Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barnard, Anne
BARNARD, Lady ANNE (1750–1825), authoress of the ballad of 'Auld Robin Gray,' was the eldest daughter of James Lindsay, fifth earl of Balcorres, by his wife Anne, daughter of Sir Robert Dalrymple, of Castleton, and was born on 8 Dec. 1750. Her youth was mainly spent at her home in Fifeshire, with occasional winter-flights to Edinburgh. She early gained admission into the social circle within which moved Hume and Henry Mackenzie, Lord Monboddo, and other celebrities. When Dr. Johnson visited Edinburgh in 1773 she was introduced to him. Later she and her sister—Lady Margaret, the widow of Alexander Fordyce—resided in London. Her nephew, Colonel Lindsay of Balcarres, states that she had been frequently sought in marriage; but that it was not until Andrew Barnard, son of Thomas, bishop of Limerick [q. v.], addressed her, that she changed her resolution of living a maiden life. She was married in 1793. Her husband was younger than herself; accomplished, but poor. The young couple proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope, when Barnard was appointed colonial secretary under Lord Macartney. Her 'Journals and Notes,' illustrated with drawings and sketches whilst at the Cape, are printed in the ' Lives of the Lindsays' (vol. iii.) Her husband died at the Cape in 1807, without issue, and she returned home. Once more her sister and herself resided in Berkeley Square, London, till the Lady Margaret was married a second time, in 1812, to Sir James Bland Burges [q. v.]. The sisters' house was a literary centre. Burke and Sheridan, Windham and Dundas, and the Prince of Wales, were among their habitual visitors. Lady Anne had the dubious honour of winning the lifelong attachment of the prince regent.
The ballad of 'Auld Robin Gray,' which has given immortality to her name, was composed by her in 1771, when she was in her twenty-first year. It was published anonymously, and various persons claimed its authorship, among others a clergyman. Not until two years before her death did Lady Barnard acknowledge it as her own. The occasion has become historical. In the 'Pirate,' which appeared in 1823, Scott compared the condition of Minna to that of Jeanie Gray, 'the village heroine in Lady Anne Lindsay's beautiful ballad,' and quoted the second verse of the continuation. This led Lady Anne to write to Sir Walter and confide its history to him. In her letter, dated 8 July 1823, she says: 'Robin Gray, so called from its being the name of the old herd at Balcarres, was born soon after the close of the year 1771. My sister Margaret had married, and accompanied her husband to London. I was melancholy, and endeavoured to amuse myself by attempting a few poetical trifles. There was an English-Scotch melody of which I was passionately fond. Sophy Johnstone, who lived before your day, used to sing it to us at Balcarres. She did not object to its having improper words, though I did. I longed to sing old Sophy's air to different words, and give is plaintive tones some little history of virtuous distress in humble life, such as might suit it. While attempting to effect this in my closet, I called to my little sister [Elizabeth], now Lady Hardwicke, who was the only person near me, "I have been writing a ballad, my dear; I am oppressing my heroine with many misfortunes. I have already sent her Jamie to sea, mad broken her father's arm, and made her mother fall sick, and given her auld Robin Gray for a lover; but I wish to load her with a fifth sorrow within the four lines, poor thing! Help me to one!" "Steal the cow, sister Anna," said the little Elizabeth. The cow was immediately lifted by me, and the song completed. At our fireside and amongst our neighbours "Auld Robin Gray" was always called for. I was pleased in secret with the approbation it met with: but such was my dread of being suspected that I carefully kept my own secret.' Sir Walter Scott prepared a thin quarto volume for the Bannatyne Club (1824), which contains Lady Anne's narrative of the composition of the ballad, a revised version of it, and two of Lady Anna's continuations. The continuations, as in so many cases, are not worthy of the first part. Lady Anne Barnard died 6 May 1825, in her seventy-fourth year.
[Anderson's Scottish Nation; Lives of the Lindsays.]