THE CONTEMPORARIES OF BURNS, AND THE MORE RECENT POETS OF AYRSHIRE WITH SELECTIONS FROM THEIR WRITINGS
HUGH PATON, CARVER & GILDER TO HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN AND HER ROYAL HIGHNESS THE DUCHESS OF KENT
ADAM SQUARE, EDINBURGH M.DCCC.XL.
BY JAMES PATERSON
The name of Lapraik is familiar to every reader of Burns; yet comparatively few know anything of his writings, his history, or his family. The sirname - now very rare in this country - is perhaps of French origin. The family of Lekprevick, or Lapraik of that Ilk, made a considerable figure "before the reign of Robert the Bruce, and continued to flourish a long time after" (Ure’s Rutherglen and East Kilbride. Glasgow, 1793, 8vo. Pp.163).
The Castle of Lekprevick, now in ruins, is about a mile and a half south from Kilbride, in the county of Lanark. Robert Lekprevick was printer to James the Sixth of Scotland. He it was who first gave to the world a collected edition of the Scottish Statues. Another production of his press is "The Actis and Deides of the illuster and vailyeand campion Schir William Wallace, of Ellerslie, imprintit at Edenburgh by Robert Lekprevick, at the expensis of Henrie Charteris; and are to be sauld in his buith, on the north side of the gait above the throne. Black letter, 4to. Anno Do. MDLXX”.
The only copy known to exist of this very rare edition of a popular work is in the British Museum. The Sege of the Castel of Edenburgh was also “imprintit be Robert Lekprevick, anno 1573.”
Whether or not the subject of this sketch was a descendant of the printer does not appear; nor is it known whether he was in any way connected with the ancient stock, although the scarcity now-a-days of persons of the same name makes such a presumption extremely probable.
JOHN LAPRAIK, the senior of all the Ayrshire contemporaries of Burns, was born in 1727, at Laigh Delquhram, (or as now pronounced, Dalfram,) situated on the road to Sorn, about three miles west of Muirkirk.
Here his father lived before him, and the property had been in possession of the family for several generations. He was the eldest son, and, by the death of his father, succeeded at an early period to the paternal inheritance.
His education, though equal, if not superior, to the common range of parochial instruction at that period, was by no means classical; and, as observed by himself, he had little leisure to improve his mind by extensive reading.
At what period he first attempted verse it is impossible to guess; but it must have been long prior to the attempts of his youthful friend - the inimitable Bard of Coila.
Lapraik married in March 1754. He had then attained his twenty-seventh year. The object of his choice was Margaret Rankin, eldest daughter of William Rankin of Lochhead, and sister to John, the well-known “rough, rude, ready-witted Rankin.”
From a document (the contract of marriage) in our possession, it appears that he received with his bride a dowery of one hundred pounds sterling; and that, in case of his demise, under certain contingences, she was to obtain an annuity of two hundred merks Scots. (To this document, in addition to the signatures of the contracting parties, (viz John Lapraik, William Rankin, and Margaret Rankin,) is also appended that of the well-known John Rankin, as one of the witnesses. In respect to Penmanship, Lapraik’s is decidedly the best).
His property, at this period, consisted, in the words of the document, of:
“All and haill that eight shilling ninepenny land of old extent of Dalquhram, alias Nether Dalquhram; and all and haill the eight shilling ninepenny land of old extent of Upper Dalquhram, commonly called Laigh Hall; as also all and haill the eight shilling ninepenny land of old extent of Dalquhram, called Douglass Dalquhram, with the respective houses, biggings, yeards, parts, and pendicles and haill pertinents of the said several lands and teinds, parsonage and vinerage of the same, all lying within the parish of Muirkirk, lordship and late regality, now barony of Kylesmuir, and sheriffdom of Ayr, together with the fishing of salmond and other fishing in the water of Ayr”.
Besides the lands enumerated, which appear to have been considerable, Lapraik held in lease the ground and mill of Muirsmill, distant from Dalfram about half a mile; and for some years subsequent to his marriage he enjoyed with his “wedded wife” that degree of happiness which competence and affection were so well calculated to afford.
Possessed of a cheerful, kind disposition, few men were more beloved in his sphere, or better fitted for the reciprocal interchange of social life. Fond of poetry and song, he essayed the rustic lyre; and happy in his household, its strings were alone attuned for domestic hearth. Little did he dream that the muse thus wooed in prosperity, should, at no distant period, become the solace of his misfortune!
Among the earliest of the Poet’s griefs was the death of his wife, soon after the birth of her fifth child (three of the five children reached the years of maturity. One of the sons died abroad, the other, William, at Woolwich).
This was indeed a severe stroke, and not less keenly felt. The blank in the domestic circle was supplied, however, a few years afterwards (1766), in the person of Janet Anderson, of Lightshaw, the name of a neighbouring farm possessed by her father. Janet was fourteen years his junior, and a young woman in every respect capable of inspiring the Poet with the most ardent affection:-
“Ye gods! Who reside in the regions above,
Deprive me of life, or inspire her with love!
