Robert Burns (25 January 175921 July 1796), also known familiarly as Rabbie Burns, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the
A national poet or national bard is a poet held by tradition and popular acclaim to represent the identity, beliefs and principles of a particular national culture. The national poet as culture hero is a long-standing symbol ...
Scotland (, ) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, mainland Scotland has a border with England to the southeast and is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the ...
and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language
, although much of his writing is in a "light Scots dialect
" of English, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland. He also wrote in standard English, and in these writings his political or civil commentary is often at its bluntest.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the
Romanticism (also known as the Romantic movement or Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate ...
, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both
Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on the rights of the individual, liberty, consent of the governed, political equality and equality before the law."political rationalism, hostility to autocracy, cultural distaste for ...
, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora
around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult
during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on
Scottish literature is literature written in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It includes works in English, Scottish Gaelic, Scots, Brythonic, French, Latin, Norn or other languages written within the modern boundaries of Scotland.
The e ...
. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV
As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs
from across Scotland, often revising or adapting
them. His poem (and song) "
Auld Lang Syne
"Auld Lang Syne" (: note "s" rather than "z") is a popular song, particularly in the English-speaking world. Traditionally, it is sung to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. By extension, it is also often ...
" is often sung at
Hogmanay ( , ) is the Scots word for the last day of the old year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. It is normally followed by further celebration on the morning of New Year's Day (1 January) or ...
(the last day of the year), and "
Scots Wha Hae
"Scots Wha Hae" ( English: ''Scots Who Have''; gd, Brosnachadh Bhruis) is a patriotic song of Scotland written using both words of the Scots language and English, which served for centuries as an unofficial national anthem of the country, bu ...
" served for a long time as an unofficial
A national anthem is a patriotic musical composition symbolizing and evoking eulogies of the history and traditions of a country or nation. The majority of national anthems are marches or hymns in style. American, Central Asian, and Europe ...
of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include " A Red, Red Rose
", " A Man's a Man for A' That
", " To a Louse
", " To a Mouse
", " The Battle of Sherramuir
", " Tam o' Shanter
" and " Ae Fond Kiss
Life and background
Burns was born two miles (3 km) south of
Ayr (; sco, Ayr; gd, Inbhir Àir, "Mouth of the River Ayr") is a town situated on the southwest coast of Scotland. It is the administrative centre of the South Ayrshire council area and the historic county town of Ayrshire. With a population ...
Alloway ( gd, Allmhaigh, ) is a village in South Ayrshire, Scotland, located on the River Doon. It is best known as the birthplace of Robert Burns and the setting for his poem "Tam o' Shanter". Tobias Bachope, the mason responsible for the cons ...
, the eldest of the seven children of William Burnes
(1721–1784), a self-educated tenant farmer from Dunnottar
in the Mearns
, and Agnes Broun
(1732–1820), the daughter of a Kirkoswald
He was born in a house built by his father (now the Burns Cottage
Museum), where he lived until
Easter,Traditional names for the feast in English are "Easter Day", as in the ''Book of Common Prayer''; "Easter Sunday", used by James Ussher''The Whole Works of the Most Rev. James Ussher, Volume 4'') and Samuel Pepys''The Diary of Samuel P ...
1766, when he was seven years old. William Burnes sold the house and took the tenancy of the Mount Oliphant farm, southeast of Alloway. Here Burns grew up in poverty and hardship, and the severe manual labour of the farm left its traces in a premature stoop and a weakened constitution.
He had little regular schooling and got much of his education from his father, who taught his children reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history and also wrote for them ''A Manual of Christian Belief''. He was also taught by John Murdoch (1747–1824), who opened an " adventure school
" in Alloway in 1763 and taught Latin, French, and mathematics to both Robert and his brother Gilbert
(1760–1827) from 1765 to 1768 until Murdoch left the parish. After a few years of home education, Burns was sent to Dalrymple Parish School in mid-1772 before returning at harvest time to full-time farm labouring until 1773, when he was sent to lodge with Murdoch for three weeks to study grammar, French, and Latin.
By the age of 15, Burns was the principal labourer at Mount Oliphant. During the harvest of 1774, he was assisted by Nelly Kilpatrick
(1759–1820), who inspired his first attempt at poetry, " O, Once I Lov'd A Bonnie Lass
". In 1775, he was sent to finish his education with a tutor at Kirkoswald, where he met Peggy Thompson
(born 1762), to whom he wrote two songs, "Now Westlin' Winds" and "I Dream'd I Lay".
Despite his ability and character, William Burnes
was consistently unfortunate, and migrated with his large family from farm to farm without ever being able to improve his circumstances. At
Whitsun (also Whitsunday or Whit Sunday) is the name used in Britain, and other countries among Anglicans and Methodists, for the Christian High Holy Day of Pentecost. It is the seventh Sunday after Easter, which commemorates the descent of the ...
, 1777, he removed his large family from the unfavourable conditions of Mount Oliphant to the farm at Lochlea
, near Tarbolton
, where they stayed until William Burnes's death in 1784. Subsequently, the family became integrated into the community of Tarbolton. To his father's disapproval, Robert joined a country dancing school in 1779 and, with Gilbert, formed the Tarbolton Bachelors' Club
the following year. His earliest existing letters date from this time, when he began making romantic overtures to Alison Begbie
(b. 1762). In spite of four songs written for her and a suggestion that he was willing to marry her, she rejected him.
Robert Burns was
Initiation is a rite of passage marking entrance or acceptance into a group or society. It could also be a formal admission to adulthood in a community or one of its formal components. In an extended sense, it can also signify a transformation ...
A Masonic lodge, often termed a private lodge or constituent lodge, is the basic organisational unit of Freemasonry. It is also commonly used as a term for a building in which such a unit meets. Every new lodge must be warranted or chartered ...
