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Scotland and the Scots
Robert Burns and Freemasonary


DURING the eighteenth century Freemasonry had reached the very highest pinnacle of popularity in Scotland. Its growth had been slow. For many generations it had hardly obtained recognition, but year after year, especially since Good King Robert the Bruce had founded the Royal Order of Scotland at Kilwinning, it steadily gathered strength. At first both operative and speculative in reality, it bit by bit lost its practical qualities and became a purely speculative science. Except in one epoch, Freemasonry, so far as I can learn, never mixed in any of the perpetual political troubles which enliven the pages of Scotland's history. That epoch was the time of the Jacobites. Then, through the active agency of one man—the Chevalier Ramsay, a native of Ayr—an attempt was made in France to associate the Order with the exiled family. It failed of its main purpose, although the fanciful degrees and rites propounded by Ramsay were received with genuine favor in France. Many thousands were initiated into the so-called "Scotch Rite" instituted and planned by him, and his work is still bearing active fruit even at the present day.

The eighteenth century was in many ways peculiarly adapted for bringing to the front the very qualities which endears the Order to those whose names are enrolled on its records. It was a time of political restlessness when it was often dangerous for a man to freely speak his opinions for fear of cowans and eavesdroppers. A sentiment of universal brotherhood was in the air, and men were looking for a new condition of things which might bind them more closely than ever into "union and friendship" The old order of things was passing away when the affairs of the State were quietly left in the hands of a self-appointed few, and the people were regarded as mere ciphers, or as little better than hewers of wood and drawers of water. Alen had come to realize the dignity of man, and groped in the dark blindly for some way to make that dignity recognized. In the end of the century the French stumbled upon a plan so full of horror that the world even yet shrinks from the bare recital. Fortunately for Scotland, its struggle for political freedom fid not plunge it into a similar sea of blood.

But the unquiet which pervaded Europe had extended itself to Scotland and governed its history during the century, although the cool, practical common-sense of the people kept it within proper and governable bounds. But in Scotland there were many local matters which impelled, in all classes of the people, a desire for change and fraternal action. The Act of Union had taken away the ancient parliament of the kingdom; the nobility felt themselves reduced to the condition of mere provincial grandees, at least such of them as had not obtained a foothold at the English court. London had become the centre of government, and the change was too recent for people to become accommodated to it as they are now. The masses considered they were ignored, the educated classes felt as though they were merely provincials, the aristocrats too often assumed a degree of false dignity which generally led them into playing the parts of petty tyrants. The best of all the people desired something which might bind them closely together, allow them to meet in fraternal fellowship, strengthen one another in all the relations of life, and make friendship unalloyed, unselfish and pure. All these were offered to them by Freemasonry, and its offer was zealously and gladly seized. There was another reason which added to the popularity of the craft, and which unfortunately has to be told. It was pre-eminently a convivial age, and the reunion in the lodges of so many good, honest, congenial hearts made a social after-time in those days seem a necessity. When the craft passed from labor to refreshment, they made all the use of the latter stage which could be implied from its name, and often, after the serious business of the lodge was over, the choice spirits held merry meetings which lasted long until after the "wee short hour ayont the twal." That these meetings sometimes degenerated into mere orgies there can be little doubt, and from them came the epithet of ''drucken Masons," which still arises in the minds of many good people in Scotland when the craft is discussed. Those who have studied the life of Robert Ferguson, Burns' "elder brother in the Muses," or read Chambers' "Traditions of Edinburgh," know to what an extent convivial habits prevailed at that epoch; how every little coterie formed itself into a club; and how judges. preachers, magistrates, lawyers, statesmen, as well as tradesmen considered it no shame to be known as "two or three bottle men," or to be so often drunk in public as well as in private that their dissipation created neither comment nor scandal. The age thought nothing of such indulgences nay, the opposite was the case, and a professed abstainer at that period in Edinburgh would have been regarded as a knave or a fool, or perhaps as both. Judging by the time, the drinking habits which were then associated with Freemasonry were merely a necessary incident, a condition of things which would certainly be an accompaniment of all gatherings of men. Fortunately the world has advanced since then, and in this, as in all other material things, Freemasonry has progressed in a corresponding degree.

In the year 1781 the Grand Master of Masons in Scotland was the Duke of Athol. In the fraternity, either holding office or as active members of the craft, were included, it seems to me, every man of mark in the country. Noblemen, county magnates, preachers, magistrates, teachers, farmers, and tradesmen of every degree were to be found in connection with lodge work, and, if we may judge from the records which have come down to us, all were enthusiastic seekers after light. In that year the Duke of Athol signed the charter which brought into Masonic affiliation the now prosperous and honored Grand Lodge of the State of New York. On the fourth of July in the same year Robert Burns was initiated in St. David's Lodge, Tarbolton. He was then in his twenty-second year.

