Here’s A Toast to Rabbie

Wednesday, and Susan Sarah here….

Eildon_1 The first time my husband and I went to Scotland (without kids, thanks to a wonderful cousin), we took a wee day tour from Edinburgh up into the Highlands with a coach company called “Rabbie’s Tours.”
“Who’s Rabbie?” I asked the driver.
He looked at me as if I was a looney. “Rabbie Burns!”

Well, I’ve learned a good deal about Rabbie Burns since then. Robert Burns was one of Scotland’s "favorite sons," an 18th century poet and songwriter—and as part of my acquaintance with the memory of the good Mr. Burns, I’ve attended several Burns Night Suppers, and hosted my own as well.
Burns Night is a Scottish tradition, held on the 25th of January–-or as near as one can get to it. I’ve been to Burns Nights in February, even as late as March, though the ideal is January 25th in honor of Robert Burns’s birthday. While not everyone in Scotland, or elsewhere of Scottish descent, celebrates Burns Night, it’s a widely known annual event that honors a man who wrote poetry and ballads, a brilliant, bold writer who was as much a rebel as a romantic with his pen.

Why raise a virtual glass to Robert Burns on the Word Wenches blog (I mean, besides the fact that it’s Wednesday, and I needed a fresh blog)?  Robert Burns is a fascinating example of a late Georgian gentleman, not a titled peer but a man of the educated upper working class so highly respected in Scotland, and one of the literati of his day; born in Ayrshire, he spent much of his life in the Lowlands and chiefly Edinburgh, and he worked a stint as an excise officer–even wrote some of his verses while lying in wait for smugglers along the Solway coast.
Robertburns_1  He flourished during an age of revolution and enlightenment, and his writings, admired in his lifetime, helped establish the romantic revival of Scottish culture and national pride at a time when the Scots were perhaps at their lowest ebb. He wrote brilliant poetry and songs that celebrated the romantic, noble heart of the Scots and of all mankind, and he wrote a lot of bawdy and downright hilarious verses; and he loved women (literally and often)…and besides, any historical romance writer worth the ink in her pen would have to stop to take a second look at Rabbie Burns — check out that portrait!   😉

Burns was born in 1759, and grew up in a time when the Scots needed a Robert Burns far more than they needed another Bruce or Wallace.  The time for martial heroics had passed.  In a larger sense, Burns’s poetry and songs helped to heal and restore Scottish pride and uplift the Scottish spirit after his countrymen had taken one of its worst beatings in centuries, with the devastation at Culloden in April, 1746 and the general humiliation of the Scots under the English–including the forbidding of the tartan until 1782–in the years that followed.
Burns wrote of Scottish freedom with fire and fervor, perhaps in response to the political upheavals of the 1790s. In his imagined address given by Bruce at Bannockburn, the lines still ring with a rebel’s natural passion:
Scots wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots wham Bruce has aften led
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victorie!

Robbie Burns was well qualified to write romantic love songs and poetry as well.  He loved women, often… and to give the man credit, he seems to have understood women and respected them to a greater degree than many of his contemporaries–though that respect and appetite gave him a roving eye, and he said himself that he was "a miserable dupe to love."
There was Nellie, when he was 15, who encouraged him to write his first poem:
And whilst that virtue warms my breast
I’ll love my handsome Nell.

When he was 16, there was Margaret, to whom he proposed–
Peggy dear…My fair, my lovely charmer!
And Allison, to whom he proposed –
And by thy een sae bonie blue, / I swear I’m thine forever, O!

