Robert Burns 1759-1796
Oh Patriam Vulnera Passi
“Who are you, Mr. Burns?
At what University have you been educated?
What languages do you understand?
What authors have you studied?
Has Aristotle or Horace directed your taste?
Who has praised your poems, and under whose patronage are they pubished?
What qualifications entitle you to instruct or entertain us?
My good man, I am a poor country man.
I was bred up at the school of Kilmarnock.
I understand no language but my own.
I have no knowledge of those you mention.
My poems have been praised at many a fireside.
I ask no patronage if they deserve none.
I have not looked at mankind through the spectacles of books.”
(We are indebted to John Ross for this catechism of queries and the responses)
The following epithets have been given to describe Robert Burns: the greatest poet of Scotland, the most original of the 18th century poets of Great Britain, one of the best song writers of the world. The career of Robert Burns falls into three periods: Ayrshire, 1759-1786; the Kilmarnock Poems. Edinburgh, 1786-1788, a period of journeys and countryside tours and little else; Dumfriesshire, 1786-1796, the Songs. Wherever he wandered in his short life [death at thirty-seven] “by his genius [he] raised his native language, with its stories of old and vivid words and expressions, to classical rank.” Sir James Wilson The Dialect of Robert Burns
“In person the poet was nearly five feet nine inches in height, he was well formed but stooped slightly. His features were strongly marked; he had a straight nose, and penetrating dark eyes, deeply set. His head was large, but in the upper part flat rather than arched: his forehead was broad but not height...he impressed all who listened to him when he entered heartily into conversation.” Charles Rogers Family of Robert Burnes
You won’t find action, drama, philosophy, or deep thought; what there is in his verse is an expression of and deep feeling for human nature with its sorrows, joys, hopes and fears delivered through song. He wrote of everyday life as though the experiences of a peasant was to be admired. The Kilmarnock publication was a collection of masterpieces with a short verse on the title-piece:
“The simple Bard, unbroke by rules of Art ,
He pours the wild effusions of the heart;
And if inspired, ‘tis Nature’s pow’ers inspire:
Hers all the melting thrill, and hers the kindling fire.”
The collection was welcomed “by old and young, high and low, grave and gay, learned and ignorant.” Almost certainly he was now the poet laureate of Scotland and with that acclaim he resolved to remain in his native land forever. But the real force impelling the force of poetry was falling in love. “For my own part I never had the least thought or inclination of turning poet till I got once heartily in love, and then Rhyme and Song were in a measure the spontaneous language of my heart.” Although, After Edinburgh and the tours, he finally connected permanently with Jane Armour and returned to Dumfries and the life of a farmer. After one of his amorous failures he wrote in the Burn’s meter of eights:
“Had we never loved sae kindly,
Had we never loved sae blindly,
Never met, or never parted,
We had ne’er been broken-hearted.”
Burns, the Ayrshire ploughman, favored this meter of eights which was actually the “Standard Habbie” from the 17th century poem Habbie Simson the Piper of Kilbarchan by Robert Sempill. Because of Burns frequent use it has became known as the 'Burns Stanza'. It was an arrangement of six lines of 8, 8, 8, 4, 8, 4. Here is it is used for the poem The Vision:
With future hope, I oft would gaze,
Fond on thy little early ways.
Thy rudely caroll’d chiming phrase,
In uncouth rhymes,
Fired at the simple artless lays
Of other times.
The star that rules my luckless lot
Has fated me the russet coat,
And damn’d my fortune to the groat;
But, in requite,
Has blest me with a random shot
Of country wit.
After the success of his first collection he wrote to an acquaintance [Mrs. Dunlop]:
“I guess that I shall clear between two and three hundred pounds by my authorship. With that sum I intend, so far as I may be said to have any intention, to return to my old acquaintance, the plough, and, if I can meet with a lease by which I can live, to commence Farmer. I do no intend to give up Poesy: being bred to labor secures me independence, and the Muses are my chief, sometimes have been my only enjoyment.”
One further comment about the poetic diction of Burns; he was not a perfectionist. Unlike Pope who revised and revised; measuring each phrase and word before, during and long after it was written. Burns never changed word or phrase once written. His reaction to comments from critics was that all improvements were completed in his head before they went to pen. Burns also enjoyed using the “inverted sentence” to please the rhyme as in Does Haughty Gaul Invasaion Threat.
