Documentary examining the impact and influence of poet Robert Burns on the USA and its culture, from Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman to Bob Dylan.
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Don't roll yet. I'm practising, right?
Bad Scots accent or American accent?
Robert Burns, the great Scottish bard,
never travelled to America,
but his poems and songs certainly did.
Burns was the 19th-century Elvis, that's how popular he was.
Burns' poems were pirated in the States
by several canny Scots who printed thousands of copies.
He's all over America in the early 19th century.
I mean, everybody's reading Robert Burns.
The poet's stories really hit home in this emerging nation
and some of the greatest cultural and political minds of the day
were influenced by Burns' work
during America's most troubled years.
He is of the people by the people for the people.
He's an American poet.
In his own lifetime, Burns was big in America.
After his death, he became an absolute icon.
This is the story of a new nation
that took a poet from the old country to its heart
and of the legacy that his words left behind.
All right, here we go.
The whole thing?
How do you say this?
"We've..." Oh, wait.
Wee, sleekit, cow...
-Is it "slick-it"?
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin tim'rous beastie
O, what a panic in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
Wi' murdering pattle!
I can do that over, if you want.
It may not be obvious when travelling through America,
but if you know where to look,
the evidence of Burns is there to be seen.
And in the wooded suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia,
there's a curious relic.
It's a unique Burns club that has been meeting for over 100 years
in this living, breathing replica of the cottage in Ayrshire
where Burns was born.
Rebuilding Burns' cottage, an exact replica,
I suppose is the biggest homage to Burns
in the United States of America.
It is very much a sign that Burns is successfully, not artificially,
transplanted into the United States of America in enduring fashion.
And it's Atlanta pharmacist Joseph Jacobs,
the man that served the very first glass of Coca-Cola,
that the members have to thank for their cottage.
A lawyer, Piromis Bell, and Dr Joseph Jacobs had a meeting.
Piromis Bell spied a copy of Burns on his shelf
and read several poems.
Jacobs was so blown away that he decided,
"We must do something about this."
the club made plans for their very own Burns cottage
on land bought by Dr Jacobs.
It's an almost exact replica
but it doesn't have a thatched roof.
Some of our archives indicate that the field mice
found it a little bit too attractive.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
The Burns Club of Atlanta
may not look exactly like the cottage in Ayrshire,
but it does embody the spirit of Burns.
The whole notion of good company, good eating, good drinking,
good toasting, good jesting,
all of these things which have a kind of licence in Burns' own work
are to be found in the Atlanta Burns Club.
Like most Burns Clubs, this one celebrates the life,
works and philosophy of Robert Burns.
Glad to be here with my wife now of six months.
I want to thank Robert Burns for helping this to happen.
I read Red, Red Rose to her before I asked the question.
Burns, a man that liked company, drinking and talking politics.
Those of you who don't know, I have an English son-in-law who said,
"Do you really need to wear this T-shirt,
"especially in the political system that we've got now?"
It says "Make America Great Britain again!"
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Burns cottage, you know, was built on the outskirts of town on purpose,
so they could have a place to sing and drink their whisky
and then walk up the hill and catch the trolley back into town.
I was in "Edinboro" a few years ago and I was...
I was drinking.
We've had five governors, we've had senators.
We've had judges.
We had a guy who...
took care of goats.
Gentleman and guests,
at this time in accordance with the normal routine of the programme,
we'll be reading from the bard by Frank Shaw.
Thank you very much.
These verses were suggested by the actual event of Burns ploughing.
It goes something like this. It says...
Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast...
It's not just the poetry that caused this enduring American fascination
in Robert Burns.
It's the history of the man and the things he stood for.
Burns' life had been a combination of hard labour as a farmer,
but also as a young man who enjoyed fashion, who enjoyed dancing,
who enjoyed music, who enjoyed poetry.
He was part of a cultural set in Ayrshire.
And if you look at the guys who get together
to subscribe to his first book,
it's very often lawyers, schoolteachers, merchants.
These are the guys that Burns is mixing with
in that Ayrshire Enlightenment.
The poems were an instant hit,
and the Ploughman Poet was soon entertaining
the literati of Edinburgh.
With his second edition of his poems, with a much bigger print run,
some began to refer to Burns as "Caledonia's bard".
We're talking about 612 copies of the Kilmarnock edition.
We're then talking about 3,000 copies of the Edinburgh edition,
and Burns begins to accrue money
that represents a tidy sum in today's terms.
It's the kind of sales, it's the kind of money,
that a modern poet would kill for.
Evidence of the high regard that Americans have for Burns
can be seen by the number of people that collect his works.
Frank Shaw's collection is one of the most extensive.
I've got books that cost in the hundreds of dollars
and I've got...
a few books that cost in the thousands of dollars.
