The Funeral

The poet had been a popular and respected figure in Dumfries and his premature death brought a genuine feeling of regret and sorrow. There was a realisation of the loss that the town had suffered and immediately preparations were made for a fitting funeral.

As he was a Volunteer, a military ceremony was arranged. The Fencible Infantry of Angusshire and the Cinque Ports Cavalry were stationed in Dumfries at the time and they offered their services.

Funeral procession, High St., Dumfries Funeral procession at St. Michael's Churchyard
Funeral procession, High St., Dumfries Funeral procession at St. Michael's Churchyard

On Monday 25th July 1796 an enormous crowd assembled to watch the funeral procession. His body had been transferred to the Midsteeple on the Sunday evening. To the strains of the Dead March from Handelís ĎSaulí, the procession moved slowly to St Michaelís Church, where his remains were buried in the north east corner of the churchyard. On the same day his wife gave birth to another son who, with unconscious irony, was named Maxwell after the doctor whose advice had finally brought about Burnsí death. Throughout Scotland there was a feeling of loss and self reproach for failing to appreciate and foster so extraordinary a genius. Immediately Syme, Maxwell and Alexander Cunningham, a friend of Burnsí in Edinburgh, started a subscription to provide for the poetís widow and children. In Dumfriesshire alone over £100, a large amount for those days, was raised in less than three months.

It was also their intention that a biography of Burns should be written as soon as possible and the profits used to aid Mrs Burns. Dr James Currie, a Liverpool physician who came originally from Annan was chosen as biographer. The biography, published in 1800, was an immediate success and raised £1400. However, the treatment of Burns in the book has left misconceptions about his life which prevail to this day.

Portrait of James Currie
James Currie

Currie, a reformed alcoholic, chose to put a moral slant on Burnsís life and painted a picture of drunkenness and excess in the poetís later years. Even by the 1830s, Currie was being called "a man of narrow intellect" and it was said that "under the mask of benevolence of his [Burnsí] family he stabbed his reputation with certainty and security."

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