St David, Tarbolton, on 4 July 1781, when he was 22.
In December 1781, Burns moved temporarily to Irvine
to learn to become a flax
-dresser, but during the workers' celebrations for
New Year is the time or day currently at which a new calendar year begins and the calendar's year count increments by one. Many cultures celebrate the event in some manner. In the Gregorian calendar, the most widely used calendar system to ...
1781/1782 (which included Burns as a participant) the flax shop caught fire and was burnt to the ground. This venture accordingly came to an end, and Burns went home to Lochlea farm. During this time he met and befriended Captain Richard Brown
who encouraged him to become a poet.
He continued to write poems and songs and began a commonplace book
in 1783, while his father fought a legal dispute with his landlord. The case went to the
Court of Session
The Court of Session is the supreme civil court of Scotland and constitutes part of the College of Justice; the supreme criminal court of Scotland is the High Court of Justiciary. The Court of Session sits in Parliament House in Edinburgh ...
, and Burnes was upheld in January 1784, a fortnight before he died.
Robert and Gilbert made an ineffectual struggle to keep on the farm, but after its failure they moved to the farm at Mossgiel, near
Mauchline (; gd, Maghlinn) is a town and civil parish in East Ayrshire, Scotland. In the 2001 census Mauchline had a recorded population of 4,105. It is home to the National Burns Memorial.
The town lies by the Glasgow and South West ...
, in March, which they maintained with an uphill fight for the next four years. In mid-1784 Burns came to know a group of girls known collectively as The Belles of Mauchline, one of whom was Jean Armour
, the daughter of a
Stonemasonry or stonecraft is the creation of buildings, structures, and sculpture using stone as the primary material. It is one of the oldest activities and professions in human history. Many of the long-lasting, ancient shelters, temples, ...
His first child, Elizabeth "Bess" Burns
(1785–1817), was born to his mother's servant, Elizabeth Paton
(1760–circa 1799), while he was embarking on a relationship with Jean Armour
, who became pregnant with twins in March 1786. Burns signed a paper attesting his marriage to Jean, but her father "was in the greatest distress, and fainted away". To avoid disgrace, her parents sent her to live with her uncle in Paisley
. Although Armour's father initially forbade it, they were married in 1788. Armour bore him nine children, three of whom survived infancy.
Burns was in financial difficulties due to his lack of success in farming, and to make enough money to support a family he took up an offer of work in Jamaica from Patrick Douglas of Garrallan, Old Cumnock
A plantation is an agricultural estate, generally centered on a plantation house, meant for farming that specializes in cash crops, usually mainly planted with a single crop, with perhaps ancillary areas for vegetables for eating and so on. Th ...
Port Antonio is the capital of the parish of Portland on the northeastern coast of Jamaica, about from Kingston. It had a population of 12,285 in 1982 and 13,246 in 1991. It is the island's third largest port, famous as a shipping point for b ...
were managed by his brother Charles, under whom Burns was to be a "book keeper" (assistant overseer of slaves).
[; ; ]
It has been suggested that the position was for a single man, and that he would live in rustic conditions, not likely to be living in the great house at a salary of £
30 per annum.
It is said in Burns's defence that in 1786 the abolitionist
movement was just beginning to be broadly active. Burns's authorship of " The Slave's Lament
" (1792), a work claimed to typify his egalitarian views, is disputed. Burns’s name is absent from any abolition petition and according to Lisa Williams "is strangely silent on the question of chattel slavery compared to other contemporary poets. Perhaps this was due to his government position, severe limitations on free speech at the time or his association with beneficiaries of the slave trade system".
At about the same time, Burns fell in love with Mary Campbell
(1763–1786), whom he had seen in church while he was still living in Tarbolton. She was born near Dunoon
and had lived in
Campbeltown (; gd, Ceann Loch Chille Chiarain or ) is a town and former royal burgh in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It lies by Campbeltown Loch on the Kintyre peninsula. Campbeltown became an important centre for Scotch whisky, and a busy fis ...
before moving to work in Ayrshire. He dedicated the poems "The Highland Lassie O", "Highland Mary", and "To Mary in Heaven" to her. His song "Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary, And leave auld Scotia's shore?" suggests that they planned to emigrate to Jamaica together. Their relationship has been the subject of much conjecture, and it has been suggested that on 14 May 1786 they exchanged Bibles and plighted
their troth over the Water of Fail
in a traditional form of marriage. Soon afterwards Mary Campbell left her work in Ayrshire, went to the seaport of Greenock
, and sailed home to her parents in Campbeltown.
In October 1786, Mary and her father sailed from Campbeltown to visit her brother in Greenock. Her brother fell ill with ] typhus
Typhus, also known as typhus fever, is a group of infectious diseases that include epidemic typhus, scrub typhus, and murine typhus. Common symptoms include fever, headache, and a rash. Typically these begin one to two weeks after exposure ..., which she also caught while nursing him. She died of typhus on 20 or 21 October 1786 and was buried there. [
As Burns lacked the funds to pay for his passage to the West Indies, Gavin Hamilton suggested that he should "publish his poems in the mean time by subscription, as a likely way of getting a little money to provide him more liberally in necessaries for Jamaica." On 3 April Burns sent proposals for publishing his ''Scotch Poems'' to John Wilson, a printer in Kilmarnock, who published these proposals on 14 April 1786, on the same day that Jean Armour's father tore up the paper in which Burns attested his marriage to Jean. To obtain a certificate that he was a free bachelor, Burns agreed on 25 June to stand for
In English law and the canon law of the Church of England, a rebuke is a censure on a member of the clergy. (Google Books) It is the least severe censure available against clergy of the Church of England, less severe than a monition. A rebuke can ... in the Mauchline kirk for three Sundays. He transferred his share in Mossgiel farm to his brother Gilbert on 22 July, and on 30 July wrote to tell his friend John Richmond that, "Armour has got a warrant to throw me in jail until I can find a warrant for an enormous sum ... I am wandering from one friend's house to another."
