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DUNDEE BURNS CLUB.
SPEECH BY SHERIFF CAMPBELL SMITH. In Dundee the centenary of Burns's death was com memorated on 21st July by a great gathering in the Kinnaird Hall, under the auspices of the Dundee Burns Club. The promoters were fortunate in securing as orator of the evening Sheriff Campbell Smith, and the high expectations entertained concerning his speech on this occasion were not disappointed.
Sir John LENG, in the course of his opening remarks, said they were that night, as were many thousands more in every city, town, and village in Scotland-aye, and in multitudes of places furth of Scotland—to commemorate the centenary of the death of Robert Burns. To him this seemed a mistaken or misapplied phrase. Robert Burns was not dead! He never had been so much alive. He lived, not merely in hundreds of thousands of volumes of his works, but in the hearts, the memories, the intelligence, the affections, and love of the millions of his countrymen and countrywomen, not only in Scotland, but throughout the world. He was to-day far better and more widely known, far better appreciated and understood than he was a century ago. (Applause.) The knowledge of him was not confined to comparatively few within the narrow range of Ayr and Dumfries and the West and South of Scotland. The talk about him was not merely of “a rhyming, ranting, roving billie.” He was now one of the world's bards. His fame had reached the ends of the earth. He was recognised as one of the few truly inspired with poetic genius. He had taken his place among the Immortals! This was the true genesis of their meeting that night—not his death, but his immortality. Burns lived, and would live for ever, as the exponent of the sturdy independence, the manly patriotism, the pawky humour, the deep emotion, the tender lovingness, the profound religiousness of the Scottish people. Only when they ceased to be what they were would Burns cease to be their representative poet; and because Burns was their representative poet, they would continue to be what they had been through a centenary of centenaries. (Loud applause.)
Sheriff CAMPBELL SMITH, who was received with loud applause, said—This day, a hundred years ago, was a day of mourning, of the darkest misery, and almost of despair, to Jean Armour and her children, and every capable, right-seeing admirer of her husband's genius. It is a day which, thoughtfully considered, may well be held in a sense sacred, and scarcely ought to be celebrated in holiday attire, but ought rather to put forth symbols of woe, and clothe itself in sackcloth and ashes, sackcloth of ancient camel's hair, or of mediæval horse-hair, or of modern jute(laughter)—but as most large crowds nowadays are to a certain, though unknown extent, dressed in jute—(laughter)-our raiment is probably much more appropriate to the occasion than it appears to be. I say this merely to illustrate the commemorative idea at which I point, not thinking that the bodily raiment is of any real consequence. The time for the rending of hearts and of garments for any event in this transitory world can never last one hundred years; the time for serious thoughtfulness upon the fate of Burns and his treatment by his contemporaries will last for centuries, probably till the crack of doom, and still more probably a good many centuries after it ; for I feel impelled to believe that neither hell nor heaven
can obliterate the bitter memories of the evil that has been done in this life, or of the good that has been negligently, or heartlessly, or cruelly left undone in the days appointed for us to work the work of justice and beneficence to the human brotherhood, as part of our bounden duty to the divine fatherhood. (Applause.) Total oblivion of any act or thought that is past is, I believe, impossible, because it is a partial annihilation of the indestructible human spirit. I follow Coleridge in thinking that the individual memory is the imperishable record—the book of the recording
angel-out of which each man and woman will be judged for the deeds done in the body. The perfect record, the actual balance sheet of Burns's life, as a life, has been closed and is unknowable, whatever profane, sulphurous bigots may think and say about it; and I daresay Burns will be far from sorry should he find himself excluded from their special department of Paradise. (Laughter and applause.) But during the time since his death, the human, imperfect record has been searched into by many curious inquirers-some friendly, some hostile—and the details of it are better known I believe, than that of any man's life that has ever lived. The printed books in which they are recorded are enough to a fill a considerable library, and the speeches that in private and on platforms have been devoted to them, if recorded and printed, would fill ten times as many books. These details, so far as for edification, and it may be a good deal further, are known to all who are likely to occupy places in an audience like this. I therefore take the general knowledge of them for granted, that being the only course at present competent for me, and recommend to all men, especially young men, who do not have that general knowledge, to get it as soon as they can. Few biographies are more interesting, few, if any, more instructive, and none more true, hardly any so painfully true. A delightful story I cannot call it, except for the self-righteous, who, in perusing it, will have several occasions to thank heaven “I am not as this publican.” (Laughter.) But a most instructive story it is for all who desire to probe the realities of the existence of a born son of toil who was also a born son of genius, and the moral struggle of a man whose counter-tendencies to do good and evil were almost in perfect equilibrium. Let the aspiring, hopeful, determined young man who desires to acquire knowledge, take note that Robert Burns, by facilities for education far inferior to those that are forced upon all by the modern machinery of compulsory education, became the most skilsul literary artist, and one of the most widely, most accurately informed men of his day upon all vital subjects; and let those who are impulsive in temperament, and liable to be beset by temptation, take double and treble note of the way in which uncontrolled impulse, fiery unbridled passion, lays waste the highest powers, whirls the attention into the clouds or into the mire, paralyses for the time all intellectual efforts, wrecks the bodily health into premature ruin, and leaves the conscience no function, except to punish by remorse the vice and folly which it has been powerless to prevent. (Applause.) Saying this, however, I would not have you understand that it is my deliberate opinion that Burns was a bad man; my deliberate opinion tends decisively the other way. To the best of my judgment, not a single dishonourable or dishonest deed has been proved against him. (Applause.) I think he was a true man through and through, and that the strong irrepressible instinct of veracity in him that made him the poet he was-one of the truest of the true—kept him far from everything that savoured of deceit in all the relations of life, even those that were passionate as well as the dull and prosaic. Unlike many poets, perhaps most, he honestly paid his debts. (Laughter.) I don't believe that he was a heartless seducer—indeed, I doubt if he was ever a seducer at all. No doubt he did not use Jean Armour well, but it is my belief that not one man in ten thousand would have forgiven what she
easy-tempered, soft, squeezable mortal—(laughter)
--at the instigation of her gruff, severe, elder father, did to him. He was his own worst enemy, and the conscious enemy of no other human being. No man knew his faults so well as himself, and no man was ever more free from all manner of wilful falsehood. Listen to the three last verses from his “Bard's Epitaph,” in which the worst, I believe, that could be said of him is confessed as frankly as if he believed that he was to be put upon his trial for the next hundred years, as he has been
“Is there a man, whose judgment clear,
Can others teach the course to steer,
Wild as the wave?