The most treasured possession I have is a Kilmarnock,
poems chiefly in the Scottish dialect.
This book is extremely special.
It's the first book written by Robert Burns.
The book meant a lot to Burns.
It gave him the money to pay off some debts,
it paved the way for him to receive the recognition
that he actually thought that he deserved and, erm...
it's the most treasured item that I have in my life.
Other than my wife!
It's very expensive.
I know there's about 82-84 books left like this.
There's one for sale right now on eBay for 85,000.
But it's not the Kilmarnock or Edinburgh editions
that propelled the work of Robert Burns onto the American stage.
That's chiefly down to two printers from Scotland
looking to make a tidy sum in Philadelphia.
I still find it quite remarkable
that it just takes a matter of months
after the 1787 Edinburgh edition is first sold
before it's being reprinted even in both Philadelphia and New York.
In places like Philadelphia,
Burns begins to have a presence in the local newspapers,
partly due to the expatriate Scottish community,
but not exclusively.
It's quickly realised by editors this guy is enjoyed as a poet,
as a songwriter.
And before long, some bright spark in Philadelphia has the idea,
"Let's pirate an edition of Burns,
"let's just take the Kilmarnock and the Edinburgh poems
"and let's print it here."
It' thought to be in the rooms above this bar
in the centre of Philadelphia where those Scottish bright sparks,
Peter Stewart and George Hyde, pirated the poetry of Burns.
Philadelphia and New York were the main commercial hubs
of America during the period.
Printing presses are very, very heavy
and when they would've come from overseas,
they would've come in through a port city, and Philadelphia
was kind of the original port city
before New York kind of surpassed it.
The absence of any copyright laws
created a culture of reprinting in New York and Philadelphia,
and naturally, because of the shared language,
popular British books became commonplace,
and if you think about it from an entrepreneurial
or marketing point of view,
it makes sense in that you don't have to pay any royalties,
but you can reprint work and make money from selling these books.
Putting a book of poetry together gives you some specific challenges
really in typesetting.
With poetry you have to be very, very careful,
because where lines break,
where they're indented, all of that matters in poetry.
So it would've been, you know, not only a fair amount of work,
but it would've been a fair amount, you know, kind of skilled work.
The high cost of producing a substantial book of poetry
meant that Stewart and Hyde had to be confident
that Burns' poems would sell well.
But the popularity of the poet meant the venture was unlikely to fail.
Printers wanted to make money and I think if they found something
that they believed would sell, a book of poetry that, you know,
had a kind of history of doing well,
I could see why that would be, you know,
very enticing to an American printer, erm...
copyright aside possibly!
The same year, two more Scots,
John and Archibald McLean from Glasgow,
published an edition in New York.
Little did Burns know,
but his bootlegged books were flooding the American market.
We've got no direct evidence that Burns knows this is happening.
He is reading about America in the periodical press.
Almost certainly he's seeing advertisements for his own work.
Burns gets a lot of fame but no royalties at all from that venture.
The chearfu' Supper done, wi' serious face
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide
The Sire turns o'er, with patriarchal grace
The big ha'-Bible...
-The big ha'-Bible...
The big ha'Bible, ance his Father's pride
His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide
He wales a portion with judicious care
And let us worship God! he says with solemn air.
It's really pretty. It's a little hard to pronounce some of the words.
It's like "ha'-Bible," I don't even...
I don't know what that means.
In 19th-century America, there was a ready audience for homely tales
of country folk, listening to words from the Bible in the hall,
It was a country of recent immigrants,
keen for reading matter that related to their rural lives,
especially those whose roots were from Scotland.
This is the St Andrew's Society of Central Illinois,
enjoying their annual barbecue and membership drive.
Undoubted fans of all things Scottish,
they're proud of their bagpipes and their love of Burns.
If you're an immigrant and you're moving somewhere
for a very long time and you're probably not going to return,
you're going to take some reading material
and you're going to sing the same songs that you sang back home,
and you might even sing them a bit louder in a new, foreign land.
When you transplant culture, in some ways it becomes more self-conscious,
even more traditional, and tradition begets tradition.
That's not to say there isn't a genuine love going on,
but Burns clearly abroad as well as at home
becomes somewhat fetishistic.
Burns and his works were definitely used to
uphold a sense of Scottish identity in America.
But when Burns did become popular,
it didn't take long for his work and even the symbolism of the man
to become incorporated into these societies and to become a symbol,
a patriotic symbol of Scotland and Scottishness.
THEY SHOUT CLAN NAMES
Clans, light the fire!
We have to teach our youth about the history.
We can't let it be forgotten because it happened.
As Burns would say, we don't want it to gang agley,
or go away.