There is much testimony as to the influence of Burns on the civilized world. One story comes to us from New Zealand where a member of the Government met a fellow Scot remarking that it was a lonely place the reply came as follows: “Man, I’m no sae lonely as ye think, for I hae ma sheep to look after; my dog is a kindly friend, and I have a wheen good books; I study...I hae Burns...Cottars Saturday Night to read and some other poems of the Poet, which remind me o’home. I am real happy, and some day I may go back again to Auld Scotland.” More impressive is Burns impact on Germany, a least likely place because of the rigid hold of the monarchy. But it was the German scholar, Hans Hecht, who produced the finest biography of Robert Burns . Hecht hoped that the movement of the rights and brotherhood of the world’s working class that had risen during the pre- WWI, could be rekindled. After the capture of Berlin in WWII the body of this Burnsian scholar “was found in an air-raid shelter ...the democracy of Burns was the ideal he strove to establish” was alive. Burns had borrowed from Thomas Paine the rousing theme “rights of man.” In Russia Burns was hailed as the poet of the oppressed and long after the “great war” was honored with a commemorative stamp in 1956. In America John Steinbeck, who took from the last stanza of To a Mouse as title to his 1937 novel Of Mice and Men - the best laid schemes of mice an’ men gang aft agley. There was also William Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan who wrote in the Burns meter:
“Hail Poetry, thou heav’n-born maid!
Thou gildest e’en the pirate’s trade.
Hail, flowing fount of sentiment!
All hail, all hail.”
Our first characteristic: respect for the common man, the common life, religion
“From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeur springs,
That makes her lov’d at home, rever’d abroad:
Princes and Lords are by the breath of kinds,
An honest man’s the noblest work of God’
And certes, in fair virtue’s heavenly road,
The cottage leaves the palace far behind;
What is a lordling’s pomp? a cumbrous load,
Disguising oft the wretch of human kind.
Studied in arts of hell in wickedness refin’d!” The Cotter’s Saturday Night
“‘Tis this, my friend, that streaks our morning bright,
‘Tis this that gilds the horror of our night;
When wealth forsakes us, and when friends are few,
When friends are faithless or when foes pursue.
‘Tis this that wards the blow, or stills the smart,
Disarms affliction or repels its dart;
Within the breast bids purest raptures rise,
Bids smiling conscience spread her cloudless skies.” Epistle to Mrs. Dunlop
“Gie me ne spark of Nature’s fire,
That’s a’ the learning I desire;
Then tho’ I drudge thro’ dub an’ mire
At pleugh or cart,
My Muse, tho’ hamely in attire,
May touch the heart,” Epistle to John LaPraik
“God knows, I’m not the thing I should be,
Nor am I even the thing I could be,
But twenty times I rather would be
An Atheist clean
Than under Gospel colours hid be
Just for a screen.
All hail, Religion, maid divine,
Pardon a muse sae mean as mine]
Who in her rough, imperfict line
Thus daurs to name thee;
To stimatize false friends o’thine’
Can ne’er defame thee” Epistle to the Reverend John M’Math
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself
“The faith of Robert Burns was more inclined to rest on the Word of God, than on the rule of a man-made creed...” James McKenzie
“Enough of sorrow, wreck and blight;
Think rather of those moments bright
When to the consciousness of right
His course was true,
When Wisdom prosper’d in his sight
And virtue grew.” Henry Wordsworth At the Grave of Burns - seven years later
Our second characteristic: human sympathy, morality (satiric in style)
It’s no in titles, nor in ranks,
It’s no in welath like Lon’on Bank
To purchase peace and rest,
It’s no in makin muckel mair,
It’s no in books, it’s no in lear’
To make us truly blest.
If happiness hae not her seat
And centre in the brest,
We may be wise, or rich, or great,
But never can be blest.
