The Immortal Memory of Robert Burns

A tradition which has developed in the Northern Division is for a lodge to host a Burns Night in July of each year. This year on 27 July 2020, with the problems of Covid Lodge Koh I Noor hosted a short version on Zoom. What started out in July of the year 1801 to commemorate his death has been carried out yearly since then. Due to unknown factors the tradition was thereafter started to remember Robert Burns in January his birth month, at Lodge Koh I Noor we are proud to consider ourselves followers of the Ancient practice and continue to do this in July, Hence our annual Burns in July event. So why do we still remember our brother after 224 years.

He is considered one of the greatest romantic of all time. A man whom we all should hate. He is the reason we have so much trouble today pleasing our women. He is the man who raised the bar and gave rise to the well-known frustration of us mere mortals – of not being romantic enough. We can only be grateful we did not have to compete directly with him for our wives and girlfriends or alas there would be many more bachelors around today.

Yet he is not and was not hated, in fact, he was well loved, and is the only non-religious man who is still remembered around the world every year since he died on 21 July 1796 – on the same day his 12 th child was born. We are dealing with a special person who lived and believed in an anything but ordinary life. He did something during his short 37 years of life to earn him the title of the greatest Scot of all times.

The main reason Burns is so popular today is because of the themes and language of everyday life that he used in his 714 literary works which he wrote. His poems were humorous and he used small subjects to express big ideas. John Steinbeck was inspired by one of his poems, “To a Mouse”, to write a novel entitled Of Mice and Men considered one of the most challenged books of the 21 st Century.

His love of and by women is also rooted in the fact that he was influenced by the female writers of the time and he advocated that women were entitled to education and a place in society. This gave him a respect for women which is evident in his works and relationships. 

By all accounts Burns cut a remarkable figure. His conversation, his wit and his words were such that some sources say that his best words were those he spoke in everyday conversation. When Burns would arrive late at night at a house or inn, the servants if asleep would rouse themselves just to hear his conversation. Burns forced his personality upon the world. Through the songs, the stories and the poems he comes to us all.

People say that Burns never forgot his humble roots. His love for farming stayed with him throughout his life and his writing often dealt with issues affecting the poorer classes, notably highlighting the need for greater social equality.

But we remember him today because we all relate to the why he did what he did. The why he believed what he believed. Because the why is shared by all men secretly in the past and more openly today.

Like many men of passion, he was unable to look away from the great revolutionary movements that were sweeping America and France. The difference was that he dared to put into words what many had only dared think and believe in: That was man’s equality.

Burns was a Freemason. He wrote about and was passionate about what he and we as freemasons have for hundreds of years believed, subscribed to and worked for. The reason so many people have spoken badly about our organisation in the past but never really understood why.

Perhaps the vital thing is this. The truth is we are all one, we are all equal, no matter where we are, no matter where we come from. We all deserve to live full lives with equal opportunities and access to opportunities. It is perhaps best set out in the most famous masonic writing known to modern man: ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

These ideas have given rise to the creation and changes to societies and countries by Freemasons through members like Burns.

The belief in equality of people of the same race two hundred years ago did not exist, the belief in the equality of people regardless of sex, or religion did not exist. The belief that a Jew and a Christian and a Muslim can be brothers and equals did not exist. These are rights which today we seem to take for granted. We forget the gift of people like Burns and other freemasons who have changed the history of the world and which we continue to do today in some large and other small ways. It is our duty to leave a legacy, perhaps not as grand as that of Brother Burns but it is in our DNA, often literally as we have generations of Freemason families who all in some way or another as mice or as men have played a part to make the world we live in a better place. This part may have had varied outcomes as Burns expressed so well with the words: “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men often go awry, And leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.” And yet often these plans have
realised positive changes in the world and these changes have been brought about by the efforts of single individuals.

In masonry we prepare our members to face the reality of understanding who you are, what you are good at, what you are poor at. We learn that we all have a role to play in society. Burns was not ever going to be remembered for his farming or lack of farming ability. He had greatness thrust on him. He did not run away from his talent, he embraced it and he changed the world he lived in and continues to change the world we live in by us remembering him and what he believed. In Masonry we also learn to embrace our inevitable death. Thus, we know that Robert Burns would have been prepared for his passing. He lived a full life, probably with some regrets. On his death bed, he probably was thinking about the life of his son born that day and which he would not see any of. He probably wondered about the legacy he was leaving his children and what legacy his son would leave the world, whether he would add value or waste his life. I am also certain that Burns probably shared the thoughts of another Free Masson Cecil Rhodes who said, “So little done, so much to do.”

The moral is simple. No matter how much or how little it is we do. There is always more to be done. Today we remember Burn’s and his legacy. We continue the work of Burns and countless other Freemasons who have embraced the duty of broadening their and societies outlook, moulding our characters and imbuing ourselves with a sense of responsibility, that we endeavour to create an environment in which Unity, Tolerance and progress will thrive.

A world of Freedom, Justice, Reason and Love. The brotherly love for each other and our neighbours. Our daily contributions play a small part in making changes to one or perhaps many lives. Some of these changes we may never even see in our lifetime. Equality has progressed dramatically since the 1700’s but we all see how daily not all lives are equal. Not all have equal opportunities to attain their potential. There is still much work to do to achieve this primary Masonic value.

Common human aims are not the big grandiose aims and ambitions but the small things like our passions and loves. They are what stand out at the end of the day and were written about by Burns.

There have been many revolutionary thinkers throughout history. There have been Libertines and those who have championed the cause of the poor and oppressed. There have also been nationalists, who dared to fly the flag against foreign powers risking death, imprisonment and transportation. There have both been lovers and romantic fools. There have been many revenue collectors, preservers of folk songs and guardians of heritage. There have been all manner of men, national heroes, champions and famous sons. There have also always been many poets whose works are quoted from time to time. Yet there is only one who combines all these things and that is Robert Burns. Through heartfelt, honest and simple words he gave hope to oppressed people everywhere. As freemasons we continue to work for and create hope and to develop love and peace in the world.

Tonight and tomorrow we hold virtual gatherings of like minded “free thinking folk” who have gathered together to honour him, his brotherhood and his beliefs. He wrote the poem Auld Land Syne which is sung around the world on many occasions but specifically at the start of the new year. Just like he urges us in this song for us not to forget our old acquaintances, so we shall be reminded to not forget Burns, our shared beliefs and our many absent friends and brothers who are all working at building a better world for all.

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