MUSIC: Ae Fond Kiss played on flute
I remember when I was eight years old
and my parents gave me a book of his poetry and I read it
and read, er, Scots Wha Hae.
And it's... He's always been there.
At my dad's funeral, I recited My Heart's In The Highlands,
which is still one of my favourite Burns poems.
And it was tough to do but I did it for my dad,
and he would've loved it, so...
Robert Burns' final years were marked with money worries
and increasingly bad health.
But his death at the age of 37
didn't bring about a drift into obscurity.
Burns' reputation and fame grew,
and in the States, his work would go on to influence some of
the most important thinkers of the 19th century.
Copy of Time Out magazine!
Free copy of Time Out magazine.
-Free copy, free copy.
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.
We're all men, I think we're all women, we're all people.
'It's probably about that.'
That was great, that was great.
This is a great poem.
The man should be for a' that.
With his brothers. We're all that.
Free copy of Time Out magazine. Free copy, it's all that.
When Robert Burns was a young man,
he was fascinated by the emerging nation
that was to become the United States of America.
The British crown was in conflict with its upstart colonies in America
for all of Burns' teenage years.
And his most radical views were heavily influenced
by what he learned of the revolutionary war.
Burns wrote a handful of poems,
songs and letters that mention America.
The common theme is an association with liberty.
However, by the time of Burns' death,
it was becoming clear that the ideals behind
the American Declaration of Independence had not come to pass.
The enslavement of black people was endemic in the States.
But in the fight to end it,
two people would draw in different ways on the work of Robert Burns.
They were the most influential African-American of the 19th century,
and the man who was probably America's greatest president.
Although Abraham Lincoln had little formal education,
he was a voracious reader by the time he arrived
in New Salem, Illinois at 21 years of age.
But books were hard to come by in small frontier townships.
Fortunately, this one had the next best thing to a library -
the 27 books of neighbour Jack Kelso.
Well, with a name like Jack Kelso, or Jock Kelso,
it's no surprise that this is a Scotsman,
and he is certainly one of Lincoln's mentors.
Lincoln may well have read the books of Robert Burns
before he came to New Salem,
but Kelso seemed to give the words new weight and meaning.
He heard Kelso recite the works of Robert Burns
complete in that Scottish dialect, acting out those poems.
Lincoln picks up that habit.
What I think is going on is that Lincoln,
like many new world politicians,
many new world cultural figures of intellectuals,
is looking for something that in a sense isn't British,
And Burns, to some extent, I think,
plays into that alternative culture that America's looking for.
Burns' stories of the common man and his themes of egalitarianism
were attractive to those struggling to uphold the founding principles
of the new American republic.
The same year that Lincoln leaves New Salem for a law career,
another young man is planning a much more dramatic change of life.
Frederick Douglass started out as an enslaved person
on the plantation of Talbot County, Maryland.
He would escape at the age of 20 in 1838 at the help of his first wife,
Miss Anna Murray-Douglass,
and he started making those strong and vehement forceful arguments
as an abolitionist against slavery.
We're looking at his last and final home, which was Cedar Hill,
where he would often say that he's actually able
to keep an eye on Congress.
The home of Frederick Douglass is now a museum,
containing his most precious possessions.
One of the first books that Douglass got after his escape from slavery
was a copy of Burns' poems
and he treasured this throughout most of his life.
Mr Douglass had a tremendous man crush on Robert Burns,
and the significance is these are the books
that Douglass connected with.
We have the Complete Poetical Works of Robert Burns.
We know this was actually a transformative book for Mr Douglass
because all of Douglass' books that had his name
with the signature in it are the ones that he really cherished.
He describes Burns as someone who
"broke through the moorings which society threw around him."
He enlists Burns into his own discourse on slavery and abolition.
The two main themes that really connected with Douglass
in terms of Burns' works is the notion of the egalitarian,
the common folks, as well as this idea of liberalism
that was really coming to fruition all throughout Europe at the time.
Fearing that by raising his profile he might be recaptured
and returned to slavery,
Douglass left for a 19-month tour of the British Isles,
a place where the anti-slavery movement was beginning to flourish.
After he frees himself from captivity,
Frederick Douglass self-consciously, but entirely sincerely,
presents himself as a man of culture,
and that's important in the clothes he wears, in the poetry he reads
as he goes round advocating the abolition of slavery.
Because people have to see an educated black man.
Even though he hasn't been to university,
even though he hasn't had a huge amount of schooling,
one of the things that gives him the confidence to appear educated
is the exemplar of Robert Burns
who had a similar kind of formative experience.
Non-university, self-taught, but as cultured as anybody else.
Douglass not only argued the case for black emancipation,
but he also lobbied the free Church about how it raised funds
from slave owning states.
