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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Davies, Deborah Duff

The daughter of Dr Daniel Davies of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, and a relative of the Riddell family. Burns met her when he was a Ellisland, and made her the heroine of some songs and epigrams. Small of stature, she was nevertheless a beauty. She went abroad for her health, but soon afterwards died of consumption at an early age. Cunningham alleges, probably fancifully, that she was jilted by one Captain Delaney, and as a result 'went into a decline'. As Ferguson puts it: 'Anyone who cares to believe Cunningham is free to do so.'

Burns's first letter to her has never been accurately placed, August 1789, 91 or 92 all being suggested by Ferguson. They appear to have accompanied the somewhat stilted lines, The charms of lovely Davies'. Miss Davies's social position put her into the category of the 'untouchables', so far as Burns was concerned, and although a cheerful letter from her to him, sent from Fontainebleau in 1792, survives, Burns's letter to her were all couched in his most artificial style, obviously designed to impress.

In a particularly turgid letter, written on 6th April 1793, Burns rants about the inequalities which allow 'misbegotten chance' to put foolish men in high places. What was perhaps really in his mind, however, is revealed in a later paragraph and by the tenderly passionate song enclosed with the letter. The paragraph reads: 'Still the inequalities of life are, among Men, comparatively tolerable, but there is a delicacy, a tenderness, accompanying every view in which one can place a lovely WOMAN, that are granted and shocked at the rude, capricious distinctions of Fortune. Woman is the blood-royal of life: let there be slight degrees of precedency among them but let them all be sacred.' The song was the exquisite 'Bonie Wee Thing', 'composed on my little idol, the charming lovely Davies', as Burns himself recorded. It first appeared in the Museum, 1792. The air goes back to an original in the Straloch Manuscript, 1627.

Writing to Mrs Dunlop in June 1793, Burns compared Miss Davies, 'positively the least creature ever I saw, to be at the same time unexceptionably, and indeed uncommonly handsome and beautiful' with a Mrs S -, 'a huge bony, masculine, cowpcarl, horse-godmother, hetermagant of a six feet figure, who might have been bride to Og, King of Bashan: a Goliah of Goth.' He added an epigram:

"Ask why God made the GEM so small,
And why so huge the granite?
Because, God meant mankind should set
That higher value on it."

In a letter to Miss Davies, probably written in June 1793, Burns revealed yet another aspect of his process of putting himself in the regimen of admiring a fine woman. 'Bye the bye', he told her, 'I am a good deal luckier than most poets. When I sing of Miss Davies or Miss Lesley Baillie, I have only to feign the passion — the charms are real.'

So, however, is the passion in 'Bonie Wee Thing'.

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Complete Burns Songs

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