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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Bushby, John (d.1802)

Dumfries lawyer, and, according to the Edinburgh Almanac of 1799, sheriff elect of Dumfries. He factored several estates and was owner of a private bank. A North of England man who retained something of his North Country dialect he made two prosperous marriages and bought Tinwald Downs, a country mansion near Dumfries. We know little of the relationship between Bushby and Burns. Tradition has it that the two men were friendly at one time but quarrelled when Burns was scalded by a very hot pudding, which Bushby had humorously claimed was ice cold. The poet thereafter lashed out satirically at Bushby and his relations, notably in the ballad 'John Bushby's Lamentation' and in the 'Epitaph':
"Here lies John Bushby, honest man!
Cheat him, devil — if you can."

A comment in the Young manuscript however, puts a different complexion on the Bushby-Burns relationship. (Incidentally, Young's copy of the epitaph has 'Catch' at the beginning of the second line instead of 'Cheat'.) Young says that Bushby was Sheriff Clerk of the County when Burns came to Dumfries. It seems unlikely that one in such a position would indulge in a prank so silly as that traditionally alleged and recorded by Chambers. Young claims to have got a copy of the 'Epitaph' from Syme. Young goes on: 'I put it into the hands of Mr Bushby as soon as it was received, and he merely laughed at it, seeming to think it rather complimentary, and said he would ask the fellow to dine with him some day at Tinwald Downs, where I heard he went with his friend Mr Syme, who was intimate with Mr Bushby.'

In Letters of John Ramsay, 1799 — 1821, addressed to his cousin Mrs Dundas, Ramsay of Ochtertyre writes on 21st September 1802:

'Heard you of old Bushby's dream the penult night of his life? When he thought he had fallen into a deep pit and after many efforts, got thro a gate which precipitated him lower and lower, till he awakened and behold it was a hideous Phantasma; and after eating a Dives dinner he breathed his last "unhouselled unanointed, unaneeled"*; not more than well prepared for his great change. He was one of the few men who could lead counties by the nose with the mask of honesty; to him bankruptcy proved the road to wealth and luxury.'

* Ramsay misquotes Shakespeare's 'unhousel'd, disappointed, unaneal'd', Hamlet I.v.

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Complete Burns Songs

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