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his religion was really a very real and pronounced thing. In fact, so far as a positive religious influence could do it, the pious power of his father formed and inspired the soul of Burns in a lasting way. His religious emotions were early and strongly touched in his father's cot, and his religious ideas came to him in the atmosphere of a home made vital by the intelligence of a truth-loving guardian. He breathed certain thoughts in his childhood with every breath of his soul, and made them his own by reasoning in his manhood. They were the most vital elements in his mind, the saving ingredients in his conscience.
It was with no light, profane, debauched power of mind that Burns wrote his reformatory religious poems. They are not pot-house effusions, dashed off to feed a wanton hilarity, but pieces written in the seclusion of his own chamber, with the most serious intent that ever moved a pen. They are corrective and heretical, and therefore not liked by orthodoxy. Their significance and worth for us lie
in their heterodoxy. The reformatory work which he was set to do for religion and morality was allied not only in spirit but in actual connexion with the Unitarian movement of the period. He was an enthusiastic missionary of the New Light, more powerful as a poet than its leading. propagandists were as preachers. The cot opened up to us in the hour of worship is really a heretical sanctuary, and the conductor of the devotion is a pronounced heretic. There is nothing whatever for Orthodoxy in the poem. The virtues of the home cannot be claimed by Calvinism. It was not from the Shorter Catechism that the writer of it got his theology. He is the child of heterodoxy, and is its spokesman.
There is a remarkable element in the poem which John Ruskin discerned and which casts a sidelight on its heretical character. Speaking of children in Art and Literature, and of the influences which compelled our painters to represent the children of the poor as in wickedness or misery,' he says, 'I am not able to say with whom, in Britain, the reaction first
begins-but certainly not in painting until after Wilkie, in all of whose works there is not a single example of a beautiful Scotch boy or girl. I imagine in literature we may take the Cotter's Saturday Night and the "toddlin' wee things as the real beginning of child benediction.'
That the reaction happily called 'child benediction' should be traceable in that way to the Cotter's Saturday Night is a very notable thing. And there are connexions of the fact equally notable. Modern Humanitarianism of which 'child benediction' is a branch, originated, on its religious side, with heretics, mostly Unitarian. The first Sunday School in England was started by Theophilus Lindsey, the Unitarian clergyman of Catterick. It is in the Aul' Clay Biggan that we find the Scottish counterpart of that school. In the case of William Burness we have the first historic attempt of a Scotch layman to give original religious instruction to his children. Why was it left to a heretic to take this initiative ? Why was Burns the first to depict 'child
benediction' in literature? The reason is plain.
Calvinism taught the depravity of children and the reprobation of infants even. Unitarianism taught the divinity of the child-nature, and gave a moral worth to every child. Thus it awakened an educational interest in children, and revived the thought' of such is the kingdom of heaven.' William Burness was taught the benediction instead of the curse of children by Taylor's book, and we may well suppose that his affectionate treatment of his own bairns influenced Burns in writing the lines in the Cotter's Saturday Night noted by John Ruskin.
An orthodox parent could not but look upon his child with dread lest he should not be among the elect, and therefore go to hell. To think of educating a nature wholly evil was not permissible; learning would be worse than thrown away, it would only make children clever deils.' The Unitarian parent had no such fear. He looked with respect on his child, saw in it divine capacities. and felt it to
be his duty to culture these. Hence various efforts for 'child benediction Sunday Schools, Ragged Schools, Domestic Missions, Reformatories, etc., originated with Unitarians.
Very remarkable in this connexion is that Saturday gathering by the Cotter's ' wee bit ingle,' at which the younkers, in homely educative fashion, were warned to
mind their labours wi' an eydent hand, And ne'er tho' out o' sight, to jauk or play; And O! be sure to fear the Lord alway, And mind your duty, duly, morn and night; Lest in temptation's path ye gang astray, Implore his counsel and assisting might: They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright.
That might well be set up as a model Sunday school lesson. It is simple, thorough, and immediately practical. It is not the admonition of a dogmatist seeking to indoctrinate the mind, but of a compassionate man having more regard for qualities of character than for shades of opinion. It does not express care for creed, but concern for conduct.