Honorary Members 1828 to 1851

1828 John Galt, James Montgomery
1829 William Motherwell, William Tennant, Rev David Landsborough, James Stirrat, Allan Cunningham
1830 Ten other nominees
1833 (Not an hon. member: Charles Lockhart)
1836 Sir James Shaw
1837 13th Earl of Eglinton & Winton
1838/39/45 Six other nominees
1840 Major James Glencairn Burns
1846 Patrick Maxwell, Alex Smart, Thomas C Latto; also three other nominees
1851 William Howitt, Dr Charles Mackay, Charles Dickens


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John Galt (1779-1839) Honorary Member 1828

His life & works:

John Galt was born in Irvine, the son of a sea captain. His family moved to Greenock in 1789. Working there, and later, from 1804, in London, where he printed an epic on the Battle of Largs, he tried both commerce and law, but failed in each, and went abroad for some years with the sole purpose of re-establishing his health. Travelling to the Mediterranean, he had the good luck to make the acquaintance of Lord Byron. As Galt travelled, via Malta and Constantinople, he gathered materials for his book 'Voyages and Travels'. Returning in 1812, he made his name as a writer with 'The Ayrshire Legatees' (1820), 'Annals of the Parish' (1821), 'The Provost' (1822), 'Sir Andrew Wyllie' (1822) and 'The Entail' (1823). The work mentioned in the minute of his nomination is 'The Ayrshire Legatees'.

He unsuccessfully represented Canadian claimants in their attempt to recoup war losses of 1812. His life was one of imaginative enterprises, and scheme after scheme, although prosperous for a while, brought only disappointment and bitterness in the end.

In 1826, he was awarded the freedom of the Burgh of Irvine by Bailie Fullarton (a councillor for 42 years, 1790-1832), his model for Provost Pawkie in The Provost.

In Canada, as manager of a land development company, from 1826, John Galt enjoyed short-lived success. Leading ox-teams from the town of Galt in 1827, he established Guelph, so named to honour King George IV. Later accused of overspending on the new settlement, in 1829 he returned to Britain as an impoverished adventurer, lost his case, and spent the rest of his life in poverty. In total, John Galt wrote about 50 novels, 30 dramas and many poems. He died in Greenock.

In 2007, the City of Guelph initiated an annual John Galt Day on the first Monday in August.


His letter, written from Guelph, Ontario, on 20 July 1828:


     When an opportunity occurs you will have the goodness to intimate to the Irvine Burns Club that I feel exceedingly gratified with the honour conferred in electing me as honorary member. The distinction is the more agreeable as it has been, probably in part, bestowed by the goodwill of some of my old schoolfellows & longsyne companions.
     For the manner in which you have been pleased to communicate the circumstance of my election I can only beg your acceptance of my best acknowledgements.
    I have the honor to be
Your most obedient humble servant
John Galt

His letter is addressed to
the then Secretary
of Irvine Burns Club:
James Dobie, Esq.,
Beith, N.B.

(North Britain)

His letter is postmarked "Lewiston / July 30 / N.Y."

A plaque marking the site of his birthplace is on the wall of the Bank of Scotland building on the High Street.

James Montgomery (1771-1854) Honorary member 1828

His life & works:

Between 1771 and 1776, James Montgomery's parents, Brother and Sister John Montgomery, attempted to set up a church of the Moravian Brethren at the Braid Close in the Halfway district of the town. Though there was as yet no church of any kind in Fullarton, their efforts met with little success. In 1776, they moved to Ireland and, shortly afterwards, to Yorkshire. Thus, by the time he was eight, he had lived in Scotland, Ireland and England. He was born at 26 Montgomery St (now demolished). Our minutes record him as "the Author of 'The World before the Flood'".

James Montgomery was greatly esteemed by his contemporaries, first as a journalist and reformer (he was one of the main campaigners against the practice of using children as chimney-sweepers), then as a poet, (including numerous epitaphs for Sheffield graves, and many hymns, of which thirteen are still in today's Church of Scotland hymnary) giving him the title 'the Christian poet', and finally as an editor (of the weekly 'Sheffield Iris') and critic. His work and character were praised by Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and many others, on both sides of the Atlantic. William Howitt (hon. member 1851) wrote: "Perhaps there are no lyrics in the language that are so truly Christian."

His 'West Indies' is an impressive anti-slavery document, born from the experiences of his parents, sent as missionaries in 1783 to the West Indies, where they died and were buried.

Aged 70, he re-visited Irvine, and was presented with the freedom of the burgh. When he died in Sheffield in 1854, the cortege and procession took over four hours to pass by. [Marking the Club's purchase of his birthplace, and his help to a Derbyshire friend after a business failure, the friend's son presented the Club with a Loving Cup in January 1870.]

His letter, written from Sheffield on 16 Feb., 1828:


     Please to accept my best thanks for the kind manner in which you have communicated to me the honour, which so respectable a class of my native townspeople have conferred on me, in token of their approbation of my sincere and strenuous endeavours (however humble and feeble comparatively) to deserve the regard of my countrymen. I was removed from Irvine at so early a period that it is now remembered only as the first, perhaps the loveliest, of my morning dreams in life. Though naturalized in England, my pulse has ever beat true to the land of my birth, and while it beats at all, I trust it will always quicken at the sound of whatever is said or done to the glory of Scotland. My estimate of the talents of Robert Burns, the members of your Society may perhaps have found in my latest publication, the volume containing "The Pelican Island", etc.
      Please to present my grateful acknowledgements to the Irvine Burns Club and believe me, truly, your obliged friend & servt,
     J Montgomery

His surname appears as Montgomery both in the Church of Scotland hymnary and in Strawhorn's "History of Irvine"; however, while the end of his signature is unclear in the letter, the spelling on its reverse is the older version 'Montgomerie'.

The Moravian Brethren were a Protestant sect holding Hussite doctrines (from John Huss, a Bohemian religious reformer of the 15th c.), founded in Saxony by emigrants from Moravia (now the eastern half of the Czech Republic).

'The Pelican Island" (1827), his last and greatest long poem, also his most original and most powerful, shows a sympathetic and humanistic approach to Man.

His 'Robert Bums' (1820) begins: "What bird, in beauty, flight, or song, Can with the Bard compare?" and ends: "Peace to the dead! - in Scotia's choir / Of Minstrels great and small, / He sprang from his spontaneous fire, / The Phoenix of them all". (A rather ornithological tribute, with 19 birds in its 11 verses.)

The plaque which once marked his birthplace is now in the nearby Fullarton Parish Church.

Hymns by James Montgomery - in the Church Hymnary, 3rd edition:
#38 – Songs of praise the angels sang, #39 – Stand up, and bless the Lord, #117 – Command thy blessing from above, #182 – Angels from the realms of glory, #317 – Hail to the Lord’s anointed, #332 – Lord God, the Holy Ghost, #404 – God is my strong salvation, #471 – Lift up your heads, ye gates of brass, #496 – O Spirit of the Living God, #585 – According to thy gracious Word, #597 – Pour out thy Spirit from on high, #609 – This stone to thee in faith we lay, #665 – O God, thou art my God alone

William Motherwell (1797-1835) Honorary member 1829

His life & works:

Being invited to become an Honorary Member at the age of only 31 demonstrates the regard which his contemporaries had for the talents and achievements of William Motherwell, poet, antiquary and journalist. His first known poem was written while at school in Edinburgh, where he was inspired by Jeannie Morrison, who sat next to him ("I've wandered east, I've wandered west, / Through mony a weary way; / But never, never can forget / The luve o' life's young day!"); also in those early years, Motherwell developed an interest in copying and imitating old manuscripts. He was Secretary of Paisley Burns Club at the age of 20. For him and others like him, Scotland's ballads and songs compensated for the lack of political Scottish identity, and his concern was to preserve such evidence of a Scottish cultural heritage before it was lost through the deaths of the older generation or obliterated by political and social change.

