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Robert Burns Lives!
An article by Professor David Purdie, MD, FRCP ED, FSA Scot.


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

A Warm Welcome to Professor David Purdie, MD, FRCP ED, FSA (Scot)

Celebrating the 250 anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns is a thing of beauty, and a thing of joy, particularly for those of us who are proud to be called Burnsians! With all of  the Immortal Memories, songs, and toasts honoring Burns this anniversary year, it is evident that his popularity continues to grow by leaps and bounds year after year. Our poet is more popular today that ever before. He is truly a man for all seasons. I cannot think of Scotland without thinking of Robert Burns. With these thoughts in mind I have asked Dr. Purdie to allow me the privilege of presenting this article on Burns that first appeared on The Scotsman.com earlier this month.

For those of you who do not know Dr. Purdie, he is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. As a celebrated public speaker, his highly amusing speeches are in great demand for charity and corporate functions.  As an experienced speech writer, Professor Purdie is also available as a speech writer and a speech editor. He is well known for documentary voiceover and narration.

He has but one golden rule as an after dinner speaker – “Leave them wanting more…”.

Those who should know have endorsed him as…

“Arguably our finest after-dinner speaker of the moment” – Lewine Mair in The Daily Telegraph

“Articulate, funny and spot-on with content and delivery…one of the most magnificent speakers I have ever heard.” Sam Torrance in Sam, the Autobiography.

As important as all of his accomplishments are, Dr. Purdie is proud to have the opportunity to serve as the current Secretary of the Edinburgh Burns Club.

Dr. Purdie and I have exchanged emails in the past regarding Sir Walter Scott and it is a pleasure to do the same now regarding Robert Burns. It is my distinct honor to present to our readers his article entitled:-

What Burns Means to Me.

The Bible upon which Barack Obama swore his oath on Tuesday was that of Abraham Lincoln. That Bible lay on the bedside table every night that Lincoln spent in the White House, but it was not alone. Beside it lay his copy of the collected works of Robert Burns, many of which Lincoln knew by heart, having learned them as a child in the family cabin in Missouri.

 And that is what the poet says to me. That great lyric poetry with its graphic imagery and verbal firepower may cross oceans and still penetrate to the innermost labyrinth of the human heart.

Our poet showed us that a Scots farmer might write an anthem for the common man - that for all the strife and fury of the world, a Man is a Man - for all that. This brave singer cut though the cant and the posturing  to insist that there is a benevolence within us which he caught and gave to humanity in that great Song. My friend Sheena Wellington rose and sang it before the Queen and the newly summoned Parliament in Edinburgh and none that heard her - and Burns that day - will ever forget it.

He says to me that true worth lies not in inherited wealth or acquired position in society, not in strength of  intellect nor yet in the power of a voice. It lies, rather, in the space within the heart which we reserve for the weal and the welfare of our fellow men. As he wrote to his friend Davie Sillar, “The heart’s aye the part, aye, that maks us richt - or wrang…” 

He also says to us - whatever the hardships, pay your dues. No man or woman either, did Burns a great favour and lived to regret the day. To young Jenny Cruikshank at whose harpsichord he weaved the words of his songs into the old airs of Scotland, he gave a copy of his Poems and for her he wrote the great song “Rosebud by my early Walk”. To Robert Fergusson, poet of Edinburgh, he gave a stone for his unmarked grave - and to faithful, stoical Jean Armour he gave her immortality.

Our emigrants would place the works of Burns in the family kist when they packed to go on their long voyages to North America, or to the Cape and over the southern ocean to Australia and New Zealand. And it was not just because he spoke and sang to them in the accents of home. It was because Burns always has something to say, to the struggling farmer, to the uncertain lover, to the young soldier facing his first action. And what he says in a score of ways has this constant, insistent refrain; Courage, brother, do not falter – and never, ever, despair. 

He places before us one of the great stories of our long history. How a child born in a two-roomed cottage which sits by an Alloway roadside became the man now regarded by modern critical scholarship as one of the finest poets and songsmiths ever to lift a pen.  Among us for such a short time, he was gone at 37 leaving a desolate widow, no child above the age of ten - and a body of verse which will ever remain one of the jewels in the crown of our literature.

And far beyond our homeland, a great President freed the slaves and showed us how Robert Burns’s poems and songs, first laid before his family and neighbours in the farmlands of Ayrshire, were to become the property - and the patrimony - of Mankind.

(FRS:1.30.09)


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