Make Jenny’s fond bosom to feel for my pain,
that I may sweet peace and contentment regain”.
The gods were propitious-
“She smiled sweetly on me, and gave me her hand,
and with blushes did own she was at my command;
transported with joy, while she learn’d on my breast,
I thanked the kind gods who had heard my request;
so I to all sorrows and cares bid farewell,
while Jenny does love me, no care I can feel.”
When Lapraik thus expressed himself, he was secure in his property of Dalfram, and though not a wealthy laird, could scarcely have imagined that the day of adversity was so near at hand.
In November 1769, about four years after the consummation of his second marriage, the Ayr Bank was established, under the designation of Douglas, Heron & Co., with a capital of £150,000; and, numbering among its shareholders some of the most wealthy and influential men in the country, the concern began business under the happiest auspices, and with the fairest prospects of success.
Its career, however, was short and its effects ruinous. In the history of banking scarcely an instance is to be found of greater mismanagement. In little more than two years the company was under the necessity of suspending payments (June 1772); and though a farther advance was at that time obtained from the proprietors, the bank finally closed its transactions on 12th August 1773, having thus scarcely completed three full years from the date of its commencement.
Many families of Ayrshire were buried in the fall of Douglas, Heron & Co., and among these unhappily was the laird of Dalfram. “In an evil hour,” says Cunningham, “when the love of making ‘meikle mair’ came upon him, he purchased shares in what Burns called ‘that villainous bubble the Ayr bank,’ and was involved in its ruin.”
Though true in the main particular, this is not altogether a correct statement. Lapraik, we believe, never was a shareholder, but what was equally ruinous, he became a victim to the mania for speculation created by the lavish credits of the bank. He not only obtained discounts himself, but guaranteed others to a heavy amount; and when the “bubble burst” he found himself involved beyond the possibility of extrication.
A poem, written apparently at this juncture, or shortly afterwards, embodies the author’s sentiments, somewhat quaintly expressed, relative to the Douglas and Heron Bank, and the wide-spread ruin occasioned by its fall:-
IN the year Sixty-nine and Sev'nty,
The Notes amongst men were too plenty:
They took their glass and were right canty;
They little thought,
That plenty, when 'tis misimproven,
Brings men to nought.
The cry went through from poleto pole,
There's credit here for ev'ry soul;
If he's well back'd, without control,
He shall have Money:
'Tis bitter sauce to each one now,
That then was honey.
This credit went o'er all the County;
It was as ready as King's Bounty:
But now there is not one of twenty
That can get rest;
Hornings are going every day,
They're so opprest.
If I might pick some men by name,
Wha did lay out a decent scheme:
They're foolish folk wha those men blame;
For their intention.
Was to ev'ry crown a pound
By this invention.
In midst of their industr'ous scheme,
Their money is requir'd again:
He now is fad wha then was fain;
The secret's kent;
His profits he has not got in,
And's money's spent.
And then what Creditors he has
Come running on him with a blaze;
Each telling that he must have his,
Or caution get;
Then diligence against him goes;
Syne he's laid flat!
The mismanagement on the part of the company chiefly existed in the lavish manner in which their notes were thrown into circulation, and the granting of loan on long credits, whereby the capital was withdrawn from the immediate use of the bank.
This evil, proceeding partly from ignorance, was augmented by the circumstance of a number of adventurers having found their way into the directorship, who, at once needy and imprudent, set at defiance all the regulations of the establishment.
(This was particularly the case at the office in Ayr. The Report of a Committee of Inquiry, published in 1778, states that “at Air, which was the principal office, and where the business commenced the 6th of November 1769, it was unfortunate that a variety of enterprising companies, engaged in different kinds of foreign and domestic t6rade, had, about this time, been established in that place, under different firms indeed, but all of them closely connected and linked together; and that the members which composed these several trading companies became all of them partners of Douglas Heron and Company. It was still more unfortunate, that the cashier and most of the directors, chosen for the management of the Air office, were deeply connected with, and concerned in, one or more of these trading companies; and thus the wise and salutary regulation of the general meeting, November 1769, prohibiting above one member of any trading company from being in the direction at any of the offices at one and the same time, was disregarded in the very first proceeding. Such were the companies under the firms of Oliphant and Company – Whiteside and Company – Maclure and Maccree – Campbell and Company – Montgomery and Company – Campbell, Crawford and Company, and some others. The same connections, and, in general, the same individuals, composed those trading societies. They were a set of the partners of Douglas, Heron and Company associated together; and four or fie of the chief acting directors of this office were deeply engaged in those commercial schemes. The common desire and necessity of promoting mutual credit could not fail to unite this confederacy in the closest manner; and the access to credit being rendered easy, the conseque4nces were such as might have been expected, - Most exorbitant and profuse credits were immediately given out, in various forms to the individual members of those trading companies, and to the companies themselves, under their respective firms, - The same set of people became securities for each other; and, in the granting of cash accounts in particular, this abuse immediately became so great with respect to the Board of Directors, and was so evidently inconsistent with the proper rules of management, that, so early as the 20th November 1769, a regulation was made, ‘That none of the directors who had already been bound should afterwards be received as securities in any cash-account; and thereafter, on the 8th January 1770, the abuse having been complained of by the other offices, it was further resolved, ‘That no person whatever should be received as cautioner in more than three cash-accounts.’” These resolutions, however, had little effect, the mismanagement they were intended to check continuing, according to the Report, nearly to an equal extent. Besides the office at Ayr, there was one in Edinburgh and another in Dumfries).
