Tonight is Burns Night, always a big event in our family (about which I have already written, here and there). My Dad adored Burns and could recite even the longer poems, such as Tam O’Shanter, from memory. We always had copies of the complete works in the house, which I took for granted on the bookshelves, assuming them to be Mum and Dad’s own copies. It was only on a recent visit to the Surrey branch of the Usmeum (Brother 1’s house) that I discovered one of those familiar volumes to be even older than either of my parents. This foxed and faded 19th century illustrated edition has an inscription on the flyleaf, bearing a familiar name:
So this copy belonged to Samuel Horman-Fisher of Bentworth Hall, and must have come to us from Auntie, via Derwen and the Frys. It has been well used; there are notes and verses written on the flyleaf in pencil, probably made by Elsie Fry or by Auntie:
Of more interest to me, however, are some separate sheaves of notes found inside the book, in my Dad’s unmistakeable handwriting:
They seem to be notes he has made for a Burns Night speech; some are notes on Burns’ life, while another page relates to his “influence on the working class.” Dad was in much demand on these occasions, often invited by English friends to address the haggis at their gatherings. Dad, of course, would always do more than simply recite a poem: he would give an amusing and thoughtful speech, placing Burns in his historical and political context, related to the current political situation. He knew his stuff and was a gifted speaker, always carefully prepared with notes like these. In fact, my Mum first met him when he spoke at the local Communist party branch meeting, and was instantly impressed by his passionate and articulate turn of phrase. I recall it vividly, especially at this time of year; he could hold an audience captive, spellbound, before making them laugh out loud. It pleases me to think of the wealthy Horman-Fisher in his luxurious Hampshire mansion, reading the poetry of a poor working class lad from Ayr; and of his copy of Burns ending up, over 100 years later, in the hands of a working-class Communist from Glasgow. Who, I can’t help but feel, made the better use of it. Poetic justice.
I’ll be raising a whisky glass to my Dad this weekend, and missing him, as ever.