Epitaph For William Nicol

Ye maggots, feed on Nicol's brain, For few sic feasts you've gotten; And fix your claws in Nicol's heart, For deil a bit o't's rotten.


John Gordon Sinclair
Kate Dickie

About this work

This is an epitaph by Robert Burns. It was written in 1788 and is read here by John Gordon Sinclair.

More about this epitaph

This savage four-line epitaph pays tribute to Burns's travelling companion, William Nicol, a theology scholar with whom he journeyed through the Highlands.

By all accounts, Nicol was a tiresome companion and his refusal to wait for Burns to make a visit to Castle Gordon, lead the poet to write the following, 'I shall certainly, among my legacies, leave my latent curse to that unlucky predicament which hurried me, tore me away from Castle Gordon.'

The two men did, however, remain friends and Burns seemed to humour his eccentricities.

Burns named one of his sons William Nicol because, as he told George Thomson in 1795, of 'that propensity to witty wickedness and manfu' mischief, which even at twa days auld I foresaw would form the striking features of his disposition...'

Jennifer Orr

Themes for this epitaph

death friendship

Locations for this epitaph


Selected for 09 April

The poet’s son, William Nicol Burns, was born on April 9th, 1791. His namesake was the Edinburgh teacher Willie Nicol, with whom Burns had toured the Highlands. His geniality over a dram caused Burns to overlook the conceit and curmudgeonliness of his companion. And it was to, ‘kind, honest hearted Willie’, that he wrote his only surviving letter in Scots. ‘Witty wickedness ’ and ‘Manfu’ mischief’, qualities Burns associated with Nicol, seemed present in the new born boy who went on to become a colonel in the East India Company, before retiring to Cheltenham.

Donny O'Rourke

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