I do not wish to dwell upon the early life of Burns, or in fact upon any features of his career which are not incidental to my subject. But I must make an exception at this point, because I desire to correct two errors which seem to have established themselves in the minds of most of those who have written or spoken of Burns during recent years. It is the fashion to speak of the poet as though he were simply a peasant and at the best a superior ploughman. It is hardly correct to dub him by the first designation, for peasant, according to the common acceptation of that term, he never was. Neither is it right to regard him simply as a ploughman; for although he often held the plough and boasted of the independence which it afforded him, he was a ploughman only on his father's or his own holdings. He was a small farmer, but never either a simple ploughman or a peasant. I mention this not in any spirit derogatory to either peasants or ploughmen. God forbid! I recognize the true nobility of toil too highly to spurn any occupation which is of practical utility and by which a brother-man earns his bread. But there is no use, it seems to me, in giving these two classes the credit of having produced this heaven-inspired poet, when the honor belongs to quite another class—a class which in peace or in war has supplied the brain and muscle of Scotland for centuries; the real backbone of the country: the class of small working farmers, the "douce guidmen who held their own ploughs," and from whose humble cottages have come forth sons who have graced the pulpit, the bar, and the academy, who have added to the mechanical genius and wealth of the country, and carried its banner--the blue cross of Saint Andrew—in triumph over all the world.

It has become common, too, to speak of Burns as an uneducated man. This is another mistake. From his earliest years his education was very carefully attended to by his father—a veritable prince among Scotchmen—and we have the testimony on record of his old schoolmaster to prove to our satisfaction that his education was really of a superior order even for lads in his own station of life. A boy who at fourteen years of age has had the benefit of being trained by such a man as William Burness, who can read Shakespeare with pleasure and is interested by such ponderous tomes as Stackhouse's "History of the Bible" and Ray's "Wisdom of God," would not be considered ignorant even in our own day. Besides, Burns could read French fairly well and gave it a more or less careful study, and had acquired such a knowledge of Latin as to be able in after-years to adorn his correspondence with a quotation or a sentence now and again when the humor seized him. Surely we cannot call a boy with all these acquirements uneducated. And, again, Burns during his whole earthly career continued to be a close student of books as well as of men, and some time ago, in compiling from his letters and other sources a list of books which he actually read or had in his possession, I was much surprised at the variety, extent, and quality of his reading. To speak of Burns, therefore, as an uneducated man seems to me to be decidedly erroneous.

On first being admitted into a lodge the candidate is directed to kneel in prayer. It is fitting, therefore, that, before describing Burns' Masonic career, we should enquire into his religious principles. I know he has been denounced as a scoffer, an irreligious libertine, and even as an atheist, but such charges have been made by persons who had no real knowledge of his character or sentiments, or who were so blinded by their own sense of self-righteousness as to see nothing which is good in others who are less demonstrative, perhaps, than they. But from his earliest boyhood until he passed away from this transitory scene in Dumfries, Burns was a firm believer in the supreme omnipotence and goodness of the Deity, and a continual thinker on religious matters. A perusal of his correspondence amply confirms this. He was by no means orthodox in his views; his thoughts often probed deep clown into the mystery of things/ He caricatured with bitter pen the extravagances of those who sheltered their own weaknesses and shortcomings under the cloak of religion; he ridiculed much of the teachings and theological quarrels of his day; he detested Calvinism; he had doubts, like Milton and Newton, of the Divinity of Christ, but he was a firm believer in an everlasting, ever-living, wise, just, and merciful God. The Rev. Stopford A. Brooke, an eloquent English preacher, expresses himself on this point as follows: "All his religion came from the heart; and it drove him, when he thought of his poor people and their hard lives, and how beautiful they often were with natural feeling; when he thought how much they suffered and how much was due to them, to refer the origin of their good to God, and to leave the righting of their wrongs to God. He went further, and threw over the lives of the poor the light of God. Every one knows the scene in the "Cottar's Saturday Night," every one has felt how solemn and patriarchal it is, and how all the charming gossip and pleasant human fun and modest love which charm us in it are dignified by the worship of God that follows. But that poem must not be taken as representing the religious feeling of Burns; it is purposely made religious; and all we can truly say of Burns is that, whether as regards his own art, or when he speaks of the lives and love of the poor, he was one of those men who at the end of the last century claimed for men a universal Father in God, and vindicated the poor as His children."

In the immortality of the soul, too, Burns was a believer. Sometimes he was oppressed with fears and doubts on the subject, as are all men who think upon it at one time or other in their lives; sometimes he expressed these doubts rather freely, for, of all men who ever lived, Burns wore his heart upon his sleeve and allowed its actions to be seen by all who passed by ; but on the whole, in reading his works, we can come to no other conclusion than that he believed there was a hereafter, at which, in some way, rewards or punishments were to be meted out, when men would have to render their just account to the Grand Architect of the universe. But even on this point he had some peculiar notions. In a letter written in 1788 he said: "A man conscious of having acted an honest part among his fellow- creatures, even granting that he may have been the sport, at times, of passions and instincts, goes to a Great Unknown Being who could have no other end in giving him existence but to make him happy, who gave him those passions and instincts and well known their force." In the two grand religious requirements of the Order, belief in an ever-living arid true God and the immortality of the soul, therefore, Robert Burns was perfectly sound and consistent, and af- firmed his faith in these dogmas with conscientious truth.

