The Life of Robert Burns

How the Scots Invented the Modern World

Chapter XVI.
Robert Burns

Robert Burns

Robert Burns.
Statue By G. E. Ewing. Glasgow. Erected 25th July. 1877.

What traveller, attracted to Scotland by its matchless scenery or romantic story, has not paid a pilgrimage to the banks and braes of bonnie Doon? Even the careless wayfarer, as indifferent to the beauties of landscape as Wordsworth’s “Peter Bell,” lingers to admire the noble monument, rising proudly from its paradise of trees and flowers, and to trace the windings of the classic river, associated in every mind with the most touching and beautiful of human memories. All around, the land rolls back in green undulations devoid of grandeur: but every woodland dell and daisied field seem to breathe a reminiscence of poetry and love. Climb to the summit of brown Carrick hill, which ascends from the southern bank of the stream, and you will command the whole scenery of Burns’s song: from the blue peak of far Ben Lomond to the misty mountains that confine the lovely glens of Carrick; from Ailsa Craig and Goatfell to the granite hills behind Loch Doon. Beneath your feet, groves and gardens, rich harvests and green meadows, smile in the sun. The scene is fair enough in the light of common day to make the land of Burns as dear to the memory as it was to the imagination.

It is hard to realize that this abundant beauty which adorns the neighbourhood of the Doon has been mostly called into existence since the poet wandered there. At the middle of the last century this charming spot offered few inducements to turn the traveller from his road. Alloway kirk stood then as now, among the surrounding graves; but the witches had not yet lighted up the deserted ruin. Down in the hollow, now embowered in umbrageous elms, the fine Roman arch, erected probably by the masons of Agricola, spanned the river; but Tam o’ Shanter had not yet made it famous by his marvellous midnight ride. The Doon glided peacefully between shaggy banks, green with their natural growth of brambles and thorns, while the land towards the north — Coila’s woods and plains — looked picturesque enough but sterile, bare and badly cultivated. Nature prepared no romantic cradle-ground for the peasant poet, destined to ennoble humble life and homely scenes by the light of his own genius.


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