Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Robert Burns Lives!
In Search of Highland Mary By Dr. Gerard Carruthers, Glasgow University

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Once again we welcome our friend Gerard Carruthers to the pages of Robert Burns Lives!. There are six books by Gerry in my Scottish library: Robert Burns (Writers and Their Work series); Burns (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets); The Fornicators Court (Facsimile version of a book owned by Sir Walter Scott); The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns; Scottish Literature (Edinburgh Critical Guides to Literature); and Walter Scott’s Reliquiae Trotcosienses. Whenever Gerry publishes additional works, they will join those already on my bookshelves.

A talented author with a keen intellect, Gerry possesses a comprehensive and analytical mind. He is tireless in his writings, teaching, and assistance to his students and lay people like me. I’ll always be indebted to Gerry for his invaluable assistance regarding Burns. He has been a guest in our home on two occasions, and there will always be a knife, fork and bed reserved in his honor.

Gerry spoke at our November meeting of the Burns Club of Atlanta. He has done so before and will do so again. Our membership is quite taken with this man whose passion for Burns and all things Scottish must be shared with those around him. His presentation on Highland Mary was especially intriguing, and Gerry graciously consented for the remarks to be placed in the club’s newsletter as well as here in the pages of Robert Burns Lives! (FRS: 12.7.11) 

In Search of Highland Mary
By Dr. Gerard Carruthers
Glasgow University

Dr. Carruthers before speaking at the Burns Club of Atlanta in November 2, 2011
Dr. Carruthers before speaking at the Burns Club of Atlanta in November 2, 2011

The most direct piece of evidence about Mary Campbell (?1763-1786) from Robert Burns’s hand is the note in which he tells us that ‘after pretty long tract of the most reciprocal attachment’ the pair decided to take together a ‘projected change of life’. Mary, then, was either a serious love interest for Burns, or he later romanticised what had been a mere fling on the rebound from Jean Armour’s rejection of the poet early in 1786. There is an immediate problem with the standard story that Burns and Mary were going to begin a new life together in the West Indies, where Burns was supposedly going to take up the occupation of book-keeper on a slave plantation: such young book-keepers were not allowed to take women with them! On the other hand as my colleague Nigel Leask at Glasgow University has recently suggested, it might be that the strong Campbell-family interest, through the Duke of Argyll and other powerful members of the clan, was in some way operating on behalf of Burns and his Campbell woman and their projected foray into the new world. As things stand, however, here and elsewhere in the ‘Highland Mary’ legend we have for the moment a rather intractable knot that requires the discovery of new documentary information.      

     The note in Burns’s hand to which I’ve just referred was missing for many years, though not so many as people had thought. It had been published by R.H. Cromek in 1808 in his Reliques of Robert Burns as a text taken from the interleaved Scots Musical Museum but was found to be missing from its place in those volumes in the early twentieth century when inspected by J.C. Dick who wrote:   

Th[e] note has an important bearing on the Highland Mary episode, and it is necessary to warn the reader that a leaf from which Cromek is supposed to have copied it is now wanting in the Interleaved Museum. The questions arise, Was the note ever there? And, if so, why was it cut out, who abstracted it, and where is it now?

The interleaved Museum is a copy of the Scots Musical Museum a book of Scottish song edited by James Johnston and contributed to by Robert Burns from the late 1780s. Burns own copy was ‘interleaved’ or had added blank paper, so he could make additional annotations and revisions in it. At some point in the early 1790s, Burns gifted his interleaved SMM, with his additional comments to one of his greatest friends of his Dumfries years, Captain Robert Riddell. The story of that book from the time of Riddell’s ownership until the 1960s is one about which we cannot be completely sure, but in the early 1800s Robert Hartley Cromek gained access to the interleaved SMM, published the note which he told us accompanied or was interleaf for the song, ‘The Highland Lassie O’ and Cromek also revealed the name ‘Mary Campbell’ for the first time in print. Cromek was one of the best early detectives of Burns’s life and work, expanding our knowledge of Burns in the years immediately following the first collected edition of Burns by James Currie in 1801. He seems to have been particularly good at winning the trust of those close to the poet, and travelled great distances on a number of occasions to interview Burns family members and acquaintances, including Burns’s mother and his brother Gilbert; and it is important to note that in the first twenty years of the nineteenth century as more and more commentary, more and more ‘facts’ emerged about Robert Burns, his brother Gilbert worked hard to correct errors and misinterpretation. Gilbert, to some extent, became keeper of Robert’s reputation. Cromek does not tell us precisely who gave him the name of Mary Campbell, but his close associations with the inner circles of Burns family and friends and Gilbert’s tacit acceptance of Cromek’s revelation of Mary Campbell allow us pretty conclusively to infer, that Cromek was telling the true and authorised version of Robert and Mary.

