Regular visitor to the site - David Brown, has this month submitted not one, but two, first class articles. In this, "A Nationalist Immortal Memory", he demonstrates his prowess in delivering an Immortal memory to a Scottish Nationalist audience. In the other, "Burns & Braveheart" he provides a fascinating talk on Burns & Braveheart - Sir William Wallace.
"A Nationalist Immortal Memory"
Constituency SNP - 35th Annual Burns Supper
I have heard that when Nicola Sturgeon had just been appointed Shadow Health Minister she was shown round a hospital and introduced to some of the patients. When she spoke to the first patient, he said to her:
"Weel are ye wordy o' a grace As lang's
my arm." She was flattered by this so she smiled and then moved on
to the next patient and asked him how how he was. He answered:
Now I'm not a doctor but I hope you all
be willing to accept my treatment of Burns!
I understand that the hotel does an excellent breakfast, but since we can't all stay that late I've cut it down a bit.
First of all his motivation and influences:
He said: "The Poetic Genius of my country found me at the plough and threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes and rural pleasures of my native soil, in my native tongue."
Burns said he "rhymed for fun," Or for his friends:
Burns has been described as "The Ploughman Poet" but that conceals the fact that he was exceptionally well educated. He attended a school, which his father and some other neighbours had set up at their own expense. His reading was extensive and but despite all the classics, he said that one of the first books he read gave him more pleasure than anything else - he meant compared to other books! That book was "The History of Sir William Wallace."
The person who influenced him most was his father, who built the family home we know as Burns' Cottage. Later the family moved to a farm. But the soil was rocky and they had to construct their own buildings so it was difficult to make a living. The owner of the land served a writ, which Burns' father successfully contested but with the 2-year Court battle in the Court of Session, the cost and stress took its toll and he died shortly afterwards. The tenancy was ended and Robert and his brother moved the family to another farm.
This experience left a deep impression on Burns, which shows in his poems such as The Twa Dogs:
And the Mountain Daisy:
Burns championed the cause of the poor, but he was astute enough not to class all wealthy gentry as wicked. He would have been incredibly proud if he could have known that more than 200 years after his death his words would be used when the Scottish Parliament finally reconvened:
What though on hamely fare we dine,
"Then let us pray that come it
Of course Burns assumes you know that 'Man' embraces 'Woman.'
While Burns was at Mossgiel, he had a dog,
called Luath, Gaelic for fast. Luath was devoted to Burns and followed
him everywhere. When Burns went to a wedding, during the dancing Luath
constantly jumped at his heels. Burns said:
He married Jean shortly afterwards, but Jean's father refused to accept Burns as Jean's husband and he had their marriage document destroyed. Jean, who was pregnant, was sent to stay with relatives. It appeared to Burns that Jean had ended the marriage, so, in order to complete the annulment he went to the kirk session, spent 3 consecutive Sunday services doing penance on the cutty stool and obtained a certificate that he was a single man.
This left him free to marry Bonnie Mary of Argyll and he planned to emigrate with her to Jamaica. He sent a selection of his poems to Kilmarnock for printing to help finance the voyage.
Sadly, Mary died, Jean produced twins and the Kilmarnock edition was far more successful than he expected. He was suddenly acceptable to Jean's father. He cancelled the planned emigration and married Jean, in effect for the second time.
They set up house in Mauchline, and Burns
took a lease on Ellisland farm, near Dumfries. He had been made a Burgess
of Dumfries on one of his tours and a privilege of being a Burgess was
that his children were able to obtain education in Dumfries at minimal
There's wild woods grow, and rivers
"The slave's spicy forests, and
And a song about Jean ends:-
So, despite his reputation with other women,
it is clear that his relationship with Jean was special.
In 1800 the population of Scotland was 1.6m. We are now well over 5m. But, tragically, despite Burns' best efforts, only a tiny fraction of us are descended from him.
"Ah Nick! Ah Nick! it isna fair, First
showing us the tempting ware,
One of his longest affairs, was with Agnes
M'Lehose. It was for her that Burns wrote Ae fond kiss to mark the severing
of his relationship with her in favour of Jean Armour.
Burns also wrote about some women who were not so beautiful - like Willie Wastle's wife! Willie Wastle was a weaver and he and his wife lived in a cottage where the Logan Water runs into the River Tweed.
"She has an e'e, she has but ane;
Although Burns often appears to have over-indulged in women, he did not very often over-indulge in drink. During Burns' time, hard drinking was fashionable and drunkenness was rife. Beer was drunk with every meal. It was much purer than water. The aim of a good host was to send all his guests to bed drunk. When Holy Willie was found dead in a ditch he had a bottle at his side.
Burns drank partly to help his poetic muse, but mainly he drank for coviviality. He did occasionally drink too much, but he never drank alone or had any alcohol-related problems with the possible exception of fatherhood!