At 15, he was placed as clerk in the office of the sheriff-clerk of Paisley, and, at only 21, was appointed sheriff-clerk depute of the county of Renfrew. This office brought both a considerable income and no little danger, due to the Radical movements of the period among the weavers of the district. Indeed, in his first year, he was hustled by a frantic mob to the parapet of a bridge and almost thrown into the river. Motherwell kept his ardent poetical temperament under check, and pursued literary interests, enlarging his library, writing in prose and verse, and contributing to periodicals. His major work was published in 1827: "Minstrelsy, Ancient and Modern", based on his researches into Scottish antiquarianism. In 1828, he launched the "Paisley Magazine", contributing to it some of his best poetry, and took a keen interest in the collecting of Scotland's songs and ballads (eg subscribing to Peter Buchan's 1828 book "Ancient Ballads and Songs of the North of Scotland", containing such tales as 'The Virginian Maid's Lament' about one of the many Scots children stolen from their parents and transported and sold as slaves, between 1735 and 1753). From May 1828 to October 1830, Motherwell was editor of the "Paisley Advertiser", a Conservative newspaper. At this point he had gained a considerable reputation not only as a poet but as a political journalist. His appointment to the 'Advertiser' not only brought financial remuneration but also allowed him to resign his position as depute sheriff clerk, a repetitive and routine job that must have frustrated his creative and literary interests.

Motherwell associated with the poets Robert Tannahill and James Hogg (the Ettrick Shepherd). Such was the reputation of Paisley that he once described the town as "a nest of singing birds". In 1830, he was appointed editor of the "Glasgow Courier", championing Toryism at a time of political upheaval in Europe, and, as a traditionalist and antiquarian, totally opposed to the Reform Bill, passed in 1832. He worked with Hogg on an edition of Burns, but did not live to see it completed, dying during the publication of its five volumes in 1834-36. He was able to trace linking themes and influences among the Scottish, Gaelic and English ballads and songs. His work was a great influence on Francis James Child (1825-96), the Boston-born American collector and researcher of ballads - Child's research was international, covering 37 languages, and, like Motherwell's, focused on the words and themes rather than the music. Influenced by Motherwell, Child sought to publish all extant versions in copies as close to oral tradition as possible; thus Motherwell's work "was the sine qua non for ballad scholarship in the modern sense" (Brown, 2001).

William Motherwell's work was cut short by his death less than three weeks after his 38th birthday, from apoplexy (a stroke), caused, some say, by overwork - the "Glasgow Courier" appeared thrice weekly, and he "found it impossible to command his attention to every scene of action, and his temper upon every variety of subject". His funeral was attended by mourners of every political opinion. His monument in Glasgow Necropolis (1851) was executed by James Fillans (1808-52; his most famous work are the Corinthian capitals on Glasgow Royal Exchange, now GOMA, for which he was nicknamed 'the young Athenian'), who had particularly admired Motherwell, and had executed a number of portraits of him; the monument lost its Parian marble bust of the poet c.1970s, and its incised friezes of scenes from Motherwell's works (eg Halberd The Grim) are decaying rapidly. Apart from the edition of Burns, also unfinished at his death was a prose collection of Norse legends, said to be of great power and beauty, and materials for a life of Tannahill. More of his poetry appeared in "The American Whig Review" and "The United States Democratic Review" (both in 1851).

William Motherwell's fame continues into the 21st century. Research for this article led to a Czech version of one of his poems. It also led to "The Wars of Germany", lyrics by Motherwell, melody traditional, arranged and sung by the Tannahill Weavers; the song capturing, with all the emotion of a possibly final parting, the departure of a girl's "sodger lad" to "bluidy wars in High Germany". This century, Mary Ellen Brown, Professor of Folklore and Adjunct Professor of English at Indiana University, has published "William Motherwell's Cultural Politics" (2001, Univ. of Kentucky Press), as well as a book on Child (2001) and a book on Burns and Tradition (Macmillan, 1984) - the bulk of her academic career has been spent on researching 18th & 19th century Scottish materials, and her book on Motherwell is fascinating for its Motherwell-oriented insights to West of Scotland culture and politics of the time.

William Motherwell therefore is a significant figure not only at the time of his acceptance as an Honorary Member but also in the overall picture of cross-cultural influences, then and today, in the field of research into culture, politics and tradition. Like Burns and so many others, his life was short but his legacy significant.

IJD (who much enjoyed doing the research for this appreciation)

His letter, written from the Advertiser Office in Paisley on 14 Feb., 1829:


     I had the honour of receiving your gratifying communication of the 2d Instant announcing that the Irvine Burns Club at their Anniversary held on the 26 Ult had conferred on me the destinction of adding my name to their list of Honorary Members.
     Though perfectly unconscious of any adequate literary exertion on my part which could lead me to expect such an honor I feel the worth of being so distinguished by the Club; and, while I gratefully accept of this mark of their regard, I beg you will, at your first meeting, convey to them my sincere thanks for the distinction they have been pleased to confer on me.
     But though on the score of literary talent I disclaim all title to be ranked among your numbers allow me to say that in honest admiration of the highly gifted Son of Genius to whom the Club is dedicated I would be unfond to yield in intensity of feeling to the most enthusiastic of those with whom I am now proud to recognize myself as associated in the character of an Honorary Member.
     On reference to the date of your letter I am under the necessity of apologizing for my delay in answering it, which arose from my having entrusted myself with depositing an answer in the post office. My answer which I had written on receipt found its way to my pocket but never to the mail bag. Only this evening I discovered my omission and have now endeavoured to repair an unintentional piece of impoliteness.
     I have the honour to be,
     Your most Obedt. Servt.
     W Motherwell

(The word 'unfond' is recognised in the Scots Dictionary.)

William Tennant (1784-1848) Honorary member 1829

His life & works:

William Tennant, an accomplished linguist, enjoyed immediate success with his long epic poem "Anster Fair" (of which more below) published in 1812 and revised for a second edition in 1814. Of his several other works in the following fifteen years, none approached "Anster Fair" either in merit or in popularity. Nevertheless, that initial success, coupled with his prodigious mastery of languages, ensured his continuing high regard.

Born in Anstruther, Fife, he was lame, from infancy, in both legs and used crutches all his life. At 15, he went to St Andrews University and studied Latin and Greek for two years until financial pressures caused his return home, where he taught himself Hebrew and read the whole Hebrew Bible. Employed as a clerk by his brother, a corn factor, he studied language after language - even Gaelic ("the most impracticable of all living languages") well enough to read the Highland New Testament with ease and fluency.

On the collapse of the corn-factor business, he devoted his time to writing "Anster Fair", in six cantos. A popular Scottish ballad (dated 1642; attributed to Francis Sempill) tells of Maggie Lauder, a bonnie and lively lass, captivated by Rab the Ranter. Tennant's mock-heroic work tells of the contest for her hand at Anstruther Fair, "our famous market-day". The description is vivid and amusing; the contests include sack-racing, ass-racing and bagpiping; the style is one of exuberant wit, with fantastical classical allusions contrasting with the simple scenes of a Scottish town. The 'ottava rima' metre, previously long-neglected in English poetry, but known to Tennant from his studies of Italian verse, was adopted thereafter by, among others, Lord Byron in 'Don Juan', and may have had some influence on James Hogg (Gioia Angeletti, Università di Bologna, 1998).

William Tennant then became schoolmaster at a village conveniently near to St Andrews and its college library, and taught himself Syriac, Persian and Arabic languages. In 1816 he was promoted to a post at Lasswade (chiefly through the kind offices of George Thomson, the friend and correspondent of Burns), bringing him into contact with Edinburgh literary society. In 1819 he was appointed teacher of classical and oriental languages at what was to become Dollar Academy. Settled into this post, he was made an honorary member of Dumfries Burns Club in 1822 and of Irvine Burns Club in 1829.

In 1834 (or '35) Tennant was appointed Professor of Oriental Languages at St Andrews University. Devongrove, a pleasant villa, remained his home, and its library was his world. He died there, weakened by a cold of two years' standing.

A longer biography is available on the Web at electricscotland.com, but web-searching for "Anster Fair" may also lead you to a totally different poem "The Culprit Fay" (1817) by American poet Joseph Rodman Drake - though it takes its cue from one verse of Tennant's work, it bears no resemblance to it. Let us remember this Honorary Member as the author of the real "Anster Fair" and as a figure who, in his determination to overcome the limitations imposed by lameness, encouraged a love of literature and languages among the young minds in his care and among his many friends.