St. David's Lodge worked under the old Kilwinning Lodge; that is to say, it formed one of a group of lodges in the west of Scotland which obtained their charters from the mother-lodge. It was by no means an irregular body; for although the authority of the Grand Lodge of Scotland was then sufficiently strong to exert itself all over the country, the claims to regularity of the old lodge at Kilwinning, whose traditional records extended away back into the dim stages of Scottish as well as Masonic history, could hardly have been contemned. When the Grand Lodge of Scotland was organized in 1736, it was found that the records of Kilwinning Lodge had been destroyed by fire. The oldest records then remaining were those of St. Mary's Chapel, Edinburgh, which dated from 1598, and accordingly it was placed first on the roll of the Grand Lodge. This of course caused dissatisfaction in the vest, and the Kilwinning Lodge with- drew, or rather held aloof, and fell back on its ancient rights and prerogatives as a mother-lodge, which it held long before modern Grand Lodges were invented. This condition of things continued until 18o3, when the Kilwinning brethren surrendered whatever ancient rights and privileges they claimed, and were finally given precedence on the Grand Lodge roll under. the title of Ancient or Mother Lodge of Kilwinning No. o. I mention this bit of history to show that al- though Burns' lodge—St. David's—did not hold its charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, it was a regular and duly constituted lodge and was fully recognized as such. St. David's had received its charter in 1773 and was an offshoot from St. James Lodge, which was organized two years earlier. When Burns was initiated in July, 1781, and passed and raised on 1st October following, the fortunes of his mother- lodge were at a very low ebb. Jealousies and contentions had crept in among the brethren, all power of cohesion was gone, and neither work nor pleasure were experienced by the few who had held together and hoped for better times, for a change in the retrogressing state of the tide. Along with a few of the choice spirits, Burns left St. David's Lodge and re-established as a separate body the other lodge of St. James, which had in the meanwhile been in a conditions of inertia, without, however, having forfeited its charter. This was in 1782, and from that time Burns' career as an active Mason may be said to have commenced.

St. James' Lodge, thus recuscitated, soon became the Masonic centre of attraction at Tarbolton. Although for a long time resident in Irvine and other places, which caused him a good deal of walking to allow of his being present at the various communications, he was both regular in his attendance and enthusiastic in his devotion to all the duties of the craft. In the ritual, such as it was, he soon became an expert, and at the after-meetings—the time allotted to refreshments, and at what is now delicately called the "symposium"—after the lodge was closed, he soon became "the king o' a' the core." No one could set the table in a roar like Robert Burns with his brilliant flashes of wit, his ready repartee, or his impromptu speeches. All these he gradually became accomplished in after being but a short time among the "sons of light.'' Among the brethren he found men worthy of the display of his talents, and they seemed to be able to draw out of him some sparks, at least, of that brilliant fire of genius which burned within. It gave him his first introduction to the society of manhood, and these early meetings of the St. James' Lodge excited an influence upon him which never lost its hold, and did more for moulding his mind into a frame fitted to produce the after-bursts of poetry and song than the world has ever been disposed to credit. And here I desire to draw particular attention to one point. Burns' enthusiasm for Masonry, and the associations into which it led him, have been blamed for forming those habits of open dissipation, that love of tavern revelry, which have been attributed to him. Even these have been exaggerated by the "unco guid," or by modern writers who did not understand the social habits and manners of Scotland during the latter half of the eighteenth century. But that Masonry tarnished or undermined Burns' "resolutions of amendment" may safely be denied on no less truthful and competent an authority than his own much loved brother, Gilbert. "In Irvine," says Gilbert Burns, "Robert had contracted some acquaintances of a freer manner of thinking and living than he had been used to, whose society prepared him for overleaping the bounds of rigid virtue which had hitherto restrained him. During this period, also, he became a Freemason, which was his first introduction to the life of a boon companion. Yet, notwithstanding these circumstances, I do not recollect during the seven years we were at Lochlea, nor till towards the end of his commencing author—when his growing celebrity occasioned his being often in company—to have ever seen him intoxicated; nor was he at all given to drinking."

In St. James' Lodge Burns made many worthy acquaintances and formed friendships of great importance. First and foremost of these was Gavin Hamilton, writer, Mauchline—the truest friend and patron he ever had. His name is often mentioned in Burns' poetical and other writings, but never except with the utmost respect, honor, and gratitude. In one place he fitly sums up his virtues by describing him as

"The poor man's friend in need.
The gentleman in word and deed."