Nae treasures nor pleasures
Could make us happy lang;
The heart aye, the part aye
That makes us right or wrong.” Epistle to Davie
“The great Creator to revere
Must sure become the creature:
But still the preaching can forbear,
And ev’en the rigid feature:
Yet ne’er with wits profane to range
Be complaisance extended:
An atheist laugh’s a poor exchange
For Deity offended.” Epistle to a Young Friend
“Morality, thou deadly bane
Thy tens o’thousands thou hast slain.
Vain is his hope, whose stay and trust is
In mortal mercy, truth, and justice.” Dedication to Gavin Hamilton
“Oh wad some Poer the giftie gie us
To see oursles as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What aits in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ Ev’e devotion!.” To a Mouse
“I’ve notic’d on our laird’s court-day
(An’ many a time my heart’s been wae)
Poor tenant bodies scant o’ cash,
How they maun thole a factor’s snash;
He’ll stamp an’ threaten, curse an’ swear,
He’ll apprehend them, poind their gear,
While they maun stan’ wi’ aspect humble
An’ hear it a’, an fear an’ tremble!” The Twa Dogs
“My name is Fun, your cronie dear,
The nearest friend ye hae;
An’ this is Superstition here,
An’ that’s Hypocrisy.
I’m gaun to Mauchlin, Hole Fair
To spend an hour in daffin;
Gin ye’ll go there, you runkled pair,
We will get us famous laughin
At them this day The Holy Fair
Comments from critics, colleagues and himself
“The power of Burns’ songs consists in their moral tone. If that were extracted from them, they would dissolve and fall to pieces. It is not wit, nor humour, nor pathos, which was the centre of Burns. The time in which Burns lived was eminent all over the civilized world as an outburst of the spirit of liberty.
“Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.” Thomas Gray
“He is a human creature, only overflowing with the characteristics of humanity. To him belong, in large measure, the passions and the powers of his race. He professes no exemption from the common lot. Rarely and richly were mingled in him the elements of human nature. His crowning distinction is a larger soul; and this he carried into all things.” H. Tuckerman Thoughts on Poets
“What a gust of sympathy there is in him, sometimes flowing out in byways hitherto unused, upon mice, flowers, and the Devil himself; Sometimes speaking plainly between human hearts; sometimes ringing out in exultation like a peal of bells!” Robert Louis Stevenson Familiar Studies
“Of his songs, one main characteristic is that their subjects, the substance they lay hold of, belongs to what is most permanent in humanity...those permanent relations of life which cannot change while man’s nature remains what it is...Happy as a singer Burns was this, that his own strong nature, his birth, and all his circumstances, conspired to fix his interest on ...the great fundamental relations of life...not on the social conventions and ephemeral modes, which are here today, forgotten in the next generation...Burns’s sympathy and thoughts were not confined to class and country; they had something more catholic in them, they reached to universal man.” J. C. Sharp On Poetic Interpretation of Nature
“Being thus himself poor...a heart to love and enjoy all beauty and to feel all that was human, and being insensibly influenced by the spriit of the time, he threw into the tender and humorous song the sorrows and affections of his own class, their religion and their passions, their amusements and their toil, till all the world laughed and wept with the Ayrxhire ploughman.” Stopford Brooke Theology in the English Poets
“In hut and in hall as the heart unfolds itself in the many colored joy and woe of existence, the name , the voice of the joy and woe is the name and the voice which Burns has given them... He has a resonance in his bosom for every note of human feeling; the high and the low, the sad, the ludicrous, the joyful, are welcome in their turns to his lightly moved and all conceiving spirit.” Thomas Carlyle Heroes and Hero Worship
Our third characteristic: sincereness - good fellowship
“It’s no in titles nor in rank
It’s no in wealth like Londond Bank,
To purchase peace and rest;
It’s no in makin’muckle mair,
It;s no in books - it’s no in lear
To make us truly blest.
If happiness has not her seat
And centre in the breast,
We may be wise or rich or great,
But never can be blest;
Nae treasures nor pleasures
Could make us happy lang,
The heart aye, the part aye
That makes us right or wrong.
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That sense and worth o’er a’ the earh
May bear the gree for a’ that.
For a’ that, and a’ that
That man to man the world o’er
Shall brothers be for a’ that.” The Holy Fair
“No churchman am I for to rail and to write,
No statesman nor soldier to plot or to fight,
No sly man of business contriving a snare,
For a big bellied bottle’s the whole of my care.