On 31 July 1786 John Wilson published the volume of works by Robert Burns, '' Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect''. Known as the Kilmarnock volume, it sold for 3 shillings and contained much of his best writing, including "The Twa Dogs" (which features Luath, his Border Collie), " Address to the Deil", " Halloween
Halloween or Hallowe'en (less commonly known as Allhalloween, All Hallows' Eve, or All Saints' Eve) is a celebration observed in many countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Saints' Day. It begins the observanc ...", " The Cotter's Saturday Night", " To a Mouse", " Epitaph for James Smith", and " To a Mountain Daisy", many of which had been written at Mossgiel farm. The success of the work was immediate, and soon he was known across the country.
Burns postponed his planned emigration to Jamaica on 1 September, and was at Mossgiel two days later when he learnt that Jean Armour had given birth to twins. On 4 September Thomas Blacklock wrote a letter expressing admiration for the poetry in the Kilmarnock volume, and suggesting an enlarged second edition. [ A copy of it was passed to Burns, who later recalled, "I had taken the last farewell of my few friends, my chest was on the road to Greenock; I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Scotland – 'The Gloomy night is gathering fast' – when a letter from Dr Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition. The Doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared to hope. His opinion that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition, fired me so much, that away I posted for that city, without a single acquaintance, or a single letter of introduction."
On 27 November 1786 Burns borrowed a pony and set out for
Edinburgh ( ; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 Council areas of Scotland, council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (interchangeably Edinburghshire before 1921), it is located in Lothian .... On 14 December William Creech issued subscription bills for the first Edinburgh edition of '' Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect'', which was published on 17 April 1787. Within a week of this event, Burns had sold his copyright to Creech for 100 guineas. [ For the edition, Creech commissioned Alexander Nasmyth to paint the oval bust-length portrait now in the ] Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery is an art museum on Queen Street, Edinburgh. The gallery holds the national collections of portraits, all of which are of, but not necessarily by, Scots. It also holds the Scottish National Photography C ..., which was engraved to provide a frontispiece for the book. Nasmyth had come to know Burns and his fresh and appealing image has become the basis for almost all subsequent representations of the poet. In Edinburgh, he was received as an equal by the city's men of letters—including Dugald Stewart, Robertson, Blair and others—and was a guest at aristocratic gatherings, where he bore himself with unaffected dignity. Here he encountered, and made a lasting impression on, the 16-year-old Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832), was a Scottish novelist, poet, playwright and historian. Many of his works remain classics of European and Scottish literature, notably the novels ''Ivanhoe'', '' Rob Roy'' ..., who described him later with great admiration:
The new edition of his poems brought Burns £400. His stay in the city also resulted in some lifelong friendships, among which were those with Lord Glencairn, and Frances Anna Dunlop (1730–1815), who became his occasional sponsor and with whom he corresponded for many years until a rift developed. He embarked on a relationship with the separated Agnes "Nancy" McLehose (1758–1841), with whom he exchanged passionate letters under pseudonyms (Burns called himself "Sylvander" and Nancy "Clarinda"). When it became clear that Nancy would not be easily seduced into a physical relationship, Burns moved on to Jenny Clow (1766–1792), Nancy's domestic servant, who bore him a son, Robert Burns Clow, in 1788. He also had an affair with a servant girl, Margaret "May" Cameron. His relationship with Nancy concluded in 1791 with a final meeting in Edinburgh before she sailed to Jamaica for what turned out to be a short-lived reconciliation with her estranged husband. Before she left, he sent her the manuscript of " Ae Fond Kiss" as a farewell.
In Edinburgh, in early 1787, he met James Johnson, a struggling music engraver and music seller with a love of old Scots songs and a determination to preserve them. Burns shared this interest and became an enthusiastic contributor to ''The Scots Musical Museum''. The first volume was published in 1787 and included three songs by Burns. He contributed 40 songs to volume two, and he ended up responsible for about a third of the 600 songs in the whole collection, as well as making a considerable editorial contribution. The final volume was published in 1803.
On his return from Edinburgh in February 1788, he resumed his relationship with Jean Armour and took a lease on Ellisland Farm, Dumfriesshire, settling there in June. He also trained as a gauger or
file:Lincoln Beer Stamp 1871.JPG, upright=1.2, 1871 U.S. Revenue stamp for 1/6 barrel of beer. Brewers would receive the stamp sheets, cut them into individual stamps, cancel them, and paste them over the Bunghole, bung of the beer barrel so when ...man in case farming continued to be unsuccessful. He was appointed to duties in Customs and Excise in 1789 and eventually gave up the farm in 1791. Meanwhile, in November 1790, he had written his masterpiece, the narrative poem " Tam O' Shanter". The Ellisland farm beside the river Nith, now holds a unique collection of Burns's books, artefacts, and manuscripts and is mostly preserved as when Burns and his young family lived there. About this time he was offered and declined an appointment in London on the staff of ''The Star'' newspaper, [Robert Burns:] and refused to become a candidate for a newly created Chair of Agriculture in the
Poetry – Poems – Poets
." Retrieved on 24 September 2010
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh ( sco, University o Edinburgh, gd, Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann; abbreviated as ''Edin.'' in post-nominals) is a public research university based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Granted a royal charter by King James VI in 158 ..., although influential friends offered to support his claims. He did however accept membership of the Royal Company of Archers
The Royal Company of Archers, The King's Bodyguard for Scotland is a ceremonial unit that serves as the Sovereign's bodyguard in Scotland—a role it has performed since 1822 during the reign of King George IV when the company provided a pers ... in 1792.
