J Nielson

A Moose Loose Aboot the Hoose


To A Mouse
On Turning Her Up In Her Nest, With The Plough,
November 1785

Ad Murem
Nidis Aratro Eversis


James Grahame
Poems in English, Scotch, and Latin 

Printed for the Author by J. Neilson

The Burns industry in Scotland enjoyed a busy year in 2009, what with the Homecoming Festival, a three-day conference at Glasgow University, and the publication of three rival biographies, along with all manner of other sorts of events and tributes to mark, in case anyone had forgotten, the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the poet’s birth.

James Grahame’s tribute to Burns, however, is not of recent date.  As Burns collectors will know, it was first published in 1794, and as far as can be ascertained this work has not been reprinted in modern times. Not that any claims are being made for it as ‘The Last Great Burns Discovery’ – that unlikely subject was more than adequately treated by Hugh MacDiarmid in 1934 in his irreverent short story of that name.

From the middle ages, when literary works were being created in vernacular languages across Europe, there existed at the same the practice of translating vernacular poetry into Latin. Indeed, at the height of the Renaissance, there flourished in Scotland a number of Latinist poets that included George Buchanan and Arthur Johnston. Such was the interest in composition in this classical language that it concerned not just the creation of new, original works, but extended to the latinisation of work of other writers, for example Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid underwent this transformation by the English writer Francis Kynaston, who had also given the same treatment to some of Chaucer’s work. Coming as a late example of the practice, James Grahame’s tribute to Burns nevertheless belongs to that tradition. (An even later example is Alexander Leighton’s 1862 The Principal Songs of Robert Burns Translated into Medieval Latin Verse, and which won the praise of Thomas Carlyle.)

The volume in which Grahame’s translation appears was first published anonymously and printed for the author by J. Neilson in Paisley, the author having ‘imposed secrecy as to his name.’ It may be of interest to some that the poet’s great-grand-nephew was Kenneth Grahame, who wrote The Wind in the Willows, and that both were kinsman of the traveller, writer and politician R B Cunninghame Graham.

According to the hand-written note on the title-page of the British Library’s copy of Poems in English, Scotch, and Latin, (BL 11632f51), James Grahame, 1765-1811, was ‘a son of a respectable gentleman of Glasgow…bred to the law, he began his career as a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh’, and was admitted Advocate in 1795. Like Burns, he was a radical in politics, though unlike Burns, Grahame later became an Anglican clergyman. Grahame was satirised, as was Burns and others too, by Byron in his poem, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers

                                    Lo! the Sabbath Bard,
                                    Sepulchral GRAHAME, pours his notes sublime
                                    In mangled prose, nor e’en aspires to rhyme;
                                    Breaks into blank the Gospel of St. Luke,
                                    And boldly pilfers from the Pentateuch;
                                    And, undisturbed by conscientious qualms,
                                    Perverts the Prophets, and purloins the Psalms.

Byron’s own footnote reads: ‘Mr Grahame has poured forth two volumes of Cant, under the name of Sabbath Walks and Biblical Pictures.’

In my transcription of ‘Ad Murem’, I was assisted by Latdict.com, ‘a free, online English-Latin dictionary for the poor and curious’. As for any infelicities in the transcription, mea culpa!



WEE, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
                                    Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
                                    Wi’ murdering pattle.

EHEU, parva nitedula, qualis nunc tremor implet
Pectora! ne subito celeri te proripe cursu;
Insectari te nollem rulla truculenta.


            I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
                                    Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion,
                                    An’ fellow mortal!

            Naturæ imperio humano fœdus sociale
Ruptum mi dolet, et justam me dicere cogit
Illam suspicionem, qua sit ut exsilis a me
Terrigena comite, in terram tecum redituro.


            I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
                                    ‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
                                    An’ never miss’t.

            Haud equidem dubito quin tu furere aliquando.
Quidni? animal miserum, te certe vivere oportet.
Granum e mergite tota, ecce petitio parva!
Grana a te sumpto, damnum haud dignoscere possum;
Et mihi quod superest cœlo fausto fruar illo.


            Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
                                    O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s win’s ensuin,
                                    Baith snell an’ keen!

            Angusta illa domus mœstam dat fracta ruinam;
Structuram invalidam spectas dispergere ventos;
Nec virides ullas stipulas, illam ad renovandam,
Usquam suppeditant arva. Interea imminet asper
Mordaces referens ventos acresque December. 


            Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary Winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
                                    Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
                                    Out thro’ thy cell.

            Agros tu nudatos vastatosque, hyememque
Vidisti tristem properantem; spemque sovebas,
Obtecta hic ut contra aquilones degere posses;
At scindit nidos crudeli vomere aratrum. 


            That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turned out, for a’ thy trouble,
                                    But house or hald,
To thole the Winter’s sleety dribble,
                                    An’ cranreuch cauld!

            Congeries hæc culmorum exigua et foliorum,
Trito dente fuit, multo et convecta labore;
Nunc operam perdisti, et tectis exul ademptis,
Frigus acerbum perferres pluviasque nivales.


            But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
                                    Gang aft agley,
An’ leave us nought but grief an’ pain,
                                    For promis’d joy!

            Sed non indicium tu, parva nitedula, solas es,
Quam vana est mens prudens et præsaga futuri:
Consiliis, quæ muribus et mortalibus ægris
Arte ineuntur summa, haud raro casus iniquus
Accidit: et, speratæ lætitiæ vice, crebro
Nil inventum est præter tristitiam atque dolorem.


            Still thou are blest, compared wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e
                                    On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
                                    I guess an’ fear!

            Attamen haud incertum est, præ me te esse beatum;
Hora etenim præsens solum te tangere possit;
Quum retro, inque dies mœstos mea lumina verto,
Et quamvis non prævideo, auguror atque tremisco.



 © Michael Lister 2010