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But, though the philosophy and morality of Burns the elevating and commanding sanction of religion, they possess, at the same time, what is far more important—the great charm, the insinuating charm-of verse. There is, again, this difference, it seems to me, between the minister and the Poet—in a single stanza, very often in a single line, the Poet will embody and enshrine for you a moral truth, a domestic duty, or a social obligation which, when expatiated on in the pulpit, may furnish material on a Sabbath Day for a sermon of perhaps rather inordinate proportions. Moreover, the minister speaks to us, no doubt, rather from the vantage-ground of superiority—the Poet addresses you as equal to equal. He enters your home with his captivating voice, he sits down by your ingle nook, and makes his way straight to your heart. He is concise, he is musical, he is sympathetic, and he expresses himself in so magical a way that what he says at once attaches itself to your memory, and lingers there for ever. Now, this invaluable gift makes all of us grateful to the man who possesses it, and Burns possessed this gift in a most remarkable degree. Take, for instance, the most common, the most universal, and, therefore, the most important and most interesting of all obligations, the duty a man owes to wife and children. Well, preachers have dwelt upon it from time immemorial, nor will they surcease, as in duty bound, from insisting on this sacred and superior duty. But not all the pulpit orators that ever lived have done for it what Burns has done for it in lines with which every Scotch husband, every Scotch wife, and every Scotch child is as familiar as with the Lord's prayer :
“ To make a happy fireside clime
To weans and wife,
Of human life.”
Well, when a poet has once said a thing like that, and when an entire people . has learnt the lines in which he says it, it is perfectly idle to attempt to displace him in our affection by telling us that he himself was not, perhaps, the best of husbands or the best of fathers. What does any one think to gain by indicating in Burns a certain social fidgetiness, a too marked eagerness for the society of the well-born and the prosperous, or by recalling that he combined with a desire for social distinction, as his brother Gilbert told us he did, a certain jealousy of persons whose rank and position in life were higher than his own. Every one of you has the answer ready, and you give it in the admirable words of the Poet himself
“ If happiness hae not her seat,
And centre in the breast :
But never can be blest.“ Indeed, the whole of that “ Epistle to Davie, a Brother Poet," is conceived in the same philosophic spirit, and could not have been written by Burns had he not been, what in many respects he was, a sort of rustic Horace. Whatever social weaknesses Burns may have had as a man, as a. poet he knew society through and through. He estimated it at its proper value, and he was well aware how, as Pope has said,
“ Honour and shame from no condition rise,
Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” That was how it was put by Pope-Pope, the scholar, the wit, the classical friend of the Bolingbrokes and the Warburtons. But note how much more memorably and how much more imaginatively it is put by the Ayrshire Ploughman
“ The rank is but the guinea stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.” Again, I say, when a poet has stated a great rudimentary and permanent truth in so supreme and consummate a manner as that, in words which everyone can understand and everyone learn by heart, it is as idle as shooting shafts at the sun to ask us to give up loving Burns, worshipping Burns, and venerating Burns. It is because he has this supreme gift of expression that he states these elementary truths in so perfect a manner that you are devoted to his memory, that you cherish his memory, that you follow him through all the various passions of the human heart, and that you find that he is equally happy in giving expression to them all. We have now seen what he has to say of the domestic affections, and what he has to say of the social duties. But, gentlemen, there is another sphere perhaps still more important, and we must follow him there, though, of course, it is very delicate and treacherous ground. I say that when a man has stated radical truths in that manner it is perfectly idle to suppose that you will give up loving him because, as one cannot deny, he was as weak as water in the presence of your native beverage and of your native beauties. (Interruption.) Now, do not suppose—I sincerely hope the time will never come when it will be imputed as a fault of a poet to truly love “the lasses, 0," nor when it will be considered unbecoming in him to stimulate his fancy in waters more potent than the waters of the Castalian fountain. But I am perfectly ready to grant and insist
upon it that Burns was convivial to a fault, and that he loved them over much, or at anyrate that he loved them very much in the wrong sort of way. I am afraid that this does not meet with an echo in
