Submitted by ormiret on Tue, 01/03/2011 - 23:55.
Burns is unique among great writers in how widely he is celebrated. The only people with more statues of them than Burns are venerated by religions. And they all had at least a millennium of a head start, so Burns might yet catch them. No other writer is honoured with celebrations such as a Burns night, happening so widely.
The legacy that Burns has left is a testament to the breadth and magnificence of what he achieved in his too few years.
His most lasting achievement is that Scottish culture and language survived as distinct from English. In the wake of the failed Jacobite rebellion there was a crack down on anything Scottish to get Scotland more homogenised with the rest of Britain and reduce the chances of another rebellion starting in Scotland. By Burns' time this had developed to a belief that any quality writing had to be in English and the risk that the Scottish culture of songs and folklore would be lost.
But Burns took a stand.
He combated the disdain for writing in Scots by producing works of undeniable quality in his own tongue as well as in English. He worked to save the folklore and folk songs by collecting them and writing them down so that they would survive and could be passed on without having to be taught directly. In this work he was aided by the Masons, as he visited various Lodges throughout Scotland and collected the local songs and tales.
He also broke with the establishment in other ways. He wrote in support of the ideas that all people were equal and should be free. While these have become common place now they were in Burns' time quite radical. He was contemporary with the revolutions in France and America and the less bloody enlightenment here in Scotland.
Alongside his lofty ideas ran a love of life that came through in his writing. One of my favourite lines goes:
Whisky and Freedom gang thi'gither.
I think it improves any speech or writing on the subject of freedom and other exalted concepts to insert whisky with them.
So we have Eisenhower:
We seek peace, knowing that peace is the climate of freedom, and whisky.
All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope, freedom, whisky.
Churchill would probably agree with the addition, as he was fond of a dram or two himself.
And of course the line from Braveheart:
They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom, or our whisky.
Burns veneration of whisky was often reflected in his actions and it has been suggested that this should be combined with his tendency to chase women - he left at least 14 children to various mothers - in how we should remember and honour him: with an attempt at emulation by drinking as much whisky and sleeping with as many women as we can possibly manage.
I certainly wouldn't agree with such suggestions, as I'd quite like to get out of here alive. But without fear for my safety there is another reason this may not be the best way to remember Burns: he himself gave us a warning against such behaviour in one of his most famous poems:
Ilk man and mother's son take heed;
Whene'er to drink you are inclin'd,
Or cutty-sarks run in your mind,
Think! ye may buy joys o'er dear -
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare.
So take heed and remember that if you drink too much and go chasing women *your* horse could end up without its tail.
Finally, I'd like to give you a short tribute to Burns from someone who is probably his closest challenger for the title of greatest Scottish writer, William McGonagall:
Immortal Bard of Ayr! I must conclude my muse
To speak in praise of thee does not refuse,
For you were a mighty poet, few could with you compare,
And also an honour to Scotland, for your genius it is rare
For his love of whisky and warnings against excess, for his support of the radical ideas that now define our society and for his work to preserve the language and culture of this country I ask you to join me in raising a glass to the immortal memory of the Bard: Rabbie Burns.