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Robert Ingersoll On Robert Burns

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On Robert Burns

Robert Green Ingersoll

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(From unpublished notes)

We have met to-night to honor the memory of a poet -- possibly
the next to the greatest that has ever written in our language. I
would place one above him, and only one -- Shakespeare.

It may be well enough at the beginning to inquire, What is a
poet? What is poetry?

Every one has some idea of the poetic, and this idea is born
of his experience -- of his education -- of his surroundings.

There have been more nations than poets.

Many people suppose that poetry is a kind of art depending
upon certain rules, and that it is only necessary to find out those
rules to be a poet. But these rules have never been found. The
great poet follows them unconsciously. The great poet seems as
unconscious as Nature, and the product of the highest art seems to
have been felt instead of taught.

The finest definition perhaps that has been given is this:

"As nature unconsciously produces that which appears to be the
result of consciousness, so the greatest artist consciously
produces that which appears the unconscious result."

Poetry must rest on the experience of men -- the history of
heart and brain. It must sit by the fireside of the heart. It must
have to do with this world, with the place in which we live, with
the men and women we know, with their loves, their hopes, their
fears and their joys.

After all, we care nothing about gods and goddesses, or folks
with wings.

The cloud-compelling Jupiters, the ox-eyed Junos, the feather-
heeled Mercurys, or the Minervas that leaped full-armed from the
thick skull of some imaginary god, are nothing to us. We know
nothing of their fears or loves, and for that reason, the poetry
that deals with them, no matter how ingenious it may be, can never
touch the human heart.

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I was taught that Milton was a wonderful poet, and above all
others sublime. I have read Milton once. Few have read him twice.

With splendid words, with magnificent mythological imagery, he
musters the heavenly militia -- puts epaulets on the shoulders of
God, and describes the Divine as an artillery officer of the
highest rank.

Then he describes the battles in which immortals undertake the
impossible task of killing each other.

Take this line:

"Flying with indefatigable wings over the vast abrupt."

This is called sublime, but what does it mean?

We have been taught that Dante was a wonderful poet.

He described with infinite minuteness the pangs and agonies
endured by the damned in the torture dungeons of God.

The vicious twins of superstition -- malignity and solemnity
-- struggle for the mastery in his revengeful lines.

But there was one good thing about Dante: he had the courage,
and what might be called the religious democracy, to see a pope in

That is something to be thankful for.

So, the sonnets of Petrarch are as unmeaning as the promises
of candidates. They are filled not with genuine passion, but with
the feelings that lovers are supposed to have.

Poetry cannot be written by rule; it is not a trade, or a
profession. Let the critics lay down the laws, and the true poet
will violate them all.

By rule you can make skeletons. but you cannot clothe them
with flesh, put blood in their veins, thoughts in their eyes, and
passions in their hearts.

This can be done only by following the impulses of the heart,
the winged fancies of the brain -- by wandering from paths and
roads, keeping step with the rhythmic ebb and flow of the throbbing

In the olden time in Scotland, most of the socialite poetry
was written by pedagogues and parsons -- gentlemen who found out
what little they knew of the living world by reading the dead
languages -- by studying epitaphs in the cemeteries of literature.

They knew nothing of any life that they thought poetic. They
kept as far from the common people as they could. They wrote
countless verses, but no poems. They tried to put metaphysics, that
is to say, Calvinism, in poetry.

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As a matter of fact, a Calvinist cannot be a poet. Calvinism
takes all the poetry out of the world.

If the existence of the Calvinistic, the Christian, hell could
be demonstrated, another poem never could be written.

In those days they made poetry about geography, and the
beauties of the Scotch Kirk, and even about law.

The critics have always been looking for mistakes, not
beauties -- not for the perfection of expression and feeling. They
would object to the lark and nightingale because they do not sing
by note -- to the clouds because they are not square.

At one time it was thought that scenery, the grand in nature,
made the poet. We now know that the poet makes the scenery. Holland
has produced far more genius than the Alps. Where nature is
prodigal -- where the crags tower above the clouds -- man is
overcome, or overawed. In England and Scotland the hills are low,
and there is nothing in the scenery calculated to rouse poetic
blood, and yet these countries have produced the greatest
literature of all time.

The truth is that poets and heroes make the scenery. The place
where man has died for man is grander than all the snow-crowned
summits of the world.

A poem is something like a mountain stream that flashes in
light, then lost in shadow, leaps with a kind of wild joy into the
abyss, emerges victorious, and winding runs amid meadows, lingers
in quiet places, holding within its breast the hills and vales and
clouds -- then running by the cottage door, babbling of joy, and
murmuring delight, then sweeping on to join its old mother, the

Thousands, millions of men live poems, but do not write them;
but every great poem has been lived. I say to-night that every good
and self-denying man, every one who lives and labors for those he
loves, for wife and child, is living a poem. The loving mother
rocking a cradle, singing the slumber song, lives a poem pure and
tender as the dawn; the man who bares his breast to shot and shell
lives a poem, and all the great men of the world, and all the brave
and loving women have been poets in action, whether they have
written one word or not. The poor woman of the tenement, sewing,
blinded by tears, lives a poem holier, it may be, than the
fortunate can know. The pioneers -- the home builders, the heroes
of toil, are all poets, and their deeds are filled with the pathos
and perfection of the highest art.