I do not think that Burns held any other man in the same respect that he held Gavin Hamilton, except his own peerless father, William Burness. Another member was Dr. Mackenzie, who did good service to Burns when he introduced him to Professor Dugald Stewart. This gentleman married Miss Helen Miller, one of the "Belles of Mauchline" whom the poet immortalized in a song. Mr. John Ballantyne, banker (and some time provost), Ayr, was another member, and his friendship for Burns was fraternal from first to last. When the bard was anxious to bring out a second edition of his works at Kilmarnock, Wilson, the printer, declined to risk the cost of the paper. Ballantyne, on hearing of the trouble, at once offered to advance whatever sum was necessary, but recommended the poet to make Edinburgh, instead of Kilmarnock, the place of publication. As is well known, circumstances caused Burns to fall in with this advice but rendered his friend's generosity unnecessary. It was through the efforts of Mr. Ballantyne that the New Bridge at Ayr was erected between 1786 and 1788, and to him Burns inscribed his grand poem of "The Brigs of Ayr." Another member, who appears to have been a particular crony of Burns, was John Rankine, a farmer, a great wag and a prince of good fellows. To him Burns addressed a characteristic epistle beginning,

"O rough, rude, ready-wined Rankine,
The wale o' cocks for fun an' drinkia'"

Kay Wood the tailor, Manson the publican, Wilson the schoolmaster, and Humphrey the argumentative man, were likewise members of St. James' Lodge. In such a mixed company, composed of men of really superior intelligence and some of them of really superior station, is it a wonder that the poet did not improve in mind and manners, that his knowledge of men and affairs was not increased, that his talent, or rather genius, was not developed? Burns found the lodge more congenial than any place else, and for a long time was most regular in his attendance at the different communications. We even find it stated that his enthusiasm was so great that he held lodge meetings in his farm at Mossgiel, which I take as meaning that he held Masonic schools there with the various young brethren and candidates, and among the latter was his brother, Gilbert, who on January 7, 1786, was initiated into the mysteries of the craft. Previous to that, on July 27, 1784, Burns was elevated to the position of deputy-master of his lodge, an office which caused him very often to preside at its meetings. It also made him more thoroughly acquainted with the visiting brethren of the highest degrees, one of whom, James Dalrymple, of Orangefield, stood fraternally by him in one of the most critical months of his life.

Early in 1786 Burns went to Kilmarnock for the purpose of bringing out the first edition of his poems, and at once began making himself at home with the brethren of St. John's Kiiwining Lodge there. As we can well imagine, he was received with enthusiasm, and formed a welcome addition to the ranks of the craft. To the brethren of that lodge he addressed a song, his first contribution to Masonic literature worth mentioning:

"Ye sons of old Killie, assembled by Willie,
To follow the noble vocation:
Your thrifty old mother has scarce such another
To sit in that honored station.
I've little to say, but only to pray,
As praying's the ton of your fashion;
A prayer from the Muse you well may excuse
'Tis seldom her favorite passion.

"Ye powers who preside o'er the wind and the tide,
Who marked each element's border;
Who formed this frame with beneficent aim,
Whose sovereign statute is order
Within this dear mansion may wayward contention
Or withered envy ne'er enter,
May secrecy round be the mystical bound,
And brotherly love be the centre."

While waiting at Kilmarnock an incident occurred in the life of the bard full of importance, unsatisfactory mystery, magnificent poetry and sad reflections, and upon which I would not enter were it not that by his own act he stamped it with his Masonic seal and challenges us to consider his own share in it from his standpoint as a Mason. I refer to the incident of which Highland Mary was the heroine.

How or when Burns became acquainted with Mary Campbell is not known, but in all likelihood it was while she was acting as a servant in the family of Gavin Hamilton at Mauchline. Whilst Burns was in the midst of his publication troubles, he had another and a still more serious cause for perplexity on his hands. He had courted her who afterwards became his wife, the Bonnie Jean of so many of his finest songs, and she had trusted him too implicitly. Just when his worldly affairs were at their darkest she told him that she was soon to become a mother, and, unable to do anything else, he gave her a letter acknowledging her as her wife—a document which, according to the law of Scotland as commonly understood, made them legally married. When her condition became such that she could no longer hide it from her own family, Jean informed her father and showed him her lover's letter. The old man appears to have been insane with anger. He tore the letter into shreds, upbraided his daughter for associating with such a blackguard as Burns, and threatened to clap him into jail. There is no doubt that Burns loved Jean Armour, even although she at first seemed to second her father's frantic efforts for vengeance. But when the time was at hand for Jean to become a mother, and when her father was trying to have him arrested, Burns fell head over ears in love with Mary Campbell. One Sunday they met on the banks of the Ayr and solemnly plighted their troth to each other. Mary was sincere in her affection, so was Burns—at least the Bibles which he gave her on the occasion would lead us so to infer. They were inscribed with verses from the Scriptures enforcing fidelity, and signed by Burns with his name and his mark as a Royal Arch Mason. They parted at the stream. Mary went to Greenock en route to the West Highlands to inform her friends of her approaching marriage to Burns. While sojourning at Greenock the girl sickened of a fever and died after a brief illness. Such is the story as commonly told by Burns himself and his biographers, but if we examine it, it presents many inconsistencies. By all writers, as well as by Burns himself, Mary is represented as a pure, high-minded girl, generous in her impulses, and the very perfection of innocence. Yet she must have known that the morals of Burns were not of the purest, and she must also have known all about his intimacy with Jean Armour and been fully aware of its result. She must also have learned of Burns' letter acknowledging Jean as his wife, and yet, if pure, innocent, generous, and noble minded, how was it possible for her to accept him as her betrothed? Again, the names and much of the writing on the Bibles given to Mary were afterwards partially obliterated by some one not in the habit of doing work requiring much delicacy of treatment. Now, it seems almost certain that these would not be removed by Mary's friends after her death. Why should they, since they were in every way honorable to her? Besides, Scotch peasants never cared to efface anything written or printed which bore the name of the Deity. We are left, therefore, to assume that Mary herself obliterated them, and to believe with Mr. Scott Douglas that Burns forgot all his vows as soon as she had passed from his sight, and that on learning this the poor creature effaced the names. Of Mary's part in the whole transaction, however, we can say nothing. She died and made no sign, and amongst all the gossip of the time nothing has survived of a nature substantial enough to enable us to consider the incident from her point of view. As to Burns, leaving aside the mystery with which he has chosen to invest the matter, and judging him simply by what he has told us and the events of his life at this time, his conduct was reprehensible in a marked degree. He must have known—if Mary was the pure, innocent girl he represented her to be—that he was only blasting her whole life; that he had no right to be paying her such attentions; and that in binding her love to him, as he did, with all the superstitious ceremonies so common then among the simple-minded peasantry, he was weaving a chain around her which death only could rend asunder. Judging him by his own record, when Mary went away from Ayrshire he turned to find other hearts to charm, and to bask in the sunshine of new smiles. When he learned of her untimely death, however, he was terribly affected, and the anniversary of that event, as it came round year after year, seems never to have been forgotten. He has immortalized her in some of the most beautiful and affecting lyrics in the entire realm of Scottish poetry, but all the poetry which has been given to the world since it began will not compensate for the wanton breaking of one real human heart.

