by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
Meeting Peter Kormylo at the
University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns Studies in January of 2013
was, for me, one of the highlights of their annual conference. Since then,
Peter and I have communicated from time to time via email and when I
recently asked him to send me one of his articles on Robert Burns for our
website, he replied promptly and in a couple of days the Immortal Memory
below was sitting in my email inbox. Receiving an article so quickly makes a
great day in my life. Allow me to tell you a little bit about Peter, an
exceptionally remarkable man. He is the son of a Ukrainian prisoner of war
and a young Scots lassie. Peter was educated in Annan, Montreal and St.
Joseph’s College in Dumfries and is a graduate of Moray House College of
Education, Edinburgh and later of the Open University.
He has spent his professional life in education, progressing through the
ranks in various posts as teacher, Head Teacher and Education Officer. He is
now Senior Education Officer with Education Scotland and is occasionally
seen there. He is bi-lingual in Ukrainian and English and has been a
lifelong student of the Scots tongue.
Peter’s hobbies include chess, reading, films, poetry and travel. He has
kept reasonably fit by building his own homes (including a 16th century
Scottish tower house renovation) but now maintains good health by running
and casual training in his lifelong interest of karate. He holds a 3rd Dan
ranking - although his pal James Haining says Peter is more like a Desperate
Peter is a Past President of the Burns Howff Club, former Honorary Librarian
and Honorary Member, as well as being an honorary member of four other
prestigious Burns Clubs. Peter’s interest in Robert Burns is linked to the
poet’s radical politics. He lives with his wife Lesley near Ecclefechan in
the south of Scotland which Burns once described as “that wicked little
village.” Thanks Peter for sending this mini-biography to introduce yourself
and for sharing your Immortal Memory with our readers. Please join us again
on RBL!. (PK and FRS: 3-6-2014)
Memory of Robert Burns
Globe Inn - 25th January 2011
By Peter Kormylo, Past President
It is January
2011 - and we are gathered here to celebrate the foremost evening of the
Scottish Calendar. Our mirth and fun extends far beyond these shores for
around the world wherever Scots & their friends are gathered to commemorate
Robert Burns they are sure to experience – a magical evening.
My Immortal Memory tonight is dedicated to the years
that Burns spent in Dumfries with a focus on aspects of his life linked to
the spot where I am proud to say that our Burns Howff Club has met for a
century and more - the Globe Inn...for within its historic 400 year old
walls, and in the streets neighbouring the Globe, Robert Burns lived out
some of the most interesting and intense incidents of his short life.
In 1926 Hugh MacDairmid composed the poem “A Drunk Man looks
at the Thistle”. In it he wrote...
Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name
Than in ony’s, barrin Liberty and Christ
in an attempt to avoid the nonsense, I hope that my brief orchestration of
quotes from his letters, poems and songs will allow the Bard to elaborate on
his Dumfries years for himself.
the Globe Inn are firmly linked with pivotal moments in his life, moments of
triumph and disaster, pain and passion, dirt and deity.
moved to Dumfries on the 11th November 1791, the town buzzed with sessions
of the circuit courts, cattle and horse fairs and seasons when the Dumfries
and Galloway Hunt joined with the Caledonian Hunt to hold races on nearby
was THE place for routs, assemblies, balls and all manner of social events.
More importantly it had become a garrison town and the officers of the
Fencible Infantry and cavalry regiments stationed here added to the
glittering social life.
years as an exciseman were to put him under the magnifying glass of the
whispering classes, the unco guid and rigidly righteous of Dumfries, many of
whom adhered to the 11th Commandment. The 11th Commandment being “Thou shalt
not be found out”.
In the Globe,
his “favourite Howff”, he routinely found the intellectual and social
stimulation of the kind that he had enjoyed during his meteoric rise to fame
in Edinburgh. But in his mature years, which sadly proved to be his final
years, the deep social injustices of the time began to close in on him.
