COCKBURN, ALICIA, or Alison (1713-1794), Scottish poet, authoress of one of the most exquisite of Scottish ballads, the "Flowers of the Forest," was the daughter of Robert Rutherfurd of Fairnalee, Selkirkshire, and was born on the 8th of October 1713. There are two versions of this song, - the one by Mrs Cockburn, the other by Jean Elliot (1727-1805) of Minto. Both were founded on the remains of an ancient Border ballad. Mrs Cockburn's - that beginning "I've seen the smiling of Fortune beguiling" - is said to have been written before her marriage in 1731, though not published till 1765. Anyhow, it was composed many years before Jean Elliot's sister verses, written in 1756, beginning, "I've heard them liltin' at our ewe-milkin'." Robert Chambers states that the ballad was written on the occasion of a great commercial disaster which ruined the fortunes of some Selkirkshire lairds. Later biographers, however, think it probable that it was written on the departure to London of a certain John Aikman, between whom and Alison there appears to have been an early attachment. In 1731 Alison Rutherfurd was married to Patrick Cockburn of Ormiston. After her marriage she knew all the intellectual and aristocratic celebrities of her day. In the memorable year 1745 she vented her Whiggism in a squib upon Prince Charlie, and narrowly escaped being taken by the Highland guard as she was driving through Edinburgh in the family coach of the Keiths of Ravelston, with the parody in her pocket. Mrs Cockburn was an indefatigable letter-writer and a composer of parodies, squibs, toasts and "character-sketches" - then a favourite form of composition - like other wits of her day; but the "Flowers of the Forest" is the only thing she wrote that possesses great literary merit. At her house on Castle-hill, and afterwards in Crichton Street, she received many illustrious friends, among whom were Mackenzie, Robertson, Hume, Home, Monboddo, the Keiths of Ravelston, the Balcarres family and Lady Anne Barnard, the authoress of "Auld Robin Gray." As a Rutherfurd she was a connexion of Sir Walter Scott's mother, and was her intimate friend. Lockhart quotes a letter written by Mrs Cockburn in 1777, describing the conduct of little Walter Scott, then scarcely six years old, during a visit which she paid to his mother, when the child gave as a reason for his liking for Mrs Cockburn that she was a "virtuoso like himself." Mrs Cockburn died on the 22nd of November 1794.
See her Letters and Memorials..., with notes by T. Craig Brown (1900).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)