He also took a detour to see the birthplace of his poetic mentor,
Robert Burns, and meet his elderly sister, Isabella,
and two of the poet's nieces.
He wrote extensively about his trip in a letter
later published in the New York Tribune.
"I am now in the town of Ayr.
"It is famous for being the birthplace of Robert Burns,
"the poet by whose brilliant genius every stream, hill, glen
"and valley in the neighbourhood have been made classic.
"For as you are aware, painfully perhaps,
"I am an enthusiastic admirer of Robert Burns."
The trip to Britain was a great success.
Douglass had furthered the cause of egalitarianism
and his supporters had raised enough money to purchase him
from his slave owner in the States.
In 1847, Douglass returned to the United States
a commanding and influential speaker,
and a free man.
Well, here we have the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office
behind us here, and this is where Lincoln would practice his law trade
for a number of years.
By the time Frederick Douglass was back in the States,
Lincoln had spent ten years honing his oratory skills
in the courtrooms of Springfield.
The Capitol here is actually one of the most historic buildings
in our nation's history.
This is where Lincoln served in the legislature,
argued court cases. By the time that he had become
an Illinois House of Representative here,
Lincoln has actually gained a reputation
as the finest lawyer in the entire state of Illinois.
Now there's a thriving tourist industry in Springfield,
centred around the house Lincoln lived in
and the reputation of the man that owed some of his oratory power
to the writing of Robert Burns.
Lincoln had only one year total of formal schooling.
It makes all the sense in the world that Shakespeare and Burns
and the Bible and many others he read
were influential in his writing style.
In his speeches, his very emotive style owes something
to the high sentimental style that he's reading in Robert Burns.
In terms of satire, Burns is one of the best.
Abraham Lincoln picks up that characteristic as well.
He writes brilliant satirical pieces
that are reminiscent of many of the pieces of Burns.
During the 1850s, Lincoln's ability to argue his case
is progressively tested as tensions grow
over the increasingly divisive issue of slavery.
A power struggle was developing between the North
and the slave-owning Southern states, and in 1860,
Illinois' finest lawyer stands for president on an anti-slavery ticket.
Lincoln wins the election,
but his victory instigates the worst crisis in the history
of the United States.
Seven states secede from the union,
Southern militias are taking over federal property.
It's a very ominous situation in American history.
When he's coming into Washington, DC,
he's almost coming into enemy territory.
DC was a very Southern city at the time,
and the sentiments were very much with the South.
As neither side would budge, war became inevitable.
Lincoln knew this Civil War would decide the future direction
of America. It would either continue
as the largest slave-owning country in the world
or it would become one in which the idea that all men are created
with an equal right to liberty would finally come true.
The first big battle was to take place around the banks of a creek
called Bull Run in Virginia,
around 30 miles west of the federal capital of Washington, DC.
Over an eight-mile front, troops waited for orders.
Some wrote letters home, some took the time to read.
His songs and poetry were used by various political groups,
often on opposing sides.
You have Northern abolitionists who were quoting Burns,
but you also have Southern Confederate groups,
who are proven to be fans of his poetry and songs.
Burns isn't really a war poet,
he's more a poet of the home front
so that people are reading the poetry,
the songs like Green Grow the Rushes, O
and thinking of their girl back home.
So he does write sometimes about war,
but what he's writing much more about is love and hearth and home.
When the Southern Confederates beat Lincoln's unionists at the battle,
both sides could see that the war would be
a long, drawn-out and bloody affair.
Frederick Douglass saw something else,
that among these rebels were black troops.
He suggested that these troops had been pressed into service
by their tyrant masters,
and Douglass used this to force home the argument to Abraham Lincoln
that all slavery should be abolished now
and that former black slaves should be armed as a military strategy.
Lincoln believed very much in the founding documents
of the United States, that talk about all men being created equal,
and that's something that you see in the poetry of Robert Burns as well,
and so this idea of natural rights
is something that Lincoln really latched onto.
And very much why the Emancipation Proclamation is the culmination
of his personal beliefs and what he felt he could do
according to his official duties as President of the United States
and Commander in Chief.
Lincoln's proclamation of emancipation
made the freeing of slaves an explicit goal of the war.
After it came into effect in 1863,
any slaves that escaped to the North became free
and they could fight for the union, just as Douglass wanted.
Douglass was a hugely gifted orator and a very charismatic individual.
During the Civil War era,
Douglass quite frequently alluded to Burns' songs and poems,
particularly when trying to encourage men of colour
to enlist in the union army.
He would tout the line that, "A man's a man for a' that,"
regardless of colour.
Lincoln's fight for the moral right
would claim well over half a million American lives
and take over two more years to conclude.
For over a quarter of his presidency,
Abraham Lincoln moved his family out here to a cottage
on what was known as the Soldiers' Home grounds.
