[1974:] Die Französische Revolution von 1789 stärkte in vielen europäischen Ländern die
Freiheitsbestrebungen - auch in Schottland. Der Pariser Volksaufstand machte den
Besitzenden Angst und gab den Besitzlosen neuen Mut. - Robert Burns [...] schrieb wenige
Jahre später dieses Lied. Es drückt das Selbstbewußtsein des 'einfachen' Mannes aus [...].
Gedanken des Humanismus und der Aufklärung, aus denen die Idee der Volkssouveränität
entstand, werden in diesen Versen ausgesprochen, die traditionelle Standeshierarchie wird
relativiert. Bürgerstolz kündigt sich in diesen Zeilen an - aber auch schon antibourgeoise
(Manfred Bonson, notes 'Scottish Folk Scene')
[1988:] [Burns] verstand es, das aufklärerische Gedankengut der militanter gewordenen
Liberalen in ein schottisches Medium zu übertragen. Er erreichte das nicht selten dadurch,
daß er die zukunftsweisenden demokratischen Ideen mit traditionell jakobitischen Texten
und Weisen verknüpfte - jakobinisches Gedankengut in jakobitischer Verkleidung.
Beispielsweise variiert sein berühmtes 'For A' That' den Refrain eines jakobitischen Liedes
mit dem Titel 'Though Geordie Reigns In Jamie's Stead':
For a' that, and a' that, and thrice as muckle as a' that
He's far beyond the seas the night, yet he'll be here for a' that
Es überrascht deshalb nicht, wenn einige seiner kämpferischen Lieder jener Jahre bald im
ganzen Land gesungen und rezitiert, ihre kaum verschlüsselten Botschaften von Freunden
wie von Feinden verstanden wurden. Einen Steuerbeamten der englischen Krone mußte
solcher Nonkonformismus in Schwierigkeiten bringen. [...] Als Burns 1792 bei seinen
Vorgesetzten als Staatsfeind denunziert wurde, mußte er sich in einem
Anhörungsverfahren rechtfertigen. [...] Welches Ausmaß und welche Formen die
Untersuchung annahm, ist im Detail nicht zu rekonstruieren.
[Jedenfalls] scheint das Ziel, ihn zur Raison zu bringen, erreicht worden zu sein. Er
beschloß, den "gefährlichen Boden der Politik" von jetzt an nicht mehr zu betreten. Unter
dem Eindruck der Maßregelung rückte er von seiner begeisterten Unterstützung der
Französischen Revolution ab. Und als man 1794/95 mit einem französischen Invasionsversuch auf der britischen Insel rechnete, beteiligte er sich ostentativ an der Aufstellung und
Organisation einer örtlichen Schutztruppe, den "Dumfries Volunteers".
(Rudi Camerer, Robert Burns 58ff)
[1999:] Wenn Elizabeth II.,
Königin auch von Schottland, am 1. Juli nach 292 Jahren wieder
ein Parlament in Edinburgh eröffnet, werden die zuweilen nicht
gerade anglophilen Untertanen im Norden des Vereinigten Königreichs
sie mit einigen ausgesuchten Schikanen behelligen. [...] Statt der
britischen Nationalhymne muß Elizabeth der Folk-Sängerin
Sheena Wellington lauschen, die ein Lied des schottischen
Nationalbarden Robert Burns vorträgt. Es besingt aufrechte,
arme Arbeiter und macht sich lustig über Fürsten, Herzöge
sowie anderes Adelspack, denen exquisite Nutzlosigkeit vorgeworfen
wird. (Hans Hoyng, Spiegel, 28. Juni)
[1959:] "A great critic ... on songs says that love and wine are the exclusive themes for song-writing. [...]" Thus Burns wrote in sending along this song to George Thomson.
Fortunately Burns followed his impulses, rather than the strictures of the "great critic", and
found political matter also to be a suitable theme for songs.
(Notes Ewan MacColl, 'Songs
of Robert Burns')
[1986:] [The picture of Scottish society Burns paints in 'The Twa Dogs'] is a preposterous
travesty, excusable in a canine intelligence, totally unworthy of that of Robert Burns. It
bears no resemblance to the picture of society to be found in the novels of [his
contemporary John] Galt. It appears rather as another of the bard's extravagances, like his
pretence of habitual drunkenness and pose as a rake.
The society of the Scottish Lowlands at this time was in fact amongst the most egalitarian in
Europe. There was class stratification here as elsewhere, but it was eased by circumstan-
ces that were peculiar to that country. In the first place, the Presbyterian National Church
was far more egalitarian in its structure than the Episcopal Church of England, and the re-
introduction of patronage could do little to undermine this. [...] If the rule of the clergy was
severe, at least they were not swayed by Burns's kind of class consciousness. [...]
