[1988:] Dies ist eines der beiden Lieder, die Burns am 27.12.1791 an 'Clarinda' schickte, nachdem er mit Jean Armour die Heirat beschlossen hatte. (Camerer 213)
Mrs. Agnes M'Lehose war die Frau eines zu Brutalitäten neigenden Rechtsanwalts aus Glasgow, der nach ihrer beider Trennung nach Jamaika ausgewandert war. Burns traf sie am 4. Dezember 1787 in Edinburgh bei einer Teegesellschaft. Zwischen den beiden entwickelte sich eine sentimentale und eigentümlich irreale Beziehung, die sich, wegen Burns' Unfall wenige Tage nach ihrer ersten Begegnung, zunächst auf einen beschwingten Briefwechsel beschränkte, wobei die beiden einander als 'Clarinda' und 'Sylvander' anredeten. Die Beziehung endete vorläufig mit Burns' Abreise im Februar 1788, nachdem er das Versprechen gegeben hatte, auf sie zu warten und sie zu heiraten, sobald der Tod ihres Gatten sie freisetze - ein Ereignis, das erst eintrat, als Burns schon einige Jahre im Grab lag.
'Samstagabend: 8. Dezember 1787 St. James' Square No. 2
Ich kann wahrheitsgetreu sagen, Madam, daß ich nie in meinem Leben einen Menschen getroffen habe, den ich sehnlicher wünschte wiederzusehen als Sie. - Heute abend hätte ich das große Vergnügen haben sollen - ich war berauscht von dem Gedanken daran - doch ein unglücklicher Sturz von einer Kutsche hat eines meiner Knie so verletzt, daß ich mein Bein nicht vom Kissen bewegen kann. Falls ich Sie deshalb nicht wiedersehe, werde ich vor Kummer keine Ruhe im Grab finden. - Ich war im Innersten getroffen, Sie nicht schon früher kennengelernt zu haben; ich war entschlossen, Ihre Freundschaft mit religiöser Begeisterung zu pflegen; doch so hat mir das Schicksal schon immer mitgespielt. - Ich kann den Gedanken nicht ertragen, Edinburgh zu verlassen, ohne Sie gesehen zu haben. - Ich weiß nicht, wie ich das erklären sollte - daß mich manche Menschen in ganz merkwürdiger Weise für sich einnehmen; selten irre ich mich in ihnen. Sie sind mir fremd; doch bin ich ein seltsames Wesen; einige noch namenlose Gefühle - Dinge, keine Grundsätze, dennoch besser als Launen, tragen mich weiter fort als hochgelobte Vernunft je einen Philosophen trug.
Lebt wohl! jede Glückseligkeit sei die Ihre!
(Camerer, Burns 294f)
[1986:] What he actually did, little over a month after he had parted from Margaret Chalmers [with protestations of love], was to sit down and write to another woman, with whom he was barely acquainted: 'I can say with truth, Madam, that I never met with a person in my life whom I more anxiously wished to meet again than yourself.' Burns had not changed since the days when he made mutually exclusive protestations to Mary Campbell and Jean Armour, though now he was addressing them to girls not so accessible to what he called his 'dearest member'.
Agnes M'Lehose was a married woman of about the same age as Burns whose husband had separated from her and lived in Jamaica, leaving her penniless. She seems to have become infatuated even before she engineered her first meeting with the bard on 6 December , after his return to Edinburgh, and in the tragicomedy that ensued he used every weapon in his armoury in an attempt to seduce her. But she depended on her uncle Lord Craig, a Court of Session judge, for her maintenance, while her morals were guarded by the formidable Minister of the Tolbooth Church, the Rev. John Kemp. As he sought a passage between Scylla and Charybdis, she alternately beckoned him on and warned him back, in prose and verse.
Your Friendship much can make me blest,
O, why that bliss destroy!
Why urge the odious, one request
You know I must deny!
The sparring match continued throughout the winter, in private meetings that did not quite overstep the 'limits of Virtue', and in letters in which they addressed one another as Clarinda and Sylvander. Burns consoled himself for the refusal of his odious request in the arms of a servant named Jenny Clow, who became pregnant like the others.
[He] wrote to Clarinda, and described his meeting with Jean [Armour in February 1788]; 'twas setting the expiring glimmer of a farthing taper beside the cloudless glory of the meridian sun. Here was tasteless insipidity, vulgarity of soul, and mercenary fawning; there, polished good sense, heaven-born genius, and the most generous, the most delicate, the most tender Passion. I have done with her, and she with me.' As the world knows, they had done no such thing. [...]
By the end of April the bard was writing to his friend James Smith the linen draper, 'to let you into the secrets of my pericranium, there is, you must know, a certain clean-limbed, handsome, bewitching young hussy of your acquaintance, to whom I have lately and privately given a matrimonial title to my corpus.' [...] But he did not tell Clarinda [about his marriage to Jean Armour], leaving her to find out by hearsay.
She relapsed into a year's shocked silence before writing him a letter which is lost, so that its contents can only be guessed from his sanctimonious, self-righteous reply. 'When you call over the scenes that have passed between us, you will survey the conduct of an honest man, struggling successfully with temptations the most powerful that ever beset humanity, and preserving untainted honour in situations where the austerest Virtue would have forgiven a Fall - Situations that I will dare to say, not a single individual of all his kind, even with half his sensibility and passion, could have encountered without ruin ...' Of all the bard's self- dramatizations, this picture of a man of unassailable morals, repelling the almost irresistible temptations of a harpy, like Odysseus tied to the mast, is
among the most hilarious. (Grimble, Robert Burns 83ff)
[In 1791, Burns paid a visit] to Clarinda in Edinburgh. In November 1791 she wrote to him after a long silence, reminding him in formal terms of his obligations to Jenny Clow, the servant who had borne him a son [...]: and so the relationship had been restored to friendly terms by the time he encountered Clarinda, now 'my dearest Nancy' after their long separation. Poor Jenny had served her turn twice over.
Agnes M'Lehose had arranged to join her husband in Jamaica by the time she and Burns met in Edinburgh for the last time on 6 December. Forty years later she was to enter in her journal under that date: 'Parted with Burns, in the year 1791, never more to meet in this world. Oh, may we meet in Heaven.' For his part the bard commemorated their parting in a beautiful song which, as in the case of his address to Mary Campbell in heaven, gives little inkling of the real nature of their relationship. This is not to say that it is insincere, merely that the bard could perhaps write about love all the better because he had never experienced the actual emotion of being in love. [...] By the time Burns unburdened his feelings in these terms he had already met another married woman, compared to whom Clarinda was now the farthing taper. (Grimble, Robert Burns 100)
[1989:] This immortal lyric has Burns' name attached to it in the publication, 'Scot's Musical Museum'. Clarinda (Mrs. M'Lehose) sailed for Jamaica from Leith in Feb. 1792, in 'The Roselle' - the same ship which Burns had intended to sail in from the Clyde in 1786. Meeting with unkindness from her husband, she returned to Scotland in the same vessel, arriving in Edinburgh in August, 1792. Burns never saw her again, although a few letters passed between them. The present composition is Burns' poetical farewell to her. (Notes Andy M. Stewart, 'Songs of Robert Burns')
[1990:] Scottish planters in the West Indies certainly were slave owners, and kept black women as concubines. James M'Lehose, the husband of Robert Burns' 'Clarinda', was a case in point. (Damer, Glasgow 24)
See also Robert Burns Encyclopedia