          As already mentioned, by the time Dick came to view the interleaved SMM, the note was missing, and he raised the possible alarm that Cromek was sensationally lying about the most direct piece of evidence for the importance of Mary Campbell to Burns. Now leaving aside the logic that I have just spelled out – that is clear that Cromek had the blessing of the Burns family in presenting the story to the world and that the source of his story was the Burns family itself – we can see up to a point why Dick thought he smelled a rat. Dick inspected the interleaved SMM after it had passed through the hands of a small number of owners so that by 1903 it was owned by a Miss Oakshott; she, seemingly, was the first of these private owners since the time of Cromek to allow scholarly access – which she gave to Dick. Around 15 interleaf annotations put into print by Cromek, including the ‘Highland Lassie’ note, were missing. Dick concluded that given the small number of owners of the interleaved SMM, these annotations had never existed. This was clearly based on the assumption that the set of volumes was privately treasured and protected. Although Dick seems not to have considered that his logic was a bit retrospective – Cromek was not to know that the interleaved SMM would stay in private hands and remain essentially unknown to the world for so long. Why would Cromek expect to accomplish such a deception?

           Less than entirely impressive though Dick’s logic was, the editor of the Burns Chronicle, Duncan McNaught published an article in 1909 inspired by Dick and called, ‘Cromek Convicted’. The Burnsian world was suddenly in the early 20th century sure that Cromek was a fraudster. And his case was not helped by his association with ‘Honest Allan Cunningham’: in one edition of Burns on which they collaborated, Cunningham and Cromek published a number of ‘new songs’ by Burns – these turned out, in fact, to be written by other people, some of them dating even from before when Burns was born; what we now fairly certainly know is that Cromek was largely ignorant of what Cunningham had been doing. But nonetheless, this unfortunate episode was remembered by Dick, McNaught and others as they became sure that Cromek had been lying about the annotations in the interleaved SMM.

      To cut a much longer story short, the tide turned back in Cromek’s favour in the 1920s when another scholar Davidson Cooke discovered some of the ‘missing’ annotations, or copies of the same, published by Cromek in the collection of Laing manuscripts in Edinburgh University Library.  These were manuscripts clearly in Burns’s hand. Davidson Cook on discovering the missing notes realised that although the ‘Highland lassie’ note was not among these, the probability was that it too was genuine and had existed even if it was now irretrievably lost.

     Now the story becomes a little odd and even a bit embarrassing for all Burns scholars! Biographers of Burns from the 1920s down to James Mackay in the 1980s thought the note probably was genuine, but it was just a shame that no-one knew where it was. Then in 2009, when Robert Crawford published his biography of the poet, The Bard, he referred to looking at a facsimile of the Highland Lassie note on the web – on the educational resource SCRAN. And guess what? When we look at the Highland Lassie note on SCRAN, we are told that it is the property of the Birthplace Museum in Alloway. Now some of this turn of events was being discussed on the Burns Federation website by a number of interested parties, with a minority claim that the note found in the Birthplace Museum was likely a forgery perpetrated by ‘Antique’ Smith in the late nineteenth century. Why would Smith forge the document however that everyone assumed to be nestling safely in the pages of the interleaved SMM?  This discussion was occurring while the Birthplace Museum was being renovated, and so the note like many items from Alloway was then in the safe-keeping of the National Library of Scotland. So, along with one of the Senior Curators I scrutinised the note. Ink and hand looked entirely genuine to both of us; more tellingly here though was the paper – pre-modern, rag-based paper has running through its batches rather distinctive ‘chainlines’. We looked for and found chainlines in the Highland Lassie note. And we had in front of us the volumes of the interleaved SMM so that we could compare it with other ‘non-removed’ notes. The paper, including the chainlines, was identical as was the size of the paper even down to mildly irregular edges. When we took the Highland Lassie note and place it in the interleaved SMM beside the song ‘The Highland Lassie’ note it fitted perfectly.