Robbie goes to dancing school, affording him many opportunities to research his love songs, and eventually resulting in the birth of Bess, the first of twelve children of different mothers, one of whom, the long-suffering and generous-hearted Jean Armour, he married. Of his darling Bess, he wrote:
Welcome, lily bonie, sweet, wee dochter!
Tho’ ye come here a wee unsought for

He helped found the Tarbolton Bachelors Club as its president. One of the rules stated that each member must be: “a professed lover of one or more of the female sex." No Hellfire Club for these wholesome, idealistic, lusty young Scottish gents, no dark catacombs and lechery, just true admirers and cravers after their opposite gender.
Robert Burns understood love in all its forms, joyful and sad, frolicking and profound.  He understood passion…very well…and he experienced the full gamut of love and life himself.  Even though he died far too young, his songs and his poetry reflect a genius ability to express emotional richness.
Ye banks and braes o’ bonnie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary, fu’ o’ care!

The ritual of the Burns Supper was started by his close friends a few years after his death, and the format is very much the same today, including the various whisky toasts, the welcome to the Haggis, and so on.
Even today, the traditions of a Burns Night Supper are set, a series of recitations, addresses, toasts and songs. Burns is liberally quoted, though not all the verses and pieces recited are by Burns. Creative interpretation and original material encouraged, and most all is delivered very tongue-in-cheek — after all, one of Burns’s most enduring qualities was a rollicking sense of humor.
The guests are treated to a very fine meal, the highlight of which is the serving of the haggis, and each of the several courses is accompanied by frequent toasting with whisky.  In general, the stages of the dinner are:

Piping in the guests– in grand style, with bagpipes if you can find a piper, but a CD will do.
The Selkirk Grace, which Burns wrote:
Some hae meat and canna eat
Some canna eat that want it
But we hae meat and we can eat
Sae let the Lord be thankit

Piping in the Haggis: the haggis is carried in on a silver platter to bagpipe music, and the whisky glasses are filled in anticipation of lots of toasts.
Address to the Haggis: the reciting of "To A Haggis"  a long, and very funny, exultation by Burns which begins:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face
Great chieftain o’ the pudden race!

Toast to the Haggis: raucous cheers and raise glasses when the haggis is sliced, steaming hot, and served to all (and even I, the non-meat eater, must at least taste…and really it’s not bad at all! Sausagey-like. Think Kielbasa, which can be used as a substitute when true Haggis cannot be found).

The main course is then served: a wide variety of traditional Scots fare might be served, but always include neeps ‘n tatties (turnips and potatoes). As the meal is finishing up-– often with a lovely dessert such as sherry trifle–one or two of the guests might perform a couple of Burns’s songs (he wrote a gazillion of them, among them Flow Gently Sweet Afton, Green Grow the Rashes O, and A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation).

The Immortal Memory Toast – a fairly substantial address to the memory of Burns, which can be a mix of biography, poetry reading and even singing, can be a heart-wrencher as well as funny, and should wrap up with a rousing toast to Robert Burns. I’ve given the Immortal Memory a few times myself. One of my addresses posed the question, Why does Robbie Burns Rate a Supper? And after running through the facts of his life, and the long, long (long) list of his true loves and the scrapes he got into, all of the above either funny or heart-wrenching, it seemed that nothing explained adequately why he got a supper in the first place (though perhaps, because his friends began the tradition, they remembered many a raucous supper in Rabbie’s good company) — but my examined conclusion was that it was because he wrote about food a lot – haggis, whiskey, puddin’, fricasee, stew, ragout – so a supper for Rabbie is a perfect tribute.

The Toast to the Lassies: one of the male guests stands to address the ladies with a touching, reverent, brilliant…okay often bawdy…tribute to the female gender, and the whisky glasses are raised once again.  My husband has been asked to give the Toast to the Lassies this year, so I’d better duck.

The Reply to the Laddies: one of the female guests stands to respond in kind. This can be bawdy, irreverent…okay and often points out the finer qualities of the male gender. But not always. And this year, it’s my turn to give the Reply, so my husband better duck if his Toast isn’t adoring (he won’t let me see his address beforehand, but that’s okay, I won’t let him know what I have planned either!).
Then it’s time for "Auld Lang Syne," either sung or listened to, and glasses are raised in final toast as the planned part of the festivities wraps up. Often things end with a final toast to Robert Burns, usually with a quote from the great man himself.

