Honorary Members 1886 to 1895

1886 Earl of Rosebery, Dr Rob. Morris
1887 Sir J Henry B Irving, Sir William Muir, Robert William Cochran-Patrick
1888 William Black, David Christie Murray
1889 Andrew Lang, Walter Besant
1890 A J Balfour (Viscount Traprain), James A Froude
1892 J M Barrie, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Austin
1893 Leslie Stephen, Augustine Birrell, Henry Craik, John Speirs
1894 Sir Donald Matheson, Lord Roberts, John Veitch, William Morris, John Nichol
1895 Samuel Rutherford Crockett


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5th Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929) Honorary member 1886

His life & work:

Archibald Philip Primrose succeeded to the Earldom on the death of his grandfather in 1868 while at Oxford. A year later, against University rules, he bought a racehorse. Having to give up either his studies or his racehorse, he gave up his studies. At the time of his nomination, he was Foreign Secretary in the brief Third Gladstone Ministry (Feb-August 1886).

In 1878, he had married Hannah de Rothschild, through whom came the mansion Mentmore, now usually known as Mentmore Towers, built in 1852-54 for the Rothschild family. (After the 6th Earl died in 1973, its superb art collection was sold at public auction.)

In the 5th Earl's later career, he was Secretary for Foreign Affairs 1892-94 and Prime Minister in 1894 until the Liberal defeat of 1895. Having an imperialist outlook, he sometimes in later days voted with the Conservatives. In 1911, he was further enobled as Baron Epsom of Epsom, Viscount Mentmore of Mentmore and (1st) Earl of Midlothian.

However, the reason for Rosebery's nomination was his admiration for Robert Burns. In 1882, he had unveiled the statue of the Bard in Dumfries. In Glasgow, in 1885, a group of Hutchesonians named their Rosebery Burns Club after him. In March 1885, Rosebery, while Lord Privy Seal and First Commissioner of Works, had unveiled the national monumental bust of Burns (sculpted by Sir John Steell, RSA) in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey. The World Burns Federation was launched later that year.

On 21st July 1896, the anniversary of the poet's death, while leader of the Liberal party, he gave, at Glasgow, an eloquent "Tribute to Robert Burns" (on the web at www.famous-speeches-and-speech-topics.info/famous-speeches/earl-of-rosebery-speech-a-tribute-to-robert-burns.htm), and another address at Dumfries. In 1906, the Kilbirnie Rosebery Burns Club was formed. In the same year, Rosebery was active in a campaign to save the "Auld Brig o' Ayr". Burns clubs throughout the world contributed to a fund, and Rosebery reopened the bridge in 1910.

In 1913, the Burns Glenriddell MSS were bought by John Gribbel of Philadelphia, who asked Rosebery to decide to which Scottish institution they should be donated. Gribbel gifted them to the Scottish National Library under terms which ensure that they will remain in possession of 'the people of Scotland for ever'. In 1921, when Rosebery published his "Miscellanies, Literary and Historical", Burns was the subject of chapter 1.

He is reputed to have said that he had three aims in life: to win the Derby, to marry an heiress, and to become Prime Minister. He succeeded in all three.

His letter, written from Mentmore, Leighton Buzzard (Beds.), on 30th Jany, 1886:


     I am very sensible of the honour conferred upon me by the members of the Irvine Burns Club in electing me as an Honorary Member. Will you take the earliest opportunity of conveying my thanks to the members not only for electing me to be one of their number, but also for the kind expressions with which they accompanied the honour.
     I trust that some day I may have an opportunity of inspecting the MSS which the Club is so fortunate as to possess.
     Believe me,
     Yours faithfully

The letter is addressed to James Dickie, Esq., Hony Secy

Dr Robert Morris (1818-1888) Honorary member 1886

His life & work:

Dr Rob Morris, of Kentucky, over the years, wrote over 400 poems, many of which were devoted to Eastern Star and Masonry. After serving as Grand Master of the Lodge of Kentucky, he went in 1860 to La Grange initially to serve on the faculty of the Masonic University; his home remains a shrine to him, maintained by the Kentucky Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. He travelled to the Orient in 1868.

In 1875, William T. Anderson's Masonic Publishing Company in New York published his 'Three Hundred Masonic Odes and Poems'. While the title 'The Poet Laureate of Freemasonry' seems to have been self-selected, official recognition as such came at a ceremony in New York City in 1884. Only one other poet had been given that title before. Robert Burns had been made the Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2, Edinburgh, Scotland in February 1787. Like Burns, Morris was crowned with a laurel wreath. This official recognition would have prompted his nomination by Irvine Burnsians.

An American "Dictionary of American Authors" referred to him as "the Masonic Dickens of America". Rob Morris was an industrious individual, a prolific writer, and a keen traveller, both to Masonic lodges and in general. A teacher by profession, most of his career was in Masonic establishments, an Academy, a College, and latterly the Masonic University in Kentucky. His home is maintained as a shrine by the Kentucky Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

His letter, written on 10 Feb 1886 from:
Residence of Dr Rob Morris, La Grange, Oldham Co., Kentucky, at 'The Old Kentucky Home.'


My Very Dear Sir
     I have received the intelligence of my election as an Honorary Member of your Club, an honor doubled by the complimentary terms in which you announce it, in your favor of Jan. 26th.
     You make me very happy and I wish I had something that I could contribute to your collections, worthy of your acceptance.
     With hand weakened by age and disease I have copied the lines to which Mr Wylie in his remarks at my nomination, made allusion, and beg to send them. In other wrappers I mail a portrait, made 14 years since, and some pamphlets and shall feel honored if the Club will accept them.
     With heartfelt wishes for the personal happiness of my fellow members and the success of the cause which binds you together
     I am
     With much esteem
     Your ob. servant
     Rob Morris
     Poet Laureate

The letter is addressed to James Dickie, Esq., Honorary Secretary, Irvine Burns Club

Henry Irving (1838-1905) Honorary member 1887

His life & work:

Henry Irving (John Henry Brodribb Irving), the English actor, played in Sunderland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Manchester before making his name in London. His first marked success was in 1870, and in 1874 his performance as Hamlet ensured his reputation. In 1878 he leased the Lyceum Theatre for himself, playing most main Shakespearian roles, with Miss (later Dame) Ellen Terry as his leading lady.

