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Rosebery, who, on entering, was received with loud applause, was accompanied by Sir Thomas Reid, M.P., and Lady Reid ; Mrs. Burns Thomas, Wexford; Miss Burns, and Miss Hutchinson, Cheltenham ; Mr. Robinson Souttar, M.P. ; the Provosts of Dumfries, Maxwelltown, Annan, Kilmarnock, Ayr, Girvan, and a large number of the members of the deputations from Burns Societies in all parts of the world.
Sir ROBERT, rising, said he had a verbal message which Mr. Balfour asked him to deliver to the people of Dumfries. He wished him to say how extremely anxious he was to be present on this memorable occasion, and that nothing but the pressure of business, the reality of which he (Sir Robert) well knew, would have prevented him. Mr. Balfour asked him to convey this message, which he did with the expression of the great regret, which he believed they all felt, that he was unable to be present. (Cheers.)
The Secretary intimated letters of apology from the Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Harris, the Earl of Stair, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Sir Charles Dalrymple, Sir Edwin Arnold, Mr. Lewis Morris, Mr. Walter Besant, Mr. Bayard, who regretted his unavoidable absence, “for he said the general heart of man will respond all round the world to the voice of his Motherland by doing honour to the genius of her wonderful son."
(Loud cheers.) He had also cable greetings from Scots in the Channel Islands ; the Caledonian Societies of Hobart and Launceston, Tasmania ; the Caledonian Society, Lancaster, America ; the Caledonian Club, Stanton, Penn., U.S.A. ;
from Hobart Scotsmen, from the United Caledonian Societies of South Australia, and from Lord Lamington, Governor of South Australia. Mr. Arthur Balfour had supplemented his message by Sir Robert Reid with the following letter :
10 Downing Street, Whitehall, S.W.,
18th July, 1896. My Dear Provost,—It is with feelings of the deepest regret that I see my chances of being with you next Tuesday at Dumfries rapidly diminishing. Even if my doctor would permit me to undertake the double journey in twenty-four hours, which, I fear, after my recent attack, he would not, the questions connected with Parliamentary business, which may arise on Tuesday and Wednesday, are too critical to permit me to absent myself on those days.
I had so looked forward to being present at the demonstration in honour of our National Poet, and I am so deeply touched by the kind and pressing invitation which you and your colleagues were good enough to convey to me, that my enforced absence from Dumfries causes me bitter disappointment. Nothing, I can assure you, but absolute necessity would have kept me from Scotland at such a moment.-- Believe me, yours very truly,
ARTHUR JAMES BALFOUR.
Lord ROSEBERY, who was received with prolonged cheering, then said
Ladies and Gentlemen,-I come here as a loyal burgess of Dumfries do honour to the greatest burgess of Dumfries. You, Mr. Provost, have laid upon me a great distinction but a great burden. Your most illustrious burgess obtained privileges for his children in respect of his burgess-ship, but you impose on your youngest burgess an honour that might well break anybody's back—that of attempting to do justice in any shape or fashion to the hero of to-day's ceremony. But we, citizens of Dumfries, have a special claim to be considered on this day. We are surrounded by the choicest and the most sacred haunts of the Poet. You have in this town the house in which he died, the “Globe," where we could have wished that some phonograph had then existed which could have communicated to us some of his wise and witty wayward talk. You have the street commemorated in M‘Culloch's tragic anecdote when Burns was shunned by his former friends, and you have the paths by the Nith which are associated with some of his greatest work. You have near you the room in which the whistle was contended for, and in which, if mere legend is to be trusted, the immortal Dr. Gregory was summoned to administer his first powders to the survivors of the memorable feast. You have the stackyard in which, lying on his back and contemplating
“ Thou lingering star, with lessening ray,
That lov'st to greet the early morn,” he wrote the lines to “Mary in Heaven,” perhaps the most pathetic of his poems.
You have near you the walk by the river, where, in his transport, he passed his wife and children without seeing them, “his brow flushed and his eyes shining” with the lustre of “Tam o' Shanter.” “I wish you had but seen him,” said his wise ; "he was in such ecstasy that the tears were happing down his cheeks.” That is why we are in Dumfries to-day. We come to honour Burns among these immortal haunts of his. But it is not in Dumfries alone that he is commemorated to-day ; for all Scotland will pay her tribute. And this, surely, is but right. Mankind owes him a general debt. But the debt of Scotland is special. For Burns exalted our race, he hallowed Scotland and the Scottish tongue. Before his time we had for a long period been scarcely recognised, we had been falling out of the recollection of the world. From the time of the union of the crowns, and still more from the time of the legislative union, Scotland had lapsed into obscurity. Except for an occasional riot or a Jacobite rising her existence was almost forgotten. She had, indeed, her Robertsons and her Humes writing history to general admiration, but no trace of Scottish authorship was discoverable in their works ; indeed, every flavour of national idiom was carefully excluded. The Scottish dialect, as Burns called it, was in danger of perishing. Burns seemed at this juncture to start to his feet and re-assert Scotland's claim to national existence ; his Scottish notes rang through the world, he preserved the Scottish language for ever ; for mankind will never allow to die that idiom in which his songs and poems are enshrined. That is a part of Scotland's debt to Burns. But this is much more than a Scottish demonstration ; it is a collection of representatives from all quarters of the globe to own a common allegiance and a common faith. It is not only Scotsmen honouring the greatest of Scotsmen—we stretch far beyond a kingdom or a race—we are rather a sort of poetical Mahommedans gathered at a sort of poetical Mecca, and yet we are assembled in our high enthusiasm under circumstances which are somewhat paradoxical. For with all the appearance of