IJD (who much enjoyed doing the research for this appreciation)

His letter, written from Devongrove, Dollar Institute, on 5 Feb., 1829:


     I am favoured with your much esteemed letter of 2d informing me that the Burns Club of Irvine, of which you are Chairman, elected me on the 26th ulto an Honorary Member of that joyous association.
     I beg, Sir, you will accept for yourself as Chairman, for the Secretary and for the other members, my warmest acknowledgements for the honour conferred upon me. It rejoices me, at this distance, to have my name enrolled as a partaking and sympathising brother, among those, or the sons of those, who were nearest and dearest to the great Poet of the west - in a town rendered to me of something like classical attraction by its being the scene of his juvenile amusements, enthusiastic friendships, and most exuberant jollity, the spirit of which, as originally excited by the Bard will I hope ever continue to animate and beatify all your meetings.
     I have the honour to be, Sir, with all best wishes and respects
     Your very faithful and most obliged <servant>
     Wm Tennant

The letter was written to George Johnston (of Redburn Cottage), who, as President 1828-29, had invited him to accept Honorary Membership.

(The word 'beatify' is used to mean 'bless'.)


Tennant's "Anster Fair" - a few stanzas to give the flavour of the style:

The elf from Maggie Lauder's mustard pot plays the pipes and gets her, and her kitchen, to dance:

He [spoke], and to his wee mouth dewy-wet,
His bagpipe's tube of silver up he held,
And, underneath his down-press'd arm he set
His purple bag that with a tempest swell'd;
He play'd and pip'd so sweet, that never yet
Mag had a piper heard that Puck excell'd;
Had Midas heard a tune so exquisite,
By heav'n! his long base ears had quiver'd with delight.

Tingle the fire-ir'ns, poker, tongs, and grate,
Responsive to the blithesome melody;
The tables and the chairs inanimate
Wish they had muscles now to trip it high;
Wave back and forwards at a wondrous rate,
The window-curtains, touch'd with sympathy;
Fork, knife, and trencher, almost break their sloth,
And caper on their ends upon the table-cloth.

How then could Maggie, sprightly, smart and young,
Withstand that bagpipe's blithe awak'ning air?
She, as her ear-drum caught the sounds, up-sprung
Like lightning, and despis'd her idle chair,
And into all the dance's graces flung
The bounding members of her body fair;
From nook to nook through all her room she tript,
And whirl'd like whirligig, and reel'd, and bobb'd, and skipt.

Rev David Landsborough (1782-1854) Honorary member 1829

His life & works:

Dr Landsborough was the well-respected minister, first of the parish of Stevenston from 1811, then, from the time of the disruption in 1843, of the Free Church congregation at Saltcoats until his death in 1854, when he fell victim to cholera while helping to alleviate the suffering of the people of Saltcoats during the plague. His name continues in Saltcoats, though not on the building in which he preached. Born In Dalry, Galloway, he was educated there, then at Dumfries Academy, then gained his D.D. at the University of Edinburgh. While studying for the ministry, he was tutor in the family of Lord Glenluce. As a minister, he won the respect and veneration of adherents of all religious denominations.

His first published work was a poem on "Arran" (Blackwood, 1828); it was this that prompted the members of Irvine Burns Club to offer him honorary membership. However, his over-riding interest was in the natural history of the island, his scientific research leading to successful works such as a "Popular History of British Sea-weeds" (1847) and a "Popular History of British Zoophytes", with his research focussed primarily on the Ayrshire and Arran shores. An alga was named after him, and a shell, and he maintained an extensive correspondence with naturalists throughout Britain. He proclaimed the praise of his favourite island in "Excursions", in which he describes its natural history in a very readable manner. He has been described as "a gentleman who is familiar with every mountain, glen and bay in Arran". Therefore, though his honorary membership initially celebrated one poem, it in the end celebrates his life's second calling - careful and loving research on the shores of that unique island.

His son William (1825-86) walked a 12-mile round trip each day to attend Irvine Royal Academy, emigrated to Australia in 1841 and there became a noted explorer, writer and sketcher in the 1850s and 1860s.

His letter, written from Stevenston Manse on 4 Feb., 1829:


My dear Sir,
     Allow me to return the Members of Irvine Burns Club my best thanks for the honour they have done me in electing me an Honorary Member of that Club.
     Whether the Author of "Arran" be a Poet, is perhaps very problematical; but I fear that the pleasure your letter gave him, is a proof that he has at least all a Poet's vanity. Better feelings however than those of vanity were gratified, as he failed not to ascribe the honour which has been conferred on him, to the kind partiality of respected neighbours and friends.
     In one respect he is not altogether undeserving of the honour, as he will not yield to the most gifted Member of the Club, in high admiration of the splendid genius of our great Ayrshire Bard.
     With many thanks to you Mr Chairman for the handsome terms in which you have couched this communication, and with every good wish for you and all the Members of our Club. I have the honour to be
     My dear Sir
     Yours very sincerely
     David Landsborough

The letter was written to George Johnston (of Redburn Cottage), who, as President 1828-29, had invited him to accept Honorary Membership.

James Stirrat (1781-1843) Honorary member 1829

His life & works:

James Stirrat was (quoting the site www.beith.org) "proud of his position as postmaster in Dalry, Ayrshire, where his local knowledge of the people and the district were a distinct advantage, having been brought up and educated in the town". The postmaster in a small village was respected almost as much as the minister and doctor.

He was a great admirer of Robert Burns, both as a man and a poet, and often contributed verse of his own to local functions in honour of the Bard, although not a formal member of the Dalry Burns Club. He contributed poems to our 1828, 1829 and 1830 Annual Dinners.

The last verse of the poem he wrote for the 1829 anniversary gives a flavour of his work:

He needs nae monumental stanes
   To keep alive his fame;
Auld Granny Scotland and her weans
   Will ever sing his name.
For nae name does Fame record,
   Nae name ava,
By Caledonia mair adored
   Than Robin's that's awa'.

His letter, written from Dalry on 5th Feb., 1829:


     I have just now reced yours intimating that the Irvine Burns' Club had done me the favour of adding my name to the list of their Honorary Members, for which I beg to make my warmest acknowledgements. That my humble efforts in the literary way should have been so fortunate as to attract the favourable notice of the Gentlemen who form the Irvine Club is, to me, a gratifying circumstance and would be doubly so were I conscious of meriting so flattering a distinction.
     I am, Sir,
     Yours respectfully,
     James Stirrat


Allan Cunningham (1784-1842) Honorary member 1829

His life & works:

Born in Dumfriesshire, he claimed to remember Burns recite Tam O' Shanter to his father in 1790. Although apprenticed at the age of 10 to a stone-mason, Cunningham's interest in poetry and song led to his being employed, in 1809, by Robert Hartley Cromek (1770-1812; the English author of Reliques of Robert Burns, 1808 ) to collect ballads for his Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song (1810) - instead he sent his own productions (probably with Cromek's knowledge), which were quickly recognised as forgeries. Cunningham then went to London in 1810, where he at first supported himself by journalism, but afterwards, from 1814, was clerk of the works in the studio of Francis Chantrey, the sculptor,until the sculptor's death in 1841.

Donald A Low has written (in Robert Burns: The Critical Heritage): "Several Scots-born writers contributed significantly in this period to the continuously expanding discussion of Burns. Among them . . . Allan Cunningham, in addition to linking a description of the funerals of Burns [which he witnessed in Dumfries in 1796 at the age of 12] and Byron, started to develop criticism of the songs based on knowledge - not always exact - of Burns' local sources of inspiration. . . . While there was general agreement in Scotland about Burns' quality as a poet, many aspects of his work were only beginning to be explored."

It is against this background that Allan Cunningham's honorary membership should be viewed. He had become a well-established editor, poet and journalist in London, publishing, for example, The Songs of Scotland, Ancient and Modern, with introduction and notes, in four volumes in 1825. A drama, Sir Marmaduke Maxwell (1820) and two novels Paul Jones and Sir Michael Scott were beautiful and stirring products of a wild imagination but never achieved public acclaim. The Works of Burns, with notes and a life, in eight volumes, was published after his honorary membership of this Club, in 1834. Snyder (1968) regarded Cunningham's biography as "absolutely unreliable", but we should perhaps appreciate the achievement of those early editors, in popularising and celebrating Robert Burns, rather than apply today's more critical standards too strictly to their publications. Cunningham wrote: "Burns was one of the first to teach the world that high moral poetry resided in the humblest subjects: whatever he touched became elevated; his spirit possessed and inspired the commonest topics, and endowed them with life and beauty."