My last year’s Immortal Memory Tribute ended with this quote from "Scotch Drink" (Gie him strong drink/until he wink/that’s sinkin’ in despair), where Burns talks about the virtues of whisky:
Food fills the wame, an’ keeps us livin
Tho life’s a gift no worth receivin
When heavy-dragg’d wi’ pine an’ grievin
But oil’d by thee
The wheel’s o’ life gae down-hill scrievin
Wi’ rattlin glee.

So here’s to the wheels o’ life, and here’s to Robert Burns!

~Susan Sarah

p.s. — My last week’s blog, "The End," has a winner!  Nina’s name was chosen at random!  So NIna — if you’re reading this, send me your address and I’ll send you a wee buik. 🙂

52 thoughts on “Here’s A Toast to Rabbie”

  1. I defended my MA thesis on Jan 25 in the 90s. My dh’s late Scottish grandmother told me it was good luck 🙂 And she was right!
    Thanks for all the info. That’s what’s great about WW – y’all talk about things that really interest me 🙂
    My b-i-l is a piper, so is often called on to pipe in the haggis. Unfortunately, we live in separate provinces, so I’ve never taken part in a dinner at which he’s played.

    Reply
  2. I defended my MA thesis on Jan 25 in the 90s. My dh’s late Scottish grandmother told me it was good luck 🙂 And she was right!
    Thanks for all the info. That’s what’s great about WW – y’all talk about things that really interest me 🙂
    My b-i-l is a piper, so is often called on to pipe in the haggis. Unfortunately, we live in separate provinces, so I’ve never taken part in a dinner at which he’s played.

    Reply
  3. I defended my MA thesis on Jan 25 in the 90s. My dh’s late Scottish grandmother told me it was good luck 🙂 And she was right!
    Thanks for all the info. That’s what’s great about WW – y’all talk about things that really interest me 🙂
    My b-i-l is a piper, so is often called on to pipe in the haggis. Unfortunately, we live in separate provinces, so I’ve never taken part in a dinner at which he’s played.

    Reply
  4. I defended my MA thesis on Jan 25 in the 90s. My dh’s late Scottish grandmother told me it was good luck 🙂 And she was right!
    Thanks for all the info. That’s what’s great about WW – y’all talk about things that really interest me 🙂
    My b-i-l is a piper, so is often called on to pipe in the haggis. Unfortunately, we live in separate provinces, so I’ve never taken part in a dinner at which he’s played.

    Reply
  5. Hi Susan/Sarah!
    What a wonderful, informative post. Now I want to go off and read Burns. All the best to you on your reply to the Laddies. May they blush down to their toes. *G*
    And, thank you so much for the book. It’s always great to be picked. I sent my info to your sarahgabriel.com email address.
    Nina

    Reply
  6. Hi Susan/Sarah!
    What a wonderful, informative post. Now I want to go off and read Burns. All the best to you on your reply to the Laddies. May they blush down to their toes. *G*
    And, thank you so much for the book. It’s always great to be picked. I sent my info to your sarahgabriel.com email address.
    Nina

    Reply
  7. Hi Susan/Sarah!
    What a wonderful, informative post. Now I want to go off and read Burns. All the best to you on your reply to the Laddies. May they blush down to their toes. *G*
    And, thank you so much for the book. It’s always great to be picked. I sent my info to your sarahgabriel.com email address.
    Nina

    Reply
  8. Hi Susan/Sarah!
    What a wonderful, informative post. Now I want to go off and read Burns. All the best to you on your reply to the Laddies. May they blush down to their toes. *G*
    And, thank you so much for the book. It’s always great to be picked. I sent my info to your sarahgabriel.com email address.
    Nina

