Thursday, January 24, 2013

Great Scots: Happy Birthday Rabbie Burns

Don't forget,  January 25, is Rabbie Burns’s birthday—St. Andrew's Societies all over the world will be celebrating in spades. Steed and I had a Scottish adventure once—it was a great excuse to see him in a kilt.

I don't know a lot about Robert Burns, but I will ever be grateful to William Strunk, Jr., and E.B.White for literally starting their essential Elements of Style with this:


1. Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles's friend
Burns's poems
the witch's malice

It could not be more clear. I don't know why so many people think that Burns's is wrong.


Scots in the Irish House
Coming from an Irish background, some Scottish things did drift in amid the Celts. I discovered Sir Walter Scott as a girl and read through the Waverly novels and the epic poem,  Lady of the Lake, with the odd indirect influence on Schubert's Ellens Dritter Gesang (later adapted to use the full lyrics of the Latin Ave Maria). I liked the McMillian & Wife episodes whenever the Commissioner wore a kilt.

One Scot of childhood in particular was  Sir Harry Lauder. Lauder was one of the most famous musical hall performers of all time, known to Americans of WWII for his years of farewell tours, before his death in 1950. I later learned that some Scots blamed him for the caricature of the canny, cheap Scotsmen in a kilt that they didn’t particularly like.

But Lauder was of his time, and he built a career that brought him to lunches at Buckingham palace and to working with Charlie Chaplain, and Laurel and Hardy in early Hollywood. Not too shabby.

My parents always played his "Wee doch 'n' doris" at all their important parties.

There's a good old Scottish custom, that has stood the test of time,
It's a custon that is carried out in ev'ry land and clime.
Where brother Scots fore-gather, it's aye the usual thing.
When just before they say guid-nicht, they fill their cups and sing-


Just a wee deoch-an-doris, just a wee drap that's a'
Just a wee deoch-an-doris before we gang a-wa'
There's a wee wifie waitin', in a wee but an ben
If you can say, "It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht" ye a'richt ye ken


I carried a warm feeling for Lauder in my heart for many years with little resonance in the world, when one day, about 12 years ago, the great Lou Dorfsman took me to an opening of Al Hirschfeld's photography at the Leica gallery.  Lou and he were old friends.

“Mr. Hirschfeld, what a thrill to meet the man who drew Harry Lauder.”

In fact, I had read that Hirschfeld’s drawing of Lauder was his very first for the NY Times, and it launched his career there.

Hirschfeld looked genuinely surprised to hear Lauder’s name. He looked so intently at me with those clear, blue, blue eyes, that all I could think of to do in response was to start singing a bit of "Doech an Doris. “Oh my goodness—-how old are you?” he smiled, as he pressed my hand very strongly. He said he thought “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’" was the greater song, and we agreed to disagree on that point.

I like to think Sir Harry and Al are performing and sketching, together again.

A GPS-based App for Mr. Burns
This new app is a great way to dip into all of Burns's great poetry lines, organized by topics like Philosphy, Religion, Love, etc.  The best feature is it will tell you how far away you are from the nearest Burns momument. In my case the one in Central Park is 2 miles away, and the next closest is 3,186 miles in Dunoon, Scotland. Good to know.

Download the app here.

And now, a gentle reminder of one of Burns's most famous line, oft misquoted:

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley"


So true, so true.

(updated from a 2007 post)

4 comments:

Tim Footman said...

Well, if Steinbeck couldn't get it right....

Peteski said...

this is pretty great ....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz22dRjSrw8

ps. Tim Footman's avatar comes from a site that is setting off a malware alert in my browser

Ellen O'Neill said...

Peteski, Thanks for introducing me to Jonathan Meades. Love the France stuff too.

Peteski said...

great. the magnetic north episodes are the best.