A Dedication To Gavin Hamilton "Morality, Thou Deadly Bane"
by Robert Burns

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"Morality, Thou Deadly Bane"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Burns dedicated his first book of poetry to his friend, lawyer Gavin Hamilton. Amusingly, however, the poet placed the dedication poem in the volume in the twenty-fifth place, perhaps surmising that an ecclesiastical satire, one of many that Burns wrote, might not make a popular opening. The poem was written when Hamilton, along with Burns, one of the New Lichts who held to a liberalized interpretation of Calvinistic doctrine, was persecuted by an Auld Licht minister and charged among other things with two absences from church in December and three in January. Hamilton was exonerated by the church councils. Burns was bitter against the kind of religion that brought such charges. A religion like this, he felt, degrades man by its doctrines and masked sanctimoniousness and lack of compassion. In the middle of this poem, which is marked in general by jesting and jovial charm, Burns's bitterness flashes out in lines such as,

Morality, thou deadly bane,
Thy tens o' thousands thou hast slain.
Vain is his hope, whose stay and trust is
In mortal mercy, truth, and justice.