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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Liberty', 'Tree of

A poem attributed to Burns, but about the genuineness of which there is some dispute. No original has come to light. Allan Cunningham rejected the poem. A manuscript of it was given to Chambers in 1838 by a Mr Duncan of Mosesfield and Chambers printed it in the form given below. In 1867, Hately Waddell included it in his edition, remarking the 'poem is admitted to be in our Author's handwriting', and stating that he does 'not doubt the genuineness of the authorship in this case', though he thinks it 'by no means in Burns's own style'. (Burns of course, had several styles, ranging from his use of a thick and rich Lallans to a watery Augustan English!) Scott Douglas rejected the poem in 1877 — 9. The testimony of Gebbie in 1876 and Angellier in 1893 would appear to suggest that the manuscript was still in evidence then. But until its restoration by Kinsley, the poem had not been included in British editions since Scott Douglas's Kilamarnock Edition of 1876, although the Russian translator, Marshak included it in his translated edition of Burns without question.

Although internal evidence does suggest departure from Burns's usual practice in referring to England, and in the use of fewer Scots words than usual when he employed the 'Gilliecrankie' measure, Crawford has pointed out that 'thy England' refers to Alfred's England, so that 'Britain' would have been wholly inappropriate. Too much cannot be read into linguistic variance, for Burns used various consistencies of Scots on different occasions. Crawford suggests that the manuscript in Duncan of Mosesfield's possession may have been a copy of the original, and that errors and misprints may have crept in. 'The Tree of Liberty' does seem to me likely to be the work of Burns, not only because its sentiments concur with his prose sentiments during the period of his life when it was written, and because no other poet know to have been writing in Scotland in the 1790's could possibly have produced it.

Trees of Liberty — 'hung round with garlands of flowers, with emblems of freedom and various in descriptions', as Burns's friend Dr John Moore described them in A Journal of a Residence in France — were set up in many Scottish towns during the Reform agitation. No doubt there were religious overtones in the choice of the tree as the appropriate symbol, suggested by, amongst many other references, George Herbert's

"Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the Tree,
The Tree of Life, for all but only me."

Since 'The Tree of Liberty' is now difficult to come by, the text is printed in full as it appeared in Chamber's edition of 1838:

'The Tree of Liberty'

(Here printed for the first time, from a manuscript in the possession of Mr James Duncan, Mosesfield [sic] near Glasgow.)

"Heard ye o' the tree o' France,
I watna what's the name o't;
Around it a' the patriots dance,
Weel Europ kens the fame o't.
It stands where ance the Bastille stood,
A prison built by kings, man,
When superstition's hellish brood
Kept France in leading strings, man.
"Upo' this tree there grows sic fruit,
Its virtues a' can tell, man,
It raises man aboon the brute,
It maks him ken himsel, man.
Gif ance the peasant taste a bit,
He's greater than a Lord, man,
And wi' the beggar shares a mite
O' a' he can afford, man.
"This fruit is worth a' Aric's wealth,
To comfort us 'twas sent, man:
To gie the sweetest blush o' health,
And mak us a' content, man.
It clears the een, it cheers the heart,
Maks high and low gude friends, man;
And he wha acts the traitor's part,
It to perdition sends, man.
"My blessings aye attend the chiel,
Wha pities Gallia's slaves, man,
And staw'd a branch, spite o' the deil,
Frae yont the western waves, man.
Fair virtue water's it wi' care,
And now she sees wi' pride, man,
How weel it buds and blossoms there,
Its branches spreading wide, man.
"But vicious folk aye hate to see
The works o' virtue thrive, man;
The courtly vermin's banned the tree,
And grat to see it thrive, man;
King Loui' thought to cut it down,
When it was unco sma',. Man,
For this the watchman cracked his crown,
Cut off his head and a' man.
"A wicked crew syne, on a time,
Did tak a solemn aith, man,
It ne'er should flourish to its prime,
I wat they pledged their faith, man,
Awa they gaed wi' mock parade,
Like beagles hunting game, man,
But soon grew weary o' the trade,
And wished they'd been at hame, man.
"Fair freedom, standing by the tree,
Her sons did loudly ca', man,
She sang a song o' liberty
Which pleased tehm ane and a', man.
By her inspired the new born race
Soon grew the avenging steel, man;
The hirelings ran — her foes gied chase
And banged the despot weel, man.
"Let Britain boast her hardy oak,
Her poplar and her pine, man,
Auld Britain ance could crack her joke,
And o'er her neighbours shine, man,
But seek the forest round and round,
And soon 'twill be agreed, man,
That sic a tree can not be found,
Twixt London and the Tweed, man.
"Without this tree, alake this life
Is but a vale o' woe, man;
A scene o' sorrow mixed wi' strife,
Nae real joys we know, man,
We labour soon, we labour late,
To feed the titled knave, man;
And a'the comfort we're to get
Is that ayont the grave, man.
"Wi' plenty o' sic trees, I trow,
The warld would live in peace, man;
The sword would help to mak a plough,
The din o' war wad cease man.
Like brethren wi' a common cause,
We'd on each other smile, man;
And equal rights and equal laws
Wad gladden every isle, man.
"Wae worth the loon wha wadna eat
Sic halesome dainty cheer, man;
I'd gie my shoon frae aff my feet,
To taste sic fruit, I swear, man.
Syne let us pray, auld England may
Sure plant this far-famed tree, man;
And blythe we'll sing, and hail the day
That gave us liberty, man."
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