Posts Tagged ‘Jean Armour’

We continue with the fourth in a series of a look into 18th century poetry by Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th Century Clothing Reproductions‘ guest writer, Carolyn Smith.  You may also read her articles on Robert BurnsMy Handsome Nell ,  Highland Mary, and Ae Fond Kiss.  Read the introductory article on Robert Burns here, in the February edition of Hidden Dirk Mercantile’s 18th century education-focused newsletter.

I Love My Jean

Robert Burns’ relationship with Jean Armour lasted from 1784 when they began seeing each other until his death in 1796.  The two grew up knowing each other and carried on a secret love affair for a year—until she became pregnant.  Burns’ wrote a letter of marriage, but Armour’s father, James Armour, ripped it up and sent her away. Armour, a successful stonemason, would not wed his daughter to a destitute ploughman who was a philanderer as well.  Burns planned to leave for Jamaica, upset with Jean that she would not disobey her father’s wishes. James Armour threatened to have Burns arrested for abandonment.

Shortly after, Burns’ circumstances were much improved thanks to the first Kilmarnock edition of Burns’ Scottish dialect poems.  Burns, nowever, had moved on and met a different group of women,  more educated or daughters of gentry, in Edinburgh.  Still, he and Jean reunited in 1786 and she bore two more children, but they did not wed. Eventually, looking for a method of earning a living that supplemented his poetry, he applied for a position as Exciseman, and gave up the liberty of bachelorhood to officially marry Jean Armour in 1788. 

The poem that follows was written shortly after their marriage:

I Love My Jean

Of a’ the airts the wind can blaw,  
I dearly like the West; 
For there the bonie Lassie lives, 
The Lassie I lo’e best: 
There’s wild-woods grow, and rivers row, 
And mony a hill between; 
But day and night my fancy’s flight 
Is ever wi’ my Jean. 

I see her in the dewy flowers, 
I see her sweet and fair; 
I hear her in the tunefu’ birds, 
I hear her charm the air: 
There’s not a bonie flower that springs 
By fountain, shaw, or green; 
There’s not a bonie bird that sings 
But minds me o’ my Jean.

In Burns’ notes and in several letters after their marriage, he writes, “I am more and more pleased with the step I took respecting ‘my Jean’.”  That he repeats these words verbatim from his notes implies how he struggled with the decision to marry.  Why he married Jean Armour may best be explained in one of his many letters to Mrs. Frances Dunlop, an advisor, patron, and friend:

            When Mrs. Burns [before their marriage], Madam, first found herself “as women wish to be who love their lords [pregnant],” as I loved her nearly to distraction, we took steps for a private marriage.  Her parents got the hint; and not only forbade me her company and their house, but, on my rumoured West Indian voyage, got a warrant to put me in jail, till I should find security in my about-to-be-paternal relation. You know my lucky reverse of fortune. On my éclatant return to Mauchline, I was made very welcome to visit my girl.  The usual consequences [pregnancy] began to betray her; and as I was at that time laid up a cripple in Edinburgh, she was turned, literally turned, out of doors, and I wrote a friend to shelter her till my return, when our marriage was declared….

            The muses must not be offended when I tell them, the concerns of my wife and family will, in my mind, always take the pas; but I assure them their ladyships will ever come next in place.

            You are right that a bachelor state would have insured me more friends; but, from a cause you will easily guess, conscious peace in the enjoyment of my own mind, and unmistrusting confidence in approaching my God, would seldom have been of the number.

            Circumstanced as I am, I could never have got a female partner for life who could have entered into my favorite studies, relished my favourite authors, etc., without probably entailing on me at the same time expensive living, fantastic caprice, perhaps apish affectation, with all the other blessed boarding-school acquirements, which (pardonnez moi, Madame) are sometimes to be found among females of the upper ranks, but almost universally pervade the misses of the would-be gentry.

Robert Burns made many women his bedfellows, fell in and out of love easily, and called other women his muses. But he returned again and again to Jean Armour. She bore him nine children and raised some of his illegitimate ones.  Many of Burns’ most admired love poems are written about her and after their marriage.  Still, one might say he settled for Jean, but I choose to think he preferred her because she was more like him. He did not have to play the role of educated ploughman to entertain her.  He did not have to be witty and on guard with her; he could be himself with “Bonie Jean.”


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We continue with the third in a series of 18th century poetry by Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th Century Clothing Reproductions‘ guest writer, Carolyn Smith.  You may also read her articles on Robert BurnsMy Handsome Nell and Highland Mary.

Ae Fond Kiss

Scottish poet Robert Burns participated with Mrs. Agnes (Nancy) Craig M’Lehose in a romance of letters and dinner dates for a three-month period from December to March in 1787-1788.  The relationship was apparently serious and non-sexual to protect Nancy’s reputation in her prominent Glasgow family.  M’Lehose was one of the few educated women Burns met.  They wrote and discussed poetry and used the names Clarinda and Sylvander in their messages that arrived often, sometimes more than once a day. 

