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Robert Burns Lecture
By John Fraser, A. M., formerly of Glasgow University (1886)


Preface

Dear Friend Fraser

159 Dearsborn St.,
Chicago,

January 1st, 1887

I feel unable to express the pleasure with which I received the first number of your brother's very popular lectures and do trust that they will meet with the success they so well merit. As a truly representative Scotch writer I think he stood alone in this great city, and as a Lecturer it will be difficult to get anyone to fill his place. Seeing the form the lectures are in, you might at your earliest convenience issue his one on "Robert Burns," as from the many talks we have had during the time he was in charge of the literary department of my office I know that Burns was his favorite poet. Even now his vivid description of the land of Burns rises up before me, as if painted on canvas, and I can almost see the small thatched cottage with its single door, two small windows, and its "but and ben" where the great poet was born; with the auld Kirk O'Alloway in its immediate vicinity; or standing on the poet's monument, view the beautiful scenery, more like an Italian than a Scotch scene, and see one of the reasons why Burns's songs are so pastoral in there character; or listening catch the low rumbling sound of the river as it passes through the "Auld and the New Brigs O'Ayr." Your brother seemed to treat Burns in his home life, as if he was personally known to him, and often have I listened as he told of the trials he shared along with his father, whom he simply adored, working away with a will, to make the barren soil yield a return for the labor expended. But it was when speaking of Burns as a poet that he seemed to forget himself, in his anxiety to give a proper estimate of the beauty of his verse; quoting song after song to illustrate his meaning, now with boyish gleesomeness singing a snatch of "When the Kye Comes Hame," crooning over quietly, "Ye Banks and Braes," all the while keeping time with his foot, or. reciting the "Cottar's Saturday Night" with a pathetic and real intensity that once heard can never be forgotten. Suddenly rising and taking a cigar or toothpick, he would walk back and forward quietly chuckling to himself all the while; and then coming close to where I sat, he would tell of his own college days and companionships, where Burns was being continually sung and parodied by medical or clerical students, who varied it by telling many unpublished stories about the poet. One song out of the many which he sung, comes vividly to my memory even now, the more so as I got it written down at the time, being struck with the strange rythmical beauty of the words, as he sang them in Latin, "Virent arundines," etc. until I could almost wish I had been among those whose tramp, tramp reverberating through the paved court and quadrangle of the Old Glasgow College kept time to the singing of: "Green grow the rashes, O!". I feel certain that many who heard his lecture on Burns will be equally anxious to get a copy of it. At the time of its delivery the press received it with very highly eulogistic criticisms, all of which he received in his usual quiet way; saying that of all the praise he got, that which he prized most of all was given at the close of this lecture, as he was talking to a small circle of friends. When a tall sailor-like man elbowed his way forward and holding out his hand, said "Man Johnie, but I am rale prood o' ye, I wudna take a thoosand pound tae hae missed hearing ye, dae ye no ken me (mentioning his name) I'm frae Lochgilphead." But I have written more than I intended, excuse my thus lingering and recalling to memory what to me will always be an oasis in the midst of my busy life fragrant with the memories of the educational talks which your brother and I had in my office. Again wishing you all success and placing my services at your command.

I remain yours truly,

JOHN B. JEFFERY.

NOTE BY THE PUBLISHERS. We take the liberty of using Mr. John B. Jeffery's letter, because it expresses in writing the desire of most of the subscribers, and many Scotch friends who know that this lecture was the means of securing the chair of English literature in the Chicago University. Whilst in no way apologizing, we think it but fair to state that this lecture is the only one in the series that seems to have appeared, in part at least, in many of the Monthlies and Weeklies on both sides of the Atlantic, and from the notes in our possession, we are led to the belief that it was seldom delivered in exactly the same way, more especially as the subject was a very congenial one. This may account for the want of verve, which we fear, from the very eulogistic remarks of the press, and many who heard it, may be awanting. D. F. & Sons.

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