Such is the story told by Burns and his biographers, and such are the sentiments to which it gives rise. But there is a great amount of mystery and discrepancy about it which has neither been fathomed nor reconciled, and in all probability never will. It is the only episode in Burns' life which he did not make perfectly clear to us, and why he should have so left it we are unable to understand. May be it is for the best that it remains in its present darkness. Of that we cannot judge.

The now famous volume of poems was published on July 31, 1786 and the edition was soon disposed of. Burns appears to have cleared £20 by the venture, and completed his arrangements for going to Jamaica, where he hoped to be far beyond the reach of the ire of old Armour, who still pursued him so closely that the bard had to "skulk" to enable him to elude the grasp of the officers of the law. But all this did not prevent his regular attendance at lodge meetings. The records show this conclusively, and also that, notwithstanding his load of private troubles, he was as bright and perfect a "worker" as ever. On one occasion he went to Tarbolton to bid farewell to the brethren there, and sung for them a song he had composed in view of the occasion, and which had appeared in his book. It was his grandest effort in Masonic composition,. and is as full of life and interest now as it was when he first committed it to paper

"Adieu! a heart-warm, fond adieu!
Dear brothers of the mystic tie,
Ye favored, ye enlightened few—
Companions of my social joy
Though I to foreign lands must hie
Pursuing Fortune's shddery ba',
With melting heart and brimful eye
I'll mind you still thougn far awa.

"Oft have I met your social band
And spent the cheerful, festive night
Oft, honored with supremr command,
I resided o'er the Sons of light,
And by that Hieroglyphic bright
Which none but craftsmen ever saw,
Strong mem'ry on my heart shall write
Those happy scenes when far awa

"May freedom, harmony, and love
Unite you in the grand design,
Beneath the Omniscient Eye above,
The glorious Architect divine!
That you may keep rh unerring line
Still rising by the plummet's law,
Till order bright completely shine,
Shall be my pray'r when far awa.

"And you farewell ! whose merits claim
Justly that highest badge to wear
Heav'n bless your honor'd, noble name
To Masonry and Scotland dear!
A last request permit roe ],ere
When yearly ye assemble a',
One round. I ask it with a tear,

To him, the bard that's far awa!"

The allusion in the last verse is to Major-General James Montgomery, Grand Master of St. James' Lodge. On October 16 Burns was elected an honorary member of St. John's Lodge, Kilmarnock. His chest was packed ready for Greenock, to the vessel on which his passage had been secured for Jamaica, when the encouraging letter from Dr. Blacklock reached his hands. In accordance with its advice he threw all his other projects aside; he determined to publish a new edition of his poems, and turned his footsteps towards Edinburgh in search of that encouragement which the good old blind poet so confidently predicted was in store for him.