M’Lehose was married and had three children, but she had separated from an abusive husband who went to the West Indies to earn his fortune.  Both writers struggled with the fact of their love and forced its platonic nature with words like “esteem” and “religion” and “friendship” in their letters.  When Burns pressed for closer ties, Mrs. M’Lehose, at the urging of family, terminated the relationship.  Meanwhile, Jenny Crow, a house servant, bore Burns a son.  

A couple of months after the relationship ended, Burns married Jean Armour, a former lover, and settled into  a position, granted through favors, as an exciseman.  He oversaw taxes, especially of alcohol brought in on ships.

Mrs. M’Lehose traveled to the West Indies to reunite with her husband but returned soon after discovering that he had a new family there.

Here Burns struggles with declaring and holding back his passion.

                  I just now received your first letter of yesterday, by the careless negligence of the penny-post.  Clarinda, matters are grown very serious with us; then seriously hear me, and hear me, Heaven—I met you, my dear Nancy, by far the first of womankind, at least to me; I esteemed, I loved you at first sight; the longer I am acquainted with you the more innate amiableness and worth I discover in you.  You have suffered a loss, I confess, for my sake:  but if the firmest, steadiest, warmest friendship; if every endeavour to be worthy of your friendship; if a love, strong as the ties of nature, and holy as the duties of religion—if all these can make anything like a compensation for the evil I have occasioned you, if they be worth your acceptance, or can in the least add to your enjoyment—so help Sylvander, ye Powers above, in his hour of need, as he freely give these all to Clarinda!
                  I esteem you, I love you as a friend; I admire you, I love you as a woman, beyond any one in all the circle of creation; I know I shall continue to esteem you, to love you, to pray for you, nay, to pray for myself for your sake.
                  Expect me at eight.  And believe me to be ever, my dearest Madam, yours most entirely, SYLVANDER.
Thurs, 14th Feb., Two o’clock

Burns mentions Nancy by name in this poem, possibly revised from a non-Burns song “The Parting Kiss.”

Ae Fond Kiss

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee! 

Who shall say that Fortune grieves him
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu’ twinkle lights  me,
Dark despair around benights me. 

I’ll ne’er blame my partial fancy;
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her,
Love but her, and love for ever. 

Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted,
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.

Fare the weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and deartest!
Thin be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, enjoyment, love, and pleasure!

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel, alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I’ll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I’ll wage thee!

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Today we feature our second installment for our romantic 18th century poetry week from a special guest author at Hidden Dirk Mercantile 18th Century Reproduction Clothing – Carolyn Smith.  View yesterday’s post on My Handsome Nell. 

In this post, Ms. Smith looks at Highland Mary by Robert Burns.

Eighteenth century Scottish poet Robert Burns had already met and conceived a child with Jean Armour, his future wife, before he met Mary Campbell, the subject of the poem Highland Mary.

Because he was in trouble with the law and rejected by Jean Armour’s family, Burns had decided to move to Jamaica. Evidence suggests that Mary Campbell, a dairy maid, planned to go with him. Burns’ own writing implies the two were married, perhaps in the Scottish tradition of exchanging personal vows. On her way to the coast to meet Burns for passage to Jamaica, Mary came down with a fever and died.

In a letter to John Arnot, after Mary Campbell’s death, Burns calls himself “a poor heart-crushed devil” who would have killed himself for sorrow except for his obligation to poetry. Here, he describes his loss:

I have lost, Sir, that dearest earthly treasure, that greatest blessing here below, that last, best gift which completed Adam’s happiness in the garden of bliss; I have lost, I have lost—my trembling hand refuses its office, the frighted ink recoils up the quill,–I have lost a, a, a wife.
Fairest of God’s creation, last and best,
Now art thou lost!

April, 1786

Highland Mary

Ye banks and braes, and streams around
            The castle o’ Montgomery,
Green be your woods and fair your flowers,
            Your waters never drumlie!
There Summer first unfald her robes,
            And there the langest tarry;
For there I took the last fareweel,
            O’ my sweet Highland Mary.

How sweetly bloomed the gay, green birk,
            How rich the hawthorn’s blossom,
As underneath their fragrant shade
             I clasped her to my bosom!
The golden hours on angel wings
             Flew o’er me and my dearie;
For dear to me as light and life
             Was my sweet Highland Mary.

Wi’ monie a vow and locked embrace
              Our parting was fu’ tender’
And, pledging aft to meet again,
              We tore oursels asunder,
But O, fell Death’s untimely frost,
              That nipt my flower sae early!
Now green’s the sod and cauld’s the clay,
              That wraps my Highland Mary!

O pale, pale now, those rosy lips,
               I aft hae kissed sae fondly;
And closed for ay, the sparkling glance
              That dwalt on me sae kindly;
And moldering now in silent dust
              That heart that lo’ed me dearly!
But still within my bosom’s core
              Shall live my Highland Mary.


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