Cast your mind
back to 1793, picture the Bard in the Globe settled in that atmospheric,
snug in his chair, “fast by an ingle bleezin finely” and at his elbow the
hospitality of the Hyslops, and an audience of sharp witted friends and
acquaintances. Burns being by turns whimsical and philosophical, and at all
times extravagant in his use of language and metaphor. On the table is
spread a newspaper fresh from the coach journey from Edinburgh or Glasgow.
Soon he and his friends would
their private cares
To mind the Kirk and state affairs
They’ll talk o patronage and priests
Wig kindling fury in their breasts
Or tell what new taxation’s coming
And febrile at the folk in London”
to curb his passion for political comment, begins to dissect the news. He
would comment on THE WORLD’S STAGE then, as it is tonight, a stage filled
with reports of floods, disasters, famines and wars. So what has changed?
was a time when the ripples of revolution had put Britain on red alert. The
French had led their king, and many of the nobility, to the guillotine. Here
in Dumfries the population was polarising, not only between Whigs and
Tories, but more menacingly between the radicals and the royalists.
seemed to be no middle ground. Just round the corner in the King’s Arms on
the 18th January 1793 an ultra right wing group calling themselves “The
Loyal Natives”, founded their club and launched a number of noisy dinners
with provocative toasts.
On the 4th
June each year –on the king’s birthday - they organised raucous
demonstrations, parading through Dumfries wearing patriotic sashes daring
others to block their way. Not surprisingly these confrontations frequently
led to fisticuffs and breaches of the peace. “Ca ire!” and “God save the
king!” had become tribal war cries.
Burns’ diamond stylus never lay idle. He was notorious for
scribbling comments on window panes – and the Globe was no exception. But
tonight I shall focus on only one etching - the most ominous. Lines long
removed from the window where he wrote...
In politics if thou wouldst mix
And mean thy fortunes are
Bear this in mind - be deaf and blind
Let great folks here and see.
Burns of course
ignored his own advice. He could never be deaf and blind – he had mixed with
the great folks but had not always been impressed.
Ye see you
birdie cad’s a lord what struts and stares and a that
though thousands worship at his word
he’s but a coof for a that.
He didn’t just
stop at great folks. His Dumfries years signalled an acceleration of biting
comment on all things political. When he wrote to Alexander Cunningham he
looked and laughed at the political hierarchy of the time.
Politics is a science wherewith, by men of nefarious cunning and
hypocritical pretence, we govern civil polities for the emolument of
ourselves and our adherents.
What is a
A minister is an unprincipled fellow, who by the influence of hereditary, or
acquired wealth; by superior abilities, or by a lucky conjuncture of
circumstances, obtains a principle place in the administration of the
affairs of government.
became Burns’ parliament where he routinely immersed himself and other like
minds in issues of religion, education and politics, in concepts radical and
He was not
alone in his views. His closest friends and acquaintances were no fools,
they were well informed, visionary professionals - Syme his Excise superior,
Lawyer William McCracken, and Doctor James Mundell. Other friends were
perhaps less respectable like Wullie Nicol – but then he was from Annan.
But it was
another medical man, an aristocrat, one year younger than Burns, who became
one of his closest friends. William Maxwell, Jesuit educated and newly
returned from practising Medicine in France. Maxwell was the son of a
notable Jacobite and while in France he had joined the National Guard. He
had witnessed the execution of Louis XVI – Burns admired him
began broadcasting his political views with a blunderbuss, with the kind of
lines that he wrote to Mrs Dunlop on the fate of Louis XVI and Marie
Antionette, underlining “deserved fate of a certain pair of personages -
what is there in the delivering over a perjured Blockhead & an unprincipled
Prostitute into the hands of the hangman...”
of the poet, David McCulloch of Ardwell, had also been in France and had
seen the Fall of the Bastille first hand. Burns was surrounded by a circle
that was now well known in Dumfries for its anti government and liberal
views. But what rankled these radicals were the blatant advantages of the
privileged classes - bankers!
