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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Kirkpatrick, the Rev Joseph (1750 — 1824)

Minister of Dunscore Parish (in which Ellisland is situated), from 1776 until 1806 when he removed to Wamphray. He married Anne M'millan, daughter of the minister of Tothorwald. Burns attended Kirkpatrick's church, until he disagreed with Kirkpatrick's sermon on the centenary of the defeat of the Stuarts in 1688. This drew from Burns a letter, dated 8th November 1788, signed 'A Briton' and published in the Evening Courant. In it, Burns affirmed his loyalty to the Hanoverian line, but deplored the belittling of the Stuarts: 'The Stuarts have been condemned and laughed at for the folly and impracticability of their attempts in 1715 and 1745. That they failed, I bless my God most fervently; but cannot join in the ridicule against them Who does not know that the abilities or defects of leaders and commanders are often hidden until put to the touchstone of exigence; and that there is a caprice of fortune, an omnipotence in particular accidents, and conjunctures of circumstances, which exalt us as heroes, or brand us as madmen, just as they are for or against us?'

Burns then went on to draw a modern parallel, in bold strokes: 'Man, Mr Printer, is a strange, weak inconsistent being. Who would believe, Sir, that in this our Augustan age of liberality and refinement, while we seem so justly sensible and jealous of our rights and liberties, and animated with such indignation against the very memory of those who would have subverted them, who would suppose that a certain people, under our national protection, should complain, not against a Monarch and a few favorite advisers, but against our whole legislative body, of the very same imposition and oppression, the Romish religion not excepted, and almost in the very same terms as our forefathers did against the family of Stuart! I will not, I cannot, enter into the merits of the cause; but I dare say, the American Congress in 1776, will be allowed to have been as able and as enlightened and, a whole Empire will say, as honest as the English Convention in 1688; and that the fourth of July will be as sacred to their posterity as the fifth of November is to us.'

But, the cause of freedom apart, Burns found Kirkpatrick hopelessly dull and narrow, as he told Alexander Cunningham on 11th March 1791: 'My Parish priest... is in himself one vast constellation of dullness, and from his weekly zenith rays out his contradictory stupidity to the no small edification and enlightening of the heavy and opaque pericraniums of his gaping Admirers.'

There is no other testimony than that of Burns to Kiirkpatrick's inadequacies. Robert Riddell, in certain Addenda to the Statistical Account, described Kirkpatrick's contribution to the original work as: 'the worst account yet printed, except the account of the parish of Terregles. Much more may be said of Dunscore, but the ignorance and stupidity of the minister is such, and so great a Mule is he, that no good can be done with him.'

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