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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"

Eastwood Constituency SNP - 35th Annual Burns Supper
Saturday, 26th January 2002- Redhurst Hotel, Giffnock
Immortal Memory - David Brown

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:
"I wad be laith tae rin and chase thee, wi' murderin' pattle!" She said she was very glad to hear it, but when a third patient clutching his chest called out: "My heart's in the highlands, my heart isn't here" she was beginning to wonder what kind of a ward she was in so she asked the doctor if the patients had some strange illness. "No," explained the doctor. "This is the Burns unit!"

Now I'm not a doctor but I hope you all be willing to accept my treatment of Burns!

I thought I'd tell you about his motivation - how he came to write poetry - and some of the people who influenced him including his father and his thoughts on poverty, farming and nature. How he met Jean, his wife, how many children he had, how other women and the occasional drink distracted him and I'll explain his remorse after over-indulgence; the power of the Kirk and Burns' attitude to it, his patriotism, Jacobitism and his views of revolution and the rights of man, his work for the Excise and on the farms, and finally his songs and the illnes at the end of his life.

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 gave an explanation in the first edition of his poems:-

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:

"No mercenary bard his homage pays;
With honest pride I scorn each selfish end;

My dearest mead a friend's esteem and praise."
Or for his country:
"Even then, a wish (I mind its power),
A wish that to my latest hour
Shall strongly heave my breast-
That I for puir auld Scotland's sake,
Some useful plan or beuk could make,
Or sing a song at least."

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:

"Poor tenant-bodies, scant o' cash,
How they must thole a factor's snash;
He'll stamp an' threaten, curse an' swear,
He'll apprehend them, poind their gear,
While they maun stand, wi' aspect humble,
An' hear it a' an' fear an' tremble!"

And the Mountain Daisy:

"Such fate to suffering Worth is giv'n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv'n,
By human pride and cunning driv'n
To Mis'ry's brink,
Till wrench'd of ev'ry stay but Heav'n
He, ruin'd sink!"

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:

"Is there, for honest poverty
That hings his heid, and a' that;

The coward-slave, we pass him by,
We daur be pair for a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Our toils obscure, and a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a' that.
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A Man's a Man for a' that.
Fore a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
The honest man, though e'er sae pair,
Is king of men for a' that."

"Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that;
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, and a' that
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man the warld o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that!"

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:
"I wish I could get ony o' the lasses to like me as weel as my dog does." A few days later he was walking past Mauchline green where Jean Armour was spreading her washing. Luath's paws went on her clean sheets.
"Ca' him off, ca' him off!" cried Jean. Robert did. And Jean looked at him and said
"Weel, Robin, ha'e ye got ony o' the lasses to like you as weel as your dog yet?"

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 cost.

But he had to build a house at Ellisland, before his family could move in. While working on it he expressed his thoughts on Jean in poems and songs, such as:-

"Of A' the Airts the wind can blow,
I dearly love the West;
For there the bonny lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best

There's wild woods grow, and rivers row,
And mony a hill between;
But day and night my fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean-"


"The slave's spicy forests, and gold-bubbling fountains,
The brave Caledonian views with disdain;
He wanders as free as the winds of his mountains,
Save Love's willing fetters, the chains o' his Jean."

And a song about Jean ends:-

"Content am I, if heaven shall give
But happiness to thee

And as wi' thee I wish to live,
For thee I'd bear to dee."

So, despite his reputation with other women, it is clear that his relationship with Jean was special.

Burns and Jean had 9 children, but only 3 lived to become adults and only one of these has survivors today. He is also known to have had 3 illegitimate children. His detractors say he had more but they include the two sets of twins born to Jean before their second marriage and overlook the first marriage, which was perfectly legal. Burns loved all his children and ensured they were all well cared for. Jean showed her tolerance and her dedication to Burns as she brought up one of his illegitimate children with her family when she commented "Oor Rab should ha'e had twa wives." Burns lived at a time when rates of illegitimacy and infant mortality were very much higher than they are today, so it is not fair that he should be judged by today's standards.

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,
Bright wines and bonnie lasses rare, To put us daft;"

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.

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, Alas for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee."

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;
The cat has twa the verra colour!

5 rusty teeth, forby a stump;
a clapper tongue wad deave a miller
A whiskin' beard about her mou
Her nose and chin they threaten ither
Sic a wife as Willie had
I wadna gie a button for her!"



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.
"Ah" said the barman "Their anchor's but the Guinness damp."