His letter, written from Lower Belgrave Place on 7th Dec., 1829:


My dear Sir,
     I beg that you will express my acknowledgements to the Burns Club of Irvine for the distinction they have conferred in making me an Honorary Member. At present circumstances prevent me taking my place amongst you, but I hope the day is not distant when I shall appear at the social board of my Brethren and like a true subject offer my homage to the memory of the Prince of Peasant Poets.
     No confession of faith in the genius of Burns is necessary from one who can say all his poetry by heart but even this merit I am glad to say is not great for I meet not with a Scotchman who could not quote him largely. Lockhart's manly life of a very manly Poet - of a poet who spoke passionately of the present and intensely of the future - has left little to be devised and perhaps nothing to be got; but I would advise the Club to keep a Burns' Memorandum Book and insert in it all well authenticated anecdotes or sayings of his with the names of those who related them. I need not tell a good Antiquarian that all letters and scraps touched with the pen of the Bard are of importance. I wish you a full Meeting - a pithy grace - a plentiful dinner - short speeches - and six gladsome hours.
     Yours ever,
     Allan Cunningham



William Dobie, of Beith, brother of James Dobie, the second President, was also elected as an Honorary Member in 1829, but there is no letter of acceptance in our files, nor was one mentioned when the receipt of the other five 1829 letters are minuted. (The Dobie letter filed is a routine business letter from James Dobie.)

William Dobie (1790-1868) entered 'a mechanical profession' in Beith but did not care for such practical work. When 'the munificence of a wealthy relative enabled him to retire' (in 1822, aged 32), he did so, and devoted the rest of his life to travelling in Britain and abroad and recording history. Amongst his published works are a manuscript volume 'Perambulations in Kintyre' with detailed descriptions of emblems and inscriptions on sculptured grave-slabs and tombstones, 'Parish Churches and Burying-grounds of Ayrshire' and the Kilbirnie entry in the 1840 'Statistical Account of Scotland'.


1: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), novelist

2: John Gibson Lockhart (1794-1854, Scott's son-in-law), essayist & author, editor of the Quarterly Review for 27 years; he had published his Life of Robert Burns in 1828 but his most renowned work was his Life of Sir Walter Scott, published in 1837-38.

3: Professor John Wilson (1785-1854, "Christopher North"), another of the Edinburgh literary 'set' of the 1830s/40s - see the 1846 entries for Alex Smart & Thomas Latto and the 1854 entry for Prof. Aytoun, his son-in-law.

4: James Hogg (1770-1835), 'The Ettrick Shepherd', his most important prose work being The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). Again and again Hogg made money by a publication and then lost it in a farming venture. He and another honorary member, William Motherwell (see 1829), worked together on the five-volume edition of the Works of Robert Burns published in 1834-36.

5: Hugh Ainslie (1792-1878), author of "A Pilgrimage to the Land of Burns" (a narrative embodying lyrics) in 1820. He, like a later honorary member, Thomas C Latto (see the entry under 1846) emigrated to the USA. Latto published an edition of Ainslie's book in the States sometime about 1890.

6: David Vedder (1789-1854), Dundee, author of 'The Covenanters' Communion and other poems' (1828); three of his poems were read at the 1834 Dinner.

7: James Thom (1799-1850), the Ayrshire sculptor, who carved the statues at Souter Johnnie's Cottage at Kirkoswald in 1830.

8: Dugald Moore (1805-1841), "one of the best of the minor poets in Scotland", author of 'The African and other poems' (1830, see the Harvard College copy reproduced in Google Books); he worked as a bookseller, stationer and librarian.

9: James McGavin, student of Divinity, Irvine, later Rev. J McGavin, of whom we know no more.

The Minute Book (p.42) records that, at the 1830 Anniversary Dinner, these nine persons were elected Honorary Members of the Society:

However, there are no letters from any of these nine. The reading of poems by Vedder in 1834 would suggest that contact was made, but any resulting replies clearly failed to be deposited in the Club's papers.

While there is no doubt of their nomination as honorary members, we do not include them in our main list, as we can not be sure how many of the nine, or which ones, replied to the club's invitations.

Charles Lockhart - Not an honorary member, but his 1833 letter is filed

His life & works:

Charlie Lockhart belonged to the age when a village might have its poet. In the 1820s/30s, both Symington and Dundonald had a poet, who would celebrate parochial events or describe situations, invariably to the comparative glory of the particular parish claiming the poet's loyalty (J H Gillespie, 'Dundonald: A Contribution to Parochial History', 1939). Such a bard was Charlie Lockhart in Dundonald. Although the distance between Dundonald and Irvine is only four miles (6 km), it is understandable that the journey was seen in those days as too far to go for the evening. He was an acquaintance of David Sillar, the Club's first Vice-President, though much younger.

John Macintosh ('The Poets of Ayrshire', 1910) writes: "The contagious itch for writing and publishing Scottish vernacular verse, which set in shortly after Burns' Kilmarnock edition, seems to have broken out afresh in Ayrshire after the death of the great poet. Charles Lockhart was one who fell victim to the rhyming disorder, and issued no fewer than three editions of his musings."

He was listed as an Honorary Member in the Centenary Book of 1926, probably because his letter was (and is) filed in that collection.

His letter, written from Dundonald on 24th January, 1833:


     Not having it in my power to do myself the Honour of attending the Anniversary of our deathles [sic] Ayrshire Bard to morrows night, An Honour to which (by the bye) I chiefly owe to your Kind notice and communication, and which Shall always be remembered with grateful pride, I beg to trouble you with a few lines, which, (considering former similar efforts) you may deem worthy reading, if not, the flames will soon convert them into dust and ashes.

Yon poor humble Ale House, low down in the Vale,
Which an hundred years crumbling hath worn.
Its sign post reveals a proud national tale,
"It was here where the poet was born".

Wild Bachanal [sic] revels are merry within,
Though a dark scowling January day,
Doon roars on its Banks, mid the wild howling din,
To the Ocean all foaming with Spray.

Old Alloway Kirk stands in ruins hard by,
And the crazy bell swings in the gloom,
And there the Mausoleum greeteth mine eye,
A vain trophy for Ages to come.

Oh, Scotland, why worship the Shade of your Bard,
For glory to you, it is none.
He implored you for bread, for his fortune was hard;
You denied it, and gave him a Stone.

And what, though his proud Annaversary's [sic] hail'd,
As a time for our revel and song,
Can it hide in Oblivion, Want that prevailed,
Can it sooth the remembrance of wrong.

Thy Mausoleum, Burns! may be lasting as lime,
But thy wrongs it can never atone,
An emperishing record to masters of rhyme,
That we starve them & give them a stone.

I beg no further circulation of the above than a mere recital.
     C Lockhart

This poem, in unedited manuscript, was only for recital at the Annual Dinner. Though appropriately included here, it should not be further reproduced.

The reference to an Ale House may puzzle some today. After William Burns and his family moved to Mt Oliphant, he leased the cottage and land at Alloway to a series of tenants; in 1781 it was sold it to the Incorporation of Shoemakers in Ayr whose first tenant opened it as an alehouse. It operated as an alehouse for almost 100 years, until 1881, and for part of that time it was the venue for the annual Burns Supper of Ayr Burns Club. In 1881 it was purchased by the Trustees of the Burns Monument.

Sir James Shaw (1764-1844) Honorary member 1836

His life & works:

James Shaw started life as the son of a farmer at Mosshead near Riccarton in East Ayrshire, and became Lord Mayor of London in 1805, where he was responsible for leading the funeral of Admiral Lord Nelson after Trafalgar.

He was a real-life Dick Whittington. When he was barely five years old his father died and his mother was forced to move the family into Kilmarnock, where Shaw was educated at the Grammar School. At the age of fifteen, he followed his older brother to seek his fortune in USA, where he was able to secure employment in commerce. In 1784 he returned to Britain and quickly rose to become a junior partner in the London office of the company he had worked for in New York. He began to move in influential circles and won respect from his peers such that he was appointed Lord Major of London in 1805.

His respect for Robert Burns was such that, after the death of the poet in 1796, Shaw helped support his widow and gained employment for his sons.