The result was the speedy dissipation of the company’s funds – the contraction of an equivalent debt, especially in London, to meet the return of their own notes – and a commercial panic occurring at the time, the money market suddenly became depressed, and all who were struggling for existence were speedily overwhelmed.
At this crisis the desperate efforts made by the sale of the redeemable annuities plunged the company into still farther difficulties; and the attempt to save the concern from legal bankruptcy ended a few months afterwards in a voluntary one, the evils of which were considerably augmented by the very means adopted to avoid such an alternative.
(At the stoppage in June 1772, the debts due to the three bank offices amounted to nearly £700,000, £400,000 of which had been contracted by the partners themselves. The whole amount of assets, including debts and bills of exchange, amounted to £1,237,043, 7s. ld. The debts due by the company exceeded this sum. In 1789, the committee appointed to wind up the affairs of the bank, found it necessary to make a fresh call of £1400 per share upon those partners who still continued solvent. From the state of affairs at this time, it appeared that after deducting the debts due to the company, the firm remained debtor in the sum of £366,000! The whole loss upon each share was calculated to amount to £2600, exclusive of interest.)
It now became a matter of necessity, on the part of the company, to realize every available debt; hence the hornings and diligence alluded to by Lapraik.
In consequence of approaching difficulties, the Poet let his own lands of Dalfram, and retired to Muirsmill, where he remained for a few years. From thence he removed to Netherwood a farm on the water of Greenoak, still retaining the lease of the mill, however; and here he continued for nine years, struggling in vain to overcome the losses he had sustained.
At the end of that period he sold off his property, and again returned to Muirs mill; but the sale of his lands having failed to rid him of his liabilities, he still found himself the victim of legal prosecution, and at length, to heap the full measure of wretchedness on the devoted head of an unfortunate but honest man, he was thrown into prison.
In his preface to his book of poems, Lapraik alludes to this event in the following words: -
“In consequence of misfortunes and disappointments, he (the author) was, some years ago, torn from his ordinary way of life, and shut up in retirement, which he found at first painful and disagreeable. Imagining, however, that he had a kind of turn for rhyming, in order to suppose his solitude, he set himself to compose the following pieces, “ &c.
While immured within the walls of Ayr jail, he is said to have written the very feeling lyric, “When I upon thy bosom lean,” addressed to his wife:-
WHEN I upon thy bosom lean,
Enraptur'd, I do call thee mine;
I glory in those sacr'd ties,
That made us one, who once were twain.
A mut'al flame inspires us both;
The tender look, the melting kiss,
Ev'n years shall ne'er destroy our love;
Some sweet sensation new will rise.
Have I a wish? 'tis all for thee;
I know thy wish is me to please;
Our moments pass so smooth away,
That numbers on us look and gaze.
Well pleas'd to see our happy days,
They bid us live and still love on;
And if some cares shall chance to rise,
Thy bosom still shall be my home.
I'll lull me there and take my rest;
And if that thought disturb my fair,
I'll bid her laugh her cares all out,
And beg her not to drop a tear.
Have I a joy? 'tis all her own;
Her heart and mine are all the same;
They're like the woodbine round the tree,
That's twin'd till Death shall us disjoin.
This song appeared in Johnson's Scots Musical Museum, with more of a Scottish dress and considerably improved, we should suppose, by the hand of Burns. The above is copied vertabim from Lapraik's volume. The other version is as follows:
WHEN I upon thy bosom lean,
And fondly clasp me a' my ain,;
I glory in the sacr'd ties,
That made us ane, wha aince were twain:
A mut'al flame inspires us baith -
The tender look, the melting kiss,
Ev'n years shall ne'er destroy our love;
But only gie us change o' bliss.
Hae I a wish? its a' for thee;
I ken thy wish is me to please;
Our moments pass sae smooth away,
That numbers on us look and gaze.
Weel pleas'd they see our happy days,
Nor envy's sel' finds aught to blame;
And aye when weary cares arise,
Thy bosom still shall be my hame.