But to-night we are going to talk of a poet -- one who poured
out his soul in song. How does a country become great? By producing
great poets. Why is it that Scotland, when the roll of nations is
called, can stand up and proudly answer "here"? Because Robert
Burns has lived. It is Robert Burns that put Scotland in the front

On the 25th of January, 1759, Robert Burns was born. William
Burns, a gardener, his father; Agnes Brown, his mother. He was born

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near the little town of Ayr, in a little cottage made of mud and
thatched with straw. From the first, poverty was his portion, --
"Poverty, the half-sister of Death." The father struggled as best
he could, but at last overcome more by misfortunes than by disease,
died in 1784, at the age of 63. Robert attended school at Alloway
Mill, and had been taught a little by John Murdock, and some by his
father. That was his education -- with this exception, that
whenever nature produces a genius, the old mother holds him close
to her heart and whispers secrets to his ears that others do not

He had spent most of his time working on a farm, raising very
poor crops, getting deeper and deeper into debt, until finally the
death of his father left him to struggle as best he might for

In the year 1759, Scotland was emerging from the darkness and
gloom of Calvinism. The attention of the people had been drawn from
the other world, or rather from the other worlds, to the affairs of
this. The commercial spirit, the interests of trade. were winning
men from the discussion of predestination and the sacred decrees of
God. Mechanics and manufacturers were undermining theology, the
influence of the clergy was gradually diminishing, and the beggarly
elements of this life were beginning to attract the attention of
the Scotch. The people at that time were mostly poor. They had made
but little progress in art and science. They had been engaged for
many years fighting for their political or theological rights, or
to destroy the rights of others. They had great energy, great
natural sense, and courage without limit, and it may be well enough
to add that they were as obstinate as brave.

Several countries have had a metaphysical peasantry. It is
true of parts of Switzerland about the time of Calvin. In Holland,
after the people had suffered all the cruelties that Spain could
inflict, they began to discuss as to foreordination and free will,
and upon these questions destroyed each other. The same is true of
New England, and peculiarly true of Scotland -- a metaphysical
peasantry -- men who lived in mud houses thatched with straw and
discussed the motives of God and the means by which the Infinite
Being was to accomplish his ends.

For many years the Scotch had been ruled by the clergy. The
power of the Scotch preacher was unlimited. It so happened that the
religion of Scotland became synonymous with patriotism, and those
who were fighting Scotland were also fighting her religion. This
drew priest and people together; and the priest naturally took
advantage of the situation. They not only determined upon the
policy to he pursued by the people, but they went into every detail
of life. And in this world there has never been established a more
odious tyranny or a more odious form of government than that of the
Scotch Kirk.

A few men had made themselves famous -- David Hume, Adam
Smith, Doctor Hugh Blair, he of the grave, Beattie and Ramsay, Reid
and Robertson -- but the great body of the people were orthodox to
the last drop of their blood. Nothing seemed to please them like
attending church, like hearing sermons. Before Communion Sabbath

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they frequently met on Friday, having two or three sermons on that
day, three or four on Saturday, more if possible on Sunday, and
wound up with a kind of gospel spree on Monday. They loved it. I
think it was Heinrich Heine who said, "It is not true, it is not
true that the damned in hell are compelled to hear all the sermons
preached on earth." He says this is not true. This shows that there
is some mercy even in hell. They were infinitely interested in
these questions.

And yet, the people were social, fond of games, of outdoor
sports, full of song and story, and no folks ever passed the cup
with a happier smile.

Sometimes I have thought that they were saved from the gloom
of Calvinism by the use of intoxicating liquors. It may be that
John Barleycorn redeemed the Scotch and saved them from the divine
dyspepsia of the Calvinistic creed. So, too, it may be that the
Puritan was saved by rum, and the Hollander by schnapps. Yet, in
spite of the gloom of the creed, in spite of the climate of mists
and fogs, and the maniac winters, the songs of Scotland are the
sweetest and the tenderest in all the world.

Robert Burns was a peasant -- a ploughman -- a poet. Why is it
that millions and millions of men and women love this man? He was
a Scotchman, and all the tendrils of his heart struck deep in
Scotland's soil. He voiced the ideals of the best and greatest of
his race and blood. And yet he is as dear to the citizens of this
great Republic as to Scotia's sons and daughters.

All great poetry has a national flavor. It tastes of the soil.
No matter how great it is, how wide, how universal, the flavor of
locality is never lost. Burns made common life beautiful. He
idealized the sun-burnt girls who worked in the fields. He put
honest labor above titled idleness. He made a cottage far more
poetic than a palace. He painted the simple joys and ecstasies and
raptures of sincere love. He put native sense above the polish of

We love him because he was independent, sturdy, self-poised,
social, generous, susceptible, thrilled by a look, by a touch, full
of pity, carrying the sorrows of others in his heart, even those of
animals; hating to see anybody suffer, and lamenting the death of
everything -- even of trees and flowers. We love him because he was
a natural democrat, and hated tyranny in every form.

We love him because he was always on the side of the people,
feeling the throb of progress.

Burns read but little, had but few books; had but a little of
what is called education; had only an outline of history, a little
of philosophy, in its highest sense. His library consisted of the
Life of Hannibal, the History of the Bible; two or three plays of
Shakespeare, Ferguson's Scottish Poems, Pope's Homer, Shenatone,
McKenzie's Man of Feeling and Ossian.

