SOME time on January 20 if all goes according to his plans, Donald Trump will become President of the United States of America and will very shortly afterwards hear his own anthem that is played wherever and whenever the President goes.

It will undoubtedly not register with the half-Scottish President that in, Hail to the Chief there is a direct link to the man generally credited as Scotland’s greatest and certainly most influential novelist, Sir Walter Scott.

For it was Scott who coined the phrase in his breakthrough work, The Lady of the Lake, the narrative poem published in 1810 which was to prove hugely important to Scott and the very culture of Scotland.

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Stanza XIX of Canto 2 of the poem consists of a Boat Song sung by a hundred men of Clan Alpine about their chieftain, Roderick Dhu.

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!

Honoured and blessed be the ever-green Pine!

Long may the tree, in his banner that glances, Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line!

As happened at the time, the best selling poem was made into at least three stage versions which wowed audiences in Edinburgh, London and Philadelphia in the USA.

In the latter city in 1812, the producers selected the music that English violinist and conductor James Sanderson had put to the words of that Boat Song.

So popular was the song that it soon became associated with the “chief” of America, the President. Some Presidents loved it, but President Chester Arthur (1829-1886) hated it and during his term as the 21st holder of the office, he got John Philip Sousa to compose a presidential anthem, the Presidential Poloniase, which was frankly musical tripe and was not a success.

Hail to the Chief just would not go away, and after the Second World War, President Harry S Truman, a noted pianist and musicologist, investigated the song’s origins, and in his honour, the US Department of Defense made Hail to the Chief the official Presidential Anthem in 1954.

All of which is a long introduction showing the influence of Scott into modern times and enabling Back in the Day to reflect upon the most momentous meeting in Scottish literary history that took place around 230 years ago.

We do not know the exact date when the 15-year-old school pupil Scott met the man who was already a national figure, the Ploughman Poet Robert Burns.

The only occasion on which they ever met took place at Sciennes Hill House in Edinburgh, the home of Professor Adam Ferguson, the writer, philosopher and historian who was one of the leading figures in what we now know as The Scottish Enlightenment, that extraordinary period when Edinburgh in particular played host to a generation of thinkers, scientists and writers.

We know what happened, because Scott left several accounts of the meeting. Burns, it should be said, did not do so but then Scott was only a boy and not yet the genius behind Waverley.

Scott recalled in 1827: “I was a lad of fifteen in 1786-7, when he came first to Edinburgh, but had sense and feeling enough to be much interested in his poetry, and would have given the world to know him; but I had very little acquaintance with any literary people, and still less with the gentry of the west country, the two sets that he most frequented.

“Mr Thomas Grierson was at that time a clerk of my father’s. He knew Burns, and promised to ask him to his lodgings to dinner, but had no opportunity to keep his word, otherwise I might have seen more of this distinguished man.

“As it was, I saw him one day at the late venerable Professor Fergusson’s, where there were several gentlemen of literary reputation, among whom I remember the celebrated Mr Dugald Stewart. Of course we youngsters sate silent, looked and listened.

“The only thing I remember which was remarkable in Burns’ manner, was the effect produced upon him by a print of Bunbury’s, representing a soldier lying dead in the snow, his dog sitting in misery on the one side, on the other his widow with a child in her arms. These lines were written beneath, – ‘Cold on Canadian hills, or Mindens’ plain, Perhaps that parent wept her soldiers slain: Bent o’er her babe, her eye dissolved in dew, The big drops, mingling with the milk he drew, Gave the sad presage of his future years, The child of misery baptized in tears.’ “Burns seemed much affected by the print, or rather the ideas which it suggested to his mind. He actually shed tears.

“He asked whose the lines were, and it chanced that nobody but myself remembered that they occur in a half-forgotten poem of Langhorne’s, called by the uncompromising title of The Justice Of The Piece.

