Robert Burns born Alloway 25th of January 1759; Died Dumfries 21st July 1796
We dedicate this post to the memory of one of Scotland’s great radical patriots of the 18th century. All of you will or should know of his life story. If you were brought up in Scotland at some point in your youth you would have recited some of his verse. But let’s dispel the myth of the “Heaven taught Ploughman” and look at Burns the “Radical Patriot Bard”
This was no “Heaven taught Ploughman” but a complex and often contradictory man of vast intelligence. His ability in later years to outwit the British establishment whilst serving them in its Excise is one of legendary status. Of a stubborn independence Burns refused all the advice of the enlightened Scotland to compose in english. He refused to take part in his Nations cultural capitulation as its hierarchy strove to eradicate all “Scotticims” from its language in an effort to destroy its culture. He proved that the language of the people could be forged into a high literary art, deliberate and radical following in the footsteps of his mentors Ramsay and Fergusson. Its testimony that to this day some 214 years after his death we still value his words as a symbolic statement of Scottish identity as we deal with the dominance of english culture flooding into Scotland aided by its “Westminsterism” based in London.
The first two books he ever read were the “life of Hannibal” and the “History of William Wallace” and in his words “Hannibal gave my young ideas such a turn that I used to strut in rapture up and down after the recruiting drum and bagpipe, and wish myself tall enough to be a soldier, whilst the story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice into my veins which will boil along there, till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest”
As the 18th century began to draw to a close, the Britain of Robert Burns was one of a tyrannical oppression as it silenced the leading pro-democracy minds of the period with sedition laws that brought about a fear of freedom of speech. It was only in the 1990’s that it was discovered that two of his most famous poems were too seditious to be printed in his own name at the time. “Scots Wha Hae” and “A Mans a Man” This fear of being dealt the same blow as that given to other radicals such as Thomas Muir and others among the radical group “Friends of the People” ensured Burns was always one step ahead of the Hanoverian government and always able to pour his thoughts into the press of the time. The net was always closing in and had Burns survived past his 37th birthday much longer he may well have suffered the same fate as Thomas Muir and others or fell victim to the vast array of British spies operating in 18th century Scotland as the fear of a Scottish revolution festered in London politics.
Burns was born into poverty and died in poverty. Burns was first and foremost a man of the people, he valued his family and despite the myths of being a womaniser he held these family values very close to his heart. Burns joined freemasonry very early in his life and enjoyed the many close brotherly values of that group. However Burns joined Freemasonry because it put all on the same level. Freemasonry has no upper class and all are classed as brothers. Burns detested the Calvinism of his Covenanting Ayrshire roots and championed the cause of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 as an attempt to overthrow the “divine right of kings” yet Burns stood a Jacobite born into a Jacobite family of the North East of Scotland. He realised Jacobitism’s Nationalistic sentiment so much overlooked by its romanticism bred in to dilute its cause by propaganda. Burns was also a champion of the Irish Home Rule movement and so little is referred to his friendship of Luke Mullen of that movement who was known to have visited him in Dumfries. In an era of Revolutionary air with first America and then France all throwing of the yoke of imperialism.
Burns was to pen some of his finest verses to FREEDOM and LIBERTY.
We repeat here some of these fine words.
“Were this the charter of our state,
On pain o’hell be rich an great
Damnation then would be our fate
But thanks to Heavn, thats no the gate
We learn our creed.
For thus the royal mandate ran
When first the human race began
The social friendly honest man
Whatee’r he be
Tis he fulfils great Natures plan
And none but he......
Burns recognised the corruption of politics and creed and how landownership of the gentry in the British feudal system held the poor down never to be able to rise above their station or break off the chains of poverty.
I siddling sheltrd in a nuke
An at his Lordship staw a leuk
Like some portentous omen
Except GOOD SENSE and SOCIAL GLEE
An (waht suprisd me) Modesty
I marked not uncommon
I watchd the symptoms o the GREAT
The GENTLE PRIDE, the LORDLY STATE
The arrogant assuming;
The feint o’ pride nae pride had he
Nor sauce, nor state, that I could see
Mair than an honest Ploughman.
Then from his Lordship I shall learn
Henceforth to meet with unconcern
One rank as well’s another
Nae honest, worthy man need care
To meet wi NOBLE youthful DAER,
For he but meets a BROTHER........
On politics Burns defined the following to his friend Alexander Cunningham in 1793;
Quere, What is Politics?
Answer, Politics is a science wherewith, by means of nefarious cunning, & hypocritical pretence, we govern civil Polities for the emolument of ourselves and our adherents:-
Quere, What is a Minister?
Answer, A Minister is an unprincipled fellow, who by the influence of hereditary, or acquired wealth; by superior abilities; or by a lucky conjecture of circumstances, obtains a principal place in the administration of the affairs of government...........
In 1789 on a visit to Bannockburn via Falkirk Burns wrote;
“This morning I knelt at the tomb of Sir John the Graham, the gallant friend of the immortal WALLACE; and two hours ago I said a fervent prayer for Old Caledonia over the hole in the blue whinstone, where Robert de Bruce fixed his royal standard on the banks of Bannockburn.......”
And on the 1707 Union of Parliaments in a letter to Mrs Dunlop in April 1790 Burns wrote;
“You know my national prejudices.- I have often read & admired the Spectator, Adventurer, Rambler, & World but still with certain regret that they were so thoroughly english.- Alas! Have I often said to myself, what are all the boasted advantages which my Country reaps from a certain Union, that can counterbalance the annihilation of her Independence, & even her very name.......”
And finally in 1793 on explaining the origins of the song he penned the words “Scots Wha Hae” too, Burns wrote;
“There is a tradition, which I have met with in many places of Scotland, that it was Robert Bruces March at the Battle of Bannock-burn. This thought, in my yesternight’s evening walk, warmed me to a pitch of enthusiasm on the theme of LIBERTY AND INDEPENDENCE, which I threw into a kind of Scots Ode, fitted to the Air, that one might suppose to be the gallant ROYAL SCOTS address to his heroic followers on that eventful morning”
In Robert Burns, Scotland has been left an eternal legacy, one that will stand the test of time and help those understand what it means to be Scottish and to have Scotland as your place of birth. It is time that those Scots among us paid heed the words of Burns, The Patriot Bard as how true they ring in today’s 21st century Scotland as we fight off the tyranny that is London Rule.
ROBERT BURNS, SCOTLANDS PATRIOT BARD WE SALUTE YOU........END LONDON RULE AND FREE SCOTLAND............
For further reading we recommend “Burns the Patriot Bard” by Patrick Scott Hogg