He also wrote for magazines and contributed addresses at Harvard and Oxford Universities. We do not know what particular circumstance prompted the members of Irvine Burns Club to honour him. It may have been his successful 1886 production of Goethe's 'Faust', in which he played Mephistopheles, and which toured to other cities including Glasgow.

Irving was back in Scotland in 1887, as he planned his next production, 'Macbeth', to get the authentic feel for the setting - Ellen Terry noted in her memoirs: "Visited the 'Blasted Heath'. Behold, a flourishing potato field." For this production, which opened in Dec., 1888, he commissioned, at extraordinary expense, 21 changes of scene, featuring "elaborate, massive and realistically detailed sets" (Foulkes, 'Henry Irving', 2008). Sir Arthur Sullivan's incidental music for the production required a larger-than-normal orchestra of 46 players and a female chorus of 60. The performance was as successful as it was spectacular.

We wonder whether Henry Irving met any of the Irvine Burns Club directors or friends either on the 'Faust' tour, or subsequently during his research for 'the Scottish play'.

Henry Irving was knighted in 1895. His eldest son followed in his father's footsteps as an actor-manager and author, his roles also including Hamlet.

[Hall Caine (honorary member 1898), as critic of the Liverpool 'Town Crier', attended the first night of 'Hamlet' in the Lyceum Theatre in 1874. His criticism, from one still aged only 21, was so fine that it was reprinted as a broadsheet pamphlet. Irving and Caine went on to enjoy a friendship and a great respect for each other's talents, lasting until Irving's death. (Source: Bram Stoker. 'Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving']

His letter, written from the Lyceum Theatre (London), on 3 Feb. 1887:


Dear Sir,
     Pray convey my hearty thanks to the Burns Club for my Election as an Honorary member.
     The compliment I appreciate most highly, & shall ever be interested in the proceedings of your club.
     It will be very good fortune, I hope, at some time, to have the pleasure and privilege of meeting you all & with every good wish
     Believe me, most cordially yours
     Henry Irving


Sir William Muir (1819-1905) Honorary member 1887

His life & work:

Sir William Muir, an Arabic scholar, Principal of Edinburgh University from 1885 until 1903, had been educated in Ayrshire at Kilmarnock Academy. His elder brother, John, was a Sanskrit scholar of note.

Knighted in 1867 after a 30 year career in India, when foreign secretary to the Indian government, he was later appointed lieutenant governor of the North West Provinces. It was chiefly through his exertions that the central college at Allahabad, known as Muir's College, was built and endowed.

Muir published several books, his best known being 'A Life of Mahomet and History of Islam to the End of the Hegira', in four volumes, with three editions, in 1862, 1878 and 1894.

His letter, written from Dean Park House, Edinburgh, on 31 Jany 87:


Dear Sir,
   I have to acknowledge the receipt of yr letter of the 28th inst, intimating to me that the Irvine Burns Club have done me the honour of electing me to be an Hony Member of their Club, and I beg that you will submit to them my humble acknowledgement of the same, & of the kind & flattering terms in which the communication has been made by you.
     I am
     Yours very truly
     W. Muir


R W Cochran-Patrick (1842-1897) Honorary member 1887

His life & work:

Robert William Cochran-Patrick may have been proposed for nomination as an honorary member due to having represented North Ayrshire in Parliament (as a Conservative) for the five years 1880-85, though bear in mind that those living in the burgh voted in the Ayr Burghs constituency at that time.

The Irvine Burns Club Directors would also have in mind that R W Cochran-Patrick, as depute Provoncial Grand Master for Ayrshire, had, in 1878, laid the foundation stone for the Burns Memorial in Kilmarnock, first mooted on Burns Night 1877 and completed in August 1879, the focal point in the burgh's Kay Park.

His other talents would have added justification to the honour. He had served as Dean of Faculties at Glasgow University 1882-85, and was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Society of Antiquaries of London. He was a founder, in 1874, of the Ayrshire and Wigtonshire Archaeological Association, and was a numismatist of repute, both in the scope of his collection and in his authorship of volumes on Scottish coins, and possessed one of the country's greatest collections of early Scottish coins and medals.

Born at Ladyland near Kilbirnie, Cochran-Patrick was also the Chairman of Speir's School at Beith and became Provincial Grand Master of the Masons of Ayrshire.

Ladyland probably derives its name from a pre-reformation chapel. Its policies are known for attractive countryside, some rare species of flowers, and a small bronze axe donated in 1886 by R W Cochran-Patrick to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland.

His letter, written from Woodside, Beith, N.B., on 29:1:87:


Dear Sir
     I had the high pleasure & gratification of receiving your letter intimating my appointment as an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club, this morning.
     I esteem it a very great honour & hope if able to attend next years meeting.
     Very truly yours,
     R W Cochran-Patrick

The N.B. in the address is for North Britain, a term often used for Scotland in those days.

William Black (1841-1898) Honorary member 1888

His life & work:

Although now hardly mentioned in reference books, William Black was a popular novelist in Victorian Britain.

Born in Glasgow, he went to London, joined the staff at the 'Morning Star', and was its special correspondent during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Later he edited the 'London Review', then moved to the 'Daily News' as assistant editor. He contributed a weekly serial to 'The Graphic'.

