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Memorials of Burns.
Celebration of the One Hundredth Birthday of Robert Burns
Chairman's Address at the Festival at Bristol.
URNS was born on the 25th of January, 1759,
and on the approach of the one hundredth return of that day, the proposal to celebrate it by a suitable tribute to the genius of the great national poet of Scotland, was warmly received by the general voice of his country
men. Of the comparatively few who objected to that demonstration, it was well said by Lord Ardmillan, the able and eloquent chairman of the Edinburgh meeting, that his power over the popular mind of Scotland could not “be ignored. Burns has lived, and has written, “and has a hold upon the heart of Scotland. It is well “to qualify our praises and to inculcate ihe warning “lessons of his life. But surely it is not the part of “wisdom or of virtue so to repudiate such a man, as to “consign to the cause and the friends of mischief a “name and fame so attractive and so potent.” (Long continued applause.)
CELEBRATION OF CENTENARY.
A chronicle of the Centenary was published, edited by Mr. James Ballantine, who stated in his preface, "The utmost enthusiasm pervaded all ranks and classes. “ Villages and hamlets unnoticed in statistical reports, “unrecorded in Gazetteers, had their dinners, suppers “and balls. City vied with clachan, peer with peasant, “philanthropist with patriot, philosopher with states“man, orator with poet, in honouring the memory of “the ploughman bard. The meetings were no less “ remarkable for their numbers than for their unanimity “ of sentiment; the number of speakers at each meet“ing being greatly over the average on other public “occasions, and far beyond what the space of this “chronicle can record. Many noble poems and “ eloquent orations have been omitted.”
Yet it does record at considerable length in a large and closely printed volume the principal speeches at eight hundred and seventy-one meetings in Great Britain and Ireland, the Colonies, and the United States of America.
Burns having dedicated the “ Cotter's Saturday Night” to one of his earliest and best friends, Robert Aiken, the committee of gentlemen who made the arrangements for celebrating the festival in the Hall of the Athenæum, at Bristol, invited his grandson to be chairman of the meeting. For twenty-nine years I had then been their fellow citizen interested in the commercial and civic affairs of Bristol, and its institutions, beneficent and literary; and although a native of Liverpool, was taken when seven years old to Ayrshire, now often called the land of Burns, to spend many years among the grand and beautiful Scottish scenery which inspired his muse; and also among survivors of his friends and acquaintance. Therefore I could not hesitate to accept the kind and friendly invitation, to which my heart responded, and to those circumstances the following address, now republished from the newspaper report, at the suggestion of some friends, owes
whatever interest it may possess as an endeavour to ex. press thoughts and feelings which filled our minds on
that memorable day, and which are perpetually revived by the works of the poet commemorated.
The one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns was celebrated in Bristol on the 25th of January, 1859, by two public dinners. In the large lecture hall of the Athenæum, about 126 gentlemen were present, under the presidency of P. F. Aiken, Esq. Immediately after dinner a number of ladies entered the tribune, and were received with loud applause. After the preliminary toasts had been proposed by the Chairman, and acknowledged by other speakers
The Chairman rose and said--Ladies and Gentlemen -Poets have their day-dreams, but the brightest anticipations of Robert Burns could not have imagined the events of this day, of which the animating scene before me is only one example of what is passing in many places. He did not anticipate that not only his own countrymen, but that also Englishmen, and not only Englishmen, but such a bright assemblage of that part of the creation which is the fairest and the best, would meet to do him honour-(cheers). Gentlemen, we have had a banquet such as is not to be found on Parnassus, but we are now come to the feast of reason and the flow of soul, and as you have appointed me a task of some difficulty, and one which you desire I should perform to the best of my humble ability, I claim at your hands that kind indulgence and that time which are absolutely necessary to enable me to do common justice to the theme-(hear, hear, and cheers). All nations have celebrated the public services of eminent men by triumphs, festivals, statues, monuments. Our poets, whose characters are various and their works of unequal merit, have their monuments in our churches and cathedrals. At Westminster Abbey, they cluster like stars in the Milky Way, and their dust mingles with that of heroes, statesmen, and kings. It is a sad thought that posthumous honours come too often after ONE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY
a life of comparative neglect and adversity. Milton complained that his lot fell on evil days; but little disappointed, not at all dejected, he looked forward with confident hope to the verdict of posterity. And so those best thoughts and words, that bear the stamp of immortality, come down to us in books, which Bacon finely calls “the ships of Time.” As your cargoes, merchants of Bristol, increase in value when they come from afar, so the rich freights of genius that have safely crossed the waves of time are all the more precious. The greatest fame speaks no flattery to the “dull cold “ ear of death,” but animates the living to confer benefits on their country and mankind—(cheers). In speaking of the illustrious dead, we incline to panegyric. Yet mere panegyric is fulsome and untrue, for a faultless man never yet lived. But we do not strictly scan the private characters of public benefactors, in all of whom good and evil are variously blended. It is for public services that national honours are conferred, and our experience of human nature is best applied in selfscrutiny, and self-knowledge; for our fellow man, his temperament, frailties, trials, temptations, we can but imperfectly know, and only Omniscience can judge(hear, hear). Burns as a man is not the subject before us, but Burns as a poet. His biography has been ably and impartially written, and his autobiography is given in his works with excessive openness and candour. More than sixty years have sufficed to form an estimate of what he was; but to review the story of his life is not our present purpose. Like other authors, he is subject to fair criticism, and as an honest and true man he scorned flattery and expected that praise and that blame which, with characteristic warmth, he bestowed on others. But our judgment of his writings will be incorrect unless we allow for his peculiar position and the seductions of his time. Till his 23rd year, by his brother's testimony, and to use his own words, “my “heart glowed with honest warm simplicity, un“acquainted and uncorrupted with the ways of a “ wicked world. The great misfortune of my life was