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Dumfries Epigrams

Copeland faithful likeness, friend Painter, would'st seize? Keep out Worth, Wit and Wisdom: Put in what you please.
Should he escape the slaughter of thine Eyes, Within thy strong Embrace he struggling dies.
Pray, who are these Natives the Rabble so ven'rate? They're our true ancient Natives, and they breed undegen'rate The ignorant savage that weather'd the storm, When the man and the Brute differed but in the form.
Dost hang thy head, Billy, asham'd that thou knowest me? 'Tis paying in kind a just debt that thou owest me.
Dost blush, my dear Billy, asham'd of thyself, A Fool and a Cuckold together? The fault is not thine, insignificant elf, Thou wast not consulted in either.
Friend Commissar, since we're met and are happy, Pray why should we part without having more nappy! Bring in t'other bottle, for faith I am dry Thy drink thou can't part with and neither can I.
Oft I have wonder'd that on Irish ground No poisonous Reptile ever has been found: Revealed the secret stands of great Nature's work: She preserved her poison to create a Burke!
Baillie Swan, Baillie Swan, Let you do what you can, God ha' mercy on honest Dumfries: But e'er the year's done, Good Lord! Provost John Will find that his Swans are but Geese.


Paul Young

About this work

This is an epigram by Robert Burns. It was written in 1794 and is read here by Paul Young.

More about this epigram

All of these epigrams survive in the transcript of John Syme of Ryedale, a distributor of stamps, and one of Burns’s friends.

The third and seventh epigrams can be dated to 1794, and the sixth is most likely from the same year.

The subject of the first piece is not known, although it could be William Copland of Collieston, who was mentioned in the second Election Ballad.

The description of Miss E. I – best fits Elizabeth Inglis the daughter of a local minister William Inglis, whose sermons Burns enjoyed hearing.

The loyal Natives were formed in January 1793 and were among the more reactionary of the Dumfries citizenry. They unwisely produced verses lampooning Burns and other radicals, which provoked a stinging attack from the Bard.

The identity of Billy remains a mystery, but it is most likely to refer to one of two men: either Captain William Roddick whom Burns had already satirized in Epitaph on a noted Coxcomb, or William Graham of Mossknowe.

As the President of the Loyal Natives, Commissary Goldie provoked a heightened level of animosity from Burns.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was a prominent eighteenth-century politician, and Warren Hastings (1732-1818) was the governor of India who was tried, but acquitted, for maladministration in the country in 1795.

The final epigram refers to James Swan (b. 1751) who was elected a Baillie in Dumfries in 1794, and again in 1795. However, by October 1796 he ceased to be a magistrate and was voted off the council in 1797, thus proving Burns’s prophecy true.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this epigram

politics friendship cuckoldry drink

Locations for this epigram


Selected for 07 August

In Galloway as previously in Ayrshire, the sharp-tongued Burns was a bad neighbour to get on the wrong side of. These Dumfries epigrams are in the same splenetic spirit as the short and stinging poem presented here yesterday. The squib about Burke, now agreed to be by Burns, is the piece missed out from the selection made on March 17th, St Patrick's Day. These epigrams were preserved by the man who had toured the South West with the Bard in early August, 1793.

Donny O'Rourke

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