Black's first novel, 'James Merle', in 1864, was only moderately successful, but the success of 'A Daughter of Heth' in 1871 gained him an increasing circle of readers. Collections of short stories and another 22 novels followed, the last being published shortly before his death. 'Yolande' (1883) dealt in part with drug addiction; 'Judith Shakespeare' (1884) was a historical novel featuring the playwright's daughter; and 'The New Prince Fortunatus' (1890) centred on London theatrical life.

During his own lifetime Black's novels were immensely popular, and were compared favourably with those of Anthony Trollope, though some critics complained that his writings revealed too much his interest in hunting and fishing.

He teamed up with such well-known authors as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, and Walter Besant (all three accepted honorary membership of Irvine Burns Club in various years) to abolish the bootlegging of popular works by American publishers, before copyright laws in that country. This resulted in the passing of new laws during 1891.

Black is remembered by a lighthouse, built in the form of a Gothic tower in 1901 at one of his favourite places, about a mile south of Duart Castle on Mull.

His letter, written from Paston House, 1 Paston Place, Brighton, on Dec 15, 1888:


My Dear Sir,
     Will you be so good as to present my compliments to the Members of the Irvine Burns Club, and say how sensible I am of their kindness and courtesy in electing me an Honorary Member.
     Yours very faithfully
     William Black


David Christie Murray (1847-1907) Honorary member 1888

His life & work:

David Christie Murray wrote around thirty novels in a journalistic style, many set in Staffordshire. So far, we have no evidence of the love of Burns which he mentions in his letter of acceptance. As special correspondent for 'The Times' and 'The Scotsman' he reported on the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-8. In the 1880s he lived in Belgium and France, as the letter heading shows, and toured other countries as a lecturer. The works for which he is mentioned in our minutes are "Old Blazer's Hero" and "A Life's Atonement".

His novel 'Aunt Rachel' had appeared in 1886 and rightly became one of his most popular works. About this story of two love affairs, the West Midlands Literary Heritage website has written: "Like Hardy, David Christie Murray is able to switch effortlessly from comedy to romance, and from sturdy humour to pathos". In 1887, he had published the non-fiction 'A Novelist's Notebook'. Another of his popular novels was 'Joseph's Coat' of 1881.

An interview in the New Zealand 'Star' (27 Feb. 1890), when he arrived at Christchurch, adds extra interest. Firstly, it underlines his success: He "is a maker of good books, as those of us who have read 'Joseph's Coat' and 'First Person Singular' will testify". Secondly, it gives an impression of his personality: "Mr Murray is one of those men whom one 'takes to' at first sight . . a very engaging face . . the face of a man whom one would trust, who had read, and can read, men; and who has read and loved, aye and still loves, books". Thirdly, his views on separate government for Australia are the opposite of those of novelist Edward Jenkins (hon. memb. 1872) - Murray says: "There is a considerable feeling of irritation against England in the Australias, and the patronising tone of the people at Home is very much responsible for it. Sir Julius Vogel has written that England must make it known definitely that the Colonies have no right to a separate national existence. More foolish a proclamation I cannot imagine. America proved . . the right of any community of British descent to govern itself."

In 1897, Murray recorded his criticisms of the contemporary Kailyard school of Scottish literature in his book 'My Contemporaries in Fiction'. There he complained of "the 'boom' which has lately filled heaven and earth with respect to the achievements of the new Scotch school". Singling out the novelist Crockett (honorary member 1895), as had Buchan before him, Murray wrote: "the unblushing effrontery of those gentlemen of the press who have set him on a level with Sir Walter is the most mournful and most contemptible thing in association with the poorer sort of criticism which has been encountered of later years" - an interesting, if unexpectedly critical, insight to his opinions.

His letter, written from Villa Colbert, Montboron, Nice, on March 27th 1889:


     On the day on which I received your intimation of the honour which had been done me by the Irvine Burns Club I wrote a letter begging you to convey to the committee my thanks for their very kindly and agreeable action. I now observe to my great distress that my letter has by some accident been left unposted. I hasten to apologise for my seeming churlishness.
     I shall try, and I trust at no very distant date, to avail myself practically of the Club's hospitality and to secure a look at the valuable manuscripts in its possession. I dare to say that the Club has not conferred the honour of unsought election upon any man more worthy of it than myself if a genuine love of Burns's work is counted as a merit.
     I am sir
     yours very truly
     D Christie Murray

(His nomination is recorded in the 1888 minutes.)

Andrew Lang (1844-1912) Honorary member 1889

His life & work:

Our minutes record his nomination thus: "Dr Andrew Lang, Author of 'Books and Bookmen' and other Literary Works".

This short phrase, necessary in minutes, totally fails to do him justice. He was a poet, a novelist, a critic, an important collector of folk and fairy tales, an author on anthropology and psychic research, a Homeric scholar and co-translator of 'The Odyssey' and 'The Iliad', a writer on Mary Queen of Scots, John Knox and the Young Pretender, and a journalist writing sparkling leaders for the 'Daily News'.

The prompt for the Irvine nomination would be the volume mentioned in the minutes (published in 1886), possibly coupled with; his 'Letters to Dead Authors', which also appeared in 1886. His two-volume 'Myth, Ritual and Religion' then appeared during 1887. For a comprehensive list of the many publications of this prolific journalist, poet, critic and historian, the Wikipedia website article is recommended.

Later works included, in 1896, an edition of "The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns" and, from 1903, a four volume "History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation".

Born in Selkirk, he was educated at Selkirk grammar school, and at the Edinburgh Academy, St Andrews University and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a first class in the final classical schools in 1868.

