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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Burnett, Eliza (1766 — 90)>

Lord Monboddo's youngest daughter, a clever woman and something of a poetess, she was referred to by Burns in his 'Address to Edinburgh' as 'Fair Burnet'. On her death from consumption at Braid Farm, near Edinburgh, she became the subject of his 'Elegy on the late Miss Burnet of Monboddo', which begins:
"Life ne'er exulted in so rich a prize
As Burnet, lovely from her native skies:
Nor envious death so triumph'd in a blow
As that which laid the accomplished Burnet low."

When Burns sent a copy of his 'Address to Edinburgh' to William Chalmers of Ayr on 27th December 1786, he said of Elizabeth Burnett: 'There has not been anything nearly like her in all the combinations of Beauty, Grace and Goodness the great Creator has formed, since Milton's Eve on the first day of her existence'. In reply to Dr John Geddes, whom Burns met at Lord Monboddo's, and who is said to have asked the poet if he admired Miss Burnett, Burns is supposed to have remarked: 'I admire God Almighty more than ever, Miss Burnet is the most heavenly of all his works.'

Gossip-loving Mrs Alison Cockburn gave a third party view of Burns and Miss Burnett in a letter to a friend dated 30th December 1786. She worte: 'The town is at present agog with the ploughman poet, who receives adulation with native dignity, and is the very figure of his profession — strong and coarse — but has a most enthusiastic heart of LOVE. He has seen dutchess Gordon and all the gay world. His favrite for looks and manners is Bess Burnet — no bad judge indeed!'

Alexander Young, a prim Tory writer to the Signet, while agreeing that Burns justly admired Miss Burnett, added: 'She had one great personal defect however — her teeth were much decayed and discoloured, but fortunately she had a very small mouth, and took care not to open it much in mixed company.' Somewhat ungallantly, the Right Honorable Charles Hope added: 'She had very thick, clumsy, ankles, which She was at pains to conceal by wearing her petticoats uncommonly long — and she was not a good Dancer — but take her in all she was a beautiful creature.'

She was much attached to her father and according to an anonymous contemporary, 'It was her chief delight to be the nurse and companion of his declining age.' She was, indeed, supposed to have rejected the most flattering opportunities of settlement in marriage, that she might amuse a father's loneliness, nurse the sickly infirmity of his age, and cheer him with all the tender cares of filial affection.'

She is buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh.

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Complete Burns Songs

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