It's considered a healthier climate,
it's removed from the downtown, swampy part of Washington, DC,
but in many ways it brings him closer to the war.
While living at the cottage,
he's 200 yards away from the first National Cemetery.
So thousands of soldiers are being buried in plain view
of Lincoln's front door.
The final record of Abraham Lincoln's affection for Burns
comes from his secretary, John Hay.
He describes the President's mood as
they travelled down the Potomac River.
John Hay recollects that in April of 1865, the war has come to an end,
that Lincoln himself recites extensively
from Robert Burns without notes, this is all from memory.
One of the poems that came into Lincoln's mind that day
is one of Burns' saddest.
The wind blew hollow frae the hills
By fits the sun's departing beam
Look'd on the fading yellow woods
That wav'd o'er Lugar's winding stream
Beneath a craigy steep, a Bard
Laden with years and meikle pain
In loud lament bewail'd his lord
Whom Death had all untimely ta'en.
The bridegroom may forget the bride
Was made his wedded wife yestreen
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee
But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a' that thou hast done for me!
-It's a great poem.
-It definitely shows the heartbreak
that he's going through, you know? It's...
It's a long poem.
Less than a week later,
Lincoln was assassinated at a theatre in Washington.
The war, however, was effectively over.
The fight to end slavery throughout the union had been won.
And the nation's founding argument of liberty for all had been upheld.
There was a Scottish Presbyterian minister,
one of many who objected to Burns,
because of his drinking and his womanising,
and he felt that anyone who idolised Burns
had a disease he called Burnsomania.
A century later, the disease of Burnsomania had still found no cure.
In America, the greatest sufferer of all was a Scot
and a wealthy one at that.
Andrew Carnegie probably was a Burnsomaniac.
I do think the connection Carnegie had to Burns was personal
and was close because of his own upbringing.
Born and brought up in a cottage in Fife,
12-year-old Andrew Carnegie moved to Pennsylvania
with his family in 1848.
50 years later,
Carnegie had become the world's richest man
and one of its biggest philanthropists.
I think there's no doubt that his eventual decision to divest himself
of much of his wealth
and to establish all kinds of charitable funds,
half to do with a good nature,
but part of it actually is a Scottish self-conception.
It's the Burnsian myth that you don't need lots of money
and that money isn't the most important thing.
Carnegie gave away around 90% of his fortune.
Just some of that went into funding 1,679 new libraries
in America alone.
The whole Carnegie philanthropic project was about egalitarianism.
It was about everybody being afforded the same resources
and the same opportunities to grow
and to transform themselves.
The philosophy of Robert Burns really spoke to him in that way
and really influenced his trajectory.
From the age of eight, when he first read Burns,
to his death 75 years later,
Carnegie's enthusiasm for the poet never waned.
For many years, he was one of the most sought-after speakers
of the Burns clubs and the Burns societies around the country.
And he went to many statue unveilings and gave many talks.
Just how much Carnegie revered the Bard can be seen
in his personal notes for a speech he gave
at an unveiling of a statue of Burns in 1899.
"Burns occupies and will permanently hold his unique position
"in other lands than his own.
"For supreme genius rules over the highest natures of all lands.
"Its touch makes the whole world kin."
As Andrew Carnegie began redistributing his wealth,
other American entrepreneurs began using Burns' fame
for their own commercial gain.
The main reason that Burns becomes a commercial figure is quite simply,
to begin with, that he's so recognisable.
Burns began to be commercialised in America along with other writers
on cigar boxes, starting in 1880s and well into the 20th century.
And unlike most of the poets and authors,
Robert Burns cigars are still produced and sold in America.
Thomas Keith is a bit of a Burnsomaniac himself.
I've been collecting Burns-related bric-a-brac for about 20 years.
I would say this handbill from 1830 is my favourite object,
and the reason is that what it's proof of is that somebody
walking down the street in lower Manhattan
who's handed this handbill knows exactly who Tam O'Shanter is
in literature and who Burns is.
They don't have to be told.
This is a tin from Robert Burns Segars,
which was manufactured during the Civil War.
And from about 50 years later,
here's a tin of Little Bobbie cigars,
the small Robert Burns cigar.
There was also Tam O'Shanter tobacco,
Auld Lang Syne tobacco,
eventually, Sweet Afton cigarettes.
There was also Tam O'Shanter beer and ale
sold out of Rochester, New York.
Here's a Bobby Burns pop bottle or soda bottle from the 1950s
and the only thing that remotely identifies it to a Scotsman as Burns
would be the Glengarrian pipes that he's carrying.
And I know it's long been the sorrow of many a Scot
that Americans' diminutive for Burns is Bobby,
but it's been that way for a long, long time
and it's a natural evolution from Robert to Rab to Rabbie
to Robbie to Bobby.
