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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Clark, William

Provost of Dumfries in 1787, when Burns received the freedom of the burgh on 4th June.


Burns's servant at Ellisland, during the winter half-year of 1789 to 1790. Clark gave the following recollection of Burns to Chanbers for his Life and Works of Burns:

'Soon after Burns became tenant of Ellisland, William Clark lived with him as servant during the winter half-year, he thinks, of 1789-90...

'Burns kept two men and two women servants; but he invariably, when at home, took his meals with his wife and family in the little parlour. Clark thought he was as good a manager of land as the generality of the farmers in the neighbourhood. The farm of Ellisland was said to be moderately rented, and was susceptible to much improvement, had improvement been in repute. Burns sometimes visited the neighbouring farmers, and they returned the compliment; but that way of spending time and exchanging civilities was not so common then as now, and, besides, the most of the people thereabouts had no expectation that Burns's conduct and writings would be so much noticed afterwards. Burns kept 9 or 10 milch cows, some young cattle, four horses, and several pet sheep: of the latter he was very fond. During the winter and spring time, when he was not engaged with the Excise business, he occasionally held the plough for an hour or so for him (William Clark), and was a fair workman, though the mode of ploughing now-a-days is much superior in many respects. During seed-time, Burns might be frequently seen, at an early hour in the fields with his sowing sheet; but as business often required his attention from home, he did not sow the whole of the grain. He was a kind and indulgent master, and spoke familiarly to his servants, both in the house and out of it, though, if anything put him out of humour, he was gey guldersome for a wee while: the storm was soon over, and there was never a word of upcast afterwards. Clark never saw him really angry but once, and it was occasionally by the carelessness of one of the woman-servants who had not cut potatoes small enough, which bought one of the cows into danger of being choked. His looks, gestures and voice on that occasion were terrible: W.C. was glad to be out of his sight, and when they met again Burns was perfectly calm. If any extra work was to be done, the men sometimes got a dram; but Clark had lived with masters who were more flush in that way to their servants. Clark, during the six months he spent at Ellisland, never once saw his master intoxicated or incapable of managing his own business... Burns when at home, usually wore a blue or drab long-tailed coat, corduroy breeches, dark-blue stockings, and cootikens, and in cold weather a black-and-white-checked plaid wrapped round his shoulders. Mrs Burns was a good and prudent housewife, kept everything in neat and tidy order, was well liked by the servants, for whom she provided abundance of wholesome food. At parting Burns gave Clark a certificate of character, and, besides paying his wages in full, gave him a shilling for a fairing.'

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