After giving up his farm, he removed to Dumfries. It was at this time that, being requested to write lyrics for ''The Melodies of Scotland'', he responded by contributing over 100 songs. He made major contributions to George Thomson's ''A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice'' as well as to James Johnson's '' Scots Musical Museum''. Arguably his claim to immortality chiefly rests on these volumes, which placed him in the front rank of lyric poets. As a songwriter he provided his own lyrics, sometimes adapted from traditional words. He put words to Scottish folk melodies and airs which he collected, and composed his own arrangements of the music including modifying tunes or recreating melodies on the basis of fragments. In letters he explained that he preferred simplicity, relating songs to spoken language which should be sung in traditional ways. The original instruments would be
A fiddle is a bowed string musical instrument, most often a violin. It is a colloquial term for the violin, used by players in all genres, including classical music. Although in many cases violins and fiddles are essentially synonymous, the ... and the guitar of the period which was akin to a cittern
The cittern or cithren ( Fr. ''cistre'', It. ''cetra'', Ger. ''Cister,'' Sp. ''cistro, cedra, cítola'') is a stringed instrument dating from the Renaissance. Modern scholars debate its exact history, but it is generally accepted that it is d ..., but the transcription of songs for piano has resulted in them usually being performed in classical concert or music hall styles. At the 3 week Celtic Connections festival Glasgow
Glasgow ( ; sco, Glesca or ; gd, Glaschu ) is the most populous city in Scotland and the fourth-most populous city in the United Kingdom, as well as being the 27th largest city by population in Europe. In 2020, it had an estimated po ... each January, Burns songs are often performed with both fiddle and guitar.
Thomson as a publisher commissioned arrangements of "Scottish, Welsh and Irish Airs" by such eminent composers of the day as Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven (baptised 17 December 177026 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. Beethoven remains one of the most admired composers in the history of Western music; his works rank amongst the most performed of the classical ..., with new lyrics. The contributors of lyrics included Burns. While such arrangements had wide popular appeal, Beethoven's music was more advanced and difficult to play than Thomson intended.
Burns described how he had to master singing the tune before he composed the words:
Burns also worked to collect and preserve Scottish folk songs, sometimes revising, expanding, and adapting them. One of the better known of these collections is ''The Merry Muses of Caledonia'' (the title is not Burns's), a collection of bawdy lyrics that were popular in the music halls of Scotland as late as the 20th century. At Dumfries, he wrote his world famous song " A Man's a Man for A' That", which was based on the writings in The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine (born Thomas Pain; – In the contemporary record as noted by Conway, Paine's birth date is given as January 29, 1736–37. Common practice was to use a dash or a slash to separate the old-style year from the new-style year. In th ..., one of the chief political theoreticians of the American Revolution
The American Revolution was an ideological and political revolution that occurred in British America between 1765 and 1791. The Americans in the Thirteen Colonies formed independent states that defeated the British in the American Revoluti .... Burns sent the poem anonymously in 1795 to the Glasgow Courier. He was also a radical for reform and wrote poems for democracy, such as – Parcel of Rogues to the Nation, The Slaves Lament and the Rights of Women.
Many of Burns's most famous poems are songs with the music based upon older traditional songs. For example, " Auld Lang Syne
"Auld Lang Syne" (: note "s" rather than "z") is a popular song, particularly in the English-speaking world. Traditionally, it is sung to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. By extension, it is also often ..." is set to the traditional tune "Can Ye Labour Lea", " A Red, Red Rose" is set to the tune of "Major Graham" and " The Battle of Sherramuir" is set to the "Cameronian Rant".
Failing health and death
Burns's worldly prospects were perhaps better than they had ever been but he alienated some acquaintances by freely expressing sympathy with the French, and American Revolutions, for the advocates of democratic reform and votes for all men and the Society of the Friends of the People which advocated Parliamentary Reform. His political views came to the notice of his employers, to which he pleaded his innocence. Burns met other radicals at the Globe Inn Dumfries. As an Exciseman he felt compelled to join the Royal Dumfries
Volunteering is a voluntary act of an individual or group freely giving time and labor for community service. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue. Others serve ... in March 1795.
He lived in Dumfries in a two-storey red sandstone house on Mill Hole Brae, now Burns Street. The home is now a museum. He went on long journeys on horseback, often in harsh weather conditions as an Excise
file:Lincoln Beer Stamp 1871.JPG, upright=1.2, 1871 U.S. Revenue stamp for 1/6 barrel of beer. Brewers would receive the stamp sheets, cut them into individual stamps, cancel them, and paste them over the Bunghole, bung of the beer barrel so when ... Supervisor. He was kept very busy doing reports, father of four young children, song collector and songwriter
A songwriter is a musician who professionally composes musical compositions or writes lyrics for songs, or both. The writer of the music for a song can be called a composer, although this term tends to be used mainly in the classical music ....
As his health began to give way, he aged prematurely and fell into fits of despondency. The habits of intemperance (alleged mainly by temperance activist James Currie) [Robert Burns:] are said to have aggravated his long-standing possible rheumatic heart condition.
The R.B. Gallery
." Retrieved on 24 September 2010
[Hogg, PS (2008). ''Robert Burns. The Patriot Bard''. Edinburgh : Mainstream Publishing. . p. 321.]
