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must be re-conquered over and over again; yea, day by day, that it is a state of war; that it is always slipping from those who boast it to those who fight for it; and you the foremost soldier of freedom, in this age; — it is for us to crave your judgment; who are we, that we should dictate to you? You have won your own.
We only affirm it. This country of working-men greets in you a worker. This republic greets in you a republican. We only say, “Well done, good and faithful.” You have earned your own nobility at home. We admit you ad eundum, as they say at college; we admit you to the same degree, without new trial; we suspend all rules before so paramount a merit. You may well sit a doctor in the college of liberty; you have achieved your right to interpret our Washington. And I speak the sense, not only of every generous American, but the law of mind, when I say that it is not those who live idly in the city called after his name, but those who, all over the world, think and act like him, who may claim to explain the sentiment of Washington.
Sir, whatever obstructions, from selfishness, indifference, or from property, which always sympathizes with possession, — you may encounter, we congratulate you that you have learned how to convert calamities into powers, exile into campaign, present defeat into lasting victory. For this new crusade which you preach to willing, and unwilling ears in America is a seed of armed men. You have got your story told in every palace, and log hut, and prairie camp, throughout this continent. And, as the shores of Europe and America approach every month, and their politics will one day mingle, when the crisis arrives, it will find us all instructed beforehand in the rights and wrongs of Hungary, and parties already to her freedom.
SPEECH BEFORE THE BURNS CLUB, BOSTON,
JANUARY 25, 1859
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN:—I do not know by what untoward accident it has chanced — and I forbear to inquire — that, in this accomplished circle, it should fall to me, the worst Scotsman of all, to receive your commands, and at the latest hour, too, to respond to the sentiment just offered, and which indeed makes the occasion. But I am told there is no appeal, and I must trust to the inspiration of the theme to make a fitness which does not otherwise exist.
Yet, sir, I heartily feel the singular claims of the occasion. At the first announcement, from I know not whence, that the 25th of January was the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, a sudden consent warmed the great English race, in all its kingdoms, colonies, and states, all over the world, to keep the festival.
We are here to hold our parliament with love and poesy, as men were wont to do in the middle ages. Those famous parliaments might or might not have had more stateliness, and better singers than we — though that is yet to be known -- but they could not have better reason.
I can only explain this singular unanimity in a race which rarely acts together, but rather after their watchword, each for himself -- by the fact that Robert Burns, the poet of the middle class, represents in the mind of men to-day that great uprising of the
middle class against the armed and privileged minorities — that uprising which worked politically in the American and French Revolutions, and which, not in governments so much as in education and in social order, has changed the face of the world.
In order for this destiny, his birth, breeding, and fortune were low. His organic sentiment was absolute independence, and resting as it should, on a life of labor. No man existed who could look down on him. They that looked into his eyes saw that they might look down the sky as easily. His muse and teaching was common sense, joyful, aggressive, irresistible.
Not Latimer, not Luther, struck more telling blows against false theology than did this brave singer. The confession of Augsburg,” the “ Declaration of Independence,” the French “Rights of Man,” and the “ Marseillaise” are not more weighty documents in the history of freedom than the songs of Burns. His satire has lost none of its edge. His musical arrows yet sing through the air.
He is so substantially a reformer, that I find his grand plain sense in close chain with the greatest masters - Rabelais, Shakspeare in comedy, Cervantes, Butler, and Burns. If I should add another name, I find it only in a living countryman of Burns. He is an exceptional genius. The people who care nothing for literature and poetry care for Burns. It was indifferent they thought who saw him whether he wrote verse or not; he could have done anything else as well.
Yet how true a poet he is! And the poet, too, of poor men, of hodden-gray and the Guernsey-coat, and the blouse. He has given voice to all the experiences of common life; he has endeared the farm-house and cottage, patches and poverty, beans and barley; ale,
the poor man's wine; hardship, the fear of debt, the dear society of weans and wife, of brothers and sisters, proud of each other, knowing so few, and finding amends for want and obscurity in books and thought. What a love of nature! and, shall I say it, of middleclass nature. Not great, like Goethe, in the stars, or like Byron on the ocean, or Moore in the luxurious East, but in the homely landscape which the poor see around them - black leagues of pasture and stubble, ice, and sleet, and rain, and snow-choked brooks; birds, hares, field-mice, thistles, and heather, which he daily knew. How many
'Bonny Doons,” and “John Anderson my Joes,” and “Auld Lang Synes,” all around the earth, have his verses been applied to! And his love-songs still woo and melt the youths and maids; the farm work, the country holiday, the fishing cobble, are still his debtors to-day.
And, as he was the poet of the poor, anxious, cheerful, working humanity, so had he the language of low life. He grew up in a rural district, speaking patois unintelligible to all but natives, and he has made that Lowland Scotch a Doric dialect of fame. It is the only example in history of a language made ! classic by the genius of a single man. But more than this. He had that secret of genius to draw from the bottom of society the strength of its speech, and astonish the ears of the polite with these artless words, better than art, and filtered of all offence through his beauty. It seemed odious to Luther that the devil should have all the best tunes; he would bring them into the churches; and Burns knew how to take from fairs and gypsies, blacksmiths and drovers, the speech of the market and street, and clothe it with melody.
But I am detaining you too long. The memory of Burns — I am afraid heaven and earth have taken too good care of it, to leave us anything to say. The
west winds are murmuring it. Open the windows behind you, and hearken for the incoming tide, what the waves say of it. The doves perching always on the eaves of the Stone chapel opposite, may know something about it. Every name in broad Scotland keeps his fame bright. The memory of Burns every man's, and boy's and girl's head carries snatches of his songs, and can say them by heart, and, what is strangest of all, never learned them from a book, but from mouth to mouth. The wind whispers them, the birds whistle them, the corn, barley, and bulrushes hoarsely rustle them; nay the music-boxes at Geneva are framed and toothed to play them; the handorgans of the Savoyards in all cities repeat them, and the chimes of bells ring them in the spires. They are the property and the solace of mankind.