The Final Years

His quarrel with Maria Riddell began to resolve itself. His health, however had begun to deteriorate seriously during the year. As a youth he had been the chief labourer in his father’s farm at Mount Oliphant, Ayrshire. The effort of ploughing the farm’s rough ground had placed a great strain on his heart and the result of this was now causing him increasing suffering. He wrote to Maria Riddell that he was "so ill as to be scarce able to hold this miserable pen to this miserable paper." He believed he had rheumatic fever. Nevertheless he continued to take a keen interest in the town’s affairs and wrote to the provost, David Staig about an anomaly in a tax on beer which was losing the Town Council money:

"I have been for some time turning my attention to a branch of your good towns revenue, where, I think, there is much to amend: I mean the ‘Twa Pennies’ on Ale. The Brewers ... within the jurisdiction pay accurately; but three Common Brewers in the Brigend, whose consumpt is almost entirely in Dumfries, pay nothing; Annan Brewer, who daily sends in great quantities of ale, pays nothing: and of all the English Ale, Porter, &c, scarcely any of it pays ... Your brewers here, the Richardsons, one of whom, Gabriel, I survey, pay annually in ‘twapennies’, about thirty pounds, and they complain, of the unfair balance against them, in their competition with the Bridgend, Annan and English Traders."

The Provost was so impressed that the Town Council agreed to levy a more equal tax.

Drawing of Burns Centre Drawing of Black Bull Inn
Robert Burns Centre Dumfries The Black Bull Inn, Moffat

In May 1795 Alexander Reid painted a portrait of him. Burns described it:

"there is an artist, of very considerable merit, just now in this town, who has hit the most remarkable likeness of what I am at this moment that I think ever was taken of anybody. It is a small miniature ..."

Portrait of Burns by A. Reid
Robert Burns by Alexander Ried


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