For A' That "The Rank Is But The Guinea's Stamp"

Robert Burns

"The Rank Is But The Guinea's Stamp"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Burns's last years were spent in an atmosphere of social unrest characterized by the writings of Tom Paine and by the French Revolution, unrest that caused strife and persecution in a Scotland still largely feudal. Only in 1775 was a law passed forbidding the buying and selling of men and women in the mines and salt works. Though the political position of Burns is still argued among his biographers, in "Is There, for Honest Poverty?" we can see clearly that his basic sense of the innate worth of each man has deepened into true belief in equality and fraternity. It is well for us to remember that it was not popular then to say, "It's coming yet, for a' that/ That man to man the warld o'er/ Shall brothers be for a' that." It was not prudent to declare, "A prince can mak a belted knight,/ A marquis, duke, and a' that,/ But an honest man's aboon his might." And it was not wise to state that the gold lay in the man himself, not in his minted mark of social position:

Is there, for honest poverty,
That hings his head, an' a' that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an a' that,
Our toils obscure, an' a' that;
The rank is but the guinea's stamp;
The man's the gowd for a' that.