On the morning of 21 July 1796, Burns died in Dumfries, at the age of 37. The funeral took place on Monday 25 July 1796, the day that his son Maxwell was born. He was at first buried in the far corner of St. Michael's Churchyard in Dumfries; a simple "slab of freestone" was erected as his gravestone by Jean Armour, which some felt insulting to his memory. His body was eventually moved to its final location in the same cemetery, the Burns Mausoleum, in September 1817. The body of his widow Jean Armour was buried with his in 1834.
Armour had taken steps to secure his personal property, partly by liquidating two promissory notes amounting to fifteen pounds sterling (about 1,100 pounds at 2009 prices). The family went to the Court of Session in 1798 with a plan to support his surviving children by publishing a four-volume edition of his complete works and a biography written by Dr. James Currie. Subscriptions were raised to meet the initial cost of publication, which was in the hands of Thomas Cadell and William Davies in London and William Creech, bookseller in Edinburgh. Hogg records that fund-raising for Burns's family was embarrassingly slow, and it took several years to accumulate significant funds through the efforts of John Syme and Alexander Cunningham
Major General Sir Alexander Cunningham (23 January 1814 – 28 November 1893) was a British Army engineer with the Bengal Engineer Group who later took an interest in the history and archaeology of India. In 1861, he was appointed to the newly ....
Burns was posthumously given the freedom of the town of Dumfries. Hogg records that Burns was given the freedom of the Burgh of Dumfries on 4 June 1787, 9 years before his death, and was also made an Honorary Burgess of Dumfries.
Through his five surviving children (of 12 born), Burns has over 900 living descendants as of 2019.
Burns's style is marked by spontaneity, directness, and sincerity, and ranges from the tender intensity of some of his lyrics through the humour of "Tam o' Shanter" and the satire of "Holy Willie's Prayer" and "The Holy Fair".
Burns's poetry drew upon a substantial familiarity with and knowledge of Classical, Biblical, and
English literature is literature written in the English language from United Kingdom, its crown dependencies, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, and the countries of the former British Empire. ''The Encyclopaedia Britannica'' defin ..., as well as the Scottish Makar
A makar () is a term from Scottish literature for a poet or bard, often thought of as a royal court poet.
Since the 19th century, the term ''The Makars'' has been specifically used to refer to a number of poets of fifteenth and sixteenth cent ... tradition. [Robert Burns:] Burns was skilled in writing not only in the Scots language but also in the
." Retrieved on 24 September 2010
Scottish English ( gd, Beurla Albannach) is the set of varieties of the English language spoken in Scotland. The transregional, standardised variety is called Scottish Standard English or Standard Scottish English (SSE). Scottish Standard ... dialect of the English language. Some of his works, such as "Love and Liberty" (also known as "The Jolly Beggars"), are written in both Scots and English for various effects. [Robert Burns:]
His themes included
some hae meat
" Retrieved on 24 September 2010
Republicanism is a political ideology centered on citizenship in a state organized as a republic. Historically, it emphasises the idea of self-rule and ranges from the rule of a representative minority or oligarchy to popular sovereignty. It ... (he lived during the French Revolutionary period) and Radical
Radical may refer to:
Politics and ideology Politics
*Radical politics, the political intent of fundamental societal change
*Radicalism (historical), the Radical Movement that began in late 18th century Britain and spread to continental Europe and ...ism, which he expressed covertly in " Scots Wha Hae
"Scots Wha Hae" ( English: ''Scots Who Have''; gd, Brosnachadh Bhruis) is a patriotic song of Scotland written using both words of the Scots language and English, which served for centuries as an unofficial national anthem of the country, bu ...", Scottish patriotism, anticlericalism
Anti-clericalism is opposition to religious authority, typically in social or political matters. Historical anti-clericalism has mainly been opposed to the influence of Roman Catholicism. Anti-clericalism is related to secularism, which seeks t ..., class inequalities, gender roles, commentary on the Scottish Kirk of his time, Scottish cultural identity, poverty, sexuality, and the beneficial aspects of popular socialising (carousing, Scotch whisky, folk songs, and so forth). [Red Star Cafe:]
The strong emotional highs and lows associated with many of Burns's poems have led some, such as Burns biographer Robert Crawford, to suggest that he suffered from
to the Kibble
" Retrieved on 24 September 2010
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a mental disorder characterized by periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated mood that last from days to weeks each. If the elevated mood is severe or associated with ...—a hypothesis that has been supported by analysis of various samples of his handwriting. Burns himself referred to suffering from episodes of what he called "blue devilism". The National Trust for Scotland
The National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, commonly known as the National Trust for Scotland ( gd, Urras Nàiseanta na h-Alba), is a Scottish conservation organisation. It is the largest membership organ ... has downplayed the suggestion on the grounds that evidence is insufficient to support the claim.
Burns is generally classified as a proto- Romantic poet, and he influenced
William Wordsworth (7 April 177023 April 1850) was an English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their joint publication '' Lyrical Ballads'' (1798).
Wordsworth's ' ..., Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (; 21 October 177225 July 1834) was an English poet, literary critic, philosopher, and theologian who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake ..., and Percy Bysshe Shelley greatly. His direct literary influences in the use of Scots in poetry were Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson. The Edinburgh literati worked to sentimentalise Burns during his life and after his death, dismissing his education by calling him a "heaven-taught ploughman". Burns influenced later Scottish writers, especially Hugh MacDiarmid, who fought to dismantle what he felt had become a sentimental cult that dominated Scottish literature.
Burns had a significant influence on Alexander McLachlan and some influence on Robert Service. While this may not be so obvious in Service's English verse, which is Kiplingesque, it is more readily apparent in his Scots verse.
