His days at this time were spent stamping leather, guaging malt vats,
noting the manufacture of candles and granting licenses for the transport
of spirits. Usually dressed in a "decent suit of dark clothes" he had a
distinguished head with large dark brown eyes and a high forehead. His
features were a little coarse and he had a slight stoop but at nearly 1.8m
(5' 10") in height he must have cut a good figure in town.
Burns chair in Burns House
At Christmas 1793 he dined at Friars Carse with the Riddells. After
dinner the men discussed the legendary Rape of the Sabine Women by the
Romans. They decided to act out the scene to the women. The inebriated
Burns acted out his part with Maria Riddell as his ‘victim’. He so
offended her with his behaviour that he was asked to leave. The next day
Burns tried to apologise but this was not accepted. The loss of this
friendship was a great blow to him.
Rape of the Sabine Women by Nicholas Poussin
Britain and France were now at war. The chief consequence of this for
Burns was that there was less trade and his excise income was reduced. In
May 1794 Patrick Miller’s son offered him a job as a journalist in London
but Burns refused as he saw his future firmly in the Excise and he still
had strong doubts about earning a living from his pen. Just before
Christmas of that year his superior, Findlater took ill and Burns was
appointed acting Supervisor for Dumfries. This put Burns on the
‘collector’s list’ and made him eligible for promotion. He wrote that he
looked forward to the life of "literary leisure" that the sinecure of
Collector could one day give him.
Broughton House, Kirkcudbright
In the new year, however, he fell behind with his rent and wrote to his
landlord Captain John Hamilton:-"It is needless to attempt an apology for
my remissness to you in money matters: my conduct is beyond all excuse. -
Literally, Sir, I had it not. - The distressful state of Commerce at
this town, had this year taken from my otherwise scanty income no less
than 20£. - That part of my Salary depended upon the Imports, & they are
no more, for one year. - I enclose you three guineas: and shall soon
settle all with you."
The Captain, a friend, made light of the debt, asking Burns why he was
avoiding him and inviting him to his house.