[1986:] Gilbert Burns described the new order at Mossgiel [when Robert took over after his father's death]. 'Every member of the family was allowed ordinary wages for the labour performed on the farm. My brother's allowance and mine was seven pounds per annum each. And during the whole time this family concern lasted, which was four years, as well as during the period at Lochlea, his expences never in any one year exceeded his slender income. As I was entrusted with the keeping of the family accounts, it is not possible that there can be any fallacy in this statement, in my brother's favour. His temperence and frugality were everything that could be wished.' [...] In defending his brother against the charge of drunkenness, Gilbert was contradicting Robert himself.
When the bard drew up his rules for the Tarbolton Bachelors, he stipulated, 'no member is to spend more than threepence on drink'. His own pocket could not have borne more, as Gilbert confirmed, but neither could his physical condition. Loving male company as he did, he once confessed, 'they will not have me if I do not drink with them, and every time I give them a slice of my constitution.'
This is the opposite to the language of an alcoholic. Yet he liked to pose as a merry drinker, and more than once wrote a letter in which he boasted that he was intoxicated, although the terms in which he expressed himself prove that he was sober. [...] He paid the price after his death when his letters fell into the hands of a biographer who was a teetotaller and a temperance fanatic, and took him at his word.
But James Hogg the Border poet, who was his younger contemporary, knew better and confirmed the testimony of Gilbert. 'Burns has been accused of inveterate dissipation and drunkenness. Nonsense! Burns was no more a drunkard than I am; nay, I would bet that on an average I drink double what he did; and yet I am acknowledged both in Scotland and in England as a most temperate and cautious man; and so I am.' Possessed of a soaring imagination, Burns broke the shackles of his arduous and humdrum life in flights of fancy, and this was one of them. (Grimble, Robert Burns 38f)