I'll lay me there and tak my rest;
And if that thought disturb my dear,
I'll bid her laugh her cares away,
And beg her not to drap a tear.
Hae I a joy? 'its a' her ain;
United still her heart and mine;;
They're like the woodbine round the tree,
That's twin'd till Death shall them disjoin.
“This song,” says Burns, “was the work of a very worthy, facetious old fellow, John Lapraik, late of Dalfram, near Muirkirk; which little property he was obliged to sell, in consequences of some connexion as security for some persons concerned in that villainous bubble, the Ayr Bank. He has often told me that he composed this song one day when his wife had been fretting o’er their misfortunes.”
It was this song, first heard at a country rockin’ that induced Burns to open a correspondence with the author, which he did in his “Epistle to J. Lapraik, an Old Scottish Bard,” dated 1st April 1785:-
Epistle To J. Lapraik, An Old Scottish Bard
While briers an' woodbines budding green,
An' paitricks scraichin loud at e'en,
An' morning poussie whiddin seen,
Inspire my muse,
This freedom, in an unknown frien',
I pray excuse.
On Fasten-e'en we had a rockin,
To ca' the crack and weave our stockin;
And there was muckle fun and jokin,
Ye need na doubt;
At length we had a hearty yokin
At sang about.
There was ae sang, amang the rest,
Aboon them a' it pleas'd me best,
That some kind husband had addrest
To some sweet wife;
It thirl'd the heart-strings thro' the breast,
A' to the life.
I've scarce heard ought describ'd sae weel,
What gen'rous, manly bosoms feel;
Thought I "Can this be Pope, or Steele,
Or Beattie's wark?"
They tauld me 'twas an odd kind chiel
It pat me fidgin-fain to hear't,
An' sae about him there I speir't;
Then a' that kent him round declar'd
He had ingine;
That nane excell'd it, few cam near't,
It was sae fine:
That, set him to a pint of ale,
An' either douce or merry tale,
Or rhymes an' sangs he'd made himsel,
Or witty catches-
'Tween Inverness an' Teviotdale,
He had few matches.
Then up I gat, an' swoor an aith,
Tho' I should pawn my pleugh an' graith,
Or die a cadger pownie's death,
At some dyke-back,
A pint an' gill I'd gie them baith,
To hear your crack.
But, first an' foremost, I should tell,
Amaist as soon as I could spell,
I to the crambo-jingle fell;
Tho' rude an' rough-
Yet crooning to a body's sel'
Does weel eneugh.
I am nae poet, in a sense;
But just a rhymer like by chance,
An' hae to learning nae pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whene'er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.
Your critic-folk may cock their nose,
And say, "How can you e'er propose,
You wha ken hardly verse frae prose,
To mak a sang?"
But, by your leaves, my learned foes,
Ye're maybe wrang.
What's a' your jargon o' your schools-
Your Latin names for horns an' stools?
If honest Nature made you fools,
What sairs your grammars?
Ye'd better taen up spades and shools,
A set o' dull, conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in college classes!
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An' syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o' Greek!
Gie me ae spark o' nature's fire,
That's a' the learning I desire;
Then tho' I drudge thro' dub an' mire
At pleugh or cart,
My muse, tho' hamely in attire,
May touch the heart.
O for a spunk o' Allan's glee,
Or Fergusson's the bauld an' slee,
Or bright Lapraik's, my friend to be,
If I can hit it!
That would be lear eneugh for me,
If I could get it.
Now, sir, if ye hae friends enow,
Tho' real friends, I b'lieve, are few;
Yet, if your catalogue be fu',
I'se no insist:
But, gif ye want ae friend that's true,
I'm on your list.
I winna blaw about mysel,
As ill I like my fauts to tell;
But friends, an' folk that wish me well,
They sometimes roose me;
Tho' I maun own, as mony still
As far abuse me.
There's ae wee faut they whiles lay to me,
I like the lasses-Gude forgie me!
For mony a plack they wheedle frae me
At dance or fair;
Maybe some ither thing they gie me,
They weel can spare.
But Mauchline Race, or Mauchline Fair,
I should be proud to meet you there;
We'se gie ae night's discharge to care,
If we forgather;
An' hae a swap o' rhymin-ware
Wi' ane anither.
The four-gill chap, we'se gar him clatter,
An' kirsen him wi' reekin water;
Syne we'll sit down an' tak our whitter,
To cheer our heart;
An' faith, we'se be acquainted better
Before we part.
Awa ye selfish, war'ly race,
Wha think that havins, sense, an' grace,
Ev'n love an' friendship should give place
I dinna like to see your face,
Nor hear your crack.
But ye whom social pleasure charms
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
"Each aid the others,"
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!
But, to conclude my lang epistle,
As my auld pen's worn to the gristle,
Twa lines frae you wad gar me fissle,
Who am, most fervent,
While I can either sing or whistle,
Your friend and servant.