       The note was genuine and this was announced on the Burns Federation Forum and elsewhere. The central document attesting to Burns’s Highland Mary narrative was no longer in doubt. A big mystery remained, however. How long had the Birthplace Museum had the note and from whom did they acquire it? My first clue was the interleaved SMM itself which had been purchased for Alloway in 1964 for the sum of £5,500. Was it acquired at the same time from the source from whence it had come? Possibly, but unlikely since when Dick had inspected the same volumes in 1903, the note had been absent. At first little headway was made, except that the exhibit catalogues for the Birthplace Museum showed that the note had been exhibited for the public from 1963-1974. This was remarkable – they had the note at least one year before obtaining the interleaved SMM. I suspected that the catalogues of the Birthplace Museum would tell us more even if these were not entirely easy to read. And this turned out to be the case. We find in the Birthplace Museum catalogue – which isn’t all that precise – the following entry ‘Sixteen pages of lists of lists and words ... probably compiled in connection with Scots Musical Museum.’ This is for 1961. Now this item shifts about in its description through the 30s to the 60s, but to cut a long story short, we can work out that prior to the 60s there had been 17 pages of manuscript – this means it is highly likely that the 17 becomes 16 when the ‘Highland Lassie’ note is removed for display. But we can’t so far go further back than the 30s. The documentation, simply, is missing. Almost certainly though a discovery in the Ayrshire archives at Auchencruive provides the answer to when the Highland Lassie note was acquired by the Birthplace Museum. This followed on work undertaken by Julie Renfrew & Jean Nicolson (both of whom had been involved in the forum debate): a receipt was unearthed from 1907 where the BPM had bought from an Edinburgh bookseller for £150 a number of items including ‘1 page of Johnson’s Museum’. It is a shame we don’t have a more precise detailing of what this was, but it looks highly probably, in the absence of any other item with which it matches, to be the Highland Lassie note.  

              Now I’ve dwelt on this trail of literary detection, not only for its own sake, but because of what it tells us about the status of ‘Highland Mary’ in the late nineteenth and early twenty centuries. We are familiar with the story of the late nineteenth century ‘Mariolatory’ of Mary: in which case wasn’t this note more sought after, more publicised at least – the only authentic relic of Mary’s life from the hand of Robert Burns? One argument is that people were by 1907 contented with the ‘myth’ and didn’t need anything material. Is it perhaps the case that ‘we’ wanted not so much to believe the myth, but had largely dismissed ‘Highland Mary’ as myth; we were de-programmed to find any hard new evidence about Mary Campbell because we thought the record was so covered in mythic mud. If so, this is an understandable mass reaction. In 1896, Archibald Munro’s The Story of Burns and Highland Mary appeared and is full of unsourced and imaginatively inhabited ‘events’ in the life of Mary that it is virtually a work of fiction. It is novelistic, it is hagiographic; though I don’t entirely understand why it is so dismissed while Catherine Carswell’s almost equally novelistic Life of Burns from the 1930s is so accepted by many Bursnians. In the 1980s we had the often sound endeavours of James Mackay in ferreting out new information on Mary Campbell. His conclusion was that ‘Mary’ was actually ‘Margaret’ and this was based on a clever but not entirely conclusive use of baptismal registers. For a time, I accepted Mackay’s conclusion here; but thinking harder about it and along with several conversations with ‘Highland Mary’ scholar par excellence, Norrie Paton, I am sceptical about the ‘Margaret’ appellation. And principally because Cromek was not corrected by either the Burns or Campbell families, which would have been likely given these and many other people still alive in the early nineteenth century who seemingly knew ‘Mary’. What allows Mackay to run with his thesis about the name is the undoubted fact that ‘Mary’ is a common pastoral name, a literary type if you like, so that it could be argued that in ‘To Mary in Heaven’, Burns is wreathing his dead lover in literary archetype; a similar thing to how the poet’s passionate acquaintance of his Edinburgh years, Agnes McLehose becomes his ‘Clarinda’. Perhaps.

The other thing that goes against the appellation ‘Margaret’, is something highlighted by Robert Crawford in The Bard. This is the interview apparently given by Mary’s mother to ‘a Greenock paper’; this was reported in the Caledonian Mercury for 1823, in which Mrs Campbell clearly refers to her daughter throughout as ‘Mary’. It is just unfortunate that we can’t locate so far what this ‘Greenock’ newspaper was. This is one of a number of avenues of ‘new factual’ research that remain to be thoroughly carried out also.

