Extempore epistle to Mr McAdam of Craigengillan

Sir, o'er a gill I gat your card, I trow it made me proud; See wha taks notice o' the Bard! I lap and cried fu' loud. Now deil-ma-care about their jaw, The senseless, gawky million; I'll cock my nose aboon them a', I'm roos'd by Craigengillan. 'Twas noble, Sir; 'twas like yoursel, To grant your high protection: A great man's smile ye ken fu' well, Is ay a blest infection. Tho', by his banes wha in a tub Match'd Macedonian Sandy! On my ain legs thro' dirt and dub, I independent stand ay. And when those legs to gude, warm kail Wi' welcome canna bear me; A lee dyke-side, a sybow-tail, And barley-scone shall chear me. Heaven spare you lang to kiss the breath O' mony flowery simmers! And bless your bonie lasses baith, I'm tald they're loosome kimmers! And God bless young Dunaskin's laird, The blossom of our gentry! An' may he wear an auld man's beard, A credit to his country!


John Shedden

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1787 and is read here by John Shedden.

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.

Ralph McLean

Themes for this poem

poetry friendship

Selected for 20 November

On this day 1796, Robert Burns wrote to two of his friends asking them to suppress a certain, 'wicked and nefarious song', one of his bawdiest poems. William Chalmers and John McAdam loyally complied with what the Bard called his 'mandate'. Today's jovially fraternal poem was addressed to McAdam the laird of Dunaskin.

Donny O'Rourke

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