The epistles of Burns to Lapraik are well known. His advances, as an “unknown friend’,” were met upon the part of the Bard of Muirkirk by that openness and warmth of feeling which were the characteristics of the unfortunate but still facetious miller of Muirsmill.
“The reply of Lapraik,” says Allan Cunningham, “has been recorded; it was in its nature pleasing, and drew from the Bard of Mosgiel a second epistle, in which he says much of his toils and musings.” Cunningham has not stated where the reply is recorded. Assuredly not in Lapraik’s volume, nor in any of the editions of the works of Burns.
That, the correspondence, however, was carried on for some time is evident. One of Lapraik’s sons, James, now living in Muirkirk, recollects having been the bearer of several communications betwixt his father and Burns, who was then at Mosgiel.
On the first occasion, he found the Bard in a field engaged in sowing corn “I’m no sure if I ken the han’,” said Burns, he took possession of the letter; but no sooner had he glanced at its contents, then unconsciously letting go the sheet containing the grain, it was not till he had finished reading that he discovered the loss he had sustained.
There are three epistles by Burns to Lapraik preserved. Two were published in his first and second editions, and the third appeared for the first time in Cromek’s Reliques of Burns, from the Poet’s boss of MSS.
(Cunningham is in error when he says –“This third and last epistle of Burns to Lapraik was omitted in the Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions, and might have been lost, had not the Bard of Muirkirk, cheered by the success of his brother of Mosgiel, given his poetic words to the world, and printed the hasty effort of his friend by way of illustration.” The hasty effort does not appear in Lapraik’s volume).
It is to be regretted that the epistles of Lapraik are not preserved. Though probably possessed of no intrinsic merit, they would have served to illustrate those of Burns, and have gratified that curiosity which the want of them cannot fail to create. Burns in his first epistle proposed a meeting at Mauchline –
“But Mauchline race, Mauchlin fair,
I should be proud to meet you there;
We’se gie e nict’s discharge to care If we forgather,
An’ hae a swap o’ rhymin’-ware Wi’ane anither.”
The Poets met as proposed; and though we have no record of that night’s proceedings, imagination will be at no loss to fill up the blank. That it had been agreeable, and such as to excite the desire of greater intimacy, may be inferred from the third letter of Burns, (September 13, 1785,) in which he promises that
“-If the beast and brauks be spared
Till kye be gaun without the herd,
An’ a’ the vittel in the yard,
An theekit richt,
I mean your ingle-side to guard Ae winter nicht.
Then muse-inspirin’ aquavitae,
Shall mak’ us baith sae blithe and witty,
Till ye forget ye’re auld and gritty,
An’ be as canty
As ye were nine years less than thretty,
The Poet, in this instance, was as good as his word. In the course of the winter he visited Lapraik at Muirsmill, where he dined, spent a merry evening, and next morning took his departure for Mosgiel.
The flattering attention paid him by Burns, and the reception which the works of that Poet met from the public, had the effect of stimulating Lapraik, who, though now far advanced in years, resolved upon venturing before the world as an author.
With this view he set about wooing the muse with all the freshness of a green old age; and in 1788 appeared, from the Kilmarnock press, the works of the Poet of Muirkirk, entitled “Poems, on several occasions by John Lapraik,” 8vo pp. 240.
With the exception of the song already quoted, few of the pieces display any approach to poetic merit; still the volume is not without interest, and is now so very rare, that a few extracts, we doubt not, will prove acceptable to our readers.
It is rather surprising that the volume contains none of the author’s epistles to Burns, the very pieces, of all others, that would have most enhanced his work in the eyes of posterity. There is, to be sure, one epistle to the Poet, but of a more recent date than their first correspondence, and is chiefly an apology for this attempting to court the muse in his old age:-
“I liked the lasses unco weel,
Langsyne when I was young,
Which sometimes kitted up my muse,
To rite a kind love sang.”
Yet it never occurred to him, as he himself expresses it, to trouble the world with his “dull, insipid, thowless rhyme,”
“Till your kind muse, wi’ friendly blast,
First tooted up my fame,
And sounded loud thro’ a’ the wast,
My lang-forgotten name.”
In the “Poet’s Apology for Rhyming,” Lapraik soliloquizes in a sensible strain:-
I As a Wit yet ne'er appear'd
Upon the stage of time;
From bus'nes I am now debarr'd-
Tis now my 'ploy to rhyme.
No satire keen shall make me rage,
Ev'n though my fate were worse;
My head's grown empty by old age,
But not so toom's my purse.
My means and credit, fickle things!
They both are fled and gone!
And I my weary days maun pass,
Unheeded and unknown!
My wit and humour are despis'd,
Since e'er I could not pay;
And never more they shall be priz'd;
They're forced to hop away.
A few good-natur'd, friendly men,
My hopes shall yet sustain;
Though my old friends are fled and gone,
Yet I shall not complain.
