Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Burn's Night - An Address to the Ladies

George has kindly asked me to address the ladies -  
And where indeed would we men be today without our ladies? 
Who can naysay their particular household skill –
Which ensures that nothing stays where we mere mortal men might will?
Who could criticize such persistence in adversity –
Providing that it’s not of mechanical or electrical diversity,
Or deny their skilful observation –
Of all those tiny things we men have overlooked in aberration?
Let us marvel at their resolve and their finality –
When going shopping in the spirit of frugality.
And don’t discount how they can fill tongue-tied tranquillity with talk of topics everyday –
But perhaps only amongst the ladies of my own family is this their way.
Above all who could not but praise such womanly qualities as nurturing and protection - 
Which are their virtues most outstanding in our affection? 


But putting aside poetic tributes to the ladies just for a moment, it must be said, that ladies were not always so valued and appreciated by men for the exceptional abilities of their sex, neither have they always taken such a prominent role in society as they do now.  Here, in our beloved Republic, before the revolution of 1789 women were considered “passive citizens” – and up to 1945 they still relied on men for their political representation.

And what should one say of the feminine qualities of Pauline Léon, who on 6 March 1792, submitted a petition to the National Assembly, signed by 319 women, requesting permission to form a “Garde National” of women armed with pikes, pistols, sabers and rifles, in order to defend Paris in case of military invasion.  Her request was, of course, denied. 

Yes, this was the era of revolution but, as Madame Defarge and her feisty female friends were practising their knitting skills in Paris, whilst eagerly awaiting the free spectacle soon to be offered by the abrupt demise of royalty and the aristocracy, at the same time, in 1791, Thomas Paine published “The Rights of Man”. 

Our hero for this night, Rabbie Burns, one of Scotland’s first gallants and proto-feminists, felt that this document was  far too one sided, so in 1792 he replied to Thomas Paine with his poem “The Rights of Woman”, which I would like to read to you now.

The Rights of Woman

While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.

First, in the Sexes' intermix'd connection,
One sacred Right of Woman is, protection.
The tender flower that lifts its head, elate,
Helpless, must fall before the blasts of Fate,
Sunk on the earth, defac'd its lovely form,
Unless your shelter ward th' impending storm.

Our second Right - but needless here is caution,
To keep that right inviolate's the fashion;
Each man of sense has it so full before him,
He'd die before he'd wrong it -   'tis    decorum.
There was, indeed, in far less polish'd days,
A time, when rough rude man had naughty ways,
Would swagger, swear, get drunk, kick up a riot,
Nay even thus invade a Lady's quiet.

Now, thank our stars! those Gothic times are fled;
Now, well-bred men - and you are all well-bred -
Most justly think (and we are much the gainers)
Such conduct neither spirit, wit, nor manners.

For Right the third, our last, our best, our dearest,
That right to fluttering female hearts the nearest;
Which even the Rights of Kings, in low prostration,
Most humbly own -   'tis dear, dear admiration!
In that blest sphere alone we live and move;
There taste that life of life-immortal love.
Smiles, glances, sighs, tears, fits, flirtations, airs;
'Gainst such an host what flinty savage dares,
When awful Beauty joins with all her charms ˄
Who is so rash as to rise in rebel arms?

But truce with kings, and truce with constitutions,
With bloody armaments and revolutions;
Let Majesty your first attention summon,
Ah! ca ira! The Majesty Of Woman!

Gentleman I ask you to raise your glasses to the Ladies!


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