Burns was a man of genius. He was like a spring -- something
that suggests no labor.

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A spring seems to be a perpetual free gift of nature. There is
no thought of toil. The water comes whispering to the pebbles
without effort. There is no machinery, no pipes, no pumps, no
engines, no water-works, nothing that suggests expense or trouble.
So a natural poet is, when compared with the educated, with the
polished, with the industrious.

Burns seems to have done everything without effort. His poems
wrote themselves. He was overflowing with sympathies, with
suggestions, with ideas, in every possible direction. There is no
midnight oil. There is nothing of the student -- no suggestion of
their having been re-written or re-cast. There is in his heart a
poetic April and May, and all the poetic seeds burst into sudden
life. In a moment the seed is a plant, and the plant is in blossom,
and the fruit is given to the world.

He looks at everything from a natural point of view; and he
writes of the men and women with whom he was acquainted. He cares
nothing for mythology, nothing for the legends of the Greeks and
Romans. He draws but little from history. Everything that he uses
is within his reach, and he knows it from center to circumference.
All his figures and comparisons are perfectly natural. He does not
endeavor to make angels of fine ladies. He takes the servant girls
with whom he is acquainted, the dairy maids that he knows. He puts
wings upon them and makes the very angels envious.

And yet this man, so natural, keeping his cheek so close to
the breast of nature, strangely enough thought that Pope and
Churchill and Shenstone and Thomson and Lyttelton and Beattie were
great poets.

His first poem was addressed to Nellie Kilpatrick, daughter of
the blacksmith. He was in love with Ellison Begbie, offered her his
heart and was refused. She was a servant, working in a family and
living on the banks of the Cessnock. Jean Armour, his wife, was the
daughter of a tailor, and Highland Mary, a servant -- a milk-maid.

He did not make women of goddesses, but he made goddesses of


Burns was the poet of love. To him woman was divine. In the
light of her eyes he stood transfigured. Love changed this peasant
to a king; the plaid became a robe of purple; the ploughman became
a poet; the poor laborer an inspired lover.

In his "Vision" his native Muse tells the story of his verse:

"When youthful Love, warm-blushing strong,
Keen-shivering shot thy nerves along,
Those accents, grateful to thy tongue,
Th' adored Name,
I taught thee how to pour in song,
To soothe thy flame.

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"I saw thy pulse's maddening play,
Wild, send thee Pleasure's devious way,
Misled by Fancy's meteor ray,
By Passion driven;
But yet the light that led astray
Was light from Heaven."

Ah, this light from heaven: how it has purified the
heart of man!

Was there ever a sweeter song than "Bonnie Doon"?

"Thou'lt break my heart thou bonnie bird
That sing beside thy mate,
For sae I sat and sae I sang,
And wist na o' my fate."


"O, my luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June;
O, my luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune."

It would consume days to give the intense and tender lines --
lines wet with the heart's blood, lines that throb and sigh and
weep, lines that glow like flames, lines that seem to clasp and

But the most perfect love-poem that I know -- pure as the tear
of gratitude -- is "To Mary in Heaven:"

"Thou lingering star, with less'ning ray,
That lov'st to greet the early morn,
Again thou usher'st in the day
My Mary from my soul was torn.
O Mary! dear departed shade!
Where is thy place of blissful rest?
Seest thou thy lover lowly laid?
Hear'st thou the groans that rend his breast?

"That sacred hour can I forget?
Can I forget the hollow'd grave
Where, by the winding Ayr, we met,
To live one day of parting love?
Eternity will not efface
Those records dear of transports past;
Thy image at our last embrace;
Ah! little thought we 'twas our last!

"Ayr, gurgling, kiss'd his pebbled shore,
O'erhung with wild woods, thick'ning green;
The fragrant birch, and hawthorn hoar,
Twin'd am'rous round the raptur'd scene.
The flowers spring wanton to be prest,
The birds sang love on ev'ry spray,
Till too, too soon, the glowing west
Proclaim'd the speed of winged day.

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"Still o'er these scenes my mem'ry wakes,
And foundly broods with miser care!
Time but the impression stronger makes,
As streams their channels deeper wear.
My Mary, dear departed shade!
Where is thy blissful place of rest?
Seest thou thy lover lowly laid?
Hear'st thou the groans that rend his breast?"

Above all the daughters of luxury and wealth, above all of
Scotland's queens rises this pure and gentle girl made deathless by
the love of Robert Burns.


He was the poet of the home -- of father, mother, child -- of
the purest wedded love.

In the "Cotter's Saturday Night," one of the noblest and
sweetest poems in the literature of the world, is a description of
the poor cotter going from his labor to his home:

"At length his lonely cot appears in view,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin', stacher through
To meet their Dad, wi' flichterin' noise and glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin' bonnilie,
His clean hearth-stone, his thrifty wife's smile,
The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a'his weary carking cares beguile,
And makes him quite forget his labour an'his toil."

And in the same poem, after having described the courtship,
Burns bursts into this perfect flower:

"O happy love! where love like this is found!
O heart-felt raptures! bliss beyond compare!
I've paced much this weary, mortal round,
And sage experience bids me this declare:
If Heaven a draught of heavenly pleasure spare
One cordial in this melancholy vale,
'Tis when a youthful, loving, modest pair,
In other's arms, breathe out the tender tale
Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the ev'ning gale."