His letter, written from Rodono, St Mary's Loch:


Dear Sir,
     Pray convey to the Burns' Club my deep sense of the honour and kindness which they have done me, in electing me as an honorary member. There is no Hogg club here, but there should be one.
     Believe me
     Truthfully yours
     A Lang

The letter is undated.

The Hogg reference is to James Hogg, 'The Ettrick Shepherd', born and buried at Ettrick, less than five miles from St Mary's Loch.

From 'To Robert Burns' in 'Letters to Dead Poets' by Andrew Lang (1886)

It has been your peculiar fortune to capture the hearts of a whole people - a people not usually prone to praise, but devoted with a personal and patriotic loyalty to you and to your reputation. In you every Scot who is a Scot sees, admires, and compliments Himself, his ideal self - independent, fond of whisky, fonder of the lassies; you are the true representative of him and of his nation. Next year will be the hundredth since the press of Kilmarnock brought to light its solitary masterpiece, your Poems; and next year, therefore, methinks, the revenue will receive a welcome accession from the abundance of whisky drunk in your honour.

Walter Besant (1836-1901) Honorary member 1889

His life & work:

A novelist and social reformer, Besant's best-known books are now those on the history and topography of London, and on Victorian poverty. His prodigious output included very many novels, several of the 1872-1882 novels being co-authored with James Rice, though he continued to write voluminously thereafter. Our minutes record him as "Mr Walter Besant, Author of 'By Celia's Arbour', 'Ready-Money Mortiboy' (publ.: Chatto & Windus), 'All sorts and conditions of men' and other Literary Works, in recognition of his Eminence and Celebrity as a Novelist".

After gaining 1st class Honours in Mathematics (as '18th Wrangler') at Cambridge, and two years teaching in England, he served as Professor of Mathematics in the Royal College, Mauritius, in 1861 to 1867, and afterwards, back in London due to ill-health, was Secretary to the Palestine Exploration Fund from 1868 to 1885.

Walter Besant was mainly instrumental in the founding, in 1884, of the Society of Authors to protect the rights of professional authors. Its first President was Tennyson (honorary member 1863) and its members included J M Barrie and Thomas Hardy (honorary members in 1892). A 1911 encyclopedia stated:"the improved conditions of the literary career in England were largely due to [Besant's] energetic and capable exposition of the commercial value of authorship and to the unselfish efforts which Sir Walter constantly made on behalf of his fellow-workers in the field of letters".

As a freemason, Besant had, in 1886, conceived the idea of a Masonic research lodge, the Quatuor [sic] Coronati Lodge, of which he was first Treasurer.

Walter Besant's earliest books were on the subject of French literature, the first being "Studies in Early French Poetry" in 1868. Later, in 1899, he published, with Professor Palmer, a "History of Jerusalem". He published over forty works of fiction and over thirty non-fiction. He was knighted in 1895.

The 1911 encyclopedia also commented: "Though not without exaggeration and eccentricity, attributable to the influence of Dickens, [the novels of Walter Besant] are full of rich humour, shrewd observation and sound common-sense, and contain characters which have taken their place in the long gallery of British fiction."

His letter, written from 12, Gayton Crescent, Hampstead, on July 20, 1889:


Dear Sir
     I have the honour to acknowledge your letter of the 13th and to convey to you my thanks for the honour you have done me in placing me on your list of Honorary Members. I have to remain dear Sir
     Faithfully Yours,
     Walter Besant


A J Balfour (1848-1930) Honorary member 1890

His life & work:

"Balfour, a Leader for Half a Century" - thus the New York Times headed his obituary, which celebrated "a career which for distinction and length of service has few equals in modern English history". By the year he accepted honorary membership, he had made his mark in Scotland and Ireland, and would go on to make his mark nationally and internationally.

Born on the family estate at Whittingehame near Haddington, Arthur James Balfour was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His father and grandfather had both been members of parliament, and his uncle, the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury, a senior Conservative party figure, persuaded him to stand for Hertford. In 1874, aged 26, he became Parliamentary Private Secretary to his uncle (the Foreign Secretary), gaining valuable experience, particularly during the Balkan crises. After Gladstone's Liberal win in 1880, during five years in opposition, he made his mark as a serious politician. On return to power, Salisbury created the office of Secretary for Scotland (1885) and in 1886 appointed Balfour (now representing Manchester). In 1887, Balfour was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland - though nicknamed 'Bloody Balfour' when he ordered that rioters be shot down without hesitation, his tenure was more successful than that of many others.

In 1891, he became First Lord of the Treasury, then Leader of the Commons, and succeeded his uncle as Prime Minister (1902-1905). After the Liberal landslide of 1905, he returned representing the City of London, and remained party leader until 1911. In Lloyd George's wartime coalition government, Balfour was Foreign Secretary (1916-19). In 1917, he wrote the letter to Lord Rothschild, a leader of British Jews, explaining the new Government position supporting the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, and asking him to bring it to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation; this 'Balfour Declaration' was ratified by the other Allied governments and led to Britain being given the League of Nations Mandate in Palestine in 1920. He represented Britain at the Versailles peace conference in 1919, and at the first assembly of the League of Nations, and led the British delegation to the 1921 Washington Arms Conference. He was created 1st Earl of Balfour and Viscount Traprain of Whittingehame in 1922.

By inclination a philosopher ("The Foundations of Belief", 1895), he was also a gifted musician, and founder and President of the Handel Society; he enjoyed golf, and was proud of his title as Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews; he was the first public man in Britain to ride in an airplane; he was also President of the British Academy. On his 80th birthday, members of parliament gave him an expensive car along with the balance of what had been raised, "as a reservoir whence you can draw the fines you'll undoubtedly have to pay". Over half a century, though more an aesthete than a natural politician, A J Balfour had applied his debating abilities and independent thought to the service of his country.