Picture the political reality - less than one percent of the
population of Scotland was entitled to vote!!!
His Dumfries years led not only to his attempts to send
cannon to the French Revolutionaries but, as we now know, to his membership
of the anti establishment Friends of the People. By this time he was not
only under scrutiny by his masters in the Excise but by Robert Dundas’s
extensive security apparatus centred in Edinburgh and reporting to London.
Little wonder that after the 1793-94 Sedition trials Burns should write;
Bard adown an alley skulks
And dreads a meeting worse than Woolwich hulks
Tho there his heresies in church and state
Might well award him Muir and Palmer’s fate
On the morning of the 21st January 1793 Louis XVI was led to
the guillotine. War with France was to play havoc not only with trade and
the work of excisemen but was to breed political suspicion on a grand scale
and at every level of society.
during his Stirlingshire tour, lines written in the Carron Inn came back to
Stewart line is gone,
A race outlandish fills their throne;
An idiot race, to honour lost —
Who know them best despise them most.
The lines had become notorious. They were
written on a window of one of the public rooms of the Carron Inn, and there
they remained to be seen and read by every visitor who cared. Copied into
many travellers' note-books, like e-mails, they never went out of
No wonder Dundas and the establishment
feared Burns. He was a literary genius who could pen rousing political
sentiment effortlessly. The pen has always been mightier than the sword and
a pen in the hands of a man like Burns would prove to be political dynamite
during times of social unrest.
Listen to his own description of his visit
to Bannockburn... in his manuscripts we find the following emotive
“The field of Bannockburn — the hole where
glorious Bruce set his standard. Here no Scot can pass uninterested. I fancy
to myself that I see my gallant, heroic countrymen coming o'er the hill, and
down upon the plunderers of their country, the murderers of their fathers;
noble revenge and just hate glowing in every vein, striding more and more
eagerly as they approach the oppressive, insulting, blood-thirsty foe. I see
them meet in gloriously triumphant congratulation on the victorious field,
exulting in their heroic royal leader, and rescued liberty and
Imagine the power of a battle cry like”
Scots wha hae” - so powerful it was not published until after his death.
Burns imagined himself to be Bruce
addressing his 8000 outnumbered and starving Scots who knelt to pray before
their maker on the field of Bannockburn. They faced the prospect of being
butchered by Edward 2nd’s 18000 trained and disciplined soldiers.
How do you rally the underdog? You do it
with words like this...
Scots ...wha hae wi Wallace bled
However this rousing cry to battle
preceded perhaps the most politically potent lines that Burns ever wrote.
A Man’s a man for a that…is regarded by many as The
Marseillaise of Equality: the rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the
gowd for a' that.
The honest man, tho eer sae poor
Is king of men for a that
A prince can make a belted knight
A marqis, duke and all that
But an honest man’s aboon his might
take hours to catalogue Burns involvement in the politics of his Dumfries
years .Nor do we have time this evening to examine any one chapter in
assured, as fast as he was honing his poetic genius and journalistic talent
his friends, within and outwith the Excise, were trying to protect him from
have it that, towards the end of his life, his energy and passion for
Liberty and Equality began to intensify only to be met with the final cruel
stages of endocarditus and a leaking heart valve.
know the rest of this terrible chapter. His futile visits to the Brow Well.
His meetings with friends who recognised the pallor of approaching death
upon his countenance.
wrote an elegy on the death of Robert Ruisseaux he may have been summarising
his own life.
lies in his last lair
He’ll gabble rhyme, nor sing nae mair
Cauld poverty wi hungry stare,
Nae mair shall fear him;
Nor anxious fear, nor cankert care,
E’er mair come near him
To tell the
truth, they seldom fash’d him
Except the moment that they crushed him
For sune as chance or fate had hush’d ‘em
Tho e’er sae short
Then wi’ a rhyme or sang he lash’d ‘em
And thought it sport.
Gentlemen I invite you to rise with me in Toasting -
Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.