Survey this grave.
And softer flame;
And stain'd his name.
In low pursuit ;
Is wisdom's root.”
(Applause.) And now let us pass from the man, the philosopher, the prophet, the Poet, to those that by destiny he was appointed to teach and guide. Burns was the greatest gift of Providence to our country in his own generation. In point of gigantic force of intellect I think he was the greatest Scotsman of all time. (Applause.) And how did his contemporaries receive and appreciate this unprecedented, this priceless gift? That is one of the most searching questions that can have been put to Scotland and its thoughtful sons and daughters for the last hundred years, and it starts up to-night with importunate pertinacity, looming its biggest through the misty memories, the multitudinous opinions, fluctuating between the carping superfine gentility of Jeffrey and the inspired reverence of nature-worshipping, sympathetic Wordsworth, struggling and advancing to victory over prejudice, stupidity, and religious bigotry in the wide battlefield of the Anglo-Saxon world, under the sunlight, starlight, lamplight, midnights of a busy, restless, hundred years. (Applause.) I think I can say with a good conscience that the peasant brotherhood of Scotland, upon the whole, behaved loyally, tenderly, and justly to their gifted, impulsive peasant brother; that they rejoiced with their whole nature in his poetry as they had never before rejoiced in poetry—not even the inspired Psalms of David; that they sang his songs tunefully, or the reverse
verse—(laughter), with thorough apprecia:ion of their strong sense and fiery sentiment; and that they gathered while they could—the cleverest of them to hear him talk. wherever and whenever they had an opportunity, as they never before or since crowded to hear any mere secular conversationalist, nor any one except a very few popular preachers. The representative intelligence of the peasantry of Scotland, repressing all manner of jealousy, and doing. their utmost to gag the howling of cant and bigotry, have stood faithfully by Burns, from the time they discovered his abilities—and they discovered. them early—till now. The moderate or rationalistic clergy of Scotland stood by him in his lifetime, and they have done so since. Carlyle laments. that he became their “fighting man,” but what else could he have done had he not steered clear of religion altogether, a quite impossible thing for any true poet who is bound to deal with the great social forces, and especially with religion, which is the greatest of them all? The religion that cannot bear to be scrutinised by the highest talent of the age, that is, or ought to be, ruled by it, that cannot bear the purification of the acutest reason and the keenest satire, is too superfine for the realities of erring fallible human nature—is fit only to throw a putrid, phosphorescent glory over the mummeries, the hypocrisies, the phylacteries of those that do their worship by machinery, and that have no rooted convictions because they have never been perfected by suffering. or proved by the tempests of doubt. To the best of my understanding and conviction, the educated, rational classes of Scotland, high and low, rich and poor, from the first appreciated and honoured Burns as no poet has ever been appreciated by the masses—I ought rather to say by the solid mass-of his countrymen. He was intelligible alike to peers, professors, and peasants ; indeed, the peasantry had had, for understanding him, a better training than the peerage, because they had from childhood been learning his language and seeing the sights that were familiar to him. Some of the tribe of professors who were also unfortunately pedants did attempt to. criticise and patronise him. Their lucubrations, for the most part, have tended to show that a man may be installed in a University Chair and yet may be an ass. (Laughter and applause.) But Dugald Stewart, Dr. Blacklock, Dr. Gregory, even Dr. Blair, whose sermons have afflicted so. many young persons on Sunday evenings, and above all the rest, Professor Wilson showed that College learning does not destroy the power of appreciating natural genius when the critic is a man of strong intellect and clear insight, and not a mere parsing, philosophising, syllogising machine. (Laughter.) However, I admit that the tendency of College criticism has. been somewhat to forget that the thunderbolt of original thought which is to. travel through abysses of time does not require to be geometrically accurate in its form, and perfectly polished all over with academic sandpaper. (Laughter.) Its function is to fly far, to illuminate primeval darkness, to burn up the effete of byegone eras, to melt or crush out from rubbish the ore of truth that can pass as gold into the intellectual currency of coming generations. (Applause.) My conviction, based upon more facts than I can. enumerate, is that Burns never suffered from contact with any man of real intellect. He had something to teach the best, the cleverest of his contemporaries, and they had all something to teach him. His most dangerous and useless friends were his drinking friends pure and simple, for what valuable