His letter, written from the Irish Office, Gt. Queen Street, S.W., with a supplementary handwritten address of 4 Carlton Gardens, London S.W., on 4th February 1890:

The Irish Office address is embossed on the paper, so does not show up in photocopies.

4 Carlton Gardens (a residence possibly second in political fame only to 10 Downing St.), built in 1825, was leased by Lord Palmerston until he died.

Dear Sir
     I beg to acknowledge your letter of the 31st ult., informing me that the Members of the Irvine Burns Club have been good enough to elect me as an honourary [sic] member. Pray thank them for the honour they have done me which I highly appreciate.
     Yours faithfully
     Arthur James Balfour

James A Froude (1818-1894) Honorary member 1890

His life & work:

Recorded in our minutes as "James Anthony Froude, Esquire, the Eminent Historian", he specialised in the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Following the death of Thomas Macaulay in 1859, Froude became the most famous living historian in England.

His great work was 'The History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Spanish Armada', which appeared from 1856 to 1869. Though very popular, it received but doubtful approval from historians.

Froude was made literary executor to Thomas Carlyle (honorary member 1863), who died in 1881, and his 'Life of Carlyle', 'Carlyle's Reminiscences' and 'Letters and Memorials of Jane Welsh Carlyle', as edited by him, provoked an extraordinary amount of interest and controversy. It is probable that both his historical works and his Carlyle publications contributed to his nomination as an honorary member by Irvine Burns Club.

His letter, written from 5 Onslow Gardens, S.W., on 3rd February 1890:


Dear Sir
     I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter informing me that I have been chosen an honorary member of the Irvine Burns Club.
     Pray accept for yourself and present to the members of the Club my most hearty thanks for the honour which they have done me,
     and believe me,
     Your faithful servant,
     J A Froude


J M Barrie (1860-1937) Honorary member 1892

His life & work:

Our minutes of 1892 indicate the works then best known to the members of Irvine Burns Club - "Mr J M Barrie, the Editor of 'Auld Licht Idylls', [author of] 'A Window in Thrums', 'The Wee Minister' and other Novels". The Auld Lichts, or Old Lights, refers to the religious sect to which his mother had belonged before her marriage and the book consisted of sketches of Scottish life, praised by critics for their originality. The town name Thrums is his pen-name for his native town of Kirriemuir, Angus. 'The Little Minister' (the minute-taker got the title wrong), a melodramatic novel, became a huge success and was filmed later three times.

The three books mentioned above were published in 1888, 1889 and 1891 respectively. James Matthew Barrie's age at the time of nomination was only 31. He had started as a journalist for the 'Nottingham Journal' and moved in 1885 with empty pockets to London as a freelance writer. At this point, he was at the start of his career.

Barrie's first theatre successes were 'Quality Street' in 1901, 'The Admirable Crichton' in 1902, and 'Peter Pan' in 1904. Later plays included other fantasy plays, such as 'Dear Brutus' (1917) and 'Mary Rose' (1920), with themes of children and loss, and plays dealing with social issues, eg 'What Every Woman Knows' (lovelessness & ambition), 'The Twelve Pound Look' (divorce; Barrie himself was divorced in 1909 after his wife's infidelity) and 'Echoes of the War' (1918). He was knighted in 1913 and received the Order of Merit in 1922.

Drama was his principal delight. As a schoolboy at Dumfries Academy, his drama club production led to a furious rebuke from the minister on the school board. In 1891, his parody of Ibsen's dramas was a sensation after a single private performance and denied a licence until 1914. Between 1909 and 1911, along with other playwrights, he unsuccessfully challenged the Lord Chamberlain's censorship of the theatre.

Barrie was not a one-hit wonder, despite the National Theatre of Scotland selecting 'Peter Pan' for the 150th anniversary of his birth - he was an author with a remarkable career, producing "a remarkable range of work from largely successful fictions to captivating drama" (Robert Crawford, 'Scotland's Books').

His letter, written from the Garrick Club, W.C., on Feb 1, '92:


Dear Sir
     Your letter has given me much pleasure & I thank the Irvine Burns Club heartily for electing me an honorary member. I hope to meet you all sometime & to have an opportunity of seeing the Burns manuscripts.
     Yours truly
     J. M. Barrie

The letter is addressed to Jas. Dickie, Esq., Hon. Secy.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) Honorary member 1892

His life & work:

Originally trained as an architect, Thomas Hardy was best known to Irvine readers as "the Author of 'Far from the Madding Crowd', 'A Pair of Blue Eyes', 'The Trumpet Major' and other Works".

Hardy himself classified his novels in three categories. Novels of Character and Environment included 'Far from the Madding Crowd' and 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles', this latter published in 1891, the year before his nomination. Romances and Fantasies included 'The Trumpet Major' and the 1891 novel 'A Group of Noble Dames'. Novels of Ingenuity included 'Desperate Remedies', his first novel, published in 1871 or 1872. Although best known as a novelist, Hardy considered himself a poet, publishing a number of volumes of lyrics.

Like J M Barrie (hon. member in the same year), Hardy had been helped in his early career by novelist and poet George Meredith (also nominated in 1892).

His letter, written from Max Gate, Dorchester, on February 1, 1892:


Dear Sir,
     I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 26th ult. and to thank you for the honour you have conferred upon me by electing me to the Burns Club.
     I also congratulate you upon the preserving of so many valuable MSS of that sweet singer & poet, & truly great-hearted man.
     Yours very faithfully
     Thomas Hardy

His address is embossed on the writing paper (so does not show up in the photocopy). Max Gate is the house he designed and lived in from 1885. The house is now cared for by the National Trust and open to the public on the days advertised by the tenants.

