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Address Of Beelzebub

Long life, my Lord, an' health be yours, Unskaithed by hunger'd Highland boors; Lord grant me nae duddie, desperate beggar, Wi' dirk, claymore, and rusty trigger, May twin auld Scotland o' a life She likes - as lambkins like a knife. Faith you and Applecross were right To keep the Highland hounds in sight: I doubt na! they wad bid nae better, Than let them ance out owre the water, Then up among thae lakes and seas, They'll mak what rules and laws they please: Some daring Hancocke, or a Franklin, May set their Highland bluid a-ranklin; Some Washington again may head them, Or some Montgomery, fearless, lead them, Till God knows what may be effected When by such heads and hearts directed, Poor dunghill sons of dirt and mire May to Patrician rights aspire! Nae sage North now, nor sager Sackville, To watch and premier o'er the pack vile, An' whare will ye get Howes and Clintons To bring them to a right repentance To cowe the rebel generation, An' save the honour o' the nation? They, an' be damn'd! what right hae they To meat, or sleep, or light o' day? Far less - to riches, pow'r, or freedom, But what your lordship likes to gie them? But hear, my lord! Glengarry, hear! Your hand's owre light on them, I fear; Your factors, grieves, trustees, and bailies, I canna say but they do gaylies; They lay aside a' tender mercies, An' tirl the hallions to the birses; Yet while they're only poind't and herriet, They'll keep their stubborn Highland spirit: But smash them! crash them a' to spails, An' rot the dyvors i' the jails! The young dogs, swinge them to the labour; Let wark an' hunger mak them sober! The hizzies, if they're aughtlins fawsont, Let them in Drury-lane be lesson'd! An' if the wives an' dirty brats Come thiggin at your doors an' yetts, Flaffin wi' duds, an' grey wi' beas', Frightin away your deuks an' geese; Get out a horsewhip or a jowler, The langest thong, the fiercest growler, An' gar the tatter'd gypsies pack Wi' a' their bastards on their back! Go on, my Lord! I lang to meet you, An' in my house at hame to greet you; Wi' common lords ye shanna mingle, The benmost neuk beside the ingle, At my right han' assigned your seat, 'Tween Herod's hip an' Polycrate: Or if you on your station tarrow, Between Almagro and Pizarro, A seat, I'm sure ye're well deservin't; An' till ye come - your humble servant, Beelzebub. Hell, 1st June, Anno Mundi 5790.


Maureen Beattie

About this work

This is a poem by Robert Burns. It was written in 1786 and is read here by Maureen Beattie.

More about this poem

When on 23 May 1786, the Highland society in London 'learned from the Earl of Breadalbane that five hundred Highlanders had subscribed money to emigrate from the estates of Macdonald of Glengary to Canada' (Kingsley, 108), it was decided that the noblemen and gentlemen would 'frustrate their design' in order to avoid the further loss of British subjects (it is estimated that around 12,000 Highlanders emigrated between 1782 and 1803).

Thomas Telford reported that the single 'most powerful' cause of emigrations was the mass conversion of land into sheep farms, of which the estates of MacDonald and Glengarry are singled out particularly in the Address of Beelzebub.

The loss of such enormous numbers posed a threat to British security and an economic loss to the landlords, and so, in June 1803 parliament swiftly passed the Passenger Vessels Act which raised the cost of a passage to Canada and America under the guise of regulating the passenger vessels which crossed the Atlantic.

The truth of the Bill, drawn up by Scotland's lord advocate, Charles Hope, was revealed in a letter he wrote in 1804: [the Bill] 'certainly was intended, both by myself and the other gentlemen of the committee [of the Highland Society] appointed to enquire into the situation in the highlands, indirectly to prevent the effects of that pernicious spirit of discontent against their own country, and rage for emigrating to America, which had been raised among the people'.

The Passenger Vessels Act led to an extension of the overcrowded townships and miserable living conditions of the Highlands. Of course, once the population no longer served as an economic commodity, the Clearances began and many more thousands were forced to emigrate.

The tone of this poem is clear. Beelzebub writes to congratulate the lords responsible for their actions against the audacity of the 'rebel generation'. What right have they 'To meat, or sleep, or light o'day/ far less to riches, pow'r, or freedom/ But what your lordships PLEASE TO GIE THEM?'

Burns can be seen to highlight the attitude towards the Highlands in lines 37/38 'Yet, while they're only poin'd, and herriet/ They'll keep their stubborn Highlan spirit', and the social injustice of the piece is encapsulated in lines 51/52 'An' gar the tatter'd gipseys pack/Wi' a' their bastarts on their back!'.

It is interesting that Burns uses Beelzebub as a narrator, thereby damning the lords in the strongest possible terms 'at my right hand, assigned your seat...A seat, I'm sure ye're weel deservin't', when there are examples of this type of damnation upon the landlords and factors in the Gaelic poetry of the Clearances.

Iain Macdonald

Themes for this poem

supernatural revolution class

Selected for 01 June

We begin our June selection with a poem given today’s date in 5790 and set in Hell! As to what precisely the aristocratic, London-based Highland Society was proposing for the relief of poor Highlanders, an impassioned Burns may have got the wrong end of the political stick. But emigration was a subject guaranteed to provoke the poet. Economic disruption had caused his own father to leave the North East of Scotland after the battle of Culloden. And at the time of writing, a near destitute Burns was himself reluctantly intent upon a new life in the West Indies. Ever sceptical about plans for the Scottish poor drawn up by the English rich, the Bard has Satan send a letter to his fellow 'evil doers' in the Highland Society who will soon join him in Hell. A wee bit over the top? Certainly! But delectably so...

Donny O'Rourke

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