A man's a man for a' that

As I may have mentioned before, I've been greatly honoured to deliver 'The Immortal Memory' address at our Wester-Ross Burns Supper on January 25th. The Immortal Memory is (I quote the official Burns web-site)  "serious enough to remind the guests that this is not the office party ... about 25 minutes!"! So I've been doing a bit of research. During it, I turned up For All That, one of my own short, short stories. About 800 words or five minutes if you have time and the interest to read on ...

 For All That


The Globe Inn proved to be a most popular venue this market day. My travelling companion told me what he would like to drink. I eased myself through the crowd and up to the bar amidst raised Scots voices and shouts of laughter overlapping and over-riding each other. In competition a part-shaven, apparently early day victim of the demon drink up at the corner of the bar was singing about his luve being like a red red rose. Seemingly he very much missed this lassie of his. My companion and I looked him over; a fair looking man in well-worn clothing and a good enough voice on him - but singing verse at mid-day?

‘Wha’s for thee?’

‘Two of your best drams, innkeeper,’ I replied, revelling in my own use of the vernacular; ‘If it should please you.’ The drunken singer had hauled himself upright, gesticulating extravagantly. He sang on: ‘And fare thee weel, my only luve / and fare thee weel a while! / And I will come again my Luve / Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.’ He stopped at that and, as some applause broke out, looked all around, nodding, smiling a trifle crookedly. He bowed low in acknowledgment. In spite of the drink and the well worn state of his clothing the fellow was most surely possessed of a certain dignity. ‘Innkeeper,’ I added, ‘And give that man whatever he may be drinking. It was a fine song.’

‘Aye, we know it and we know him weel enough here,’ was the response.

The singer must have overheard the exchange. ‘Fee, fie, foe, fum,’ he proferred, looking along the bar top directly at me, ‘For I smell the bluid of an Englishman. A rich Englishman.’

‘Come come, my good man,’ I said. ‘But one who wishes you no ill’.

‘Aye?’ He accepted the glass of whisky seemingly with good grace, still on his feet, staggering a little. ‘As no more do I, you, my lord,’ he says although as you know I am no lord, simply an ordinary citizen of the realm with my friend on tour around these northern parts. He raised his glass; ‘But in compensation I have some words for thee, my lord,’ says he, striking a heroic pose, supported in part now by a passing serving girl, a comely lass. The babble had stopped. In a new and clearly expectant silence the man drew himself to his full height, threw wide his arms, recited … (and I shall try the dialect here, for better or worse) …

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

He drained his drink in one, shrugged off the girl, took to the centre of the floor, went on …

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

I felt I should protest; aver that events overseas had no place in these bejewelled and peace-filled islands of ours, but I had become as if entranced by both the man and the words, revolutionary or no … He continued, looking now more to my companion than to myself …

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

With a final flourish he weaved his way in an extended silence back to his seat at the corner of the bar. Then all the clapping and the cheering, and I have to say endorsed by myself and most emphatically by my companion, whether the verse be politically dangerous or no. As if deaf to all was the reciter and how soon was he already re-engaged with his serving girl!

When I could finally make myself heard I caught the innkeeper’s attention. ‘A fine poem,’ says I, ‘And one we have not heard before. ‘It is by the speaker?’

‘No,’ says the man. ‘That man is Rabbie Carsin. But he is the son of the poet in all but name, or so it is said, and he doesn’a mind being known as such. Rabbie Burns is the poet, or was. And well known here in the Globe. They called Rabbie the ploughman poet. He died here in Dumphries twenty and four years since. You have no word of Burns in England?

I shook my head. ‘I have not, sir.’ I addressed my companion; ‘You have heard tell of this Rabbie Burns?’

‘Robert Burns? Oh yes. My countryman. I have and we will all come to hear much more,’ said Lord Byron. ‘Shall we not, Shelley?’

The end


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