Scottish Spotlight – Robert Burns
Better known as Rabbie, Robert Burns was arguably one a Scotland’s biggest celebrities and is still celebrated worldwide. Robert Burns was a Scottish Poet and Lyricist and was a pioneer of the Romantic movement.
Born Robert Burns on the 25th of January 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire. He was the eldest of seven children to his farmer parents. His father, William, home-schooled Robert and his siblings before he was sent to a Dalrymple Parish school in 1772. In 1775 Robert was sent to finish his education in Kirkoswald, where he met Peggy Thompson. She became the inspiration of two song, “Now Westlin’ Winds” and “I Dream’d I Lay”.
Robert had many love affairs throughout this life. Robert’s first born child was to his mother’s servant, Elizabeth “Bess” Burns was born in 1785. In mid-1784 Burns came to know “The Belles of Mauchline”, one of whom ended up being his first wife, Jean Armour. Robert and Jean had nine children, only three of whom survived infancy.
Whilst working in Jamaica as a Bookkeeper for Charles Douglas, Robert fell in the love with Mary Campbell, whom he’d seen in church. He dedicated many poems to Mary and their relationship had been subject of much conjecture. Mary died of typhus in 1786.
Further through Robert’s years, in 1786 John Wilson published a volume of works, the Kilmarnock Volume and it sold for 3 shillings and contained much of his best writing. The success of the work was immediate, and soon he was known across the country. This lead Burns to move to Edinburgh in late 1786. Burns made quite a few favorable friendships whilst in Edinburgh, among which were Walter Scott and Lord Glencairn.
Robert also met a struggling musician by the name of James Johnson and he became an enthusiastic contributor to The Scots Musical Museum. In 1787 the first volume was published and included three of Burns’ songs.
In 1788, Robert returned to his relationship with Jean Armour and took residence at Ellisland Farm, Dumfriesshire. After giving up the farm, he moved to Dumfries, he was requested to write lyrics to The Melodies of Scotland. He responded with over 100 songs. Burns also worked on collecting and preserving Scottish Folk Songs, sometimes even adapting them. For example, “Auld Lang Syne” is set to the traditional tune of “Can Ye Labour Lea”. Dumfries was also where he penned the famous poem "Tam O'Shanter" with the main character Tam seemly mimicking his own penchant for excessive drinking and maybe his own yearning for adventure.
On the morning of July 21st 1796 burns sadly passed away in Dumfires at the age of 37. His funeral took place on the same day his son Maxwell was born. Robert now rests in “The Burns Mausoleum” in St. Michael’s Churchyard, Dumfries. Through his twelve children, Burns has over 600 living descendants as of 2012.
There are many monuments and statues all over the world dedicated to Robert Burns and Scotland even now celebrate Burns night on Robert’s birthday, January 25th with Burns Suppers. The suppers traditionally have the piping and cutting of Haggis and Burns’ famous “Address to a Haggis” is read.
In 2009, Robert was named “The Greatest Scot” narrowly beating William Wallace.
Until next time - Sláinte