The peer I don’t envy, I give him his bow;
I scorn not the peasant though ever so low,
But a club of good fellows like those that are here,
And a bottle like this, are my glory and care.” The Big Bellied Bottle
Comments from critics, colleagues and himself
“Being the sincerest of men, and extraordinarily susceptible, his songs are peculiarly the expression of his spontaneous feelings.”
“The race who rhyme from folly or for food,
Yet still some genuine sons ‘tis hers to boast,
Who, least affecting, still affect the most:
Feel as they write, and write but as they feel...” Lord Byron English Bards - Robert Burns
“Burns could hardly have described the excesses of mad, hairbrained, roaring mirth and convivial indulgence, which is the soul of it, if he himself has not drunk full oftener ot the tun than of the well” William Haslitt Lectures on English Poets
“Of all poets Burns saw most like common people. All his ideals were but their conceptions exalted. This is the secret of that spell of sympathy which the common mind feels in his poetry. Being the sincerest of men, and extraordinarily susceptible, his songs are peculiarly the expression of his spontaneous feelings...The chords of every human heart vibrate the same notes under the same touches of nature; and as those higher minds are tuned the bet, we must tuen our dull hearts in concord, in order to catch the true music of the soul.” Samuel Tyler A Poet As a Man
Our fourth characteristic: descriptive power of natural beauty
“List’ning the doors an’ winnocks rattle,
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha hide this brattle
O’ winter war,
An’ thro’ the drift, deep-lairing sprattle
Beneath a scar.
“Ilk happing bird, wee, helpless thing,
That in the merry onths o’ spring
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o’thee?
Where will thou cow’r thy chittering wing,
An’ close thy e’e? A Winter Night
Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flow'r,
Thou 's met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
Thy slender stem:
To spare thee now is past my pow'r,
Thou bonnie gem.
Alas! it 's no thy neebor sweet,
The bonnie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet,
Wi' speckl'd breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet
The purpling east.
Cauld blew the bitter-biting north
Upon thy early, humble, birth;
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce rear'd above the parent earth
Thy tender form.
The flaunting flow'rs our garders yield,
High shelt'ring woods and wa's maun shield;
But thou, beneath the random bield
O' clod or stane,
Adorns the histie stibble-field,
There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
Thy snawie bosom sun-ward spread,
Thou lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise;
But now the "share" uptears thy bed,
And low thou lies!
Such is the fate of artless maid,
Sweet flow'ret of the rural shade!
By love's simplicity betray'd,
And guileless trust,
Till she, like thee, all soil'd, is laid
Low i' the dust.
Such is the fate of simple bard,
On life's rough ocean luckless starr'd!
Unskilful he to note the card
Of prudent lore,
Till billows rage, and gales blow hard,
And whelm him o'er!
Such fate to suffering worth is giv'n,
Who long with wants and woes has striv'n,
By human pride or cunning driv'n
To mis'ry's brink,
Till, wrench'd of ev'ry stay but Heav'n,
He, ruin'd, sink!
Ev'n thou who mourn'st the Daisy's fate,
That fate is thine - no distant date;
Stern Ruin's plough-share drives, elate,
Full on thy bloom,
Till, crush'd beneath the furrow's weight,
Shall be thy doom! To a Mountain Daisy (thought by some to be autobiographical)
Comments from critics, colleagues and himself
“Even this perfect freedom from uneasy, dissatisfied and angry thoughts and feelings towards th rich and great, when we consider all things, proves the native magnanimity of Burns. After all, that is the highest eulogy which uses only the most common but the most holy words. Burns, the, was a good son, a good brother, a good friend, a good husband, and a good father.” John Wilson Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, May, 1828
“There! Said a stripling, pointing with meet pride
Towards a low roof with green trees half conceal’d,
Is Mossgiel Farm; and that’s the very field
When Burns plough’d up the Daisy. Far and wide
A plain below stretch’d seaward, while, descried
Above sea-clouds, the Peaks of Arran rose;
And, by that simple notice, the repose
Of earth, sky, sea, and air, was vivified.
