To James Burness
Mossgiel 3rd August 1784
My dear Sir,
I ought in gratitude to have acknowledged the receipt of your last kind letter before this time, but without troubling you with any apology I shall proceed to inform you that our family are all in health at present and we were very happy with the unexpected favor of John Caird's company for near two weeks; & I must say it of him; he is one of the most agreeable, facetious, warm hearted lads I was ever acquainted with.-
We have been surprised with one of the most extraordinary Phenomena in the moral world, I dare say, has happened in the course of this last Century.- We have had a party of the Presbytry Relief as they call themselves, for some time in this country. A pretty thriving society of them has been in the Burgh of Irvine for some years past, till about two years ago, a Mrs Buchan from Glasgow came among them, & began to spread some fanatical notions of religion among them, & others their preacher, one Mr Whyte, who upon that account has continued however, to preach in private to this party, & was supported, both he, & their spiritual Mother as they affect to call old Buchan, by the contributions of the rest, several of whom were in good circumstances; till in spring last the Populace rise & mobbed the old leader Buchan. & put her our of the town; on which all her followers voluntarily quitted the place likewise, & with such precipitation , that many of them never shut their doors behind them; one left a washing on the green, another a cow bellowing at the crib without meat or any body to mind her, & after several stages, they are fixed at present in the neighbourhood of Dumfries.- their tenets are a strange jumble of enthusiastic jargon, among others, she pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them, which she does with postures & practices that are scandalously indecent, they have likewise disposed of all life, carrying on a great farce of pretended devotion in barns, & woods, where they lodge and lye all together, & hold likewise a community of women, as it is another of their tenets that they can commit no moral sin.- I am personally acquainted with most of them,& I assure you the above mentioned are facts.-
This My Dear Sir, is one of the many instances of the folly in leaving the guidance of sound reason, & common sense in matters of Religion.- Whenever we neglect or despise these sacred Monitors, the whimsical notions of a perturbed brain are taken for the immediate influences of the Deity, & the wildest fanaticism, & the most inconsistent absurdities will meet with abettors & converts.- Nay I have often thought, that the more out-of-the-way & ridiculous their fancies are, if once they are sanctified under the sacred name of RELIGION, the unhappy, mistaken votaries are the more firmly glued to them.-
I expect to hear from you soon, & I beg you will remember me to all friends, & believe me to be,
My Dear Sir your affectionate Cousin
Robert Burness
Direct to me at Mossgiel, Parish of Machline, near Kilmarnock
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