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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Robert Burns

Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1796. He was the eldest son of a poor peasant tenant farmer, William Burnes, with six younger brothers and sisters. His mother Agnes Brown Burnes earned extra cash making soft white cheese. She was a fine singer and knew many folk songs.

His father spelt the name as "Burnes" but Robert adopted the spelling without the "e" when his father died.

He was born two miles (3 km) south of Ayr, in Alloway, in a house built by his father (now the Burns Cottage Museum), where he lived until Easter 1766, when Robert was seven years old.

The Burns Cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire. CC BY-SA 3.0, $2

Although poverty limited his formal education, Burns' father took pains that young Robert read widely, including Dryden, Milton and Shakespeare. He had three short periods of formal study when his father could afford it, and gained a knowledge of french and mathematics.

Burns published his first book in order to gather enough money to burn his bridges and emigrate to Jamaica where there was a job as a plantation manager waiting for him. Due to its success he stayed in Scotland.

Robbie Burns was a passenger when Patrick Miller experimented with a steam-driven vessel on Dalswinton Loch in 1788. Though successful Miller abandoned the project due to the cost.

In 1784, Burns' father died. Robbie worked as a farm laborer with his brother Gilbert and two sisters on the cold and grudging acres of their leased farm. It was not successful. By this time he was also writing poetry.

Robert Burns was never called Rabbie or Robbie – though he did occasionally call himself Spunkie.

Robbie Burns was dark haired with keen glowing eyes and pink coloring. He walked with a slight stoop because of his years of hard work on the farm and didn't have a particularly strong Scottish accent.


He wore his hair long and tied back in a ponytail and he had size 8 feet.

Burns was a heavy drinker, but not an alcoholic; he often drunk in the Globe Tavern, Dumfries. Indeed he fathered a baby by a Globe barmaid.

Burns was renowned for his drinking and womanizing life-style and he claimed that he was haunted rather than helped by his religion. Despite this he was by no means irreligious, retaining a belief in a good and pure God but his preference was for the more liberal Christianity rather than the more traditionally rigid Scottish Calvinism.

He circulated satirical poems on religion amongst friends including his Holy Fair which slammed Calvinist bigotry by contrasting the admonishments of the church leaders preaching hellfire and damnation with the genial sociability of the congregation at the local Calvinist church prayer meeting.

In 1785 Burns fell in love with Jean Armour, the daughter of a  building contractor. Jean was a sweet and attractive brunette, always smiling, with an affectionate nature. She soon became pregnant, and although Burns offered to make her his wife, her father forbade their marriage because of his rebellion against Calvinist religion. In 1787 he resumed their relationship and in the following year Robert and Jean were finally married.

In 1788 Robert Burns wrote the poem Auld Lang Syne, based on fragments of an old ballad dating from over 150 years previously. He transcribed it from "an old man singing," having been deeply moved by the words and in particular the line "should old acquaintances be forgot". Burns  added at least two new verses, to those which already existed and sent it to his friend James Johnson, the publisher of Scots Musical Museum as an old Scottish song. Johnson delayed publishing it until after Burns’ death.

After the outbreak of the French Revolution, Burns became an outspoken champion of the Republican cause. His enthusiasm for liberty and social justice dismayed many of his admirers.

Burns' bristling independence, blunt manner of speech, and occasional social awkwardness alienated admirers, but in 1791 appreciative Edinburgh society helped secure him a position as a tax inspector where he spent his time snooping and tax levying throughout his district.

Burns kept a pet ewe called Poor Mallie and wrote two poems in her honor. He also had a favorite dog named Luath.

Robert Burns had a keen musical ear and a great feeling for rhythm.  He wrote 250 songs, mainly in Scots vernacular, including Scots Wha Nae, the unofficial Scottish national anthem. Despite frequently borrowing other peoples fragments of verse he became known mainly through his songs as the National poet of Scotland.

The flat Scottish wool cap with a pompom at its center, the tam-o’-shanter, was named after the hero in Burns' 1791 poem Tam O’Shanter.

Arduous farm work and undernourishment in his youth permanently injured Burns health, leading to the rheumatic heart disease from which he died in his Dumfries home after the removal of a tooth on July 21, 1796. His last words were "Don't let the awkward squad fire over me."

Robert Burns' death room

Burns fathered 12 children with four different women in total. His youngest, Maxwell, was born on the day of his funeral.

He was at first buried in the far corner of St. Michael's Churchyard in Dumfries. Burns' body was eventually moved to its final location in the same cemetery, the Burns Mausoleum, in September 1817, amid concerns his grave was insufficiently grand. The mausoleum was paid for by public donation; contributors included King George III.and Sir Walter Scott.

Burns Night is celebrated on Burns's birthday, January 25th, with Burns suppers around the world, and is more widely observed in Scotland than the official national day, St. Andrew's Day.

Piping in the haggis on Burns Night. By Glenlarson - Wikipedia

The first Burns supper in The Mother Club in Greenock was held on what was thought to be his birthday on January 29, 1802; in 1803 it was discovered from the Ayr parish records that the correct date was January 25, 1759.

Robert Burns is very popular in Russia. His works have been translated more into Russian than all the other languages put together.

The USSR was the first country to issue a commemorative stamp for Robert Burns in 1956 (see below).


There are said to be more statues of Burns worldwide than any non-religious figure apart from Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus.

Both New York and Oregon have towns called Burns named after the Scottish bard.

Some phrases that came from Burns:
(1)" Be to the poor like on ie whun stane. And havd their noses to the grunstane"  (nose to the grindstone)
(2) "Man's inhumanity to man. Makes countless thousands mourn." (From Man Was Made to Mourn)
(3) "The best laid schemes o'mice an men. Gang aft-a-gley"  (From To a Mouse)

Source Daily Express

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