Beneath the random field of clod or stone
Myriads of daisies have shone forth in flower
Near the lark’s nest, and in their natural hour
Have pass’d away; less happy than the One
That, by unwilling ploughshare, died to prove
The tender charm of poetry and love.” Henry Wordsworth Sonnet
“What name more graceful could’st thou chose
Than Caledonia’s pastoral Muse,
Breathed in the mellow reed of Burns?” Walter Landor
“In the same manner we enter into the feelings of his Daisy and his Mouse and his Dog and his Mare; for on all the subjects of his pencil Bruns never failed to spread the hues of his passion.” Josiah Walker Miscellaneous Remarks on the Writings of Burns
Our fifth characteristic: patriotism, passion for freedom
Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victorie!
Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle hour;
See approach proud Edward’s power
Chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland’s king and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fa,
Let him follow me!
By oppression’s woes and pains!
By your sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!
Let us do or die! Scots Wha Hae
“Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?
Then let the louns beware, Sir;
There's wooden walls upon our seas,
And volunteers on shore, Sir:
The Nith shall run to Corsincon,
And Criffel sink in Solway,
Ere we permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally!
We'll ne'er permit a Foreign Foe
On British ground to rally!
O let us not, like snarling curs,
In wrangling be divided,
Till, slap! come in an unco loun,
And wi' a rung decide it!
Be Britain still to Britain true,
Among ourselves united;
For never but by British hands
Maun British wrongs be righted!
No! never but by British hands
Shall British wrongs be righted!
The wretch that would a tyrant own,
And the wretch, his true-sworn brother,
Who would a set the mob above the throne,
May they be damn’d together!
Who will not sing, God save the king.
Shall hang as high’s the steeple;
But while we sing God save the king,
We’ll ne’er forget the people!” Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat - the Dumfries Volunteers
“From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile,
Then, however crowns or coronets be rent,
A virtuous populace may rise the while
And stand a wall of fire, around our much-loved Isle.” Cotter’s Saturday Night
“The Solemn League and Covenant
Cost Scotland blood - cost Scotland tears,
But it sealed Freedom’s sacred cause,
If thou art a slave, indulge thy sneers.” Upon hearing someone refer to the Solemn League and Covenant, calling it ridiculous and fanatical. James MacKenzie
“What of Earls with whom you have supt,
And of Dukes you have dined with yest’reen;
Lord, an insect’s an insect at most,
Though it crawl on the curls of a queen.” An epigram upon hearing at the table of a Dumfries County gentleman boast of dukes and earls with whom he had dined and drunk.
Comments from critics, colleagues and himself
“Earth, and the snow-dimmed heights of air,
And water winding soft and fair
Through still sweet places, bright and bare,
By bent and byre,
Taught him what hearts within them were:
but his was fire.” Swinburne Burns: An Ode
“And Burns, with pungent passionings
Set in his eyes; deep lyric springs
Are of the fire-mount’s issuings.” Elizabeth Browning Vision of Poets
“Burns is a thorough Scotchman the flavor of the soil can be tasted in everything he wrote.” Ralph Emerson
“Looking back, we realize today with perfect clarity the artistic mission which it was incumbent upon Burns to fulfil. It was his vocation to preserve and to glorify the Scottish national spirit in description, story, and song, and through the medium of his own now scathingly satirical, not sentimentally emotional, compassionate, highly strung individuality to give it new and powerful expression; but to accomplish all this he need the contact with the soil.” Hans Hecht.
Our sixth characteristic rustic characters - convivialities and banalities
But this that I am gaun to tell,
Which lately on a night befell,
Is just as true’s the Deil’s in hell
Or Dublin city:
That e’er he nearer comes oursel’
’S a muckle pity.
The clachan yill had made me canty,
I was na fou, but just had plenty;
I stacher’d whiles, but yet too tent aye
To free the ditches;
An’ hillocks, stanes, an’ bushes, kenn’d eye
Frae ghaists an’ witches.
The rising moon began to glowre
The distant Cumnock hills out-owre:
To count her horns, wi’ a my pow’r,
I set mysel’;
But whether she had three or four,
I cou’d na tell.
