Montreal Gazette, 21 July 1817, page 2
The Monument of Burns
The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy tolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth- from earth to heaven;
An I as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown- the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name
Among the many distinguished poets of the present age no one has been more deservedly popular than Robert Burns- nor has any one possessed fairer claims upon the gratitude and admiration of his country. His wildly original, though uncultivated genius, arising superior to all the restraints of adversity and the shakles of situation, blazed like a meteor on the poetic world, and was hailed with the same enthusiasm which greets a newly discovered planet of the astronomer—But the slave of his passion—neglectful of himself—Burns was neglected by others; and, though twenty years have this day elapsed since his decease, until now, no public monument has marked his resting place, no national cenotaph has pointed out the sepulcher of native genius. Large, then, was the debt of gratitude due to his undying fame, and nobly now has Scotland redeemed the pledge.
“At length we hail him cenotaph’d—inurn’d,–
“At length we mourn him as he should be mourned,
“Art waits at length upon his honor’d tomb,
“And poesy recording, weeps his doom!
Scotsmen, indeed, may well be vain of his talents and his name, for his genius was truly national—Scotland may indeed exult, in having given him birth, for he may be said to have sprung from her very soil. But while, as Scotsmen, they are justly proud that it was reserved for their country to give birth to such a poet, the hard fate of Burns, while living, and the comparative obscurity in which he closed his days, prove, also, that while among them he was not sufficiently valued, and thus in some degree turns their pride into a reproach. Britain owes to his memory a long arrear of admiration, and the only way in which we can discharge this debt is by uniting to do honor to his tomb.
By the common consent of mankind, monuments are raised to perpetuate the memory of heroes and of kings, and justice equally demands, upon the same principle, that gratitude and admiration should bestow similar honors on poetry, since it is the bard who may be said to make kings and heroes what they ultimately become in the eyes of the world, by inciting them to deeds of virtue, and by animating them to pursue the paths of fame and glory. Poetry indeed, is not an idle art—it is that which leads us to the noblest efforts of which the human mind is capable; and which, while it is the source of our most excited actions, proves itself to be intimately connected, even with the purest springs of our intellectual existence. For the p~~~~~ effects of national poetry on all who can feel, we might confidently appeal to ail our readers. – We might ask if there is not a charm in the poetry of Burns which has had the effect of giving a new and superior interest to every spot which his muse had loved to celebrate. Who has ever visited the rivers, the valleys, the mountains, which he sang, and felt not the glow of that enthusiasm which annoted the poet they admired,– without remembering, with feelings of no common emotion, that these were objects, which he once delighted to contemplate? — Who can direct his steps to the humble cottage which the muse of Burns adorned with all the loveliest domestic virtues, and not feel the vast importance it has gained from having been endeared and sanctified by his verse? – Who can visit the fields on which those achievements have been accomplished, which gave to Scotland immortal fame, without feeling the power of him, who, in appropriate strains, his song the glory of her chieftains, and, as it were, revived Wallace, Bruce and all those who have so long slumbered with them in they gory bea! Some mark of public gratitude—some lasting record of admiration, then, must be due to the memory of the great original—untutored—and inimitable because untutored poet, whose name we have attempted to commemorate. Feeling this, and feeling the importance of distinguishing the hallowed grave of Burns by a public monument, his admiring countrymen have at length united, heart and band to promote this great design.
To the indefatigable perserverence of William Grierson, Esq., of Dumfries, is due the individual praise of having been principally instrumental in the discharge of this national obligation; and amply must his own feelings have recompense every exertion. It will be remembered that Burns died at Dumfries, on the 21st of July, 1795, at the early age of thirty-six years and about seven months, yet, though every tribute of municipal and military respect attended the funeral ceremonies of depositing his remains in the church yard of St Michael, yet a very considerable time elapsed before a stone was ~~~ over charged that covered the relicts of departed genius and that was but a plain and ~~~~, reared by a widow’s affection, and dewed with a widow’s tears. Such neglect was regretted, but not ret~~~; and though several ~~~ were individually subscribed towards the erection of a public monument, it was not until the close of the year 1813 that any measures of importance were ultimately decided upon. After much exertion amongst private friends, Mr. Grierson was enabled to convene a public meeting of the admirers of Burns , on the 6th of January, 1814, when general Dunlop, MP was called to the chair, and considering “that it had been a subject of regret that no public tribute of respect was yet paid to the memory of a man who had employed his unrivalled powers in giving grace and dignity to the lowland language of Scotland, and illustrating the manners and character of the Scottish peasantry.” – It was unanimously resolved,
“That a mausoleum be erected over the grave of Burns, and a public subscription be immediately opened for that purpose .”
A Committee was consequently appointed, consisting of the marquis of Queensbury, the earl of Selkirk, and a number of other distinguished characters, to carry into active effect the resolutins of the meeting. A very extensive correspondence was immediately commenced, and the lists of subscriptions soon proved that the appeal was not in vain, as amongst many other contributions of British liberality, the treasurer had early the honor of acknowledging the munificent donation of fifty guineas from his royal highness the prince regent.
Proposals were then issued for artists to furnish designs for the mausoleum and monument, when, from nearly sixty others, the plan of Thomas F Huot, Esq., architect, was selected for the mausoleum; and a most classical model, by Peter Turnerelli, Esq., was made choice of for the marble sculpture to be erected over the place of sepulture in its interior. Throughout the varied range of all the poetry and prose of Burns, there is perhaps one passage which could have been transferred to live in marble with equal felicity of effect for the purposes intended: the words occur in the dedication of an early edition of his poems to the “Noblemen and Gentlemen of the Caledonian Hunt,”—
“The Poetic Genius of my Country found me — as the prophetic Bard Elijah did Elisha—
at the plough—and threw her inspiring mantle over me!”
And in giving “form and pressure” to the imagination of the poet, Mr. Turnerelli had been singularly successful.
It was, however, now discovered, that the grave of Burns was, unfortunately, so situated as to preclude the possibility of any erection upon its present site, and with the consent of his surviving relatives, the sacred deposit was removed to a piece of new ground, on the opposite side of the church yard, where the projected mausoleum would not only produce an infinitely superior effect, but receive the additional advantage of being much easier accessible. On Monday, therefore, the 5th June, 1815, was laid, the first stone of the intended erection, when the ceremony was performed with due solemnity and Masonic pomp, by William Miller, Esq., provincial grand master of the district, assisted by several hundred brethren of Dumfries, and deputations from all the lodges in its vicinity. So interesting a spectacle attracted an immense concourse of visitors, and the whole was conducted to the gratification of all who witnessed it.
The building is now nearly completed, and the marble sculpture, it is hoped, will be erected early next spring. When entirely finished, it will, as a whole, certainly equal any sepulchral memorial in Great Britain. It will be a cemetery worthy of Caledonia’s highly gifted bard; an honor to those who have reared it over his ashes, and a most interesting ornament to the surrounding country—
“Where still that fresh, that unforgotten name
“Shall pay th’arrear of monumental fame,
“As oft the travelloer, oft the poet turns
“To muse and linger o’er the Tomb of Burns.
FCS July 22, 1817.