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Toast to the Lassies
by Carson C. Smith, FSA Scot

Toast to the Lassies presented at the Burns Supper of the Scottish American Club of Indiana on Saturday, January 26, 2002.

I will not embarrass them by asking them to stand, but, before I begin, will you join me in recognizing this eventís organizers, two (2) remarkable lassies, Marguerite Hendrie and Cheryl Currie?


How remarkable it is that, as you leave this place, I will be remembered as the Speaker with the "funny accent!"

If, in fact, a transcript of my remarks is made available, I will prevail upon the printer to provide you with a proper translation.


It has long been observed,

"A woman can make an average man great, and a great man average."

Burns could not have attained the status he has so long enjoyed, were it not for the fact that he was surrounded by remarkable women.

The women of whom Burns wrote, were not the frail, timid ladies of English Nobility, they were neither weaker vessels, nor victims, they were the proud descendants of Celtic womanhood.

When the Ancient Romans encountered the Celtic tribes inhabiting Northern Europe, in an area north of the Alps, and extending from Turkey in the east, to Ireland in the west, they were impressed with equal station enjoyed by their women.

Celtic women enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom by standards known in the Ancient and Medieval worlds.

They were renowned for their individuality and courage, and were particularly praised for their qualities of self-respect and independence.

Celtic women could inherit land and title, no less than their male siblings.

A woman could serve as chief of the clan, and enter into battle, just as men did, in time of war.

The ferocity of the Celtic warrior women is the subject of legend.

The Romans were shocked by the sexual liberty enjoyed by Celtic women, who extended what the Celts euphemistically referred to as, "the friendship of the thighs."

Proper Roman matrons, with the false standards of "respectability" imposed upon them by their men folk, found lovers among those prepared to indulge in secret liaisons.

Due, perhaps, to the sexual liberty of the Celts, succession within their tribes and clans was matrilineal because, amid such general promiscuity, it could be difficult to ascertain who the father of a particular child had been.

A Celtic woman could divorce her husband if he failed to support her, or treat her with respect, if he was impotent, homosexual, sterile, or gossiped about their sex lives.

She could leave him if he was fat, a snorer, or just plain repulsive.

It was to the inheritors of the Spirit of Celtic womanhood, and to the literary celebration of their many virtues, that Burns devoted so much of his energy:

The farmerís daughter, Nelly Kilpatrick, known to us as Handsome Nell,

Peggy Thompson, whose memory is preserved in Now Westlin Winds and Slaughtíring Guns,

Burns only bride, Jean Armour, who bore him two (2) sets of twins, before their wedding,

inspiration for A Wifeís a Winsome Wee Thing,

Mary Campbell, immortalized as Highland Mary,

Nancy Craig MacLehose, known secretly to Burns, and now, to all the world as Clarinda, who inspired Ae Fond Kiss,


Anna Parke, celebrated as Anna with the Golden Locks.

The irresistible beauty, and the sensuality, of the women who inhabited the world of Burns is evidenced by the fact that he fathered no fewer than thirteen (13) children through liaisons with no fewer than five (5) women whose names are known to us.

Clearly, Burns enjoyed "the friendship of the thighs," and found, in that, his greatest inspiration.

The strength of Celtic women is demonstrated in the person of his wife, Jean Armour who, for reasons even the most generous would have difficulty comprehending, chose to take the daughter of one of Burns liaisons into her own home.

But we can easily imagine that there were exchanges in the Burns home which provided the model for the ferocity of Tam Oí Shanterís missus.


Burns could not have attained the status he has so long enjoyed, were it not for the fact that he was surrounded by remarkable women.

And, arenít we all?

His love of the lassies, is best summarized in this excerpt from Green Grow the Rashes:

Auld Nature swears the lovely dears

Her noblest work she classes;

Her Ďprentice haní she tried on man,

And then She made the lasses!

And so we toast the daughters of the Celts, and All the members of the fairer sex who are the inheritors of the Spirit of the Celts, as celebrated in the verse of Robert Burns, in all their beauty, dignity, strength, and, yes, in their ferocity.

"A woman can make an average man great, and a great man average."

Let each man consider this proposition, quietly, and to himself, for in doing so aloud, he places himself in grave peril.

Gentlemen! Be up, on your feet, and join me in a Toast to the Lassies!


To the Lassies!

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