"Freedom And Whisky Gang Thegither"
Context: Robert Burns, oldest of the seven children of a farmer who spelled his name Burnes, was born in a cottage that blew down a week after his birth. From his father he inherited brains, general superiority, and a tendency to hypochondria. His wit, love of humor, and lyrical ability came from his mother. He was educated in a small school and later by his father, but his acquaintance with Scotch legends and tales of ghosts and devils came from an old lady, Betty Davidson. When Burns was sixteen, the family moved to a larger community. Here the poet attended dancing school, courted the ladies, and soon became acquainted with taverns and, as he said, "scenes of swaggering riot." He also enjoyed adventures with smugglers who frequented the bare and deeply coved coasts, and took a liking to Scotch whisky. Speaking for all who shared his taste, Burns uttered what is called in the 1793 edition "A Simple Poet's Prayer." It is addressed to "The Right Honourable and Honourable the Scotch Representatives in the House of Commons," in protest against the excise laws which he declares favor "the blackguard Smuggler" and the "chuffie Vintner (Fatfaced Wine Seller)" who get wealthy because of the duty charged on whisky. In a later edition, a signed footnote states that the poem "was wrote before the act anent the Scotch Distilleries of Session 1786; for which Scotland and the author return their most grateful thanks." Apparently his plea, or the general Scotch protest, brought a reduction in taxes, which, in 1789, he could accept appointment as exciseman, to help collect. The poem begins with his appeal addressed to the sober and serious representatives of the boroughs and shires on behalf of his Muse, now hoarse from screeching prosaic verse:
Ye Irish Lords, ye Knights and Squires,Who represent our brughs and shires,An' doucely manage our affairsIn Parliament,To you a simple Bardie's prayersAre humbly sent.He wants them told that "Scotland an' me's in great affliction/ E'er sin' they laid that curst restriction/ On Aquavitae." He provides a new rhyme for "whisky," "pliskie," meaning a trick, as he declares that ever since they "play'd her that pliskie," she's "like to rin red-wud (stark mad) about her Whisky." In the Postscript, Burns concedes that the half-starved slaves in warmer climes may drink their wine, unenvied by Scotland who "blythe an' frisky/ Eyes her free-born martial boys/ Tak aff their Whisky." And in conclusion, Burns writes:Sages their solemn een may steek,An' raise a philosophic reek,An' physically causes seek,In clime an' season;But tell me Whisky's name in Greek.I'll tell the reason.Scotland, my auld, respected Mither!Tho' whyles ye moistify your leather,Till whare ye sit, on craps o' heather,Ye tine your dam:Freedom and Whisky gang thegither!Tak aft your dram!