum for relics of
Burns, and in which are deposited several manuscripts. There are also
several portraits of Burns, one believed to be by Nasmyth; but Nasmyth's
original portrait of Burns is in the National Gallery at Edinburgh.
It was in the St. James' Lodge also that Burns made
the acquaintance of Dr. John Mackenzie, who married one of the
celebrated " Mauchline Belles."
Mauchline there dwells six proper young belles,
pride of the place, and its neighbourhood a';
carriage and dress, a stranger would guess.
London or Paris they'd gotten it a'.
Miller is fine, Miss Markland's divine,
Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw;
beauty and fortune to get wi' Miss Morton,
Armour's the jewel for me of them a'."
It was Miss Miller who became the wife of Dr.
Mackenzie. Miss Markland married Mr. Findlay, an excise officer at
Tarbolton, who instructed the poet in the art of gauging; Miss Smith
married Mr. Candlish, a teacher at Edinburgh University, and became the
mother of Dr. Candlish, the eminent Free Church Divine. Miss Betty
Miller married Mr. Templeton, of Mauchline ; while Miss Morton married a
Mr. Patterson, a cloth merchant, also of Mauchline.
Dr. John Mackenzie was a man of excellent character,
broad sympathies, and good social position. He was one of those friends
possessing literary taste to whom Burns submitted his poems, and whose
discerning appreciation of their genius was of the highest encouragement
to the poet, and of eminent service in developing his muse and making it
known to the world- He himself had written pamphlets on some of the
religious controversies of the time under the pseudonym of " Common
Sense " and one " On the Origin of Morals"—hence the reference in the
lines quoted below to "Johnnie's Morals." The annual meeting of the St.
James Lodge was always held on St. John the Baptist's Day, 24th June,
and on one occasion Burns addressed a note to Dr. Mackenzie, who had
expressed a fear that his professional duties might prevent his
attendance at that festival, in the following words : —
first's the day appointed,
Right Worshipful Anointed,
our grand procession,
a blad of Johnnie's Morals,
taste a swatch o' Manson's Barrels,
way of our profession;
Master and the Brotherhood
a' be glad to see you
I would be mair than proud
share the mercies wi' you
Death then, Wi' skaith then,
mortal heart is hechtin';
him And storm him.
Saturday you'll fecht him."
This anniversary was always borne in mind by Burns,
and on one occasion, when in a despondent mood, he wrote:—
“Tarbolton, twenty-fourth o' June,
find me in a better tune."
Another important friendship formed was that with
John Ballantine, to whom the “Brigs of Ayr " was inscribed. It was to
the exertions of John Ballantine that Ayr was indebted for the New Brig,
opened on 22nd November, 1796, with a grand Masonic demonstration, when
the Grand Lodge of Scotland was represented by William Campbell of
Fairfield. It was to John Ballantine that Burns was indebted for the
publication of the second edition of his poems. When he heard that the
poet was prevented from publishing a second edition owing to want of
money to pay for the paper, he generously offered to accommodate Burns
with the sum needed—£27 — but advised him to go t6 Edinburgh as the
fittest, place for publishing.
This advice was seconded by the Rev, Dr.
Blacklock—another Masonic Brother, but one who suffered from the
infirmity of blindness—and Burns went to Edinburgh, but without a single
letter of introduction in his pocket. However, through the good offices
of his Masonic Brethren, he made a quick and profitable acquaintance
with the nobility and literati of the Scottish capital, obtained an
appointment in the Excise, and was placed in the possession of a farm.
In connection with this journey, Burns wrote :—
"I had taken the last farewell of my few friends ;
my chest was on the road to Greenock ; I had composed the last song I
should ever measure in Caledonia, ' The Gloomy Night is Gathering Fast';
when Dr. Blacklock's opinion that I would meet with encouragement in
Edinburgh for a second edition fired me so much that I posted away to
The Rev. George Lawrie, of Loudoun, transmitted to
Dr. Blacklock a copy of the Kilmarnock edition of Burns' poems. In
writing to Mr. Lawrie acknowledging acknowledging the gift, Dr.
“Many instances have I seen of nature's force and
beneficence exerted under numerous and formidable disadvantages; but
none equal to that with which you have been kind enough to present me.
There is a pathos and a delicacy in his serious poems, a vein of wit and
humour in those of a more festive turn, which cannot be too much admired
nor too warmly approved. I think I shall never open the book without
feeling my astonishment renewed and increased. It were much to be
wished, for the sake of the young man, that a second edition, more
numerous than the former, could immediately be printed, as it appears
certain that its intrinsic merit, and the exertion of the author's
friends, might give it a more universal circulation than anything of the
kind which has been published within my memory."
When Burns arrived in Edinburgh, says Dr. Currie, "
Blacklock received him with all the ardour of affectionate admiration ;
he eagerly introduced him to the respectable circle of his friends ; he
consulted his interest ; he emblazoned his fame ; he lavished upon him
all the kindness of a generous and feeling heart, into which nothing
selfish or envious ever found admittance."
Burns himself wrote to Dr, Lawrie, after he had been
in Edinburgh some time: " In Dr. Blacklock, whom I see very often, I
have found what I could have expected in our friend—a clear head and an
In 1801 Ballantine instituted the Allowa' Club, with
the view of celebrating regularly the anniversary of the poet's birth.
John Ballantine of Castlehill, Provost of Ayr, was
initiated in the Lodge St. David Edinburgh, No. 36, and afterwards
became Worshipful Master of Ayr Kilwinning Lodge—a Lodge erected in 1765
by the Mother Kilwinning Lodge. On the night of his initiation, Robert
Aiken was affiliated.
James Rankine, of whom Burns wrote—
rough, rude, ready-witted R - - - - -,
wale o' cocks for fun and drinkin',"
was another member, as was also John Rankine of
Adamhill, a great humorist, who became the companion of the poet.
The Lodge is in possession of a letter from Sir
Walter Scott, as follows:—
Sir,—I am much gratified by the sight of the
portrait of Robert Burns. I saw that distinguished poet only once, and
that many years since, and being a bad marker of likenesses and
recollecter of faces, I should in an ordinary case have hesitated to
offer an opinion upon the resemblance, especially as I make no
pretension to judge of the fine arts. But Burns was so remarkable a man
that his features remained impressed on my mind as I had seen him only
yesterday, and I could not hesitate to recognise this portrait as a
striking resemblance of the poet, though it had been presented to me
amid a whole exhibition.—I am. Sir,
Your obedient servant, Walter Scott. Edinburgh, 14
I will accept of the inscription which you tell me
the proprietors intend putting to the engraving as a great honour.
When the conviction had been forced upon the poet
that his farming speculation at Mossgiel would not be successful, he
decided to leave Scotland altogether. He secured a post in Jamaica, and
bade farewell to the Brethren of St. James Lodge, Tarbolton, in the
following words: —
! a heart-warm^ fond adieu !
Brothers of the mystic tie!
favoured, ye enlighten'd few.
Companions of my social joy!
to foreign lands must hie.
Pursuing Fortune's slidd'ry ba',
melting heart, and brimful eye,
mind you still, tho' far awa'.
have I met your social band
spent the cheerful, festive night;
honoured with supreme command.
Presided o'er the Sons of Light;
that Hieroglyphic Bright,
none but Craftsmen ever saw!
Mem'ry on my heart shall write
happy scenes, when far awa'.
Freedom, Harmony, and Love,
you in the Grand Design,
th' Omniscient Eye above—
glorious Architect Divine—
you may keep th' Unerring Line,
rising by the Plummet's Law,
ORDER bright completely shine,
be my pray'r when far awa'.
you, FAREWELL! whose merits claim
the Highest Badge to wear!
bless your honour'd, noble NAME,
Masonry and Scotia dear.
request permit me here,
yearly ye assemble a'.
round, I ask it with a tear.
the Bard that's far awa'."
It is said that, in reading this poem to the members
of the Lodge, when he got to the last stanza the tears were rolling down
the cheeks of many of the Brethren. Happily the eternal disgrace which
would have rested upon Scotland had want compelled Burns to leave his
native land was saved—mainly through the Masonic tie.
