The following extract is taken from the obituary of Mr John Syme, a friend of Robert Burns. Mr Syme was a long-time resident of Kirkcudbrightshire (Barncalzie, Kirkpatrick Durham Parish). Our extract gives an insight into the character of Burns during his travels in the county.

Robert Burns Tour of the Stewartry.

In Dr. Currie's "Life of Burns," he observes,

"During his residence at Dumfries he made several excursions into the neighbouring country; of one of which, through Galloway, an account is preserved in a letter of Mr. Syme, written soon after, which, as it gives an animated picture of him, by a correct and masterly hand, we shall present to the reader.

"’I got Burns a grey Highland shelty to ride on. We dined the first day, July 27. 1793, at Glendenwynes of Parton, a beautiful situation on the banks of the Dee. In the evening we walked out, and ascended a gentle eminence, from which we had as fine a view of Alpine scenery as can well be imagined. A delightful soft evening showed all its milder as well as its grander graces. Immediately opposite, and within a mile of us, we saw Airds, a charming romantic place, where dwelt Low, the author of "Mary, weep no more for me." This was classical ground for Burns. He viewed "the highest hill which rises o'er the source of Dee," and would have staid till the "passing spirit" had appeared, had we not resolved to reach Kenmure that night. We arrived as Mr. and Mrs. Gordon were sitting down to supper.

"’Here is a genuine baron's seat. The castle, an old building, stands on a large natural moat. In front, the river Ken winds for several miles through the most fertile and beautiful holm, till it expands into a lake twelve miles long, the banks of which, on the south, present a fine and soft landscape of green knolls, natural wood, and here and there a grey rock. On the north, the aspect is great, wild, and, I may say, tremendous. In short, I can scarcely conceive a scene more terribly romantic than the castle of Kenmure. Burns thinks so highly of it, that he meditates a description of it in poetry. Indeed, I believe he has begun the work. We spent three days with Mr. Gordon, whose polished hospitality is of an original and endearing kind. Mrs. Gordon's lapdog Echo was dead. She would have an epitaph for him. Several had been made. Burns was asked for one. This was setting Hercules to his distaff. He disliked the subject; but, to please the lady, he would try. Here is what he produced:-

"In wood and wild, ye warbling throng,
Your heavy loss deplore;
Now half extinct your powers of song,
Sweet Echo is no more.

"Ye jarring, screeching things around,
Scream your discordant joys;
Now half your din of tuneless sound
With Echo silent lies."

"’We left Kenmure, and went to Gatehouse. I took him the moor road, where savage and desolate regions extended wide around. The sky was sympathetic with the wretchedness of the soil; it became lowering and dark. The hollow winds sighed; the lightning gleamed; the thunder rolled. The poet enjoyed the awful scene: he spoke not a word, but seemed rapt in meditation. In a little while the rain began to fall. It poured in floods upon us. For three hours did the wild elements rumble their bellyful upon our defenceless heads. Oh, oh! 'twas foul. We got utterly wet; and, to avenge ourselves, Burns insisted, at Gatehouse, on our getting utterly drunk.

"'From Gatehouse we went next day to Kirkcudbright, through a fine country. But here I must tell you that Burns had got a pair of jemmy boots for the journey, which had been thoroughly wet, and which had been dried in such a manner that it was not possible to get them on again. The brawny poet tried force, and tore them to shreds. A whiffling vexation of this sort is more trying to the temper than a serious calamity. We were going to St. Mary's Isle, the seat of the Earl of Selkirk, and the forlorn Burns was discomfited at the thought of his ruined boots. A sick stomach and a headache lent their aid, and the man of verse was quite accable. I attempted to reason with him. Mercy on us, how he did fume and rage! Nothing could reinstate him in temper. I tried various expedients, and at last hit on one that succeeded. I showed him the house of * * * *, across the bay of Wigton. Against * * * *, with whom he was offended, he expectorated his spleen, and regained a most agreeable temper. He was in a most epigrammatic humour indeed. He afterwards fell on humbler game. There is one ****** whom he does not love. He had a passing blow at him.

" When ***** deceased, to the devil went down,
'Twas nothing would serve him but Satan's own crown:
Thy fool's head, quoth Satan, that crown shall wear never,
I grant thou 'rt as wicked, but not quite so clever."

"'Well, I am to bring you to Kirkcudbright along with our poet without boots. I carried the torn ruins across my saddle, in spite of his fulminations, and in contempt of appearances; and, what is more, Lord Selkirk carried them in his coach to Dumfries: he insisted they were worth mending.

"’We reached Kirkcudbright about one o'clock. I had promised that we should dine with one of the first men in our country J. Dalzell. But Burns was in a wild and obstreperous humour, and swore he would not dine where he should be under the smallest restraint. We prevailed, therefore, on Mr. Dalzell to dine with us in the inn, and had a very agreeable party. In the evening, we set out for St. Mary's Isle. Robert had not absolutely regained the milkiness of good temper, and it occurred once or twice to him, as he rode along, that St. Mary's Isle was the seat of a Lord; yet that Lord was not an aristocrat, at least in his sense of the word. We arrived about eight o'clock, as the family were at tea and coffee. St. Mary's Isle is one of the most delightful places that can, in my opinion, be formed by the assemblage of every soft, but not tame object, which constitutes natural and cultivated beauty. But not to dwell on its external graces, let me tell you that we found all the ladies of the family (all beautiful) at home, and some strangers; and, among others, who but Urbani. The Italian sang us many Scottish songs, accompanied with instrumental music. The two young ladies of Selkirk sang also. We had the song of "Lord Gregory," which I asked for, to have an opportunity of calling on Burns to recite his ballad to that tune. He did recite it; and such was the effect, that a dead silence ensued. It was such a silence as a mind of feeling naturally preserves, when it is touched with that enthusiasm which banishes every other thought but the contemplation and indulgence of the sympathy produced. Burns's "Lord Gregory" is, in my opinion, a most beautiful and affecting ballad. The fastidious critic may, perhaps, say some of the sentiments and imagery are of too elevated a kind for such a style of composition; for instance, "thou bolt of heaven that passes by," and "ye mustering thunders," &c. ; but this is a cold-blooded objection, which will be said rather than felt.

"'We enjoyed a most happy evening at Lord Selkirk's. We had, in every sense of the word, a feast, in which our minds and our senses were equally gratified. The poet was delighted with his company, and acquitted himself to admiration. The lion that had raged so violently in the morning was now as mild and gentle as a lamb. Next day we returned to Dumfries, and so ends our peregrination. I told you that in the midst of the storm on the wilds of Kenmure, Burns was rapt in meditation. What do you think he was about? He was charging the English army along with Bruce at Bannockburn. He was engaged in the same manner on our ride home from St. Mary's Isle, and I did not disturb him. Next day he produced me the following address of Bruce to his troops, and gave a copy for Dalzell:

'Scots, wha hae wi* Wallace bled, &c.' "

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