Robert Burns (1759-1796) wrote Tam o'Shanter in 1790 for Captain Grose, the antiquary, and it first appeared in Grose's Antiquities of Scotland. Tam o'Shanter is Burns most sustained single poetic effort, as well as the only example among his poems of this kind of narrative poetry. It was written at a time when he was beset with difficulties, after a spell of scanty production and it showed him to be a master of verse narrative. Our picture is taken from late in the poem when the hero Tam has been drinking in an inn and then ventured into the night. On his way home he has come across a witches' ceremony at the haunted Kirk Alloway. He watches in rapture and so entranced, he shouts '"Weel done, Cutty-sark!" at which point the dancing female, furious at being discovered, chases him away, catching the tail of his horse, Maggie, in full flight. The tail miraculously comes off, leaving Tam free to cross the river to safety and the witch trapped, unable to cross.
Now, do thy speedy utmost, Meg
And win the key-stane of the brig
There, at them thou thy tail may toss
A running stream they dare na cross!
But ere the key-stane she could make
The fient a tail she had to shake
For Nannie, far before the rest
Hard upon noble Maggie prest
And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle
But little wist she Maggie's mettle
Ae spring brought off her master hale
But left behind her ain grey tail
The carlin claught her by the rump
And left poor Maggie scarce a stump
Now, wha this tale o' truth shall read
Ilk man and mother's son, take heed
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind
Think, ye may buy the joys o'er dear
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare
William was the brother of James Tannock (1784-1863), a portrait painter who exhibited forty-six works at the Royal Academy between 1813-41.