Robert Burns was a very conscious craftsman as a poet and writer. His letters are written in perfect English. He really was interested in the technical problems of verse and at the age of 28, his first book was published. It was an immediate success.
His greatest poem was Tam O' Shanter a very long epic poem that Abraham Lincoln could recite by memory. Neil Henderson was the only person I have known who could do that as well. He thought the world would take little note of him. Lincoln said the same thing at Gettysburg: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."
In 1859, Burns would have been 100 years old and there were celebrations around the world. At least 900 events were recorded, today that number would be in the thousands. In Boston 10,000 people gathered to celebrate his birthday. In Chicago, during the worst blizzard of the year, 3,000 filled Metropolitan Hall top hear Horace Greely and 200 children danced the Highland Fling.
In Springfield, Abraham Lincoln attended a Burns Dinner and gave one of the toasts. (You can see those records in the State Historical Archives now located in the new Lincoln Library.) When Lincoln lived in New Salem, an Ulster Scot by the name of Jack Kelso introduced him to Burns. William Elroy Curtiss in his book The True Abraham Lincoln, says that Lincoln could recite Burns for hours.
Lincoln married Mary Todd, a Scottish girl, whose family can be traced directly back to Scotland. In their Victorian courtship they read and recited the poetry of Burns to each other. At some point Lincoln must have sung to her: "My love is like a red, red rose." Said by some to be the greatest love song ever written.
There are 180 known statues to Burns around the world: Barre, Vermont; Falls River and Boston, MA.; New York City Central Park; Albany, New York; Milwaukee,; Denver; San Francisco and of course Chicago. Andrew Carnegie, himself a Scot, gave the world 3,000 libraries and each one was to have a bust of Robert Burns. He once said there could never be too many statues to him.
In Garfield Park, stands Robert Burns in silent tribute, to the people who barely see him, or know him.
Made of bronze, cast in Edinburg, Scotland. He stands 10.5 feet in height on a pedestal of Vermont granite 12.5 ft. high. On August 25, 1906, thousand and thousands of Scots paraded down Washington Ave. One hundred magnificent carriages, pulled by beautiful horses, decorated with flowers and roses made the parade. Women in pure white dresses with bright tartan sashes rode in those magnificent carriages. The Governor made a speech and cheer after cheer erupted. A large choir sang the songs of Burns. That evening there was a dinner in the Second Armory and they danced until the wee hours of the morning.
When the Scottish immigrants left Scotland, they took what little money they had, farming tools, their guns, cooking utensils, seeds from the garden, their Bibles and the writings of Robert Burns. Most of them knew they would never return. In the long, winter evenings, in those log cabins on the prairies of Illinois, the Father would read from Burns and then the Bible and then prayers before retiring.
Burns was their photograph album before there was such. He was their connection back to home. He brought humor, sadness and enlightenment to them. The Bible, Burns & the McGuffy reader became the educational tools for learning on the prairies.
What should we remember about Burns tonight?
1. Not everything goes the way we plan it. He wrote: "The best laid schemes of mice an men, often go astray and leaves us naught with grief and pain for promised joy."
2. We should remember that sometimes there is no other help but God. He wrote a "Prayer under the Pressure O' Bitter Anguish."
3. We should remember the dignity and freedom of the common man. Lincoln would have know "A man's a man for all that." He would have known that Burns believed in liberty for all.
Burns said: "If you put fetters on a slave, the other end of the chain is inevitably fastened to his owner - an injustice is done to both."
May the world continue to celebrate the life and writing of Scotland's Bard, Robert Burns.
So, now you know!