Is there in the world a more beautiful -- a more touching
picture than the old couple sitting by the fireside with clasped
hands, and the pure, patient, loving old wife saying to the white-
haired man who won her heart when the world was young:

"John Anderson, my jo John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snow;
But blessings on your frosty pow'
John Anderson, my jo.

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"John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And monie a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo."

Burns taught that the love of wife and children was the
highest -- that to toil for them was the noblest.

"The sacred lowe o'weel placed love,
Luxuriantly indulge it;
But never tempt the illicit rove,
Though naething should divulge it.

"I waine the quantum of the sin,
The hazzard o'concealing;
But och! it hardens all within,
And petrifies the feeling."

* * *

"To make a happy fireside clime
To weans and wife,
That's the true pathos, and sublime,
Of human life,"


He was the poet of friendship:

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min'?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o' auld lang syne?"

Wherever those who speak the English language assemble --
wherever the Anglo-Saxon people meet with clasp and smile -- these
words are given to the air.


The poet of good Scotch drink, of merry meetings, of the cups
that cheer, author of the best drinking song in the world:

"O, Willie brew's a peck o' maut,
And Rob and Allen came to see;
Three blyther hearts, that lee-lang night,
Ye wadna find in Christendie.


"We are na fou, we're no that fou,
But just a drappie in our ee;
The cock may craw, the day may daw,
And aye we'll taste the barley bree.

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"Here are we met, three merry boys,
Three merry boys, I trow, are we;
And monie a night we've merry been,
And monie mae we hope to be!
We are na fou, &c.

"It is the moon, I ken her horn,
That's blinkin in the lift say hie;
She shines sae bright to wyle us hame,
But by my sooth she'll wait a wee!
We are na fou, &c.

"Wha first shall rise to gang awa,
A cuckold, coward loun is he!
Wha last beside his chair shall fa',
He is the King among us three!
We are na fou, &c."


He did not think the poet could be made -- that colleges could
furnish feeling, capacity, genius. He gave his opinion of these
manufactured minstrels:

"A set o' dull, conceited hashes,
Confuse their brains in college classes!
They gang in stirks, and come out asses,
Plain truth to speak;
An' syne they think to climb Parnassus
By dint o' Greek!"

"Gie me ane spark o' Nature's fire,
That's a' the learning I desire;
Then tho' I Drudge thro' dub an' mire
At pleugh or cart,
My Muse, through hamely in attire,
May touch the heart."


He was an artest -- a painter of pictures.

This of the brook:

"Whyles owre a linn the burnie plays,
As thro' the glen it wimpl't;
Whyles round a rocky scaur it stays;
Whyles in a wiel it dimpl't;
Whyles glitter's to the nightly rays,
Wi' bickering, dancing dazzle;
Whyles cookit underneath the braes,
Below the spreading hazel,
Unseen that night."

Or this from O'Shanter:

"But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed,

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Or, like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white -- then melts forever;
Or, like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or, like the rainbow's lovely form,
Evanishing amid the storm."


"As in the bosom of the stream
The moon-beam dwells at dewy e'en;
So, trembling, pure, was tender love,
Within the breast o'bonnie Jean."

"The sun had clos'd the winter day,
the Curlers quat their roarin play,
An' hunger's Maukin ta'en her way
To kail-yards green,

While fatherless snows ilk step betray
Where she had been."

"O, sweet are Coila's haughs an' woods,
When lintwhites chant among the buds,
And jinkin' hares, in amorous whids,
Their loves enjoy,
While thro' the braes the cushat croons
Wi' wialfu' cry!"

"Ev'n winter bleak has charmes to me
When winds rave thro' the naked tree;
Or frosts on hills of Ochiltree
Are hoary gray;
Or blinding drifts wild-furious flee,
Dark'ning the day!"

This of the lark and daisy -- the daintiest and nearest
perfect in our language:

"Alas! it's no' thy neebor sweet,
The bonnie Lark, companion meet!
Bending thee 'mang the dewy weet!
Wi' spreckl'd breast,
When upward-springing, blythe, to greet
The purpling east."


He was in every fibre of his being a sincere democrat. He was
a believer in the people -- in the sacred rights of man. He
believed that honest peasants were superior to titled parasites. He
knew the so-called "gentry" of his time.

In one of his letters to Dr. Moore is this passage: "It takes
a few dashes into the world to give the young great man that
proper, decent, unnoticing disregard for the poor, insignificant,
stupid devils -- the mechanics and peasantry around him -- who were
born in the same village."

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He knew the infinitely cruel spirit of caste -- a spirit that
despises the useful -- the children of toil -- those who bear the
burdens of the world.

"If I'm design'd yon lordling's slave,
By nature's law design'd,
Why was an independent wish
E'er planted in my mind?
If not, why am I subject to
His cruelty, or scorn?
Or why has man the will and pow'r
To make his fellow mourn?"

Against the political injustice of his time -- against the
artificial distinctions among men by which the lowest were regarded
as the highest -- he protested in the great poem, A man's a man for
a' that," every line of which came like lava from his heart.

"Is there, for honest poverty,
That hangs his head, and a' that?
The coward-slave, we pass him by,

We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that and a' that,
Our toils obscure, and a' that;
The rank is but the guinea stamp;
The man's the gowd for a' that.