They'll cause my worthless Book to sell,
Those friends whom I address;
May it please all that on it look,
And sale have good success.
On such alone, my smile or frown
Entirely must depend:
I've fought strong battles with small means,
Yet must yield in the end.
I'm blam'd by some, by some excus'd;
Each one gives me their lift:
I'll try to please ev'n men unknown,
Since Fate sends me adrift!
Vain is my plea! I need not try
To speak in my defence!
Though I'm borne down with prejudice,
Heav'n knows my innocence!
I'm now content--I'm free from care!
Let Fortune wag for me!
I shall not fret nor yet despair---
In peace I hope to die!
With thankfulness, I still shall strive
To make all matters meet:
I'll toil for bread as long's I can,
Take sour when we can't get sweet.
And when my pocket can it spare
(Although 'tis ill my part)
I'll take a glass myself to chear,
And raise my drooping heart!
With some true friends of gen'rous mind,
I'll fit and chat a while;
Whatever subject they may start,
I'll join quite free of guile.
If it wont please to speak the truth,
I then shall hold my tongue:
For flatt'ring lips I hate as Hell;
I'll rather sing my song.
I ne'er could walk with steady air,
But swing whiles up whiles down;
Where Fortune leads, I'll follow close,
Ne'er mind her smile or frown.
I ne'er shall court where I dread speed;
My wants I'll rather hide:
If simple truth will not succeed,
I by myself shall 'bide.
No glitt'ring gold that e'er was coin'd,
Nor heart tormenting woe,
Shall ever change my friendly mind,
Or make me fear a foe.
My outs and ins, and ups and downs,
Oft wrong, yet sometimes right:
I hate each rancour that breaks peace;
Let each one take his weight.
Whatever turn the matter takes,
To me is all the same;
I'll still go on and fight my way,
And try my loss to gain.
I for a feast will never fawn,
Nor pour out my complaint:
If welcome's hand is now withdrawn,
I'll stay at home content.
I'll make my pottage, boil my kail,
Remote and little known:
With ink I'll black the other sheet,
Regardless of man's frown.
I'm not dispos'd to hate mankind,
Though I their state lament;
Yet like them best that best like me,
Whate'er be the event.
I'm not so vain as to pretend
To teach men to behave;
Yet still am of a nobler mind,
Than ever be their slave.
I love a friend that's frank and free,
Who tells me to his mind:
I hate to hing upon a bank
With bums and bas confin'd.
Friendship's a true and trusty tie;
But if we break the links,
The whole of secrets out must flie,
Each speaks o't as he thinks.
It appears that shortly before publishing his Poems, the author had entertained the motion of emigrating to America. In the prospect of this, he writes the following “Farewell to his Native Country:”-
FAREWELL, ye dear, delightful fields!
Where first my breath I drew!
Farewell, my much respected Friends!
I bid you all adieu!
For other fields, and other plains,
And other clouds and skies;
For other distant, unknown scenes,
I must sail the seas!
In Spring, which decks the blooming year,
With flow'rs both fresh and gay,
I pull'd those flow'rs that were so fair;
But now, I must away!
I wonder'd at the scene so gay,
With colours of each hue;
In innocence I spent each day,
Yet bid those days adieu!
Oft from the noisy, irksome din
Of bus'ness I retir'd,
And walked in the woods so green,
Or by the river's side!
On Contemplation's airy wing
My raptur'd fancy flew;
But now ye woods, ye charming springs,
I bid you all adieu!
With ease I spent my youthful days;
My Friends they me carest;
Quite free of care, in sports and plays,
I was supremely blest!
I ne'er envi'd the Rich nor Great,
Nor strove them to pursue;
Yet now I leave my native seat,
And bid a long adieu!
When standing on yon riverside,
Where trees and bushes grow,
Where Nature's deck'd in flow'ry pride,
And murm'ring streams do flow,
I listen'd to the pleasing strain
That echo'd through the vale-
No longer here I must remain,
And so I bid farewell!
My time I often have employ'd,
Here to invoke my Muse;
Her aid I earnestly implor'd
And seldom was refus'd.
I often sought some cool retreat,
My thoughts there to review;
But now I'm forc'd, by cruel Fate,
To bid them all adieu!
I often to some shady grove
Retir'd from the profane;
There I have tri'd, though vain I strove,
To emulate the strain
Of birds that warbled from each bush,
And chant the woods all through;
The Linnet, Blackbird, and the Thrush,
Ye Songsters all, adieu!
My native spot, on banks of AYR,
May sweets adorn thy foil!
Let Nature's blooming face so fair,
Aye bless thee with her smile!
Let flowr's of ev'ry various kind,
Each colour and each hue,
Produce such sweets as fruit the mind
Of ev'ry Friend that's true!
You Friends, who grac'd my little book,
And share my joy and woe,
May health and peace still be your lot,
And wealth still on you flow!