       ‘Mary’ isn’t the only bit of the name that has come under sceptical consideration. We have the idea expressed that the ‘Highland’ moniker for her was a bit improbable. Why would Mary have spoken Gaelic, we are asked? Argyll by the late eighteenth century was really not part of the Gaelhealtachd. Well, there’s an argument to be had there, but let me just say that even if Gaelic was largely absent, or at least far from a majority tongue in places like Campbeltown and Dunoon, there were clearly in the lowlands significant pockets of Gaelic speakers from the west and the highlands, largely as a result of the pre-Clearances Highland migration that had been going on since 1746 and the defeat of the Jacobites. In towns such as Glasgow these highlanders in the late eighteenth century were often Catholics. In towns such as Greenock, they seem to be more Presbyterian. We know that there is a significant Gaelic speaking Presbyterian population in Greenock from at least the 1780s until the 1840s (and Greenock of course is where much of the Campbell family settle and where Mary dies and is buried). Again more work needs to be carried out along this avenue.

       Last year, an article in the (Glasgow) Herald newspaper seemed to carry suggestions that Mary Campbell ‘didn’t exist’. The point I think that was being attempted was that the legend had taken on a life of its own, and there is some truth in this. I think it is understandable to some extent that there should be a reaction against the importance of ‘Highland Mary’. Recently in Dundee city centre I went to view the rather fine and huge statue of Burns who is cast with eyes looking heavenwards ‘to Mary in Heaven’ and writing the text of the same name. A large number of statues throughout the world focus on this relationship of Burns & Mary. We might say ‘why not?’ But we might also ask ‘why?’ given that there are so many aspects of Burns’s life and career that are at least of equal interest. We can understand why Mary has been caught in the crossfire in a sense: she was used, we might argue, in the nineteenth century to sanitise Burns’s notorious relationships with a series of women; this man who made at least five women pregnant on at least thirteen occasions. Mary, safely dead was the ideal, the romantic love Burns had never really had (he even talks of his wife Jean in the most bawdy terms in his correspondence), reinstated in 19th century statues, portraits and porcelain-ware. This could, of course, even be historically justified given Burns’s own commemoration of Mary around the third anniversary of her death. Was she the love of his life? I don’t know (just as I don’t know whether, as some others claim, Jean Armour was the true love of his life).  But, if we need to be careful about the hagiography of ‘Highland Mary’, we should be wary also of its dark opposite: anti-myth. And here I have in mind particularly, Burns’s contemporary, John Richmond, who paints Mary’s character in black terms for the Train manuscript. This, like a number of things in Jim Mackay’s biography is taken at face value; to quote Norrie Paton, ‘No mention by Mackay that Richmond was an absolute scoundrel’. True: and the Train manuscripts which I’ve been working on in another context (Burns’s career in the Excise) are far from reliable – much of material passed on to biographers is collated from the time of Cromek’s Reliques when people are realising that there is money to be made from memorials of a poet whose fame, if anything, is growing after his death. We have to be mindful of this when we use the early nineteenth century Train manuscripts. Richmond had Burns realising Mary is unfaithful, but ‘like a dog to its vomit’ returning to her. Not least among the impediments to the idea of Burns’s discovery of Mary’s character is that this was supposed to have happened in a pub called ‘the Elbow’ in Mauchline according Richmond. No one can find any record of there ever having been any such pub. What this suddenly new, uncorroborated story from the early nineteenth century seems to do is to provide an explanation, in the absence of any other, for how quickly Burns could wholly turn to Jean once Mary was dead. In other words it is about vindicating one individual Burns, who has clear moral difficulties by blackening the name of another, Mary, whose life is actually much more of a blank and so in a sense safely to be castigated.

       In seeking to find Mary’s actual baptismal record (which he thinks he has with the revelation also of the ‘Margaret’ moniker) and with his reliance on Richmond’s testimony we see James Mackay’s attempt to breathe new life into the rather frozen legend. This in itself is a worthwhile instinct. Along this trajectory, however, he is much accurate when he investigates the evidence surrounding Mary Campbell’s grave. This was dug up in 1920 and because the boards of an infant’s coffin were found there (a decade later) Catherine Carswell stated definitively that Mary had either been pregnant with or gave birth to Burns’s child as she died. Again: an entirely ‘new-fangled’ claim without any contemporary corroboration. It is also a doubtful one, not least because many people were often to be found in the one grave and not least at a time when infant mortality was very high and expensive grave space at a premium. Not long after and in response to Carswell’s biography, testimony even emerged (as reported in the Campeltown Courier) from descendants of the family whose baby had been placed in the grave, which was certainly not, if this was accurate, the child of either Robert or Mary.     

