Our thanks to John
Henderson for finding this address and sending it into us.
The Statue of Robert Burns Montrose, Angus, Scotland
Provost and Fellow
Citizens of Montrose,
We are met to-day to testify that the immortal Bard still lives in our
memory, that his fame increases with timethat his place in the world as
in our hearts strengthens with the yearsand that the debt we owe him is
indeed unpayable. No man who ever lived has so many memorial statues in
so many lands, and yet we meet to-day in Montrose to dedicate still
It was not his genius, his insight, his vision, his wit or spirit of
manly independence, nor all of these combined, which captured the hearts
of men. It was his spontaneous, tender, all-pervading sympathy with
every form of misfortune, pain or grief; not only in man but in every
created form of being. He loved all living things, both great and small.
Repeated are the proofs of this overflowing tenderness. The nest of the
mouse destroyed by the plough which had cost many a weary nibble,
appeals to his heart and the lesson is enforced:
But mousie thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain,
The best laid schemes o mice an men
Gang aft a-gley
An leae us nought but grief an pain
For promised joy.
Burns seems to have divined what science to-day proclaims, that all life
is kinlisten to this outburst of emotion:
Im truly sorry mans dominion
Has broken Natures social union
An justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle,
At me, thy poor earth-born companion
And fellow mortal.
We murmur to ourselves, beyond this it is impossible for mortal to go,
this must be the utmost limit, but wait a moment, we are told that
talent does what it can but genius what it must, and Burns, sweeping
upward and onward under this Law startled the world by his next leap,
clear out of all bounds, at which it still keeps wondering, for no
mortal before or since has ever dared to entertain the idea of
reformation and pardon for the Evil One.
But fare-you-weel, auld Nickle-ben,
O wad ye tak a thought an men.
Ye aiblins michtI dinna ken
Still hae a stake:
Im wae to think upo yon den,
Evn for your sake.
The Poet was ever the reformer, and true to his mission he ventures to
intimate that his Infernal Majesty might vary one of his recreations
Im sure sma pleasure it can gie,
Een to a deil,
To skelp and scaud poor dogs like me
An hear us squeal.
In such familiar terms Burns addresses the Arch Fiend, enemy of God and
manwhom Milton thus describes:
Incensed with indignation, Saton stood Unterrified, and like a comet
burned In the artic sky, and from his horrid hair Shakes pestilence and
Fortunately the stern doctrines literally interpreted in the Poets day
remain with us in our day only as helpful allegories in mans progress
to higher conceptions. Not till another poet reaches this towering
height upon which to-day one sits alone in solitude can the ascendency
of Burns ever be questioned as the genius of the overflowing,
sympathetic heart, ever alive to the sorrows of man, beast, mouse or
There are two stanzas which give Burns high place as a truly religious
teacher of men.
The fear o Hells a hangmans whip.
To haud the wretch in order,
But where you find your honor grip,
Let that aye be your border,
Its slightest touches, instant pause
Debar a side pretences;
And resolutely keep its laws,
In the Cottars Saturday Night we have the finest picture of humble
life ever painted, inculcating the most truly religious lesson.
Compard with this, how poor Religions pride,
In all the pomp of method, and of art;
When men display to congregations wide
Devotions every grace, except the heart!
The Powr, incensd, the pageant will desert,
The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole ;
But haply, in some cottage far apart,
May hear, well-pleasd, the language of the soul;
And in his Book of Life the inmates poor enrol.
I venture to submit that one line of Burns has not received due
attention as constituting a rule of lifea pure gem :
Thine own reproach alone do fear."
Having from our own consciencethe Judge within received a verdict of
approval, we have little to fear from any other tribunal. The Judge
within sits in the supreme Court.
The prophets in days past were stoned as Burns was, but the assailants
of Burns in his day were wrong. He saw the great light before they did,
as the prophets and leaders of mankind invariably do and must do, else
they were not prophets. The day has now arrived when he, the proclaimer
of the royalty of man, stands revealed to us as the true Poet-Prophet of
his age. What he proclaimed has proved to be the needed gospel for the
advancement of man, especially for us of the English speaking race. I
have ventured to hail him as the Poet-Prophet of his age. That he was a
Poet will pass unquestioned, but was he not also a Prophet; did he not
see in advance of his fellows the certain growth of the rights of man
through the spread of democracy, and was he not awake to the crude and
repulsive theology of his day, and at the same time saw the coming of
the better day in which we now live, when the God of wrath who condemned
man to everlasting torment has become displaced by the Heavenly Father,
who can be trusted to deal mercifully even with the sinner ? In these
changes we recognise the work of Burns, it was he who laid the axe to
the root of the tree of ignorance and superstition, and in doing so made
mankind his debtor. Our Republic was founded upon the Rights of manhis
political gospelwhich permeated both Britain and America and in more
recent times has won sway over all your self-governing colonies, Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand, so that to-day Burns political gospel rules
our English speaking race, which is marching steadily, though more
slowly than we could wish, to the full fruition of the ideal of our
Let us rejoice that we live in this age when the march of man upward is
so pronounced. In one department the Motherland is in advance of the
Republic and her Colonies. She has established a law first proclaimed by
another famous Scot, foremost of all in his branch of study. Adam
Smiths Wealth of Nations marked an era in the worlds history, and no
statement made by him has proved so important for mans advance to true
democracy as this:
The subjects of every stale ought to contribute towards the support of
the government, as nearly as possible in proportion to their respective
abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively
enjoy under the protection of the State. In the observation or neglect
of this maxim consists, what is called the equality or inequality of
This doctrine was such a shock to the statesmen of the day that even his
editor, Professor Thorold Rogers, absorbed a full page in small type to
point out how his author had stumbled. In the view of to-day the
injustice lies in not taxing according to value. This just taxation the
Millionaires of the Republic and Colonies have so far escaped, but their
day is coming; and properly so. Let us rejoice that the old home is here
in the lead, an example for her children to follow.
