22 Nov 2013

Beautiful Burns

Jean, I'll be mair thought o' a hundred years hence that now. - Robert Burns to his wife.

The book orders for next year have begun arriving, and for the past week or so I've been posting the most interesting arrival each day on A Peaceful Day's FaceBook page. Sort of book porn, if you will.

Today's book is possibly the most beautiful book I've ever seen, and now it's mine.  All mine!  Anyhow, I thought that it was beautiful enough to deserve a post on my poor neglected blog.  After all, I know many of you are fellow FaceBookers, but I'm sure not all of you are, and I thought you might like a little peak too.  Isn't it just lovely - so Victorian in all its over-the-top exuberance!

Here's a look inside:

The illustrations are not quite as OTT as the cover, are they?  They're quite restrained an elegant, in fact!

For those of you interested in such things, it was published in 1884 in New York by R. Worthington, and its full title is The Poetical Works of Robert Burns - Illustrated.  Abe has three copies of widely varying prices here.

Burns is my favourite poet - possibly, okay, probably, because he was my dear Dad's before me, and this new book, despite being the most beautiful of the many on my shelves is not the most precious to me.  That honour goes to this far more restrained and demure little paperback version below.  This was my Dad's favourite book, and was given to me by my mum soon after he died.  I love it very much.

Although it far less beautiful than my new book, this one is interesting in its own right.  Despite being, to my father at least, an excellent selection of Burns' most wonderful poems, this book has as its full name Brithers A' - A Minute a Day with Burns, Poet, Lover and Prophet of Brotherhood.

Now anyone who knows Burns is aware that the first two descriptors are correct, but Prophet?  And of what Brotherhood, precisely?  After reading this website, I am inclined to think that The Brotherhood is another name for the Freemasons, and it is true that Masons consider themselves brothers who have taken an oath of mutual support to each other. (Not that I knew that, but Google did.) This would explain the layout of the book as a sort of devotional to Burns.  The aim of the book is' to place within the limit of an hour's reading, the spirit, teaching and song of Burns on humanity, love and brotherhood.'

Here's what the author says:  Burns had a great message for his time and all time.  His glorious vision was one of love, creative, all-sufficient, all-pervading, unending, undying.  That he failed to fully grasp, obey and follow perfect love that must ultimately rule and guide all things brings him nearer our frailties and failures, and inspires in us a great sympathy and fellow-feeling, for, though his particular failures may not have been ours, each heart knows its own secret failure.

"A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind."

Yes, well, right.  Moving right along.  Anyhow.  Regardless of the weird and wonderful reasons surrounding the writing of this book, the poems, grouped under interesting sub-headings stand on their own.  Without the mumbo-jumbo.  And I just adore Burns' poetry. And this book.  You can find your own copy here.

So there you are. My most beautiful book, and my most favouritest book both in the same post.

I'll leave you know with lines from couple of my favourite Burns poems. The first is a somewhat autobiographical song, Rantin', Rovin', Robin. Youtube is great for a poet like burns, if your Scots accent is not quite as authentic as my Dad's!

The gossip keekit in his loof,
Quo' scho, "Wha lives will see the proof,
This waly boy will be nae coof:
I think we'll ca' him Robin."

Robin was a rovin' boy,
Rantin', rovin', rantin', rovin',
Robin was a rovin' boy,
Rantin', rovin', Robin!

This next selection, To a Mouse is the first poem I learned by heart.  I can't remember what for - it was something for school, though.  Dad loved that fact that I could recite it!  I remember I thought it wonderful that a great poet like burns would think of writing an ode to a mouse.  I thought that was kinda cool.  Of course, Burns also write a poem to a louse, and another to a haggis, but I suspect I didn't know that at the time. I was about Jemimah's age, I reckon.

These final lines come from the poem, The Cotter's Saturday Night. Do read the whole poem sometime. Here's my favourite bit. It's about family devotions. Enjoy.  I'll be back with more book porn on FaceBook on Monday.

The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face,
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide;
The sire turns o'er, with patriarchal grace,
The big ha'bible, ance his father's pride:
His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care;
And "Let us worship God!" he says with solemn air.

They chant their artless notes in simple guise,
They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim;
Perhaps Dundee's wild-warbling measures rise;
Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name;
Or noble Elgin beets the heaven-ward flame;
The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays:
Compar'd with these, Italian trills are tame;
The tickl'd ears no heart-felt raptures raise;
Nae unison hae they with our Creator's praise.

The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek's ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of Heaven's avenging ire;
Or Job's pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah's wild, seraphic fire;
Or other holy seers that tune the sacred lyre.

Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed;
How He, who bore in Heaven the second name,
Had not on earth whereon to lay His head:
How His first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land:
How he, who lone in Patmos banished,
Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand,
And heard great Bab'lon's doom pronounc'd by Heaven's command.

Then, kneeling down to Heaven's Eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays:
Hope "springs exulting on triumphant wing,"^1
That thus they all shall meet in future days,
There, ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear,
Together hymning their Creator's praise,
In such society, yet still more dear;
While circling Time moves round in an eternal sphere

Compar'd with this, how poor Religion's pride,
In all the pomp of method, and of art;
When men display to congregations wide

Devotion's ev'ry grace, except the heart!
The Power, incens'd, the pageant will desert,
The pompous strain, the sacerdotal stole;
But haply, in some cottage far apart,
May hear, well-pleas'd, the language of the soul;
And in His Book of Life the inmates poor enroll.


  1. The cover of your new book is exquisite! Lovely sentiment sourrounding your Dads book, thank you for sharing. :)

  2. Listening. Enjoying but can't understand a word of it!
    So precious to have your dad's book and that he read from it and you heard it. These are the precious moments of our lives which become so much more when the loved one is gone. Makes me miss my Dad. (sniff)

  3. What a lovely book! And you're right, we non-FBers are just missing out. ;)

    Our Burns is a paperback published by Geddes & Grosset, Selected Burns for Young Readers.

    Have you read the Martha series of Little House books by Melissa Wiley? (I forget whether you've mentioned.) Martha (late 1700's) is introduced to Burns by her governess, and memorizes Tam O'Shanter.


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