All kinds of products, from ornaments to drinks
are marketed on the back of Robert Burns
because he is such a convenient, portable, readily available icon.
People were no longer just collecting books,
but they were collecting...
Whether it be snuff boxes, jewellery, erm...
lots of material culture
that collectors used to not only preserve the memory of Burns,
but I think, reify their connection with the poet.
The Nasmyth portrait of Burns,
the classic portrait, shows a very handsome young man,
and that's very helpful.
Robert Burns, that romantic, slightly tragic, enigmatic figure,
has a beautiful portrait to go with him.
And you put those two things together,
and it's a killer combination for iconicity,
and also for advertising.
Burns was the 19th-century Elvis.
That's how popular he was.
-# Lord Almighty
# I feel my temperature rising
# Higher, higher... #
Burns' image was not only ingrained on the products
Americans found in their homes,
he was also becoming a focal point in America's biggest cities.
If the popularity of cultural icons in America were measured
by the number of statues erected in their honour,
Burns would be number one.
# Your kisses lift me higher
# Like the sweet song of a choir... #
There are four statues of Stephen Foster,
five each of Washington Irving and Beethoven,
six each of Daniel Webster, Shakespeare and Mozart,
seven of Goethe, eight of Dante,
12 of Schiller
and 15 of Robert Burns.
# A hunk, a hunk of burning love
# I'm a hunk, a hunk of burning love... #
And that's how important Burns was and is to Americans.
# I'm a hunk, a hunk of burning love
# I'm just a hunk, a hunk of burning love
# I'm a hunk, a hunk of burning love. #
But Mousie, thou are no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain
For promis'd joy!
The mark that Robert Burns left in the States after his death in 1796
extends way beyond Burns clubs,
and the effect he may have had on politicians and philanthropists.
It's in the music and the writing of those that read his work.
If we think of places along the way
where Robert Burns sat down,
he's all over America in the early 19th century.
I mean, everybody's reading Robert Burns,
he is probably the most popular poet in the country.
Walt Whitman was very much affected by Burns,
Mark Twain reads Burns and then, from there on,
it's a pretty straight shot, via Woody Guthrie,
to Bob Dylan.
# Johnny's in the basement
# Mixing up the medicine
# I'm on the pavement
# Thinking about the government. #
Bob Dylan's recent award of a Nobel Prize for literature
not only raised his status as a writer,
but it focused attention on the post-Civil War lyric poets
that came before him.
When asked for his greatest influence
in a recent poster campaign, the singer surprised many
by citing the Burns poem My Luve Is Like A Red, Red Rose.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been such a surprise.
Dylan is merely the latest of a long line of Americans
that have looked to the past, and to Burns in particular,
The American Civil War scars the psyche,
and the idea is... All our industry,
all our technology, all our rationality has brought us what?
This big war.
And after that, American poets like Emerson,
like Walt Whitman were saying,
is there something purer that we can get back to?
As the post-war nation is drawn back to simpler ideals...
..new poets like Walt Whitman, an early fan of the Bard,
helped fill the gap that Burns left behind.
In a way,
as Burns is to Scotland,
so Whitman is in the United States.
He's the father of poetry here.
Walt was the guy who spoke in the American grain.
What you see in Whitman is the Everyman.
You know, he included in his poetry
the poor, the working class,
the middle class, the slaves...
As did Burns.
Born only 23 years after the early death of the Bard,
Whitman's New York was full of Celtic music
and the poetry and songs of Burns.
There's an essay that Walt wrote
about Robert Burns as poet and person,
and, in it, he says,
"Without the race of which he is a distinct specimen,"
which would be Burns in Scotland, that was Scottish race,
"and perhaps his poems,
"America and her powerful democracy could not exist today.
And I think that's one of the first similarities you see,
is that both of these poets
absolutely had faith in the common folk,
in the population at large.
They were totally democratic
in the way they approached government,
and the power to the people.
"Dear Rob," he says in the middle, which is the way you want to see
these two fellows talking to each other, isn't it?
"Dear Rob! Manly, witty, fond, friendly,
"full of weak spots as well as strong ones."
You know, Whitman just couldn't let it go that this was a great poet.
He loved Burns for the comradeship, for the feeling of,
as he would put it, adhesiveness.
It was hard to be an American writer, in fact, let alone...
Well, it was hard to be an American, let alone an American writer,
and not in some way have had some contact with Robert Burns.
In the 20th century,
it's American writers of modern classic novels
that are influenced by the work of Burns.
American writers are referencing Burns poems
in terms of the words that the Americans have consumed
and, indeed, reused in their own works.
