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,
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.
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
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)