On 26th October, 1786, Burns was made an Honorary
Member of the St. John Lodge, No. 22, Kilmarnock. The Master of this
Lodge was Major William Parker, a banker, who became one of his
principal friends and a subscriber for thirty-five copies of the first
edition of his poems. In 1802, he succeeded to the estate of Assloss,
about two miles out of Kilmarnock. He is the "Willie" in the song, "Ye
Sons of Auld Killie"—a contraction for Kilmarnock, The song is said to
have been composed by Burns on the occasion of his admission as an
Honorary Member of the Lodge.
Sons of Auld Killie, assembled by Willie,
follow the noble vocation;
thrifty old mother has scarce such another, T
in that honoured station.
little to say, but only to pray.
praying's the ton of your fashion,
prayer from the muse, you well may excuse,
seldom her favourite passion.
powers who preside, o'er the wind and the tide,
mark each element's border;
formed this frame with beneficent aim,
sovereign statute is order.
this dear mansion may wayward contention.
withered envy ne'er enter;
secrecy round be the mystical bound.
brotherly love be the center."
The original of this song has the following note
attached to it : " This song, wrote by Mr. Burns, was sung by him in the
Kilmarnock Kilwinning Lodge, in 1786, and given by him to Mr. Parker,
who was Master of the Lodge."
The minute of the St. John Lodge, No. 22, Kilmarnock,
for 26th October, 1786, concludes as follows :—
Burns, poet, from Mauchline, a member of St. James', Tarbolton, was made
an honorary member of this Lodge.
This was the first Lodge to distinguish Burns with
the designation " Poet," and to honour him with honorary membership. The
Lodge met on premises which afterwards formed part of the old Commercial
Inn, in Croft Street, Kilmarnock, demolished some years ago to make room
for the offices of Messrs. John Walker & Co., the well known Scotch
Whisky merchants. It was at this Lodge he made the acquaintance of
Thomas Samson, the nurseryman and seedsman, at whose house he was ever
welcomed with genuine cordiality. Of him he wrote in the Elegy:—
Brethren o' the mystic 'level'
hing their head in wofu' bevel,
by their nose the tears will revel
gien the Lodge an unco devel,
This elegy was composed in 1786, but Samson did not
die until nine years afterwards. When Tarn heard that Burns had written
his epitaph, he sent for the poet and made him repeat it to him. When it
was finished Tarn exclaimed: " I'm no dead yet, Robin, I'm worth ten
dead fowk ; wherefore should ye say that I am dead." Burns withdrew to a
window, and in a minute or two returned with the following lines:—
Fame, and canter like a filly.
a' the streets and neuks o' Killie,
every social, honest billie.
cease his grievin'.
unskaithed by Death's gleg gullie.
with which Tam was so delighted that he rose
unconsciously, rubbed his hands, and exclaimed, "That'll do—ha!
ha!—that'll do." Tam was elected Treasurer of the Lodge on 22nd
December, 1779. He was buried in the Churchyard at Kilmarnock, a plain
slab marking the spot where his ashes repose, on which appears the
following epitaph written by Burns :—
Samson's weel-worn clay here lies.
canting zealots spare him.
honest worth in heaven rise,
mend or ye win near him."
The interior of Tarn Samson's house has been
preserved almost intact by his descendants—Samson & Co., Nurserymen.
Alexander Patrick, son-in-law of Tam Samson, was the landlord of “Sandy
Patrick's" Tavern, a "howf" of Burns, which was situated in a by-lane at
the head of the Forgate, Kilmarnock. Another member of the St. John's
Lodge was Bailie Greenshields, Brewer, whose premises are now occupied
by the Kilmarnock Brewery.
Robert Muir was another trusty friend and Brother,
whose name appears on the subscription list for seventy-two copies of
the Kilmarnock edition of Burns' poems, and afterwards for forty copies
of the Edinburgh edition. John Wilson, his printer and publisher, was a
member of the Lodge, who is sometimes mistaken for the “Wee Johnnie “of
the epitaph. The latter was a worthless character in Mauchline. Gavin
Turnbull, the poet, was another member.
Previous to joining the St. John's Kilwinning Lodge,
Kilmarnock, however, Burns had become a member of the Loudoun Kilwinning
Lodge, Newmilns, now No. 51, and this was the first Lodge out of
Tarbolton which he joined. This was a purely Kilwinning Lodge, having
been warranted in 1747, and not coming under Grand Lodge until 1808. The
minute of his admission, which is dated 27th March, 1786, reads:—
“Much to the satisfaction of the Lodge, Mr. Robert
Burns, Mossgiel, Mauchline, introduced by the Right Worshipful, was
admitted as a member of this Lodge."
This “Right Worshipful " was the poet's friend, Gavin
Hamilton, Writer, of Mauchline, and it is suggestive that a merchant in
Newmilns made himself responsible for the payment of the poet's dues.
Burns arrived in Edinburgh on 28th November, 1786,
and went to live with John Richmond, a law student from Mauchline, in
the house of Mrs. Carfrae, Baxter's Close, Lawnmarket. John Richmond
occupied the singular position of being one of Burns' friends on whom he
does not seem to have written a line of verse. Richmond has left behind
him the testimony that " Burns, though frequently out in company,
usually returned at good hours and went soberly to bed, where he would
prevail upon his companion, by little bribes, to read to him till he
fell asleep." Henry Mackenzie, of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No. 2,
announced in The Lounger, upon Burns' arrival in Edinburgh, that a new
poet was born to Scotland.
To the issue of that paper for 9th December, 1786, he
contributed a review of Burns' Poems, in which he described the poet as
"a genius of no ordinary rank" and "a heaven-taught plowman." Henry
Mackenzie, who afterwards became a close Masonic friend of the poet, was
the author of The Man of Feeling, which Burns read with avidity, and of
which work he used to say he had worn out two copies by carrying it in
his pocket. He described it as "a book I prize next to the Bible."
Mackenzie shared with Sterne the honour of being denominated a "bosom
Burns visited the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge,
Edinburgh, on 7th December, 1786, and on that night the Earl of Errol,
the Hon. William Gordon (afterwards Earl of Kenmure), John Newal of
Earlston, and Captain Gillespie were initiated ; Mr. W. Campbell of
Fairfield was also affiliated. The last-named had officiated as Grand
Warden at the laying of the foundation-stone of the Harbour of Ayr, and
it is not improbable that he had met Burns in the Ayr Lodges. The same
night Burns wrote to his friend, Gavin Hamilton:—
“My Lord Glencairn and the Dean of Faculty, Mr. H.
Erskine, have taken me under their wing; and by all probability, I shall
soon be the tenth worthy and the eighth wise man of the world. I have
met in Mr. Dalrymple of Orangefield what Solomon emphatically calls 'a
friend that sticketh closer than a Brother,' "
Alexander Ferguson of Craigdarroch, Advocate and
Assessor of the Burgh of Canongate, was R.W.M." of the Canongate
Kilwinning Lodge from June, 1784, to June, 1787. He had previously, in
1782 and 1783, filled the office of Senior Grand Warden of the Grand
Lodge of Scotland. Alexander Ferguson, "so famous for wit, mirth, and
law," was a descendant of the great Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton,
whose exploits were commemorated by Burns in the ballad, “The Whistle."
He was the father of the Right Hon. R. Cutlar Ferguson, M.P., also an
initiate of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, who became the possessor of
the celebrated heirloom, the ebony whistle, referred to in the song.
Alexander Ferguson was thrown from his horse and died three months
before the poet. Burns' account of the history of the whistle was as
“In the train of Anne of Denmark, when she came to
Scotland with our James VI., there came over also a Danish gentleman of
gigantic stature and great prowess and a matchless champion of Bacchus.
He had a little ebony whistle, which, at the commencement of the orgies,
he laid upon the table, and whoever was the last able to blow it,
everybody else being disabled by the potency of the bottle, was to carry
off the whistle as a trophy of victory. The Dane challenged the Scots to
the alternative of trying his prowess, or else acknowledging their
inferiority. After many overthrows on the part of the Scots, the Dane
was encountered by Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton, who, after three
days' and three nights' hard contest, left the Scandinavian under the
"And blew on the whistle his requiem shrill."
