To John Hamilton Reynolds (Maybole, July 11, 1818)
Maybole, July 11, 1818
My dear Reynolds
I’ll not run over the Ground we have passed; that would be merely as bad as telling a dream—unless perhaps I do it in the manner of the Laputan printing press—that is I put down Mountains, Rivers, Lakes, dells, glens, Rocks, and Clouds, with beautiful enchanting, Gothic picturesque fine, delightful, enchanting, Grand, sublime—a few blisters, etc.—and now you have our journey thus far: where I begin a letter to you because I am approaching Burns’s Cottage very fast. We have made continual inquiries from the time we saw his Tomb at Dumfries—his name of course is known all about—his great reputation among the plodding people is, “that he wrote a good mony sensible things.” One of the pleasantest means of annulling self is approaching such a shrine as the Cottage of Burns—we need not think of his misery—that is all gone, bad luck to it—I shall look upon it hereafter with unmixed pleasure, as I do upon my Stratford-on-Avon day with Bailey. I shall fill this sheet for you in the Bardie’s country, going no further than this till I get into the town of Ayr which will be a 9 miles’ walk to Tea.
Kingswells, July 13
We were talking on different and indifferent things, when on a sudden we turned a corner upon the immediate Country of Ayr—the Sight was as rich as possible. I had no Conception that the native place of Burns was so beautiful—the idea I had was more desolate, his ‘rigs of Barley’ seemed always to me but a few strips of Green on a cold hill—O prejudice! it was as rich as Devon—I endeavoured to drink in the Prospect, that I might spin it out to you as the Silkworm makes silk from Mulberry leaves—I cannot recollect it—Besides all the Beauty, there were the Mountains of Arran Isle, black and huge over the Sea. We came down upon everything suddenly—there were in our way the ‘bonny Doon,’ with the Brig that Tam o’ Shanter crossed, Kirk Alloway, Burns’s Cottage, and then the Brigs of Ayr. First we stood upon the Bridge across the Doon; surrounded by every Phantasy of green in Tree, Meadow, and Hill,—the stream of the Doon, as a Farmer told us, is covered with trees from head to foot—you know those beautiful heaths so fresh against the weather of a summer’s evening—there was one stretching along behind the trees. I wish I knew always the humour my friends would be in at opening a letter of mine, to suit it to them as nearly as possible. I could always find an egg shell for Melancholy, and as for Merriment a Witty humour will turn anything to Account—My head is sometimes in such a whirl in considering the million likings and antipathies of our Moments—that I can get into no settled strain in my Letters. My Wig! Burns and sentimentality coming across you and Frank Fladgate in the office—O scenery that thou shouldst be crushed between two Puns—As for them I venture the rascalliest in the Scotch Region—I hope Brown does not put them punctually in his journal—If he does I must sit on the cutty-stool all next winter. We went to Kirk Alloway—“a Prophet is no Prophet in his own Country”—We went to the Cottage and took some Whisky. I wrote a sonnet for the mere sake of writing some lines under the roof—they are so bad I cannot transcribe them—The Man at the Cottage was a great Bore with his Anecdotes—I hate the rascal—his Life consists in fuz, fuzzy, fuzziest—He drinks glasses five for the Quarter and twelve for the hour—he is a mahogany-faced old Jackass who knew Burns—He ought to have been kicked for having spoken to him. He calls himself “a curious old Bitch”—but he is a flat old dog—I should like to employ Caliph Vathek to kick him. O the flummery of a birthplace! Cant! Cant! Cant! It is enough to give a spirit the guts-ache—Many a true word, they say, is spoken in jest—this may be because his gab hindered my sublimity: the flat dog made me write a flat sonnet. My dear Reynolds—I cannot write about scenery and visitings—Fancy is indeed less than a present palpable reality, but it is greater than remembrance—you would lift your eyes from Homer only to see close before you the real Isle of Tenedos—you would rather read Homer afterwards than remember yourself—One song of Burns’s is of more worth to you than all I could think for a whole year in his native country. His Misery is a dead weight upon the nimbleness of one’s quill—I tried to forget it—to drink Toddy without any Care—to write a merry sonnet—it won’t do—he talked with Bitches—he drank with Blackguards, he was miserable—We can see horribly clear, in the works of such a Man his whole life, as if we were God’s spies. What were his addresses to Jean in the latter part of his life? I should not speak so to you—yet why not—you are not in the same case—you are in the right path, and you shall not be deceived. I have spoken to you against Marriage, but it was general—the Prospect in those matters has been to me so blank, that I have not been unwilling to die—I would not now, for I have inducements to Life—I must see my little Nephews in America, and I must see you marry your lovely Wife. My sensations are sometimes deadened for weeks together—but believe me I have more than once yearned for the time of your happiness to come, as much as I could for myself after the lips of Juliet. From the tenor of my occasional rodomontade in chit-chat, you might have been deceived concerning me in these points—upon my soul, I have been getting more and more close to you, every day, ever since I knew you, and now one of the first pleasures I look to is your happy Marriage—the more, since I have felt the pleasure of loving a sister in Law. I did not think it possible to become so much attached in so short a time—Things like these, and they are real, have made me resolve to have a care of my health—you must be as careful.
The rain has stopped us to-day at the end of a dozen Miles, yet we hope to see Loch Lomond the day after to-morrow;—I will piddle out my information, as Rice says, next Winter, at any time when a substitute is wanted for Vingt-un. We bear the fatigue very well—20 Miles a day in general—A Cloud came over us in getting up Skiddaw—I hope to be more lucky in Ben Lomond—and more lucky still in Ben Nevis. What I think you would enjoy is poking about Ruins—sometimes Abbey, sometimes Castle. The short stay we made in Ireland has left few remembrances—but an old woman in a dog-kennel Sedan with a pipe in her Mouth, is what I can never forget—I wish I may be able to give you an idea of her—Remember me to your Mother and Sisters, and tell your Mother how I hope she will pardon me for having a scrap of paper pasted in the Book sent to her. I was driven on all sides and had not time to call on Taylor—So Bailey is coming to Cumberland—well, if you’ll let me know where at Inverness, I will call on my return and pass a little time with him—I am glad ’tis not Scotland—Tell my friends I do all I can for them, that is, drink their healths in Toddy. Perhaps I may have some lines by and by to send you fresh, on your own Letter—Tom has a few to show you.
Your affectionate friend