Also in 1892:

an honorary member, the future Poet Laureate Alfred Austin

and a fourth nominee, George Meredith

Alfred Austin, the English poet (1835-1913), accepted honorary membership. The 1893 minutes record that his letter was read to the members, but the letter is no longer extant. In the 1892 minutes, he is "the poet who is now prominently before the public as the Author of a Poem on His Royal Highness The Duke of Clarence & Avondale". A few years later, in 1896, he was appointed Poet Laureate, succeeding Tennyson. Though Tennyson had died in 1892, the position had remained vacant until after the distinguished poetess Christina Rossetti died in 1894, so as not to interrupt the male succession ('The Guardian', 11/02/1999).

He attended the 1896 unveiling of the Robert Burns statue in Irvine, but his Irvine oration was scathingly attacked by the "Glasgow Herald" on the following Monday.

George Meredith (1828-1909), the Victorian novelist and poet, was also nominated, but no acceptance is recorded. His novel 'The Egoist' (1879) was regarded as his masterpiece, but 'Diana of the Crossways' (1885) was the first to be generally read by the public. By the time of his death, he was regarded as standing "in the front rank [of novelists], with one or two others".

He served as the 2nd President of the Society of Authors, succeeding Tennyson. He was also a social patron of J M Barrie, then a young man (aged 31) in London, whose acceptance of honorary membership in the same year is noted above.

Leslie Stephen (1832-1904) Honorary member 1893

His life & work:

Leslie Stephen was nominated (as recorded in our 1893 minutes) as "Author of 'Hours in a Library', 'A History of English Thought in the 18th Century' and other Works, in recognition of his literary gifts and accomplishments".

'Hours in a Library', published in three volumes in 1874, 1876 and 1879, consisted mainly of sharp and penetrating critical studies reprinted from the 'Cornhill Magazine' which he edited from 1871 to 1882. He then edited, and contributed many 'Lives' to, the Dictionary of National Biography from 1882 to 1891. He received a doctor's degree from Harvard University in 1890, in 1895 he was elected President of the London Library in success to Tennyson (an hon. member in 1863), and he was honoured with a knighthood in 1902. The nndb website contains a comprehensive account of his literary endeavours.

As a mountaineer, Stephen made the first ascent of several Alpine peaks between 1858 and 1871, and served as President of the Alpine Club in 1865-68. His first wife was the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray (an hon. member in 1854). Two of his daughters by his second wife became famous, as Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.

His letter, written from 22 Hyde Park Gate, London, S.W., on 13.2.93:


     Upon returning from a visit to the Continent, I find your obliging letter & beg to return my sincere thanks to the members of the Irvine Burns Club for the honour they have done me.
     I have enough Scottish blood in me to be a cordial lover of Burns & if ever I have the good fortune to be in your neighbourhood, I should be very glad to look at the interesting MSS of which you speak.
     I am, with sincere thanks,
     Yours very truly
     Leslie Stephen


Augustine Birrell (1850-1933) Honorary member 1893

His life & work:

Augustine Birrell combined writing and politics. Our minuted summary records him as "the Essayist, Author of 'Obiter Dicta', 'Res Judicatae' and other Works, M.P. for the Western Division of Fifeshire, in recognition of his literary skill and intellectual ability".

He had published 'Obiter Dicta' (a volume of essays) in 1884, with a second series in 1887, and 'Res Judicatae' in 1892. He had entered Parliament in 1889.

In later years, he published 'Collected Essays' in 1900 and was President of the Board of Trade from 1905-1907, when he was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, holding that position until 1916. His first period in Ireland, to 1912, was successful, his second period less so, and he resigned the day after the Easter Rising ended. His opposition to votes for women led to some injuries in 1910, when set upon by a group of suffragettes while walking from the House of Commons to the Athenaeum Club. In retirement, he published 'More Obiter Dicta' (1920).

By coincidence, his second wife (in 1888) was Eleanor Tennyson, the widowed daughter-in-law of the poet (hon. member 1863).

His letter, written from 30 Lower Sloane Street, S.W., on 12th February 1893:


     I am sorry to find that so long a time has elapsed since I received the letter in which you told me of the honour done me by the Irvine Burns Club in electing me an Honorary Member. A great pressure of work must be my excuse, & I beg you will offer my apologies to the Club, at the same time assuring the Members that I most sincerely appreciate the honour they have done me.
     I am much interested to hear of the valuable Manuscripts in the Club Collection.
     I remain
     Yours faithfully
     A Birrell

His address is embossed on the writing paper, so does not show up in photocopies.

The letter is addressed to Jas. Dickie, Esq., the Club's Hon. Secy.

Henry Craik (1846-1927) Honorary member 1893

His life & work:

This prominent educationalist is described in our records as "Henry Craik, Esquire, C.B., M.A., LL.D., Secretary to the Educational Department of Scotland, Author of a 'Life of Swift' and other Works, in recognition of his intellectual accomplishments and his eminent services to the cause of education".

After education at Glasgow and Oxford (honours in Classics and History), he was appointed an Examiner in the Education Department, being transferred afterwards to the Scottish Education Department (established 1872). In 1878 he became senior examiner, and in 1885 was appointed Secretary. In this position he controlled and moulded the educational methods and machinery of Scotland for 19 years. Meanwhile he was created C.B. (Companion of Order of the Bath) in 1887 and K.C.B. (Knight Commander) in 1897. He was also made LL.D. by the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews.

As well as his life of Dean Swift, he also penned several volumes on Education. After retiral in 1904, Sir Henry was chosen as M.P. for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities, serving from 1906 to 1918, and, on the reorganisation of seats, for the Combined Scottish Universities from then until his death in 1927. For his last five years in Parliament, he was the oldest MP, being aged 76 to 81 (though not the longest-serving). In 1926, he was made a baronet, of Kennoway, in the county of Fife.

