Irvine, Illness & Inspiration
BURNS IN IRVINE
28. Robert was in Irvine
from July 1781 till the spring of 1782, learning the craft of flax-dressing.
Two buildings in the Glasgow Vennel vie for the honour of having been the
heckling-shed where he worked. One tradition is that Burns himself knocked
over the candle that burned him out, but Burns himself blamed the wife of
his partner, in a drunken spree at Hogmanay (31 December).
29. From late October till early December 1781 Burns was prostrated by a mystery illness. Smallpox, typhoid and malaria have all been suggested, but the treatment by Surgeon Fleeming (whose day-book was discovered in 1955) reveals that the poet was suffering from severe morbid depression.
30. Robert's closest friend at Irvine was Richard Brown, a sea-captain, who first suggested to Burns that he should send some of his poems to a magazine. Recalling this (December 1787) Burns wrote to Brown, 'Twas actually this that gave me an idea of my own pieces which encouraged me to endeavour at the character of a Poet'. Burns, however, did not take his friend's advice, and five years elapsed before he ventured into 'guid black prent'.
© 2008 The Robert Burns World Federation