"What tho' on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hodden-grey, and a' that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

"Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, and stares, and a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that;
For a' that and a' that,
His riband, star, and a' that,
The man' o' independent mind,
He looks and laughs at a' that.

"A prince can mak' a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and a' that;
But an honest man's aboon his might,
Guid faith he mauna fa' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Their dignities, and a' that,
The pith o' sense, and pride o' worth,
Are higher ranks than a' that.

"Then let pray that come it may,
As come it will for a' that;
That sense and worth, o'er a' the earth,

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May bear the gree and a' that.
For a' that, and a' that;
It's comin' yet for a' that
That man to man, the warld o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that."

No grander declaration of independence was ever uttered. It
stairs the blood like a declaration of war. It is the apotheosis of
honesty, independence, sense and worth. And it is a prophecy of
that better day when men will be brothers the world over.


Burns was superior in heart and brain to the theologians of
his time. He knew that the creed of Calvin was infinitely cruel and
absurd, and he attacked it with every weapon that his brain could

He was not awed by the clergy, and he cared nothing for what
was called "authority." He insisted on thinking for himself.
Sometimes he faltered, and now and then, fearing that some friend
might take offence, he would say or write a word in favor of the
Bible, and sometimes he praised the Scriptures in words of scorn.

He laughed at the dogma of eternal pain -- at hell as
described by the preacher:

"A vast, unbottom'd, boundless pit,
Fill'd fou o' lowin' brunstane,
Wha's ragin' flame an' scorchin' heat

Wad melt the hardest whun-stane!
The half asleep atart up wi' fear,
An' think they hear it roarin',
When presently it does appear,
'Twas but some neebor snorin,
Asleep that day."

The dear old doctrine that man is totally depraved, that
morality is a snare -- a flowery path leading to perdition --
excited the indignation of Burns. He put the doctrine in verse:

"Morality, thou deadly bane,
Thy tens o' thousands thou hast slain!
Vain is his hope, whose stay and trust is
In moral mercy, truth and justice."

He understood the hypocrites of his day:

"Hypocrisy, in mercy spare it!
That holy robe, O dinna tear it!
Spare't for their sakes wha aften wear it,
The lads in black;

But your curst wit, when it comes near it,
Rivers 't aff their back."

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"Then orthodoxy yet may prance,
And Learning in a woody dance,
And that fell cur ca'd common Sense,
That bites sae sair,
Be banish'd owre the seas to France;
Let him bark there."

"They talk religion in their mouth;
They talk o' mercy, grace, an' truth,
For what? to gie their malice skouth
On some puir wight,
An' hunt him down, o'er right an' ruth,
To ruin straight."

"Doctor Mac, Doctor Mac,
Ye should stretch on a rack,
To strike evil doers wi'terror;
To join faith and sense
Upon any pretence,
Was heretic damnable error."
Doctor Mac,
Was heretic damnable error."

But the greatest, the sharpest, the deadliest, the keenest,
the wittiest thing ever said or written against Calvinism is Holy
Willie's Prayer: --

"O Thou, wha in the Heavens dost dewell,
Wha, as it pleases best thysel',
Sends ane to feaven and ten to hell,
A' for thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They've done afore thee!

"I bless and praise thy matchless might,
When thousands thou has left in night,
That I am here afore thy sight
For gifts an' grace,
A burnin' an' a shinnin light,
To a' this place.

"What was I, or my generation,
That I should get sic exaltation?
I, wha deserve sic just damnation,
For broken laws,
Five thousand years 'fore my creation,
Thro' Adam's cause?

"When frae my mither's womb I fell,
Thou might hae plunged me into hell,
To gnash my gums, to weep and wail,
In burnin' lake,
Where damned devils roar and yell,
Chained to a stake.

"Yet I am here a chosed sample,
To show Thy grace is great and ample;

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I'm here a pillar in Thy temple,
Strong as a rock,
A guide, a buckler, an example
To a' Thy Flock."

In this poem you will find the creed stated just as it is --
with fairness and accuracy -- and at the same time stated so
perfectly that its absurdity fills the mind with inextinguishable

In this poem Burns nailed Calvinism to the cross, put it on
the rack, subjected it to every instrument of torture, flayed it
alive, burned it at the stake, and scattered its ashes to the

In 1787 Burns wrote this curious letter to Miss Chambers:

"I have taken tooth and nail to the Bible, and have got
through the five books of Moses and half way in Joshua.

"It is really a glorious book."

This must have been written in the spirit of Voltaire.

Think of Burns, with his loving, tender heart, half way in
Joshua, standing in blood to his knees, surrounded by the mangled
bodies of old men, women and babes, the swords of the victors
dripping with innocent blood, shouting -- "This is really a
glorious! sight."

A letter written on the seventh of March, 1788, contains the
clearest, broadest and most philosophical statement of the religion
of Burns to be found in his works:

"An honest man has nothing to fear. If we lie down in the
grave, the whole man a piece of broken machinery, to moulder with
the clods of the valley -- be it so; at least there is an end of
pain and care, woes and wants. If that part of us called Mind does
survive the apparent destruction of the man, away with old-wife
prejudices and tales!

"Every age and every nation has a different set of stories
and, as the many are always weak, of consequence they have often,
perhaps always, been deceived.

