Epistle to Mr Tytler of Woodhouselee, Author of a Defence of Mary Queen of Scots


Revered defender of beauteous Stuart, Of Stuart! - a Name once respected, A Name which to love was the mark of a true heart, But now 'tis despis'd and neglected. Tho' something like moisture conglobes in my eye, Let no one misdeem me disloyal; A poor, friendless wand'rer may well claim a sigh, Still more if that Wand'rer were royal. My Fathers that name have rever'd on a throne: My Fathers have died to right it; Those Fathers would spurn their degenerate Son That Name should he scoffingly slight it. Still in prayers for King G- I most cordially join, The Queen and the rest of the gentry: Be they wise, be they foolish, is nothing of mine, Their title's allow'd by the Country. But why of that Epocha make such a fuss, That brought us th' Electoral stem? If bringing them over was lucky for us, I'm sure 'twas as lucky for them! But Politics, truce! we're on dangerous ground; Who knows how the fashions may alter? The doctrines today that are loyalty sound, Tomorrow may bring us a halter. I send you a trifle, a head of a bard, A trifle scarce worthy your care; But accept it, good sir, as a mark of regard, Sincere as a saint's dying prayer. Now life's chilly evening dim shades on your eye, And ushers the long dreary night: But you, like the star that athwart gilds the sky, Your course to the latest is bright.

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Simon Donald

About this work

This is an epistle by Robert Burns. It was written in 1787 and is read here by Simon Donald.

More about this epistle

In May 1787 Burns composed this epistle for the historian Mr William Tytler (1711 - 1793).

The verses were inspired by Tytler's publication, An Historical and Critical Enquiry into the Evidence produced by the Earls of Murray and Morton, against Mary Queen of Scots. With an Examination of the Rev. Dr. Robertson's Dissertation, and Mr Hume's History (1760).

Tytler was an acquaintance of Burns and James Johnson and was involved in collecting songs for publication in the Scots Musical Museum. The epistle is an example of Burns in patriotic mode as the poet shares Tytler's Jacobite sympathies ('revered defender of beauteous Stuart').

However, the politically aware poet is careful to express a rather weak, 'cordial' acceptance of the head of state, King George IV (1762 - 1830).

Pauline Mackay

Themes for this epistle

royalty politics

Selected for 02 May

This is the date, in 1568, of Mary Queen of Scots's escape from Loch Leven Castle. Less than a fortnight later, on May 13th, defeat by her own Protestant half brother at the Battle of Langside would end her hopes of halting the recent Reformation in Scotland. Burns the pro-Stuart proselytiser is not at his best here: 'Tho something like moisture conglobes in my eye'! In any competition to decide the worst line of poetry ever penned by Robert Burns this would surely be the front-runner. One would need a heart of stone not to laugh. Its sheer, bathetic preposterousness ensures that the Bard does not weep alone!

Donny O'Rourke

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