Robert Burns: Politics
Overseas dramatic events were unfolding, when Burns was 17 the Continental Congress carried the American Declaration of Independence, when he was 30 the Bastille was stormed by Parisians. All around there were revolts against ingrained class systems.
Robert Burns was a political animal though it is difficult to know what he would have thought of the fact that he is now claimed by every side of the political debate in Scotland as representing their views. Still, as an artist, perhaps he can unify them all and perhaps it is this factor that makes him a national hero.
The political themes of his poetry, often in English rather than Scots dialect (or, sometimes, both), covered Republicanism, class inequality, gender roles, the Church and State, Radicalism.
Yet curiously he joined the Establishment while still expressing and believing in these things. He was an 'Exciseman', which is to say, a tax collector particularly of those taxes to be raised on alcohol.
It seems an odd choice for a man with such anti-establishment views, and as fond of a tipple as he was. In these days this was no desk job, and one true tale was the seizure of the smuggling ship "The Rosamund".
The Rosamond, a schooner registered at Plymouth, was being used for smuggling. It had run aground in the Solway Firth and Burns with forty-four dragoons were required to capture it. The smugglers fought back firing grape shot from their cannon but because the ship was aground they couldn't shoot in the right direction.
Eventually the dragoons managed to get close enough to fire and board
the ship. Meanwhile the entire crew had jumped off, after firing a cannon
through the ship's hull, and escaped to the English shore.
However, it was this choice of profession that led to his death by illness rather than misadventure.