At the same time I cannot help thinking that it is true. But Wordsworth, who, I think, wrote better and more wisely of Burns than any other man has done, said of him that he was a man who preached from the text of his own experience. That is why we find his sermons so impressive, and why for our lives we cannot help forgiving the preacher. Nevertheless to you, his countrymen, I would like to say, if you will allow me, I should like to say don't confuse the issue. Don't suppose for one moment that Burns does not stand in need of some forgiveness. Never for a moment imagine that his conduct always merits your admiration. Further, I ask of you not to give any countenance to the notion that the world was unjust to Burns. He himself has left on record that the world was very good to him. Above all, do not encourage the notion which has had far too much currency in our time, that the world is always unjust to
poets. On the contrary, the gibes of envy and the malice of partisans apart, which are as futile as they are fugitive, the world is not only just, it is singularly generous to poets, extending to them a peculiar form of affection, an exceptional amount of indulgence, which it withholds, I think, from all other men. And of this peculiar affection, this exceptional indulgence, Burns got the benefit, and still gets the benefit, perhaps, more than any other poet that ever lived. Therefore don't let us be unjust to the world, but do remember the famous passage in English literature where the recording angel is represented as dropping a tear upon the page and blotting out the record. We are all recording angels where Burns is concerned. Not all the saints in heaven have been so much loved as this flagrant sinner who so charmingly confesses his sins. Therefore I say we are all recording angels so far as Burns is concerned. He confesses his transgressions so fully, so frankly, so pathetically, that even in spite of ourselves we let fall upon the melodious confession the loving absolution of obliterating tears. Let us drink to the immortal memory of Burns. The toast was pledged amid loud applause.
Ex-Provost PATERSON proposed “The Health of Mr. John Spiers, the Donor of the Statute.'
Mr. GEORGE SPIERS briefly acknowledged.
Sir John Cuthbertson gave “ The Grand Master and Craft,” the reply being by the Senior Grand Warden, Mr. Munro. Provost Armour followed with the toast of “The Sculptor,” which was acknowledged by Mr. Macgillivray.
Rev. Henry RANKIN proposed “The Poet Laureate.” He said that Mr. Austin was best known as a poet, but he had won distinction in other spheres of literary labour. It was over 40 years since he took his degree, and that time had been busily used and amply filled. They found him war correspondent for one of the most important London newspapers, in a war of great magnitude, and in a time of great difficulty and danger. His views on many subjects were so valued that, by leaders in that newspaper, he was privileged to guide public opinion. That he could write prose as well as poetry was shown in two charming works—“ The Garden that I Love,” and “In Veronica's Garden.” In Mr. Austin's poetry there is the stamp of truth when he sings of Nature. Here was one great affinity between him and Burns. Of him they might say what Carlyle said of his great predecessor in the Laureateship—“He is always true when he sings of Nature ; he knows her well.” (Applause.)
Mr. AUSTIN, who was greeted with loud applause, said he had already observed that it would be extremely difficult before such an audiencebefore an audience so critical and enthusiastic—to speak becomingly and well of Burns. Still more difficult was it to speak becomingly of one's self. He had listened to Mr. Rankin's speech with more generosity than sense of justice, but he was thankful to him for all he had said. More than once it had been observed to him that day that he had come a long distance to be present at the unveiling of a statue to the memory Burns. He could assure them he would go ten times the distance to witness the enthusiasm of such an audience for their National Poet. He could assure then it was not their habit in England to make so much of poetry as in
Scotland. Young ladies sometimes wrote for autographs, and ladies of doubtful years were most generous in their praise of poets—(laughter)—but the Scottish people were the only people in the world who had as their hero-whose national hero was-a Poet. Other nations had for heroes poets, statesmen, or politicians, but Burns was in Scotland the national hero. Burns was the King of Scotland. (Loud and continuous cheering.) He sometimes asked himself how that was, and he had come to think that it was because in England poets were very much too respectable. (Great laughter.) He did not think the world ever became thoroughly enamoured of respectability, and the English poets were perhaps much too sedate and domesticated. He could assure them that the poets in England were the best of husbands and the best of fathers. (A voice—“Question.”) He could assure them that it was so, and if he had been a younger man he thought he would have turned over a new leaf. He would have loved the lasses a great deal more, and would have been ten times more convivial than ever he had been in the hottest days of his life. (Laughter.) Seriously, however, he might say that, great as his admiration was for Burns, his admiration for the Scottish people in their admiration for Burns was greater still. What did Shakespeare say— “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” The Scottish people had done the very reverse of that to Burns. The evil he did was buried with his bones—the good he did lived after him. (Applause.) It was worth coming all the distance he had come to see the love they had for Burns. They were, he observed, going to play “Will ye no' come back again?” Indeed he would. (Applause and waving of handkerchiefs.)
