John Wilson

"who'er thou art, O reader, know That Death has murdered Johnnie, And here his body lies fu' low - For soul he ne'er had ony."

John Wilson was a native of Kilmarnock and served for a while as a magistrate in the town. He took over the print shop in the town in 1780 which had previously been owned by a Mr. McArthur who had been the very first printer in Ayrshire. Wilson is remembered as the printer of the first edition of the poems of Burns, but his successful business should be seen as an indicator of the progressive state of literacy in the area at the time. It was established during the time known as the 'Scottish Enlightenment' when more Scots than ever before had access to an education which resulted in a greater demand for newspapers and books. 

As well as Burns' 'Kilmarnock Edition', Wilson printed an edition of 'Paradise Lost' in 1785, and an edition of 'Virgilii Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis' in 1789 and was also the principle bookseller in the town. His shop was in an old building, which stood where Portland Street opens into the Cross, and his print-shop was in the attic next to the Star Close Inn, which stood on Waterloo Street. A Mrs. Buntine, sister of the owner of the Star Cross Inn, Mr. James Robertson stated that she frequently noticed visits to the print works by the poet. 

Wilson eventually moved to Ayr and set up another printing-shop there. He also, in partnership with his brother, established in 1803, the 'Ayr Advertiser', Ayrshire's first newspaper. He died at Ayr in May 1821 and was buried in Kilmarnock next to Kilmarnock High Church. 

Years before his death Burns had mischievously already penned an epitaph to him which appeared in print within the 'First Edition': 

"who'er thou art, O reader, know 
That Death has murdered Johnnie, 
And here his body lies fu' low - 
For soul he ne'er had ony." 

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