Your friendship I will ne'er forget;
I'll to your mem'ry kneel!
To ev'ry Friend, with aching heart,
I bid a sad farewell!
Unweari'd love, and anxious wish,
Besides parental care,
Do claim a chearful, parting Glass,
With those my Friends who are,
Where we will sing and take farewell,
With hearts both kind and true-
Here must I stop; my heart is full,
GOD bless you all! adieu!
These quotations are probably more than sufficient to satisfy the curiosity of the reader. Though displaying little, indeed, of the genius of poetry, the productions of Lapraik are characterized by good sense and justness of observation; and breathe so much the spirit of the philanthropic independence as fairly to establish his claim to the title of the “bauld Lapraik, the king o’ hearts,” bestowed upon him by Burns.
One other extract and we have done. It is
THE RIGHT HONORABLE
THE EARL OF DUNDONALD'S
WELCOME TO AYR-SHIRE
INSPIRE my Muse, ye tuneful Nine!
With strains immortal and divine;
And teach a humble Bard to sing,
Till rocks and hills with echoes ring;
And publish wide, to ev'ry clime
DUNDONALD'S far resounded fame!
Hail! great DUNDONALD! wise and sage!
Bright Ornament of ev'ry age!
Thy virtues great and godlike skill,
With grateful joy each heart do fill!
Thy Fame resounds from pole to pole,
And fills with wonder ev'ry soul!
Each proud Philosopher doth see,
And owns himself excell'd by thee:
They waste their time in dry disputes
Whilst thou by practice show'st it's fruit.
Mankind, astonish'd, now behold
Nature's deep secrets all unfold.
What had for many cent'ries been
A secret hid from mortal men,
With Art Divine, thou hast found out,
And unto full perfection brought.
From Coal, which men thought only good
To keep them warm and dress their food,
Thou dost extract so many kinds
Of things that do surprise our minds.
Men now no more need fetch from far,
That useful article of Tar.
Great Britain's Thunder now may roar,
In dreadful claps, from shore to shore!
With joy we see her Men of War
Secured by thy matchless Tar,
That worms in vain their force employ,
Their warlike bottoms to destroy.
With it bedaub'd, they longer last
Than they were sheath'd with metal cast.
The fur'ous waves may dash in vain;
Their well pitch'd sides do firm remain;
Corroding Time's destructive force,
in ages scarce can make them worse.
Ill Fortune, with redoubled blow,
Had long laid AYR-SHIRE very low!
Her Manufacturesi, and her Trade,
Seem'd ruin'd quite, without remead;
One blink of hope did scarce remain,
That e'er she flourish would again.
Tthat woeful Bank, that plague of plagues,
Had fairly kick'd her off her legs;
It's baneful infl'ence did extend
Through ev'ry corner of the land:
Her sun, that shone erewhile so gay,
Could scarce shoot forth one feeble ray!
As Phoebus, with his glorious light,
Dispels the gloomy shades of night,
The world that late in darkness lay,
Transported, hails the cheerful day;
So AYR-SHIRE lifts her drooping head,
Erewhile in gloomy darkness laid,
And casting round her wond'ring eyes,
Beholds DUNDONALD great arise;
And stretching forth his gen'rous hand,
To save from death a ruin'd land!
But chief MUIRKIRK, a poor, starved place,
With hunger painted in it's face,
With joy may bless the happy day,
That e'er your LORDSHIP came this way.
Her sons, before that you came here,
Could scarce afford to drink small beer,
And oft wree sain to hold with water,
Make now the mutchkin stoup to clatter:
They all before had scarce two groats,
When now their pocket's lin'd with notes.
(Prior to the erection of the Tar and Iron Works, Muirkirk was a very insignificant village. Since then it has greatly increased, numbering about twelve hundred inhabitants according to the census of 1831. It consists chiefly of one long irregular street; neither paved nor lighted; yet, notwithstanding the bleak aspect of the surrounding district, the inhabitants manifest considerable advancement in the comforts of life).
This address to the late Lord Dundonald, refers to a bright period in that unfortunate nobleman’s history. Much given to scientific pursuits, he made various useful discoveries, and among others that of a peculiar description of tar, extracted from coal, found to be an excellent preventive of rot in vessels, from which our navy formerly suffered so severely, that in the course of a few months ships of the line were frequently rendered unfit for service.
Lord Dundonald first obtained a patent for his discovery, and subsequently an Act of Parliament, securing it to him and his heirs for twenty years. Immediately upon procuring that, his lordship formed what was termed the “British Coal Tar Company,” in which he is understood to have embarked the greater part of his fortune. Muirkirk, on account of its minerals, was selected as a suitable district for the operation of the company – ground was feued, pits sunk, and a range of buildings erected for carrying on the chemical process.
