Gow and Robert Burns
has been made in the former Chapter to the visit paid by Burns
to Niel Gow. Short as it was, much controversial matter has gathered
round the details, several of which, long accepted by local tradition,
were challenged lately in the "Weekly Scotsman" and
made the subject of a newspaper discussion.
1787, the poet, with his friend Nicoll, set out from Edinburgh
on a Highland Tour; no light matter in days when stage coaches
or horseback were the only modes of conveyance on rough, badly-made
roads. Local tradition has long held that Burns, on reaching Dunkeld,
visited Niel Gow and adjourned with him to Inver Inn where, on
seeing and hearing an irate woman, the poet composed an epigram
which he wrote then and there on the window with his diamond pencil.
The lines have been often quoted, and even printed, as emanating
gods, ye gave to me a wife, out of your grace and pleasure,
be the partner of my life and I was glad to have her.
if your providence divine for better things design her
obey your will at any time, Im willing to resign her."
account for the non-existence of the pane with this inscription,
it was explained that, in the middle of last century, the glass
was cut out for better preservation and was broken in the act.
This version was generally accepted until the year 1924, when
discredit was attached to the whole story by an assertion that
the epigram in question could not be an original composition of
Burns as it was a verse out of an old song-book published before
the poet was born.
the "Works of Robert Burns," published by Wm. Paterson,
1878, and edited by Wm Scott Douglas, the brief notes on the Inver
visit are not of much help in the controversy which arose. Neither
is a letter written to his brother Gilbert, dated 17th September,
1787, where he thus refers to his twenty-two days Tour "down
the Tay, among the cascades and Druidical Circles of stones, to
Dunkeld, a seat of the Duke of Athole, thence across the Tay,
and up one of its tributary streams to Blair of Athole, another
of the Dukes seats, where I had the honour of spending nearly
two days with his Grace and family."
reference occurs here either to Inver or to Niel Gow. Several
extracts from newspaper articles and letters give a good idea
of the difficulties surrounding the verification of a supposed
fact when challenged a century and a half afterwards.
dispute arose in this fashion. An account, based on generally
accepted beliefs in the district, had been published. narrating
several details of the poet s visit to Inver, along with
the epigram in question. The authorship of the verses was challenged
in the "Weekly Scotsman," Sept. 6th, 1924, by Mr T.
Davidson Cook, ESA. (Scot.), who wrote:- "I take it that
here is voiced persistent and little-questioned local tradition.
I gather that local tradition has never had any misgivings about
the authorship and that the lines pass current as authentic Bums
verse. Though the epigram has never been included in an edition
of Bums, the poem has been ascribed to him often enough, and was
twice fathered on the poet in "John o London.
. . . Ten years before Burns was born in Kyle there was a song-book
printed in Edinburgh called "The Charmer. It is dated
1749, and there the epigram is ascribed to Charles Coffey, a dramatist
who wrote "The Beggars Wedding." Still earlier,
the epigram appears in another old song-book called "The
completely demolishes the theory of the Burns authorship of the
epigram. Mr Cook was also sceptical on the point that Burns wrote
on the Inver pane at all, but the following letter, signed E.
Stewart, a Dunkeld correspondent, maintains that the poet might
have written the verse on the glass, though he had not composed
it. Other disputed details are also referred to in the letter,
so it is quoted almost in full.
story goes that Burns wrote an epigram on the window of Inver
Inn, in commemoration of a scolding woman seen or heard there.
Mr Cook now proves that this so-called Burns epigram had already
been printed in a song-book named "The Hive, published
in 1724, long before the poet was born. So the belief in the epigram
as a Burns composition must die."
will be more difficult to kill the belief that Burns wrote the
lines on the window pane at Inver, and that this pane was unfortunately
smashed 70 years ago. I have spoken to those who aver they remember
the breaking of the glass and the indignation of the whole village.
The story in this case is that when the Highland Railway was opened
as far as Dunkeld, many visitors before and after, came to see
Niel Gows home. The tenant of the cottage at that time conceived
the idea of gathering relics of the fiddler into his house as
a sort of Niel Gow Museum. He attempted to remove the pane from
its original setting, intending to take it to his cottage, but
broke it in fragments. It is also said that the same person published
a small guide to the district. Were it forthcoming, it might provide
information on such points."
own Diary is too brief and scanty to give much assistance. The
notes from his Diary, as quoted in Scott Douglas edition
of his works, are
30th Aug.Come down Tay to Dunkeld.
Dr. Stewart, sup.
31st AugWalk with Mrs Stewart and Beard to Bimam Topfine
prospect down TayCraigiebarns HillsHermitage on the
Braan Water, with a picture of Ossianbreakfast with Dr.
StewartNiel Gow plays, a short, stout-built figure, with
greyish hair shed on his honest, social brow, an interesting face
marking strong sense, kind open-heartedness mixed with unmistrusting
simplicityVisit his houseMargaret Gow. Ride up Tummel
River to Blair.
1st SeptHave dined at Blair. . . . Dance, sup, Duke.
night is certainly all that the poet spent in the Dunkeld neighbourhood,
and even where he spent it is disputed. Three places are offered
locally, viz. With Dr. Stewart; Inver Inn; Culloden House,
Dunkeld, then an Inn, now the Royal School.
