John Wilson

John Wilson - Composed by John C Grant ( Traditional composer from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland.

Born in Kilmarnock, John Wilson (1759 - 1821) and his brother Peter embarked on a significant endeavor, establishing the Ayr Advertiser, the earliest newspaper in Ayrshire. Beyond their journalistic venture, they operated as accomplished printers and publishers, specializing in editions of classical works. Notably, Wilson published the poems of John Lapraik, a close associate of Robert Burns. However, it was his prior venture, the inaugural edition of Burns’s Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which truly propelled him to recognition. This landmark work was brought to life from his press, likely situated in the now-vanished Star Inn Close.

The circumstances surrounding Robert Burns’s connection with Wilson remain shrouded in mystery. Evidently, Burns had an array of acquaintances in Kilmarnock who could have facilitated the introduction. On the 17th of April in 1786, a significant development unfolded. A proposal materialized, heralding the publication of “Scottish Poems by Robert Burns,” seeking subscribers to enable the elegant printing of this anthology. The stipulated terms outlined a one-volume octavo edition, priced at three shillings when stitched. The publication process hinged on gathering sufficient subscribers to cover essential expenses, exemplifying Burns’s non-mercenary intentions in sharing his work.

The success of this endeavor hinged not solely on individual copy sales (the poet himself procured three copies) but on the support of Burns’s associates. Noteworthy contributors included the Ayr attorney McWhinnie, who committed to twenty copies; John Kennedy of Dumfries House, near Cumnock, who matched that number; John Logan of Knockshinnoch, also pledging twenty; ‘Orator Bob’ Aitken, an enthusiastic supporter with an impressive one hundred and forty-five subscriptions; Robert Muir of Kilmarnock, securing seventy copies; Gavin Hamilton, who embraced forty copies; and Gilbert Burns, the poet’s sibling, and Wilson himself, each facilitating the distribution of seventy copies.

The actual printing process commenced on July 13th, culminating in the completion of six hundred and twelve copies by July 31st. These copies, priced at three shillings per unit, exceeded expectations by selling well beyond the initial three hundred and fifty advance subscriptions. Remarkably, by August 28th, only thirteen copies remained in Wilson’s possession. In a bid to expand the reach of Burns’s poetry, Wilson tentatively proposed a second edition comprising one thousand copies in October. However, this proposition came with a condition, requiring Burns to cover the cost of paper (approximately twenty-seven pounds) and printing (amounting to fifteen or sixteen pounds), a financial burden he was unable to shoulder.

It’s worth noting that Wilson’s cautious approach inadvertently steered Burns toward a national publisher for subsequent editions, marking a transition from local to broader dissemination. While precise figures may vary, estimated receipts totaled around £90. Wilson documented production costs amounting to thirty-five pounds and seventeen shillings, which, theoretically, should have left Burns with roughly fifty-four pounds. Nonetheless, Burns contended that the venture yielded only about twenty pounds.

Wilson’s fortunes flourished over time, culminating in his appointment as a magistrate. His legacy endures through the establishment of local bursaries for underprivileged children, funded by his bequest. Ultimately, his resting place is in Kilmarnock, commemorating a life intricately intertwined with literary and philanthropic pursuits.

John Wilson - Composed by John C Grant ( Traditional composer from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland.

A guide track for ‘John Wilson’ is available below for listening: -

You can download a PDF of the sheet music here - or braille format here.

The track is additionally available within the following collections and sets: -

Associated Collections: -
2/4 Ayrshire Characters Bagpipe Reel Robert Burns The Tarbolton Collection