    Reply
  9. I was in England 1997-98 as part of a program that placed young volunteers (official age range 18-25, but they let me in at 26) in various churches and nonprofits around the country. I begged for Scotland on my application, but instead got sent to run the children’s program at a church with a largely Scottish congregation in Bristol. (Which is just as well, because I hit it off at orientation with one of the other American volunteers and started dating him, and he was with a nonprofit in Reading, which isn’t at all far from Bristol by train. If I’d been up in Inverness, maybe nothing would’ve come of the relationship, and I wouldn’t have followed the guy to Seattle, married him, and had our wonderful daughter. But that’s another story.)
    Anyway, I ended up as the pastor’s “date” for Burns Night, since his own girlfriend was out of town. Everyone seated at the head table, including us, was piped in after the rest of the guests were seated–a rather startling experience for this introvert!
    As for Burns’ bawdy side, I have to share the song I stumbled across while looking for a song for a Scottish character to sing. It’s called “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady”:
    http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiNINEINCH;ttNINEINCH.html
    Needless to say, I picked something tamer for my genteel heroine!

    Reply
  10. I was in England 1997-98 as part of a program that placed young volunteers (official age range 18-25, but they let me in at 26) in various churches and nonprofits around the country. I begged for Scotland on my application, but instead got sent to run the children’s program at a church with a largely Scottish congregation in Bristol. (Which is just as well, because I hit it off at orientation with one of the other American volunteers and started dating him, and he was with a nonprofit in Reading, which isn’t at all far from Bristol by train. If I’d been up in Inverness, maybe nothing would’ve come of the relationship, and I wouldn’t have followed the guy to Seattle, married him, and had our wonderful daughter. But that’s another story.)
    Anyway, I ended up as the pastor’s “date” for Burns Night, since his own girlfriend was out of town. Everyone seated at the head table, including us, was piped in after the rest of the guests were seated–a rather startling experience for this introvert!
    As for Burns’ bawdy side, I have to share the song I stumbled across while looking for a song for a Scottish character to sing. It’s called “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady”:
    http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiNINEINCH;ttNINEINCH.html
    Needless to say, I picked something tamer for my genteel heroine!

    Reply
  11. I was in England 1997-98 as part of a program that placed young volunteers (official age range 18-25, but they let me in at 26) in various churches and nonprofits around the country. I begged for Scotland on my application, but instead got sent to run the children’s program at a church with a largely Scottish congregation in Bristol. (Which is just as well, because I hit it off at orientation with one of the other American volunteers and started dating him, and he was with a nonprofit in Reading, which isn’t at all far from Bristol by train. If I’d been up in Inverness, maybe nothing would’ve come of the relationship, and I wouldn’t have followed the guy to Seattle, married him, and had our wonderful daughter. But that’s another story.)
    Anyway, I ended up as the pastor’s “date” for Burns Night, since his own girlfriend was out of town. Everyone seated at the head table, including us, was piped in after the rest of the guests were seated–a rather startling experience for this introvert!
    As for Burns’ bawdy side, I have to share the song I stumbled across while looking for a song for a Scottish character to sing. It’s called “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady”:
    http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiNINEINCH;ttNINEINCH.html
    Needless to say, I picked something tamer for my genteel heroine!

    Reply
  12. I was in England 1997-98 as part of a program that placed young volunteers (official age range 18-25, but they let me in at 26) in various churches and nonprofits around the country. I begged for Scotland on my application, but instead got sent to run the children’s program at a church with a largely Scottish congregation in Bristol. (Which is just as well, because I hit it off at orientation with one of the other American volunteers and started dating him, and he was with a nonprofit in Reading, which isn’t at all far from Bristol by train. If I’d been up in Inverness, maybe nothing would’ve come of the relationship, and I wouldn’t have followed the guy to Seattle, married him, and had our wonderful daughter. But that’s another story.)
    Anyway, I ended up as the pastor’s “date” for Burns Night, since his own girlfriend was out of town. Everyone seated at the head table, including us, was piped in after the rest of the guests were seated–a rather startling experience for this introvert!
    As for Burns’ bawdy side, I have to share the song I stumbled across while looking for a song for a Scottish character to sing. It’s called “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady”:
    http://sniff.numachi.com/pages/tiNINEINCH;ttNINEINCH.html
    Needless to say, I picked something tamer for my genteel heroine!

