Robert Burns; But not as we know him

A controversial subject but one that needs addressing.

Robert Burns has not only been tarred with the presentism brush of being associated with slavery, but more scaldingly accused of being a rapist – a ‘Weinstein sex pest’ of his age.



uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.”

As you know Robert Burns, the Scottish national poet, is an important reference for Freemasons.

Well, let´s put the question: what’s new about Burns? No good news, I must say, and I hope not to disturb you. The problem is that recently Burns was the target of several attacks that deserve a word from us, his Brethren.

One of the particularities of our times is the concept of political correctness. In this case, the concept’s perversion.

No doubt that today we have achieved a better understanding of human rights and human respect in all the diversity of human life.

That is something good. We need to identify and confront all the concepts and attitudes which don’t respect the human condition and their right to difference.

No doubt that we need to confront slavery, racism, colonialism, aggression, and discrimination against women, gays, transsexuals, and so on.

But in the name of this, there are certain people that use this to promote lies and false accusations using, for instance, a very 21st century presentism vocabulary and taping it on top of Burns.

Our Brother Poet was recently a victim of this. A British institution called the ‘National Trust for Scotland‘ created a list of people and institutions related to slavery, in which they included the Robert Burns Museum, in Alloway, as ‘deeply connected’ with slavery.

‘Deeply connected’ with slavery?! The man didn’t even go to Jamaica, he didn’t receive a penny from slavery.

He was broken, his life was in complete disarray, and, most important, he was one of few in those times to confront slavery and to write, for instance, The Slave’s Lament, the poem featuring the mental pain of a slave in his own voice:

It was in sweet Senegal…
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more,
All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost,
Like the lands of Virginia-ginia O:
There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow,
And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear

Burns was always very clear about his firm convictions and support for equality, freedom, and friendship for all mankind, of all sexes, of all colors, and of all conditions. There is no evidence to involve him with slavery.

Another recent slur against Burns, was made by Liz Lochhead, the poet, the famous Scottish Makar. In recent talks and papers, she accused Burns of being a ‘Weinstein sex pest’.

A Weinstein sex pest? You know Harvey Weinstein, the dirty sex abuser charged in trials with raping and sexually assaulting several women.

There is no way you could compare this man with Robert Burns. There is no evidence in Burns’ work, in all the documents about him, in history that shows any kind of things like rape or violence against women by Burns.

Liz Lochhead invokes a letter that Burns sent to his great friend the lawyer Robert Ainslie in 1788 describing an encounter with Jean Armour, his future wife. Well, let’s check the letter – I quote:

«Jean I found banished, like a martyr – forlorn destitute and friendless:

… I have reconciled her to her fate… I have taken her a room. I have taken her to my arms. I have given her a mahogany bed. … and I have (excuse the crude words of Burns; there is always some kind of bawdry on Burns) I have fucked her till she rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory.»



Jean Armour, painted by John Alexander Gilfillan, in 1822.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Strong feelings, and passionate sex between a man and a woman, no doubt, expressed in a private conversation, in a letter between men, but by all means, this cannot be considered rape.

Jean Armour, the lady in that situation loved Burns, they married just after this, and Jean loved and cared for Burns all his life.



So, National Trust for Scotland or Liz Lochhead, hold your tongue about Burns, please!



My main point is this: we don’t love Burns because he was an angel, because he was a saint. We love Burns because he was a human being, imperfect like all of us, but always in search of great and good values, values that touch our hearts.

As Edwin Muir, another honorable Scottish poet, wrote, Burns is not simply a poet, he is more a communal poetic creation.

A great man who by some miracle has been transformed into an ordinary man and is greater because of it. Legendary because he was uniquely ordinary. The ordinary man for whom Scotland had been looking. Not as a king because kings are more common.

Well, my Brethren, we are going to keep praising this Man, this Man in search of something inside us all, this Brother we love. So,

Fare-thee-weel, my only Poet!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, I’ll do it,
Tho’ it were more than thousand mile!

Editor’s Note:

You can read Liz Lochhead’s article here

Reacting to Ms Lochhead’s remarks, Wilson Ogilvie, a past president of the Burns Federation trashed her comparison of Burns to Weinstein. Speaking to the Herald Mr Ogilvie said:

“There are huge differences in the worlds they lived in, separated between the 18th and the 21st centuries. Burns was not lilly-white (sic) in his attitudes towards women. But at that time, I think a number of people right across the whole spectrum of society could have written a letter like that. I think Ms Lochhead has gone a bit over the top.”

Article by: Carlos Oliveira Santos

Carlos Oliveira Santos,  is a Portuguese university professor and the author of thirty books. His last book is about the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer ( ).

Carlos is a Master Mason initiated into the Lodge Universalis (Grand Orient of Portugal) in 2012.

With a Ph.D. in Political Science, his main specialism is social marketing, and he received the Outstanding Achievement Award, conferred by the European Social Marketing Association, during the 2019 World Social Marketing Conference in Edinburgh. He is the publisher of Marketing Social Portugal – A social marketing space for the Portuguese-speaking world ( ).

He studied Burns at the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at The University of Glasgow.
Carlos is the president of The Cascais Burns Club, the first created in Portugal.


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