Robert Ainslie 1766-1838
Writer to the Signet
Robert Ainslie was a law student in the Edinburgh office of Samuel Mitchelson when Burns met him early in 1787. His carefree disposition and his zestful pleasure in wine, women and the poet's song, endeared him to Burns, and Ainslie accompanied the poet on the first part of the Border tour of May 1787. At Eyemouth they were both made 'Royal Arch Masons' of the local lodge, Ainslie on payment of a guinea fee, Burns without fee. Continuing the tour alone, Burns wrote to him regretting the absence of the laughter his presence had ensured. On 23rd July 1787, writing from Mauchline, Burns told Ainslie:
'There is one thing for which I set great store by you as a friend, and it is this - that I have not a friend upon earth, besides yourself, to whom I can talk nonsense without forfeiting some degree of his esteem'
The poet introduced Ainslie to Mrs M'Lehose, and made him an early confidant in his affair with her, and in his final farming transaction. The 'horse-litter' letter, in which Burns describes having intercourse with Jean Armour when she was far advanced in pregnancy, was written to Ainslie from Mauchline on 3rd March 1788. It was therefore naturally to Ainslie that Burns wrote from Dumfries on 1st June 1788 asking him to call on May Cameron, an Edinburgh servant girl whom the poet had seduced, and 'give her ten or twelve shillings', adding the significant injunction, 'but don't for Heaven's sake meddle with her as a Piece'.