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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Auld, The Reverand William (1709-91)

The younger son of the Laird of Ellanton, in Symington, Auld studied at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, then, like so many Scots scholars in the 18th Century, completed his training at the University of Leyden, in Holland. After being tutor in the family of the Laird of Schawfield, Auld was ordained at Mauchline in 1742. A zealous, hard working man, though opinionative, he seems to have lacked ambition, and to have been quite content to remain a parish minister. Although he was a rigid Whig and an upholder of the Auld Lichts, his attitude was probably old fashioned rather than bigoted, and he is said by Chambers to have been 'kindly and courteous'.

Thus, in 1791, when he wrote of his parishioners for Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account, his observations read like those of a kindly man lamenting 'the good old days'. Said Auld: 'The manner of living and dress is much altered from what it was about 50 years ago. At that period and for some time after, there were only two or three families in this parish who made use of tea daily; now it is done by at least one half of the parish, and almost the whole use it occasionally. At that period good twopenny strong ale and home spirits were in vogue; but now even people in the middling and lower stations of life deal much in foreign spirits, rum punch and wine... As to dress, about 50 years ago there were few females who wore scarlet or silks. But now nothing is more common than silk capes and silk cloaks. Women in a middling station are as fine as ladies of quality were formerly.' In 'The Kirk's Alarm', Burns called him "Daddy Auld" and in the prefatory not to 'Holy Willie's Prayer', which suggests that in spite of the reprimands for fornication with Jean which Auld had to administer, Burns regarded Auld with a respect which was probably mutual.

The severest satire Burns exercised on Auld was in a letter written from Edinburgh in December 1787, when he tells Gavin Hamilton: '... as I understand you are now in habits of intimacy with that Boanerges of Gospel Power, Father Auld, be earnest with him that he will wrestle in prayer for you, that you may see the vanity of vanities in trusting to, or even practising, the carnal moral works of charity, humanity, generosity and forgiveness, things which you practised so flagrantly, that it was evident that you delighted in them, neglecting, or perhaps profanely despising the wholesome doctrine of faith without works, the only author of salvation.

At all events, when Jean and Robert had to make their three appearances before Auld, the poet was allowed to stand in his own pew instead of in the 'place of repentance', although Jean — with whom he had quarreled over her parentally enforced 'desertion' of him — and her friends, probably wanted him to stand by her side; but Auld would not agree to this, which, the poet revealed, 'bred a great trouble'. By keeping them silent about his verbal vows, Burns then got from Auld his certificate as a blameless single man.

Auld baptised Jean's first set of twins, Jean and Robert.

So much for the charitable interpretation of Auld's character. On the other hand, it has to be admitted that the full story of the proceedings against Gavin Hamilton suggest a vindictiveness which it is hard to account for merely by assuming a clash of personalities.

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Complete Burns Songs

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