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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Falconer, William (1732 — 69)

The son of a barber in Edinburgh's Netherbow, he was the author of the poem The Shipwreck, much admired by Mrs Dunlop. On 24th December 1789, she wrote to Burns: 'I would go twenty miles, if I had it in my power to do it with decency, to see William Falconer... What a warmth of soul must he have originally possest when the ocean was not able to quench it!... Do write me what you think of this volume. Is my estimation fantastical, or does your judgment second mine? I hope it does, for I resolve, if I can find The Shipwreck, it shall be placed close by your side on my shelf, at least for one month, my inseparable friend and companion. I will turn to it when the tempest howls, and pray for the poor wanderers of the wave with double hope and double fervour.'

Replying to her letter from Ellisland on 25th January 1790, Burns told her of Falconer's fate: 'Falconer, the poor unfortunate Author of the Shipwreck, that glorious Poem which you so much admire, is no more. After weathering that dreadful catastrophe he so feelingly describes in his Poem, and fter weathering many hard gales of Fortne, he went to the bottom with the Aurora frigate! I forget what part of Scotland had the honor of giving him birth, but he was the son of obscurity and misfortune. He was one of those daring adventurous spirits which old Caledonia beyond any other nation is remarkable for producing.'

But the literary historian J H Millar wrote of The Shipwreck: 'It is difficult even to counterfeit interest in the fortunes of Paelmon, and Aalbert and Anna; and if the reading of the poem once begun is not soon desisted from, it is because of the peculiar fascination which arises from the mingling of two such incongruous elements as the poetical diction of the 18th Century and the terms of the seaman's art.' In view of such differing opinions, a sample may not be out of place:

"A lowering squall obscures the southern sky,
Before whose sweeping breath the waters fly;
Its weight the topsails can no more sustain —
Reef topsails, reef! The master calls again.
The halyards and top bow-lines soon are gone,
To clue lines and reef tackles next they run:
The shivering sails descend: the yards are square:
Then quick aloft the ready crew repair..."
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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

Burns Chess SetsUnique collectors' pieces based on Burns' life and works. (The ideal gift for your Burns Supper guests!) Click here...

Scotweb Store

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