Burns arrived in Edinburgh on the 28th November, 1786, and at once hunted up all Mauchline friend and brother Mason, John Richmond, and shared his room. On the same day he read an announcement in a newspaper that a procession of the Grand Lodge and subordinate lodges would take place on St. Andrew's Day, two days later, and, as usual, brethren from the country were invited to join in the parade. Burns doubtless saw the procession, if he did not take part in it, and noticed in its ranks many of the notables whom he had been acquainted with in Ayrshire. Among these were Mr. Dalrymple, of Orangefield, who w'as the first person of consequence to whom Burns introduced himself in the modern Athens, and who, as the poet wrote to Gavin Hamilton, proved a friend "who sticketh closer than a brother." On December 7 a meeting of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge was held, into which Dalrymple passed Burns and introduced him to the master, the Hon. Henry Erskine. The lodge was then in the very height of its prosperity and was regularly visited by all the illustrious men of the time in Scotland. The introduction to Harry Erskine, Dean of Faculty, was an important event to the poet, for it led to introductions to the Earl of Glencairn and the members of the Caledonian Hunt, or at least most of them. His presence in Canongate Kilwinning opened the doors of St. Luke's, St. Mary's Chapel, Journeymen Masons', and other lodges to the poet. He soon acquired a prominence among the fraternity in Edinburgh equal to that he had won in Ayrshire, and his appearance in any lodge was welcomed with delight. Within a month he was hailed in St. Andrew's Lodge by Grand Master Charteris as "Caledonia's Bard" amidst multiplied honors and repeated acclamations. A month later he was admitted a member of Canongate Kilwinning, on motion of the Right Worshipful Master, Alexander Fergusson, of Craigdarroch. The month of January, 1787, was a continued round of festivity with the poet theatre, dinner, suppers, balls, assemblies, and social parties of all kinds followed each other in profusion, and at them all the Ayrshire farmer was the leading lion. Freemasons from the country crowded into any lodge meeting at which he was expected to be present, for the honor of shaking him by the hand. Even on the streets he was recognized by the multitude, and wherever he went he was the centre of attraction. He was rased to the highest pinnacle of popular favor and social prominence by his own genius, but his Masonic connection was the immediate support which enabled him to vault into such a position, and the craft stood behind him in all his progress during his first visit to the metropolis. Another peculiarity of Burns' Edinburgh reception was that few of those who paid him marked attention belonged to the Whig school of politics, which was also another characteristic of the majority of the active members of the fraternity.

On March 1, 1787, an unusually brilliant meeting of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge was held, and at an early period in the evening the master, Fergusson of Craigdarroch, conferred on Burns the title of Poet-Laureate of the lodge, and he was crowned with a wreath of evergreen. Hence came to be fulfilled the vision he had so well describe(], in which the Scottish Muse crowned his brow with laurel:

"And wear thou this,' she solemn said,
And bound the holly round my head;
The polish'd leaves and berries red
Did rustling play,
And like a passing thought she fled
In light away."

That night was probably, in Burns' own judgment, the climax of his career. Honored by his brother-Masons as no Mason of his time had been honored, publicly acknowledged as "Caledonia's Bard" and Poet-Laureate of his lodge, his new volume passing rapidly through the press with the most brilliant prospects of success, and petted and caressed on every side, it was a grand position for a man to reach unaided by gentle birth or princely fortune; and that Burns retained his native modesty amid it all is, as has often been said, the most wonderful feature of the glowing story.

Let us now see who were the friends Burns thus acquired in Edinburgh Masonic circles, and we will at once understand, if we have read the common narratives of his career in the capital, the important service they rendered to him during that memorable winter in the annals of Scottish literature. We will also be able to see that the magnificent reception he met with was owing to his Masonic connection, and to the enthusiasm which he had infused into the breasts of the "sons of light," as well as to the kindly, fraternal feelings they entertained for one of their number who more than all other men seemed to he endowed with true manhood, and who had proclaimed, in words that sank deep into all hearts and lingered lovingly on every tongue, the dgnity of labor, the majesty of work. Highest in rank, Masonically, was Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho, the Grand Master. Then followed Lord Torphichen, a name which is associated with the history of Masonry from a very early period; Archibald Montgomery, Earl of Eglinton; James Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn—through whose influence the Caledonian Hunt became the patrons of the second edition of the poems; Patrick Miller of Dalswinton (who will ever be remembered in connection with the early history of steam navigation, he was more than a mere sentimental admirer of the bard, for, after having met him in Canongate Kilwinning and learning of his circumstances, he sent him anonymously a ten pound note—a generous and timely gift; he also afterwards offered Burns the choice of a farm at Dalswinton on own terms, and the poet selected Ellisland—a true friend certainly, worthy in every way of the couplet, in which Burns has enshrined his memory; Dalrymple of Orangefield has already been mentioned; Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, a famous Edinburgh banker, who would have been Lord Pitsligo had his forbears attended to their own business instead of marching out with Prince Charlie in the rebelion of 1745; James Burnet, Lord Monboddo, one of the Lords of Session, a zealous believer in what is now known as the Darwinian theory long before Darwin was born, and one of the most curious characters which that cabinet of curiosities —the Edinburgh Court of Session—has furnished to the world ; Fletcher Norton, afterwards Speaker of the House of Commons, who filled the senior warden's chair when Burns was crowned ; Professor Dugald Stewart, the greatest of Scottish philosophers, who was chaplain of Kilwinning Lodge; Francis Napier, Lord Napier, an officer who figured in the war of the American Revolution under General Burgoyne; William St. Clair, Earl of Rosslyn, in whose family the Grand Mastership of Scotland was long hereditary. There were hundreds of lesser degree, including very many advocates and writers such as Alexander Cunningham and William Dundas. Any one who knows Edinburgh must be aware that such legal gentry form the real backbone of its society. The scholastic profession also was represented by its leading lights. Among these was William Nicol, one of the masters in the High School, and, what is of infinitely more consequence now, one of the heroes of that grandest of all bacchanalian songs,

"WiIIie brewed a peck o' maut."

