Written contact between Lapraik and Burns

  1. Lapraik's song: When I upon thy bosom lean (It is recorded that it was as a result of Burns' hearing this song that he was moved to first write to John Lapraik. A second, improved, version of the song appeared in Scots Musical Museum - possibly as a result of having been reworked by Burns)
  2. Burn's Epistle to John Lapraik
  3. Burn's second Epistle to John Lapraik
  4. Burn's third Epistle to John Lapraik
  5. Lapraik's Epistle to Robert Burns
  6. Burn's A Man's a Man for a That

WHEN I upon thy bosom lean



WHEN I upon thy bosom lean,
Enraptur'd, I do call thee mine;
I glory in those sacr'd ties,
That made us one, who once were twain.
A mut'al flame inspires us both;
The tender look, the melting kiss,
Ev'n years shall ne'er destroy our love;
Some sweet sensation new will rise.

Have I a wish? 'tis all for thee;
I know thy wish is me to please;
Our moments pass so smooth away,
That numbers on us look and gaze.
Well pleas'd to see our happy days,
They bid us live and still love on;
And if some cares shall chance to rise,
Thy bosom still shall be my home.

I'll lull me there and take my rest;
And if that thought disturb my fair,
I'll bid her laugh her cares all out,
And beg her not to drop a tear.
Have I a joy? 'tis all her own;
Her heart and mine are all the same;
They're like the woodbine round the tree,
That's twin'd till Death shall us disjoin.

WHEN I upon thy bosom lean,
And fondly clasp me a' my ain,;
I glory in the sacr'd ties,
That made us ane, wha aince were twain:
A mut'al flame inspires us baith -
The tender look, the melting kiss,
Ev'n years shall ne'er destroy our love;
But only gie us change o' bliss.

Hae I a wish? its a' for thee;
I ken thy wish is me to please;
Our moments pass sae smooth away,
That numbers on us look and gaze.
Weel pleas'd they see our happy days,
Nor envy's sel' finds aught to blame;
And aye when weary cares arise,
Thy bosom still shall be my hame.

I'll lay me there and tak my rest;
And if that thought disturb my dear,
I'll bid her laugh her cares away,
And beg her not to drap a tear.
Hae I a joy? 'its a' her ain;
United still her heart and mine;;
They're like the woodbine round the tree,
That's twin'd till Death shall them disjoin.


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Epistle To J. Lapraik, An Old Scottish Bard

While briers an' woodbines budding green,
An' paitricks scraichin loud at e'en,
An' morning poussie whiddin seen,
Inspire my muse,
This freedom, in an unknown frien',
I pray excuse. 

On Fasten-e'en we had a rockin,
To ca' the crack and weave our stockin;
And there was muckle fun and jokin,
Ye need na doubt;
At length we had a hearty yokin
At sang about.

There was ae sang, amang the rest,
Aboon them a' it pleas'd me best,
That some kind husband had addrest
To some sweet wife;
It thirl'd the heart-strings thro' the breast,
A' to the life. 

I've scarce heard ought describ'd sae weel,
What gen'rous, manly bosoms feel;
Thought I "Can this be Pope, or Steele,
Or Beattie's wark?"
They tauld me 'twas an odd kind chiel
About Muirkirk. 

It pat me fidgin-fain to hear't,
An' sae about him there I speir't;
Then a' that kent him round declar'd
He had ingine;
That nane excell'd it, few cam near't,
It was sae fine: 

That, set him to a pint of ale,
An' either douce or merry tale,
Or rhymes an' sangs he'd made himsel,
Or witty catches-
'Tween Inverness an' Teviotdale,
He had few matches. 

Then up I gat, an' swoor an aith,
Tho' I should pawn my pleugh an' graith,
Or die a cadger pownie's death,
At some dyke-back,
A pint an' gill I'd gie them baith,
To hear your crack. 

But, first an' foremost, I should tell,
Amaist as soon as I could spell,
I to the crambo-jingle fell;
Tho' rude an' rough-
Yet crooning to a body's sel'
Does weel eneugh.

I am nae poet, in a sense;
But just a rhymer like by chance,
An' hae to learning nae pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whene'er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her.

