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Burns's Life


A New Life...?

Burns decided to emigrate to Jamaica and make a fresh start. He turned his attentions to yet another girl, Highland Mary Campbell. They exchanged Bibles as a token of their love and they probably intended to emigrate together.

He contacted a printer in Kilmarnock with a view to having his poems published. The money collected in advance subscriptions was sufficient and the poems were published in July 1786. The book was an immediate success selling out all 612 copies in less than a month.

In September, Jean Armour gave birth to twins, Robert and Jean. Since the publication of his book, Burns rapidly becoming a national celebrity. Mary Campbell died, probably in childbirth, and there now seemed little point in going to Jamaica. He said his farewells to his friends, borrowed a pony and set off for Edinburgh to seek his fortune.


Edinburgh must have appeared a marvellous place to Burns who had never been outside Ayrshire before. The cramped, squalid, mediaeval capital was centred in the High Street, some of whose houses were 14 storeys high. Noblemen lived cheek by jowl with the nation's poor; the smell of rotting rubbish in the street was known as the flowers of Edinburgh.

Burns moved to a first floor flat in the Lawnmarket which he shared with a Mauchline friend, John Richmond, now a clerk to an Edinburgh lawyer. His room overlooked Lady Stairs House.

He was welcomed into Edinburgh Society as a literary and social phenomenon and became the darling of social gatherings. The Lounger, a gentleman's magazine, gave his work a flattering review and the influential Caledonian Hunt, having been encouraged by the Earl of Glencairn, who was Burns's most important patron, subscribed for 100 copies of a new edition of his poems. The Edinburgh Edition of 3,000 copies was published in  April 1787. After much delay, Burns received £400 from book sales and 100 guineas (£105) from the sale of the copyright of the poems to his publisher, William Creech. So successful was the book that a third edition had to be quickly printed.


He decided to see the country and in May 1787 he toured the Borders, travelling on horseback with his friend Robert Ainslie, a law student. Passing through Kelso, Roxburgh, Jedburgh, Melrose and Selkirk he finally reached Carlisle. Returning north via Dumfries he looked at the farm of Ellisland, the lease of which had been offered to him by Patrick Miller, an admirer whom he had met in Edinburgh.

Back in Edinburgh he wrote to Graham of Fintry to ask him to help in obtaining a post in the Excise. He visited Mossgiel, acknowledged Jean Armour as his wife and returned to Edinburgh where he was accepted for the Excise, and where he signed a lease for Ellisland Farm. On 11th June 1788 he moved to Dumfriesshire, hopeful of a secure financial future and a happy marriage.

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