Allan Masterton, another of the heroes of the song, was also a teacher in the High School and a brother in the craft.

Such were the leading men, so far as position and social standing were concerned, who met Burns in Masonic circles, and through whom he became the fashionable hero of the season. They took, from the first, a warm personal interest in him, his poetry, and his fortunes. With such friends to give him a brotherly grip and to stand by him as brothers, is it a wonder that the most exclusive and refined houses in the metropolis were open to his visits, and that in the most fashionable parlors he was received with the honors usually awarded to distinguished strangers? Certainly not. But the wonder is that he, so recently a petty farmer in a remote county, could at once take his place in such circles and hold his own against all corners—ministers, teachers, lawyers, soldiers, litterateurs, and men of the world—and that he charmed and fascinated the most aristocratic and refined dames with as much ease as he had won the hearts of the dairy-maids and farm lassies in his own native Coila.

Let me here point out, however, that although the names mentioned mainly belong to those who form what is known as the upper crust of society, Canongate Kilwinning introduced the poet to multitudes in the lower walks of life. Masonry then as now did not much regard social distinctions. It has an aristocracy of its own, sufficient for itself, and as honorable and as ancient as any other which has ever been created. In the lodge, therefore, Burns met the meek as well as the mighty. Tom Neil, the undertaker; Shun Dow, the town guardsman; William Woods, the tragedian; Peter Williamson, the adventurer, whose career in this country and Scotland is one of the most interesting stories imaginable, and many others whose names are still remembered in the gossip of old Edinburgh, enjoyed the poet's friendship and accorded him their tenderest fraternal regard. But I need not dwell upon them, for their evidence, although it proves the democracy of Masonry, is unnecessary to establish the point I desired to make—that Burns owed his introduction to Edinburgh society through the practical interest which was taken in him by his Masonic friends.

The second edition of the poems appeared on April 21, 1787, and was an immediate success. A week or two after its appearance the poet started off on a tour through the Border Land, the grand storehouse of Scottish legendary lore. it had of course been familiar to him through the ballad minstrelsy of his native district, and, like a true poet, he had long cherished a desire of seeing for himself such a river as the Tweed, and the land of chivalry, foray, battle, and mystery which lay on either side of it. The tour led him to Dunse, Coldstream, Kelso, Berwick, Jedburgh, Melrose, and adjacent places, as well as a short distance into England. Judging by the commonplace book which he kept during the journey, the scenes through which he passed do not seem at any time to have sent him into any very excited state of poetic rapture. He was everywhere kindly received, visited many lodges along his route, (including that of St. Abb's at Eyemouth, where his companion, Bob Ainslie, was initiated into the Royal Arch), and mixed with the dignitaries and luminaries at each stopping place. In his commonplace book there are two entries, and only two, which claim our attention. At Dunse he was taken with a severe and sudden illness. It was in reality the first signal of warning that the end was coming, and, although it was unheeded as soon as it had passed over, he seems to have had a presentiment of its importance. "I am taken," he wrote, "extremely ill, with strong feverish symptoms, and take a servant of Mr. Hood's to watch me all night. Embittering remorse scares my fancy at the gloomy forebodings of death. I am determined to live for the future in such a manner as not to be scared at the approach of death. I am sure I could meet him with indifference but for the "something beyond the grave.'" Soon after he witnessed a scene which also stirred him to the depths: ''I go with Mr. Hood to see a roup of an unfortunate farmer's stock. Rigid economy and decent industry! do you preserve me from being the principal dramatis persona in such a scene of horror." Fine resolutions, good enough and complete enough, to have preserved Burns from the misery of the end which came in its own time. They were applicable to mankind generally, like the moral texts which used to adorn the head-lines of the school copy-books, but they were not applicable to Robert Burns. His mental and physical calibre alike forbade his being governed by economy, rigid or otherwise, or by industry at all plodding or regular, nor was his fear of a hereafter strong enough to impel him to walk through life a perfect paragon of all the virtues. Had he been so constituted he would never have attempted poetry. He might have plodded on, become a staid elder in the kirk, gathered an abundance of gear, had a respectable funeral, and those who inherited his possessions would have corn mernorated his virtues on a neat tombstone. But we would have had no Robert Burns. By this time his gear would have been scattered, his virtues would have been forgotten or lost in the general maelstrom of time like the perfume of, a wayside rose, and his tombstone would be unreadable, if it had not all crumbled away. The man might have been benefited by following out the good resolutions, but the poet would have suffered. The truth is that every man in this world has, according to the old saying, to ''dree his weird." He has to "warsle through" and to contend with many obstacles which are beyond his ken. Burns could no more have settled down into the life of a "douce guidman" than he could have flown, and it was well for Scotland that such was the case. Ayrshire might have gained a praiseworthy farmer, learned in crops and soils, and rich in flocks and herds, but the history of Scottish poetry would have been without its central figure, and Ayrshire, as also Dumfries-shire, been shorn of their grandest name—a name which has brought them more wealth, fame, and honor than all the warriors who have sprung from their people, or all the titled nonentities who have fattened on their soils.