Scottish Canadians have embraced Robert Burns as a kind of patron poet and mark his birthday with festivities. 'Robbie Burns Day' is celebrated from
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland and Labrador (; french: Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador; frequently abbreviated as NL) is the easternmost province of Canada, in the country's Atlantic region. The province comprises the island of Newfoundland and the continental region ... to Nanaimo
Nanaimo ( ) is a city on the east coast of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. As of the 2021 census, it had a population of 99,863, and it is known as "The Harbour City." The city was previously known as the "Hub City," which wa .... Every year, Canadian newspapers publish biographies of the poet, listings of local events and buffet menus. Universities mark the date in a range of ways: McMaster University library organized a special collection and Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University (SFU) is a public research university in British Columbia, Canada, with three campuses, all in Greater Vancouver: Burnaby (main campus), Surrey, and Vancouver. The main Burnaby campus on Burnaby Mountain, located from ...'s Centre for Scottish Studies organized a marathon reading of Burns's poetry. Senator Heath Macquarrie quipped of Canada's first Prime Minister that "While the lovable obbieBurns went in for wine, women and song, his fellow Scot, John A. did not chase women and was not musical!" 'Gung Haggis Fat Choy' is a hybrid of Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Day, celebrated in Vancouver
Vancouver ( ) is a major city in western Canada, located in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia. As the most populous city in the province, the 2021 Canadian census recorded 662,248 people in the city, up from 631,486 in 2016. The ... since the late 1990s.
In January 1864, President
Abraham Lincoln ( ; February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865) was an American lawyer, politician, and statesman who served as the 16th president of the United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln led the nation throu ... was invited to attend a Robert Burns celebration by Robert Crawford; and if unable to attend, send a toast. Lincoln composed a toast.
An example of Burns's literary influence in the US is seen in the choice by novelist John Steinbeck
John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (; February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American writer and the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humor and keen social ... of the title of his 1937 novel, '' Of Mice and Men'', taken from a line in the second-to-last stanza of " To a Mouse": "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." Burns's influence on American vernacular poets such as James Whitcomb Riley and Frank Lebby Stanton has been acknowledged by their biographers. When asked for the source of his greatest creative inspiration, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan (legally Robert Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter. Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Dylan has been a major figure in popular culture during a career sp ... selected Burns's 1794 song " A Red, Red Rose" as the lyric that had the biggest effect on his life.
The author J. D. Salinger used protagonist Holden Caulfield's misinterpretation of Burns's poem " Comin' Through the Rye" as his title and a main interpretation of Caulfield's grasping to his childhood in his 1951 novel '' The Catcher in the Rye
''The Catcher in the Rye'' is an American novel by J. D. Salinger that was partially published in serial form from 1945–46 before being novelized in 1951. Originally intended for adults, it is often read by adolescents for its themes of angst ...''. The poem, actually about a rendezvous, is thought by Caulfield to be about saving people from falling out of childhood.
Burns became the "people's poet" of Russia. In
The Russian Empire was an empire and the final period of the Russian monarchy from 1721 to 1917, ruling across large parts of Eurasia. It succeeded the Tsardom of Russia following the Treaty of Nystad, which ended the Great Northern War. The ... Burns was translated into Russian and became a source of inspiration for the ordinary, oppressed Russian people. In Soviet
The Soviet Union,. officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. (USSR),. was a transcontinental country that spanned much of Eurasia from 1922 to 1991. A flagship communist state, it was nominally a federal union of fifteen nation ... Russia, he was elevated as the archetypal poet of the people. As a great admirer of the egalitarian ethos behind the American and French Revolutions who expressed his own egalitarianism in poems such as his "Birthday Ode for George Washington" or his " Is There for Honest Poverty" (commonly known as "A Man's a Man for a' that"), Burns was well placed for endorsement by the Communist
Communism (from Latin la, communis, lit=common, universal, label=none) is a far-left sociopolitical, philosophical, and economic ideology and current within the socialist movement whose goal is the establishment of a communist society, a so ... regime as a "progressive" artist. A new translation of Burns begun in 1924 by Samuil Marshak proved enormously popular, selling over 600,000 copies. The USSR honoured Burns with a commemorative stamp in 1956. He remains popular in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Landmarks and organisations
Burns clubs have been founded worldwide. The first one, known as The Mother Club, was founded in Greenock in 1801 by merchants born in Ayrshire, some of whom had known Burns. The club set its original objectives as "To cherish the name of Robert Burns; to foster a love of his writings, and generally to encourage an interest in the Scottish language and literature." The club also continues to have local charitable work as a priority.
Burns's birthplace in Alloway is now a National Trust for Scotland
The National Trust for Scotland for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, commonly known as the National Trust for Scotland ( gd, Urras Nàiseanta na h-Alba), is a Scottish conservation organisation. It is the largest membership organ ... property called the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. It includes: the humble Burns Cottage where he was born and spent the first years of his life, a modern museum building which houses more than 5,000 Burns artefacts including his handwritten manuscripts, the historic Alloway Auld Kirk and Brig o Doon which feature in Burns's masterpiece 'Tam o Shanter', and the Burns Monument which was erected in Burns's honour and finished in 1823.
His house in Dumfries is operated as the Robert Burns House, and the Robert Burns Centre in Dumfries features more exhibits about his life and works. Ellisland Farm in Auldgirth
Auldgirth is a village on the A76 road in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. Auldgirth village features 'The Auldgirth Inn' and the former Auldgirth Primary School, which closed in 2000. Originally inhabitants of Auldgirth located to the scheme, si ..., which he owned from 1788 to 1791, is maintained as a working farm with a museum and interpretation centre by the Friends of Ellisland Farm.
