HAVING lost my copy of Burns some time ago, I went into the book-shop of this town – Vryheid, Transvaal – to buy another. The proprietor (Von Schalweedenberg) was also the librarian of a circulating library.
“Could you oblige me with a copy of Burns?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I wish to buy a copy of Burns.”
“I don’t know what you said, sir.”
“Do you know Robert Burns?”
“I haven’t had the pleasure of that gentleman’s acquaintance.”
“I want the works of Burns.” I emphasised the name here, and thought I could detect by the man’s face a ray of light struggling into his brains.
“O ho! I have an excellent treatise by our great Medical Doctor, Herre Gottenburg, on the very subject. It’s entitled, ‘How to treat and cure burns.’ ” At this stage of the dialogue I raised my voice and thundered, by way of explanation,
“Robert Burns was a man who lived in the west of Scotland a hundred years ago, who wrote poems. Those poems have been published, translated into many languages, and retailed all over the world. Those poems have exercised a mighty elevation, giving subtle expression to that divine spark within the human breast we vulgarly call love, which sentiment I dare say you yourself have felt, sir. Do you know him now?”
“Never heard of him before.”
“Do you know Goethe?”
”Oh, I know him well.”
“Well, Burns is the Scotch Goethe, and your education is not complete till you know him.”