John Steinbeck's 1937 novella
tells a tragic story of two migrant ranch workers
who plan their future as they move from place to place
during America's Great Depression.
Originally entitled Something That Happened,
Steinbeck changed the title to Of Mice And Men
after reading Robert Burns' poem, To A Mouse.
14 years later, JD Salinger went further,
incorporating the Burns song Comin' Thro The Rye
into the plot of his 1951 novel of teenage angst.
# Comin' thro the rye... #
Salinger creates a fantasy at the heart of the book
in which its protagonist, Holden Caulfield,
misrepresents the song,
seeing himself as the "catcher in the rye" instead.
So it's a very, very deep influence.
The most important thing about that
is that America has Burns' poetry and songs in its blood,
in its common language.
And that's what these writers are riffing on.
By the mid-20th century,
the riffing on Burns had extended beyond books to music.
-# Come gather round people
# Wherever you roam... #
In New York, those who wanted their music to make a statement
were drawn to the neighbourhood of Greenwich Village.
In the early 1960s, the Village was very much the centre
for, not only literary experimentation
and playwrights and all the rest of it,
but for jazz, and particularly for the folk revival.
# Oh, the times they are a-changin'... #
The mid-20th century saw another bid for a simpler, more peaceful life.
Only 20 years after it had ended World War II
with a nuclear mushroom cloud in Japan,
America was deeply involved in another bombing war,
this time in Vietnam.
# Don't stand in the doorway Don't block up the hall
# For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled... #
When 19-year-old Bob Dylan moved to New York in 1961,
he was already immersed in the world of folk.
My dad had a book shop at the corner of 8th street and MacDougal,
and down MacDougal Street was where Bob Dylan got his start.
# The times they are a-changin'. #
I remember hearing A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall
for the first time as a... How old would I have been?
'62, I'd have been 11.
And I loved it immediately.
I loved the guitar, I loved the raspy voice,
I loved the way he used words.
# A hard rain's a-gonna fall... #
Dylan's idol at the time was another folk singer, Woody Guthrie.
When Bob Dylan arrived, he was a Woody Guthrie jukebox.
He was playing Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie, all the time.
He started talking like Woody Guthrie.
So Guthrie had an enormous impact on Dylan in particular.
MUSIC: Pastures Of Plenty by Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie was a major figure in the 1940s on the New York scene.
He's part of this left-wing folk singer world.
But Guthrie himself was influenced by Robert Burns.
During World War II, Guthrie was a seaman and his ship was torpedoed,
and he found himself in Glasgow, of all places.
After the war, he writes this kind of poetic letter,
To That Man Robert Burns, and he's addressing Burns directly,
and telling him about how he'd ended up in Glasgow
and walking the same clods of earth Burns did,
and how he had picked up a cheap edition of Burns' poems.
But he likens himself to Burns, he says, I'm like you.
We both grew up in the countryside.
We both grew up out of the cities,
we've both been chased around by policemen, we both...
We have a lot in common, you and I, Robert Burns.
For that moment, he was very much touched by him as a kind of rapport,
almost a brotherhood that he feels across the centuries.
# This land is your land. #
Other folk singers also influenced Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan's a sponge.
And at the heart of the folk revival
was the entire Anglo-Celtic American tradition in poetry and in song.
There's a friend of mine who comes from Scotland
who's also a good singer,
and I asked her if she'd drop around here today.
American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger
was also at the centre of the folk revival,
as was the young Scottish singer, Jean Redpath.
Jean Redpath, instead of me talking about your songs,
I think the best thing would be for you to sing them.
# And here's a hand
# My trusty friend
# And gie's a hand o' thine... #
A Burns enthusiast who had memorised almost all of Burns' work,
Redpath shared a house in the Village with Dylan.
Her goal was to record all 323 songs written by Burns.
# For auld lang syne. #
And it's impossible to imagine that Dylan would not have been listening
to a good deal of Burns poetry at that time.
Where'd the song come from, anyway?
-Robbie Burns wrote it.
-He wrote it?
Robbie Burr-ns. I thought it was Burns, but it's not.
It's Burns in this country, it's Burr-ns in Scotland.
Burr-ns. Robbie Burr-ns.
Burns comes to him two ways.
I mean, one is through this Celtic tradition,
Jean Redpath and all the rest, they're there.
But he's also going to be reading Burns as a poet.
I mean, he's very taken with Byron,
he's very taken with Shelley and, you know,
Burns is not too far out of that mix,
as far as Dylan would've been concerned.
Burns meant a lot to him,
and he would've picked up on Burns in those days.
I absolutely think there's a connection between Bobby Burns
and Bobby Dylan. You know?
Burns is a true, true influence for him.
You can hear it in the way he sings.
He actually has a song called Farewell,
where he starts off the song saying,
"Fare thee well, my own true love."