In 1806 Shaw was elected a Member of Parliament in London, a position in which he served until 1818. In 1809 he was created a Baronet. In 1816, Shaw defended the Royal Exchange when it was attacked by radicals, intervening to capture one of the leaders of the protest. He served as an Alderman of London until 1831 when he was raised to the office of Chamberlain of the City, resigning from this office shortly before he died.

Shaw is remembered by a marble statue in Kilmarnock, erected by public subscription. The statue, by sculptor James Fillans (1808-52), was unveiled in 1848.

[Information courtesy of The Gazetteer for Scotland at www.geo.ed.ac.uk/scotgaz]

His letter, written from London on 1st February 1836:


Dear Sirs,
     Accept my acknowledgements for the honour done to me by the Burns Club of Irvine, on the 25th ult., in electing me an Honorary Member of their society, and believe me to be with great respect
     Dear Sir
     Your [Ob.] Sert
     Jams Shaw

This letter is addressed to W. Thomson Esq., Chairman, and the members of Burns Club, Irvine.

(It is clearly dated 1836, but bears, in another hand, an incorrect date of 1834.)

13th Earl of Eglinton (1812-1861) Honorary member 1837

His life & work:

Archibald William, 13th Earl of Eglinton, Knight of the Thistle, was grandson of Hugh, the 12th Earl; he succeeded to the title in 1819, at the age of 7, and was educated at Eton. At a dinner for his 20th birthday, in September 1832, he was presented with the freedom of the burgh. As he was only 24 in January 1837, his nomination as an honorary member reflects the standing of the family in North Ayrshire rather than his own, later, achievements, outlined below.

The Montgomeries of Eglinton (lords in the Scottish peerage from 1427) had, like the Cunninghams of Kilmaurs, extended their possessions and influence during the 16th century, and the 3rd lord Hugh (Montgomerie) was created Earl of Eglinton in 1508 [or '06 or '07 or '03]. The 13th Earl's grandfather, the 12th Earl, Hugh, had commissioned Eglinton Castle (completed 1802), had employed the services of the celebrated engineer Thomas Telford to survey the Bay of Ardrossan, leading to the 1805 Act of Parliament empowering a company to be formed to construct a harbour and canal to Glasgow, had joined the British peerage as Baron Ardrossan in 1806, had built Bath Villa, a hydropathic bathing facility in Ardrossan, in 1807, and had obtained a Royal Charter for Irvine Academy in 1818. An accumulation of debt led to the estate's 20th century decline: the 12th Earl left family debt of £269,000; the 13th Earl's expensive tastes were not covered by the considerable new income from coal and iron, and the 14th Earl suffered in the 1878 Glasgow Bank crash. The present (at time of writing) 18th Earl, Archibald George Montgomerie, also 7th Baron Ardrossan, 6th Earl of Winton, and 19th Lord Montgomerie, born in 1939, succeeded to these titles in 1966 and lives elsewhere.

The 13th Earl, Archibald William, was (quoting his obituary in 'The Gentleman's Magazine') "a leading patron of the turf and had at one period one of the largest and best racing studs in the country; his success on the turf was considerable". The local Bogside races, initiated by his father in 1808 and held until 1824, were revived in 1838, when the course was extended and steeplechasing was introduced into Scotland, though in the 13th Earl's later absence, from 1852, they again lapsed (until 1867). The Earl ran winning horses in the St Leger (1842, '47 & '49) and the Derby (1849). His obituary recalls: "His pleasures, like his business occupations, were such as benefited others, for they were eminently sociable."

He is best known locally for the Eglinton Tournament of 1839. Described by a county historian as "one of the most gorgeous spectacles ever witnessed", it is said to have cost £40,000. It was the last tournament in Britain, hosted in temporary pavilions, grandstands and canopies in the grounds of the Castle. It attracted to Irvine the cream of society, including Prince Louis Napoleon (later Emperor Napoleon III of France), and vast crowds which arrived by coach, carriage, steamboat and railway, but suffered greatly from unfavourable weather over the first two days. To commemorate the event, the Earl was presented with the magnificent silver Eglinton Trophy, now displayed in Cunninghame House, Irvine.

In 1843, Sir Robert Peel appointed him Lord-Lieutenant of Ayrshire (succeeding George Boyle, the 4th Earl of Glasgow). In 1852, Lord Derby appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Earl's obituarist wrote: "the rare social qualities of his lordship, combined with his princely hospitality, rendered him a most popular viceroy". He retired from that dignity at the end of 1852, but held it again from 1858-59. In 1859, the Earldom of Winton (held by his kinsfolk the Setons until the 5th Earl's treason in 1740) was conferred on him by Lord Derby.

Other, less momentous, events include: from 1836 to 1852, he was colonel of the Ayrshire militia; in 1844, the Countess of Eglinton endowed a school to provide instruction for 80 girls in reading, sewing and knitting (the Council made available a room in the old school building at Kirkgatehead); in 1851, the Earl gave the Town Council the Bogside Flats, in exchange for land he wanted at Knadgerhill to created a new entrance to his policies; and, in 1852, he was elected Lord Rector of Glasgow University.

He died in 1861, at only 49, after a golf match at St Andrews, from "a fit of apoplexy which at once rendered him unconscious", and was succeeded by his son, aged 20, also named Archibald William; he had a daughter Egidia and two other sons. His first wife had died suddenly in Dec.1853, and his second (Lady Adela, only daughter of the Earl and Countess of Essex) had died suddenly in Dec.1860. The 13th Earl's portrait hangs in Irvine Burns Club premises. Our website contains a commentary on his uniform in the painting.

His letter, received from Eglinton Castle on 27th January, 1837:


     I beg to return you & the other gentlemen of the Burns Club my thanks for the honor [sic] you paid me in drinking my health on the anniversary of the poet's birthday.
     I also have to thank you for having proposed me as an honorary member of the Society, & assure you that I feel great pleasure in becoming one.
     I have the honor to be
     Your Obedt Servt

This card was addressed to Mr John Dean, Chairman [President] of The Irvine Burns Club (in 1837) and received by him on 27th January, 1837

Other nominees 1837, 1838, 1839 & 1845

1837: the minuted nominees also include a Mr John Shaw and a Rev. Mr Campbell - we know nothing of either of these.

1838: Robert Chambers (1802-1871), the Edinburgh publisher and author, who had started as a bookseller at age 16. He published a Life of Sir Walter Scott in 1832, and in that year launched Chamber's Edinburgh Journal. He was in whole or in part the author of the Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen (4 vols., Glasgow, 1832–1835), the Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844), and the Life and Works of Robert Burns (4 vols., 1851); he published at the rate of one book every year or so. We have his letter of 1842 thanking Irvine Burns Club for its contribution to a fund he had set up to benefit the sister of Burns' 'Chloris' (Jean Lorimer).

1838: William Chambers, Robert's brother (1800-1883), publisher and politician. He opened his own shop in 1819, branched out into printing, and joined his brother in W & R Chambers. Chambers' Encyclopaedia was published in 1859. As Lord Provost of Edinburgh (1865-69), he was responsible for the restoration of St Giles Cathedral. He is commemorated by a statue in Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

1838: Lord James Stuart, MP (1794-1859), MP for the Ayr District of Burghs (1835-52 and 1857-his death) and Lord-Lieutenant of the County of Bute. "His estimable public life and private virtues had secured for him . . honour for his memory far beyond the county where he was so intimately known, and which in Parliament he so faithfully represented."

1839: Alexander Rodger (1784-1846), the Glasgow Radical poet, and merriest of the contributors to Whistle-binkie. Resident in Glasgow from teenage years, he was famous for politics, lyrical letters and poetry - "every adversary who fell from the attack of his pen may be said to have perished in a paroxysm of laughter". His efforts led to establishing a public footpath on the banks of the Clyde. He contributed to the Liberator, a Radical weekly, and later worked for The Reformer's Gazette. His poetry reflected his racy and genial humour, and included some well-known love-lyrics. He was a friend of William Motherwell (honorary member 1829) - though opposed in politics, they shared a common interest in publishing, editing and local humour. He is buried in the Glasgow Necropolis, not far from his friend Motherwell. One of his short poems is:

"The greatest sumphs in a' our core,
Are sure to be promoted,
While men of mettle are passed o'er,
And scarcely ever noted.

This truth may seem a paradox,
But mark ye how I'll clear it,
Promotion amang Highland folks
Gangs mair by _Mac_ than merit."

