Burns As Masonic Laureate
On page 164 of this Encyclopedia Bro. Dudley Wright is quoted in a passage which tries to show that the long tradition that Robert Burns had been named Poet-Laureate of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge was "a happy delusion" ; and Bro. Robert I. Clegg, when quoting him, makes use of a pamphlet which that Lodge had published in 1925. It is possible that both of these cautious editors overlooked the detailed and exhaustive History of the Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2, by Allan MacKenzie; Edinburgh; 1888 Bro. MacKenzie devotes the whole of one chapter to the Laureateship. Out of Lodge records, personal correspondence, the recollections of old members, newspapers, reports, and by use of internal evidence he constructs an argument solid enough and cogent enough to convince a Supreme Court.
Bro. Wright uses as an argument the fact that no record was made in the Lodge Minutes. It was never suggested that the naming of Burns as Poet Laureate had ever been made by the Lodge in an official action, and hence it naturally would not go into the Minutes ; it is more likely that it was made at a banquet, informally, by the body of the members acting spontaneously. Even so, Burns accepted it in all seriousness; as did also the Lodge, which went to great expense to have the painting made which is reproduced on the sheet following page 156.
As will be seen in the key on the sheet opposite that reproduction one of the notables whose portrait stands out conspicuously from a circle of notables is James Boswell, biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson. Boswell was made a Mason in the Lodge in 1759 ; was Junior Warden in 1761; was Depute Master in 1767-l768 ; and Right Worshipful Master from 1773 to 1775.
Bro. MacKenzie's book is a wonderfully moving picture of Lodge life in Eighteenth Century Scotland.
Through it move James Hogg, the ''Atrox Shepherd, " successor to Bums as Scotland's poet, celebrated in a stanza by Wordsworth, who when asked to be Masonic Poet Laureate first refused, then relented and wrote a Masonic "shepherd's song" for his Lodge; Sir Wm. Forbes; the tremendous Lord Mondobbo; Henry Erskine ; some princes from Russia, etc. ; the Lockharts, father and son, the latter Sir Walter Scott's son-in-law and biographer ; and Professor Wilson, better known as Christopher North, author of the Noctes A Ambrosianae, which American booklovers still read ; and in the background, Sir Walter Scott and his father, both enthusiastic Craftsmen in their own Lodge.
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