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Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
01-28-2024, 09:42 AM
Post: #1
Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
THE YEAR IS 1865

Dinner has been served, toasts given and received, cigars lit. A tall and dignified if slightly stooped man is reciting “To a Mouse.” “Wee sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie Oh what a panic’s in thy breastie! Thou need na start awa’ sae hasty wi’ bickerin’ brattle! I’d be laith to run and chase thee wi’ murdering’ pattle.”

The speaker was famous for his rich and sonorous Midwestern drawl, but the accent tonight was unmistakably Ayrshire. It’s not clear whether the assembled dignitaries had wanted Burns with their Brandy. Then again, when the performer is Abraham Lincoln, who the hell is going to object?

Because this was no ordinary dinner and this was no ordinary gathering. Lincoln had won the war and achieved a second term, but now he had to win the peace. To that end, he invited all the senators and all the governors to the Whitehouse for the weekend to plan the rebirth of a nation rent asunder by a protracted and bitter civil war.

To a captivated audience, he continued to recite. “I’m truly sorry man’s dominion Has broken nature’s social union, And justifees that ill opinion that makes me startle at thee, Thy pair earth born companion and fellow mortal."

How those words must have resonated with the leaders of a shattered America. It was all too much for one old senator, who turned to Lincoln’s secretary, the softly-spoken John Hay and said: “What the hell is Abe talking about?"

“It’s Scotch, sir” replied Hay. “The President adores the Scotchman who wrote it. He reads him constantly and recites him every evening. He says he would not be the man he was, would not have won the war, indeed would not have been President, had it not been for Robert Burns."

As Lincoln concluded the poem he turned to Hay. “Now we have won this great war, I must make good on my promise to go to Scotland and pay homage to the man without whom everything would be different. Tomorrow you must book my passage."

Hay did indeed book the President’s sailing, but the ship left without him. A few days after the dinner, Lincoln visited the theatre and a bullet from the gun of John Wilkes Booth meant that this was a pilgrimage that would never be made. And so ended one of the truly great political careers, and a life and a politics shaped utterly and enduringly and fundamentally by the writings of a farmer and exciseman from Alloway who had been dead for 70 years.

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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02-02-2024, 11:50 AM
Post: #2
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
This is an interesting story.

This year on Burns Night (January 25), I gave a short presentation about the history of the celebration and how Burns' Night Suppers were held throughout the English speaking world. Burns Societies were popular social group throughout America. Does anyone know if there was a Burns Society in Springfield? If so, did the Lincolns belong to it?
They both loved the poetry of the Scottish Bard, and I would think if there was a Burns Society, Abraham and Mary would have attended. They may have even hosted a few Burns Suppers in their home.

No other author commands the respect that has been given to Robert Burns. We celebrate Robert Burns Day, but there has never been a William Shakespeare Day or a James Joyce Day. The poetry of Robert Burns has impacted the world. But I do recommend searching for a modern translation to read. The Scottish dialect is often difficult to sort out.
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02-02-2024, 06:28 PM
Post: #3
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-02-2024 11:50 AM)Donna McCreary Wrote:  Does anyone know if there was a Burns Society in Springfield? If so, did the Lincolns belong to it?

Donna, this afternoon I did some research on this and drew a blank.
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02-02-2024, 09:48 PM
Post: #4
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
Here is one of many of Robert Burns poems (and one of my favorites) turned into a song.
"My Hearts in The Highlands"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqXousQGNv0

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
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02-03-2024, 09:31 AM
Post: #5
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-02-2024 09:48 PM)Gene C Wrote:  Here is one of many of Robert Burns poems (and one of my favorites) turned into a song.
"My Hearts in The Highlands"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqXousQGNv0

"My Heart's in the Highlands" is a 1789 song and poem by Robert Burns, sung to the tune "Failte na Miosg".

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands forever I'll love.

(Chorus)
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover'd with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green valleys below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.


(Chorus)
My heart's in the Highlands my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherev'r I go
My heart's in the Highlands, farewell.

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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02-03-2024, 04:50 PM
Post: #6
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-02-2024 06:28 PM)RJNorton Wrote:  
(02-02-2024 11:50 AM)Donna McCreary Wrote:  Does anyone know if there was a Burns Society in Springfield? If so, did the Lincolns belong to it?

Donna, this afternoon I did some research on this and drew a blank.

Would be interesting to know when Lincoln first read Burns.

“The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that” Robert Burns
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02-03-2024, 08:13 PM
Post: #7
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-02-2024 11:50 AM)Donna McCreary Wrote:  The Scottish dialect is often difficult to sort out.

I absolutely agree with your statement.

And, sometimes there is a also noticeable difference in philosophy between Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns. And, I wonder how Lincoln reconciled that difference. Robert Burns was somewhat of a rogue (i.e., a mischievous and double-standard person).

For instance, my favorite Robert Burns' poem, of the few that I have read, is "To a Mouse."

The following is the original Scottish version:

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

The beauty of the Scottish language is almost musical. Note the symmetry.

