JANET LITTLE (later RICHMOND)

(1759 - 1813)


She was the daughter of George Little of Nether Bogside, Ecclefechan, Dumfries. She had only 'a common education' and became a servant to a local clergyman, but she loved reading and had acquired some reputation as a 'rustic poetess' by 1788, when she sought a post as chambermaid or nurse with Mrs Frances Dunlop of Dunlop House, Ayrshire, the friend and correspondent of Robert Burns. Mrs Dunlop recommended her to her daughter, recently married to James Henri, a French refugee, who from 1789 rented Loudoun Castle. She was eventually put in charge of the dairy at Loudoun, from where she wrote to Burns on 12 July 1789, enclosing a poem addressed to him and hoping for his 'favour and friendship'. Mrs Dunlop also wrote on her behalf to Burns on the following day: 'Her outside promises nothing; her mind only bursts forth on paper.' (Another source describes her as 'a very tall masculine woman, with dark hair, and features somewhat course.') All too aware of the number of humble Scottish poets who were trying to imitate his own recent success, Burns was at first cautious, but later advised Mrs Dunlop about the publication of Janet's poems, and helped with the accompanying subscription. Of Janet Little's hopes for financial independence, Mrs Dunlop wrote (23 September 1790) that 'ten guineas would make her as happy as worldly circumstances could do . . . since her modest wishes are placed within such humble bounds.' Another poet praised by Mrs Dunlop for his 'disinterested, generous conduct' to Janet was Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), the pedlar poet, later a famous ornithologist in America.

Among the subscribers to The Poetical Works of Janet Little, The Scottish Milkmaid (Ayr, 1792) were Burns, Mrs Dunlop (who, with relatives, took twenty copies), and James Boswell, to whom she had hoped to dedicate the book. Boswell had advised her to dedicate it instead to a titled lady, who turned out to be the 11-year-old Flora, Countess of Loudoun (who took twelve copies), then under the guardianship of the Countess of Dumfries. Janet Little is said to have made 50 from the subscription. Her poems include 'On a Visit to Mr. Burns' (in 1791, when he came home with a broken arm; pp.111-12); 'An Epistle to a Lady' (pp.125-8), in which she describes the activities of the 'lower class' at Loudoun, and refers to herself as 'Our crazy-pated dairy-maid'; 'An Epistle to Mr. Robert Burns' (pp.160-3); and some amiable lines 'To My Aunty' (pp. 164-6). After Mrs Henri's departure from Loudoun (her husband had died in June 1790), Janet Little married John Richmond (c.1741-1819), a labourer at the Castle, who was a widower with five children and some eighteen years her senior. She died at Loudoun on 15 March 1813, after a short illness described as 'a cramp in the stomach.' She had been a member of the dissenting congregation at Galston and some religious poems were printed after her death.


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