I was come round about the hill,
An’ todlin down on Willie’s mill,
Setting my staff wi’ a’ my skill,
To keep me sicker;
Tho’ leeward whiles, against my will,
I took a bicker.
I there wi’ Something did forgather,
That pat me in an eerie swither;
An’ awfu’ scythe, out-owre ae shouther,
A three-tae’d leister on the ither
Lay, large an’ lang.
Its stature seem’d lang Scotch ells twa,
The queerest shape that e’er I saw,
For fient a wame it had ava;
And then its shanks,
They were as thin, as sharp an’ sma’
As cheeks o’ branks.
“Guid-een,” quo’ I; “Friend! hae ye been mawin,
When ither folk are busy sawin!”
I seem’d to make a kind o’ stan’
But naething spak;
At length, says I, “Friend! whare ye gaun?
Will ye go back?”
It spak right howe,—“My name is Death,
But be na fley’d.”—Quoth I, “Guid faith,
Ye’re maybe come to stap my breath;
But tent me, billie;
I red ye weel, tak care o’ skaith
See, there’s a gully!”
“Gudeman,” quo’ he, “put up your whittle,
I’m no designed to try its mettle;
But if I did, I wad be kittle
To be mislear’d;
I wad na mind it, no that spittle
Out-owre my beard.”
“Weel, weel!” says I, “a bargain be’t;
Come, gie’s your hand, an’ sae we’re gree’t;
We’ll ease our shanks an tak a seat—
Come, gie’s your news;
This while ye hae been mony a gate,
At mony a house.”
Ay, ay!” quo’ he, an’ shook his head,
“It’s e’en a lang, lang time indeed
Sin’ I began to nick the thread,
An’ choke the breath:
Folk maun do something for their bread,
An’ sae maun Death.
Sax thousand years are near-hand fled
Sin’ I was to the butching bred,
An’ mony a scheme in vain’s been laid,
To stap or scar me;
Till ane Hornbook’s
ta’en up the trade,
And faith! he’ll waur me.
Ye ken Hornbook i’ the clachan,
Deil mak his king’s-hood in spleuchan!
He’s grown sae weel acquaint wi’ Buchan
And ither chaps,
The weans haud out their fingers laughin,
An’ pouk my hips.
See, here’s a scythe, an’ there’s dart,
They hae pierc’d mony a gallant heart;
But Doctor Hornbook, wi’ his art
An’ cursed skill,
Has made them baith no worth a f—t,
D—n’d haet they’ll kill!
Twas but yestreen, nae farther gane,
I threw a noble throw at ane;
Wi’ less, I’m sure, I’ve hundreds slain;
It just play’d dirl on the bane,
But did nae mair.
Hornbook was by, wi’ ready art,
An’ had sae fortify’d the part,
That when I looked to my dart,
It was sae blunt,
Fient haet o’t wad hae pierc’d the heart
Of a kail-runt.
I drew my scythe in sic a fury,
I near-hand cowpit wi’ my hurry,
But yet the bauld Apothecary
Withstood the shock;
I might as weel hae tried a quarry
O’ hard whin rock.
Ev’n them he canna get attended,
Altho’ their face he ne’er had kend it,
Just —— in a kail-blade, an’ sent it,
As soon’s he smells ’t,
Baith their disease, and what will mend it,
At once he tells ’t.
And then, a’ doctor’s saws an’ whittles,
Of a’ dimensions, shapes, an’ mettles,
A’ kind o’ boxes, mugs, an’ bottles,
He’s sure to hae;
Their Latin names as fast he rattles
As A B C.
Calces o’ fossils, earths, and trees;
True sal-marinum o’ the seas;
The farina of beans an’ pease,
He has’t in plenty;
Aqua-fontis, what you please,
He can content ye.
Forbye some new, uncommon weapons,
Urinus spiritus of capons;
Or mite-horn shavings, filings, scrapings,
Distill’d per se;
Sal-alkali o’ midge-tail clippings,
And mony mae.” Death and Doctor Hornbook
”But hark! the tent has chang'd its voice:
There's peace and rest nae langer;
For a' the real judges rise,
They canna sit for anger.
Smith opens out his cauld harangues,
On practice and on morals;
An' aff the godly pour in thrangs,
To gie the jars an' barrels
A lift that day.
