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Statues will be unveiled to his memory, and to the memory of those associated with him in his life. Wreaths will be laid on his tomb at Dumfries, and many words will be spoken in his honour. This Exhibition, which we are now met to inaugurate, and of which the Right Honourable the Earl of Rosebery is
president, was first thought of in 1891, and since then great preparations have been going on ; but the Burns Federation, in conjunction with the Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, have carried the idea on to actual performance. Her Most Gracious Majesty has extended to it her patronage, and on our list of office-bearers are included many of the most distinguished names in the country in art and literature. Exhibition is not a local but a national one. As Robert Burns lived most of his life in the West, it is fitting that this Exhibition should be held in the Western capital. We have received indly and most ungrudging help from hosts of admirers all over Scotland, England, Ireland, and America. The interest in everything connected with Robert Burns has gone on increasing, as is shown by the great value put upon every scrap that came from his pen, and because, I believe, more editions of his works have been called for than of any other book except the Bible. There have been 1000 editions (some in foreign languages) of his works published, and many of them are now worth more than their weight in gold. Very many of the editions are now here, and can be seen. I am justified in calling this Exhibition unique, for never before was such homage paid to a national bard. But Robert Burns's life was also unique. It was a life about which no biography or autobiography can tell us all we want to know.
We want to get nearer to his life. We want to look on the scenes he lived among. We want to see his face and the faces of his friends. We want to see the books he read, to look at and probably to touch the things that surrounded him, so that we may try to find out how this man, who had to work with his own hands for his daily bread, became an undying poet, and appealed to hearts such as never other poet did. Here you will see much of what you want to see. You will see the mirror on which he saw his own face; and through the manuscripts covered with his own hand with his thoughts, as they rose unbidden from his heart, you will see into that very heart of his. Every admirer of Burns is sure to see something that will increase his enthusiasm. Before sitting down I think it is right that I should name some of the contributors to whom we are specially indebted. The names of individuals are too numerous to mention, and I shall only read the names of public bodies. These include the National Portrait Gallery, London; the Corporation of Glasgow, the University of Glasgow, the University of Edinburgh, the Mitchell Library, the Edinburgh Public Library, the Kilmarnock Museum and Burns Club, the Paisley Burns Club, Greenock Burns Club, Irvine Burns Club, the Crichton Institution, and other public bodies in Dumfries; the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and Masonic Lodges in Tarbolton and elsewhere; the Chambers Institution, Peebles; the Corstorphine Burns Club, and our president, the Earl of Rosebery. I have now pleasure in declaring this Exhibition open, and I hope it will be a great success.
Mr. William WALLACE said—I am not going to inflict a Burns oration upon you. It is not “the witching hour of night,” and even with the best appliances of science we cannot get the appropriate “blast o' Januar' win.”
The duty of celebrating and praising Burns in a proper way is to be
Mr. William Wallace.
done a few days hence by our worthy and noble president, the Earl of Rosebery. He has already proved himself to have a living and loving interest in Burns, and, therefore, he may be expected to perform that duty in a fashion worthy of it and of himself. Besides, it would be a gross impertinence for me to make any speech on Burns, because Burns is here all around us—he seems to speak to you—and he never had any middleman, or required any middleman, between him and the Scottish public. Therefore, what I would venture, in the most humble way, would be to try to advise you, if you need it, to get up—I don't think it needs to be got up—an enthusiasm for this Burns Exhibition. It is, I believe, as the chairman has said in his admirable remarks, absolutely unique.
No other man has ever been able to inspire his countrymen, and not only his countrymen, but his cousins, our kinsmen across the sea, with an enthusiasm which could fill six galleries with portraits, manuscripts, and books all about him. It is the greatest phenomenon of a literary kind that the world has ever witnessed, so far as my knowledge goes, and of that we have every reason as Scotsmen to be proud. The fact is that Burns is the most magnetic personality the world has ever seen, and that is the reason why everything about him, every scrap from his pen, every ghastly caricature of his face even, is treasured as nothing of the kind has ever been before. Only yesterday there was sold a manuscript of “Holy Willie's Prayer" for £119. It was bought, I am glad to say, by a Glasgow gentleman. That sum of £119 is very nearly six times what Burns cleared by his Kilmarnock edition, which brought him into fame. Well, this is, I believe, a thing that has never before been heard of. I should almost be afraid to make a calculation of the thousands of pounds the treasures here would bring if they were sold. Mr. Barrett is better able than I am to enlighten you on that point. We have cordially to thank the various private gentlemen, clubs, and associations the chairman has referred to for the comparative perfection of the Exhibition. I am sorry to say it is not quite perfect. It wants one or two portraits I would like to see here; and, if any present have influence in Edinburgh, I should wish them to use it to bring some of our friends there to their
The Board of Manufactures is a very worthy body -it certainly is composed of individuals each of whom is most estimable—but as a body I must say it has been a little stingy. I do not know what the reason of this is. Perhaps it is the loss of Leith. Perhaps it is the east wind, or a "haar” has come up from the coast. You know that even Burns himself felt that influence. "Chill penury” could not repress that noble rage; but the fogs of Edinburgh for a short time froze “the genial current even of his soul.
“ Last day my mind was in a bog,
Down George's Street I stoited ;
My very senses doited.”