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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Armour, James (d. 1798)

Burns';s father-in-law was a master mason - 'hardly the architect'; Burns claimed, when he wanted to impress his patrons - who also did some business as a contractor. He seems to have been a rather dour, churchy kind of man, though his initial dislike of Burns was probably based on the poet';s radical leanings and lack of worldly prospects rather than on his morals.

When Armour, in March 1786, was told by his wife of Jean';s pregnancy, he fainted, and his wife had to 'run for a cordial';. After Jean and Robert had both 'compeared'; before the tyrannical Kirk Session of the day, the Armours persuaded her to go to relatives at Paisley, where they appear to have hoped that a prospective suitor, a weaver. Robert Wilson, might still take her, Burns';s child and all. Burns held this to be desertion, since, either just before or after Jean became pregnant, he gave her a document (which he afterwards referred to as 'the unlucky paper';) which may or may not have been witnessed by his friend James Smith, but which was apparently either a promise of marriage or a declaration of it. Armour persuaded someone, perhaps the lawyer Robert Aiken, to cut the two names out of the paper (which has long since disappeared), an act the news of which, Burns said 'cut my very veins';, and would not in any case have affected the legality of a marriage by declaration under the Scots Law of the day.

Jean bore twins on 3rd September 1786. In the early summer of 1787, Burns, fresh from his Edinburgh triumph, turned up at Mauchline again, to find the Armours now quite anxious to ensnare him. He described himself as disgusted at their 'new servility';, but nevertheless left Jean pregnant once more.

This time the Armours'; fury was redoubled. They refused to shelter their daughter during this second mismanaged disgrace. Burns heard of her plight, but an injury to his leg and the charms of 'Clarinda'; combined to delay his departure from Edinburgh. Eventually he reached Mauchline on 23rd February 1788, arranged accommodation for Jean, and had intercourse with her.

On the very day the luckless shortlived second set of twins were born, he wrote the 'horse-litter'; letter to Ainslie. By the end of April, after a puzzling volte-face, he acknowledged Jean as his legal wife. Soon after, old Armour became reconciled to his son-in-law. Two of Burns';s last letters were addressed to Armour, begging Mrs Armour to be sent for from Fife to come to Dumfries to look after Jean, then in the last stages of her final pregnancy. The letter, dated 10th July 1796, is signed: 'Your most affectionate son, R. Burns.'

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