Maclehose, Agnes (DNB00)

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MACLEHOSE, Mrs. AGNES (1759-1841), the 'Clarinda' of Robert Burns, daughter of Andrew Craig, surgeon in Glasgow, by a daughter of John Maclaurin (1693–1754) [q. v.], was born in April 1759, the same year as the poet. She was grandniece on her mother's side of Colin Maclaurin [q. v.], mathematician, and cousin-german of William Craig, lord Craig [q. v.], Scottish judge. As was customary at this period in Scotland, in the case of ladies, her education was somewhat slight, but she afterwards improved it by reading and the practice of composition, especially poetry. At an early age she was noted for her beauty, being known among her friends in Glasgow as the 'pretty Miss Nancie.' By Robert Chambers, who met her in her later years, she is described as 'of a somewhat voluptuous style of beauty, of lively and easy manners, of a poetical fabric of mind, with some wit, and not too high a degree of refinement or delicacy' (Works of Robert Burns). After a short courtship, begun on the stagecoach between Glasgow and Edinburgh, she in July 1776 married James Maclehose, a Glasgow lawyer; but on account of a disagreement originating in her husband's jealousy, a separation took place between them in December 1780. With her children she remained in her father's house in Glasgow till the death of her father in 1782, when she removed to Edinburgh, where she was supported partly by Lord Craig, and partly by a small annuity left by her father. She employed her leisure in cultivating her literary tastes, and made the acquaintance of Thomas Campbell the poet, James Grahame, author of 'The Sabbath,' and Robert Ainslie, the friend of Burns.

Mrs. Maclehose first met Burns at Edinburgh on 7 Dec. 1787, at the house of a mutual friend, Miss Nimmo (Nichol). Burns accepted an invitation to take tea at Mrs. Maclehose's house on the 9th, but on the 8th met with an accident which confined him to his lodgings for six weeks. His letter of explanation and regret inaugurated a correspondence of a warm kind [see under Burns, Robert]. On Christmas eve she sent him the verses, 'When first you saw Clarinda's charms,' and henceforth they adopted in their correspondence the names Clarinda and Sylvander. On 3 Jan. 1788 she sent him a poem beginning 'Talk not of Love! it gives me pain.' Burns declared that the latter half of the first stanza was worthy of Sappho, and sent the verses, with some alteration and an additional stanza, for publication, in Johnson's 'Musical Museum,' where they are set to the air 'The Banks of Spey.' On 19 Jan. she sent him lines 'To a Blackbird singing on a Tree,' which, with an additional stanza by Burns, was also published in the 'Museum.' On the recovery of Burns they had numerous meetings, which led to mutual declarations of strong attachment. Their correspondence suggests a somewhat ambiguous relation, though, says Professor Nichol, it has now been made plain that 'it was no case of mere philandering.' Mrs. Maclehose's sense of the proprieties is described by Mr. Stevenson as not authoritative; but before dismissing her he makes the proviso, 'Take her for all in all, I believe she was the best woman Burns encountered' (Men and Books, p. 66). Burns left Edinburgh on 18 Feb., but returned again on a short visit in March. During his stay they met daily, and on leaving Edinburgh on the 24th he wrote to a friend, 'During these eight days I have been positively crazed.' It was therefore only natural that the news of his marriage to Jean Armour in August following should have somewhat painfully affected Mrs. Maclehose. She wrote him an indignant letter, forbidding him to continue the correspondence; but in the summer of 1791 she made overtures for reconciliation in two letters, in one of which she enclosed lines on 'Sympathy,' Burns called on her in Edinburgh on 29 Nov., after she had resolved to join her husband in Jamaica, and they met for the last time on 6 Dec. On 6 Dec. 1831 she wrote in her 'Journal;' 'This day I never can forget. Parted with Burns in the year 1791, never more to meet in this world.' Burns's song, 'O May, thy morn was ne'er sae sweet,' is supposed to commemorate the interview, and on the 27th he sent her the matchless parting song, ' Ae fond kiss, and then we sever,' 'Behold the Hour,' and the first two stanzas of 'Thou gloomy December.'

Mrs. Maclehose sailed from Leith for Jamaica in March 1792. It seems that her husband calculated that she would decline the invitation to join him, and intended to make that an excuse for refusing to contribute to her support. On receiving her acceptance of his invitation, he endeavoured to dissuade her from sailing by false statements regarding the prevalence of yellow fever and the outbreak of a rebellion in the island. He received her very coldly, and her health becoming seriously affected by the climate and her unpleasant position, she returned to Scotland in August. Burns and she for a time occasionally corresponded, the last letter of Burns to her being one of 25 July 1794, in which he declares that it is impossible to write to her in mere 'friendship,' as she had requested. In March 1797 she obtained a judgment in the court of session for a yearly aliment from her husband of 100l.; but she found it impossible to enforce payment, although it enabled her to obtain a sum of money on her husband's death in 1812. She died in her residence on the Calton Hill, Edinburgh, on 22 Oct. 1841, in her eighty-third year. Of her three children one died in infancy; Andrew became writer to the signet, and died in 1839, and William died in 1790. A silhouette of Clarinda, by Myers, done in 1788 at the request of Burns, was engraved by Alexander Banks for William Scott Douglas's edition of Burns, where is also a woodcut of a silhouette of her at the age of forty.

In 1796 Mrs. Maclehose, when Currie was preparing his 'Life of Burns,' promised, on condition that the letters she had addressed to Burns were returned to her, to help Currie by selecting 'such passages from our dear bard's letters as will do honour to his memory, and cannot hurt my own fame.' On this promise Mrs. Maclehose's letters were given up, but no use was made by Currie of her 'selected' passages. Burns's letters to her were published in 1802 without her permission, and the whole correspondence, arranged and edited by her grandson, W. C. Maclehose, appeared in 1848. It is now included in most of the collected editions of the works of Burns. An additional letter by her is published in Appendix to vol. v. of the edition by W. Scott Douglas.

[Life by W. C. Maclehose, prefixed to Correspondence; Summary of Burns's Career and Genius, by Professor Nichol, prefixed to the Library Edition of his Works, 1877, &c.; Works of Robert Burns, passim; Stenhouse's Notes to Johnson's Musical Museum.]

T. F. H.