FRASERS/OR SEPTS OF THE CLAN.
JOHN SYME 1755-1831.
THE BARD'S FRIEND
Son of the Laird of Barncailzie, Kirkcudbrightshire and like his father,
a Writer to the Signet, young Syme spent some years in the Army, as an
ensign in the 72nd regiment. He then retired to his father's estate, where
he experimented with farming improvements.
His father lost heavily as a result of the Ayr Bank failure and Syme was
no longer able to live at Barncailzie.
Appointed to the Sinecure of Collector of Stamps for the District, Syme
moved to Dumfries in 1791. His office was on the ground floor of a house,
which is now Bank Street. When Robert Burns, a few months later, moved
from his farm at Ellisland to the Wee or Stinking Vennel, he became a
tenant of Capt. John Hamilton, on the floor above Syme's office (Syme
was his superior in the Customs and Excise). Syme, a few years older than
Burns, found Dumfries society dull and welcomed in the poet, a convivial
kindred spirit. Burns was a frequent guest a Syme's villa Ryedale, on
the West side of the Nith.
Of Syme as a host Burns wrote, in an impromptu verse: "Who is proof to
thy personal converse and wit, Is proof to all other temptation."
the summer of 1794, Syme accompanied Burns on a tour through Galloway.
The poet, smarting from the restrictions on his Jacobin sympathies, by
the Commissioners of the Excise, apparently raged against the rich at
the mere sight of a mansion.
According to Syme's remembered recollection of the trip, they rode to
Kenmure the first day, then on to Gatehouse-of-Fleet, Kirkcudbright and
St Mary's Isle, where they were happily entertained by Lord Selkirk. Again
according to Syme: "The poet was delighted with is company and acquitted
himself to admirationů.." It was on this tour that Burns wrote "Scots
Wha Hae" and a Thomas Fraser, bandsman, was involved with the tune. Syme
visited Burns at Brow on 15th July 1796, and again a few days later, when
Burns had returned to Dumfries. He was horrified at the poet's deteriorated
After Burn's death, Syme, with Dr Maxwell organised the funeral, and,
with Alexander Cunningham, worked unsparingly raising money to help the
poet's widow and children and was the first to push for a Mausoleum to
be built to hold the remains of the world's greatest poet. He was one
of those who urged Dr Currie to undertake his edition of Burns's work,
and along with Gilbert Burns spent three weeks staying with Currie at
his Liverpool home.
Syme left some highly-coloured, though valuable, reminiscences of Burns.
His correspondence with Cunningham came to light a few years ago. Of Burns's
features, Syme wrote: "The poet's expression varied perpetually, according
to the idea that predominated in his mind: and it was beautiful to mark
how well the play of his lips indicated the sentiment he was about to
utter. His eyes and lips, the first remarkable for fire, and the second
for flexibility, formed at all times an index to his mind, and as sunshine
or shade predominated, you might have told a priori, whether the company
was to be favoured with scintillation of wit, or sentiment of benevolence,
or a burst fiery indignationů. I cordially concur with what Sir Walter
Scott says of the poet's eyes. In his animated moments, and particularly
when his anger was aroused by instances of tergiversation, meanness, or
tyranny, they were actually like coals of living fire."
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