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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Lorimer, Jean (1775 — 1831)

Daughter of William Lorimer, a merchant and farmer of Kemmishall, about 2 miles below Ellisland on the Nith, she was born at Craigieburn, near Moffat. Her good looks attracted several Excise people besides Burns: Lewis, Thomson and particularly John Gillespie, a colleague of Burns in the Excise office. On behalf of Gillespie Burns wrote several poems to Jean including 'Sweet closes the ev'ning on Craigieburn Wood', 'Come let me take thee to my breast' and 'Poortith Cauld' with its note of personal yearning.

Jean, however, would not have Gillespie, and eventually eloped to Gretna Gren with a young spendthrift called Whelpdale, who after 3 weeks of marriage, left his wife to escape from his creditors.

She returned to her father at Kemmishall, and reverted to her maiden name. When her father's fortunes failed, they moved to Dumfries. She was a frequent visitor at the Burns home.

Much has been made of Burns's friendship with Jean Lorimer, whom he called by the artificial name of 'Chloris'. Writing to Thomson about 'Craigieburn Wood', in October 1794, Burns referred to Chloris as a source of inspiration: 'The Lady on whom it was made, is one of the finest women in Scotland; and, in fact (entre nous), is in a manner to me what Sterne's Eliza was to him; a Mistress or Friend, or what you will, in the guise of Platonic Love.' Thomson was told not to put any of his 'squinting construction' on this; but, as Hilton Brown remarked: 'others have squinted pretty obliquely since'.

In the same letter, Burns revealed the way in which he whipped himself into an emotional state over a woman in order to make of her material for a song.

'Do you think that the sober gin-horse routine of existence could inspire a man with life, and love, and joy — could fire him with enthusiasm, or melt him with pathos, equal to the genius of your Book? — No! No!!! — When ever I want to be more than ordinary in song; to be in some degree equal to your divine airs; do you imagine I fast and pray for the celestial emanation? Tout au contraire! I have a glorious recipe, the very one that for his own use was invented by the Divinity of Healing and Poesy when erst he piped to the flocks of Admetus. I put myself on a regimen of admiring a fine woman; and in proportion to the adorability of her charms, in proportion you are delighted with my verses.'

Of the 24 songs certainly written to 'Chloris' Lorimer, whatever the state of her charms, none is among Burns's finest. She was, however, the inspiration of the poem, 'Lassie wi the lintwhite locks.'

Burns's friendship with the Lorimers declined towards the end of his life. When her father finally lost his memory, Jean became a family governess. After enduring years of desertion, she visited her husband when he was in the debtor's prison at Carlisle, having squandered several fortunes. She died at Newington.

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Complete Burns Songs

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