"A man conscious of having acted an honest part among his
fellow creatures, even granting that he may have been the sport at
times of passions and instincts, he goes to a great Unknown Being,
who could have had no other end in giving him existence but to make
him happy who gave him those passions and instincts and well knows
their force.

"These, my worthy friend, are my ideas.

It becomes a man of sense to think for himself, particularly
in a case where all men are equally interested, and where, indeed,
all men are equally in the dark."

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"Religious nonsense is the most nonsensical nonsense."

"Why has a religious turn of mind always a tendency to narrow
and harden the heart?" All my fears and cares are for this world."

We have grown tired of gods and goddesses in art. Milton's
heavenly militia excites our laughter. Light-houses have driven
sirens from the dangerous coasts. We have found that we do not
depend on the imagination for wonders -- there are millions of
miracles under our feet.

Nothing can be more marvelous than the common and everyday
facts of life. The phantoms have been cast aside. Men and women are
enough for men and women. In their lives is all the tragedy and all
the comedy that they can comprehend.

The painter no longer crowds his canvas with the winged and
impossible -- he paints life as he sees it, people as he knows
them, and in whom he is interested. "The Angels," the perfection of
pathos, is nothing but two peasants bending their heads in
thankfulness as they hear the solemn sound of the distant bell --
two peasants, who have nothing to be thankful for -- nothing but
weariness and want, nothing but the crusts that they soften with
their tears -- nothing. And yet as you look at that picture you
feel that they have something besides to be thankful for -- that
they have life, love, and hope -- and so the distant bell makes
music in their simple hearts.

Let me give you the difference between culture and nature --
between educated talent and real genius.

A little while ago one of the great poets died. I was reading
some of his volumes and during the same period was reading a little
from Robert Burns. And the difference between these two poets
struck me forcibly.

Tennyson was a piece of rare china decorated by the highest

Burns was made of honest, human clay, molded by sympathy and

Tennyson dwelt in his fancy, for the most part, with kings and
queens, with lords and ladies, with knights and nobles.

Burns lingered by the fireside of the poor and humble, in the
thatched cottage of the peasant, with the imprisoned and despised.
He loved men and women in spite of their titles, and without regard
to the outward. Through robes and rags he saw and loved the man.

Tennyson was touched by place and power, the insignia given by
chance or birth. As he grew old he grew narrower, lost interest in
the race, and gave his heart to the class to which he had been
lowered as a reward for melodious flattery.

Burns broadened and ripened with the flight of his few years.
His sympathies widened and increased to the last.

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Tennyson had the art born of intellectual taste, of the sense
of mental proportion, knowing the color of adjectives and the
gradations of emphasis. His pictures were born in his brain,
exquisitely shaded by details, carefully wrought by painful and
conscious art.

Burns brain was the servant of his heart. His melody was a
rhythm taught by love. He was touched by the miseries, the
injustice, the agony of his time. While Tennyson wrote of the past
-- of kings long dead, of ladies who had been dust for many
centuries, Burns melted with his love the walls of caste -- the
cruel walls that divide the rich and the poor.

Tennyson celebrated the birth of royal babes, the death of the
titled useless gave wings to, degraded dust, wearing the laurels
given by those who lived upon the toil of men whom they despised.
Burns poured poems from his heart, filled with tears and sobs for
the suffering poor; poems that helped to break the chains of
millions; poems that the enfranchised love to repeat poems that
liberty loves to hear.

Tennyson was the poet of the past, of the twilight, of the
sunset, of decorous regret, of the vanished, glories of barbarous
times, of the age of chivalry in which great nobles clad in steel
smote to death with battle axe and sword the unarmed peasants of
the field.

Burns was the poet of the dawn, glad that the night was fading
from the east. He kept his face toward the sunrise, caring nothing
for the midnight of the past, but loved with all the depth and
sincerity of his nature the few great souls -- the lustrous stars
-- that darkness cannot quench.

Tennyson was surrounded with what gold can give, touched with
the selfishness of wealth. He was educated at Oxford, and had what
are called the advantages of his time, and in maturer years was
somewhat swayed by the spirit of caste, by the descendants of the
ancient Pharisees, and at last became a lord.

Burns had but little knowledge of the world. What he knew was
taught him by his sympathies. Being a genius, he absorbed the good
and noble of which he heard or dreamed, and thus he happily outgrew
the smaller things with which he came in contact, and journeyed
toward the great -- the wider world, until he reached the end.

Tennyson was what is called religious. He believed in the
divinity of decorum, not falling on his face before the Eternal
King, but bowing gracefully, as all lords should, while uttering
thanks for favors partly undeserved, and thanks more fervid still
for those to come.

Burns had the deepest and the tenderest feelings in his heart.
The winding stream, the flowering shrub, the shady vale -- these
were trusting places where the real God met those he loved, and
where his spirit prompted thoughts and words of thankfulness and
praise, took from their hearts the dross of selfishness and hate,
leaving the gold of love.

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In the religion of Burns, Form was nothing, creed was nothing,
feeling was everything. He had the religious climate of the soul.
the April that receives the seed, the June of blossom, and the
month of harvest.

Burns was a real poet of nature. He put fields and woods in
his lines. There were principles like oaks, and there were
thoughts, hints and suggestions as shy as violets beneath the
withered leaves. There were the warmth of home, the social virtues
born of equal state, that touched the heart and softened grief;
that make breaches in the cruel walls of pride; that make the rich
and poor clasp hands and feel like comrades, warm and true.

