Scott and Burns – January 1921

It is the burning patriotism, the family loyalty and the pride of race which endear Burns and Scott to us. In especial, the soul of Burns was steeped through and through with Scottish sentiment.

On the surface, the great ambition of his life was to purify Scottish song and rescue from oblivion and extinction our native melodies. In this he was successful far beyond his dreams as all who work whole heartedly and from disinterested motives “build better than they know.”

Burns regarded “Auld Scotia” with the loving fidelity and playful respect that a man full grown accords to the venerable mother whose son he is proud to call himself. If he could only make a bit sang in her honour he would ask nothing higher. It would take up too much space to give quotations or I should love to draw a full length portrait of Burns in the character of the ardent, faithful, grateful, brilliant, pawky playful son of Scotia. With all his errors she may well thank God humbly and proudly that she was privileged to give him birth.

But a man is not only the least worthy member of the community, patriot or citizen of the world because he puts his mother first. Rather he ought to be the better. Because I put first duty to my own family it does not necessitate me despising or hating other families. It does not even mean that I rate my own family higher than that over the way.

True patriotism is true love of country and should teach us to regard other nationalities just as the highest home training is that which teaches us to regard all mankind irrespective of supervision and accidental division.

And herein does the soul of Robert Burns shine with a pure white glow. In an age of sycophancy when men of letters, if poor, crawled at the feet of the rich he held himself upright, knowing that “rank is but the guinea stamp, the man’s the gowd for a’ that.”

His love of country did not narrow his sympathies. It made them wide as the world of mankind. Deeper than his love of Scotia was his love of all men as brothers. It was like a clarion note in his soul: “A man’s a man for a’that.” It was his dream that one day afar off all the families of the earth would be united in a common bond of brotherhoood. Never before and never since, as a poet of the people, sorely tried and beaten in the battle of life was there struck such a clear note of Christ-like prophecy.

Nearly 130 years have passed since his death and we are as far away as ever from realisation of that dream. And why? Because of a false and selfish patriotism that is sedulously cultivated by all the nations of the earth.

Let me take Robert Burns as my great exemplar in patriotism; his deep and tender love of Scotia enfolded in a deeper regard for all mankind.

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