Alexander Stewart, mentioned thus incidentally, is worthy in himself
of more than a passing glance. A connection of Baroness Nairne,
through marriage, he was known as the Baron of Badenoch, he being
the laird of Bonskeid and claiming to be a lineal descendant of
Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, the famous Wolf of Badenoch,
whose tomb is in Dunkeld Cathedral. After acting as surgeon in
Holland, Dr. Stewart came to Dunkeld mainly through the advice
of John, 4th Duke of Atholl, between whom and himself existed
a warm friendship.
is also an account of this visit in a little book entitled "The
Fiddler in Scotland," written by Alexander G. Murdoch, and
published by Blockley, Regent Street. Here in an article on Niel
Gow and Burns, purporting to be founded on information partly
supplied by Mr Alexander Robertson (understood to be Dundonnachie
of Dunkeld Bridge Toll Riots fame), the writer says that
Burns put up at Culloden House Inn, Dunkeld, and saw Dr. Stewart,
who, being a keen amateur player, took the poet to visit Niel
Gow. Niel played, and Dr. Stewart played, while the bass was taken
by Peter Murray, another Inver fiddler, who handed down the account
of that afternoons doings. This same Peter Murray figures
in an article, "The Moors," written by Dr. Chambers
Edinburgh Journal," of Oct. 19th, 1844. Dr. Chambers describes
an evening spent at Logierait, "listening to the reels and
strathspeys played by a clever violinist, Charles MIntosh
of Inver, and Peter Murray, a worthy violin-cellist from the same
place." Dr. Chambers states that Murray, the octogenarian
bass, had for upwards of twenty years been the professional associate
and friend of Niel Gow. "Old Murray had played with Niel
to the Duke of Atholl and his friends sixty-two years ago. He
was present on the night when the Duke entertained Bums at Blair."
will be noted that Bums does not allude to the presence of Gows
Band on that occasion. His sole comment is "Dance, sup Duke."
correspondent in this controversy pointed out that the old Ferry
House, since burnt down and left in ruins, also served as an Inn
at the period mentioned. The house in Inver Square has been generally
pointed out as the one visited by the poet, but evidently this,
too, is open to dispute.
will be seen, therefore, that a short visit of one day and one
night has certainly proved a fertile subject of discussion. Still,
certain details must be accepted. Burns did pay a visit and did
listen to the fiddler, who played a number of melodies which entranced
his hearer. They were mostly Gow's own composition, and one of
them, "Locherroch Side," so struck the poets fancy
that eight years afterwards, when he sent the verses, "Address
to the Woodlark," to Mr George Thomson, he gave the tune
to which they were set as "Locherroch Side."
Davidson Cook, in his "Weekly Scotsman" article, mentions
that this visit might probably have inspired the poet in other
ways even if he did not write or compose the epigram in question.
He says, "Burns did undoubtedly write a song in honour of
Gow when he visited him in Dumfries. Some literary sceptics might
suggest that the Gow in question was one of Niels sons,
but nobody knows for certain, and therefore, until proof to the
contrary is forthcoming, they are entitled to assume that Niel
Gow returned the poets visit. The text of the song inclines
me to think that it refers to`famous Niel.' "
song is set to the tune "The King of France he rode a race,"
fird a fiddler in the north
dang them tapsalteerie, oh."
is another Gow poem of intense interest, ascribed to Burns, though
it has never been included in any edition of his works. Mr James
D. Law published it (1903) in an American printed work, entitled
"Here and There in Two Hemispheres," p 464. Speaking
of certain manuscripts, formerly the property of Colonel de Peysterto
whom Burns addressed the poem beginning "My honourd
Colonel "Mr Law remarks, "There is also a poem
initialled R.B., and docketed `From the Poet, bearing the
title `To Mr Gow Visiting Dumfries. "
fact of such a visit is confirmed by a letter which Burns wrote
(Dumfries, October, 1793) to Johnson of the Scots Musical Museum,
in which he says, "I am much obliged to you, my dear friend,
for making me acquainted with Gow. He is a modest, intelligent,
worthy fellow, besides being a man of great genius in his way.
I have spent many happy hours with him in the short time he has
Burns had met Niel Gow at Inver in 1787, it really seems more
probable that the reference here is to the son, not to the father.
are five verses in this "American" poem, of which the
first and third are as follows-
MR GOW VISITING IN DUMPRIES.
welcome, King o Rant and Reel
is the Bard to Scotia leal,
wadna sing o sic a chiel
sic a glorious fiddle!
but a weary warl at best
wauf an weary widdle;
but a weary warl at best
north or sooth or east or west,
we will never mak protest
near you and your fiddle.
fabled wizards wand I trow
eer the magic art o Gow,
wi a wave he draws his bow
his wondrous fiddle.
fays and fairies come and dance
fays and fairies come and dance
master in the middle.
fays and fairies come and dance
gently glide and spryly prance,
noo retreat and noo advance,
he strikes up his fiddle I"
it son or be it father to whom these stirring lines are addressed,
at least it was an Inver fiddler who inspired them.
an Ancient City
to Dunkeld History