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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Findlater, Alexander (1754 — 1839)

Son of the Reverend Thomas Findlater, Minister of Linton, Peebleshire. He joined the Excise in 1774, he was appointed Examiner on 1st June 1790, and in April 1791, became Supervisor at Dumfries. He went to Edinburgh as General Supervisor in 1797, and succeeded William Corbet At Glasgow as Collector in 1811, where he remained until he retired in 1825. His first wife, who died in 1810, was Susan Forresterof Falkirk; his second wife, Catherine Anderson.

Findlater had been supervisor at Dumfries for about six months, when Burns moved into the town. There, he became the poet's immediate superior. But, as Findlater afterwards put it: 'My connection with Robert Burns commenced immediately after his admission to the Excise, and continued to the hour of his death. In all that time the superintendence of his behaviour as an officer of the revenue, was a branch of my especial province, and it may be supposed I would not be an inattentive observer of the general conduct of a man and a poet so celebrated by his countrymen.'

A friendship quickly sprang up between the two men. In February 1790 (if Ferguson's dating is correct) there is a note from Burns to Findlater accompanying some new laid eggs from Ellisland 'All of them couch, not thirty hours out.' Burns put Findlater on the list of Dumfries people on the subscription list for Dr Anderson's magazine The Bee. Yet friendship did not result in any slackening of Findlater's scrutiny of Burns's work. A letter of June 1791, in which Burns explains himself, shows this clearly enough: 'I am both much surprised and vexed at that accident of Lorimer's stock. The last survey I made prior to Mr Lorimer's going to Edir. I ( was very particular in my inspection and the quantity was certainly in his possession as I stated it. The surveys I have made during his absence might as well have been marked "key absent", as I never found any body but the lady, who I know is not mistress of keys, &etc. to know anything of it, and one of the times, it would have rejoiced all Hell to have seen her so drunk. I have not surveyed there since his return. I know the gentleman's ways are, like the grace of G-, past all comprehension; but I shall give the house a severe scrutiny tomorrow morning, and send you in the naked facts.

'I know, Sir, and regret deeply that this business glances with a malign aspect on my character as an Officer; but as I am really innocent in the affair, and as the gentleman is known to be an illicit Dealer, and particularly as this is the single instance of the least shadow of carelessness or impropriety in my conduct as an Officer. I shall be peculiarly unfortunate if my character shall fall a sacrifice to the dark manoeuvres [sic] of a Smuggler.' The 'Smuggler', incidentally was the father of Chloris Lorimer.

During the illness of Findlater for some months from December 1794, Burns was appointed Acting Supervisor in his place.

Findlater defended Burns's loyalty and efficiency at the inquiry into the charges of disloyalty levelled against the poet in December 1792, and defended the dead poet in Alexander Peterkin's edition of 1815 against the calumnies of Heron, Currie and those who sought to paint Burns in his Dumfries days as a 'hopeless drunkard'.

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Complete Burns Songs

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