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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Robertson, William (d. 1820)

Son of James Robertson of Lude, Perthshire, he succeeded to the estate in 1802. He entered the army when he was only fifteen, and saw service in the American War, in Holland, at the capture of St Lucia, and in other parts of the West Indies. In 1794, he raised an infantry regiment, the Perthshire Fencibles, and in 1804, a corps of Volunteers. He went to Spain with an expedition led by Sir John Murray Pulteney in 1805. Later, he served as staff officer in Scotland, the Channel Islands and various districts of England. He retired with the rank of Lieutenant-General in 1813.

The circumstances of Burns's friendship with him are set out in a letter dated 5th December 1793:

'Heated as I was with wine yesternight, I was perhaps rather seemingly impertinent in my anxious wish to he honored with your acquaintance. You will forgive it: it was the impulse of heart-felt respect. "He is the father of the Scotch County Reform, and is a man who does honor to the business, at the same time that the business does honor to him!" said my worthy friend Glenriddel, to somebody by me, who was talking of your coming to this country with your corps. Then, I replied, I have a woman's longing to take him by the hand and say to him, Sir, I honor you as a man to whom the interests of humanity are dear, and as a Patriot to whom the Rights of your Country are sacred.

'In times such as these, Sir, when our Commoners are barely able, by the glimmer of their own twilight understandings, to scrawl a frank; and when Lords are what gentlemen would he ashamed to be; to whom shall a sinking country call for help? To the independant country gentleman!

'To him who has too deep a stake in his country, not to be in earnest for her welfare; and who, in the honest pride of man, can view with equal contempt, the insolence of office, and the allurements of corruption.

'I mentioned to you a Scots ode or song I had lately composed, and which, I think, has some merit. Allow me to inclose it. When I fall in with you at the Theatre, I shall be glad to have your opinion of it. Accept of it, Sir; as a very humble but most sincere tribute of respect, from a man, who, dear as he prizes Poetic Fame, yet holds dearer an Independent Mind.'

The song was 'Scots wha hae'. Burns also gave Robertson a copy of 'Wilt Thou be my Dearie' - indeed, two copies, about the second of which there is an amusing note written in February or March 1794:

'Mr Burns presents his most respectful compliments to Major Robertson — begs leave to present him with another copy of the Song-as Mr B- understands that in a 'Treaty of Commerce' with a fair Lady, the little song was among the articles ceded by Major R-.

'Apropos, Mr B -s most devout wish and earnest prayer for Major Robertson's welfare is, - 'That in his commerce with the FAIR, the Balance of Trade may never he against him! Amen !'... '

Writing to Cunningham on 3rd March 1794, Burns said of Robertson: 'By the Bye, if you do not know him, let me beg of you, as you would relish a high acquisition to your social happiness, to get acquainted with him.'

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