His letter, written on the headed paper of the Scotch Education Department, Dover House, Whitehall, on 28 January 1893:


Dear Sir
     I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of 26th Jany. informing me that the Irvine Burns Club has been good enough to elect me as an Honorary Member of the Club.
     I esteem it a high honour to belong to a Club which by its old standing, its territorial connexion, and its possession of most valuable memorials of Burns, must stand in the front rank of those associations the aim of which is to testify to our pride in, & honour of, our national poet.
     Will you be so kind as to convey to the Club my thanks for the honour they have done me?
     I have the honour to be,
     Dear Sir
     Yours faithfully
     H Craik

The letter is addressed to Jas. Dickie, Esq., the Club's Hon. Secy.

John Spiers (1817-1899) Honorary member 1893

His life & work:

It is thanks to John Spiers that Irvine can be proud of an imposing statue to the Bard. Our minutes record that he "had intimated his intention of presenting to the Burgh of Irvine, his native place, a Statue of the Poet, Burns" and that his nomination was "in recognition of his munificent gift". Our website has a special section on the statue, the unveiling ceremony in 1896, and the newspaper reports of the time.

John Spiers left Irvine as a young man and enjoyed a long, successful and, equally importantly, honourable career as an underwriter and insurance broker at Blythswood Sq., Glasgow. His family had long been merchants in Irvine; and his mother and his wife both belonged to the family connected to Edgar Allan Poe. Retired by now in Seamill, his age and infirmity prevented his attending the unveiling, so he was represented by his two daughters.

His gift of a statue was motivated by what he had been told, in his young days in Irvine, by people who had known the poet, so in a sense the statue is a personal testament from one who had heard at first hand of Burns' generous character, great genius and noble humanity.

John Spiers also showed his awareness of people's more immediate needs. On unveiling day, he sponsored a breakfast for 320 needy people, and some thirty years earlier, he had been a founder of, and thereafter a benefactor to, the Glasgow-Irvine Society, for those of his native town who found themselves in "decaying circumstances".

The whole life of John Spiers was marked by commercial probity and thought for others.

His letter, written from 2 Blythswood Square, Glasgow, on 28 January 1893:


My Dear Sir
     Yesterday I received your letter of the 26th inst intimating that the Club had unanimously elected me as an honorary member.
     I thank them sincerely for the honor conferred.
     I am
     My Dear Sir
     John Spiers

His writing paper has an attractive light blue "S" at the top left corner.

His writing is extremely shaky.

The letter is addressed to James Dickie, Esq., the Club's Hon. Secy.

Lord Roberts (1832-1914) Honorary member 1894

His life & work:

"The Right Honourable Lord Roberts, one of the Generals in the British Army, G.C.B., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E., V.C., D.C.L., LL.D., of Kandahar of Afghanistan and City of Waterford, in recognition of his distinguished military services in India and in other parts of the Empire." Thus is he recorded in our minutes of the time.

Frederick Sleigh Roberts was an outstanding soldier, born in Cawnpore, India, the son of General Sir A Roberts, and no short biography can do justice to his career. Starting in the Bengal Artillery of the East India Company in 1852, he won the Victoria Cross in India in 1858, and was appointed Q.M.G. there in 1873. On the outbreak of war in Afghanistan in 1878, he restored order in Kurram, and led a mobile column in a brilliant march to the relief of Kandahar. On the withdrawal of British forces, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Madras army, becoming commander-in-chief in India from 1885 to 1893. Then, for two years, during which time he was nominated for honorary membership, he was at home in Britain.

His career afterwards was equally impressive. After appointment to the chief command in Ireland, he went out in 1899 to the Boer War, in which his only son had recently been killed, as commander-in-chief. Returning home, he assumed the highest position a soldier could then aspire to, commander-in-chief of the army, the last of a long line of distinguished soldiers to hold that office, as it was abolished in 1904. In 1901, he was created Viscount St Pierre and Earl Roberts. In retirement, foreseeing the approaching hostilities, he campaigned actively for universal military training. Known to the army as 'Bobs', he died with his comrades in France in Nov. 1914, at the age of 82.

For an excellent and full account of his career, see the www.pinetreeweb.com site.

His letter, written from Evercreech, Somerset, on 1st Feb. 1894:


Dear Sir,
     I have the pleasure to receive your letter of the 29th January, in which you inform me that the members of the Irvine Burns Club have unanimously elected me an Honorary Member of the Club. I beg you will convey my best thanks to the members & say how much I appreciate the honor they have done me. I look forward to having the pleasure of visiting Irvine some day & seeing the valuable collection of holograph manuscripts left by Scotland’s great poet, Burns.
     yours very truly

The letter is addressed to James Dickie, Esq., Hon. Secy.

Editor's footnote (written in 2010): History shows the Pashtuns that foreign invaders are vulnerable. In the first Afghan War, in 1842, a 6,000 strong British army retreating from Kabul en route to Kandahar was totally annihilated. In the second Afghan War, in 1880, at the battle of Maiwand, an Afghan force led by Ayub Khan suffered high casualties, but was a rout for the British, as the 2,500 British force under General Burrows, operating out of Kandahar, lost more than 950 men on their retreat back there. The third Afghan War in 1919 is now "totally forgotten by us" (2010 comment by Geoff Cowling, Vice-consul in Kabul, 1970-73). The Russian experience was no better. The outcome of the current 2010 engagement is still unclear. We wonder what advice Lord Roberts might have given.

John Veitch (1829-1894) Honorary member 1894

His life & work:

Professor of Logic and Rhetoric in the University of Glasgow, John Veitch's published works included the "History and Poetry of the Scottish Border" and various poems.