Your critic-folk may cock their nose,
And say, "How can you e'er propose,
You wha ken hardly verse frae prose,
To mak a sang?"
But, by your leaves, my learned foes,
Ye're maybe wrang.

What's a' your jargon o' your schools-
Your Latin names for horns an' stools?
If honest Nature made you fools,
What sairs your grammars?
Ye'd better taen up spades and shools,
Or knappin-hammers.

A set o' dull, conceited hashes
Confuse their brains in college classes!
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An' syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o' Greek!

Gie me ae spark o' nature's fire,
That's a' the learning I desire;
Then tho' I drudge thro' dub an' mire
At pleugh or cart,
My muse, tho' hamely in attire,
May touch the heart.

O for a spunk o' Allan's glee,
Or Fergusson's the bauld an' slee,
Or bright Lapraik's, my friend to be,
If I can hit it!
That would be lear eneugh for me,
If I could get it.

Now, sir, if ye hae friends enow,
Tho' real friends, I b'lieve, are few;
Yet, if your catalogue be fu',
I'se no insist:
But, gif ye want ae friend that's true,
I'm on your list.

I winna blaw about mysel,
As ill I like my fauts to tell;
But friends, an' folk that wish me well,
They sometimes roose me;
Tho' I maun own, as mony still
As far abuse me.

There's ae wee faut they whiles lay to me,
I like the lasses-Gude forgie me!
For mony a plack they wheedle frae me
At dance or fair;
Maybe some ither thing they gie me,
They weel can spare.

But Mauchline Race, or Mauchline Fair,
I should be proud to meet you there;
We'se gie ae night's discharge to care,
If we forgather;
An' hae a swap o' rhymin-ware
Wi' ane anither.

The four-gill chap, we'se gar him clatter,
An' kirsen him wi' reekin water;
Syne we'll sit down an' tak our whitter,
To cheer our heart;
An' faith, we'se be acquainted better
Before we part.

Awa ye selfish, war'ly race,
Wha think that havins, sense, an' grace,
Ev'n love an' friendship should give place
To catch-the-plack!
I dinna like to see your face,
Nor hear your crack.

But ye whom social pleasure charms
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
"Each aid the others,"
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!

But, to conclude my lang epistle,
As my auld pen's worn to the gristle,
Twa lines frae you wad gar me fissle,
Who am, most fervent,
While I can either sing or whistle,
Your friend and servant.

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Second Epistle To J. Lapraik

While new-ca'd kye rowte at the stake
An' pownies reek in pleugh or braik,
This hour on e'enin's edge I take,
To own I'm debtor
To honest-hearted, auld Lapraik,
For his kind letter.

Forjesket sair, with weary legs,
Rattlin the corn out-owre the rigs,
Or dealing thro' amang the naigs
Their ten-hours' bite,
My awkart Muse sair pleads and begs
I would na write.

The tapetless, ramfeezl'd hizzie,
She's saft at best an' something lazy:
Quo' she, "Ye ken we've been sae busy
This month an' mair,
That trowth, my head is grown right dizzie,
An' something sair."

Her dowff excuses pat me mad;
"Conscience," says I, "ye thowless jade!
I'll write, an' that a hearty blaud,
This vera night;
So dinna ye affront your trade,
But rhyme it right.

"Shall bauld Lapraik, the king o' hearts,
Tho' mankind were a pack o' cartes,
Roose you sae weel for your deserts,
In terms sae friendly;
Yet ye'll neglect to shaw your parts
An' thank him kindly?"

Sae I gat paper in a blink,
An' down gaed stumpie in the ink:
Quoth I, "Before I sleep a wink,
I vow I'll close it;
An' if ye winna mak it clink,
By Jove, I'll prose it!"

Sae I've begun to scrawl, but whether
In rhyme, or prose, or baith thegither;
Or some hotch-potch that's rightly neither,
Let time mak proof;
But I shall scribble down some blether
Just clean aff-loof.

My worthy friend, ne'er grudge an' carp,
Tho' fortune use you hard an' sharp;
Come, kittle up your moorland harp
Wi' gleesome touch!
Ne'er mind how Fortune waft and warp;
She's but a bitch.