What signifies his barren shine
Of moral pow'rs and reason?
His English style an' gesture fine
Are a' clean out o' season.
Like Socrates or Antonine
Or some auld pagan heathen,
The moral man he does define,
But ne'er a word o' faith in
That's right that day...
An' Orthodoxy raibles,
Tho' in his heart he weel believes
An' thinks it auld wives' fables:
But faith! the birkie wants a Manse,
So cannilie he hums them;
Altho' his carnal wit an' sense
Like hafflins-wie o'ercomes him...” The Holy Fair
In guid time comes an antidote
Against sic poison'd nostrum;
For Peebles, frae the water-fit,
Ascends the holy rostrum:
See, up he's got the word o' God
An' meek an' mim has view'd it,
While Common Sense has ta'en the road,
An's aff, an' up the Cowgate
Fast, fast that day.
Wee Miller niest the Guard relieves...” The Two Herds
I once was a maid, tho' I cannot tell when,
And still my delight is in proper young men;
Some one of a troop of dragoons was my daddie,
No wonder I'm fond of a sodger laddie,
The first of my loves was a swaggering blade,
To rattle the thundering drum was his trade;
His leg was so tight, and his cheek was so ruddy,
Transported I was with my sodger laddie.
But the godly old chaplain left him in the lurch;
The sword I forsook for the sake of the church:
He ventur'd the soul, and I risked the body,
'Twas then I proved false to my sodger laddie.
Full soon I grew sick of my sanctified sot,
The regiment at large for a husband I got;
From the gilded spontoon to the fife I was ready,
I asked no more but a sodger laddie.
But the peace it reduc'd me to beg in despair,
Till I met old boy in a Cunningham fair,
His rags regimental, they flutter'd so gaudy,
My heart it rejoic'd at a sodger laddie.
And now I have liv'd - I know not how long,
And still I can join in a cup and a song;
But whilst with both hands I can hold the glass steady,
Here's to thee, my hero, my sodger laddie. The Jolly Beggars a cantata
Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.
“The grotesque vanity of a country schoolmaster [Doctor Hornbrook], who, having to eke out his scanty salary, established a small grocery where he sold a few medicines...in conversation with the bard , boastingly of his medical equipment...less notable even for the keenness of its personal satire than for its amusingly realistic exposition of the physical and mental characteristics of an inebriated countryman, and its eerie yet surpassing droll picture of the terrible something whose name was “Death” . T. F. Henderson Robert Burns
“The first of my poetic offspring that saw the light was a burlesque lamentation on a quarrel between two revered Calvinists, both of them dramatis personae in hy ‘Holy Fair’ I had an idea myself that the piece had some merits...with a certain side of both clergy and laity it met with a roar of applause” Autobiography
“The revered divines, hitherto sworn friends and associates, lost all comman of temper and abused each other coram populo, with a fiery virulence of personal invective suh, as has long wherever the laws of courtesy...the real gist of the joke, is in one stanza, expressed with a felicitous condensation that enables us almost to hear the cluckling of the New Light partisans. T. F. Henderson Robert Burns
“The poems and even some of the songs of Burns are not free from grossness, which he himself regretted to the last...In The Jolly Beggars the materials are so coarse and the sentiment so gross as to make it, for all its dramatic power, offensive.” J. C. Sharp On Poetic Interpretation of Nature
“Repeatedly, in Burns’s poems we find touches of what the poet himself so finely calls ‘dthe pathos and sublime of human life.’” William Haslitt.
“Of all the series of satires, however, the Holy Fair is the most rmarkable. It is in a sense a sumjming up of all the others that preceded it. The picture it gives of the mixed and motley multitude fairing in the churchyard at Mauchline, with a relay of ministerial mountebanks catering for the excitement, is true to the life.” Gabriel Setoun Robert Burns
We close this session with these words of Burns:
“There is so much good in the worst of us
And so much wrong in the best of us,
That it ill becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us.”
And from Henry Wordsworth:
“I mourned with thousands, but as one
More deeply grieved, for he was gone
Whose light I hailed when first it shone
And showed my youth
How verse may build a princely throne
On humble truth.”