Written by Gilbert Burns, brother of Robert
‘The farm of Mossgiel lies very high, and mostly
on a cold wet bottom. The first years that we were on
the farm were very frosty, and the Spring was very late.
Our crops, in consequence, were very unprofitable and,
notwithstanding our utmost diligence and economy, we found
ourselves obliged to give up our bargain, with the loss
of a considerable part of our stock. It was during these
years that Robert formed his connection with Jean Armour,
afterwards Mrs Burns. This connection could no longer
be concealed, about the time we came to a final determination
to quit the farm. Robert dared not engage with a family
in his poor, unsettled state, but was anxious to shield
his partner by every means in his power, from the consequences
of their imprudence. It was agreed, therefore, between
them that they should make a legal acknowledgement of
their marriage – that he should go to Jamaica to
push his fortune – and that she should remain with
her father till it might please Providence to put the
means of supporting a family in his power.
Mrs Burns was a great favourite of her father’s.
The intimation of a marriage was the first suggestion
he received of her true situation. He was in the greatest
distress and fainted away. A husband in Jamaica appeared
to him and his wife little better than none, and an effectual
bar to any other prospects of a settlement in life that
their daughter might have. They therefore expressed a
wish to her that the written papers requesting the marriage
should be cancelled and the marriage thus rendered void.
Jean, in her melancholy state, felt the deepest remorse
at having brought such affliction on parents that loved
her so tenderly, and submitted to their entreaties. Humble
as Miss Armour’s situation was, and great though
her imprudence had been, she still in the eyes of her
partial parents, might look to a better connection than
that with my friendless and unhappy brother.’
From Burns’ Autobiography
‘This is the unfortunate story that gave rise to
my printed poem, The Lament. This was a most melancholy
affair, which I cannot yet bear to reflect on. I gave
up my part of the farm to my brother (In truth it was
only nominally mine) and made what little preparation
was in my power for Jamaica. But before leaving my native
Country forever, I resolved to publish my poems. I was
pretty confident that they would meet with some applause
but, at the worst, the roar of the Atlantic would deafen
the voice of censure and the novelty of West Indian scenes
would make me forget neglect.
Letter from Burns to John Richmond
Mossgiel, February 17th 1786.
I have some important news with respect to myself, not
the most agreeable, news that I am sure you can guess,
but I shall give you the particulars some other time.
I am extremely happy with my friend Smith: he is the only
friend I have now in Mauchline.