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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Erskine, David Stewart, eleventh Earl of Buchan (1742 — 1829)

The Earl succeeded to the title in 1767. He fancied himself as a patron of the arts, and dabbled in writing. In 1780, he was one of the founders of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. He wrote to Burns on 1st February 1787, in patronising terms that no doubt he considered his rank entitled him to use: 'I have read with great pleasure several of your poems, and I have subscribed in Lady Glencairn's list for 6 copies of your book for myself, and 2 for Lady Buchan.

'These little doric pieces of yours in our provincial dialect are very beautiful, but you will soon be able to diversify your language, your rhyme and your subject, and then you will have it in your power to show the extent of your genius, and to attempt works of greater magnitude, variety and importance.' Buchan then advised Burns to keep his 'Eye upon Parnassus, and drink deep of the fountains of Helicon, but beware of the Joys that is dedicated to the Jolly God of wine' and to renew his inspiration by visiting the classic scenes of Scottish literature and history. Burns replied on 7th February: 'Your Lordship touches the darling chord of my heart when you advise me to fire my muse at Scottish story and scenes. I wish for nothing more than to make a leisurely Pilgrimage through my native country; to sit and muse on those once hard contended fields, where Caledonia, rejoicing, saw her bloody lion borne through broken ranks to victory and fame; and catching the inspiration, to pour the deathless Names in Song.' But, Burns reminded the dilettante Earl, he had to live, and for that reason: 'must return to my rustic station, and, in my wonted way woo my rustic Muse at the Ploughtail.'

In August 1791, the Earl invited Burns to the crowning of a bust of the poet Thomson, and suggested that Burns might write an appropriate poem. Burns replied that he could not attend because of the harvest. However, he sent the stanzas 'Address to the Shade of Thomson, on Crowning his Bust at Ednam, Roxburghshire, with a Wreath of Bays'. In the event, the bust was smashed in a drunken frolic before the ceremony could take place, and the Earl had to lay the wreath on a volume of Thomson's poems! Burns sent him a copy of 'Scots Wha Hae' in January 1794. The Earl unveiled an enormous statue of Wallace on the river bank of Tweed, near Dryburgh,in 1814. At the same time he crowned a bust of Burns speaking twelve lines of verse he had composed in memory of the poet. His most audacious performance was his intrusion into Scott's family when Sir Walter was ill in 1819. Buchan had plans for the funeral ceremony! Scott later described Buchan as a person 'whose immense vanity, bordering upon insanity, obscured, or rather eclipsed, very considerable talents...'

Most of Buchan's cultural eccentricities betrayed a strong love of self advertisement. At Kirtland, West Lothian, where he had a mansion, he built a model solar system, 12,183 miles to an inch in scale, only one stone relic of which remains today. He also erected a memorial to his ancestors in the grounds of Dryburgh Abbey, a figure of James I which is still to be seen.

The Rev George William Hay Drummond, in A Town Eclogue (1804) satirises Buchan thus:

"His brain with ill-assorted fancies stor'd,
Like shreds and patches on a tailor's Board,
Women, and whigs and poetry and pelf,
And every corner stuffed with mighty self."
Buy the Burns Encyclopedia online
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Complete Burns Songs

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