          So, what is the evidence for the canonical story of Burns & Mary Campbell? Well, that which we’ve covered already: Cromek’s testimony tacitly accepted by contemporaries and family members (both the Burns & the Campbells), the note itself, which he was the first to publish. And this is undoubtedly in Burns’s hand and from the interleaved Scots Musical Museum.  We should also note something about the relationship of Burns to Robert Riddell to whom he gifted the interleaved SMM. This was intended as a private gift to a highly trusted and confidential friend. The note is Burns entrusting to Riddell an intimate secret about his life that he didn’t intend to be widely broadcast in his lifetime or perhaps ever. This is also strongly suggestive that we are dealing with ‘the truth’. Other bits of evidence would be impressive in a court of law. To wit, Burns’s sister Isobel recalling how Burns received a letter in late 1786 (that’s as precise as she could be), and looked in agony as he read this, quickly leaving the room. Isobel was in no doubt that this was the epistle informing Burns of Mary’s death from – quote - ‘a malignant fever  [that] hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days before I could even hear of her illness’, words that now since 2010, we know to be, without any doubt, those written by Burns himself. Also, in one of several breaches with his great confidante Mrs Dunlop in July 1789 he says, in response to a very cold letter from her that Mrs Dunlop’s epistle has given him ‘more pain’ than any letter he had ever received, ‘one excepted’. The best logic, accepted by most Burns scholars, is that Burns here refers to the (now lost) letter of 1786 telling him of Mary’s demise. Not impossible that this could turn up, though it is quite likely that Burns destroys this letter. Something that biographers have not emphasised enough is that Burns himself is discreet about Mary Campbell; for personal reasons of discretion and also probably for the sake of the Campbell family. Burns is aware from early on that he has a certain notoriety. He is attacked for impiety and also over his sexual mores. He does not entirely help himself, of course, by defiantly boasting about his sexual prowess in some poems and songs that enjoyed quite wide private circulation.

         Burns’s relative silence about Mary Campbell has been taken to signify her lack of importance to him; actually, there is a strong element of sacred memory that might be argued on Burns’s part. His most explicit utterances on her are in his songs, ‘Thou Lingering Star’ and in ‘Highland Mary’. In the case of the latter, as with the note, Burns insists on the biographical dimension: he sends ‘Highland Mary’ to George Thomson, noting to his editor – ‘The subject of the song is one of the most interesting passages of my youthful days.’ A very interesting comment is made additionally by the poet when he says he’d like to see the song enjoy ‘celebrity’. From early on, Burns is himself a celebrity, talking at length about his life, not least in a long letter to Dr John Moore in 1787 after his first flush of fame, where he sets out on paper those influences that have contributed to his formation. He talks also about misfortunes in his life; talking of late 1786, he claims his ‘chest was on the road to Greenock’ [as part of his plan to emigrate to Jamaica]. What changes everything, he says, was a letter  from Dr Blacklock which brings home to him the idea that literary success is now within his grasp. Now Blacklock was a dear friend for Burns in the period 1786-7, but what one man could have said about Burns’s poems, not yet widely known, that would have been so persuasive to stop Burns from going overseas is very unclear. What we have in the Moore letter, arguably, is a sanitised version of his life; a substitution effect I think in the case of the Blacklock letter which replaces a key narrative moment – another letter, the news of Mary Campbell’s death. Burns’s own ‘celebrity’ was mounted at the expense of certain true facts about his life. Some years later, when sending the song ‘Highland Mary’ to Thomson, he wants to balance things up – to redress the airbrushing found in the likes of the Moore letter.  In ‘Highland Mary’ for which he desires some ‘celebrity’, he very precisely sets the biographical record straight: he tells us he took leave of his love, Mary, at the castle of Montgomery, near Tarbolton. He also says they pledged to meet again,

But oh! 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!

Unless Burns makes up imaginary friends, how much clearer can the record be, it might be asked? Burns wants the biography that he has suppressed, for perfectly understandable human reasons, to be published in another form – a most potent form – through one of his songs. So, yes there is something in the claim of Victorian Mariolatory, but it is a crucial point that Burns starts off something of the process of the ‘romantic’ memorialisation of Mary Campbell.

