Man's a Man for A' That, A
DESCRIPTION: "Is there for honest poverty That hangs his head and a' that... For a' that and a' that, Our toils obscure and a' that, The rank is but the guinea stamp, The man's the gowd for a' that." Praising equality, with a final prediction that all will be brothers
AUTHOR: Robert Burns
EARLIEST DATE: 1800 (Currie)
KEYWORDS: political nonballad freedom
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Silber-FSWB, p. 297, "A Man's A Man For A' That" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #1370, p. 93, "A Man's A Man for A' That" (1 reference)
ADDITIONAL: James Kinsley, editor, Burns: Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #482, pp. 602-603, "For a' that and a' that" (1 text, from 1795-1796)
cf. "For A' That and A' That (I)" (stanza form, lyrics)
cf. "He Wears a Bonnet for a Hat" (lyrics)
A Tidy Suit for A' That (Broadside Bodleian Firth B.26(289))
George the Fourth is Coming Down (by John Mayne; see Christoper Sinclair-Stevenson, _Blood Royal: The Illustrious House of Hanover_, Doubleday, 1980, p. 180)
For A' That And A' That
Is There for Honest Poverty
NOTES: Reported to be based on "The Bard's Song" in "The Jolly Beggars," and written in 1795, making it one of the last of Burns's "big" pieces. On the other hand, Ord has a song ("For A' That and A' That," p. 196) which looks like a model and which he calls an "old bothy song." And there is still another song "For a' that an' a' that" credited to Burns in the Scots Musical Museum (#290, p. 300, "Tho' womens minds like winter winds May shift and turn and 'a that, The noblest breast adores them maist, I consequence I draw that..."). Clearly the history of the song is complicated.
Though that's nothing compared to the use to which the tune is currently put. According to John Baynes with John Laffin, Soldiers of Scotland, Brassey's, 1988 (I use the 1997 Barnes & Noble edition), p. 105, five Scots regiments use this as the tune to announce Commanding Officer's Orders. Off the top of my head, I can hardly imagine a song more inappropriate -- this is an open rejection of authority, after all!
It's possible that this song got Burns in some trouble. According to Stephen Brumwell and W. A. Speck, Cassell's Companion to Eighteenth-Century Britain, Cassell & Co., 2001, p. 66, "Burns was accused in 1792 of joining in the singing of the French revolutionary song 'Ca ira'('that will come').... He excused his behavior on the ground that he was drunk at the time... Nevertheless the revolutionary sentiment is surely expressed in 'It's coming yet' [i.e. this song]." - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.