One of the best places to find the Republican Burns and his “posthumous” work is in ‘The Canongate Burns’ Edited by Andrew Noble & Patrick Scott Hogg. ISBN 184195 148 X. Patrick Scott incurred the wrath of the establishment for this and his ‘Robert Burns: The Lost Poems‘, Clydeside Press. ISBN 1 837586 85 X or poems that Burns could not put his name to in his own lifetime. Norman R Paton also published ‘Scotland’s Bard: A concise biography of Robert Burns’. Sea-Green Ribbon Publications. ISBN ISBN 0 9522944 4 3 Others Include the respected historian, Iain Grimble, ‘Robert Burn’s. ISBN 85152 734 6
Grimble tells us that “Gaelic was spoken by slightly more than half the country, and the majority of those who used it spoke no English.” Not many are aware that it was still spoken in Galloway and South Ayrshire in Burns’ lifetime. Webster’s Parish Register of 1750 also tells us that majority of the population lived North of the Highland line. This was also the period of the Proscription Acts’, 1746. 1782, which not only banned the right to bear arms, but the wearing of Highland clothes, tartans, possession of “warpipes”, clarsach (harp) and the teaching of Gaelic and rebellious subjects.
Burn’s Grandfather, Robert Burness, form Dunnotar, was out in the 1715, with the martial family the Keiths, under their Earl Marischal. Dunnotar Castle was dismantled and remains a ruin to this day. He took a lease of the farm of Clochanhill, where his son William was born on 1721. Later the two sons moved to Montrose, then one to Edinburgh and the other, Ayrshire.
As well as living throughout the destruction of Highland society his Lowlands was also an armed camp, planted with spies and barracks against the spreading ideas of the American and French Revolutions. Burns wrote an “Ode to General Washington’s Birthday” and the “Tree of Liberty” for the French Revolution, which could have seen him imprisoned, deported or even executed.. Burns managed to purchase three carronades from a “Free Trader”, or seized smuggler ship and send them to the French Revolution. He sought patronage, like most artistes the world over, from the “great and the good of his day. In Celtic society the bards were feted next to the chief and revered by the clan. Burns was given a low grade revenuers job, in a deliberate set up to make him take the Oath and compromise his loyalty.
When he joined in with the Dumfries theatre “mob” in singing the Revolutionary ‘Ca ira’, he was challenged to a dual by an English army officer, a professional dualist. Wisely Burns refused this set up, which would have been deliberate murder. Ca ira, “what will be”, was a French Republican song threatening the deaths of the aristocracy and treasonable to the position he held in the Custom and Exercise, ensuring any chance of promotion would be blocked.
His ‘Scots Wha Hae’, taken from the pipe tune, ‘Hey tutti taiti about Bruce’s address to Bannockburn and in honour of Thomas Muir and the United Scotsman’, was played by the Scots in Joan of Arc’s army as they took Orleans. The French still use it as marching tune.
The ILP, CPGB and Scottish Socialists used it as an anthem from the 20’s to WWII. His ‘Man’s a Man for a’ That’, was sung by German Socialist Karl Leibnecht as he faced the firing squad. Napoleon carried his works, thanks to his Scots tutor.
Much was made of his Masonic links. The leaders of the United Irishmen, with whom he corresponded, were Freemasons (as was Daniel O’Connell) as well as the French Revolutionaries, George Washington and most of his cabinet. The Anglican Orange Order was founded to break the alliance of oppressed Presbyterians and Catholics and would not allow Presbyterians in the ranks till the 1840s.
He was deliberately sold a stony windswept farm by lawyer and landlord, Patrick Miller, which helped to break his health, as well as his wealth, his other friend, Dr William Maxwell, was as much help, by encouraging him to take cold baths in the Brow Well, near Dumfries and the Solway in mid winter and to take up energetic horse riding, when he was too weak to mount a horse and clearly dying of endocarditis, arthritis and rheumatic fever.
Yet another friend libelled him, as his “official” biographer, the Reverend Dr James Currie who took revenge for Burns attacks on the hypocritical Holy Wullies of his day, claiming that Burns died of debauchery and alcohol. He bowdlerized or destroyed many of Burn’s original papers. His widow refused his charity from the proceeds.
Despite them a’, his good name lives on among the Scottish Working class