    Reply
  13. ah, Robert Burns! My mother’s favorite- she had a huge book, the Complete Works of Robert Burns, which my sister still has. A former English major, she left teaching for a time when she had five children in the span of 8 years!But rather than let her intellect atrophy, she merely combined her vocations, and when we wanted a story read to us, she would read us “Tam O’Shanter”. “Well done, Cutty Sark!” I still love Burns. I’d love to attend a Burns Night Supper- thanks for a really interesting blog!

    Reply
  14. ah, Robert Burns! My mother’s favorite- she had a huge book, the Complete Works of Robert Burns, which my sister still has. A former English major, she left teaching for a time when she had five children in the span of 8 years!But rather than let her intellect atrophy, she merely combined her vocations, and when we wanted a story read to us, she would read us “Tam O’Shanter”. “Well done, Cutty Sark!” I still love Burns. I’d love to attend a Burns Night Supper- thanks for a really interesting blog!

    Reply
  15. ah, Robert Burns! My mother’s favorite- she had a huge book, the Complete Works of Robert Burns, which my sister still has. A former English major, she left teaching for a time when she had five children in the span of 8 years!But rather than let her intellect atrophy, she merely combined her vocations, and when we wanted a story read to us, she would read us “Tam O’Shanter”. “Well done, Cutty Sark!” I still love Burns. I’d love to attend a Burns Night Supper- thanks for a really interesting blog!

    Reply
  16. ah, Robert Burns! My mother’s favorite- she had a huge book, the Complete Works of Robert Burns, which my sister still has. A former English major, she left teaching for a time when she had five children in the span of 8 years!But rather than let her intellect atrophy, she merely combined her vocations, and when we wanted a story read to us, she would read us “Tam O’Shanter”. “Well done, Cutty Sark!” I still love Burns. I’d love to attend a Burns Night Supper- thanks for a really interesting blog!

    Reply
  17. I had a mother who loved Burns too and who was fond of reciting to her children at appropriate moments the closing lines of “To a Louse”:
    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an gait wad lea’es us,
    An ev’n devotion!
    Thanks for reminding me of some good memories, Sisan/Sarah.

    Reply
  18. I had a mother who loved Burns too and who was fond of reciting to her children at appropriate moments the closing lines of “To a Louse”:
    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an gait wad lea’es us,
    An ev’n devotion!
    Thanks for reminding me of some good memories, Sisan/Sarah.

    Reply
  19. I had a mother who loved Burns too and who was fond of reciting to her children at appropriate moments the closing lines of “To a Louse”:
    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an gait wad lea’es us,
    An ev’n devotion!
    Thanks for reminding me of some good memories, Sisan/Sarah.

    Reply
  20. I had a mother who loved Burns too and who was fond of reciting to her children at appropriate moments the closing lines of “To a Louse”:
    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an gait wad lea’es us,
    An ev’n devotion!
    Thanks for reminding me of some good memories, Sisan/Sarah.

    Reply
  21. Janga (and anyone else), there *is* an edit function, of sorts, but you have to do it in the “preview” window. In other words, after you’ve typed your comment, hit the preview button and it shows how it will appear when you post it. If you see errors, you can still correct them by scrolling back down to the little comments box and making your corrections there. But once you hit the “post” button, there’s no going back, unfortunately.
    Sherrie, Whipster, site administrator, and collector of suggestions and questions for future blog topics

    Reply
  22. Janga (and anyone else), there *is* an edit function, of sorts, but you have to do it in the “preview” window. In other words, after you’ve typed your comment, hit the preview button and it shows how it will appear when you post it. If you see errors, you can still correct them by scrolling back down to the little comments box and making your corrections there. But once you hit the “post” button, there’s no going back, unfortunately.
    Sherrie, Whipster, site administrator, and collector of suggestions and questions for future blog topics