In the Gospel of Wealth, published here twenty odd years ago, the
graduated tax is advocated, and it is held that the modern Millionaires
should receive part of the treatment proposed for Shylock, under which,
according to the laws of Venice, one-half of his goods would come to
the privy coffer of the state. So should it be with the hoards of the
Millionaires of our day, and this, not as a punishment but for their own
good, because it is just, and justice alone insures general contentment.
On the other hand, while the Motherland leads in just graduated
taxation, she is to-day following the younger branches of her race in
widening her Franchise and establishing equal electoral districts, and,
above all, giving each man only one vote, thus making all citizens
equal. So the beneficent exchange goes on between Motherland and
Childlandsthe parts of the vast empire of our race ever drawing closer
together, each contributing of its best to the others in fair exchange,
keeping our race ever in advance in establishing the rights of man and
marching steadily to perfection when one citizens privilege in the
State becomes every citizens right as is the law in all the younger
lands. Our race is thus rapidly becoming a veritable brotherhood which
may finally be again united. The Bible in its marvellous translation,
along with Shakespeare and Burns form the chief cementing bonds next to
our common language and common law.
The latest and most telling tribute paid Burns is that of your late
Member of Parliament, Lord Morley and proud was he to be the successor
of Joseph Hume, and Member for what, in his opinion, was the most
intellegent constituency in the land. He told the Assembled Editors of
the Empire, in effect, that a few lines from Burns had done more to form
and maintain the present improved political and social conditions of the
people than all the millions of editorials ever written. I asked him to
name the lines he referred to, but he replied there was no need to name
these to me. Since I promised to be with you to-day, however, I have
tried to imagine what lines he had in mind. Here is probably the list as
I should guess:
First. While we sing God Save the King
Well neer forget the people.
Second. The rank is but the guinea-stamp,
The mans the gowd for a that.
Third. Mans true, genuine estimate,
The grand criterion of his fate,
Is not, art thou high or low?
Did thy fortune ebb or flow?
Wert thou cottager or king,
Peer or peasant ? no such thing.
Fourth. Ye see yon birkie cad a lord,
Wha struts and stares and a that,
Tho hundreds worship at his word
Hes but a coof for a that.
For a that and a that,
His riband, star, and a that.
The man o independent mind
He looks and laughs at a that.
Fifth. A prince can mak a belted knight,
A Marquis, Duke and a that,
But an honest mans aboon his might,
Guid faith he mauna fa that.'
Sixth. Columbias offspring, brave and free,
Still flaming far in dangers van,
Ye know and dare proclaim the royalty of man.
These few lines from Burns are ample, and constitute the best platform
ever formed to guard the wise and peaceful march of progress. No
violence, no physical force, all peacefully and in order. Ballots, not
bullets; argument, not riot; all classes hand in hand co-operating as
members of one family for the general weal of all law-abiding classes
ensures the happiness of every proper class.
And now may I be permitted to transport myself from my native to my
adopted land for a few minutes. You well know that no part of the world
has Burns more completely captured than the Republic, now the home ol
the great majority of English speaking people. It is not less conscious
of all it owes to Burns than the Motherland itself. But what can one say
of the Immortal Bard which has not been better said already by his
fellow poets and our literary masters? I shall select a few of their
gems and let these tell their story. It was said of Lincolns
Republicanism that it was of the same spirit as the Gospel of his
favourite Burns. As a lad at school he fortunately had a Scotch school
master who adored Burns. The boy was carried away by the Bard, and it is
recorded that when still a youth wagers were made that no one could call
upon him for a recitation from Burns which he could not give from
memory. In his mature years he lectured on his favourite poet, and as
usual drew the masses ol the people. Unfortunately, no trace of this
lecture can now be found. We have searched for it in vain. What would
one not give for a copy? Imagine Lincoln and Burns together, both men
who held their patents of nobility direct from the hand of Almighty
God. We have however a tribute to Burns from Lincolns bosom companion
and fellow orator, who divided the crowds with Lincoln in the
Anti-Slavery Campaign Colonel Ingersoll the most powerful, popular
orator I have ever heard. Like Lincoln, he worshipped Burns, and kept
upon his library table two beautifully bound volumes, one Shakespeare
and the other Burns, which he called his Bible and his Hymn Book. He
made a pilgrimage to the birth place of Burns and wrote the following
lines in the famous cottage:
Though Scotland boasts a thousand names
Of patriot, king, and peer,
The noblest, grandest of them all
Was loved and cradled here.
