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Robert Burns and Mauchline

In March of 1784 when the Burness Family came to Mossgeil Farm, Mauchline, the village and its surrounding presented a very different picture from the scenes of today.


The farm building itself was a simple one, though it managed to provide attic space for Robert to write so many of the works which have brought him world-wide renown.


Modern agriculture was in its infancy. Land enclosure, tree planting, crop rotation and liming of the soil did not start before 1750.


The Burns family worked hard on the land. Hard work, however did not prevent Robert Burns's outpouring of verse which came about from 1784 onwards.


The beautiful countryside and its creatures all affected Burns. Who but an observant man could have seen the plight of a field mouse and compared it to his own - who but a feeling man could write an elegy to the death of a pet lamb, and who but a poet could paint word pictures which revealed his love of the countryside?

But Burns was engaging himself in other aspects of life in Mauchline. He made many friends, enjoyed the social scene and the regular gatherings of the time such as the Holy Fair. His pen paid tribute to the Innkeeper, the Minister, the Doctor, the Mauchline Belles and the Jolly Beggars to name but a few.


We know he danced (and romanced) his future wife in the local ballroom, and that he attended church and observed "the unco' guid" and appeared there to be publicly rebuked for fornication.

It would be hard to say which of the momentous events of his Mauchline years had the biggest influence on his writings. No doubt his love for Jean Armour, the deaths of three of their children who lie buried in Mauchline, and publication of his first volume - "The Kilmarnock Edition" must have been very important indeed.


The goodwill and generosity of his patrons must have been very heartening too, but when the Armour family destroyed the paper that he and Jean had signed attesting their marriage, and packed Jean off to Paisley to hide the family shame, it cut him to the heart.

However, their relationship persisted and they married and took up house in Castle Street, Mauchline. Despite all the ups and downs of their lives Jean proved a loyal and faithful wife till his death.

During the years Burns lived in Mauchline he was feted and acclamined throughout the land. He continued to write, and wrote extensively about Mauchline and her people.


Yet the admiration he expressed in his poems was not for those in exalted positions, or their wealth of material possessions. On the contrary his empathy for ordinary people, his hatred of hypocrisy, his love of the countryside and the beauties and nature shone through all his writing. Often too, he painted a picture of the hardships experienced in trying to win a living from the land.

By Nancy Moffat


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