Friday 25 January 2013

Twa Excisemen

Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth (1758-1840)

Today the Scottish poet Robert Burns will be celebrated around the world with variations on the traditional supper of haggis, neeps and tatties. It was on this day in 1759 that Robert was born in Alloway, to William Burnes and Agnes Broun, and this supper tradition started in 1802.

Carmichael obviously held Burns in high esteem and in a lecture entitled 'The Poets and Poetry of Scotland' (CW223) he comments that: 

The glory of the sun the shining of the moon or the twinkling of the stars find no response from the stoical hearts of these. The “wee modest crimson tipped flower” the daisy of the field is of no moment to the careless eye or callous heart. But the kindly eye and loving heart of Burns saw beauties in the daisy that have made it for ever immortal.

Again in an unfinished essay entitled 'The Bards and Bardism of the Highlands' (CW107/1) Carmichael mentions Burns:

After Burns shined a meteor
of dazzaling brilliancy a host of imitations
appeared and although some of them
were poets of considerable merits and
sweetness none of them were able to ap-
proach their original.

Carmichael's effort to link the great poet to the Highlands via Walter Campbell who fled to Kincardine after committing mass-murder was outlined in a previous blog entry

Burns and Carmichael both worked as excisemen with Burns being commissioned 14 July 1788. Burns wrote the following verse prior to being appointed (you can listen to Paul Young reciting the verse for BBC here :       

Searching auld wives barrels,
Och-hon! the day!
That clarty barm should stain my laurels;
But-what'll ye say!
These movin' things ca'd wives and weans
Wad move the very hearts o' stanes!

Burns deliberated between farming and the excise but after a six week induction in Edinburgh accepted the excise position. Cunningham writes:

That the Poet delighted not in the name of gauger is well known: yet he would allow no one to speak ill of the Excise but himself. He was strict, but merciful: the smuggler had no chance of escape from him, while to the country purchaser he was very indulgent.       

If Carmichael and Burns ever met, what do you think they'd discuss: work or poetry?

Happy Burns' Day!

Carmichael, Alexander, ‘The Land of Lorne and the Satirists of Taynuilt', Evergreen, vol. I (Spring, 1895), pp. 110–15
CW107/1, fol. 7v
CW223. fol. 16r
Cunningham, A., The works of Robert Burns ; with his life, vol. 3 (London: James Cochrane and Company, 1834) p. 303
Henderson, T.F., Robert Burns (London: Methuen and Company, 1904)
©Courtesy of the Trustees of Burns Monument and Burns Cottage. Licensor 

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]