After being informed that all almost all our thoughtfully crafted definitions were in fact incorrect we moved onto dessert. This was cranachan which was soft, sweet and creamy oatmeal topped with velvet raspberries, which as the description suggests very enjoyable. To close the evening our very own Robbie B, read the Immortal Memory, printed below, with Tom Kay finishing with a final toast to Robbie Burns.
The Immortal Memory
Ladies and Gentlemen, who was Robbie Burns? I’m sure that most of you are here tonight for some good food, a bit of fun and the chance to do something other than an evening of prep. I am here to educate you about the reason for this celebration.
Robbie Burns was born in 1759, 250 years ago, and died just 37 years later in 1796. He was born the son of a poor farmer in Alloway, South West Scotland, and, despite the extreme poverty of his family, Burns' father ensured that he had a good education in his early years. For most of his life, Burns had to work hard on the farm, undernourished and out in all weathers; the result of this was that he died in poverty at the tragically young age of 37 (although I imagine that having fifteen children by five women probably didn’t lengthen his life either). How is it then that over 10 million people attended his funeral?
Within what would now be considered to be an almost tragically short life, he wrote some inspired and inspiring pieces of prose and poetry, two of which - the Selkirk Grace and the Address to the Haggis, we have heard already this evening. Tonight I would like to take you on a brief tour of the immortal genius that made so many people mourn his passing.
Let us begin with the tiniest aspect of this genius:
In "To a Mouse" Burns recognizes the plight of a mouse, whose nest he's overturned with his plough, as being very similar to his own desperate existence as a poor tenant farmer. He appeals to the tiny animal not to be afraid and that, indeed, that two beings with so much in common should not have anything to fear from each other
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering prattle.
The most famous lines in this poem are
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley
which paraphrased means that the best laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.
John Steinbeck, one of America's greatest writers, borrowed a line from this poem to use for the title of his great work "Of Mice and Men", a powerful and moving portrayal of the trials and tribulations of poor migrant farmers in the California of The Great Depression; thereby demonstrating the far-reaching importance of Burns’s words.
‘To a Mouse’ emphasises the superiority humans feel towards other creatures and, indeed, some people feel towards others. To Burns, all men are born equal and a man's worth does not depend on the weight of his purse or the acreage of his estate. This is most famously stated in the song "A Man's a Man for a' that"
Is there for honest poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Our toils obscure, an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that.
And I think we would all agree.
I would like to conclude with the example of Burns' genius that we are all familiar with and that shows Burns at his most universal. As the bells chime to usher in the New Year across the world, millions sing his words of brotherhood and hope:
And there's a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie's a hand o' thine!
And we'll tak a right guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.
So there we are - the genius of the man who could appreciate the world from its smallest to the greatest, from a tiny mouse to mankind at large. Despite representing Scotland and all that is great about being Scottish, Burns’ ideals speak for all of us. The fact that some 40 people have gathered here on a cold, wet, Wednesday evening in the Cotswolds to celebrate the life of someone born almost 250 years ago and over 500 miles away is testament indeed to the literary genius that was Robert Burns. The fact that over 90% of those gathered here this evening are Sassenachs he hardly would have believed!
Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you please to charge your glasses and be upstanding to drink a toast to the immortal memory of the bard, Robbie Burns.