Significant 19th-century monuments to him stand in Alloway, Leith, and Dumfries. An early 20th-century replica of his birthplace cottage belonging to the Burns Club Atlanta stands in Atlanta
Atlanta ( ) is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Georgia. It is the seat of Fulton County, the most populous county in Georgia, but its territory falls in both Fulton and DeKalb counties. With a population of 498,715 ..., Georgia
Georgia most commonly refers to:
* Georgia (country), a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia
* Georgia (U.S. state), a state in the Southeast United States
Georgia may also refer to:
Historical states and entities
* Related to th .... These are part of a large list of Burns memorials and statues around the world.
Organisations include the Robert Burns Fellowship of the University of Otago
, image_name = University of Otago Registry Building2.jpg
, image_size =
, caption = University clock tower
, motto = la, Sapere aude
, mottoeng = Dare to be wise
, established = 1869; 152 years ago
, type = Public research collegiate u ... in New Zealand, and the Burns Club Atlanta in the United States. Towns named after Burns include Burns, New York, and Burns, Oregon.
In the suburb of Summerhill, Dumfries, the majority of the streets have names with Burns connotations. A British Rail Standard Class 7 steam locomotive was named after him, along with a later Class 87 electric locomotive, No. 87035. On 24 September 1996, Class 156 diesel unit 156433 was named ''The Kilmarnock Edition'' at Girvan station to launch the new Burns Line services between Girvan, Ayr
Ayr (; sco, Ayr; gd, Inbhir Àir, "Mouth of the River Ayr") is a town situated on the southwest coast of Scotland. It is the administrative centre of the South Ayrshire council area and the historic county town of Ayrshire. With a population ... and Kilmarnock, supported by Strathclyde Partnership for Transport
Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) is a regional transport partnership for the Strathclyde area of western Scotland. It is responsible for planning and coordinating regional transport, especially the public transport system in the are ....
Several streets surrounding the Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.'s Back Bay Fens in Boston, Massachusetts, were designated with Burns connotations. A life-size statue was dedicated in Burns's honour within the Back Bay Fens of the West Fenway neighbourhood in 1912. It stood until 1972 when it was relocated downtown, sparking protests from the neighbourhood, literary fans, and preservationists of Olmsted's vision for the Back Bay Fens.
There is a statue of Burns in The Octagon, Dunedin
The Octagon is the city centre of Dunedin, in the South Island of New Zealand. It is an eight-sided plaza with a circular one-way carriageway, bisected by the city's main street, and is also the central terminus of two other main thoroughfares. ..., in the same pose as the one in Dundee. Dunedin's first European settlers were Scots; Thomas Burns, a nephew of Burns, was one of Dunedin's founding fathers.
A crater on Mercury is named after Burns.
In November 2012, Burns was awarded the title Honorary Chartered Surveyor by The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the only posthumous membership so far granted by the institution.
The oldest statue of Burns is in the town of Camperdown, Victoria. It now hosts an annual Robert Burns Scottish Festival in celebration of the statue and its history.
In 2020, the Robert Burns Academy
The Robert Burns Academy (Scottish Gaelic: ''Acadamaidh Robert Burns'') is a secondary school located in Cumnock, East Ayrshire, Scotland, which opened to pupils in October 2020 following the merger of Cumnock Academy
Cumnock Academy was a sec ... in Cumnock
Cumnock (Scottish Gaelic: ''Cumnag'') is a town and former civil parish located in East Ayrshire, Scotland. The town sits at the confluence of the Glaisnock Water and the Lugar Water. There are three neighbouring housing projects which lie just ..., East Ayrshire opened and is named after Burns as an honour of Burns having spent time living in nearby Mauchline.
Stamps and currency
The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to honour Burns with a commemorative stamp, marking the 160th anniversary of his death in 1956.
The UK postal service, the
, kw, Postya Riel, ga, An Post Ríoga
, logo = Royal Mail.svg
, logo_size = 250px
, type = Public limited company
, traded_as =
, foundation =
, founder = Henry VIII
, location = London, England, UK
, key_people = * Keith Williams ..., has issued postage stamps commemorating Burns three times. In 1966, two stamps were issued, priced fourpence and one shilling and threepence, both carrying Burns's portrait. In 1996, an issue commemorating the bicentenary of his death comprised four stamps, priced 19p, 25p, 41p and 60p and including quotes from Burns's poems. On 22 January 2009, two 1st class stamps were issued by the Royal Mail to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth.
Burns was pictured on the Clydesdale Bank
Clydesdale Bank ( gd, Banca Dhail Chluaidh) is a trading name used by Clydesdale Bank plc for its retail banking operations in Scotland.
In June 2018, it was announced that Clydesdale Bank's holding company CYBG would acquire Virgin Money f ... £5 note from 1971 to 2009. On the reverse of the note was a vignette of a field mouse and a wild rose in reference to Burns's poem "To a Mouse". The Clydesdale Bank's notes were redesigned in 2009 and, since then, he has been pictured on the front of their £10 note. In September 2007, the Bank of Scotland redesigned their banknotes to feature famous Scottish bridges. The reverse side of new £5 features Brig o' Doon, famous from Burns's poem "Tam o' Shanter", and pictures the statue of Burns at that site.
In 1996, the Isle of Man issued a four-coin set of Crown (5/-) pieces on the themes of "Auld Lang Syne", Edinburgh Castle, Revenue Cutter, and Writing Poems. Tristan da Cunha produced a gold £5 Bicentenary Coin.
In 2009 the Royal Mint
The Royal Mint is the United Kingdom's oldest company and the official maker of British coins.
Operating under the legal name The Royal Mint Limited, it is a limited company that is wholly owned by His Majesty's Treasury and is under an exclu ... issued a commemorative two pound coin featuring a quote from "Auld Lang Syne".
