Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Sobering Thought

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give the 'immortal bard' speech at a Burns night supper. I have to start thinking about what I'm going to say as this event is only a few weeks away now, towards the end of January.

In case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with "Burns night suppers" and assumes it is a charity event for people that have suffered in chip pan fires etc. - no, you're on the wrong track - Burns, or Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland. The Burns night supper is a sort of cult event when Scots come together to celebrate the fact of being Scottish and their own culture as exemplified by the writings of Robert Burns.

Burns was born and died in the second half of the 18th Century. He wrote poetry in a Scottish dialect and was single-handedly responsible for transforming an old oral tradition of folk songs sung in many different parts of Scotland and in different dialects into a compedious body of work published first in James Johnson's "Scots Musical Museum" and later in George Thomson's "Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice".

I was reading about him today and was interested to note that he was very excited about the outbreak of the French Revolution and that some indiscreet outbursts (I wonder what these were?) nearly lost him his job as an excise man at a time when 'the excesses of the French revolutonaries' had caused an alarmed political response in Scotland. Apparently, his reputation as a good worker and a 'politic but humiliating recantation' saved him.

It seems slightly strange that he should suffer so much humiliation when he had already been 'lionised' for his first book of poetry. Apparently this fact alone did not give him much freedom to speak his mind. Perhaps this was due to his social station and the fact that, financially, he was very much dependant on the system he thought to criticise.

I was forty today, already a few years older than Robert Burns when he died. Now there's a sobering thought...


Lesley said...

I seem to remember that Burns even paid for a couple of canons and had them sent over to the French revolutionaries. We live longer now that in the 18th C, so by Burn's standards, 40 is probably only 30. There's another thought.
Happy Birthday.

Jonathan Wonham said...

Lesley, WOW, now that's an interesting factoid about Burns. I'll be checking that one out in more detail. Hope he didn't use the Royal Mail...

And thank you for your kind words and birthday wishes. So I still have seven years to resuscitate the Scots language and achieve immortality . That's very good news.