The other toasts were—“Burns Clubs,” by Mr. Andross, coupled with the health of Mr. John Smart, R.S.A.; “The Statue Committee," by ex-Provost Goudie, of Ayr, replied to by the Chairman; “The Chairman," by Provost Mackay, of
” Kilmarnock; and “The Croupiers,” by Mr. Alex. Gilmour, to which toast Bailie Miller replied.
KILMARNOCK BURNS CLUB. – On Tuesday morning, 21st July, at eight o'clock, before leaving by train to take part in the demonstration at Dumfries, the officebearers of Kilmarnock Burns Club proceeded to the Kay Park, and paid a graceful tribute to the memory of the Poet by depositing a magnificent wreath of holly and daisies upon his statue. Though the morning was wet, a goodly number of townspeople assembled round the
monument to witness the interesting ceremony. Among those on the balcony were—Provost Mackay ; Mr. John Kerr, B.L., vice-president of the Burns Club; Captain David Sneddon ; Drs. Rankin and Lawrie; Mr. William M‘Menan, B.A.; Mr. D. M‘Naught, editor of the Burns Chronicle ; exBailie John Baird ; Mr. George Dunlop, of the Standard ; Mr. Alexander Davidson, secretary of the Burns Club; Mr. R. Armstrong ; Mr. Adam Mackay ; Mr. Lamb, Dundee, etc.
Provost MACKAY said he thought no better mark of the enthusiasm which they had for our National Poet could be found than in the large number of ladies and gentlemen who had come there on that rather raw and inclement morning to witness the very simple ceremony of the laying of a wreath upon the Burns Statue. In the absence of the president of the Burns Club, he asked Mr. Kerr, the vice-president, to place the wreath around the neck of the statue of the Poet.
Mr. KERR, who was received with applause, said
I have to congratulate the sons of “Auld Killie” that they still number themselves among the friends of Burns. It is possible that we may be twitted with the modest way in which we have shown our friendship and love of the memory of Burns on this occasion, but I am persuaded that the imperishable light of the poetry of Burns, which first shed its rays in “Auld Killie,” still is undiminished, and that, as the town has grown in the past 100 years from village life to its present city-like proportions, so has that light increased in breadth and intensity. (Applause.) It is right that the centenary of the Poet's death should be celebrated with parade at the places of his birth and his death, and that Mauchline and Irvine should be allowed to give their memorials to his memory, and that we should participate in these. It is also to be remembered that the death centenary celebration properly falls to be performed at Dumfries, where some of us are now going. It is my duty on your behalf to place this wreath on the statue of Robert Burns. (Mr. Kerr here ascended a ladder and adorned the statue amid loud applause.)
Mr. LAMB then stepped forward and deposited a beautiful wreath on the pedestal of the statue, as a tribute from the Dundee Burns Society.
Captain SNEDDON read an address which had been forwarded from the St. Andrew's Society of Toronto, Canada. (This address was also read at other demonstrations, and later on found a place in the Glasgow Exhibition. It is very
It is very beautifully illuminated.)
Ex-Bailie BAIRD moved a cordial vote of thanks to Mr. Kerr and to Mr. Lamb, and thereafter the proceedings terminated.