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Preamble and Lays Of The Last


by Kirriemuir


It is perhaps not widely known that during Burns’ days of wine and roses in Edinburgh in 1786-87, he met the 16 year old Walter Scott. There is no evidence that Burns formed any lasting impression of Scott, but Scott was certainly taken by Burns and later wrote:

“His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic . . . of dignified plainness and simplicity . . . there was a strong expression of shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye . . . was large and of a dark cast, and literally glowed when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time.”

It is perhaps, then, not altogether surprising, that before Scott published his The Lay of the Last Minstrel  in 1805, nine years after Burns’ death, he had sketched an earlier version of the Lay in tribute to the prowess of the poet who had made such an impression on the adolescent Scott. Not many people know that! In fact, this may be the first occasion on which this example of Scott’s early poetic endeavours have seen the light of day, and I am indebted for this opportunity to the efforts of a researcher in the less well known corners of Scottish literature, whose other works include such gems as The Ball of Kirriemuir  Was the Minister’s Wife really there?  and The Complete Edition of Unexpurgated Bothy Ballads.

Scott, displaying a perhaps unexpected sense of humour, titled his tribute to Burns The Lays of the Last Minstrel,  but decided, on legal advice, that it should remain unpublished.

* * *


The hair was dark, the eye was bold.
Burns’ grace would many hearts enfold
Of ladies who would cross his path
before his tragic early death.
Nellie Kirkpatrick was the first
To arouse his juvenile lust.
"Handsome Nell" was the poem he penned
To celebrate his girl friend,
But ink had scarcely dried on paper
Before he had a different caper,
This time with a Peggy Thompson
Who inspired not one but two songs.
Then when his father farmed Lochlea
Alison Begbie he craved to see
And wrote four songs in her honour
But even four failed to win her.
Then to Mauchline the family went
Where Robert pursued his usual bent,
With Lizzie Paton, his Mother’s maid
Whom he so well and truly laid
That she gave birth to Robert’s first,
Much to the local kirk’s disgust.
Undeterred, our Robert’s favour
Was then bestowed on young Jean Armour
To good effect for she had twins,
A double blessing on their sins.
Robert proposed a wedding day
But Father Armour said "No way."
These frustrating circumstances
Led to the lonely poet’s glances
Falling on another girl,
Mary Campbell, and in a whirl
They decided to emigrate
To Jamaica but cruel fate
Put paid to that when Mary died
And future happiness was denied.
But fortune played another game.
The Kilmarnock Poems brought Burns fame.
To Edinburgh Burns repaired.
In literary circles well he fared.
Anna Dunlop became his friend
But to his overtures would not bend.
Then Nancy Maclehose took his fancy.
Passionate letters were exchanged with Nancy
But when she would not play his game
He quickly found another dame.
Jenny Clow was Nancy’s maid
And she was happy to get laid.
Then back to Ayrshire and his Jean,
His lasting love and still his queen.
The happy couple at last were wed
And stayed together till he was dead.


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