Burns is now a shining star in our glorious heritage of old poetry. But in 1787 he was still in his twenties. He was a young poet, and he had a happy little encounter in Banff. His travelling companion knew the Banff headmaster, Dr Chapman, who sent one of the schoolboys with them and a note to Duff House, so that they could see over. The boy’s name was George Imlach, a local name, a promising laddie, and he had heard of Burns. “Have you read the poems”? “Yes”. “Then which of them did you like best?” Nicol asked. “I was much entertained with the Twa Dogs and Death and Dr Hornbook; but I liked best by far the Cottar’s Saturday Night, although it made me greet when my father had me read it to my mother”. Burns, with a sort of sudden start, looked in my face intently [this is the laddie remembering years later], and, patting my shoulder, said, “Well, my callant, I don’t wonder at your greeting at reading the poem; it made me greet more than once, when I was writing it at my father’s fireside”. Are we not proud of 12-year-old George Imlach, a Banff loon who had read his Burns? Remember that the Kilmarnock edition, the first edition of Robert Burns, came out in 1786, only the year before this visit to Banff. Banff was not a backwater – they were reading the latest bestseller of the day. The Imlachs were a house where there were books, including poetry books. In those days people read not just the latest novels but the latest poets.
You might wonder why young George didn’t mention Tam o’ Shanter – if you’re not much entertained by Tam o’ Shanter you’re a sad sort of creature. There’s a straight-forward answer. Burns hadn’t written it yet. There’s a treat in store.