"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:-

"The poor inhabitant below,

Was quick to learn, and wise to know
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame;
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name!"


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:-

" O ye wha are sae guid yoursel,
Sae pious and sae holy,
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell
Your Neebours' fauts and folly!"

-Burns asks us not to judge others when he adds:-

"Who made the heart, 'tis he alone
Decidedly can try us,
He knows each chord its various tone,
Each spring its various bias:
Then at the balance let's be mute,
We never can adjust it;
What's done we partly may compute,
But know not what's resisted."

Although Burns castigated the pomposity of formal religion with its "3 mile prayers and ½ mile graces," he believed in God and gave his children a Christian upbringing, as his father had given him.

"The Cottar's Saturday Night" describes how after supper "The priest-like father reads the sacred page."

The poem concludes that:
"From Scenes like these, auld Scotia's grandeur springs," and then expresses Burns' patriotism with:-

"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent.
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health and peace and sweet content
And O may heaven their simple lives prevent
From luxury's contagion, weak and vile
Then howe'er crowns and coronets be rent
A virtuous populace may rise the while
And stand a wall of fire around their much-loved isle.."

"O Thou! who poured the patriotic tide,
That stream'd through Wallace's undaunted heart;

Who dar'd to, nobly, stem tyrannic pride,
Or nobly die, the 2nd glorious part:
(The patriot's God, peculiarly thou art,
His friend, inspirer, guardian and reward!)
O never, never Scotia's realm desert,
But still the Patriot, and the Patriot-bard,
In bright succession raise, her Ornament and Guard!"

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

"Thee, Caledonia, thy wild heaths among,
Thee, famed for martial deed & sacred Song,.
To thee I turn with swimming eyes;
Where is that soul of Freedom fled/
Immingled with the mighty Dead,
Beneath the hallowed turf where WALLACE lies!"

14a) In the Highland widow's lament, Burns links Scotland's cause with the Jacobites.

"Till Charlie Stewart came at last,
Sae far to set us free;
My Donald's arm was wanted then
For Scotland and for me.

Their waefu' fate what need I tell,
Right to the wrang did yield;
My Donald and his Country fell
Upon Culloden field."

Burns was not exactly a wholehearted supporter of the Hanoverian succession and the mad King George III.
The 23rd of April 1789, St George's Day, was made a day of public thanksgiving for the King's apparent recovery from insanity. Burns wrote:

"Still in prayers for KG I most cordially join,
The Queen and the rest of the gentry
Be they wise be they foolish 'tis nothing of mine,
Their title's Allowed in the country.
But why of that Epocha make such a fuss,
That brought us th' Electoral stem
If bringing them over was lucky for us
I'm sure 'twas as lucky for them!"

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:-

O my Luve is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

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 tongue.

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."
"Oh no," said his mother, "You don't say I wisht I hadnae goed. The correct expression is I wish tae Goad I hadnae went!"

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:
"May our success in the present war be equal to the justice of our cause."
And he attended a revolutionary meeting and was suspected of singing a revolutionary anthem.

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 with England.

"Be Britain still to Britain true,
Amang oursels united;
For never but by British hands
Must Britain's wrongs be righted

f course saying that Britain should unite militarily against an invader is not quite the same as saying that Scotland and England should be united politically, but it was astute of Burns to leave Unionists a snippet like that, which they could grasp as a reason why they also could commemorate his memory!

Contrast it with his sentiment in a letter he wrote:
"Alas, I have often said to myself 'Where are all the boasted advantages which my country reaps from a certain Union, that can counterbalance the annihilation of her independence and even her very name?'"
and its poetic equivalent:-

"Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Farewell even to the Scottish name
Sae fam'd in martial story!

Now Sark rins o'er the Solway sands,
And Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark whare England's province stands,
Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation!"

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."

At the age of 37 Burns became seriously ill with rheumatic fever. It is believed that he was given mercury ointment, before it was known to be poisonous. He then followed his doctor's misguided instructions and immersed himself in the ice-cold waters of the Solway. 3 days later, not surprisingly, he died. Jean couldn't attend his funeral. She was giving birth to his last son. With unconscious irony she called him Maxwell after Burns' doctor.

Burns was no Saint, but an ordinary man on a large scale.

"Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman;
Though they may gang a kennin wrang,
To step aside is human."

Let us try to be … not as he was, but as he wished he could be; as he said:
"Know that prudent, cautious self-control is wisdom's root," be "contented wi' little, cantie wi' mair," try "To see oursels as ithers see us,"

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.