AN IMMORTAL MEMORY
Thank you for your kind introduction and as I am not a practiced speaker at nights as this, I hope that I shall be worthy of your warm welcome.
Ladies and Gentlemen
We gather here tonight to pay tribute to the memory of one of the greatest Scotsmen who ever lived, to a man who during his lifetime was recognised as one of the world’s finest song writers, a man whose verse spoke out for all those underprivileged Scottish people who could not express the resentment and unhappiness they felt in their hearts, a man who brought honour and respect to our country from nations all over the world. I know that there are some of the men and women here tonight who have come to enjoy a night with some friends who are interested in Robert Burns, some others who perhaps have come out of curiosity, and a few have come because of the beer.
No matter what reason has brought you here tonight I know you will all go home knowing a little more about the Scottish Bard, and hopefully take some pride in having been a fellow countryman of so great a man. I remember hearing of a man who left a Burns Supper, and when he got home his wife asked him the question, “What did they say about Rabbie tonight”, to which he replied, “They didn’t even mention him” which was a little different from the story of the two men who winding their way home from their Burns Supper and parting at the village cross promised to meet that night at the local for a chat. When they duly met one asked the other, “How did you get on after I left you last night”. Oh, said the other, I got nicked and spent the night in the cells, to which his friend replied, “You were lucky, I got hame”. I will make sure that Rabbie is mentioned, and hope that you all get hame safely. Since shortly after the death of Robert Burns in 1796 men and women have come together to pay homage to his name, writers have written more books about him than any other mortal man, his verse and songs are known to almost every nation in the world, and the question is often asked by those who are not familiar with his works, Why? Why of all the great Scotsmen who have given the world so much material wealth, such as McAdam, who gave the world roads, or Telfer, who taught the word how to make bridges, or even more recently Baird, who gave the world television. Why don’t we have a Baird Supper, or a Shakespear Supper? I think the answer to this question is that of all those great men of Scotland or any other country of the world only Burns spoke of the aspirations of mankind, only Burns expressed the unspoken desires of ordinary man, only Burns touched the hearts of all lovers, all the oppressed, and all those who loved and cared for nature. Burns was such a complex character that tonight I shall only touch on two aspects of his make up, his humanitarianism, and his love of country, and even on those two subjects, only scratch the surface of any one of them. His love of humanity can be seen throughout his works and perhaps is best expressed in this quotation from “Man was made to mourn”.
"See yon poor ow'r laboured wight,
So abject, mean and vile,
Who begs a brother of the earth,
To give him leave to toil,
And see his lordly fellow worm,
His poor petition spurn,
Unmindful tho' a weeping wife
And helpless offspring mourn”
These words of the Bard written in the 1700s are as true today as they were on the day they were written. Much is being said today about preservation of our countryside, and here again the Bard speaks for all times, in his
“Wee modest, crimson tipped flow’r
Thou’s met me in a evil hour;
For I maun crush amang the stoure
The slender stem,
To spare thee now is past my pow’r
Thou bonie gem”
Here was Burns regretting his inadvertent destruction of the daisy, and going on in his poem to warn of impending disaster if we don’t take care of our natural heritage, and we still don’t listen 300 years on. To finish this part on his humanity, let me speak of that poem of Burns which is recognised as a gem among poems, “The Mouse”. Here Robert Burns at his very greatest as a humanitarian, here we see and feel his love of the humblest of our countries wild life. I am sure we all remember how the Bard, while ploughing the field at Mossgiel farm in Mauchline, accidentally upset the nest of a mouse. That night Burns returned home and wrote a poem, part of which apologises to the mouse for the distress which he had caused it:
"I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s union."
And then goes on to commiserate with the mouse on how it had built it’s nest below the sod so that it would be cosy there over the cold winter months, and then in a few lines putting all of mankind into the same predicament as the mouse:
“But, mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft a-gley
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain
For promised joy”.
Evidence of his patriotism can be seen on a plaque on Coldstream bridge, where we read:
“Oh Scotia, my dear 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, oh, may heaven their simple lives prevent
From luxury’s contagion, weak and vile
Then, however crows and coronets be rent,
A virtuous populace may rise the while,
And stand a wall of fire around our much lov’d isle”.
When France threatened to invade these islands Burns wrote:
“Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?
Then let the loons beware, sir,
Ther’s wooden walls upon the seas,
And volunteers on shore, sir”.
But perhaps the finest Scottish song of patriotism is “Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled”, calling for all of the Scottish people to rise and defend their native land from oppression of the usurper, and condemning those who do not as traitors. Burns lets everyone know his philosophy, his love of nature, his love of God, his love of family and his fellow man are all evident in his writings, and in these writings he has left us a heritage of verse and song second to none in any nations folklore, it is left for us to preserve this heritage for our children.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please be upstanding and drink with me a toast “TO THE IMMORTAL MEMORY OF ROBERT BURNS”