"Faint Heart Ne'er Wan A Lady Fair"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Burns, the oldest of seven children of a terribly poor farmer, was encouraged by his father to take up literature. From his mother, he inherited wit and an ability to rhyme. So endowed, at the age of sixteen he wrote his first song, "O, once I loved a bonie lass." But though in subsequent years he added other poems to the manuscripts collected in a table drawer, he did nothing with them until, in 1786, he needed money for passage to Jamaica, where he had been offered a job on a plantation. Then he shipped off the bundle to a publisher who issued them as Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in an edition of 600 copies that brought Burns £20. Before he could sail for the West Indies, however, a letter from a certain Dr. Thomas Blacklock reached him, complimenting him on the volume and encouraging him to consider a second edition. From then on, Dr. Blacklock was one of Burns' best friends. A number of Burns' letters to Blacklock have been preserved. However, one, telling how he planned to legitimatize his relationship with Jean Armour by marrying her, was lost in transit. From Edinburgh, on August 24, 1789, Blacklock wrote a rhymed letter beginning "Dear Burns, thou brother of my heart." It inquired about the health of Jean and their children. To this graceful letter, so full of interest and good wishes, Burns replied with another in verse that begins in a light mood, but turns bitter before its conclusion. It is dated at Ellisland Farm, 21st Oct., 1789, and for it the poet used the rhyme scheme now known as "Burns's stanza." It begins: "Wow, but your letter made me vauntie!" In it he apologizes for the non-arrival of the earlier letter. Then Burns mentions his "wife and twa wee laddies," and hopes to provide well for them because it is man's duty to maintain a happy fireside for "weans" (children) and wife. The final three stanzas declare:

Come, Firm Resolve, take thou the van,
Thou stalk o' carl-hemp in man!
And let us mind, faint heart ne'er wan
A lady fair;
Wha does the utmost that he can,
Will whyles do mair.
But to conclude my silly rhyme,
(I'm scant o' verse, and scant o' time,)
To make a happy fireside clime
To weans and wife,
That's the true pathos and sublime
Of human life.
My compliments to sister Beckie;
And eke the same to honest Lucky,
I wat she is a daintie chuckie,
As e'er tread clay!
And gratefully, my guid auld cockie,
I'm yours for ay.