Postscript to Burns Visit to Inverness
Who met all the expenses of coach, coachman and subsistence?
In his biography of Burns (Alloway Publishing Ltd., 2004), James A. Mackay states that the Highland Tour “was to be Robert’s last extravagance before he settled down” (p. 332). He is probably correct although he does not give any corroboration for this assertion. In addition, Burns may have felt that he owed Nicol because he had lodged with him for 18 days shortly before the Highland Tour in the Latin teacher’s top flat in Pend House in Buccleuch Street in Edinburgh’s South Side.
Cartoon by Thomas Rowaldson (1756-1827) A contemporary of Burns
Did poet and companion travel first class?
We know that Dr Johnson had a poor opinion of Scottish hostelries during his travels with James Boswell. The following gives a flavour of what 18th Century inns were like:
“In consequence of the small number of passengers on the roads in those days of bad travelling, the inns in Scotland were miserable in the extreme. In country towns they were mean hovels, with dirty rooms, dirty food and dirty attendants. The Englishman, as he saw the servants without shoes or stockings, as he looked at the greasy tables without a cover, and he saw the butter thick with cow-hairs, the coarse meal served without a knife and fork, so that he had to use his fingers or a clasp-knife, the one glass or tin can handed round the company from mouth to mouth, his gorge rose. The contrast with the English hostelries was terrible – there everything was charming for its cleanliness, comfort, cosiness and cooking. It was the wearied traveller’s haven of rest after long dusty stages, associated with ease and civility, good drink, good fare, good beds, and good company beside the genial parlour fire.
But in Scotland the hostelries even in large towns afforded more entertainment for beast than for man. They were more fit for stabling than for lodging. Even when Captain Topham arrived in Edinburgh in 1774, and was recommended to one of the best inns in the city, he was driven out by the dirt and discomfort, by the rooms filled with carters and drovers, the filthy bedrooms, the smells and sights, and he sought refuge in a lodging in a fourth or fifth flat, slightly less unpleasant, and a vast deal dearer….The redeeming feature of those places was their cheapness – the tavern ordinary was only 4d.
(Ref: Graham, Henry Grey, The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, A & C Black Ltd., London, 1928, pp. 44-45)
What about highwaymen?
“Owing to the infrequency of travelling, there was at least one class of criminal from which Scotland was exempt, and that was of highwaymen. That fraternity, so large and prosperous, beyond the border, was here unknown; they would have grown weary of waiting for passengers to waylay, and died of poverty from finding so little to plunder from their persons.” (Ibid, p. 48)