    Reply
  23. Janga (and anyone else), there *is* an edit function, of sorts, but you have to do it in the “preview” window. In other words, after you’ve typed your comment, hit the preview button and it shows how it will appear when you post it. If you see errors, you can still correct them by scrolling back down to the little comments box and making your corrections there. But once you hit the “post” button, there’s no going back, unfortunately.
    Sherrie, Whipster, site administrator, and collector of suggestions and questions for future blog topics

    Reply
  24. Janga (and anyone else), there *is* an edit function, of sorts, but you have to do it in the “preview” window. In other words, after you’ve typed your comment, hit the preview button and it shows how it will appear when you post it. If you see errors, you can still correct them by scrolling back down to the little comments box and making your corrections there. But once you hit the “post” button, there’s no going back, unfortunately.
    Sherrie, Whipster, site administrator, and collector of suggestions and questions for future blog topics

    Reply
  25. I’m only Scottish by marriage, but I do think that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m going to haul out the bottle of Famous Grouse and toast to Mr. Burns and Susan/Sarah!

    Reply
  26. I’m only Scottish by marriage, but I do think that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m going to haul out the bottle of Famous Grouse and toast to Mr. Burns and Susan/Sarah!

    Reply
  27. I’m only Scottish by marriage, but I do think that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m going to haul out the bottle of Famous Grouse and toast to Mr. Burns and Susan/Sarah!

    Reply
  28. I’m only Scottish by marriage, but I do think that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m going to haul out the bottle of Famous Grouse and toast to Mr. Burns and Susan/Sarah!

    Reply
  29. Can I be really pernickety?
    Re the Selkirk Grace, the version I was taught was :
    Some hae meat and canna eat,
    And some wad eat that want it;
    But we hae meat, and we can eat,
    The good Lord be thankit.
    I think there are quite a few different variations, and although it’s associated with Burns ‘Controversy continues to rage […] over the Selkirk Grace (which in its vernacular form was known as a Galloway Grace long before 1793 when Burns rendered a version extempore in Standard English)’.
    http://www.worldburnsclub.com/expert/burns_had_a_word_for_it.htm

    Reply
  30. Can I be really pernickety?
    Re the Selkirk Grace, the version I was taught was :
    Some hae meat and canna eat,
    And some wad eat that want it;
    But we hae meat, and we can eat,
    The good Lord be thankit.
    I think there are quite a few different variations, and although it’s associated with Burns ‘Controversy continues to rage […] over the Selkirk Grace (which in its vernacular form was known as a Galloway Grace long before 1793 when Burns rendered a version extempore in Standard English)’.
    http://www.worldburnsclub.com/expert/burns_had_a_word_for_it.htm

    Reply
  31. Can I be really pernickety?
    Re the Selkirk Grace, the version I was taught was :
    Some hae meat and canna eat,
    And some wad eat that want it;
    But we hae meat, and we can eat,
    The good Lord be thankit.
    I think there are quite a few different variations, and although it’s associated with Burns ‘Controversy continues to rage […] over the Selkirk Grace (which in its vernacular form was known as a Galloway Grace long before 1793 when Burns rendered a version extempore in Standard English)’.
    http://www.worldburnsclub.com/expert/burns_had_a_word_for_it.htm

    Reply
  32. Can I be really pernickety?
    Re the Selkirk Grace, the version I was taught was :
    Some hae meat and canna eat,
    And some wad eat that want it;
    But we hae meat, and we can eat,
    The good Lord be thankit.
    I think there are quite a few different variations, and although it’s associated with Burns ‘Controversy continues to rage […] over the Selkirk Grace (which in its vernacular form was known as a Galloway Grace long before 1793 when Burns rendered a version extempore in Standard English)’.
    http://www.worldburnsclub.com/expert/burns_had_a_word_for_it.htm

    Reply

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