She 's gien me mony a jirt an' fleg,
Sin' I could striddle owre a rig;
But, by the Lord, tho' I should beg
Wi' lyart pow,
I'll laugh an' sing, an' shake my leg,
As lang's I dow!

Now comes the sax-an'-twentieth simmer
I've seen the bud upon the timmer,
Still persecuted by the limmer
Frae year to year;
But yet, despite the kittle kimmer,
I, Rob, am here.

Do ye envy the city gent,
Behint a kist to lie an' sklent;
Or pursue-proud, big wi' cent. per cent.
An' muckle wame,
In some bit brugh to represent
A bailie's name?

Or is't the paughty, feudal thane,
Wi' ruffl'd sark an' glancing cane,
Wha thinks himsel nae sheep-shank bane,
But lordly stalks;
While caps and bonnets aff are taen,
As by he walks?

"O Thou wha gies us each guid gift!
Gie me o' wit an' sense a lift,
Then turn me, if thou please, adrift,
Thro' Scotland wide;
Wi' cits nor lairds I wadna shift,
In a' their pride!"

Were this the charter of our state,
"On pain o' hell be rich an' great,"
Damnation then would be our fate,
Beyond remead;
But, thanks to heaven, that's no the gate
We learn our creed.

For thus the royal mandate ran,
When first the human race began;
"The social, friendly, honest man,
Whate'er he be-
'Tis he fulfils great Nature's plan,
And none but he."

O mandate glorious and divine!
The ragged followers o' the Nine,
Poor, thoughtless devils! yet may shine
In glorious light,
While sordid sons o' Mammon's line
Are dark as night!

Tho' here they scrape, an' squeeze, an' growl,
Their worthless nievefu' of a soul
May in some future carcase howl,
The forest's fright;
Or in some day-detesting owl
May shun the light.

Then may Lapraik and Burns arise,
To reach their native, kindred skies,
And sing their pleasures, hopes an' joys,
In some mild sphere;
Still closer knit in friendship's ties,
Each passing year!

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Third Epistle To J. Lapraik


Guid speed and furder to you, Johnie,
Guid health, hale han's, an' weather bonie;
Now, when ye're nickin down fu' cannie
The staff o' bread,
May ye ne'er want a stoup o' bran'y
To clear your head.

May Boreas never thresh your rigs,
Nor kick your rickles aff their legs,
Sendin the stuff o'er muirs an' haggs
Like drivin wrack;
But may the tapmost grain that wags
Come to the sack.

I'm bizzie, too, an' skelpin at it,
But bitter, daudin showers hae wat it;
Sae my auld stumpie pen I gat it
Wi' muckle wark,
An' took my jocteleg an whatt it,
Like ony clark.

It's now twa month that I'm your debtor,
For your braw, nameless, dateless letter,
Abusin me for harsh ill-nature
On holy men,
While deil a hair yoursel' ye're better,
But mair profane.

But let the kirk-folk ring their bells,
Let's sing about our noble sel's:
We'll cry nae jads frae heathen hills
To help, or roose us;
But browster wives an' whisky stills,
They are the muses.

Your friendship, Sir, I winna quat it,
An' if ye mak' objections at it,
Then hand in neive some day we'll knot it,
An' witness take,
An' when wi' usquabae we've wat it
It winna break.

But if the beast an' branks be spar'd
Till kye be gaun without the herd,
And a' the vittel in the yard,
An' theekit right,
I mean your ingle-side to guard
Ae winter night.

Then muse-inspirin' aqua-vitae
Shall make us baith sae blythe and witty,
Till ye forget ye're auld an' gatty,
An' be as canty
As ye were nine years less than thretty-
Sweet ane an' twenty!

But stooks are cowpit wi' the blast,
And now the sinn keeks in the west,
Then I maun rin amang the rest,
An' quat my chanter;
Sae I subscribe myself' in haste,
Yours, Rab the Ranter.

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Epistle to R****T B***s

O far fam'd RAB! my silly Muse,
That thou sae prais'd langsyne,
When she did scarce ken verse by prose,
Now dares to spread her wing.

Unconcious of the least desert,
Nor e'er expecting fame,
I sometimes did myself divert,
Wi' jingling worthless rhyme.

