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ART. III. Original Letter of Robert Burns.
In a collection of miscellaneous papers of the antiquary Grose, which I purchased a few years since, I found the following letter written to him by Burns, when the former was collecting the Antiquities of Scotland; when I premise it was on the second tra. dition that he afterwards formed the inimitable tale of *6 Tain O'Shanter,” I cannot doubt of its being read with great interest. It were “ burning day-light” to point out to a reader, (and who is not a reader of Burns?) the thoughts he afterwards transplanted into the rhythmical narrative.
Letter of Robert Burns to Francis Grose, F.A.S. con
cerning Witch-Stories. Among the many Witch Stories I have heard reJating to Aloway Kirk, I distinctly remember only twó or three,
Upon a stormy night, amid whirling squalls of wind and bitter blasts of hail, in short, on such a night as the devil would chuse to take the air in, a farmer or farmer's servant was plodding and plashing homeward with his plough-irons on his shoulder, having been getting some repairs on them at a neighbouring smithy. His way lay by the Kirk of Aloway, and being rather on the anxious look-out in approaching a place so well known to be a favourite haunt of the devil and the devil's friends and emissaries, he was struck aghast by discovering through the horrors of the storm and stormy night, a light, which on his nearer approach, plainly shewed itself to proceed from the haunted edifice. Whether he had been fortified from above on his devout supplication, as is customary with people when they suspect the immediate presence of Satan; or whether, according to another custom, he had got courageously drunk at the smithy, I will not pretend to determine; but so it was that he ventured to go up to, nay into the very kirk. As good luck would have it, his temerity came off unpunished. The members of the infernal junto were all out on some midnight business or other, and he saw nothing bat a kind of kettle or caldron, depending from the roof, over the fire, simmering some heads of un, christened children, limbs of executed malefactors, &c. for the business of the night. It was, in for a penny, in for a pound, with the honest ploughman: so without ceremony he un hooked the caldron from off the fire, and pouring out the damnable ingredients, inverted it on his head, and carried it fairly home, where it remained long in the family a living evidence of the truth of the story.
Another story which I can prove to be equally authentic was as follows,
On a market day in the town of Ayr, a farmer from Carrick, and consequently whose way lay by the very gate of Aloway kirk-yard, in order to cross the river Doon at the old bridge, which is about two or three hundred yards further on than the said gate, had been detained by his business 'till by the time he reached Aloway, it was the wizard hour, between night and morning. Though he was terrified, with a blaze streaming from the kirk, yet as it is a well-known fact that to turn back on these occasions is running by far the greatest risk of mischief, he prudently advanced on his road. When he had reached the gate of the kirk.
yard, he was surprised and entertained, through the ribs and arches of an old gothic window which still faces the highway, to see a dance of witches merrily footing it round their old sooty blackguard master, who was keeping them all alive with the powers of his bag-pipe. The farmer stopping his horse to observe them a little, could plainly descry the faces of many old women of his acquaintance and neighbourhood, How the gentleman was dressed, tradition does not say; but the ladies were all in their smocks : and one of them happening unluckily to have a smock which was considerably too short to answer all the purpose of that piece of dress, our farmer was so tickled that he involuntarily burst out, with a loud laugh, “Weel luppen* Maggy wi' the short sark!” and recollecting himself, instantly spurred his horse to the top of his speed. I need not mention the universally known fact, that no diabolical power can pursue you beyond the middle of a running stream. Lucky it was for poor
farmer that the river Doon was so near, for notwithstanding the speed of his horse, which was a good one, against he reached the middle of the arch of the bridge, and consequently the middle of the stream, the pursuing, vengeful, hags, were so close at his heels, that one of them actually sprung to seize him; but it was too late, nothing was on her side of the stream but the horse's tail, which immediately gave way at her infernal grip, as if blasted by a stroke of lightning ; but the farmer was beyond her reach. However, the unsightly, tail-less condition of the vigorous steed was to the last hour of the noble crea.
• Luppen, the Scots participle passive of the verb to leap.
ture's life, an awful warning to the Carrick farmers, not to stay too late in Ayr markets.
The last relation I shall give, though equally true, is not so well identified as the two former, with regard to the scene; but as the best authorities give it for Aloway, I shall relate it.
On a summer's evening, about the time that Nature puts on her sables to mourn the expiry of the chearful day, a shepherd boy belonging to a farmer in the immediate neighbourhood of Aloway Kirk, had just folded his charge, and was returning home. As he passed the kirk, in the adjoining field, he fell in with a crew of men and women, who were busy pulling stems of the plant ragwort. He observed that as each person pulled a ragwort, he or she got astride of it and called out, “ Up horsie!” on which the ragwort flew off, like Pegasus, through the air with its rider. The foolish boy likewise pulled his ragwort, and cried with the rest'“ Up horsie !" and, strange to tell, away he flew with the company. The first stage at which the cavalcade stopt, was a merchant's wine cellar in Bourdeaux, where, without saying by your leave, they quaffed away at the best the cellar could afford, until the morning, foe to the imps and works of darkness, threatened to throw light on the matter, and frightened them from their carousals.
The poor shepherd lad, being equally a stranger to the scene and the liquor, heedlessly got himself drunk; and when the rest took horse, he fell asleep, and was found só next day by some of the people belonging to the merchant. Somebody that understood Scotch, asking him what he was, he said he was such-a-one's herd in Alway; and by some means or other getting
home again, he lived long to tell the world the wondrous tale.
I am, &c. &c.
ART. IV. Bel-vedére, or the Garden of the Muses.
Quem referent Musæ vivet, dum robora tellus,
8vo. pp. 236, besides the Table of Contents, &c. A second edition of this book, with the omission of “ Belvedere,” in the title-page, was
Printed at London by E. A. for John Tap, and sold at his shop at Saint Magnus Corner. 1610.
The laudable compiler of this poetical commonplace book, was John Bodenham, who prefixed his arms, and of whom little seems to be known but that he
a Beneath this motto was an emblematical device of the sun, (Apollo) shining upon a laurel, planted between the biforked summits of Parnassus; which was thus ridiculed, as well as the Editor, in an old play called The Return from Parnassus. “ I wonder this owl dares look on the sun, and I marvcl this goose flies not the laurel : his device might have been betwera fool going into the market-place to be seen with this motro, Scribimus indecti: or a poor beggar gleaning of ears in the end of harvest, with this word, Sua cu que gloria.
Who blurs fair paper with foul bastard thymes,
As drafty ballads to thy praise are sung." See Gwilliin's Display of Heraldry, p. 321, edit. 1639. vis. Az, a fesse betw. 3 sbess-rooks, os.