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Buchan and Hornbook

In Burns' 'Death and Hornbook' (let's call it the best narrative poem in 'English'), Death complains that Hornbook is 'sae weel acquaint wi' Buchan' that he, Death, can't do his deathing, with his limp lolly. This is Buchan's Domestic Medicine (1769), the PDR of its day, the key to Hornbook's astounding life-saving successes. But Hornbook is also a murderer. By his 'skill' with 'drap an' pill.' A poisonous driveller. And what about Willie Buchan?

I've found him out, and this I didn't remember. De Quincey tells us in both of his Confessions that Buchan would kill a man with opium. Buchan's advice is a maximum draft of 25 oz (which could kill something like thirty De Quinceys) instead of 25 drops (1 grain). Then, 'most probably you must do what is particularly disagreeable to any man of regular habits, viz. die.' Oh, slippery Buchan. Like Hornbook who'd stuff you in the ground with 'his damn'd dirt!'

The 'dirt' that's 'harm' or 'poison.' The dirt that poppies grow so well in, even when nothing else will.


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