Welcome to
Burns Country - Home
 
Search This Site
 

Everything you wanted to know about Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard (and lots more besides). Please let us know if anything's missing, wrong, or just plain wonderful

Burns Country Collage

AULD LANG SYNE
Words | Karaoke!

Burns Shop
Poems and Songs
Burns Encyclopaedia
Burns Suppers
Burns Cottage and Park
Burns in English
Burns Chess Set
Burns Links
Scotweb Mall
 
robert burns store
View our exclusive range of distinctive Robert Burns related products.

Register with our Shopping Club for further offers and unique member offers.

Contact us:
info@robertburns.org


The Burns Encyclopedia
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Fisher, William (1737 — 1809)

Prototype of 'Holy Willie' was the son of Andrew Fisher, farmer at Montgarswood, Mauchline. William Fisher farmed with his father, and at the age of 35 was chosen elder of the parish. He was, it seems, assiduous in his duties so far as visiting the sick and the aged went, but he lacked what has been called 'a sense of Christian forbearance.' At any rate, it was thought to be on his instigation that the minister and kirk session of Mauchline instituted proceedings against Gavin Hamilton for an alleged failure to observe the Sabbath in what the kirk session deemed a proper manner. As Gavin Hamilton was a much valued friend of Burns, the poet turned his satirical powers against Fisher in 'Holy Willie's Prayer' and the 'Epitaph on Holy Willie' and 'the Kirk's Alarm'.

In a note which Burns later prefixed to 'Holy Willie's Prayer', for Glenriddell, the poet described him as 'a rather oldish bachelor elder in the parish of Mauchline, and much and justly famed for that polemical chattering which ends in tipplin orthodoxy, and for that spirtualised bawdry which refines to liquourish devotion.'

He was, in fact, husband to Jean Hewatson, who bore him several children. But of his narrowness, the persecution of the liberal minded Hamilton is abundant evidence. As Snyder puts it: 'When men like Fisher represented the temporal power of orthodox Calvinism, it was small wonder that rebels against the establishment were easy to find; or that a rebel like Burns, embittered by personal humiliation and the treatment of his friend Hamilton, should have broken forth in derisive mockery.'

In spite of Burns's feelings on the Hamilton case, however, the remarkable thing is that 'Holy Willie's Prayer' never descends to abuse, or softens to farce. The character drawing is firm and consistent, and the self important, insignificant little church elder of Mauchline becomes the prototype of hypocrisy itself in what is perhaps the greatest satire against that vice written in any European tongue.

Fisher himself, however, fell from grace. On 14th October 1790, he stood before the 81 year old 'Daddy' Auld to receive a rebuke for drunkenness, a harangue which the minister preserved in his book of rebukes, and which ended: 'Be upon your guard in all time coming against this bewitching sin, shun bad company, avoid taverns as much as possible, and abhor the character of a tippler. Abstain carefully from strong drink, and from everything that may intoxicate and injure you; and withal seek wisdom from heaven to guide you, and grace to enable you to walk stedfastly in ways of sobriety and holiness all your days.'

Posterity has doubted whether or not Fisher was, in fact, granted either of these lines of wisdom. In 'The Kirk's Alarm', which appeared in 1790, Burns makes a clear accusation of embezzlement:

"Holy Will, Holy Will,
There was wit I' your skull,
When ye pilfered the alms o' the poor;
The timmer is scant,
When ye're ta'en for a saunt,
Wha should swing in a rape for an hour."

In 1834, when Fisher had been 21 years dead, the somewhat unreliable Allan Cunningham made a definite accusation of pilfering from an alms box out of Burns's stanza. Other biographers, including Chambers, followed suit. No evidence to support such a charge has ever been found.

However, Fisher froze to death in a ditch on a snowy night in February 1809.

Buy the Burns Encyclopedia online
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Robert Burns Store

NEW!! robert burns store View our exclusive range of distinctive Robert Burns related products. Register with our Shopping Club for further offers and unique member offers.Click here...


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
Search our huge CD and music store for any Burns-related phrase!
Hint: Type "lang syne" or "peck maut" etc. into the Search box there for all artists, titles, descriptions or track listings with the words entered.
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

ScotwebThe finest Scottish shopping site in the world, with the world's largest choice of kilts and tartans, exclusive jewelry, Highland Dress, Bagpipes and piping supplies, cashmere, and much more. Buying from these sites helps pay for the upkeep of Burns Country! Click here...