The Whistle by Robert Burns
["As the authentic prose history," says Burns, "of the 'Whistle' is
curious, I shall here give it. In the train of Anne of Denmark, when
she came to Scotland with our James the Sixth, there came over also a
Danish gentleman of gigantic stature and great prowess, and a
matchless champion of Bacchus. He had a little ebony whistle, which at
the commencement of the orgies, he laid on the table, and whoever was
the last able to blow it, everybody else being disabled by the potency
of the bottle, was to carry off the whistle as a trophy of victory.
The Dane produced credentials of his victories, without a single
defeat, at the courts of Copenhagen, Stockholm, Moscow, Warsaw, and
several of the petty courts in Germany; and challenged the Scotch
Bacchanalians to the alternative of trying his prowess, or else of
acknowledging their inferiority. After man overthrows on the part of
the Scots, the Dane was encountered by Sir Robert Lawrie, of
Maxwelton, ancestor of the present worthy baronet of that name; who,
after three days and three nights' hard contest, left the Scandinavian
under the table,

'And blew on the whistle his requiem shrill.'

"Sir Walter, son to Sir Robert before mentioned, afterwards lost the
whistle to Walter Riddel, of Glenriddel, who had married a sister of
Sir Walter's.--On Friday, the 16th of October, 1790, at Friars-Carse,
the whistle was once more contended for, as related in the ballad, by
the present Sir Robert of Maxwelton; Robert Riddel, Esq., of
Glenriddel, lineal descendant and representative of Walter Riddel, who
won the whistle, and in whose family it had continued; and Alexander
Fergusson, Esq., of Craigdarroch, likewise descended of the great Sir
Robert; which last gentleman carried off the hard-won honours of the

The jovial contest took place in the dining-room of Friars-Carse, in
the presence of the Bard, who drank bottle and bottle about with them,
and seemed quite disposed to take up the conqueror when the day

I sing of a whistle, a whistle of worth,
I sing of a whistle, the pride of the North,
Was brought to the court of our good Scottish king,
And long with this whistle all Scotland shall ring.

Old Loda,[108] still rueing the arm of Fingal,
The god of the bottle sends down from his hall--
"This whistle's your challenge--to Scotland get o'er,
And drink them to hell, Sir! or ne'er see me more!"

Old poets have sung, and old chronicles tell,
What champions ventur'd, what champions fell;
The son of great Loda was conqueror still,
And blew on his whistle his requiem shrill.

Till Robert, the Lord of the Cairn and the Scaur,
Unmatch'd at the bottle, unconquer'd in war,
He drank his poor godship as deep as the sea,
No tide of the Baltic e'er drunker than he.

Thus Robert, victorious, the trophy has gain'd;
Which now in his house has for ages remain'd;
Till three noble chieftains, and all of his blood,
The jovial contest again have renew'd.

Three joyous good fellows, with hearts clear of flaw;
Craigdarroch, so famous for wit, worth, and law;
And trusty Glenriddel, so skill'd in old coins;
And gallant Sir Robert, deep-read in old wines.

Craigdarroch began, with a tongue smooth as oil,
Desiring Glenriddel to yield up the spoil;
Or else he would muster the heads of the clan,
And once more, in claret, try which was the man.

"By the gods of the ancients!" Glenriddel replies,
"Before I surrender so glorious a prize,
I'll conjure the ghost of the great Rorie More,[109]
And bumper his horn with him twenty times o'er."

Sir Robert, a soldier, no speech would pretend,
But he ne'er turn'd his back on his foe--or his friend,
Said, toss down the whistle, the prize of the field,
And, knee-deep in claret, he'd die or he'd yield.

To the board of Glenriddel our heroes repair,
So noted for drowning of sorrow and care;
Bur for wine and for welcome not more known to fame
Than the sense, wit, and taste of a sweet lovely dame.

A bard was selected to witness the fray,
And tell future ages the feats of the day;
A bard who detested all sadness and spleen,
And wish'd that Parnassus a vineyard had been.

The dinner being over, the claret they ply,
And ev'ry new cork is a new spring of joy;
In the bands of old friendship and kindred so set,
And the bands grew the tighter the more they were wet.

Gay Pleasure ran riot as bumpers ran o'er;
Bright Phoebus ne'er witness'd so joyous a core,
And vow'd that to leave them he was quite forlorn,
Till Cynthia hinted he'd find them next morn.

Six bottles a-piece had well wore out the night,
When gallant Sir Robert, to finish the fight,
Turn'd o'er in one bumper a bottle of red,
And swore 'twas the way that their ancestor did.

Then worthy Glenriddel, so cautions and sage,
No longer the warfare, ungodly, would wage;
A high-ruling Elder to wallow in wine!
He left the foul business to folks less divine.

The gallant Sir Robert fought hard to the end;
But who can with fate and quart-bumpers contend?
Though fate said--a hero shall perish in light;
So up rose bright Phoebus--and down fell the knight.

Next up rose our bard, like a prophet in drink;--
"Craigdarroch, thou'lt soar when creation shall sink;
But if thou would flourish immortal in rhyme,
Come--one bottle more--and have at the sublime!

"Thy line, that have struggled for freedom with Bruce,
Shall heroes and patriots ever produce:
So thine be the laurel, and mine be the bay;
The field thou hast won, by yon bright god of day!"


[Footnote 108: See Ossian's Carie-thura.]

[Footnote 109: See Johnson's Tour to the Hebrides]
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