When Burns first made the acquaintance of the Earl of
Glencairn, he wrote: “The noble Glencairn took me by the hand to-day,
and interested himself in my concerns with a goodness like that
benevolent being, whose image he so richly bears. He is a stronger proof
of the immortality of the soul than any that philosophy ever produced. A
mind like his can never die."
The Earl of Glencairn married, in 1785, Lady Isabella
Erskine, daughter of David Henry, loth Earl of Buchan, and so was the
brother-in-law of the Earl of Buchan and the Hon. H. Erskine. As there
was no issue of the marriage the title became extinct on his death,
which took place near Edinburgh on 24th September, 1791.
The following quotation from Burns' diary is also of
interest:—" The noble Glencairn has wounded me to the quick here,
because I dearly esteem, respect, and love him. He showed so much
attention, engrossing attention, one day to the only blockhead at table
(the whole company consisted of his lordship, dunderpate, and myself),
that I was within half a point of throwing down my gage of contemptuous
defiance ; but he shook my hand, and looked so benevolently good at
parting. God bless him ! Though I should never see him more, I shall
love him to my dying day."
Burns never did forget him; he put on mourning at his
death, and afterwards named one of his sons James Glencairn Burns.
Of Dalrymple also he wrote: " I have found a
worthy warm friend in Mr. Dalrymple of Orangefield, who introduced me to
Lord Glencairn, a man whose worth and brotherly kindness to me I shall
remember when time shall be no more."
James Dalrymple is described as " a warm-hearted man,
an enthusiastic Freemason, a too enthusiastic sportsman, and an
occasional writer of verses." He was connected with John Ballantine in
the laying of the foundation-stone of the new Ayr brig with Masonic
honours. He was also introduced by Dalrymple to Henry Erskine, the
famous advocate, Whig, and wit, who was a Past Master of the Lodge. Of
Dalrymple Burns afterwards wrote: " They have ta'en awa' Jamie the
flow'r of them a' "; and of the Earl of Glencairn :—
Bridegroom may forget the bride
made his wedded wife yestreen;
monarch may forget the crown
his head an hour has been
mother may forget the child
smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
that thou hast done for me."
According to the majority of opinion Burns walked
from Mauchline to Edinburgh, but Richmond said: “The poet was so knocked
up by his ride from Mauchline to Edinburgh, that he could not leave his
room for two days."
Kilwinning, which takes its name from St. Winning, a
bishop of the seventh century, is distinguished traditionally as the
place where Freemasonry was first introduced into Scotland.
R. Heron, Burns' first biographer, says that the poet
ere he had been many weeks in Edinburgh found himself the object of
universal curiosity, favour, admiration, and fondness. He was sought
after, courted with attentions the most respectful and assiduous,
feasted, flattered, caressed by all ranks, as the first boast of the
country, whom it was scarcely possible to honour and reward to a degree
equal to his merits.
In January, 1787, at Edinburgh, in the Lodge
Edinburgh St. Andrew, No. 48, Burns was toasted by the Grand Master in
the words, "Caledonia and Caledonia's Bard, Robert Burns," to which
toast the poet responded. Writing to his friend Ballantine, Burns
described the occasion in the following words: —
“I went to a Mason Lodge yesternight, where the
Most Worshipful Grand Master Charters [Charteris] and all the Grand
Lodge of Scotland visited. The meeting was numerous and elegant: the
different Lodges about town were present in all their pomp. The Grand
Master, who presided with great solemnity and honour to himself as a
gentleman and a Mason, among other general toasts, gave ' Caledonia and
Caledonia's Bard, Robert Burns,' which rang through the whole assembly
with multiplied honours and repeated acclamations. As I had no idea such
a thing would happen, I was downright thunderstruck, and, trembling in
every nerve, made the best return in my power. Just as I had finished
some of the Grand Officers said, so loud that I could hear with a most
comforting accent, 'Very well, indeed which set me something to rights
Among those who were present at this gathering
wereAdam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations; the Earl of
Glencairn, Chairman of the Caledonian Hunt and brother-in-law of the
Hon. H. Erskine ; the Rev. Dr. Robertson; the Rev. Dr. Blair; Dr.
Gregory, of stomachic powder fame ; Lord Monboddo ; Fraser Tytler of
Woodhouselee ; and Ramsay of Ochtertyre. Through the influence of the
Earl of Glencairn, each member of the Caledonian Hunt subscribed a
guinea for a copy of the second edition of Burns' poems.
The last verse of Burns' song, "Caledonia," runs:—
bold, independent, unconquered, and free.
bright course of glory for ever shall run;
brave Caledonia immortal must be;
prove it from Euclid as clear as the sun:—
Rectangle-triangle the figure we'll choose;
upright is Chance, and old Time is the base;
brave Caledonia's the hypothenuse;
ergo, she'll match them, and match them always.''
Charteris was the 36th Grand Master of Scotland and
held office in 1786 and 1787. During his Grand Mastership—in 1787—he
succeeded to the title of Lord Elcho, his father having inherited the
Earldom of Wemyss. He did not live to succeed to the Earldom as he
predeceased his father by ten months.
He belonged to the Lodge Haddington St. John, and was
also an afifiliated member of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, which he
joined on 3rd March, 1779. In each of these two Lodges he carried a
motion to the effect that the members of the one should be regarded as
full members of the other.
James Dalrymple—an enthusiastic Mason, it may be
mentioned—was the first to welcome Burns to Edinburgh and to introduce
him to the social life of Auld Reekie. He had hoped to meet in Edinburgh
his old friend, William Wallace, Sheriff of Ayrshire and Professor of
Scots Law in the University, but he passed away suddenly on the very day
of Burns' arrival.
Of Edinburgh, Burns wrote :—
Scotia's darling seat!
hail thy palaces and tow'rs
once beneath a monarch's feet
Legislation's sovereign powers!
marking mildly-scatter'd flow'rs
on the banks of Ayr I stray'd
singing; lone, the ling'ring hours,
shelter in thy honour'd shade."
Three of Burns' Masonic contemporaries were Major
William Logan, the Rev. William M'Gill, and the Rev. William Dalrymple,
who were all members of Lodge Ayr Kilwinning. Major Logan has been
immortalised as " thairm-inspirin' rattlin' Willie." In 1787 Dr. M'Gill
published an "Essay on the Death of Christ," which was afterwards
denounced by his colleagues as heretical.
Burns, Gavin Hamilton, and Robert Aiken were all on
the side of M'Gill and Dalrymple who were suspected of holding heterodox
opinions on several points, particularly the doctrines of Original Sin
and the Trinity. M'Gill published an essay which was the cause of his
arraignment before the Synod.
The acrimonious and uncharitable spirit shown in the
subsequent prosecution of Dr. M'Gill caused the poet to write in "The
Mack, Dr. Mack, you should stretch on a rack.
strike evil-doers wi' terror;
faith and sense upon ony pretence.
heretic, damnable error.''
colleague, Dalrymple, who was suspected of holding similar views, Burns
“D’rymple mild, D'rymple mild, though your heart's like a child.
your life's like the new-driven snaw.
that winna save ye, and Satan must have ye.
preaching that three's ane and twa."
Burns' "The Cottar's Saturday Night" was inscribed to
R, Aiken, a Writer of Edinburgh, in Ayr in Burns' time, who was a member
of Canongate and Leith and Leith and Canongate Lodge, and who, in 1772
or 1773, was made an honorary member of the St. Andrew's Lodge, attached
to the Scots Greys or Royal Regiment of North British Dragoons. His
mother Lodge was Leith Kilwinning.
Burns, in one of his poems, refers to the stupid
notion still believed in by some credulous people, that Freemasons are
in the habit of conjuring up the Devil at their meetings. In his
"Address to the De'il" he says:—
Masons' mystic word and grip.
storms an' tempests raise you up.
cock or cat your rage maun stop.
strange to tell;
youngest brither ye wid whip
straucht to hell"
Among those holding office in Edinburgh Masonry at
that time, all of whom Burns met, in addition to the names already
mentioned, were the Duke of Atholl, the Earls of Buchan, Balcarres,
Morton, and Eglinton; Lords Napier, Torphichen, Haddo, Binning,
Cringletie, and Eldin ; Sir William Forbes, Sir James Hunter Blair,
Colonel James Murray, Thomas Hay of Hayston, Campbell of Shawfield,
Grant of Monymusk, Dr. Nathaniel Spens, Stewart of Allanbank, William
Smellie, the printer of the second edition of Burns' poems, William
Creech, and others.
