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Thursday, 27 November 2014

You should know better, Dr Starkey

LATEST in line to take pot-shots publicly at Scotland’s National Bard is English historian Dr David Starkey who has described Robert Burns as a “boring provincial poet”.

Now, I wasn’t surprised when someone as brash and insensitive as Jeremy Paxman ridiculed Burns as “The king of doggerel” but I expected more from an academic, like Starkey.

How come England’s national bards, the highly-respected William Wordsworth and Alfred Lord Tennyson both praised the poetry of Burns who wasn’t simply “an uneducated ploughman”. He grew up familiar with the works of Shakespeare, Milton and Pope.

Do Paxman and Starkey know more about Burns’ poetry than their own revered national poets? And how come Burns is a poet celebrated the world over? Are Wordsworth, Milton et al as much-loved worldwide as Burns?

Account must be taken of the music to which Burns wrote his words and the research he carried out up and down the country to find this music. Can you sing the words of England’s poets? Try putting music to the poems of Wordsworth, Milton, Tennyson.

It would seem Burns’ detractors have dismissed his work out of hand without bothering to read his huge and varied output. Perhaps they can’t be ersed to try to understand him.

His poetry may seem simplistic to intellectual snobs but, as Isabel Connelly pointed out in her wonderful comprehensive lecture on the music of Burns last Sunday, there’s an art to concealing art and Burns did this, thereby making his poems accessible to everyone.

Just because his poetry, with its humanity, is understood and strikes a chord in the hearts of millions, it should not be dismissed by so-called intellectuals. Doing so is a reflection on their “intellect”.

Not only did David Starkey denigrate the poetry of Scotland’s bard, he also dismissed our nation as “feeble”.

Without the invention of television by Scotsman John Logie Baird, who would even recognise the names Jeremy Paxman and David Starkey?

And where would the world be without Scotland’s contribution to society through its Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century? This age is universally acknowledged as a cultural phenomenon of international significance.

It was a period of extraordinary intellectual activity when thinkers, like Adam Smith and David Hume, influenced the way the world was to go.

In 1776 Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations, still considered to be the bible of economics. It triggered free trade. Britain had lost its American colonies because we had previously followed a policy of restricted trade.

Scotland’s Joseph Black discovered at that time fixed air which led to our awareness of carbon dioxide, the damaging greenhouse gas. He also did work on heat which led to modern thermo-dynamics. James Watt’s invention drove the Industrial Revolution. These are but a few names of Scotsmen who changed the world.

French philosopher Voltaire said at that time: “It is now to Scotland we must look for ideas of civilisation.” What was England’s contribution at this time?

Starkey’s stupid comment on our nation is grist to the mill for the Scottish nationalists’ campaign for an independent Scotland. Maybe this is what he wants.

Let people like him remember that way back at the end of the 13th century, after years of bullying by England, Scotland, in 1295, signed The Auld Alliance with France against England.

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