Burns is 'king of sentimental doggerel', says Paxman
Friday 15 August 2008
Jeremy Paxman may have wept on television when he discovered his poverty-stricken roots in a Glasgow tenement block, but if the Scots thought this would spare them the famous snarling disdain of the BBC's grand inquisitor-in-chief, they were in for a rude awakening.
The Newsnight presenter appears to have outraged half of Scotland with comments dismissing the national poet Robert Burns as "no more than a king of sentimental doggerel".
Gerard Carruthers, a Burns scholar at Glasgow University, said the journalist's remarks, made in the introduction to a new edition of Chambers Dictionary, were "absolute nonsense".
He added: "Originally, the term sentimental was used to describe poets who engage with feelings as well as the mind, and if that is the way it is being used, then yes, Burns was sentimental. But in the modern sense it means treacly or sugary – and that is not the real Burns at all... I think [Paxman] is trying to trade off his image as a grumpy middle-aged man. It is very strange he is saying this. It's the equivalent of poking a stick in Jocks' ribs, which is fine, if he really wants to do that."
On the website of the Glasgow Herald, some railed against Paxman's "well-documented aversion to all things Scottish".
In the past he has locked horns with former cabinet minister John Reid over Reid's Glasgow accent, and has accused those north of the border of having a "chip on their shoulder" despite holding all the top jobs in Westminster – a situation he compared with the British Raj.
Other attacks on Paxman were more personal. "Who cares what he thinks of Burns? Paxman is a short man with a long face," wrote one outraged fan, presumably clutching a well-thumbed copy of the famous Burns poem Tam O' Shanter.
Mary O'Neill, Chambers' editor- in- chief, defended the BBC man's comments and said it was not her place to "censor" his controversial views.
"I am very sure that he knows he is being controversial," she said.
"We knew he would say something interesting and it will certainly get people talking."
But whatever his overall view of the poet, Paxman seems to have a grudging respect for Burns' idiosyncratic vocabulary. Acknowledging such linguistic gems as "forswunk", he wrote: "It's not exactly a word one hears every day, but, as a term to describe dog-tiredness it has a pleasing euphony." He proceeded to undo his good work, adding: "Although I'm afraid I find the Scottish national poet no more than a king of sentimental doggerel, one might as well have used his 'ramfeezled' to describe our state." It was unclear whether Paxman was contrite yesterday. In the Herald's discussion forum a correspondent calling himself "Weepaxman" wrote: "I'm controversial in a thoroughly establishment kind of tradition. Sorry, I can't help it. I'm the establishment's anti-establishment."
'To a Haggis', Robert Burns, 1786
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill, Your pin was help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
His knife see Rustic-labour dight
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This is what happens when you tattoo Charmander on yourself, drunk, and with no experience
- 2 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'