In the week that Jackie Kay was named Scotland's national poet, or makar, I thought I'd look to Robert Burns for this week's historical gift-giving story.
Robert Burns, perhaps Scotland's greatest poet, gave this inkwell to his friend, John Lapraik, in 1793.
It is made from the hoof of a pony. Weird, but not uncommon. The hoof of Napoleon Bonaparte's favourite horse, Marengo, was made into an inkwell.
This particular inkwell features an iron shoe, a silver plaque bearing the presentation date and a brass lid engraved with the following: 'Presented to Mr Lapraik by his Much respected Friend Robt Burns'.
Born thirty miles and thirty years apart, Burns and Lapraik were from farming families in Ayrshire and, as Lapraik put it in a poem to Burns, ‘A mut’al flame inspires us baith’ meaning the two were poets.
Lapraik was an early supporter of Burns but he didn’t come close to achieving the level of fame or commercial success as his young friend. His contribution to Burn’s work can be seen in the ‘Three Epistles to John Lapraik’
An inkwell is a good gift for a writer. However, the reason I find the gift so poignant is that Burns was already enjoying notoriety in 1793. Lapraik by that time was already 66 years old. By giving Lapraik the inkwell, Burns is both practically and symbolically saying to his friend: ‘You must keep writing too’.
As an object, the hoof is as much associated with forward movement as it is with the earth. As my old professor Robert Crawford said of Burns, ‘No poet has been at once so brilliant and so down-to-earth.’ An ornate silver inkwell wouldn’t have been quite right for an old friend.
I don’t love the idea of an inkwell made out of a pony’s hoof but as far as gifts go, this gift ranks highly. It is as symbolic as it is practical and I like it for a’ that.