Burns, after the Border tour, returned to Ayrshire, which he soon after left for a short trip through the Highlands. Then he settled in Mauchline for a while, "a rhyming. Mason-making, raking, aimless, idle fellow," as he confesses. He was again the leading Masonic light of the district, and Professor Dugald Stewart, who visited Ayrshire during the summer of 1787, thus refers to the poet: ''I was led by curiosity to attend for an hour or two a Mason lodge in Mauchline where Burns presided. He had occasion to make some short, unpremeditated compliments to different individuals, from whom he had no reason to expect a visit, and everything he said was happily conceived and favorably as well as fluently expressed. His manner of speaking in public had evidently the marks of practice in extempore elocution." A year later Burns had married Jean Armour and was settled on the farm of Ellisland, about six miles from Dumfries. On December 27, 1788, he was elected a member of St. Andrew's Lodge in that town. While at Ellisland, farming and gauging, we of course do not find that he mixed much in Masonic circles, and even after his final removal to Dumfries his attendance at lodge meetings appears to have been infrequent—six times in 1792, once in 1793, once in 1794, and twice in 1796, the last recorded visit being on April 14 of that year, almost three months before he "passed from the judgment of Dumfries and made his appeal to Time."

Thus we have followed Burns' Masonic career, at least in its most salient outlines, from the time he was initiated at Tarbolton until, at Dumfries, he was finally summoned to the Grand Lodge, the Lodge of Perfection on High, where the Supreme Architect of the Universe presides. With the exception of the Highland Mary incident—and that we may dismiss from our consideration, as its records are so incomplete and inconsistent—the connection of Burns with Freemasonry is in every way honorable to himself and to the fraternity. It found him an obscure lad whistling at the plough. It folded him in its arms, and shaped his brain and flooded his mind with its grand teachings. It elected him, even when he was completely unknown outside of its own local circle, into one of its high places, and made him, what nature intended him to be, a ruler among men. It aroused his genius, directed his Muse, and more or less colored all his sentiments. It introduced him to society and to acquaintances and friends whom he never would have known but for its connection; it spread abroad his fame over all the land, it filled his purse as it never had been filled before, and enabled him, when he settled down as a farmer once more, to begin the struggle of life again with brighter prospects than ever. And what did Burns give in return for all these? Little directly, so far as we are concerned. But in his time he was an enthusiastic worker, and in every way maintained the dignity of the craft. His own connection with it alone has given it an additional patent of nobility and certainly invested the craft in Scotland with a degree of kindly sentiment, a flavor of poetry, which it would not have had, had he never been initiated. It is true he did not write much Masonic poetry, but he proved the value of Masonry in the events of his own career, more clearly than though he had merely written in its praises. Of course we regret that his pen did not more frequently take up purely Masonic themes, for he would have placed the tenets of the profession and the character of its virtues before the world with a degree of clearness and beauty far beyond the power of any others who have written upon them. The specimens he has left us prove this beyond a doubt. I have already quoted his farewell address to the Tarbolton brethren and his verses to the lodge in Kilmarnock, and scattered through his poems are many graceful allusions which fully illustrate his apt and correct use of Masonic symbols, ritual and teaching. This regret was also expressed by the late Robert Morris, of Kentucky, who wrote "How forcibly Burns could have written of the mallet, how sweetly of the trowel! The Hour Glass—what lessons it would have yielded him! For the poetry of Freemasonry is the offspring of the heart."

At the same time we must remember that in Burns' best and most serious writings, in the highest flights of his genius, the spirit of Masonry is ever present, leading, directing, dictating, and inspiring. The three principal rounds of the ladder shown to every initiate, for instance, are well illustrated: Faith, by "The Cottar's Saturday Night;" Hope, by his "Epistle to Lapraik;" and Charity, if by nothing better, by his "Address to the Deil," where his charity is not even bounded by the bottomless pit. The principal tenets of Freemasonry have also their exemplifications in his works. How fully does his love for his brother man the lines of "Man was made to mourn;" how well the duty of relieving the distressed caused him to write of the wounded hare! And his love of truth brought forth those terrible denunciations of hypocrisy, clothed in the mask of religion, which almost make our flesh creep as we read them. But, above all these, his Masonic training inspired him with that sense, not of the equality but of the brotherhood of man, which is the summum bonum, the grand end, of all true teaching, and the haven to which our footsteps are going. This sense of brotherhood colored everything he wrote and filled him with the brightest anticipations, even as he looked at the human misery which lay around him and felt the bitter pangs which often coursed within his own breast. Even in the darkest of his moods he was filled with hope—hope for a better day ; hope for an era of kindness, love, purity, and a truer and better manhood than the world had ever seen; and that hope found expression in one of his songs, one which the world will never allow to die, one which will ever cheer workers on in the march of progress, and whose grandest sentiment echoes the fondest aspirations of all true lovers of the human race:

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will, for a' that
That sense and worth o'er a' the earth
May bear the gree, and a' that.
For a' that, and a' that
It's coming yet, for a' that
That man to man, the warld o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that."


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