Robert Burns's Magnificent Response to a Critic


I don't know how this had escaped my attention until this week - but it had: Robert Burns's incomparable response to a critic who had complained that his poetry contained 'obscure language' and 'imperfect grammar'.

I mean I've felt like this often enough - haven't we all? But I never had quite these words to express my feelings!


Ellisland, 1791.

Dear Sir:

Thou eunuch of language; thou Englishman, who never was south the Tweed; thou servile echo of fashionable barbarisms; thou quack, vending the nostrums of empirical elocution; thou marriage-maker between vowels and consonants, on the Gretna-green of caprice; thou cobler, botching the flimsy socks of bombast oratory; thou blacksmith, hammering the rivets of absurdity; thou butcher, embruing thy hands in the bowels of orthography; thou arch-heretic in pronunciation; thou pitch-pipe of affected emphasis; thou carpenter, mortising the awkward joints of jarring sentences; thou squeaking dissonance of cadence; thou pimp of gender; thou Lyon Herald to silly etymology; thou antipode of grammar; thou executioner of construction; thou brood of the speech-distracting builders of the Tower of Babel; thou lingual confusion worse confounded; thou scape-gallows from the land of syntax; thou scavenger of mood and tense; thou murderous accoucheur of infant learning; thou ignis fatuus, misleading the steps of benighted ignorance; thou pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense; thou faithful recorder of barbarous idiom; thou persecutor of syllabication; thou baleful meteor, foretelling and facilitating the rapid approach of Nox and Erebus.

R.B.



Ellisland

Comments

gz said…
That, most definitely, told him!!
Susan Price said…
Did the critic ever try to reply?
I always loved Burns on someone named Andrew Turner.

The devil took clay to make a swine,
And cast it in a corner.
Then after a while he changed his plan,
Shaped it something like a man,
And called it Andrew Turner.

I love that swine-clay 'something like a man.'
Lord knows what the man Turner had done to him - but Burns certainly had a gift for insult!
I don't know, Susan. In fact, nobody seems very sure who the critic was - and I suppose he maintained a low profile after this! Suspect Burns was a much better friend than an enemy.