Robert Burns and The Eglinton Estate - Irvine and The Drukken Steps

Irvine and The Drukken Steps

Robert Burns wrote to Richard Brown, or Ritchie Broun, (1753–1833), on December 30, 1787, saying My will o' wisp fate, you know: do you remember a Sunday we spent together in Eglinton Woods? You told me, on my repeating some verses to you that you wondered I could resist the temptation of sending verses of such merit to a magazine. Therefore it was Richard Brown who gave Burns the idea, in the woodlands of the Eglinton estate, that he should publish his work. In confirmation, Burns wrote the following to Brown, Twas actually this that gave me an idea of my own pieces which encouraged me to endeavour at the character of a Poet. Burns did not, as we shall see, follow his friend's advice immediately, for five years elapsed before he ventured into print. William Wallace is also said to have been familiar with these same woods.

Why the change of heart? Robert and his brother Gilbert took the farm of Mossgiel (Mauchline) after their father's death in 1784, and, struggling to make a living, Robert despaired of his future in farming and made some initial plans to emigrate to Jamaica. It was now that Richard Brown's encouragement to go into print bore fruit, and this at last led to the first published Kilmarnock Edition of his works appearing in 1786 to raise money for his proposed emigration.

Richard Brown, a sea captain, had fought for the liberty of the Americans against the British, and the American struggle for freedom, obvious in the poet's early poems, can be attributed to Brown. The collection received so much praise, especially in Edinburgh, that Robert gave up the idea of emigration and went to Edinburgh instead to publish a second edition of his works. Richard Brown was one of the few people to receive a signed presentation copy of the Kilmarnock Edition of Burns' poems, found hidden in a piece of Richard Brown's household furniture after the captain's death.

Burns however later recalled in an autobiographical letter regrading his time spent in Irvine:

"Rhyme ... I had given up; but meeting Fergusson's Scotch Poems, I strung anew my wildly-sounding, rustic lyre with emulating vigour."

He is here referring to the poet Robert Fergusson (1750–1774).

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