The house in which his spirit lived was not large. It enclosed
only space enough for common needs, built near the barren land of
want; but through the open door the sunlight streamed, and from its
windows all the stars were seen, while in the garden grew the
common flowers -- the flowers that all the ages through have been
the messengers of honest love and in the fields were heard the
rustling corn, and reaper's songs, telling of well -- requited toil
and there were trees whose branches rose and fell and swayed while
birds filled all the air with music born of joy. He read with tear-
filled eyes the human page, and found within his breast the history
of hearts.

Tennyson's imagination lived in a palace ample, wondrous fair,
with dome and spire and galleries, where eyes of proud old pedigree
grew dim with gazing at the portraits of the worthless dead and
there were parks and labyrinths of walks and ways and artificial
lakes where sailed the "double swans" and there were flowers from
far-off lands with strange perfume, and men and women of the
grander sort, telling of better days and nobler deeds than men in
these poor times of commerce, trade and toil have hearts to do and,
yet, from this fair dwelling -- too vast, too finely wrought, to be
a home -- he uttered wondrous words, painting pictures that will
never fade, and told, with every aid of art, old tales of love and
war, sometimes beguiling men of tears, enchanting all with melody
of speech, and sometimes rousing blood and planting seeds of high
resolve and noble deeds and sometimes thoughts were woven like
tapestries in patterns beautiful, involved and strange, where
dreams and fancies interlaced like tendrils of a vine, like
harmonies that wander and return to catch the music of the central
theme, yet cold as traceries in frost wrought on glass by winter's
subtle art.

Tennyson was ingenious -- Burns ingenuous. One was exclusive,
and in his exclusiveness a little disdain. The other pressed the
world against his heart. Tennyson touched art on many sides,
dealing with vast poetic themes, and satisfied in many ways the
intellectual tastes of cultured men. Tennyson is always perfectly
self-possessed. He has poetic sympathy, but not the fire and flame.
No one thinks of him as having been excited, as being borne away by
passion's storm. His pulse never rises. In artistic calm, he turns,
polishes, perfects, embroiders and beautifies. In him there is
nothing of the storm and chaos, nothing of the creative genius, no
sea wrought to fury, filling the heavens with its shattered cry.

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Burns dwelt with simple things -- with those that touch the
heart that tell of joy; that spring from labor done; that lift the
burdens of despair from fainting souls; that soften hearts until
the pearls of pity fall from eyes unused to weep.

To illustrate his thought, he used the things he knew -- the
things familiar to the world -- not caring for the vanished things
-- the legends told by artful tongues to artless ears -- but
clinging to the common things of life and love and death, adorning
them with countless gems; and over all, he placed the bow of hope.

With him the man was greater than the king, the woman than the
queen. The greatest were the noblest, and the noblest were those
who loved their fellow-men the best, the ones who filled their
lives with generous deeds. Men admire Tennyson. Men love Robert

He was a believer in God, and had confidence that this God was
sitting at the loom weaving with warp and woof of cause and effect,
of fear and fancy, pain and hope, of dream and shadows, of despair
and death, mingled with the light of love, the tapestries in which
at last all souls will see that all was perfect from the first. He
believed or hoped that the spirit of infinite goodness, soft as the
autumn air, filled all of heaven's dome with love.

Such a religion is easy to understand when it includes all
races through all times. It is consistent, if not with the highest
thought, with the deepest and the tenderest feelings of the heart.


There is no time to follow the steps of Burns from old
Alloway, by the Bonnie Doon in the clay-built hut, where the
January wind blew hansel in on Robin -- to Mt. Oliphant, with its
cold and stingy soil, the hard factor, whose letters made the
children weep -- working in the fields, or tired with "The
thresher's weary flinging tree," where he was thrilled, for the
first time with love's sweet pain that set his heart to music.

To Lochlea, still giving wings to thought -- still working in
the unproductive fields, Lochlea where his father died, and reached
the rest that life denied. To Mossgiel, where Burns reached the top
and summit of his art and wrote like one enrapt, inspired. Here he
met and loved and gave to immortality his Highland Mary.

To Edinburgh and fame, and back to Mauchline to Jean Armour
and honor, the noblest deed of all his life.

To Ellisland, by the winding Nith.

To Dumfries, a poor exciseman, wearing out his heart in the
disgusting details of degrading drudgery -- suspected of treason
because he preferred Washington to Pitt -- because he sympathized
with the French Revolution -- because he was glad that the American
colonies had become a free nation.

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At a banquet once, being asked to drink the health of Pitt,
Burns said: "I will give you a better toast -- George Washington."
A little while after, when they wanted him to drink to the success
of the English arms, Burns said: "No I will drink this: May their
success equal the justice of their cause." He sent three or four
little cannon to the French Convention, because he sympathized with
the French Revolution, and because of these little things, his love
of liberty, of freedom and justice, at Dumfries he was suspected of
being a traitor, and, as a result of these trivial things, as a
result of that suspicion, Burns was obliged to join the Dumfries

How pitiful that the author of "Scots wha hae with Wallace
bled," should be thought an enemy of Scotland!

Poor Burns! Old and broken before his time -- surrounded by
the walking lumps of Dumfries' clay!