David, sixth Earl of Buchan, born in 1742, aided in
the formation of the Antiquarian Society and contributed to its
lectures. He published a volume of essays on the lives of Fletcher of
Saltoun and of James Thomson, the poet. He was Grand Master of Scotland
in 1782 and 1783, and was a frequent visitor at Canongate Kilwinning
Lodge. Lord Torphichen was initiated in Canongate Kilwinning Lodge on
7th December, 1786, the night of Burns' first visit. He was shortly
afterwards nominated as Depute Grand Master but never rose to supreme
command. In June 1787, he was elected R.W.M. of Lodge Canongate
Sir William Forbes, afterwards Grand Master Mason of
Scotland, was a liberal patron of the poet. He was a partner in the
banking firm of John Coutts & Co., and was also Professor of Moral
Philosophy in the University of Aberdeen.
William Smellie was the eminent naturalist and
writer. In 1780 he entered into partnership with William Creech, which
continued until 1789. His acquaintance with Burns began in 1787. He
printed the Edinburgh edition of the poems and an immediate and
permanent intimacy between the two took place, owing doubtless to their
similar social dispositions and mutual relish of each other's wit.
William Creech was, earlier in life, tutor to the Earl of Glencairn. He
afterwards became Lord Provost of Edinburgh. He purchased the copyright
of the poems, and all along proved himself a warm and true friend of the
On I St February, 1787, Burns became a member of the
Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2, being introduced by the Hon. Henry
Erskine, the famous advocate, who became Right Worshipful Master of the
Lodge in 1780. Many other names associated with literature figure in the
Registers of this Lodge, ' including those of John Wilson—" Christopher
North” —William Edmonstoune Aytoun, D. M. Moir, J. Gibson Lockhart, Dr.
Hugh Blair, and Henry, Lord Brougham. The ten stanzas which D. M. Moir
wrote for the Burns Festival are said to form one of his best pieces.
Thomas Aird describes them as being characterised by " burly picturesque
power, intertissued with generous appreciation, and all the moral
softnesses of charity and love."
within the lowly cottage
through youth's exulting spring-time
labour and endure—
Despair he elbow'd from him;
breath'd with holy joy,
hues of morn and evening.
eyelids of the boy;
country's Genius bound him
for his sunburnt brow,
inspired and proud she found him.
Elisha, at the plough."
D. M. Moir.
Lodge Canongate Kilwinning possesses the most ancient
Lodge-room in the world. It is one of the most active Masonic Lodges of
the present day, keeping alive the traditions of nearly 800 years. In
the Chapel of this Lodge-room is a beautiful old organ with a wonderful
sweet tone, which is still used at the meetings of the Lodge. It was
built in 1754, is probably the oldest organ in Scotland, and the only
existing instrument on which the songs of Burns were played in the
presence of the poet. The entry in the minute book of the Lodge
recording the admission of Burns reads as follows:—
"The Right Worshipful Master having observed that
Brother Burns was present in the Lodge, who is well known as a great
poetic writer and for a late publication of his works which have been
universally Commended, Submitted that he should be assumed a member of
this Lodge which was unanimously agreed to and he was assumed
(Sgd.) Alexr. Ferguson, M. Chas. More, D.M. Jo.
Bro. Charles More, the Depute Master, who signed this
minute, was also present at the meeting of the Lodge in June, 1815, when
he seconded a resolution then passed concerning the Lodge's subscription
towards the mausoleum of the poet.
Among the brethren whom Burns met at Lodge Canongate
Kilwinning, and for whom he expressed a liking, was William Woods, an
actor, so popular as to be called “The Scottish Roscius."
Concerning the Hon. Henry Erskine, who died in
October, 1817, Burns wrote:—
“Collected, Harry stood awee,
open'd out his arm, man;
lordship sat wi' ruefu' e'e
ey'd the gathering storm, man;
wind-driv'n hail, it- did assail.
torrents owre a linn, man;
Bench, sae wise, lift up their eyes.
wauken'd wi' the din, man."
On 1st March, 1787, Burns is said to have been
invested as the Poet- Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning. In the
following verse, written 3rd May, 1786, Burns called himself Laureate,
as indeed he often did:—
please you and praise you.
your Laureate scorns ;
prayer still you share still
grateful minstrel Burns."
There is reproduced here an historic picture of the
inauguration of Robert Burns as Poet -Laureate, but it does not
represent the actual scene, and Grose did not become a Freemason until
1791. The portly individual in the extreme right of the picture is
Grose, the famous antiquarian. Captain Grose visited Scotland in 1789 to
collect information regarding its antiquities, when he was introduced to
Burns. They were kindred spirits, and, to use the poet's own phrase,
they at once became “pack and thick thegither." To his work on the
Antiquities of Scotland, Burns contributed the material for his native
county of Ayrshire, and also his inimitable poem, "Tarn o' Shanter,"
which Burns regarded as the best of his productions. It was of Grose he
wrote the well-known poem commencing—
Land o' Cakes and brither Scots,
Maidenkirk to John o' Groat's,
there's a hole in a' your coats,
you tent it;
chiel's amang ye, taking notes.
faith, he'll prent it."
Burns requested Captain Grose, when he should come to
Ayrshire, that he should make a drawing of Alloway Kirk, as it was the
burial-place of his father, where he himself had a sort of claim to lay
down his bones when they should be no longer serviceable to him. Grose
agreed, providing Burns would furnish a witch story to be printed along
with it. “Tam o' Shanter" was the result, and this poem was first
published in Grose's Antiquities of Scotland.
On l0th December, 1879, at Coale's Auction Room,
Toronto, what was described as the oldest Masonic relic in the world was
sold to Bro. J. Ross Robertson, of The Evening Telegram. It was the
Masonic certificate of Souter Johnny, of Burns' "Tam o' Shanter," which
was issued by the St. James Lodge, Ayr, in 1790. Pinned to the corner of
the diploma was a lock of Highland Mary's hair. The relic was sold for
179 dollars. A large number of people went to Toronto solely for the
purpose of attending the sale and in the hope of securing the relic.
About this time Burns wrote to his friend, Gavin
"I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as
Thomas a’Kempis or John Bunyan, and you may expect henceforth to see my
birthday inserted among the wonderful events in the Poor Robbins and
Aberdeen Almanacs, along with the Black Monday and the Battle of
William Petrie, who was serving brother to the Lodge
during the greater part of the time when Burns was a member, was asked
by one who visited him in 1845 if he remembered Robert Burns.
Notwithstanding his great age, he exclaimed with vigour: “Rabbie Burns!
Mind Rabbie! I'll no' forget him, puir fellow! Eh, but he was the life
o' the Lodge!”
John Lauchlan, a shoemaker in Ayr and a member of
Newton St. James Lodge, No. 165, became the Tyler of Ayr St. Paul Lodge,
No. 204—a Lodge founded in 1799 by Freemasons serving in the Ayrshire
Militia. He is said to be the “Souter Johnnie " portrayed in the famous
poem, " Tam o' Shanter " :—
our tale—A'e market nicht,
got planted unco tight,
an ingle, bleezing finely,
reaming swats that drank divinely,
his elbow Souter Johnnie,
ancient, trusty, drouthy, cronie;
lo'ed him like a very brither.
had been fou for weeks thegither.
night drove on wi' sangs and clatter.
the ale was growing better;
Landlady and Tam grew gracious,
secret favours, sweet and precious :
Souter told his queerest stories;
Landlord's laugh was ready chorus ;
storm without might rair and rustle,
na mind the storm a whustle."
