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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Whitefoord, Sir John (1734 — 1803)

Third Baronet of Blairquhan, an agricultural improver, master of St James's Masonic Lodge, Tarbolton, and a friend of the Earl of Glencairn. John Kay described him as 'a remarkably smart, active little man'. He heired the estate of Ballochmyle, but owing to his heavy losses as a shareholder in the Douglas, Heron and Company Bank disaster, he was forced to sell to the Alexander family in 1788.

Writing to Whitefoord on 1st December 1786, soon after he arrived in Edinburgh, Burns said, apropos his own position: 'the situation of poets is generally such, to a proverb, as may, in some measure, palliate that prostitution of heart and talents they have at times been guilty of. I do not think prodigality is, by ant means, a necessary concomitant of a poetic turn, but I believe a careless, indolent attention to economy is almost inseparable from it; then there must be in the heart of every bard of Nature's making, a certain modest sensibility, mixed with a kind of pride, that will ever keep him out of the way of those windfalls of fortune which frequently light on hardy impudence and foot-licking servility. It is not easy to imagine a more helpless state than his whose poetic fancy unfits him for the world, and whose character as a scholar gives him some pretensions to the politesse of life — yet is as poor as I am.'

The advice he got from Whitefoord was that 'your character as a man (forgive my reversing your order) as well as a poet, entitles you, I think, to the assistance of every inhabitant of Ayrshire... If a sum could be raised by subscription for a second edition of your poems... lay it out in the stocking of a small farm,' advice which, of course, Burns took.

'Farewell to Ballochmyle' was written by the poet when the estate was sold. He enclosed his 'Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn' with the 'Lines to Sir John Whitefoord Bart'. The Whitefoord lines are hardly among the poets best. The Whitefoord family moved to Edinburgh after Ballochmyle was sold, and there Burns also visited them. Mary Anne Whitefoord, Whitefoord's eldest daughter, was the Maria of 'Farewell to Ballochmyle'. Burns was also friendly with Mary's brother John.

Sir John's brother Caleb was a once well-known wit and satiric versifier, whom Goldsmith described in 'The Retaliation' as 'the best natured man with the worst-natured muse'.

Incidentally, a predecessor of Sir John's, Colonel Allan Whitefoord, is supposed to have provided Sir Walter Scott with the prototype of Colonel Talbot in Waverly.

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Complete Burns Songs

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