1839: Robert Gilfillan (1798-1850), poet, resident for much of his life in Leith. At first, he enjoyed the popularity of his songs, unpublished, though circulated over the whole of Scotland, and sung both at public festivals and at social and domestic gatherings. He dedicated his first, small, 1831 collection of songs to Allan Cunningham (see honorary member entry for 1829), bringing out new editions in 1835 and 1839. He became a frequent contributor to the Edinburgh Journal and the Dublin University Magazine. His admirers subscribed to a monument for his grave in South Leith churchyard. "A Rhythmical Rhapsody addressed to Robert Gilfillan, Leith (to be sung to a new Tune called 'The Social Three')" (by our 1829 Hon. Member William Tennant?) was written into our Minute Book (p.92) - it was also printed in the Dublin University Magazine of 1834.

1845: Mr Forrest, "who presented to the Club the Picture of 'The Auld Farmer and his Auld Mare Maggie'."

These nominees are minuted, but no acceptances from them are on file, so we can not include them in our official list of Honorary Members.

James Glencairn Burns (1794-1865) Honorary member 1840

His life & work:

This third surviving son of the poet (the first being Robert, and the second being the William Nicol Burns mentioned in James' letter), like his two brothers, was educated at Dumfries Grammar School and went into the East India Company's Service.

(He was named in honour of James Cunningham, 14th Earl of Glencairn, who received the poet warmly on his arrival in Edinburgh in 1786. Glencairn's friends included the Duchess of Gordon and the publisher William Creech. Through the Earl's influence, within ten days of the poet's arrival, the Caledonian Hunt subscribed 'universally, one and all' for the 1787 edition, accounting for one hundred copies.)

James married Sarah Robinson in 1818, but she died in 1821, just after the birth of their daughter, Sarah; he married Mary Becket in 1828 and had another daughter, Ann. James had risen from cadet to the rank of Major. In 1833, he was appointed Judge and Collector at Cahar. At the time of this letter, James had recently retired and was living in London. After his wife's death in 1844, he stayed with his brother William, also a widower, in Cheltenham. He was made a Lieut.-Colonel in 1855. He is buried in the Mausoleum. He and his brother William were honoured by Irvine in 1844 - the Town Council created them honorary burgesses and bestowed on them the Freedom of the Burgh.

His letter, written from London on 3rd March, 1840:


     I have been favoured with your letter of the 27th Feby announcing to me that I have been elected an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club.
     I beg you will return my warmest acknowledgements to the Members of the Club for the honour they have done me and in particular to Mr Dick for his kindness in proposing me as also to yourself for the terms in which you have conveyed it to me.
    The letter for my brother William shall be duly forwarded to him.
    I have the honour to be,
    Your ob. Servt,
    J G Burns
    Major E. I. C. S.

[to] A Robertson, Esq

The minutes record that "the three sons of the Bard" were proposed as Honorary Members. This letter indicates that James passed a letter from the Club to his brother William, but we do not know how, or whether, a letter was passed to the third son, Robert, who was by then retired and living in Dumfries.

EICS: East India Company Service

Patrick Maxwell (c.1794-?1857) Honorary member 1846

His life & work:

We know very little about this honorary member, but we traced him through an 1842 volume of poetry by a British Woman Romantic Poet, Miss Susanna Blamire (1747-94), in the University of California - readable online in its digital library, his Edinburgh address appears at the end of the preface.

Irvine Burns Club were at that time inviting literary figures, often with Edinburgh connections, to accept honorary membership. Patrick Maxwell contributed the Preface, Memoir and Notes to The Poetical Works of Miss Susanna Blamire, 'The Muse of Cumberland', now for the first time collected by Henry Lonsdale, MD. Maxwell is described on the title-page as the translator of Mme Dard's Narrative of the Picard Family and the Wreck of the French Frigate Medusa. From his preface, we know he was born in India, where his father served in the Indian Army; it is also clear that he was the main editor of the volume. While Romantic verse may not attract most of us today, yet Patrick Maxwell's assiduous visits to Cumberland and his research are clearly proving useful to those who still study that period.

Maxwell's translation of Mme Dard's book appeared earlier, in 1827. The frigate Medusa was wrecked, resulting in huge publicity, off the coast of Mauritania in 1816, and depicted in Gericault's 1819 painting 'The Raft of the Medusa'. Its captain was the inexperienced but politically sound anti-Bonapartist Viscount de Chaumareys - a case of cronyism leading to disaster - worse, after allowing the Medusa to run aground, he then fled the disaster, abandoning the survivors. Britain had just agreed to return Saint-Louis (in Senegal) to France after occupying the city for several years and the Medusa was conveying hundreds of French troops, the new governor and his civil servants to take over the colony. With her family, at age 18, Mme Dard, then Charlotte-Adélaïde Picard, witnessed the confusion that followed the ship running aground and, after a perilous few days aboard a small lifeboat and a long walk in the African desert, eventually reached Saint-Louis where the family settled down. In 1824 she published "The African cottage or the story of a French family thrown on the western coast of Africa after the frigate Medusa was wrecked". Although her book provides a firsthand account of France's occupation of West Africa at the very beginning of French colonial expansion, and is therefore a central piece of French colonial history, it was hushed up because it showed the 'civilised' colonists acting more barbarically than the natives they were about to rule. Her book criticised the French Governor for trying to save his own skin and trying to erase evidence of the disgraceful actions of himself and others; it praised the assistance, to them and to other abandoned families, of Major Peddie, the British Governor; it described the summary executions and cannibalism that had ensued; it criticised the French establishment's closing of ranks to avoid disgrace; Mme Dard was showing that the high moral ground was held by the British, not the French. Thereafter the British relished the opportunity to provide unconditional support to the victims of the shipwreck at the very time France attempted to quell their complaints In the eyes of her Government, so soon after their 1815 defeat. Mme Dard's pro-British attitude was seen as further proof of the seditious nature of her writing. Her book has been ignored for almost 200 years, not because it was written by a woman but because it reflects unfavourably on the historical record of her nation. That our honorary member, Patrick Maxwell, translated the book suggests that he was sympathetic to her indignation regarding the circumstances surrounding the shipwreck - in his translator's note, he comments both on her family's severe and protracted suffering and also on "some pleasing traits of character in the story, and, I am proud to say, some of the brightest of them belong to our own nation".

The above appreciation sadly contains little about the life of Patrick Maxwell, but we hope it helps to give an insight into his world. Perhaps - but we do not know - his translation of the above very topical work had brought him to the attention of the reading public.

For the information about Mme Dard, we acknowledge an article by Jean-Marie Volet (2007) at: http://aflit.arts.uwa.edu.au/colonie_19e_dard_eng.html
who then directed us to the Gutenberg Project's republication of Maxwell's translation as an EBook at:
(The story, clearly and simply told, can still move us today and prompt us to think how little times change.)

[The 1841 and 1851 census records show that he and his wife Maria (six years younger) were both born in the East Indies; his status as "Ind." in 1841 shows that they were of independent means.]

(compiled by IJD; if you can supply extra detail on this honorary member, please contact us.)

His letter, written from 5 Archibald Place, Edinburgh on 31st January 1846:


Dear Sir,
      Accept of my best thanks for the kind communication of my being admitted an Honorary Member of The Irvine Burns' Club, which communication reached me to-day. I so assure you I esteem it a great honour, and the no less so from my being proposed by my friend Captain Gray.
     I am,
     Dear Sir,
     Yours very truly,
     P Maxwell

This letter was addressed to Alex Robertson, Esq., Irvine, the Club Secretary.

Captain Gray, President in 1833-34, was President again in 1846.

Alex Smart (1798-1866) Honorary member 1846

His life & work:

Alex Smart was a printer and song-writer in Edinburgh - like the previous honorary member Patrick Maxwell and the following member Thomas Latto, a figure in the capital's literary world of the time - but we have few details of his life. One common link is Lord Jeffrey, the Lord Advocate with a great interest in literature - he was a friend of Thomas Latto, his contemporary correspondence contains a letter to an Alexander Smart, and in c.1842-44 both he and Smart were in correspondence (now catalogued by Glasgow University) with the Glasgow bookseller and publisher David Robertson, regarding, and contributing to, his 1846 volume of Songs for the Nursery (an additional volume to five already published of new Scottish work under the title Whistle-Binkie).

Typical titles of the songs (apparently by him) are "O this is no my ain bairn", "The roarin' wee lassie", and "Wee Nanny".

Like Patrick Maxwell (q.v.), Alex Smart was familiar with Irvine Burns Club - our minutes book contains "Lines written for the 20th anniversary of the Club" in 1846.


His letter, written from Edinburgh on February 1st, 1846:


     I had the gratification of receiving your polite note yesterday, intimating that the Irvine Burns Club, at their Anniversary meeting, had done me the honour of electing me an Honorary Member.
     Allow me Sir through you to express my warm acknowledgement of such a compliment. To be enrolled in a club of gentlemen who do themselves so much honour in honouring the name of our immortal Bard is a compliment of which one may be proud.
     I have the honour to be
     Your obliged humble servant
     Alex Smart

This letter was addressed to Alex Robertson, Esq., Irvine, the Club Secretary.

Thomas C Latto (1818-1894) Honorary member 1846

His life & work:

Thomas C Latto was a song-writer of considerable popularity. Born in Fife, and after five years at St Andrews University, he joined an Edinburgh law office ('writing chambers') at the age of 20. Subsequently he became advocate's clerk to William E Aytoun (honorary member, 1854), Professor of Rhetoric in the University of Edinburgh, then managing clerk in a law office in Dundee, and later entered business as a commission-agent in Glasgow.

Literature interested him more than law. His poems appeared in local publications, he became widely known, and he was one of the group of contributors who made Blackwood's Magazine famous. His friends included 'Christopher North' (Professor Wilson, possibly a hon. member in 1830), Hew (or Hugh) Ainslie (see below), the Ettrick Shepherd James Hogg, Lord Macaulay (hon. member, 1854), Lord Jeffrey (see entry on Alex Smart), and Henry Glassford Bell (hon. member, 1863). In 1847, shortly after the two letters to Irvine Burns Club, he published his first volume of poems, The Minister's Kailyard, containing such popular items as The Kiss Ahint The Door and When We Were At The Schule.

Latto emigrated to the USA in 1851, engaging in mercantile concerns in New York, while for a time editing The Scottish-American Journal and later contributing to The Times and other Brooklyn papers. He made friends with the Scottish-American poet Hew Ainslie (26 years older; born in Ayrshire), who had emigrated in 1822. Latto's last literary work was an edition of Ainslie's book A Pilgrimage to the Land of Burns (first published in 1820), and prefacing them with his Memoir of the author.

His New York Times obituary (14.5.1894) describes him as "the best known Scottish poet in this country" and records that: "While as enthusiastic about Scotland as a Scot can be, he was none the less patriotic as an American citizen". Clearly, though nominated as an honorary member while still making his name in Scotland, he augmented his reputation throughout his life.

(compiled by IJD)

His letter, written from 29 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh on 3rd March 1846:


     I am ashamed to see from the date of your letter announcing my Election as a Member of your Burns Club, how negligent I have been. The truth is I was harassed with business at the moment I received it, & the note slipped aside. However I am not the less sensible of the honour done me. I assure you I feel very proud of it. Next demonstration I trust to appear in person, a pleasure which was denied me on the last occasion. I have the honor to be
     Your very humble Sert,
     Thomas C Latto

The author's custom of writing the paired letters 'ss' in the old-fashioned way is an attractive feature of the first letter.

another letter from him, on 29th December, 1846)


     I venture to send you the prefixed song, which I should be particularly gratified to find sung in honour of the amiable subject of it, & in his personal presence at the Irvine Burns Club festivity next month in honour of the immortal Burns. I should have had much pleasure in attending myself to croak it, but fear that will not be in my power. If you know of any skilful musician who intends to be present, it will oblige me much. Could you prevail on him to undertake it. It will require skill to adapt the second verse of each stanza to the the air I have prefixed. I know of no other one that will suit - the measure is so very peculiar. The Capt is quite in the dark as to the plot, so I hope you won't let the cat out of the bag. If you are musical, I think you will find that the tail piece I have added by way of Chorus chimes in well at the end of the Air "Oft in the Stilly Night".
     Shd none be able to sing it to that air, please let me know & I shall try to get our Minstrel P Macleod to ferret out or construct a melody for it. Wishing you a large & happy gathering of the Burns Club & admirers of the great ploughman in Jany - I remain
     Your very obedt Servt
     Thomas C Latto.
     Hon. Member
P.S. Perhaps I ought to have mentioned that "Lauriston" is the suburb of Edin. where the Bard resides.

The song mentioned in the letter is missing.

Captain Gray, President in 1833-34, was President again in 1846.

His reference in the PS to 'the Bard' is to Captain Charles Gray, known for his poems and songs, then living at 11 Archibald Place, just off Lauriston Place.


Other nominees


James Fillans (1808-1852) was a sculptor with links to several of the literary set who feature among our honorary members. He was also adept at clay modelling, and was also known as a painter, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in London in 1837-50. His talent was inherited by his daughter Wilhelmina Fillans, also a sculptor.

James, as a boy, impressed his friends with his skill as a wood carver, earning the nickname 'the mouse genius' after carving a cage with a wheel turned by a mouse which was attached to a functioning model loom and a weaver. This automaton was displayed to great acclaim in the window of his family home.

Although he originally worked as a handloom weaver in Paisley, he then trained as a stone mason - during his apprenticeship, he carved the Corinthian capitals on the Glasgow Royal Exchange in Royal Exchange Square.

He then set up his own studio in Paisley, and worked principally as a portraitist producing marble busts of Paisley officials, businessmen and poets - these included William Motherwell (hon memb. 1829) and Prof. John Wilson (hon. memb. nominee 1830). He first transferred his studio to Glasgow, then on to London.

Fillans was feted in Paisley with a banquet on the success, in 1848, of his marble statue of Sir James Shaw (hon. memb. 1836) at Kilmarnock, and received further commissions for marble busts of prominent Renfrewshire figures.

A poet as well as a sculptor, he particularly admired the Glasgow poet William Motherwell and, as well as executing a number of portraits of him throughout their careers, Fillans eventually produced his monument for the Necropolis, spending the night before its dedication carving its details (1851). The monument has since lost the Parian marble bust of Motherwell from beneath its Tudor canopy. Its incised friezes of scenes from Motherwell's life and works, e.g. 'Halberd The Grim', are decaying rapidly.

The three other nominees in 1846 are minuted as "Mr Fillans, Mr Fyffe, and Mr Willox". As no acceptances are on file, we cannot include them in our official list. All three attended the 1846 Dinner.

Mr Fillans is the sculptor profiled here.

Mr Willox was of the 'Kilmarnock Journal' and Mr Fyffe was of the 'Renfrewshire Advertiser', but that is all we know of them.

William Howitt (1792-1879) Honorary member 1851

His life & work:

Born of a Quaker family, William Howitt began early to publish verses. In conjunction with his wife, Mary, also a recognised writer, he published a volume of poems, The Forest Minstrel, in 1823, shortly after their marriage. By the time of this honorary membership, he had produced three other books in England, one being the popular Rural Life in England; in 1840 they settled at Heidelberg and devoted themselves to introducing the literature of the north, especially Sweden, to English readers. He also published, in 1847, Homes and Haunts of the British Poets.

He visited Australia in 1852-54, and at least two of his books dealt with that country. Afterwards, both he and his wife became converts to spiritualism. The Howitts are remembered for their untiring efforts to provide wholesome and instructive literature. They were well acquainted with two other honorary members, Charles Dickens (also nominated in 1851) and William Thackeray (see 1854).

In his appreciation of Robert Burns (Homes and Haunts of British Poets, 1847, p.389), he comments thus on a verse from "A man's a man for a' that": "Brave words! Glorious truth! The soul of poetry and the whole science of social philosophy compressed into a single stanza, to serve as the stay and comfort of millions of hearts in every moment when most needed."

His letter, written from 28 Upper Avenue Road (St John's Wood), Regent's Park, on Feb. 5th, 1851:


Dear Sir,
     Pray present to your Club my best thanks for the honour which it has done me in electing me an Honorary Member of it.
     Be so good also as to present my best compliments to Mr Maxwell Dick, by whose kindness I was permitted to see the autographs of the "Cottar's Saturday Night" and to whom I am indebted for an admirable likeness of the great Bard of Nature and of Scotland, which is often admired here by distinguished members of the literary and artistic world.
     I remain, with best thanks,
     Dear Sir,
     Yours very truly,
     William Howitt

The letter is addressed to Alexander Robertson, Esq., the Club Secretary.