The future Souter was born in the parish of Alloway,
and he and the poet were close companions in boyhood. Afterwards he
removed with his parents to Ayr, where he was bound apprentice to a
shoemaker. He was known in and about Ayr as “Souter Johnnie" to his
dying day. His remains were interred with Masonic honours. His son, John
Lauchlan, died at Ayr on i6th September, 1862, in his eighty-sixth year.
The younger Lauchlan was a Freemason of sixty-five years' standing, and
was initiated in the Ayr St. James Lodge, No. 163, in which Lodge, also,
he received the degrees of the Royal Arch and Knight Templary. He was
one of the original members of the Ayr St. Paul's Lodge, and was
delegated by his brethren-in-arms to proceed to Edinburgh to receive
from the Grand Lodge of Scotland the Charter of the newly-formed Lodge.
This document he carried in his knapsack to Stirling, where the Militia
then lay, and in the Court Hall of that town, early in the year 1800,
the oil of consecration was poured out upon the altar of the Lodge of
the Ayr and Renfrew Militia by the office-bearers of the Lodge Ancient,
Stirling. Bro. Lauchlan became R.W.M. of the Lodge in 1805, and the like
honour was conferred upon him at other periods of its history. So highly
were his services appreciated that in 1808 he was presented with a
handsome silver medal, in the name of the Lodge, "as a tribute of esteem
and mark of respect towards him for his laudable conduct while Master,
for his attention to its interests and prosperity, and for his spirited
exertions in supporting its dignity and maintaining its independence."
He bequeathed his diplomas and Masonic papers, together with the Masonic
relics of his father, to Bro. Andrew Glass, a Past Master of Ayr St.
Paul's Lodge. He was buried in Alloway Kirkyard, near to the "winnock
bunker in the east," and within a few yards of the resting-place of the
Canongate Kilwinning Lodge possesses a Master Mason's
apron of Burns' Mother Lodge—the first apron worn by him after the
completion of his admission to the Order.
Burns mark in the Lodge Book is
In the Bible it appears twice, each being partly
obliterated, the obliterated parts being indicated by dots : —
On the apron, as it appears in the photograph on page
64, (painting) it is as
After being made a member of this Lodge, he added the
title " Bard " to his signature, and appended his Masonic mark in the
Bible which he presented to Highland Mary at their farewell meeting on
the banks of the Ayr :—
sacred hour can I forget —
forget the hallowed grove.
the winding Ayr we met
one day of parting love."
The Bible given to Highland Mary by Burns was in two
volumes, each containing on the fly-leaf his name and Masonic sign. The
first volume also contained the text: Leviticus xix. 12-—"Ye shall not
swear by my name falsely, I am the Lord”; and the second the text:
Matthew v. 33—" Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto
the Lord thine oaths." This Bible, after passing through many hands, was
purchased in Canada for £25, and was sent home to be deposited in the
Monument at Alloway Kirk, on the banks of the Doon, where it may be
banks and braes and streams around
castle of Montgomerie,
be your woods and fair your flowers. Y
waters never drumlie;
simmer first unfauld her robes,
there the longest tarry.
there I took my last farewell
sweet Highland Mary."
Until recently there still stood the thorn, called by
all the country “Highland Mary's Thorn," but it has now entirely
disappeared by the action of time and successive generations of relic
hunters. A portion of it has been deposited in the Burns' Monument
On 18th June, 1855, Bro. Davidson Ritchie presented
to Bro. William R. Clapp of Ayr a section of hawthorn underneath which
Burns was in the habit of meeting Highland Mary, and where
golden hours on angel wings
o'er him and his dearie."
At that time Bro. Ritchie was the occupier of the
“Auld Clay Biggin “where the bard first drew breath. This section of the
Trysting Thorn was presented by Bro. W. R. Clapp to the Connecticut
Masonic Historical Society on 23rd July, 1861. There is also a section
of it in the Burns' Tavern, Tarbolton.
It is of interest to note that James Hogg, the
Ettrick Shepherd, was a Poet-Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, No.
2, in later years, and the minute recording his appointment to this
office, which was an honorary one, speaks of it as one " which had been
in abeyance since the death of the immortal brother, Robert Burns."
Shortly after the publication of the second edition
of his poems. Burns set out with his friend and brother- Mason, Robert
Ainslie, on a tour. At Eyemouth they stayed at the house of a
brother-Mason, William Grieve, whom Burns described as "a joyous,
warm-hearted, jolly, clever fellow," and they also came across a Knights
Templar Encampment held in connection with the Lodge of St. Ebbe. Robert
Ainslie was afterwards Clerk to the Signet. He became known in later
years as the author of an essay on Evidences of Christianity, and some
devotional tracts. He died in April, 1838.
Of this Chapter, Burns was elected an honorary
member. The minute recording this event is as follows: —
"Eyemouth, May 19, 1787, " At a general encampment
held this day, the following brethren were made Royal Arch Masons :
namely, Robert Burns, from the Lodge of St. James, Tarbolton, Ayrshire,
and Robert Ainslie, from the Lodge of St. Luke, Edinburgh, by James
Carmichael, William Grieve, Daniel Dow, John Clay, Robert Grieve, etc.,
etc. Robert Ainslie paid One Guinea admission dues, but on account of
Robert Burns' remarkable poetic genius, the encampment unanimously
agreed to admit him gratis, and considered themselves honoured by having
a man of such shining abilities for one of their companions."
Burns' entry in his diary for this date—19th May, 1
“Spent the day at Mr. Grieve's—made a Royal Arch
Mason of St. Abb's Lodge. Mr. Wm. Grieve, the oldest brother, a joyous,
warm-hearted, jolly, clever fellow—takes a hearty glass, and sings a
good song. Mr. Robert, his brother, and partner in trade, a good fellow,
but says little—take a sail after dinner—fishing of all kinds, pays
tithes at Eyemouth."
Bro. Alfred A. Arbuthnot Murray, Grand Sc.E. of the
Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland, speaking from his
knowledge of the old working of the Scottish Royal Arch Chapters, thinks
that in all probability Burns was made a Knight Templar as well as a
Royal Arch Mason in Eyemouth, as under the old regime the two were
always given together. The last of the Old Arch and Temple bodies came
under the Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Scotland only in 1911.
Until ten years ago there was one Lodge in Scotland in connection with
which the Arch and Temple degrees were worked without a Charter.
Some of the proceeds of the Edinburgh edition of the
poems published in 1787 were allotted to the erection of a tombstone
over the remains of Robert Fergusson, who died on 16th October, 1774,
and was buried in Canongate Churchyard, " Rhyme," wrote Burns, referring
to his removal to Irvine, " I had given up, but meeting with Fergusson's
Scottish Poems,''' I strung anew my wildly-sounding lyre with emulating
vigour." Fergusson's grave remained undistinguished until Burns went to
Edinburgh. When he visited it he uncovered his head and, with
characteristic enthusiasm, kneeling down, he embraced the venerated
clay. He obtained permission from the magistrates to erect a monument to
Fergusson on which he inscribed the following stanza:—
sculptured marble here, nor pompous lay,
storied urn, nor animated bust,'
simple stone directs pale Scotia's way,
her sorrows o'er her poet's dust."
On the reverse of the monument is the following
“By special grant of the managers to Robert Burns,
who erected this stone, this burial-place is ever to remain sacred to
the memory of Robert Fergusson."
Burns also inscribed the following lines in a copy of
Fergusson's works which he presented to a young lady, on 19th March,
on ungrateful man that can be pleased.
can starve the author of his pleasure!
thou, my elder brother in misfortune.
my elder brother in the Muses,
tears I pity thy unhappy fate!
the bard unfitted for the world.
so keen a relish of its pleasures?”
The following entry in the books of St. James' Lodge,
Tarbolton, is proof of the statement of Robert Chambers that “Burns
never neglected his duties as a Mason. He might be 'rhyming,' 'aimless,'
and 'idle,' but he was also 'Mason-making.'"
"Mauchline, 25th July, 1787. “This night the
Deputation of the Lodge met at Mauchline, and entered Brother Alexander
Allison, of Barnmuir, an apprentice. Likewise admitted Bro. Professor
Stuart [Stewart], of Cathrine, and Claude Alexander, Esq., of
Ballochmyle ; Claude Neilson, Esq., Paisley, John Farquhar Gray, Esq.,
of Gilmiscroft, and Dr. George Grierson, Glasgow, Honorary Members of
"RoBT. Burns, D.M."
On 27th December, 1788, Burns was "unanimously
assumed, being a Master Masson," a member of the St. Andrew's Lodge, No.
179, Dumfries. The Secretary wrongly described him as of “St. David's
Strabolton Lodge, No. 178," instead of "St. James' Lodge, Tarbolton, No,
178." He was frequently present at the meetings, and filled the office
of S. W. — to which he was elected on 30th November, 1792 — during the
year 1793. His attendances at this Lodge, as recorded in the Attendance
Book, were as follows: 1791, 27th December; 1792,6th February, 14th and
31st May, 5th June, 23rd and 30th November; 1793, 30th November, when he
officiated as S.W. In 1794 he attended the Lodge on 29th November to
take part in the election of officers, and on 28th January, 1796, he
attended in order to become sponsor for James Georgeson, a merchant, of
Liverpool, who was a candidate for membership. His last attendance was
on 14th April, 1796, three months before his death, but, strangely to
relate, his decease is not recorded in the Minutes. The Lodge ceased to
meet in 1805, though an attempt was made in 181 5 to revive it, but it
ended in failure, and in 1816 the Lodge was erased from the Roll. The
Gavel, Apron, and Minute Book in use in St. Andrew's Lodge in Burns'
time were purchased at a public sale by Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, the
Grand Master Mason of Scotland at the time, and were by him presented to
the Grand Lodge of Scotland, in the Museum of which they were deposited.
In 1795 two companies of volunteers were raised in
Dumfries. The English army was for the most part in service abroad, and
the French Convention threatened to land troops in England. Burns at
once joined the corps and published his political opinions in the song,
"The Dumfries Volunteers."
About this time Mr. Perry, of The Morning Chronicle,
offered him £50 a year for a poem weekly in that paper, which would have
been a substantial addition to his income, had he accepted it. Burns,
however, from the peculiar feeling he entertained of the sacredness of
poetry, and thinking probably that if he became what he so much dreaded,
" the hireling of a party," his muse would refuse to give her aid, so he
declined the proposal.
In the performance of his duties as Exciseman, Burns
was severe on the regular smuggler, though not unwilling to turn a blind
eye to occasional relapses. One of the smuggling fraternity, not knowing
Burns personally, offered one night to sell him some smuggled whisky.
“You’ve lichted on a bad merchant," said the Bard. "I'm Robert Burns the
gauger." The fellow stared, then impudently replied; "Aye, but ye're
likewise Robert Burns the poet; I mak sangs, too, sae ye'll shurely
ne'er ruin a brither poet." "Why, friend," said Burns, "the poet in me
has been sacrificed to the exciseman, and I should like to know what
superior right you have to exemption "—and, sangs or no sangs, the
seizure was made then and there.
In his last illness, unable to remunerate his medical
attendant in the usual manner, Burns asked the doctor's acceptance of
his pair of pistols as a memorial of their friendship. Dr. William
Maxwell, who died on the 13th October, 1834, proved a generous friend to
the bard's widow and children, and retained these pistols till his
death, after which they were preserved for some years by his sister, and
on her death they were presented to the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland, in whose Museum in Edinburgh they are now kept in an elegant
coffer, but open to the inspection of the public.
Allan Cunningham gives a description of this
interview with Dr. Maxwell. Burns, he said, looked up one day and saw
Dr. Maxwell standing by his side. “Alas! " he said, " what has brought
you here ? I am but a poor crow and not worth plucking." He pointed to
his pistols, took them in his hand, and gave them to Maxwell, saying
they could not be in worthier keeping and he should never more have need
Early in January, 1796, Burns contracted the fatal
chill which brought on an attack of rheumatic fever. He was able,
however, to attend the Lodge on the 28th of that month. About the same
time he met in the street an old acquaintance, and in the course of a
conversation about his health he made use of the remarkable expression
:—"I find that a man may live like a fool, but he will scarcely die
Mrs. Burns once told James Innes-Kerr Mackenzie, a
contributor to The Scots Magazine, that Allan Cunningham was wrong in
stating that Burns incurred his last illness by being inebriated and
falling asleep in the open air. “In all her knowledge of him, she
emphatically stated, either before marriage or after, she never once saw
him intoxicated. Never once did she know him to be 'seen hame,' or in
the least difficulty as to disposal of himself when he arrived."
When Burns thought he was dying, he told his wife his
fears, adding: “Don’t be afraid. I'll be more respected a hundred
years after I am dead than I am at the present day."
One of the poet's ardent admirers was Allan
Cunningham, whose sympathetic biography is one of the most interesting
of the many life stories of Scotia's national poet that has been
written. This is not to be wondered at, for it was at the table of John
Cunningham, in the farmhouse of Sandbed, that Burns first recited that
glorious epic, "Tam o' Shanter," at the same time that one of his best
future biographers stood in the ingleneuk listening with eager and
sympathetic interest to the eloquence with which it rolled from the lips
of its great author. It is to this biographer, Allan Cunningham, that we
are indebted for a graphic description of the closing days of the poet's
"The last time I saw Burns in life," he says, "was
on his return from the Brow-well of Solway. He had been ailing all
spring, and summer had come without bringing health with it. He had gone
away very ill, and he returned worse. He was brought back, I think, in a
covered spring cart, and when he alighted at the foot of the street in
which he lived, he could scarce stand upright. He reached his own door
with difficulty. He stooped much, and there was a visible change in his
looks. Some may think it not unimportant to know that he was at the time
dressed in a blue coat, with the undress nankeen pantaloons of the
volunteers, and that his neck, which was inclining to be short, caused
his hat to turn up behind, in the manner of the shovel hats of the
Episcopal clergy. Truth obliges me to add that he was not fastidious
about his dress, and that an officer, curious in the personal appearance
and equipments of his company, might have questioned the military nicety
of the poet's clothes and arms. But his Colonel was a maker of rhyme,
and the poet had to display more charity for his commander's verse than
the other had to exercise when he inspected the clothing and arms of the
“From the day of his return home till the hour of
his untimely death, Dumfries was like a besieged palace. It was known he
was dying, and the anxiety, not of the rich and learned only, but of
mechanics and peasants, exceeded all belief. Wherever two or three
people stood together their talk was of Burns, and of him alone; they
spoke of his history—of his person—of his works—of his family—of his
fame and of his untimely and approaching fate, with a warmth and
enthusiasm which will ever endear Dumfries to my remembrance. All that
he said or was saying—the opinions of the physicians (and Maxwell was a
kind and skilful one) were eagerly caught up and reported from street to
street, and from house to house."
Another hero-worshipper of Burns was Sir Walter
Scott, a brother poet and a brother Mason. Scott was a boy of sixteen
when he met Burns at the house of one of his friends. He had read his
poems, and desired eagerly to meet their author. He described him as a
strong and robust person, with manners rustic, but not clownish; a kind
of dignified plainness and simplicity, which derived part of its effect,
perhaps, from one's knowledge of his extraordinary talents. Scott adds
that, had he not known who he was, he would have taken him for a very
sagacious country farmer of the old Scottish school; that is, the 'douce
guidman' who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense
of shrewdness in all his lineaments: the eye indicated the poetical
character and temperament. It was large and of a cast which glowed when
he spoke with feeling or interest. Scott says that he never saw such
another eye in a human head, though he had seen the most distinguished
men of the time.
On the 21st July, 1796, the poet's earthly career
terminated, the death being announced in the local newspaper in the
"Died here, on the morning of the 21st inst., and
in the 38th year of his age, Robert Burns, the Scottish Bard. His manly
form and penetrating eye strikingly indicated extraordinary mental
vigour. For originality of wit, rapidity of conception, and fluency of
nervous phraseology he was unrivalled. Animated by the fire of nature,
he uttered sentiments which, by their pathos, melted the heart to
tenderness, or expanded the mind by their sublimity. As a luminary
emerging from behind a cloud, he rose at once into notice; and his works
and his name can never die while living divine Poesy shall agitate the
chords of the human heart."
And the funeral of Burns? Again, one turns to Allan
Cunningham for the best and most vivid description:—
"The multitude who accompanied Burns to the grave
went step by step with the chief mourners; they might amount to ten or
twelve thousand. Not a word was heard; and, though all could not be
near, and many could not see, when the earth closed on their darling
poet for ever, there was no rude impatience shown, no fierce
disappointment expressed. It was an impressive and mournful sight to see
men of all ranks and persuasions and opinions mingling as brothers, and
stepping side by side down the streets of Dumfries, with the remains of
him who had sang of their loves, and joys, and domestic endearments,
with a truth and a tenderness which none perhaps have seen equalled. I
could, indeed, have wished the military part of the procession away—for
he was buried with military honours—because I am one of those who love
simplicity in all that regards genius. The scarlet and gold—the banners
displayed—the measured step, and the military array, with the sound of
the martial instruments of music, had no share in increasing the
solemnity of the burial scene, and had no connection with the poet."
The spot of ground in St. Michael's Churchyard,
Dumfries, where all that was mortal of the Bard was deposited on Monday,
25th July, 1796, had been selected by himself in the North- East corner
of the cemetery. In one of his published letters we find him using this
proud language: “When I am laid in my grave, I wish to be stretched
at full length, that I may occupy every inch of ground that I have a
On 25th January, 1820, the anniversary of his birth,
at his birthplace. Kirk Alloway, was laid the foundation stone of a
Monument to the Memory of Robert Burns. Dr. John Foulds has related a
story with reference to this Monument which is not generally known. When
the idea of the Monument was suggested, it was arranged that the Clerk
of the County should convene a meeting in Ayr to discuss the matter.
This was done, but only Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, Rev. H. Paul of
Broughton, and the Clerk put in an appearance. That did not upset
Boswell's equanimity. He calmly elected himself Chairman, proposed that
a Monument be erected, declared the motion carried, and instructed the
Clerk to send out subscription sheets forthwith. These met with the
heartiest reception, with the result that the Monument was erected. This
Alexander Boswell was the son of James Boswell, the biographer of Dr.
Johnson. He was created a Baronet in 1821, and was shot in a duel in the
following year by James Stewart of Dunearn. In private life and in the
circle of his friends he was one of the most social and amusing
companions. He was much attached to Freemasonry, and in a Lodge none
could "preside o'er the Sons of Light" with greater propriety or more in
the spirit of “the privileged few." On the occasion of the laying of the
foundation stone of the Monument the following Lodges and Chapters took
I Mother Kilwinning; L0 Maybole; 24 St. John's,
Kilmarnock ; 46 Newmills; 64 Partick Kilwinning, Glasgow ; 123 Ayr
Kilwinning; 124 St. James, Newton Ayr; 125 St. Andrew, Kilmarnock; 126
Thistle, Stewarton ; 131 St. David, Tarbolton ; 147 St. Andrew, Irvine;
163 Royal Arch, Ayr; 167 Thistle and Rose, Stevenston ; 197 Royal Arch,
Maybole ; 200 St. Thomas, Muirkirk; 201 St. Clement, Riccarton; 203 St
Paul, Ayr and Renfrew ; 209 St. Andrew, Ayr Newton ; 221 Moira, Fenton ;
230 St. Barnabas, Old Cumnock ; 240 St. Mungo, Mauchline ; 270 St.
Alexander Boswell was Worshipful Depute Grand Master
of the most ancient Mother Lodge Kilwinning, and in response to the
appeal which he sent out, subscriptions from all parts of the country
had flowed in, including a handsome donation from the Prince Regent,
afterwards George IV.
In 1807, it may be stated, the Mother Kilwinning
Lodge renounced the right of granting warrants, and was placed at the
head of the roll of Scottish Lodges by the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
The Lodges and Chapters having formed themselves into
an extensive circle, the stone was placed into position by Alexander
Boswell, who also deposited a plate bearing the following inscription:—
" By the favour of Almighty God, on the
twentyfifth of January, A.D. MDCCCXX., of the era of Masonry, 5820, and
in the sixteenth year of the reign of our beloved Sovereign, George the
Third, His Royal Highness George, Prince of Wales, being Regent of the
United Kingdom and a munificent subscriber to the edifice, the
foundation stone of this Monument, erected by public subscription in
honour of the genius of Robert Burns, the Ayrshire Poet, was laid by
Alexander Boswell, Esq., of Auchinleck, M.P., Worshipful Depute Grand
Master of the Most Antient Mother Lodge Kilwinning (attended by all the
Mason Lodges in Ayrshire), according to the antient usages of Masonry.
Thomas Hamilton, junior, Edinburgh, architect; John Connell, junior,
builder and contractor."
Then the Depute Grand Master exhibited corn, oil, and
wine in true Masonic style, and delivered the following address :—
"Brethren, may corn, oil, and wine abound; may all
that is useful and ornamental be cultivated amongst us; and may all that
can invigorate the body, or elevate the soul, shed their blest influence
on our native land.
“We have at length assembled to pay a grateful,
though a tardy, tribute to the genius of Robert Burns, our Ayrshire
Poet, and the Bard of Coila. There surely lives not the man so dull, so
flinty, or phlegmatic, who would witness this event without emotion. But
to those whose heart-strings have thrilled responsive to the chords of
the poet's lyre whose bosoms have swelled like his, with love and
friendship, with tenderness and sympathy, have glowed with patriotism,
or panted for glory—this hour must be an hour of exaltation. Whether we
consider the time, the place, or the circumstances, at once in operation
on our feelings and our fancies —his muse, alas! is mute—who could alone
have dared to paint the proud breathings of such an assembly at such a
"When we consider the time, we cannot forget that
this day is the anniversary of that which gave our poet the light of
heaven. Bleak is the prospect around us ; the wood, the hawthorn, and '
the birken shaw ' are leafless ; not a thrush has yet essayed to clear
the furrowed brow of winter ; but this, we know, shall pass away, give
place, and be succeeded by the buds of spring and the blossoms of
summer. Chill and cheerless was our poet's natal day ; but soon the wild
flowers of poesy sprang, as it were, beneath his boyish tread ; they
opened as he advanced, expanded as he matured, until he revelled in all
the richness of luxuriance. Poverty and disappointment hung frowning
around him and haunted his path; but, soothed and charmed by the fitful
visits of his native muse, and crowned, as in a vision, with the holly
wreath, he wantoned in a fairy land, the bright creation of his own
vivid and enwrapt imagination. His musings have been our delight. Men of
the loftiest talents, and of taste the most refined, have praised them;
men of strong and sterling, but untutored, intellect, have admired them;
the poet of the heart is the poet of mankind.
“When we consider the place, let us remember that
those very scenes which we now look upon, awakened in his youthful
breast that animating spark which burst upon the world with a blaze of
inspiration. In yonder cottage he first drew breath ; in that depository
of the lowly dead sleeps the once humble, now immortal, model of the
cottage life — there rests his pious father—and there it was his fond
and anxious wish that his dust should have been mingled with the beloved
and kindred ashes. Below us flows the Doon, the classic Doon, but made
classic by his harmony; there, gliding through the woods, and laving his
banks and braes, he rolls his clear and 'far-fetched waters' to the
ocean. Before us stands the ruins of Kirk Alloway, shrouded in all the
mystic imagery with which it is enveloped by his magic spells—' Kirk
Alloway ! '—to name it, is enough.
"If, then, the time and place are so congenial
with our fond impressions, the circumstances which have enabled us to
carry into effect this commemoration of our Bard must give delight to
every enthusiastic mind. In every region where our language is heard,
the song of Burns gives rapture —and from every region, and from climes
the most remote, the votive offerings pour in to aid all our undertaking
; and the edifice, which we have now begun, shall stand a proud and
lasting testimony of the world's admiration. Not on the banks of the
Doon alone, or hermit Ayr, or the romantic Lugar, echo repeats the songs
of Burns, but amid the wild forests of Columbia, and scorching plains of
Hindustan, on the banks of the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, and the
Ganges, his heart-touching melody floats upon the breeze.
"This monument rises like the piled cairn over our
warriors of old—each man casts a stone ; and in honour of him, the son
of a cottager, and himself a ploughman, our prince, with the true
feelings of true greatness, and more illustrious by this act of
generosity, pays here his tribute at the shrine of genius. May the work
prosper ; and when happily completed, then may it tell to future
generations that the age which could produce a Burns was rich also in
those who could appreciate his talents, and who, while they felt and
owned the power of his muse, have honoured his name."
The Rev. H. Paul, of Broughton, concluded the
ceremony with a suitable prayer, and the whole Masonic body, joined by
an immense crowd of spectators, gave three healthy cheers, and the
procession returned to the town of Ayr.
In the evening deputations arrived at the Grand
Lodge, when the Rev. H. Paul recited the following ode:—
sorrows, Ayr, are like the dews of night.
pearly drops, o'er Nature's cheek descending.
her vernal beauty beam more bright.
tear and smile in lovely union blending;
like the hymn of gratitude ascending
incense ever pleasing to the skies.
and thy darling poet's fame extending.
hear'st the voice of gratulation rise.
lo ! on this auspicious holiday.
Sons of Light, in bright array,
many a. mystic streamer flying,
minstrelsy with measured steps advance.
seem, at times, to weave the festive dance.
times, to shake the spear, or couch the lance.
unhallow'd all access denying
while they place, by plummet, rule, and square.
corner-stone, predestined to bear
precious monumental pile.
the glory, and the boast of Kyle.
frail the fabric which you raise
poet's memory to prolong,
Compar'd with that which speaks his praise.
energy divine of song;
still our gratitude is due.
lov'd, thrice honour'd friends, to you
the beauteous structure rise;
our fond regrets were one.
Coila wept her favourite son.
your joys we sympathise.
the whole world of taste and feeling turns
gaze, with rapture ever new, on Burns!”
Alexander Boswell also sang the following song,
composed by himself, with great power and effect :—
thought ! But had Burns witness'd a meeting
souls so congenial, and warm'd with such fire.
wild flow of fancy in ecstasy greeting.
what might have been the bold notes of his lyre!
rays by reflection are doubled and doubled.
bosom had swell'd to your cheering reply;
sympathy soothing the heart that was troubled—
for his mirth—for his sorrow a sigh.
"Admir'd, but unaided, how dark was his story;
struggles we know, and his efforts we prize ;
murky neglect, as the flame bursts to glory.
rose, self-embalm'd, and destruction defies.
ploughman he was : would that smiles of false favour
never decoy'd him from home and his team ;
taught all his hopes and his wishes to waver.
snatching reality, left him—a dream.
rank and to title, due deference owing.
as befitting society's plan;
judgment awaken'd, and sympathy glowing.
all distinctions, and rest upon—man.
from the poor hind, who, his day's task completed.
industry's pride to his hovel returns.
who in royalty's splendour is seated.
independent be found—'twas in Bums.
birthright, his muse ! Like the lark in the morning.
blithely he caroU'd in praise of the fair;
nature enraptur'd, and artifice scorning.
sweet were his notes on the banks of the Ayr !
near to that spot where his kindred dust slumbers.
mark'd by the bard on the tablets of fame.
near the thatch'd shed where he first lisp'd in numbers.
raise a proud tribute to honour his name."
The poet's mother died in January, 1820, thus
surviving her son nearly twenty-four years. His wife died on 26th March,
1834. At his death Robert Burns left four sons, and on the day of his
interment a fifth son was born, who was named Maxwell, named after the
doctor who attended the poet in his last illness, and who died on 25th
April, 1799. Robert, the eldest and favourite son of the poet, was born
at Mauchline in 1786. He was for twenty-nine years in the Legacy
Department of Somerset House. On retirement he resided for some years at
Dumfries. In addition to being an excellent linguist and an accomplished
musician, he also was a poet of no mean merit. He died in May, 1857, in
the seventy-first year of his age. Francis Wallace, the second son, was
born at Elliesland on 9th April, 1789, but died in 1803. William Nicol,
the third son, was born at Dumfries on 21st November, 1792, and James
Glencairn, the fourth, was born on 12th August, 1794. The two
last-named, through the influence of Sir James Shaw and the Marchioness
of Hastings, entered the service of the East India Company. The former
rose to be Colonel and the latter to be Lieutenant-Colonel. William
Nicol died on 21st February, 1872, and James Glencairn on 18th November,
1865. The latter left two daughters, Sarah and Annie. The former married
Dr. Hutchinson, and on her death left three daughters and one son, and
there are still living direct descendants of the poet. On 17th
September, 1831, Captain (as he then was) James Glencairn Burns, who had
just returned home from India, paid, with his wife, a visit to Sir
Walter Scott, and spent the day under his roof, shortly before the death
of the great Scottish novelist. Gilbert, the brother of the poet, died
on 27th April, 1827.
Patrick Miller, the owner of Elliesland, son of Sir
Thomas Miller, was initiated in Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, on 12th
February, 1765. He had been brought up as a banker, but applied himself
to scientific pursuits and was the first to propose the application of
steam power to navigation.
After Burns' death a Liverpolitan Freemason and a
compatriot. Dr. Currie, obtained the poet's manuscripts and letters,
and, purely as a labour of love, compiled from that chaotic material a
biography—for the pecuniary benefit of the widow and little ones.
Pierpont Morgan afterwards made a bid for the papers, but, happily, he
was not successful in securing them.
In 1868 a number of Masons met together and made all
the preliminary arrangements for the resuscitation of the poet's Mother
Lodge, St. David's, Tarbolton, No. 125. A petition with that object was
in due form presented to the Grand Lodge of Scotland and a sum of money
deposited with the petition, and the Lodge, which was chartered
originally in 1773, then struck off the Roll in 1843, was re-opened in
Mauchline on 8th November, 1869, when the number 133 was assigned to it.
It is interesting to record that one of the unwritten
by-laws of the Scots Lodge, No. 2319, London, is: " That every January,
after the business of the regular meeting, the ' harmonie ' of the
evening shall be devoted to the hero-worship of paying homage at the
shrine of Burns' immortal fame."
Caroline Fox in her Journals has left on record an
interesting account of an afternoon spent with Thomas Carlyle, in which
she says :—
" Burns was the last of our heroes, and here our
Scotch patriot was in his element. Most graphically did he sketch some
passages in the poet's life; the care with which his good father
educated him, teaching him to read his Bible and to write. The family
was in great poverty, and so deeply did anxiety about rearing his
children prey on the mind of old William Burns, that he died of a broken
heart. He was a sincere man, and, like every sincere man, he lived not
in vain. He acted up to the precepts of John Knox and trained his son to
immortality. When Robert's talents developed themselves, the rich and
the great espoused his cause, constantly sent for him when they would be
amused, and drew him out of his simple habits, greatly to his own woe.
He could not long stand this perpetual lionising unblighted; it broke
him up in every sense, and he died. What a tragedy is this of Robert
Burns! his father dying of a broken heart from dread of over-great
poverty; the son from contact with the great, who would flatter him for
a night or two and then leave him unfriended. Amusement they must have,
it seems, at any expense, though one would have thought they were
sufficiently amused in the common way; but no, they were like the
Indians we read of whose grandees ride in their palanquins at night, and
are not content with torches carried before them, but must have instead
fireflies stuck at the end of spears. . . . He [Carlyle] then told us he
had more than occupied our time, and rushed downstairs."
Burns is described by Professor Craik as “the
greatest peasant poet that has ever appeared. Nothing in Horace, in the
way of curious felicity of phrase, excels what we find in the
compositions of this Ayrshire ploughman,"
Some have doubted his investiture as Poet- Laureate
of the Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, owing to the absence of certain
documentary proofs. But, after all, he was more than that. He was, and
is, the Laureate of the Scottish race, of the Masonic Craft, and of all
who toil. One writer has given Burns a chapter to himself in a book he
has written, entitled: Men who have failed. Whatever may have been the
side-tracks in Burns' career, who will venture upon the assertion that
he was a failure? He has thrilled the whole world with his songs.
Generation after generation have revelled in his verse. Not in Scotland
alone, but in every country of each hemisphere his verses and epigrams
are quoted as freely and as frequently as passages from the Sacred