In 1976, singer Jean Redpath, in collaboration with composer Serge Hovey, started to record all of Burns's songs, with a mixture of traditional and Burns's own compositions. The project ended when Hovey died, after seven of the planned twenty-two volumes were completed. Redpath also recorded four cassettes of Burns's songs (re-issued as 3 CDs) for the Scots Musical Museum.
In 1996, a musical about Burns's life called '' Red Red Rose'' won third place at a competition for new musicals in Denmark. Robert Burns was played by John Barrowman. On 25 January 2008, a musical play about the love affair between Robert Burns and Nancy McLehose entitled ''Clarinda'' premiered in Edinburgh before touring Scotland. The plan was that '' Clarinda'' would make its American premiere in Atlantic Beach, FL, at Atlantic Beach Experimental Theatre on 25 January 2013. Eddi Reader has released two albums, '' Sings the Songs of Robert Burns'' and '' The Songs of Robert Burns Deluxe Edition'', about the work of the poet.
Alfred B. Street wrote the words and Henry Tucker wrote the music for a song called ''Our Own Robbie Burns'' in 1856.
Burns Night, in effect a second national day, is celebrated on Burns's birthday, 25 January, with Burns suppers around the world, and is more widely observed in Scotland than the official national day, St. Andrew's Day. The first Burns supper in The Mother Club in Greenock was held on what was thought to be his birthday on 29 January 1802; in 1803 it was discovered from the Ayr parish records that the correct date was 25 January 1759.
The format of Burns suppers has changed little since. The basic format starts with a general welcome and announcements, followed with the Selkirk Grace. After the grace comes the piping and cutting of the ] A bust of Burns is in the Hall of Heroes of the National Wallace Monument in haggis
Haggis ( gd, taigeis) is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver, and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal's stomach though now an ..., when Burns's famous " Address to a Haggis" is read and the haggis is cut open. The event usually allows for people to start eating just after the haggis is presented. At the end of the meal, a series of toasts, often including a 'Toast to the Lassies', and replies are made. This is when the toast to "the immortal memory", an overview of Burns's life and work, is given. The event usually concludes with the singing of "Auld Lang Syne".
In 2009, STV ran a television series and public vote on who was "The Greatest Scot" of all time. Robert Burns won, narrowly beating
Sir William Wallace ( gd, Uilleam Uallas, ; Norman French: ; 23 August 1305) was a Scottish knight who became one of the main leaders during the First War of Scottish Independence.
Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army a ....Robert Burns voted Greatest Scot
STV. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
Stirling (; sco, Stirlin; gd, Sruighlea ) is a city in central Scotland, northeast of Glasgow and north-west of Edinburgh. The market town, surrounded by rich farmland, grew up connecting the royal citadel, the medieval old town with its ....
A crater on the planet Mercury has been named after Burns.
* Agnes Burns (sister)
Alexander Tait (poet)
Alexander Tait, Sawney Tait or Saunders TaitMcKay (2004), Page 81 (14 August 1720 - circa 1800)Paterson (1840), Page 157 was a tailor, a published poet and also a contemporary of Robert Burns who he knew well. Tait was also well acquainted with ...
* Annabella Burns (sister)
* Elizabeth 'Betty' Burns
* Elizabeth Riddell Burns
* Glenriddell Manuscripts
* James Glencairn Burns (son)
* Jean Lorimer (Chloris)
* John Burns (farmer) (brother)
* List of 18th-century British working-class writers
* People on Scottish banknotes
* List of Robert Burns memorials
This is a list of over sixty known memorials (statues, busts, fountains and buildings) to the Scottish people, Scottish poet Robert Burns. Of these, the oldest outdoor statue is given to be at Camperdown, Victoria, Australia (1830).
* Poems by David Sillar
* Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (London Edition)
* Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Second Edinburgh Edition)
* Robert Aiken
* Robert Burns and the Eglinton Estate
* Robert Burns Junior (eldest son)
* Robert Burns's Commonplace Book 1783–1785
* Robert Burns's diamond point engravings
* Robert Burns's Interleaved Scots Musical Museum
* The Holy Tulzie
* '' The World of Robert Burns'' (educational software)
* William Burns (saddler) (brother)
* William Nicol Burns (son)
* Dietrich Hohmann: ''Ich, Robert Burns'', Biographical Novel, Neues Leben, Berlin 1990 (in German)
Robert Burns website
at National Library of Scotland
Legacy of Robert Burns
at National Archives of Scotland
Guide to Robert Burns collection
L. Tom Perry Special Collections
Brigham Young University
Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive (ECPA)
* Cousin, John William (1910). ''A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature''. London: J. M. Dent & Sons
at the British Library
To Robert Burns
historical marker near Burns Cottage in
Atlanta ( ) is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Georgia. It is the seat of Fulton County, the most populous county in Georgia, but its territory falls in both Fulton and DeKalb counties. With a population of 498,715 ...
The Papers of Robert Burns
at Dartmouth College Library
A recital of Tam O'Shanter a Tale
A recital Address to the Unco Guid
A recital of Address to a Haggis
A Recital Holly Willie's Prayer including Epitaph on Holly Willie
Video and commentary on the World's largest image of Robert Burns, Ardeer, Ayrshire.
18th-century Scottish male writers
18th-century Scottish poets
Calvinist and Reformed poets
Freemasonry in Scotland
Literary critics of English
Members of Crochallan Fencibles
Infectious disease deaths in Scotland
People from Ayr
Scottish folk-song collectors
People of the Scottish Enlightenment
Members of the Royal Company of Archers
Scottish civil servants
The name Robert is an ancient Germanic given name, from Proto-Germanic "fame" and "bright" (''Hrōþiberhtaz''). Compare Old Dutch ''Robrecht'' and Old High German ''Hrodebert'' (a compound of '' Hruod'' ( non, Hróðr) "fame, glory, hono ...