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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Lapraik, John (1727 — 1807)

An elderly farmer-bard who lived at Dalquhram, in the parish of Muirkirk until he was ruined by the Ayr Bank failure of 1783, and forced to sell his property. He was at one time imprisoned for debt. Later, he moved, first to Muirkirk, where he leased a farm, and then to Muirsmill, where he became innkeeper and postmaster. He married first, Margaret Rankine, sister of John Rankine of Adamhill, and second, Janet Anderson.

Lapraik was one of a number of local poets who provided Burns in his early days with a necessary literary environment. Lapraik had his poems put out by Wilson of Kilmarnock in 1788, with small success. One of them, which Lapraik apparently based on an anonymous piece in Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine for 14th October 1773, 'When I upon thy Bosom Lean', appeared in the Scots Musical Museum, possibly touched up by Burns.

Lapraik's real importance, however, is that his friendship with Burns stimulated the poet to write two of his best verse epistles to Lapraik. The first, dated 1st April 1785, follows the usual pattern of the 18th Century verse epistle form — a scene setting followed by a bouquet of fulsome compliment to the recipient, the main matter of the epistle, then a concluding section celebrating the pleasures of friendship and conviviality. In the 'First Epistle to John Lapraik', Burns sets out his poetic creed:

"I am nae poet, in a sense,
But just a rhymer, like, by chance,
An' hae to learning nae pretence;
Yet, what the matter?
Whene'er my muse does on me glance,
I jingle at her...
"Gie me ae spark o' Nature's fire,
That's a' the learning I desire;
Then, tho' I drudge thro' dub an' mire
At pleugh or cart,
My muse, tho' hamely in attire,
May touch my heart."

To this admirable outburst of perceptiveness, Lapraik duly replied in jauntier kind, sending his son to deliver it to Burns while he was sowing in a field at Mossgiel. So Burns sat down on 21st April to write again. The 'Second Epistle to John Lapraik' is mainly autobiographical in content, it details the bad luck which has been the writer's share, and leads to a declaration on the value of lowliness and contentment:

"Were this the charter of our state,
On pain o' hell be rich an' great,
Damnation then would be our fate,
Beyond remead;
But, thanks to heav'n, that's no the gate
We learn our creed.
"For thus the royal mandate ran,
When first the human race began,
The social, friendly, honest man,
Whate'er he be,
'Tis he fulfils great Nature's plan,
An' none but he."

The 'Third Epistle to J Lapraik' dated 13th September 1785, poorer in quality than its predecessors, was first published in Cromek's Reliques in 1808.

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