Tait, Alexander ('Saunders')
An eccentric tailor in Tarbolton, well advanced in years when Burns first became known as a poet. He seems to have been born in Peebleshire. Burns and his friend David Sillar annoyed Tair. Sillar, it seems, had called Tait's muse 'a tumbling cart, Gaun wantin' shoon.' Tait made much play with the common weakness which Burns and Sillar shared, addressing Sillar in verse:
"Search Scotland all around by Lorn,
Next round by Leith and Abercorn,
Through a' Ayrshire, by the Sorn
Tak merry turns,
There's nane can sound the bawdy horn
Like you and Burns."
Addressing Burns next, Tait undertook to
"... trace his pedigree
Because he made a sang on me."
And this Tait did, in scabrous, doggerel pieces with titles like 'Burns in his Infancy,' 'Burns in Lochly' and 'Burns's Hen clockin' in Mauchline'.
In his early days, Tait practised mantuamaking, which was then a regular part of the tailor's trade. Having sold his gown-piece to a lady, he would make-up the dress in the house of the customer. Latterly, he gave up this travelling trade and settled in Tarbolton, where he eventually owned several houses in the village, and where he also held several offices, as he recounts with pride in one of his verses:
"I'm Patron to the Burgher folks,
I'm Cornal to the Farmer's Box
And Bailie to guid hearty cocks,
That are a' grand
Has heaps o' houses built on rocks,
Wi' lime and sand."
Tait published a volume of poems, 280 pages of octavo, in 1790, and sold it at one shilling and sixpence the copy. It was printed in Paisley, where he seems once to have lived.
In 1794, a future Earl of Eglinton, then Major Montgomerie, raised his regiment of West Lowland Fencibles, and Tait, though elderly, was one of the first to enrol. A note under the memoir on the Earl of Eglinton in Kay's Edinburgh Portraits had this to say of Tait:
'Among others who 'followed in the field' was an eccentric personage of the name of Tait. He was a tailor, and in stature somewhat beneath the military stature; but he was a poet, and zealous in the cause of loyalty. He had sung the deeds of the Montgomeries in many a couplet; and, having animated the villagers with his loyal strains, resolved, like a second Tyrtaeus, to encourage his companions in arms to victory by the fire and vigour of his verses. It is said he could not write; nevertheless, he actually published a small volume of poems. These have long sunk into oblivion. Still 'Sawney Tait, the tailor' is well remembered. He was a bachelor; and like a true son of genius, occupied an attic of very small dimensions. At the "June fair", when the village was crowded, Saunders... annually converted his "poet's corner" into a temple of the worship of Bacchus, and became a publican in a small way.... His apartment was always well frequented, especially by the younger portion of the country people, who were amused with his oddities.'