“I whispered my information to a friend present, who mentioned it to Burns, who rewarded me with a look and a word, which, though of mere civility, I then received and still recollect, with very great pleasure.”

THERE was no doubt that Burns made a huge impression on Scott, then a student of classics at Edinburgh University. Scott went on to note his opinion formed at that meeting: “His person was strong and robust, his manners rustic, not clownish; a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its effect perhaps from one’s knowledge of his extraordinary talents.

“His features are represented in Mr Nasmyth’s picture, but to me it conveys the idea that they are diminished, as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits.

“I would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school – i.e. none of your modern agriculturalists, who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the douce gudeman who held his own plough.

“There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical temperament. It was large and of a dark cast, and glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men in my time.

“His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence without the slightest presumption. Among those who were the most learned of their time and country he expressed himself with perfect firmness, but without the least intrusive forwardness; and when he differed in opinion, he did not hesitate to express it firmly, yet at the same time with modesty. I do not remember any part of his conversation distinctly enough to be quoted, nor did I ever see him again, except in the street, where he did not recognize me, as I could not expect he should.

“He was much caressed in Edinburgh, but (considering what literary emoluments have been since his day) the efforts made for his relief were extremely trifling.

“I remember on this occasion I mention, I thought Burns’s acquaintance with English poetry was rather limited, and also, that having twenty times the abilities of Allan Ramsay and of Fergusson, he talked of them with too much humility as his models; there was doubtless national predilection in his estimate.”

Did Burns inspire Scott to his literary career? It is possible. We know that Scott had been writing poetry since his days at the Royal High School of Edinburgh which he left at the age of 12 to go to university.

It is often forgotten that after he became a lawyer, Scott published poetry long before he embarked on the novels for which he is more renowned these days.

Intriguingly, there is an anonymous account of Burns in the British Critic magazine of 1809, at the time when Scott was becoming very famous. The language certainly resembles Scott: “Fergusson was no unworthy successor of Ramsay in the list of Scotch pastoral poets; and Burns has, in many particulars, surpassed all his predecessors and competitors in this peculiar department of poetry. “We consider his Cottager’s Saturday Night, his Hallowe’en, and some other of his minor poems, and almost all his exquisite ballads as genuine pastorals; since they entirely relate to the manners and pursuits of simple swains, whose sole occupation, if not the tending of a flock, is at least the ruder employments of agriculture, and what is strictly called a country life.

“The pastorals of Burns are, perhaps still more than those of Ramsay, faithful and lively transcripts of actual life; and they have the very peculiar charm of being the productions of a man, the best years of whose life were spent among those very swains whose manners he describes; and who was by birth the very clown in whose pursuits he so warmly interests us.’ Burns may well have been impressed by the youthful Scott. Sir Adam Ferguson, son of the host, was at the meeting and said that Burns fixed a look of half-serious interest on the youth “while he said - ‘You’ll be a man yet, sir’.”

The truth is that we will never know if that one chance meeting with Burns inspired Scott to take up a literary career. We do know that the arch-Unionist Scott disapproved of Burns’ politics, but we also know that Scott loved his poetry and in the Waverley Novels in particular, Scott carried on the great work of Burns’ life, namely the preservation of the Scots language and the nation’s history.

In his fifties, Scott recorded his debt to his countryman: “Long life to thy fame and peace to thy soul, Rob Burns! When I want to express a sentiment which I feel strongly, I find the phrase in Shakespeare — or thee.”

A celebrated painting by Charles Martin Hardie of that famous encounter in Sciennes Hill House fancifully adds several other celebrated men to the scene – James Hutton, father of geology; Joseph Black, the chemist and physician who discovered carbon dioxide; Wealth of Nations author Adam Smith; playwright John “Douglas” Home and Professor Dugald Stewart, the philosopher who influenced the entire Scottish Enlightenment movement.

It is unlikely they were all in the room at the time Scott met Burns, but it could have happened. Oh to have been a fly on that wall…