# Fare thee well my darling true
# I'm leaving in the first hour of the morn. #
Bob Dylan has read and listened to Robert Burns,
in poetry and in song, and, of course,
he cites A Red Rose as one of the greatest songs ever.
Both Burns and Bob Dylan are the great lyric poets of their day.
I mean, Burns' verse is meant to be sung.
Well, Bob Dylan's verse is meant to be sung.
So, in that sense, they are very much a part of the same brotherhood,
and Bob Dylan really is the Bobby Burns of his day,
and Robert Burns was the Bob Dylan of the end of the 18th century.
O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That's newly sprung in June
O my Luve's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune
As fair art thou, my bonie lass
So deep in luve am I
And I will luve thee still, my dear
Till a' the seas gang dry
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear
And the rocks melt wi' the sun
And I will luve thee still, my dear
While the sands o' life shall run,
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!
This man puts words together just like that.
And that's what I love about it.
America took the work of Burns to its heart in the 19th century.
In the 20th, it gave his biggest hit back to the world
with a whole new purpose.
Auld Lang Syne had become so popular
that it replaced A Man's A Man For A' That
as the way to end Burns Night suppers.
And by Victorian times,
it was all purpose.
For Auld Lang Syne this Halloween,
For Auld Lang Syne on the Fourth Of July,
For Auld Lang Syne for your birthday.
It was for everything.
Until Guy Lombardo got a hold of it.
MUSIC: Auld Lang Syne
It's Guy Lombardo and his band
that is almost solely responsible for ensuring that Auld Lang Syne
became the song for New Year's Eve.
By the time I was a kid, New Year's Eve
was about listening to Guy Lombardo's band, orchestra,
on the television to, you know, ring in the New Year.
And they'd always play Auld Lang Syne.
Auld Lang Syne had become the New Year's song long before that,
but Guy Lombardo was absolute New Year's Eve kitsch.
I mean, it was middle America,
it was what people listened to.
It was so corny, even we listened to it,
us sophisticated villagers,
because it was there.
Happy New Year, everybody! A very happy New Year.
Especially from all of us and especially from Clairol,
the first name in hair colour!
It's kind of become a theme song
for a very boring kind of drunken escapade
on the 31st of every December.
I wish we could detach it from New Year's Eve!
Am I trying to do that accent?
No, do what you gotta do. Just go through it, just read it.
-Just read, that's all.
It's an interesting poem about remembrance,
and about loss, really.
And we have to remember what we lose.
-Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
Give me a high five, friend!
When Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians
made it their midnight song on New Year's Eve,
people started to copy that.
And, most importantly, it started to be copied in the movies,
and the most famous occasion for that, of course,
is in It's A Wonderful Life,
when the brothers are reunited,
and the whole town's there to support Jimmy Stewart,
and they all break into Auld Lang Syne.
To my big brother, George.
The richest man in town!
# Should auld acquaintance be forgot
# And never brought to mind?
# We'll drink a cup of kindness yet
# For auld lang syne. #
It's meant to make you cry.
And it usually works.
Robert Burns once joked
that he would be more famous after his death than during his life.
He died with no concept of how, centuries later,
he would be revered in America,
thousands of miles from Scotland.
No notion of how his poetry and songs could be reinterpreted
or how his thoughts might inspire some of the most significant figures
in American history, helping the lives of millions.
Robert Burns never travelled to America.
He didn't need to.
Robert Burns was well aware of the revolution taking place across the Atlantic as he grew up. The poet was inspired. And America was to be inspired by him. From Abraham Lincoln to Frederick Douglass, and Walt Whitman to Bob Dylan, some of the most significant figures in American politics and culture have cited Burns as an influence.
During key moments in the nation's history these figures brought Burns's words to the fore. The Bard hit home too with America's public, beginning with the ex-pats he reminded of home. Those ex-pats were followed to America by two other Scots who also spread the word of Burns. The industrialist Andrew Carnegie keenly spread the word of Burns across the country. Singer Jean Redpath spread Burns's music within the folk revival in Greenwich Village in the 1960s.
Burns became a '19th-century Elvis' in the States, and his image was used to sell everything from cigars and tobacco to beer and fizzy pop. Today his impact upon America is further illustrated by memorials, not least in Atlanta, where a replica of Burns Cottage sits as home to the local Burns Club. Members of the club sing Burns's most famous song, Auld Lang Syne, a bona fide piece of American culture, which Americans have identified with New Year's Eve since Guy Lombardo began singing it on radio in the first part of the 20th century. It has become even more iconic since Hollywood adopted it in films such as It's a Wonderful Life.
Robert Burns never visited the United States, but whether in the north or south, east or west, its people have identified with the Bard and his works.