I wanted to be sick on my phone when I saw this article in the National (‘Rabbie Burns: was he the first hipster?’) on the latest feeble attempt to comprehend history by people who are unable to see that parts of the past are elusive or irrecoverable, and simply comparing the past to the present doesn’t work.
A group called the Beard Liberation Front (BLF), an ‘informal network of beard wearers’, believe that Robert Burns was not only (surprise, surprise) bearded, but that this alleged hirsuteness makes him somehow the Adam of hipsterdom. They claim that ‘our picture of Scotland’s national bard has been skewed by pogonophobia—fear of beards.’ I would suggest that a different well-known Scottish phobia is at work: a fear of—indeed, a disgust with—unsupported bollocks.
Obviously, it makes as much sense to call Burns a hipster as it would to call him a Druid or a Smurf. These are also categories that didn’t exist in eighteenth-century Ayrshire. But even more irritating is the fact that the BLF’s central claim, that Burns was a beardy boy, is empty.
The article marshals some impressive non-support for this non-theory from leading authorities on Burns’s life. Gerard Carruthers, director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, comes up with some blanket-wetting facts: ‘[Burns] never mentioned having a beard, neither does anyone else say he had one. By and large, younger men—especially fashionable younger men—tended not to have full beards.’ Chris Waddell, learning manager at the Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, similarly takes a polite piss on the Beard Liberation Front’s strawberries: ‘[Burns] was only painted four times in his life and he would probably have spruced himself up for the image-makers. They probably took a few liberties, but beards were not particularly in vogue.’ These remarks are code for: ‘We have had media training, and we know we can’t dismiss loons out of hand anymore because the arts (and arts funding) are in decline everywhere and we want to be seen as encouraging and accepting, not as elitist book-wizards.’
So, in other words, don’t believe the bastards when they tell you that this is what Burns looked like:
And still fucking less are you to believe them when they tell you that he looked like THIS:
Never. Not in my name, and hopefully not in yours.