The works, begun in 1785, were the following year nearly in full operation. Besides tar, the company manufactured paint, oil, salts and magnesia; and for a time success seemed so certain that Lord Dundonald is said to have refused an annuity of five or six thousand a-year offered him by an English company, for the surrender of his patent.
Never were hopes more speedily and effectually blighted. The plan of sheathing vessels with copper having been soon thereafter adopted, the use of Lord Dundonald’s pitch for marine purposes was almost entirely superseded. The sudden close of the chief market upon which his lordship had calculated, proved ruinous to his hopes of prosperity.
Notwithstanding, the works continued in operation for some time, first under the management of the late Admiral Keith Stewart, (The Admiral appears to have been a kind friend to Lapraik, as well as to the inhabitants of Muirkirk generally. The Poet expresses his gratitude in a few verses entitled “The Wish”). and latterly of John Loudon M’Adam, the celebrated road-improver.
The buildings are now nearly in ruins, and are partially appropriated to the use of the Iron Works, which, commencing about the year 1787, have since been carried on with increasing prosperity. Lord Dundonald was a patriotic, but speculative and unfortunate nobleman. He died at Paris, at an advanced age, on the 1st July 1831, in great penury.
The subsequent history of Lapraik admits of little details. About 1796, then far advanced in years, he gave up the mill, and for a year or two lived in a house which had been built for an Inn at Nether Wellwood by Admiral Keith Stuart.
On leaving this, he removed to Muirkirk, where he opened a small public-house in a corner land leading from the main street to the church, which at the same time served as the village post office, the venerable Poet through the kindness of his friends, having been installed into that important trust. Here he lived much respected till his death, which occurred on the 7th May 1807, in the eightieth year of his age.
In the vigour of life Lapraik was a stout muscular man, about five feet eleven inches in height, and well formed. There is no portrait of him preserved; and none of his children (at least those who survive) are considered to bear a striking resemblance to him.
By his second wife, Janet Anderson, he had a large family, nine of whom attained the years of maturity. Three brothers and one sister still reside near the place of their birth. The latter was married to a Mr M’Minn, farmer, Nether Wellwood, * She is a widow – an elderly, matronly-looking woman – and perfectly remembers the visit paid by Burns to her father at Muirsmill. Her brother, Thomas has long been shepherd on the farm, which is large, and consists partly of hill pasture. James and John reside in Muirkirk. The former is a retired farmer. The latter served his apprenticeship as a cooper, but was pressed on board a man-of-war; and having been captured by the enemy, was ten years in French prison. After the peace he returned to Muirkirk, where he now follows his original calling. He is the only one of his trade in the village, and is on that account generally styled “the cooper.” He is well-known in the neighbourhood – can spin an interesting yarn – and, like a genuine old tar, is by no means averse to his grog.
* Near to Wellwood, which in former times belonged to a scion of the house of Loudon, of the name Campbell, is the grave of William Adam, one of the victims of the Persecution. The small grey stone, which marks his place of sepulture, bears the following inscription: - “Here lyes William Adam, who was shot in this place by Cap, Dalzeal and his party, for his adherence to the Word of God, and Scotland’s Covenanted Work of Reformation, March 1685.” This inscription is scarcely legible, the renovating chisel of “Old Mortality” having apparently never been applied in renewing the brief but expressive record. The spot, indeed, is not generally known. No detailed account of the affair occurs in the “Cloud of Witnesses,” nor has Chambers, in his “Picture of Scotland,” alluded to the obscure but interesting grave of the solitary sleeper. Visitors usually have their attention engrossed by recollections of the more celebrated martyrs – Cameron, and Brown the “Christian Carrier” – whose graves are also in the neighbourhood of Muirkirk; that of Cameron at the western, and not the eastern, extremity of Aird’s Moss, as inadvertently stated in the “Picture of Scotland”. The tradition at Wellwood is, that Adam, who was one of the domestics of the house, perceiving Dalziel and his party, immediately fled and was pursued. He had cleared the rivulet, when a ball brought him down, just as he was about to ascent the rising ground, which is now, and probably was then covered with trees and brushwood. He was interred exactly on the spot where he fell. It is supposed that Campbell was the person whom the soldiers were most anxious to secure, and that they imagined Adam to be him. In the “Cloud of Witnesses,” it is stated somewhat vaguely that “Captain Dalziel and Lieut. Stradon, with their men, found William Adam hiding in a bush, and instantly killed him, at the Wellwood, in Kyle, February 1685.”
The widow of Lapraik survived till the 5th of March 1825, when she expired in the eighty-third year of her age. All her husband’s books and papers continued in her possession; but, as no importance was attached to them, scarcely a vestige of his MSS is now in existence; and none of his family have even a copy of his Poems, the few that remained having been either complimented or carried away by friends who had no intention of returning them.
Lapraik was interred in the Churchyard of Muirkirk, where a large tabular stone records the death of himself, his wife, and several children.