'Ae Fond Kiss' is the most famous and widely acclaimed song to arise from Robert Burns's association with Agnes McLehose, an educated woman whom he met whilst in Edinburgh in 1787 and who was separated from her husband James McLehose, a Glasgow lawyer.
The lovers exchanged a wealth of letters in which they refer to each other as 'Sylvander' and 'Clarinda'. Mrs McLehose inspired some of Burns's most famous works including the song 'Ae fond Kiss'.
Agnes McLehose arranged an introduction to Robert Burns by a mutual friend, Miss Erskine Nimmo (b.1731), and following this the couple embarked on a lengthy and, at times, passionate correspondence, sometimes writing to each other twice in one day (over the years 1787 and 1788).
This being said, Agnes McLehose remained aware of her controversial status as a married, yet separated woman, living alone and dependent upon the generosity of her cousin, William Craig (1745-1813).
She was deeply concerned with propriety and confidentiality, and so it was partly to protect both her own and Burns's privacy and reputation that she suggested the noms d'amours 'Sylvander' and 'Clarinda'.
There is nothing concrete to suggest that the relationship was ever consummated, yet one can derive from the letters that the couple were certainly taken with each other for a time.
Following Robert Burns's departure from Edinburgh in 1788, it is apparent that the correspondents' friendship suffered owing to Burns's reunion with Jean Armour and their eventual marriage, not to mention the birth of his illegitimate child to Jenny Clow, Agnes McLehose's maid.
In 1792 Agnes McLehose travelled to the West Indies on the Roselle at the request of her estranged husband who, it appears, wished to affect reconciliation. Robert Burns, upon learning of this plan, wrote the song 'Ae Fond Kiss' and sent it to Agnes McLehose on the 27th of December 1791.
Burns's use of the song to express his distress at the finality of the pair's relationship is both dramatic and emotive. 'Ae Fond Kiss' conveys sincere, powerful notions of love, and yet a sense of deep despair and hopelessness is ever present. For this reason it is one of the most moving songs ever written in response to loss and heartbreak.