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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Ballantine, John (1743-1812)

A merchant and banker in Ayr, and an early patron and good friend of Burns. In 1786 , Ballantine, as Dean of Guild, played a leading part in bringing about the building of the new Brig, and in the following year became Provost. He remained a bachelor.

Ballantine, like Aiken and Hamilton, opened up for Burns the world of Ayrshire's bourgeoisie and small gentry. Indeed, in 1791 Burns was thanking Ballantine for having helped to haul him 'up to the Court of the Gentiles, in the Temple of Fame'. It was a s a literary admirer, however, that Ballantine perhaps played his most valuable role. According to Gilbert Burns, Ballantine offered to lend the poet the money needed to pay Wilson for the printing of a second Kilmarnock Edition, though at the same time advising him this time to go to Edinburgh for a publisher. Burns took the advice, though not the money. He dedicated 'The Brigs of Ayr' to Ballantine, and favoured the banker with many of his most intimate confidences.

While Burns was in Edinburgh, he kept Ballantine informed of his doings and of the people he was meeting, in a number of letters. Ballantine got a parcel of subscription bills for the Second Edition, and on 14th January 1787, first news of Burns's hankering to go back to farming, and of the suggestion of Patrick Miller that the poet might lease a farm on Miller's estate of Dalswinton. Ballantine was also kept informed of the progress through the press of the Second Edition, being told when the book was expected in ten days time, and, on 18th April 1787 (the ten days having been somewhat exceeded) being asked to find an agent who would market the hundred copies of the book which accompanied the letter, at less than the unconscionable 'Jewish tax of 25%'. (What would Burns have thought of the modern bookseller's rate of 33 and a third %?)

Early in January 1788, Burns, crippled temporarily in one of his legs, 'owing to a fall by the drunken stupidity of a coachman', wrote to Ballantine from Edinburgh asking him to give brother Gilbert some money out of the proceeds of the copies of the Second Edition which Ballantine had disposed of, the first of several acts of assistance which the poet made to his brother. At odd moments throughout his career, Burns wrote notes to Ballantine enclosing drafts of new poems. From a letter dated September 1791, written at Ellisland, it would appear that Ballantine may well have been one of his sponsors in the 'Excise matter', which had by then loomed large in the poet's life.

During the poet's last years, however, their correspondence came to an end, probably because of the increasing pressures on Burns's time and health, and the distance between Ayr and Dumfries.

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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...

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Burns Chess Sets

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