A poet, philosopher and historian, a native of Peebles, he was appointed in 1860 to the Chair of Logic, Metaphysics and Rhetoric at St Andrews, and to the corresponding Chair at Glasgow in 1864. The volume mentioned in our minutes had appeared in 1877; the appearance of its 2nd edition in 1893 may have prompted his nomination in 1894. He died later that year, on September 3rd.

The website of the University of Glasgow ends its biography of Veitch with this comment: "Historians agree that Veitch was a conservative thinker who showed little sympathy for the latest developments in philosophical thought. He published a number of volumes of philosophical criticism and biographies and bibliographies of famous philosophers (as well as several collections of his own poems), but he is better remembered for his work on the history and poetry of the Scottish Borders."

His letter, written from The College, Glasgow, on 10th March 1894:


Dear Sir,
     I am quite pained to find that your announcement of my election as an Honorary Member of the Irvine Burns Club has remained without acknowledgement until now. The constant pressure of class-work here, requiring daily & unceasing attention, must be my apology.
     I have to thank the Club very much indeed for the great honour they have done me in electing me an Honorary Member. I prize the distinction highly, as coming from a Club so long established and so well known, and also as coming from the land of Burns.
     The first time I am in Irvine or near it, I shall take the opportunity of seeing and examining the interesting & valuable MSS in possession of the Club.
     These have a very special interest – as associated with one of the greatest of our countrymen.
     Believe me
     Yours truly
     J Veitch

The letter is addressed to James Dickie, Esq., the Club's Hon. Secy.

Sir Donald Matheson (1832-1901) Honorary member 1894

His life & work:

An Irvine man, his achievements and character come alive in our minutes of the time: "Sir Donald Matheson, K.C.B., Bourtriehill [sic], Irvine, Honorary Colonel, Clyde Division Volunteer Submarine Miners, Royal Engineers, and Honorary Colonel, 1st Lanarkshire Engineer Volunteer Corps, in recognition of the honours conferred on him for distinguished services as an officer of the Volunteer Forces and also of the active and philanthropic interest he takes in all movements for the welfare and culture of the people."

We have no other information about him at present.

His letter, written from P & O Str "Oriental", Bay of Biscay, on 23 March 1894:


Dear Mr Dickie
     When I received intimation from you a considerable time ago that the Irvine Burns Club had done me the honour to elect me an honorary member I intended to, & have since been under the impression that I had, at once accepted the honorary membership with grateful thanks, but having some faint misgivings on the subject I requested Mr Rankin, the last time I saw him to ascertain for me whether I had really done so or only intended & so afterwards thought I had done so, and I received a letter from Mr Rankin the day before I left home informing me that I had omitted to do so.
     I am quite ashamed of this misapprehension and oversight on my part, and I will be much obliged if you will be so good as to convey to the members my humble apology for the unwitting delay and my grateful acceptance of the honour they have done me.
     I will be happy if I may be afforded some opportunity of meeting with the members of the Club.
     With kind regards believe me
     Yours faithfully
     Donald Matheson

'Str' = 'Steamer'.

The letter is addressed to J. Dickie, Esq., Hon. Secy., Irvine Burns Club

Also in 1894:

two other nominees who accepted, though their letters are no longer extant

The following two nominees also accepted, as letters from all five 1894 nominees were read to members at the 1895 Dinner. Unfortunately, their letters seem to be no longer extant.

William Morris(1834-1896), poet, artist, designer and Socialist, is recorded in our minutes as the "author of 'Earthly Paradise' (1868-70) and other poems". He is much better remembered today as the senior partner of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co, a firm of decorators and manufacturers, founded in 1861 after the successful completion of his Red House at Upton in Kent. "Morris did more than anyone else", records the Gresham Encyclopaedia of the 1920s, "to exorcise the spirit of drab ugliness from Victorian houses".

John Nichol, LL.D., (1833-1894) was Emeritus Professor of English Literature, the University of Glasgow, and is recorded in our minutes as "a distinguished Literateur and Author of Poems, and Lives of Burns, Byron, and Carlyle". He had served as Professor from 1861 to 1889. He died in the year of nomination, before the reading of his acceptance letter. His many works covered Ancient, European, and American Literature, and his biographies also included those of Hannibal and Kant.

Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1859-1914) Honorary member 1895

His life & work:

There was a second reason for this nomination of Scottish novelist S R Crockett - his interest in the Irvine-born John Galt. Our minutes record: "Samuel Rutherford Crockett, Esquire, Scottish Literateur, Penicuik, Mid Lothian, the Author of 'The Stickit Minister'. 'The Raiders', etc, and in recognition of his eminence as a Scottish Literateur and as the Prefatory Contributor to the forthcoming Edition of the Works of John Galt, the Novelist, a native of Irvine".

Crockett became Free Church minister at Penicuik, but gave up the Church for literature. J M Barrie's success with his novels set in Kirriemuir had created a demand for sentimental, home-y stories in Lowland Scots (the 'Kailyard school'), and 'The Stickit Minister' of 1893 first made Rutherford's name known. Following this and 'The Raiders', he published another eleven volumes of tales and sketches.

His letter, typed at Bank House, Penicuik, on 29 Jany 1895:


Dear Sir,
     I desire to thank you and the members of the Irvine Burns Club for the honour of electing me as an Honorary member of their club.
I feel that they have done me a very great honour indeed. I have never been in the town of Irvine but I propose to visit it during this year, if all goes well. I hope that I shall be able to see the excellent collection of MSS which I believe you possess. I had heard of it from Mr. Craibe Angus.
     With kind regards,
     Faithfully yours
     S. R. Crockett

This is the earliest typed letter in the collection. Handwritten acceptances have usually been encouraged.

The letter is addressed to James Dickie, Esq., Burns Club, Irvine.

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