         One of the things we are constantly up against in Burns Studies, is the idea that we know everything, that there is no more to be found. Apart from the general serendipity of what might appear in future there are at least four angles that require some more investigation, I believe. One of these is a suggestion already mentioned by my colleague Nigel Leask that since the name of Campbell is so prominent in the Scottish plantations of the West Indies it is possible that the reason Burns and Mary planned so to emigrate was because doors were particularly open via a Campbell connection. As Professor Leask would be the first to admit this is pure speculation, but it would be worth a look at the archives in the West Indies, or elsewhere related to Campbell plantation activity to see what might present itself. A second thing, I’ve long wondered about: the association of Mary Campbell with Lochranza as a maid to the Reverend David Campbell; this was supposedly when Mary was 16 until about the age of 18. This story was popularised by Archibald Munro in his book of the 1890s. The main problem is that there was apparently no such minister in Lochranza during the early 1780s. Is Munro simply making this up? Is it virtually a piece of fraud? Or, possibly, might it be a garbled version of some Arran association, perhaps where Mary was in service to a kirk elder rather than a minister? This is worth following up. More substantially (at the moment) are two other areas: the Bibles supposedly exchanged by Robert & Mary; and the connection of Mary and the Campbell family with Greenock.

      The story that Burns & Mary exchanged bibles is first heard of via Robert Cromek, who, as I’ve mentioned, was busy in the early 1800s obtaining information from family, friends and contemporaries of the two lovers. What we now know about Cromek a propos the Highland Lassie note means that it’d be a brave and foolhardy person who would dismiss other elements of Cromek’s story. Nonetheless it would be good if we could have further corroboration. One of the supposed Bibles is extant: owned by the Birthplace Museum in Alloway. It is not surprising that Burns does not mention this episode – given his general discretion and the fact that he was attacked throughout his career for a cavalier attitude to (Presbyterian) Christianity. Again, the exchange (celebrated in several paintings) is too romantically iconic a moment. The twentieth century determination (rightfully so often) to de-romanticise Burns inoculates itself against such episodes. But it does not mean that the exchange of Bibles did not happen! Again, I want to ask if it were a total fabrication in 1808 by Cromek, why did Gilbert not object? Although I should acknowledge that one possible answer is that Gilbert too may have found this a convenient fiction, showing Burns a propos Mary in entirely honourable light. The records for the Birthplace Museum for 25th January 1841 record the following:

      At the Anniversary Dinner held this Day at Burns' Monument in honour of the Birth of   
      the Poet Robert Burns, David Limond Esquire of Dalblair Provost of Ayr presented to the
      Trustees of Burns' Monument the Bibles given by Burns to His "Highland Mary", which
      Bibles had been purchased by Subscription at Montreal, Lower Canada, and transmitted
      to the Provost of Ayr for presentation to the Monument erected on the Banks of the Doon
      near Ayr.

The Bibles had been taken to Canada in the first place by William Anderson, son of Robert Anderson and Anne Campbell, Mary’s sister. There are newspaper accounts of the Bibles being on view on Montreal. This, along with the Birthplace Museum records, inclines me to the belief that the Bibles (both of them) existed. The question is where is the missing one?

    Finally, I want to say a few words about the Greenock connection. Stories that Mary’s family were incensed by Robert Burns have perhaps been over-emphasised; though I’d imagine there was a certain amount of hurt towards Robert as he soon thrived as a poet and Mary was, seemingly, airbrushed out of his life-story. It is likely, however, that the Campbell family noticed Burns’s exertions on Mary’s behalf in his songs to Thomson etc. Some of the Campbell family were involved in the early Greenock Burns Club attempts to commemorate Mary Campbell, and so cement the association between the pair. The concerted activity leading to the erection of the fine grave memorial in 1842 attests to the positive view of Mary & her relationship with Burns (and this includes also the business of the Bibles in the safekeeping to begin with of William Anderson). There has been no full trawl of Campbell and Anderson family memories from the first half of the nineteenth century down to the present. There are still Andersons and Campbells or their descendants and there must still be oral memory there that simply has not been explored.  Again we notice a certain complacency, perhaps, that we know everything that can be gleaned, and that we perhaps tend to mistrust ‘legend’ and ‘myth’, or be a bit too certain about the unreliability of these things. The interview in the ‘Greenock paper’ reported by the Caledonian Mercury and discovered as late as this century proves that more can be turned up. If only we could unearth a copy of the original newspaper itself!

      It is time for researchers to go back to ‘Highland Mary’ in the belief that ‘new’ sources are still out there. There is more to come, I’m sure, about that very real lover of Robert Burns, Mary Campbell of Argyllshire.

Return to Robert Burns Lives! Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus