BURNS and Willie Niven entered the Parish School of Kirkoswald on the same day, to elarn mensuration, geometry, and practical land-surveying, under Hugh Rodger, who enjoyed a great local reputation as a teacher of these subjects. According to the custom of the time, when pupils of their age entered school, they took the master to the village tavern, and omp[lemented the engagement by treating him to some liquor. From that time the youths became intimate friends, and spent much of their spare time together. With the object of sharpening their intellects they fell upon the plan of holding disputations or arguments on speculative questions, one taking one side and the other the other, without much regard as to their respective opinions on the point at issue. Unfortunately, Hugh Rodger, the schoolmaster, had little sympathy with these excursions beyond the bounds of pure mathematics, and sneered at the idea of improving their minds by nonsensical discussions, and contemptuously asked what it was they disputed about. Willie replied that enerally there was a new subject every day; that he could not recollect all that came under his attention, but that the question of to-day had been, “Whether os a great general or a respectable merchant the most valuable member of society?”
The dominie laughed outrageously at what he called the silliness of such a question, seeing there could be no doubt for a moment about it.
“Well,” said Burns, “if you think so, I will be glad if you take any side you please, and allow me to take the other, and let us discuss it before the school.”
Rodger unwisely assented, and commenced the argument by a flourish in favour of the general.
Burns answered by a pointed advocacy of the pretensions of the merchant, and soon had an evident superiority over his preceptor.
The latter replied but without success. His hand was observed to shake, then his voice trembled, and he dissolved the house in a state of vexation pitiable to behold. This anecdote is a fair prognostication of the future eminence of the illustrious poet.