More about this poem
John McAdam (d. 1790) was renowned as an agricultural improver in Scotland, who owned the estates of Barbeth and Straiton.
Given the clues in the subtitle, it has often been thought that Burns composed this sometime during 1786, but doubt has been cast on this assumption as the McAdam family did not appear as subscribers to Burns’s Poems until the addenda to the Edinburgh edition was printed.
As a consequence, this poem would most likely have been written around March 1787.
The man in the tub of stanza four is a reference to the philosopher Diogenes, while ‘Macedonian Sandy’ is Alexander the Great, who famously came to visit him.
There are frequent allusions to agricultural practices and techniques, which are there in recognition of McAdam’s interests.
The final stanza heaps praise upon ‘young Dunaskin’s laird’, Colonel Quinton McAdam, the son of John, who did not enjoy long life as the poet desired, but instead committed suicide in 1805.