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This lively epistle, dated June, 1788, was addressed to Hugh Parker of Kilmarnock, one of the Poet's early and stedfast friends; the picture which he gives of himself corresponds with some of his letters ; nor is it out of keeping with the account contained in the following letter written 22d Dec., 1788, to Mr. John Tennant in Ayr. Hugh Parker has been dead these ten years and upwards : Miller Currie of the Carse-mill has likewise been gathered to his fathers—he was a hospitable and facetious person, and one of the Poet's neighbours when he lived at Ellisland:
“I yesterday tried my cask of whiskey for the first time, and I assure you it does you great credit. It will bear five waters, strong; or six, ordinary toddy. The whiskey of this country is a most rascally liquor; and, by consequence, only drank by the most rascally part of the inhabitants. I am persuaded, if you once get a footing here, you might do a great deal of business, both in the way of consumpt; and should you commence distiller again, this is the native barley country. ignorant if, in your present way of dealing, you would think it worth your while to extend your business so far as this country side. I write you this on the account of an accident which I must take the merit of having partly designed to. A neighbour of mine, a John Currie, miller in Carse-mill—a man who is, in a word, a very good man, even for a £500 bargain—he and his wife were in my house the time broke open the cask. They keep a country public-house and sell a great deal of foreign spirits, but all along thought that whiskey would have degraded this house. They were perfectly astonished at my whiskey, both for its taste and strength ; and by their desire I write you to know if you could supply them with liquor of an equal quality, and what price. Please write me by first post, and direct to me at Ellisland, near Dumfries. If you could take a jaunt this way yourself, I have a spare spoon, knife and fork very much at your service. My compliments to Mrs. Tennant and all the good folks in Glenconnel and Barguharrie.”
Among the letters and memoranda of the Poet, many lines and couplets occur in praise of ale or the “ dearest of distillations- last and best.” Some are worse-some better than the following :
“ I may be drunk to-night,
I'll never be drunk no more;
I may look in at the door,"
THE YEAR 1788.
For Lords or Kings I dinna mourn,
The Spanish empire's tint a-head,
auld teethless Bawtie's dead ;
Ye ministers, come mount the pu’pit,
till ye be hearse an' roupet, For Eighty-eight he wish'd you weel, An' gied you
an' meal ; E'en mony a plack, and mony a peck, Ye ken yoursels, for little feck!
Ye bonnie lasses, dight your e'en,
Observe the very nowt an' sheep,
O Eighty-nine, thou's but a bairn,
care, Thou now has got thy daddy's chair, Nae hand-cuff'd, muzzl’d, hap-shackl’d Regent, But, like himsel' a full free agent. Be sure ye follow out the plan Nae waur than he did, honest man! As muckle better as you can.
In such satiric condolences as this Elegy, Burns loved to indulge. The lines were hastily composed, but leisure could not well have made some of them any better. Of the political strife between Pitt and Fox, Scott has said truly
“ With more than mortal powers endow'd,
How high they soar'd above the crowd !
And force the planets from the sky.” Yet not less truly has the ploughman Bard intimated the natures of these illustrious rivals. Of Fox and Pitt he says, under the similitude of the “ birdie cocks,”
" The tane is game, a bluidie devil
But to the hen-birds unco civil,
But better stuff ne'er clawed a midden.” Nor will the allusion to the “hand-cuffed, muzzled, hap-shackled Regent” be lost on those who remember the alarm into which the nation was thrown by the King's illness.