A second factor was the almost universal access to education, for which the Presbyterian
Church deserves such a large share of the credit. [Edinburgh] University was run by the city
fathers of the capital, whose liberal policies turned it into the most distinguished in Europe,
in many fields of learning. The English gentry enrolled among Scottish peasants there,
excluded from Oxford and Cambridge by the religious tests at those universities. In the far
north, Highlanders without means could make the long trudge to the university of Aberdeen.
Burns himself experienced the lack of exclusiveness in the school at Ayr [where children] of
the well-heeled gentry lent him books and helped him in his studies, and it was only later
that he thought to remark on 'the immense distance between them and their ragged
Then there was Freemasonry, which exercised perhaps a more levelling, kindly influence
here than anywhere else in Europe. Brother Burns, Master Deputy of his lodge, would not
have been regarded as socially inferior by Brother Mackenzie because he was a physician
or Brother Hamilton who was a lawyer, whereas the bard was a farmer. [Burns'
contemporary, the Gaelic poet Rob Donn] did not condemn the rich for dissipations which
he celebrated in the behaviour of the poor, as Burns did in 'The Jolly Beggars' and 'The
Twa Dogs'. Rob Donn represents the norm of the age in which he lived, Burns an
aberration. (Ian Grimble, Robert Burns 46ff)
[Burns and his neighbour John Syme] shared advanced liberal opinions, and so did another
professional man with whom Burns developed a warm acquaintance in Dumfries, the physi-
cian William Maxwell. He was a year younger than the bard, and had served as a doctor
with the Republican forces in France during the revolution there; he was at the scaffold
when Louis XIV [sic!] was executed. The views of such men were not confined to any
particular rank of society in Scotland at this time. The Earl of Buchan's son Henry Erskine,
who had patronized Burns in Edinburgh and who rose to the position of Lord Advocate, was
a lifelong liberal. Lord Daer, the Earl of Selkirk's heir, was as outspoken a supporter of
constitutional reform as Syme, Maxwell or Burns. A few years later the Earl of Dundonald's
heir, Lord Cochrane, proved a more active radical than any of them.
But once the bard had become a government servant, it behoved him to be discreet in his
political statements, and particularly in his comments on the French revolution at a time
when Britain was moving towards war with France. Ever forthright to the point of tactless-
ness in his expressions of opinion, it took him longer than it ought to have done to appre-
ciate this. [He] was present when there was a disturbance during the playing of the National
Anthem [at the Theatre Royal in October, 1792]. It appears that he remained seated instead
of standing in honour of the King while some called for the revolutionary French song 'Ça
Ira' with its threat to kill aristocrats. Only a few weeks later Burns contributed an address [...]
containing an indiscreet reference to Thomas Paine's 'The Rights of Man'. Paine was a
former Exciseman, who had fled to France in this very year to escape criminal proceedings -
where he narrowly escaped being guillotined by Robespierre.
Robert Burns ought not to have been surprised when he learned that his conduct was to be
investigated, but he was. [His letter to his superiors] sounds a little disingenious, and so do
his protestations of loyalty to the royal family whom he had described so offensively [...].
Perhaps his superiors in the Excise intended only to teach him a timely lesson by giving him
a fright. Certainly the apostle of the underdog was sustained as usual by sympathy in high
places. John Erskine, a scion of the Earls of Mar, made contact with Robert Riddell as soon
as he heard of the bard's difficulties, enquiring whether a fund might be raised for his relief.
But the fracas was soon 'set to rights' [...].
(Ian Grimble, Robert Burns 108ff)
[1989:] Burns says, 'This song is mine, all except the chorus', and his name is attached to it
in the publication, 'Scot's Musical Museum'. It is simply the Bard's Song in [Burns' poem] the
'Jolly Beggars', omitting the first two verses, and substituting for these the present opening
verse and fresh chorus. "This world-renowned production was composed in January, 1795.
The poet's observations on sending it were as follows: - 'A great critic (Aikin) on songs says,
that love and wine are exclusive themes for song-writing. The following is on neither
subject, and consequently is no song but will be allowed, I think, to be two or three pretty
good prose thoughts inverted into rhyme. I do not give it for your book, but merely by way of
'vive la bagatelle'; for the piece is not really poetry.' Thomson prints the first line, 'Where's
he for honest poverty', excusing himself by the following note, 'The editor has taken the
liberty to alter the two first words of this song for the sake of the music, and because there
is an ellipsis in the line as it stands in the author's copy, which, in singing at least, has a bad
effect.' He entitles it, - The Honest Man the Best of Men.
(Notes Andy M. Stewart, 'Songs of
[1996:] It's almost impossible to disagree with this song without seeming unreasonable. 200
years later, they're still trying.
(Notes Rod Paterson, 'Songs from the Bottom Drawer')
see also :
Dick Gaughan's website