Members of the head table, fellow clansman Mr. Cameron, and Gentlemen,
We are here to sing the praises of the great Robbie Burns.
While he was an advocate for the modern concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity, while he wrote and collected music, while he was a great promoter of Scottish culture, we know Burns best as a writer of poetry. He is in the minds of some people, the greatest Romantic poet who ever lived.
He was also one of history’s greatest lovers. And whatever your politics or your orientation, you must admire his devotion to women.
Burns loved a lot of women, in many different ways.
He loved his mother Agnes Brown Burnes, who instilled in him his appreciation of music.
He loved his daughters, and saw to their education. This was not only the exception in the 18th century, some people thought it a bad idea.
Burns had relationships with aristocratic women like Maria Riddell, and women of modest means (he had a special fondness for the household maids like Peggy Thompson and Elizabeth Paton, who provided him with his first child).
He loved young ladies. He and started to write at age 15 because of an infatuation with a local farm girl Nellie Blair.
He loved women who did not return his affection, like Wilhelmina Alexander and Elizabeth Gebbie, who rejected his proposal of marriage.
He loved women who were madly devoted to him, like his beloved wife Jean Armour, who raised one of his illegitimate children by other lovers.
He loved single women, women engaged to other men, like Peggy Thompson, and married women like Agnes M’LeHose.
He had lusty relationships with many a lady, and chaste long term relationships with older women like Mrs. Francis Dunlop. She had the honour of being the last person he wrote a letter to, literally from his deathbed.
But Robbie Burns didn’t just love women for their physical charms. He was an outspoken advocate for them. He publically proclaimed that women should be treated equally, and have the same rights as men. This was a radical idea at the time.
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
Burns believed that we should love women, not for what they do for us, not because they attract our affection, but because they have an inherent right to our respect and devotion
So gentlemen, please join me in a toast to our mothers, our teachers and our students, our bosses and our employees, and for those fortunate enough, our sisters, our wives, daughters, and grand-daughters.
Gentlemen, to the lassies!
This speech was written and delivered by Stewart Cameron at the Burns Supper in January 2015.