Here lived the gentle, peasant prince,
The loving cotter-king,
Compared with whom the greatest Lord
Is but a titled thing.
Tis but a cot roofed in with straw,
A hovel made of clay;
One door shuts out the snow and storm,
One window greets the day.
And yet I stand within this room
And hold all thrones in scorn;
For here, beneath this lowly thatch,
Loves sweetest bard was born.
President Garfield realised That rising above the trammels of birth and
poverty Burns spoke to the great nameless class of labouring men
throughout the world while Kings and Nations-listened in amazement. In
the highest class of Lyric Poetry three names stand, their fame covers
eighteen centuries one of these is Burns.
Secretary of State Blaine says Genius is not confined to lands or
latitudes, Burns belonged to the world.
Emerson declared that Neither Latimer nor Luther struck such telling
blows against false Theology as did this brave singer. The Declaration
of Independence and the Marseillaise are not weightier documents in the
history of freedom than the songs of Burns.
Whittier tells us that Burns lived on with a vitality which gathers
strength from time. His fame broadens and deepens every year. The world
has never known a truer singer.
Bryant tells us the truth when he declares Burns was great because God
breathed into him in greater measure than any other man the spirit of
that love which constitutes his own essence and made him more than other
man a living soul. Burns was great by the greatness of his sympathies.
Hawthorne, at Burns birthplace, declares in this humble nook of all
places in the world, Providence was pleased to deposit the germ of the
richest human life which mankind had then within its circumference.
Wendell Holmes says Burns should have passed years of his life in
America, for these words of his, A mans a man for a that, show that
the true American feeling belonged to him as much as if he had been born
on Bunker Hill. Quite true, but born near Bannockburn is quite as
But still the music of his song
Rises oer all elate and strong,
Its Master chords Manhood, Freedom, Brotherhood.
Speaker of Congress Henderson, a born Scot, declares Robert Burns was
also a preacher to humanity, and if this old earth of ours had more such
preachers in its pulpits it would be a better world.
Senator Hoar tells us that Burns brought to the world the best message
ever brought since Bethlehem, and humanity the world over walks more
erect for what he said and sung. Genius sings through the soul of Burns
like the wind through an Aiolian harp.
Governor Knott declares Burns possessed as no other man ever did, the
universal alchemy of genius which enabled him to bring to light the pure
virgin gold in everything he touched.
Margaret Fuller writes:
Burns is full of the noble genuine democracy which seeks not to destroy
royalty, but to make all men kings as he was himself in nature.
Bayard Taylor avers that-
The stranger in foreign land comes to love Scotland and her people
because Burns loved them.
Beecher declares that
Burns has taught men the thoughts of God in nature more than a great
many pulpits have.
But why continue further in this strain?
While the Poet-Prophets prophesy, the grandest of all, that man to man
the world oer shall brothers be and a that is not yet fulfilled, I do
not hesitate to proclaim my unshaken faith that it is coming yet for a
Meanwhile, let us rejoice that within the wide boundaries of our English
speaking race peace is at last accomplished. The vast majority in every
land, if Shakespeares tongue be spoken there and songs of Burns be in
the air, would rise in mutiny and compel their rulers to submit any
difference between them to peaceful arbitration. So much for the reign
of peace and the prophecy of Burns, to the fulfilment of which we are
Lord Morley tells us in his recent Manchester address that a few books
in political literature rank as Acts not Books, because they compelled
the adoption of the ideas advanced, and that two of these were found in
the Declaration of American Independence and another in Paines Common
Sense, which he declares the most influential political piece ever
Burns has given the world several of these precious jewels which have
already fulfilled their mission within our entire race.
The rank is but the guinea-stamp,
The mans the gowd for a that,
is one, and here is another, the grandest of all his prophecies :
Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a that,
That man to man, the world oer,
Shall brothers be for a that.'
As far as our race is concerned, war between its parts is to-day
unthinkable. In its world-wide scope it still remains a prophecy, but
never can these lines fail to thrill and incite to action the hearts of
men, until their mission is fully accomplished and they learn war no
morethey are immortal and can die only in triumph.
It is the general opinion of the worlds wisest and best that Burns
stands alone. All eulogies are concentrated in two which I have kept for
the close one from the American poet, Walt Whitman ; the other from
Horace Greely, the Republics greatest journalist, and son of a Scotch
Whitmans verdict is
He was the most flesh and blood chiel ever cast up upon the sands of
Greely declares Of all the men who ever lived Burns nestles closest to
the bosom of humanity. Of no other man can this be said, here he has no
I now proceed to unveil the statue which Montrose has erected in memory
of the Immortal Bard, tenderly wrapping him as it were in the folds of
this last unrivalled tribute, which passes to-day unchallenged, for it
is indeed true that Burns of all men that ever lived nestles to-day
closest to the bosom of humanity. Citizens of Montrose, you honour
yourselves in honouring the man who has proved himself the Poet Prophet
of his age.