Burns at Nance Tannock’s, pp.42-43.

[Anecdotes of Burns Contents]

MRS. NELLY MARTIN or Miller, who died December 22, 1858, aged 92, and was originally sweetheart to the poet’s brother William, was intimately acquainted also with the poet himself. According to her account to escape from his tongue, if once entangled by it, was almost an impossibility. “He was unco, by-ordinar engaging in his talk,” for which reason he was an invaluable visitor at the change house, where Nance Tannock had a jesuitical device of her own for detaining him. Nance carried a huge leather pouch at her side, slung from her waist (as old Scotch landladies used to do), filled with keys, pence, “change,” and etceteras. When application for Burns was made at her door – as was often the case, “for atweel he was uncolie in demand” – by personal friends of his or rivals of her own – “Is Rab here? or is Mossgiel here?” 

Nance would thrust her hand into the capacious leather pouch, and jingling ostentatiously amongst keys and coppers, would solemnly and fraudulently declare “that he wasna there (in her pouch) that night.” 

*     *     *     *     *

It was in Nance’s parlour that the first reading of “The Holy Fair” took place. “There were present Robert and his sweetheart, Jean Armour, William and I (Nelly Martin), and anither lad or twa and thar sweethearts. Robin himself was in unco glee. He kneelit ontil a chair in the midds o’ the room, wi’ his elbows on the bak o’t, and read owre the ‘Holy Fair’ frae a paper i’ his han’ – and sic laughin’! we could hardly steer for laughin’; and I never saw  himsell in sic glee.” 

His personal appearance then, as described by Nelly, was striking, and must have been attractive in no common degree; and his habits simple, gentle, and gravely studious. “In a licht blew-coat o’ his mither’s makin’ and dyeing; ay, and o’ his mither’s sewin’ I’se warrand, in thae days; and his bonie black hair hingin’ down’ and curlin’ owre the neck o’t; a buik in his han’ – aye, a buik in his han’ – an’ whiles his bonnet aneath his tither ockster, and didna ken that he was bareheaded – gaun about the dyke sides and hedges; an idler, ye ken – an idler jiest, that did little but read; and even on the hairst-rig it was soup and soup, and then the buik! He wasna to ca’ a bonie man – dark and strong; but uncommon invitin’ in his speech – uncommon! Ye couldna hae cracket wi’ him for ae minite, but ye wad hae studen four or five!” 

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