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Burns collects a lot of flack for his fines in “Tam O'Shanter” concerning the pipes. In one passage the Devil takes the form of a shaggy dog, and -

         “He screw’d the pipes and gart them skirl           Till roof and rafters a’ did dirl.” and a little later on -

         “The piper loud and louder blew,

         The dancers quick and quicker flew.”

The second passage collects particular criticism, because Burns should have known that pipes cannot be played in tune at different levels of loudness.

During the Edinburgh Festival there was an exhibition at the Freemason’s Hall of some   illustrations to Tam O'Shanter by Alexander Goudie. The exhibition included the original script of the poem in Burns’ own handwriting. This does nothing to redeem the first        passage, but the second originally read -           “The Piper quick & quicker blew,

         The Dancers quick & quicker flew.”

In the line about the piper, Burns had crossed out “quick & quicker” and substituted “loud & louder”. I assume he did this to vary the words. We can therefore put the mistake down to poetic licence rather than musical ignorance.

Incidentally, the script reveals four lines that have been censored from all editions I know of. Printed texts stop after -

         “Wi mair of horrible and awfu’

         Which even to name wad be unlawiu’.”

But Burns’ handwriting goes on to specify the following unmentionable things

         “Three Lawyers’ tongues, turned inside out,

         Wi’ lies seam’d like a beggar’s clout;

         Three Priests’ hearts, rotten black as muck,

         Lay stinking, vile, in every neuk.”

Censorship must have been tough in those days, and it has robbed us of these terrific lines. If Burns had been writing today, these lines would have been published. On the other hand, modern word processing would have robbed us of the knowledge of how Burns constructed his poems.

Helen Ross

Bridge of Allan