joy we celebrate, not a festival but a tragedy. It is not the sunrise but the sunset that we commemorate. It is not the birth of a new power into the world, the subtle germ of a fame that is to survive and inspire the generations of men; but it is perhaps more fitting that we celebrate the end and not the beginning. For the coming of these figures is silent; it is their passing that we know. At this instant that I speak there may be born into the world the equal of a Newton or a Cæsar, but half of us would be dead before he had revealed himself. Their death is different. It may be gloomy and disastrous ; it may come at moment of shame neglect; but by that time the has carved his
somewhere the Temple of Fame. There are exceptions, of course, cases where the end comes before the slightest, or any but the slightest, recognition-Chatterton choking in his garret, hunger of body and soul all unsatisfied; Millet selling his pictures for a song; nay, Shakespeare himself. But, as a rule, death in the case of genius closes the first act of a public drama; criticism and analysis may then begin their unbiassed work free from jealousy or friendship or personal consideration for the living. Then comes the third act, if third act there be. No, it is a death, not a birth, that we celebrate. This day a century ago, in poverty, delirium, and distress, there was passing the soul of Robert Burns. To him death comes in clouds and darkness, the end of a long agony of body and soul; he is harassed with debt, his bodily constitution is ruined, his spirit is broken, his wife is daily expecting her confinement. He has lost almost all that rendered his life happy, much of friendship, credit, and esteem. Some score years before one of the most charming of English writers, as he lay dying, was asked if his mind was at ease, and with his last breath Oliver Goldsmith owned that it was not. So it was with Robert Burns. His delirium dwelt on the horrors of a jail; he uttered curses on the tradesman who was pursuing him for debt. “What business,” said he to his physician in a moment of consciousness, “what business has a physician to waste his time upon me; I am a poor pigeon not worth plucking. Alas! I have not feathers enough to carry me to ny grave.” For a year or more his health had been sailing. He had a poet's body as well as a poet's mind; nervous, feverish, impressionable; and his constitution, which, if nursed and regulated, might have carried him to the limit of life, was unequal to the storm and stress of dissipation and a preying mind. In the previous autumn he had been seized with a rheumatic attack; his digestion had given way; he was sunk in melancholy and gloom. In his last April he wrote to his friend Thomson, “ By Babel's streams I've sate and wept almost ever since I saw you last. I have only known existence by the pressure of the heavy hand of sickness, and have counted time by the repercussions of pain. Rheumatism, cold, and fever have formed to me a terrible combination. I close my eyes in misery, and open them without hope.” It was sought to revive him by sea bathing, and he went to stay at Brow. There he remained three weeks, but was under no delusion as to his state. “Well, madam," he said to Mrs. Riddell on arriving, “ have you any commands for the other world ?”
He sat that evening with his old friend, and spoke manfully of his approaching death, of the fate of his children, and his farm, sometimes indulging in bitter-sweet pleasantry, but never losing the consciousness of his condition. In three weeks he wearied of the fruitless hunt for health, and he returned home to die. He was only just in time. When he reentered his home on the 18th he could no longer stand. He was soon delirious. In three days he was dead. « On the fourth day,” we are told, “when his attendant held a cordial to his lips, he swallowed it eagerly, rose almost wholly up, spread out his hands, sprang forward nigh the whole length of the bed, fell on his face, and expired.” I suppose there are many who can read the account of these last months with composure. They are more fortunate than I am. There is nothing much more melancholy in all biography. The brilliant Poet, the delight of all society, from the highest to the lowest, sits brooding in silence over the drama of his spent lise—the early innocent home, the plough and the savour of fresh turned earth, the silent communion with nature and his own heart, the brief hour of splendour, the dark hour of neglect, the mad struggle for forgetfulness, the bitterness of vanished homage, the gnawing doubt of fame, the distressful future of his wife and children-an endless witchdance of thought without clue or remedy, all perplexing, all soon to end while he is yet young, as men reckon youth, though none know so well as he that his youth is gone, his race is run, his message is delivered. His death revived the flagging interest and pride that had been felt for him. As usual, men began to realise what they had lost when it was too late. When it was known that he was dying the townspeople had shown anxiety and distress. They recalled his splendour, and forgot his fall.
One man was heard to ask, with a touch of quaint simplicity, “Who do you think will be our poet now?” The district set itself to prepare a public funeral for the Poet who died almost penniless among them. A vast concourse followed him to his grave. The awkward squad, as he had foreseen and deprecated, fired volleys over his coffin. The streets were lined with soldiers, among them one who, within sixteen years, was to be Prime Minister. And while the procession wended its gloomy way, as if no element of tragedy were to be wanting, his widow's hour of travail arrived, and she gave birth to the hapless child that had caused the father so much misgiving In this place, and on this day, it all seems present to us—the house of anguish, the thronged churchyard, the weeping neighbours. We feel ourselves part of the mourning crowd. We hear those dropping volleys and that muffled drum; we bow our heads as the coffin passes, and acknowledge with tears the inevitable doom. Pass, heavy hearse, with thy weary freight of shattered hopes and exhausted frame; pass, with thy simple pomp of fatherless bairns and sad moralising friends ; pass, with the sting of death to the victory of the grave ; pass, with the perishable, and leave us the eternal. (Loud cheers.) It is rare to be fortunate in life; it is infinitely rarer to be fortunate in death. 'Happy in the occasion of his death,” as Tacitus said of Agricola, is not a common epitaph. It is comparatively easy to know how to live, but it is beyond all option and choice to compass the more difficult art of knowing when and how to die. We can generally, by looking back, choose a moment in a man's life when he had been fortunate had he dropped down dead.