In 'Homes and Haunts of British Poets', 1847, p.357, Howitt records that the most complete and accurate description of the Burns Festival in Ayr on 6th August, 1844, is "The Full Report", published by Mr Maxwell Dick, the worthy publisher of the Ayrshire News Letter at Irvine, one of the most enthusiastic admirers of the genius of Burns, and of genius in general. There was a procession in the morning, followed immediately by a surprise appearance of Tam o' Shanter with a flight of witches in full pursuit. In the afternoon, the (13th) Earl of Eglinton chaired the banquet in the pavilion, with Prof. Wilson as croupier, and guests including the three sons of the poet, other members of their family, Robert Chambers and Douglas Jerrold.

Howitt also mentions that Maxwell Dick published an admirable coloured print of Burns, from Nasmyth's picture.

Dr Charles Mackay (1814-1889) Honorary member 1851

His life & work:

Charles Mackay, the Scottish poet, journalist and song writer, although born in Perth, was educated in London and Brussels, worked as a journalist in London, had edited the Glasgow Argus from 1844-48, and, by the time of his nomination as an honorary member, had moved to the Illustrated London News, of which he became editor in 1852. During his lifetime, his fame chiefly rested upon his songs, some of which, including Cheer, Boys, Cheer, were in 1846 set to music by Henry Russell, and had an astonishing popularity.

Mackay acted as Times correspondent during the American Civil War, and in that capacity discovered and disclosed the Fenian conspiracy. He had the degree of LL.D. from the University of Glasgow in 1846. His lively writing style and ability to document the facts of extraordinary financial bubbles and political upheavals from the South Sea Bubble to tulipomania to the Crusades influenced reporters and economists from his time to this day. With two others in 1849, he was recruited to assist Henry Mayhew, editor of the Morning Chronicle, with an investigation into the condition of the labouring classes in England and Wales.

His daughter became known as the novelist Marie Corelli. Dr Mackay was a friend of another 1851 honorary member, Charles Dickens.

His letter, written from 21 Brecknock Crescent, Camden Road, London, on 5th Feb., 1851:


     I am much flattered by the notification conveyed in your letter of the 29th of January and shall become with great pleasure an honorary member of the Irvine Burns' Club.
     You do not state whether any duties are attached to the membership - or what the qualifications are. If the latter consist in admiration of the genius of Scotland's poet - and of the manly independance [sic] of his character - and in sympathy for every effort to exalt his name and keep it fresh in the remembrance of his people; - I think I shall be equal to any of you in these respects whatever my other deficiencies may be -
     Believe me with best wishes
     Ever yours truly
     Chas. Mackay

The letter is addressed to Alexander Robertson, Esq., the Club Secretary.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) Honorary member 1851

His life & work:

The most important and popular author of the Victorian era, Charles John Huffam Dickens first achieved fame through magazine contributions and pamphlets in the years from 1835, and 'The Pickwick Papers' appeared in 1837. The novels thereafter appeared - about ten in the ten years before his nomination as an honorary member. It is claimed that his novels have never gone out of print. His career as a journalist in the 1830s is less well known, but, as stories were unsigned, may have been more extensive than can be proved ('The Times', 3.12.2011, Review pp.10-11).

His work as a novelist was based on a wide and keen observation, and his characters exhibited great vitality and humour. His novels often appeared as serials, each episode eagerly awaited by his public, before publication as books. Also, on popular, over-subscribed, tours, including a second visit to America in 1867-68, he gave many public readings of his work. His success brought its financial rewards - the American tour netted profits of £20K, perhaps £1.5m today, and his 1864 advance of £6K for 'our Mutual Friend' would be nearing £420K today; he was probably never richer than in the years before he died.

His father was sent to Marshalsea debtors' prison when Charles was aged 12 - a circumstance which led to his miserable experience of working in a boot-blacking factory for 10 hours a day for six shillings (30p) a week, as well as to Marshalsea featuring in 'Little Dorrit' (1856), and to his determination to fight against the legal and social abuses heaped upon the poor. After his father inherited a tidy sum, Dickens returned to school and started work as a law clerk at 16. By 22, he was working as a parliamentary reporter and writing short fictional sketches. The rest of his career is well known.

His wife Catherine (daughter of musicologist George Hogarth and Georgina Thomson) was a grand-daughter of George Thomson, the publisher and friend of Burns who assembled the 'Select Collection Of Original Scottish Airs For The Voice', including work by Burns and Walter Scott and music by Beethoven and Haydn. Charles and 'Kate' had ten children - though later, in 1858, Catherine was cast out of the family home when Dickens met the 18-year-old actress Ellen Ternan. Friendship ties linked him with Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle. British publishing was at that time dominated by Scots. Dickens visited Edinburgh in 1834, again in 1841, when, at the age of 29, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, and again in 1847. On 28th Dec., 1847, he gave the inaugural address at the Glasgow Athenaeum. Of his Glasgow visit, Dickens said: "I have never been more heartily received anywhere, or enjoyed myself more completely." By 1851, when nominated as an Honorary Member, he was well known.

His memories of early childhood Christmas days which were happy (before his father fell into debt) and usually white (as the 1810s was the coldest decade in Britain since the 1690s) influenced the snowy scenes of 'A Christmas Carol' (1843) and in turn established the Victorian and, to some extent, today's, style of Christmas celebrations.

Dickens and Thackeray were very good friends with Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857), a major contributor to 'Punch', and mentioned in our minutes as a 1854 nominee, though he seems not to have accepted. They were the principal pall-bearers at Jerrold's funeral. The Directors of the 1840s had approached many of the Edinburgh literary figures, and were now approaching the London literary set.

For a review of his Scottish connections, see www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/books/charles-dickens-the-scottish-story-1-2021927
from which the following quote is taken: "Nobody would argue that we can turn Dickens into an honorary Scotsman, but his relationship with Scotland was deeper and more significant than the standard caricatures of him might suggest. Scots were involved in his literary breakthrough, his family life and his charity work; it was Scotland that provided the genesis of his most enduring character and a Scot lies at the heart of one of the mysteries about Dickens." The name Scrooge is from Ebenezer Scroggie in Canongate Kirkyard.)

His letter, written from Devonshire Terrace, London on 10th February, 1851:


     I beg to assure you that I have the greatest pleasure in becoming an honorary member of the Irvine Burns Club, originated in remembrance of that immortal genius. Oblige me by having the kindness to convey my cordial good wishes and thanks to my unknown friends who have held me in such gratifying recollection.
     With many thanks for your obliging favor, I am
     Faithfully yours
     Charles Dickens

From 1839-51, Dickens leased 1 Devonshire Terrace, now Marleybone Rd.

The letter is addressed to Alexander Robertson, Esq., the Club Secretary.

Some Burns’ quotes from “David Copperfield” by Charles Dickens
(supplied by Past President Michael Murray)

(1) "Meeting with the Micawbers and having celebrated with punch…we sang 'Auld Lang Syne'. When we came to 'here’s a hand, my trusty fiere', and we declared we would 'take a right gude Willie Waught', and hadn’t the least idea what it meant we were really affected."

(2) In a celebration with the Micawbers and Traddles . . . "I may say, of myself and Copperfield, in words we have sung together before now, that 'We twa hae run about the braes and pu’d the gowans fine' – in a figurative point of view - on several occasions. I am not entirely aware,” said Mr Micawber “what gowans may be, but I have no doubt that Copperfield and myself would frequently have taken a pull at them if that had been possible.”

(3) "Where Mrs Micawber and myself once had the honour of uniting our voices to yours in the well known strain of the Immortal Exciseman, nurtured beyond the Tweed."

(4) “Now’s the day and now’s the hour, see the front of battle lower, See approach proud Edward’s power - Chains and slavery.” Micawber on being jailed over a debt owed to Uriah Heep.

(5) Micawber writing (in a newspaper in Australia) to/on David Copperfield -“Though seas between us braid hae roared - (Burns) - from participating in the intellectual feasts he has spread before us.”

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