One evening Burns and Soutar Johnnie were drinking Guinness to celebrate his birthday. It was natural for Burns to drink Guinness on his birthday, since the production of Guinness began in the same year as Burns was born. They were enjoying their pints and having a good blether, when Burns noticed that the ceiling was covered in beer mats. They had been stuck there by dipping them in beer and holding them against the ceiling until they were anchored fast.
Burns had never seen this before so he
called the barman over and asked him how it was done.
"Oh really," said Burns, the inspiration of his poetry flooding back to him, "The rank is but the guinea's stamp The man's the gowd for a' that!"
Burns recognised his failings in an epitaph
he wrote for himself:-
In Burns' day, punishment of moral offences was in the hands of the Kirk, which had many of the powers of our district courts. Parliament was not particularly relevant as fewer than 1% of the population were able to vote.
There was wide belief in the assumption that some people (1 in 10) were "The Chosen," selected for a place in heaven and the rest of us were condemned to hell, irrespective of our actions. Burns helped to kill off this iniquitous belief when he ridiculed it in "Holy Willie's Prayer."
And in his "Address to the Unco Guid," he attacked the religious zealots like Holy Willie who went round reporting misdemeanours while concealing their own:-
-Burns asks us not to judge others when
The poem concludes that:
"O Scotia! my dear, my native
"O Thou! who poured the patriotic
Who dar'd to, nobly, stem tyrannic pride,
Burns said "The story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice in my veins which will boil along there until the floodgates of life shut in eternal rest."
It boils along in lines like:
"Thus bold, independent, unconquer'd and free for brave Caledonia immortal must be" And
14a) In the Highland widow's lament, Burns
links Scotland's cause with the Jacobites.
Their waefu' fate what need I tell,
"Still in prayers for KG I most
The king had been a witless youth according to Burns' poem "The Bonie lass of Albanie" which suggests that he had usurped the claim of Charlotte Stuart, daughter of Bonnie Prince Charlie. She died childless soon after her father.
Not many people know that in 1788 after Bonnie Prince Charlie died in Rome, his bones were returned to Glenfinnan, where he raised his standard. The local clansmen were worried that English troops would vandalise them so they gave the bones to a shepherd who was building a dry stane dyke and he hid Prince Charlie's remains in the stones. This is the reason for the song which goes "Bonnie Charlie's noo a wa'!"
After Burns started working for the Excise he was able to give up Ellisland farm and moved his family into Dumfries, where he spent much of his time collecting and recording the words and music of many traditional Scots songs. He taught himself to play the fiddle so that he could record music. He would listen to a tune until he could play it and then make notes of the fingering. This was how was able to preserve many the old Scots tunes. which otherwise would have been lost.
His songs were published in 2 main collections.
Is it not remarkable that the author of such a masterpiece of satire as
Holy Willie's Prayer could also write such beautiful songs as:-
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
One of his publishers had asked him to
include some English songs but Burns answered him: "These English
songs gravel me to death." Burns much preferred the use of the Scots
But it can cause children trouble at school. I heard about a wee girl who was attending for the first time when her teacher asked her name. She answered "Elizabeth." So the teacher says "But are you called Elizabeth?" After a pause the wee girl answers "Naw, naw that cauld miss. Just ma feet!"
And the wee boy who came home from a birthday
party and his Mum asked if he had enjoyed it. "Naw," he says,
"I wisht I hadnae goad."
As a senior Excise officer, Burns had assisted in apprehending a smuggling schooner. It was aground in the Solway and he with other Excise officers had to wade out chest deep to capture it. But he then purchased its cannon and tried to send them to France to help the revolution. It is believed they were intercepted at Dover. France had declared war on Britain.
Burns gave a toast at a public dinner:
These incidents led to an Excise inquiry
into Burns loyalty to the British state which threatened to cost him his
job, so he displayed his apparent British loyalty by joining the Royal
Dumfries Volunteers and wrote a song for them. It included the lines that
have allowed certain people to claim that Burns was a supporter of Union
Now Sark rins o'er the Solway sands,
Or Scots Wha Ha'e, which he said was written
when "the accidental recollection of that glorious struggle for Freedom,
associated with the glowing ideas of some other struggles not quite so
ancient, roused my rhyming mania."
Burns was no Saint, but an ordinary man
on a large scale.
and remember his philosophy:-
"Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others, this is my criterion of goodness; and whatever injures society at large or any individual in it, this is my measure of iniquity."
Robert Burns was an eloquent, hard-working, adventurous, thoughtful, patriotic, generous dutiful son, a loving father, a loving husband and according to the lasses strong, and handsome. He was also an inspirational poetic genius. If Scotland ever forgets Robert Burns, history will forget Scotland.
So as Scots and as Friends of the People
of Scotland I would ask you all to rise and join me in a Toast
to the Immortal Memory - of Robert Burns.