To appease the anger of his fellow-citizens -- to convince
them that he was a patriot, he actually joined the Dumfries
volunteers, -- bought his uniform on credit -- amount about seven
pounds -- was unable to pay -- was threatened with arrest and a
jail by Matthew Penn.

These threats embittered his last hours.

A little while before his death, he said: "Do not let that
awkward squad -- the Dumfries volunteers -- fire over my grave." We
have a true insight into what his feelings were. But they fired.
They were bound to fire or die.

The last words uttered by Robert Burns were these: "That
damned scoundrel Matthew Penn."

Burns had another art, the art of ending -- of stopping at the
right place. Nothing is more difficult than this. It is hard to end
a play -- to get the right kind of roof on a house. Not one story-
teller in a thousand knows just the spot where the rocket should
explode. They go on talking after the stick has fallen.

Burns wrote short poems, and why? All great poems are short.
There cannot be a long poem any more than there can be a long joke.
I believe the best example of an ending perfectly accomplished you
will find in his "Vision."

There comes into his house, into that "auld clay biggin," his
muse, the spirit of a beautiful woman, and tells him what he can
do, and what he can't do, as a poet. He has a long talk with her
and now the thing is how to get her out of the house. You may think
that it is an easy thing. It is easy to get yourself into
difficulty, but not to get out.

I was struck with the beautiful manner in which Burns got that
angel out of the house.

Nothing could be happier than the ending of the "Vision" --
the leave-taking of the Muse: "And wear thou this, she solemn said

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And bound the holly round my head: The polished leaves and berries
red Did rustling play; And, like a passing thought she fled In
light away."

How that man rose above all his fellows in death! Do you know,
there is something wonderful in death. What a repose! What a piece
of sculpture! The common man dead looks royal; a genius dead,

When a few years ago I visited all the places where Burns had
been, from the little house of clay with one room where he was
born, to the little house with one room where he now sleeps, I
thought of this. Yes, I visited them all, all the places made
immortal by his genius, the field where love first touched his
heart, the field where he plowed up the home of the Mouse. I saw
the cottage where Robert and Jean lived as man and wife, and walked
on "the banks and braes of Bonnie Doon." And when I stood by his
grave, I said: This man was a radical, a real genuine man. This man
believed in the dignity of labor, in the nobility of the useful.
This man believed in human love, in making a heaven here, in
judging men by their deeds instead of creeds and titles. This man
believed in the liberty of the soul, of thought and speech. This
man believed in the sacred rights of the individual he sympathized
with the suffering and oppressed. This man had the genius to change
suffering and toil into song, to enrich poverty, to make a peasant
feel like a prince of the blood, to fill the lives of the lowly
with love and light. This man had the genius to make robes of glory
out of squalid rags. This man had the genius to make Cleopatras,
and Sapphos and Helens out of the freckled girls of the villages
and fields -- and he had the genius to make Auld Ayr, and Bonnie
Doon, and Sweet Afton and the Winding Nith murmur the name of
Robert Burns forever.

This man left a legacy of glory to Scotland and the whole
world; he enriched our language, and with a generous hand scattered
the gems of thought. This man was the companion of poverty, and
wept the tears of grief, and yet he has caused millions to shed the
happy tears of joy.

His heart blossomed in a thousand songs -- songs for all times
and all seasons -- suited to every experience of the heart -- songs
for the dawn of love -- for the glance and clasp and kiss of
courtship -- for "favors secret, sweet and precious" -- for the
glow and flame, the ecstasy and rapture of wedded life -- songs of
parting and despair -- songs of hope and simple joy -- songs for
the vanished days -- songs for birth and burial -- songs for wild
war's deadly blast, and songs for gentle peace -- songs for the
dying and the dead -- songs for labor and content -- songs for the
spinning wheel, the sickle and the plow -- songs for sunshine and
for storm, for laughter and for tears -- songs that will be sung as
long as language lives and passion sways the heart of man.

And when I was at his birth-place, at that little clay house
where he was born, standing in that sacred place, I wrote these
lines: Though Scotland boasts a thousand names, Of patriot, king
and peer, The noblest, grandest of them all, Was loved and cradled
here. Here lived the gentle peasant-prince, The loving cotter-king,

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Compared with whom the grandest lord Is but a titled thing, 'Tis
but a cot roofed in with straw, A hovel made of clay; One door
shuts out the snow and storm, One window greets the day; And yet I
stand within this room, And hold all thrones in scorn; For here
beneath this lowly thatch, Love's sweetest bard was born. With this
hollowed hut I feel Like one who clasps a shrine, When the lips at
last have touched The something deemed divine. And here the world
through all the years, As long as day returns, The tribute of its
love and tears, Will pay to Robert Burns.

****     ****

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

****     ****

The Bank of Wisdom Inc. is a collection of the most thoughtful,
scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of
suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the
Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our
nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and
religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to
the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so
that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old,
hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts
and information for today. If you have such books please contact
us, we need to give them back to America.

****     ****

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The Bank of Wisdom is run by Emmett Fields out of his home in Kentucky. He painstakingly scanned in these works and put them on disks for others to have available. Mr. Fields makes these disks available for only the cost of the media.

Files made available from the Bank of Wisdom may be freely reproduced and given away, but may not be sold.

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926
Louisville, KY 40201