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“To The Lassies” Robert Burns (Burns Night 25 January); Tam O' Shanter Part 3

Today we are sharing the third part of Tam O’Shanter and Burns Supper thoughts.

A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns. Burns Night is Monday 25th January.

Anyone can host one. It can be a small gathering of family and friends. Or it can be organised on a much grander scale with strict ceremonial tradition.

Once Burns Suppers were ‘men only’. Things have changed and now such clubs and suppers are fewer in number. The ‘men only’ was modelled on a format followed by the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club, a men-only debating society, co-founded by Burns in 1780.

The first Burns Supper was a memorial dinner with nine guests. It was held in the poet’s birthplace of Alloway, in July 1801, where they enjoyed a dinner of haggis and sheeps’ head. “The Address to the Haggis was read, and every toast was drank by three times three.”

It was a clergyman – the Rev. Hamilton Paul – later the author of an 1819 edition of The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns with A Life Of The Author who organised what was the forerunner of the Burns supper we know today.

Robert Burns however, preferred the company of women to men. Had he attended one of these first celebrations he may have looked at his silver pocket-watch and wondered when the female guests would arrive.

“The finest hours that e’er I spent were spent amang the lasses, O’.”

Burns loved women, penning some of his finest verse for the "lassies". Without them his volumes of poetry would have been considerably thinner. He wrote the poem, ‘The Rights of Women’ in 1792, in its day, innovative and groundbreaking. In the poem, written for Louisa Fontenelle, an actress who caught Burns’ eye when playing at the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, he calls for respect for womankind. Fontenelle recited the poem at her benefit performance in November 1792.

Extract from “The Rights Of Women”:

There was, indeed, in far less polish'd days,

A time, when rough rude man had naughty ways,

Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,

Nay even thus invade a Lady's quiet.

Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;

Now, well-bred men - and you are all well-bred -

Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)

Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.

“The Toast to the Lassies” is an essential speech at any Burns’ Supper. Together with the lassies’ reply, it performs a key part of the supper. “The Toast to the Lassies” now demands wit and entertainment, and adds hugely to the sense of occasion of the whole event.

Illustration from The Poetical and Prose Works Of Robert Burns, published by Charles Daly.

The complete text of Tam O' Shanter is contained in these editions from Waverley Books:

The Complete Works of Robert Burns

Page Size: 234 x 165 mm;

Hardback; 480pp; £6.99

Robert Burns In Your Pocket

Page Size: 170 x 89 mm;
Hardback; 288 pages; £9.99

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