Letter to Agnes McLehose, December 20 1787

Your last, my dear Madam, had the effect on me that Job’s situation had on his friends, when “they sat down seven days and seven nights astonied, and spake not a word.” – “Pay my addresses to a married woman!” I started, as if I had seen the ghost of him I had injur’d: I recollected my expressions; some of them indeed were, in the law phrase, “habit and repute,” which is being half guilty.

– I cannot positively say, Madam, whether my heart might not have gone astray a little; but I can declare upon the honor of a Poet that the vagrant has wandered unknown to me.

– I have a pretty handsome troop of Follies of my own; and, like some other people’s retinue, they are but undisciplined blackguards: but the luckless rascals have something of honor in them; they would not do a dishonest thing.

– To meet with an unfortunate woman, amiable and young; deserted and widowed by those who were bound by every tie of Duty, Nature and Gratitude, to protect, comfort and cherish her; add to all, when she is perhaps one of the first of Lovely Forms and Noble Minds, the Mind too that hits one’s taste as the joys of Heaven do a Saint should a vague infant-idea, the natural child of Imagination, thoughtlessly peep over the fence-were you, My Friend, to sit in judgement, and the poor, airy Straggler brought before you, trembling self-condemned; with artless eyes, brimful of contrition, looking wistfully on its Judge-you could not, My dear Madam, condemn the hapless wretch to “death without benefit of Clergy?”

I won’t tell you what reply my heart made to your raillery of “Seven Years;” but I will give you what a brother my trade says on the same allusion-

The Patriarch to gain a wife
Chaste, beautiful and young,
Serv’d fourteen years a painful life
And never thought it long:
O were you to reward such cares, And life so long would stay,
Not fourteen but four hundred years
Would seem but as one day!

I have written you this scrawl because I have nothing else to do, and you may sit down and find fault with it if you have no better way of consuming your time; but finding fault with the vaguings of it Poet’s fancy is much such another business as Xerxes chastising the waves of Hellespont.

– My limb now allows me to sit in some peace; to walk I have yet no prospect of, as I can’t mark it to the ground.

– I have just now looked over what I have written, and it is such a chaos of nonsense that I daresay you will throw it into the fire, and call me an idle, stupid fellow; but whatever you think of my brains, believe me to be, with the most sacred respect, and heart-felt esteem,

My Dear Madam, your humble servant Robt Burns

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  
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