The Spirit of Brother Robert Burns

In order of the Celebration of Scotlands most famous Freemason, I thought it would be nice to republish this address given by Brother Reverend Doctor Fort Newton, Past Grand Chaplain, Iowa, USA.  He gave this address in proposing the toast “To the Immoral Memory of Brother Robert Burns” at the Burns Meetings of the Scots Lodge, No. 2319 EC on 24th January 1918.

We are met this evening, as I understand it, just to love Robert Burns and one another.  Somehow I feel that Burns would rejoice to be here, for he love more than all else that festival that was half a frolic and the feast where joy and goodwill were guests.

The social magnetism of his spirit found its way into his songs, and we feel it to this day, and he was nowhere more happy, nowhere more welcome than in the fellowship of his Masonic Brethren.

Higher tribute there is none for any man to say, justly, that the world is gentler and more joyous for his having live – and this was true of Burns, whose very name is an emblem of pity, joy and the genius of fraternity.  And it is therefore that we love Robert Burns, as much for his weakness as for his strength, and all the more for that he was such an unveneered human being.

If he was a sinner, he was in that akin to ourselves, as God wots, a little good and a little bad, a little weak and a little strong, foolish when he thought he was wise and wise, often, when he feared he was foolish.

It is given but to few men thus to live in the hearts of their fellows; and today, from Ayr to Sydney, from Chicago to Bombay, the memory of Burns is a sweet perfume.  Yet, more that a fragrances, it is a living force uniting men of many lands, by a kind of Freemasonry, into a league of liberty, justice and pity.

If ever of any one, it can be said of Robert Burns, that his soul goes marching on, striding over continents and years, trampling tyrannies down.  He was the harbinger of the nineteenth century, the poet of the rights and reign of the common people, whom, it has been said, God must love because He made so many of them.

That which lives in Robert Burns, and will live while human nature is the same, is his love of justice, of honesty, his touch of pathos, of melting sympathy, his demands for liberty, his faith in man, in nature and in God – all uttered with simple speech and the golden voice of song.  His poems were little jets of love and liberty and pity finding their way out through the fissures in the granite-like theology of his day.  They came fresh from the heart of a man whom the death of a little bird set dreaming of the meaning of a world wherein life in woven of beauty, mystery and sorrow.

Such was the spirit of Robert Burns – a man passionate and piteous, compact of light and flame and beauty, capable of withering scorn of wrong, quickly shifting from the ludicrous to the horrible, poised between laughter and tears – and if by some art we could send it into all the dark places of the world, pity and joy would return to the common ways of man.

Long live the Spirit of Robert Burns, may it grow and glow to the confounding of all unkindness, all injustice, all bitterness.

He haunts his native land
As an immortal youth;                 
his hand Guides every plough                   
His presence haunts this room tonight                         
A for of mingled mist and light                 
From that far coast

 

His feet may be in the furrow, but the nobility of manhood is in his heart, on his lips the voice of eternal melody, and in his face the light of the morning star.

Robert Burns

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