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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Simson, William (1758-1815)

Burns's 'winsome Willie', William Simson, was the elder of John Simson's two sons. William studied at Glasgow University, and was intended for the Church, but he became instead schoolmaster at his native Ochiltree in 1780. In 1788 he became Cumnock's schoolmaster, and remained there until he died. He was succeeded at Ochiltree by his brother Patrick. William was a rhymer, and wrote an epistle in verse to Burns, who retorted with his 'Epistle to William Simson', which describes his psychology of cornposition, and is one of the highlights of the Kilmarnock Edition:
"The Muse, nae poet ever fand her,
Till by himsel he learn'd to wander,
Adown some trotting burn's meander,
An' no think lang:
O' sweet to stray, an' pensive ponder,
A heart-felt sang !"

Simson's friend Thomas Walker, a tailor at Poole, near Ochiltree, encouraged by Simson's receipt of Burns's epistle, and perhaps aided by Simson, himself wrote a verse epistle to Burns, beginning: 'What woefu' news is this I hear?', dealing with the Jean Armour affair and the rumours of the poet's intention to flee the country. The answer, bearing Burns's name, 'What ails ye now, ye lousie b---h,' though severe, was much treasured by Walker, who believed it to be by Burns, though no manuscript of 'What ails ye now' has ever been found to justify this claim. (Kinsley, however, accepts it as genuine.) During the lifetime of Patrick Simson, James Paterson's book Contemporaries of Burns appeared, containing the information that William had told Burns of the hoax played on Walker. 'Happening to meet Burns not long after this', Paterson wrote, 'Simson informed him of the liberty he had taken with his name. 'You did well,' said the Poet, laughing, ' 'you thrashed the tailor much better than I would have done'.' Paterson's story, of course, proves nothing. But it adds strength to the belief, based on stylistic evidence, that the poem in question may not be by Burns.

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Robert Burns Store

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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
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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

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