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account of a Cotter's homely devotions, to the dimensions of a drama representing the pious acts of a reverent people.

The hero of the poem, in his genial solemnity, engages our interest. From him the poem takes its significance. In the light of his strong character the deeper meaning of the piece is seen. There is a touch of severity in his countenance, but it is subdued by the kindness which draws the expectant wee things' forth 'wi' flichterin' noise and glee' to meet him, and which also evokes his thrifty wifie's smile.' We discern that he is a man of orderly habits, serious disposition, and stately integrity, having in him withal a tender compassion and a deep undercurrent of paternal affection.

But the chief thing which we should know is that the father of Burns was a heretic in theology and religion. If he was not actually a Unitarian, he was next to one.


be that he took the seeds of heresy with him from Montrose to Ayr, for it was at Montrose, in 1781, that Unitarianism first appeared in Scotland in organized form. But in Ayr, itself, in his day, the New Light' views shone out in the teaching of Drs. Dalrymple and Macgill. These divines were in close touch with English Unitarian preachers, and were treated as 'Socinians.' The Burns family, as Carruthers tells, were regarded as Unitarians. One notable book by a Unitarian divine-Taylor's Original Sin—is very specially mentioned in one of the letters of Burns. That volume would have a strong interest for the inquiring Cotter, for in it all the texts cited in the Larger Catechism to prove the dogma of the Fall were critically examined. Whether it was that book, or his own reflections, that made William Burness resolve not to teach his children Calvinistic views, we cannot discover, but we know that he prepared a manual of devotion for his family of a heretical kind.

There can be no doubt that Burns was reared on Unitarian lines. And his reading of such works as that of the Norwich controversialist would enable him to take the part described by himself in the

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polemical discussions then so common in the west, in which he ‘scored heavily' against the upholders of Calvinism, and raised the cry of heresy around him. A remarkable admission of the heterodoxy was recently made in an orthodox journal (British Weekly,' II February, 1897). In the 'Correspondence of Claudius Clear,' and in the course of a review of the Chambers-Wallace edition of the works of Burns, the writer said :— It might not be too much to say that both Burns and his father were Unitarians. It is likely that they had read other Unitarian works besides the one on Original Sin which they prized so much, for it would be sure to whet their appetite for more of the same sort. Six years before he wrote the Cotter's Saturday Night, Burns mentioned the name of Joseph Priestley in a letter, and we may infer that he had read some of the theological writings of the learned scientist.

In one of his later poemsEpistle from Esopus to Maria, he associated himself in a very plain way with the notorious


Thomas Fyshe Palmer, Unitarian minister, Dundee, who was banished along with Thomas Muir for political heresy. He describes himself thus :

The shrinking bard adown the alley skulks, And dreads a meeting worse than Woolwich

hulks ; Though there, his heresies in Church and State Might well award him Muir and Palmer's fate.


The presence of Unitarian books in a Scottish Cotter's house, then, is a very significant thing. It proves that the father of Burns was an extraordinary man, open-minded and courageous. His composition of a manual of devotion for his children also marks him as

man of unusually advanced opinions and force of character.

Well might Burns revere his thoughtful parent and lay his tuition deeply to heart. That reverence was the rock out of which there came the spring of rationalism and hatred of hypocrisy which we find flowing all the way with Burns as a writer. He was an apt pupil, and his own thought

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ran readily on the lines of his father's ideas. The embodiment of his thoughts in his poems gave to the heresies a scope far beyond that ever dreamt of by his father when he took pains to express his religious ideas for his children's sake. It is not too much to say that the work of Burns could not have been what it was but for the Unitarian leaven which came to him through the teaching of his father.

These things are stated here simply by way of showing the real source and nature of the heresies of Burns. These heresies have been attributed to an undisciplined mind and a wayward will. They have been regarded as the irreligion of a debauchee. Generally they have been minimized and passed over.

Mr. Wallace says Burns ‘did not believe in the Confession of Faith, and probably regarded the prevailing theological and ecclesiastical system as a delusion, but the religion of the poet was not of a negative character.

Unfortunately for the reputation of Burns, the dictum of Carlyle regarding his want of religion has been accepted ; but

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