by Club Members
A Few Scattered thoughts on
Contributed by John Smith and David Brannan
What waefu’ news is this I hear?
Frae greetin’ I can scarce forbear.
Folks tell me ye’re gaun aff this year,
Out o’er the sea.
Whaur thou art gaun, keep mind frae me,
Some tell me, Rab, ye dinna fear,
Interestingly, Scott Douglas claims that the manuscript of Walker’s epistle shows that William Simpson had a hand in its composition.
But the final twist is that Simpson may have also written the reply attributed to Burns. Though the poem is generally accepted as Burns’, no manuscript of the poem has been found, and James Paterson’s book Contemporaries of Burns claims that Simpson wrote the reply in Burns’ name, and later showed it to Burns, who said with a laugh, "You thrashed the tailor much better than I would have done."
If, in fact, the poem is Burns’, it is Burns at his most vitriolic, and also his most flippant.
The seventh stanza of the "Reply" uses the expression "Mess John" ("Mass John"):
Wi’ pinch I put a Sunday’s face on,
An’ snooved awa’ before the Session:
I made an open, fair confession --
I scorn’d to lie --
An’ syne Mess John, beyond expression,
Fell foul o’ me.
This elicits the following comment from William Ernest Henley and Thomas F. Henderson in their notes for The Centenary Burns (London. 1896-1897):
Down, down wi’ the repenting-stools|
That gart the younkers look like fools
Before the congregation;
For those wha Kirk affairs engross|
Their session books may burn all;
Since fornication’s pipe’s put out
What will they have to crack about
Or jot into their journal?
Thus proving that anticlericalism is an ecumenical and time-honored phenomenon. See also the short story by Burns’ brother-in-law, John Galt, "A Ministerial Debut."
As for the tailor, Thomas Walker, he was apparently not deeply wounded by the attack, having finally obtained the reply he sought from Burns -- or so he thought.