It’s quite stereotypical for a progressive Scottish blog to use Burns’ birthday to talk about the bard’s politics. So rather than do that, I though I’d just post one of the slightly less well known poems, with a short historical explanation:
In 1786, The Highland society got together in London. They were highly concerned that 500 crofters were trying to escape to the New World – crofters practically being seen as the property of their landlords. The Society decided to stop this, and so introduced charges making the crossing much more expensive. Burns was livid, and wrote a letter to the President of the Society – the Earl of Breadalbane – as if from Beelzebub. The letter is copied below.
Address of Beelzebub
by Robert Burns
To the Right Honourable the Earl of Breadalbane, President of the Right Honourable and Honourable the Highland Society, which met on the 23rd of May last at the Shakespeare, Covent Garden, to concert ways and means to frustrate the designs of five hundred Highlanders, who, as the Society were informed by Mr. M’Kenzie of Applecross, were so audacious as to attempt an escape from their lawful lords and masters whose property they were, by emigrating from the lands of Mr. Macdonald of Glengary to the wilds of Canada, in search of that fantastic thing-Liberty.
Long life, my Lord, an’ health be yours,
Unskaithed by hunger’d Highland boors;
Lord grant me nae duddie, desperate beggar,
Wi’ dirk, claymore, and rusty trigger,
May twin auld Scotland o’ a life
She likes-as butchers like a knife.
Faith you and Applecross were right
To keep the Highland hounds in sight:
I doubt na! they wad bid nae better,
Than let them ance out owre the water,
Then up among thae lakes and seas,
They’ll mak what rules and laws they please:
Some daring Hancocke, or a Franklin,
May set their Highland bluid a-ranklin;
Some Washington again may head them,
Or some Montgomery, fearless, lead them,
Till God knows what may be effected
When by such heads and hearts directed,
Poor dunghill sons of dirt and mire
May to Patrician rights aspire!
Nae sage North now, nor sager Sackville,
To watch and premier o’er the pack vile, –
An’ whare will ye get Howes and Clintons
To bring them to a right repentance-
To cowe the rebel generation,
An’ save the honour o’ the nation?
They, an’ be d-d! what right hae they
To meat, or sleep, or light o’ day?
Far less-to riches, pow’r, or freedom,
But what your lordship likes to gie them?
But hear, my lord! Glengarry, hear!
Your hand’s owre light to them, I fear;
Your factors, grieves, trustees, and bailies,
I canna say but they do gaylies;
They lay aside a’ tender mercies,
An’ tirl the hallions to the birses;
Yet while they’re only poind’t and herriet,
They’ll keep their stubborn Highland spirit:
But smash them! crash them a’ to spails,
An’ rot the dyvors i’ the jails!
The young dogs, swinge them to the labour;
Let wark an’ hunger mak them sober!
The hizzies, if they’re aughtlins fawsont,
Let them in Drury-lane be lesson’d!
An’ if the wives an’ dirty brats
Come thiggin at your doors an’ yetts,
Flaffin wi’ duds, an’ grey wi’ beas’,
Frightin away your ducks an’ geese;
Get out a horsewhip or a jowler,
The langest thong, the fiercest growler,
An’ gar the tatter’d gypsies pack
Wi’ a’ their bastards on their back!
Go on, my Lord! I lang to meet you,
An’ in my house at hame to greet you;
Wi’ common lords ye shanna mingle,
The benmost neuk beside the ingle,
At my right han’ assigned your seat,
‘Tween Herod’s hip an’ Polycrate:
Or if you on your station tarrow,
Between Almagro and Pizarro,
A seat, I’m sure ye’re well deservin’t;
An’ till ye come-your humble servant,