When sitting lanely by myself,
Just unco griev'd and wae,
To think that Fortune, fickle Joe!
Had kick'd me o'er the brae!

And when I was amaist half-drown'd
Wi' dolefu' grief and care,
I'd may-be rhyme a verse or twa,
To drive away despair.

Or when I met a chiel like you,
Sae gi'en to mirth an' fun,
Wha lik'd to speel Parnassus' hill
An drink at Helicon,

I'd aiblins catch a wee bit spark
O' his Poetic fire,
An rhyme awa like ane half-mad,
Until my Muse did tire.

I lik'd the Lasses unco weel,
Langsyne when I was young,
Which fortimes kittled up my Muse
To write a kind love sang;

Yet still it ne'er ran in my head,
To trouble Mankind with
My dull, insipid, thowless rhyme,
And stupid, senseless stuff;

Till your kind Muse, wi' friendly blast,
First tooted up my fame,
And sounded loud, through a' the Wast,
My lang forgotten name.

Quoth I, "Shall I, like to a sumph,
"Sit douss and dowie here,
"And suffer the ill-natur'd warld
"To ca' RAB BURNS a liar.

"He says that I can sing fu' weel,
"An through the warld has sent it-
"Na; faith I rhyme a hearty blaud,
"Though I should aye repent it."

Syne I gat up, wi unco glee,
An snatch'd my grey goose quill,
An cry'd, "Come here, my Muse, fy come,
"An rhyme wi' a' your skill."

The Hizzy was right sweer to try't,
An' fearce wad be persuaded:
She said, I was turn'd auld an' stiff,
My youthfu' fire quite faded.

Quoth she, "Had ye begun langsyne,
"When ye were brisk and young,
"I doubtna but ye might hae past,
"And sung a glorious sang:

"But now ye're clean gane out o' tune,
"Your auld grey scaulp turn'd bare:
"Mair meet that ye were turning douse
"And try'ng to say your pray'r.

"The folk's a' laughing at you, else,
"Ye'll gar them laugh aye father:
"When ye gang out, they'll point and say,
"There gangs the Poetafter."

"Devil care," said I, haud just your toungue,
"Begin and nae mair say;
"I maun maintain my honour now,
"Though I should seldom pray!

"I oft when in a merry tift
"Have rhym'd for my diversion;
"I'll now go try to rhyme for bread
"And let the warld be clashin'."

"Weel, weel," says she, "fin ye're fae bent,
"Come, let us go begin then;
"We'll try to do the best we can,
"I'm sure we'll aye say something."

Syne till't I gat, an' rhym'd away,
'Till I hae made a Book o't,
An though I should rue 't 'a my life,
I'll gie the warld a look o't.

I'm weel aware the greatest part
(I fain hope not the whole)
Will look upon't as senseless stuff,
And me's a crazy fool.

Whether that it be nonsense a'
Or some o't not amiss
And whether I've done right or wrang,
I leave the warld to guess:

But I should tell them, bye the bye,
Though it is may-be idle,
That fint a book scarce e'er I read,
Save ance or twice the Bible.

An' what the learned folk ca' grammar,
I naething ken about it;
Although I b'lieve it be owre true,
Ane can do nought without it.

But maist my life has just been spent
(Which to my cost I feel)
In fechtin fair wi' luckless brutes,
Till they kick'd up my heel.

Now fare-ye-well, my guid frien' RAB,
May luck and health attend ye;
If I do weel, I'll bless the day
That e'er I came to ken ye:

But on the tither han', should folk
Me for my nonsense blason,
Nae doubt I'll curse th' unlucky day,
I listen'd to your fraisin.

May that great Name that ye hae got
Untainted aye remain!
And may the Laurels on your head
Ay flourish fresh and green!

The LORD maintain your honour aye,
And then ye needna fear,
While I can write, or speak, or think,
I am your frien' sincere!

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A Man's a Man for a That

by Robert Burns

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that
The coward slave we pass him by
We dare be poor for a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
Our toils obscure an' a' that
The rank is but the guinea's stamp
The Man's the gowd for a' that

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that,
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that,
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that,
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may
As come it will for a' that
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree, and a' that
For a' that, an' a' that
It's comin' yet for a' that
That man to man, the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

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