The adequate English translation that I have found reads:

But mouse-friend, you are not alone
in proving foresight may be vain:
the best-laid schemes of Mice and Men
go oft awry,
and leave us only grief and pain,
for promised joy!


I believe that Lincoln would have substituted the word "plans" in his way of thinking for the word "schemes" in the original Robert Burns' work.

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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02-04-2024, 02:39 PM
Post: #8
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
The Scottish accent varies from region to region. I recall a friend from Glasgow being very contemptuous of people from Edinburgh and copying their accent by using a very exact and 'English-like' style "Ech-chually, Aye coom frum Head-ing brough".

Glasgow accent (very rough and indistinct to most of us) is as different from Dundee's (very precise and clear) as London's is to a Liverpool accent.

“The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that” Robert Burns
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02-04-2024, 07:30 PM
Post: #9
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-03-2024 04:50 PM)AussieMick Wrote:  Would be interesting to know when Lincoln first read Burns.

I thought it was New Salem, but I came across this -

In LINCOLN'S BOYHOOD: A Chronicle of His Indiana Years by Francis Marion Van Natter it says:

"As Lincoln's hunger for books mounted it was accompanied by increasing interest in Robert Burns' poems. Abe thought highly of the Scottish plowman's homey philosophy. Observed Isaac Arnold: "Burns he could quote from end to end."
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02-05-2024, 11:42 AM
Post: #10
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-04-2024 07:30 PM)RJNorton Wrote:  
(02-03-2024 04:50 PM)AussieMick Wrote:  Would be interesting to know when Lincoln first read Burns.

I thought it was New Salem, but I came across this -

In LINCOLN'S BOYHOOD: A Chronicle of His Indiana Years by Francis Marion Van Natter it says:

"As Lincoln's hunger for books mounted it was accompanied by increasing interest in Robert Burns' poems. Abe thought highly of the Scottish plowman's homey philosophy. Observed Isaac Arnold: "Burns he could quote from end to end."

Roger, A "Postscript" to the Alec Ross initial quotation:

Postscript – Lincoln’s lifelong fascination with Burns began when he met a guy called Jack Kelso, an immigrant Scot from Govan, when he was wee. Kelso gave Abe the collected works of Burns. Never looked back. Kelso, incidentally, was reputed to have one of the largest private libraries in America. He was previously a Glasgow schoolteacher.

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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02-05-2024, 01:55 PM
Post: #11
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-05-2024 11:42 AM)David Lockmiller Wrote:  Roger, A "Postscript" to the Alec Ross initial quotation:

Postscript – Lincoln’s lifelong fascination with Burns began when he met a guy called Jack Kelso, an immigrant Scot from Govan, when he was wee. Kelso gave Abe the collected works of Burns. Never looked back. Kelso, incidentally, was reputed to have one of the largest private libraries in America. He was previously a Glasgow schoolteacher.

That is what I thought, too. Possibly Isaac Arnold and Francis Marion Van Natter are outliers.
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02-11-2024, 09:42 PM (This post was last modified: 02-11-2024 09:58 PM by Donna McCreary.)
Post: #12
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
(02-03-2024 08:13 PM)David Lockmiller Wrote:  
(02-02-2024 11:50 AM)Donna McCreary Wrote:  The Scottish dialect is often difficult to sort out.

I absolutely agree with your statement.

And, sometimes there is a also noticeable difference in philosophy between Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns. And, I wonder how Lincoln reconciled that difference. Robert Burns was somewhat of a rogue (i.e., a mischievous and double-standard person).

For instance, my favorite Robert Burns' poem, of the few that I have read, is "To a Mouse."

The following is the original Scottish version:

But Mousie, thou are no thy-lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

The beauty of the Scottish language is almost musical. Note the symmetry.

The adequate English translation that I have found reads:

But mouse-friend, you are not alone
in proving foresight may be vain:
the best-laid schemes of Mice and Men
go oft awry,
and leave us only grief and pain,
for promised joy!


I believe that Lincoln would have substituted the word "plans" in his way of thinking for the word "schemes" in the original Robert Burns' work.

But that changes the meaning and intent of Burns. There is a difference between what a man plans and what a man schemes. It is the man's schemes that go awry - not his plans.

(02-02-2024 06:28 PM)RJNorton Wrote:  
(02-02-2024 11:50 AM)Donna McCreary Wrote:  Does anyone know if there was a Burns Society in Springfield? If so, did the Lincolns belong to it?

Donna, this afternoon I did some research on this and drew a blank.

There is one in Chicago, and the one in Rockford, Illinois is the oldest one in the state. So far, I have not found anything about one in Springfield.
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02-12-2024, 12:08 AM (This post was last modified: 02-12-2024 12:09 AM by David Lockmiller.)
Post: #13
RE: Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns by Alec Ross
dicutionary.com defines "scheme":

noun
(1) a plan, design, or program of action to be followed; project.

(2) an underhand plot; intrigue.

I think President Lincoln was a "planner" and Robert Burns was kind of "schemer" in my opinion.

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the truth of anything by history." -- Plutarch
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