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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Dundas, Robert, Lord Arniston (1713 — 87)

Lord Advocate 1754, and Lord President of the Court of Session from 1760. Burns wrote a poem, 'On the Death of Lord President Dundas', which he described as:

"O heavy loss, thy country ill could bear!

A loss these evil days can ne'er repair!"

Lord Cockburn said of him: 'Robert Dundas of Arniston, the son of one Lord President and the grandson of another, was in public affairs the most important person in this country. For he was lord Advocate in the most alarming times, and at a period when extravagant and arbitrary powers were ascribed to that office. I knew him well; and lived many autumns with him, at Arniston, in my youth. His abilities and acquirements were moderate: and owing to the accident of his birth which placed him above all risk of failure in life, he was never in a situation where he was compelled to improve either. Hence, with all the advantages of his position, all the favour of agents, and all the partiality of courts, he never commanded any independent private practice... He was a little, alert, handsome, gentlemanlike man, with a countenance and air beaming with sprightliness and gaiety, and dignified by considerable fire: altogether inexpressibly pleasing. It was impossible not to like the owner of that look.'

Burns's dislike of the Dundas family, however, is explained in a letter dated 11th March 1791, to Alexander Cunningham: 'I have two or three times in my life composed from the wish, rather than from the impulse, but I never succeeded to any purpose. One of these times I shall ever remember with gnashing of teeth. 'Twas on the death of the late Lord President Dundas. My very worthy and most respecte friend, Mr Alexr. Wood, Surgeon, urged me to pay a compliment in the way of my trade to his Lordship's memory. Well, to work I went, and produced a copy of Elegiac verses, some of them I own rather commonplace, and others rather hide-bound, but on the whole, though they were far from being in my best manner, they were tolerable: and had they been the production of a Lord or a Baronet, they would have been thought very clever. I wrote a letter, which however was in my very best manner, and enclosing my Poem, Mr Wood carried all together to mr Solicitor Dundas that then was, and not finding him at home, left the parcel for him. His Solicitorship never took the smallest notice of the letter, the poem, or the poet. From that time, highly as I respect the talents of their Family, I never see the name, Dundas, in the column of a newspaper, but my heart seems straitened for room in my bosom; and if I am obliged to read aloud a paragraph relating to one of them, I feel my forehead flush, and my lip quivers. Had I been an obscure Scribbler, as I was then in the hey-day of my fame; or had I been a dependent Hanger-on for favor or pay; or had the bearer of the letter been any other than a gentleman who has done honour to the city in which he lives, to the Country that produced him, and to the God that created him, Mr Solicitor might have had some apology.

'But enough of this ungracious subject.'

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Complete Burns Songs

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