Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the Bard or national poet of Scotland.
Robert Burns was born in a house his father built (now part of the Robert Burns Museum) in Alloway, South Ayrshire, Scotland, the eldest of the seven children of William Burns and Agnes Broun. William was a tenant farmer and estate gardener from Dunnottar while Agnes was born in Moggsiel, Ayrshire, Scotland. Her father was also a tenant farmer.
Oldest known engraving of Burns Cottage 1805
When Robert was seven years old, his father sold his birth home and took possession of a 70 acre farm at Mount Oliphant. Robert spent his youth there in poverty and had a very difficult childhood. All the manual labor Robert did on the farm led to health issues throughout his life as well as a stoop in his posture.
Robert attended an "adventure" school started by his father and several neighbors. He went to a mathematics school in 1775 in Kirkoswald. Robert's early love of literature often set him at odds with his tiny part of the world, which was so focused on agriculture. It was only after his father's death that he felt free to pursue his love of writing.
Robert loved women and had children with several during his life. Robert's first child was Elizabeth Paton Burns, born in 1785, from a relationship he had with one of his mother's servants, Elizabeth Paton.
In March 1786, his second and third children, twins, were born of a relationship with Jean Armour. Robert signed a paper declaring his marriage to Jean, but her father destroyed the document and refused to acknowledge the venture. To avoid dishonor and scandal, Jean's parents sent her to live with her uncle in Paisley. Despite her father's objections, Robert and Jean were married in 1788. They had nine children but only three survived childhood.
At first, Robert followed his paternal heritage in becoming a tenant farmer. He started writing poetry, but to make sure he could stay away from the farm, worked to be an excise officer. He started writing poetry and songs following the death of his father. His first tome, "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect", was printed in Kilmarnock in 1786 and paid for by subscriptions.
Robert's poetry explored the worlds of farm life, Scotland's culture, religion, and his life experiences. He began his writing career writing for his local audience, but started to reach out to the rest of his country and embrace his identity as a Scotsman.
One reason Robert was lauded as Scotland's poet, apart from so many viewing him as the Scottish "every man", was because he marked the end of an era in which the poets of the country wrote in their ancient vernacular. The shift was eminent in Robert's time, toward the use of English, as is seen in his published works being in print in both languages. Alternately, Robert's works mark the beginning of another era, his own poems often called "Pre-Romantic" for their sensitive focus on nature, high emotion, and backward seeking interest in legends and folk songs. Some of his work even included the collecting and revising of those old tunes. One of his best known works, the poem "Auld Lang Syne", is often sung at Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve. "Scots Wha Hae" served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of Scotland. 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".
Illustration to Robert Burn's poem Halloween
Robert Burns died in Dumfries on July 21st, 1796, of rheumatic fever (some note it was likely endocarditis). He was only 37 years old. On his deathbed, Robert spoke to his wife Jean, then to James Maclure, his attendant, telling him to "Be a good man; be virtuous; be religious. Nothing else will give you comfort when you come to be here."
Robert was buried in St. Michael's Churchyard, Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway Scotland. In September 1815, his body was transferred to the Burns Mausoleum, which was paid for with public subscriptions. It was erected in the southeast corner of the churchyard. Jean Armour's remains were added to the mausoleum in 1834. At the same time, a cast was taken of Robert Burns's skull.
Inside the Mausoleum
Burns Suppers are held annually on or near Robert's birthday to pay tribute to the life, works, and spirit of the Scottish poet. The supper parties are most common in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with some celebrations in the United Kingdom and the United States as well. The gatherings may be formal or informal, but almost all include haggis and the drinking of Scotch whisky, as well as the reading of Burns's works.
A little-known fact is that President Abraham Lincoln, who himself penned a few verses, much admired the writings of Robert Burns. He attended the 1859 "Burns Nicht" [Night] celebration at Springfield's Concert Hall, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Scotland's Bard. One newspaper of the day reported that "The toasts offered on this occasion were most appropriate, and were responded to by some of the most talented men of the state, among whom were, Abraham Lincoln ..."
Robert Burns - Anna, Thy Charms
1759 – Robert "Rabbie" Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire on January 25, in the "auld cley biggin" that is now known as Burns Cottage.
1766 – Burnes family moves to the 70-acre Mount Oliphant Farm, near Allaway
1774 – Robert writes his first song, "O Once I Lov’d (a bonie lass)"
1777 – Burnes family moves to a larger farm at Lochlea, near Tar Lotion
1781 – Moves to Irvine, North Ayrshire, to learn flax-dressing
1781 – Becomes a freemason
1784 – Robert’s father William dies
1784 - The family changes their name to Burns and moves to Mossgiel farm near Machine
1785 – Meets Jean Armour. Daughter Elizabeth Paton Burns born.
1791 - Daughter, Elizabeth, born to Robert and Ann Park.
1791 – Son, William Nicol Burns, born to Robert and Jean Armour.
1792 – Daughter, Elizabeth Riddell Burns, born to Robert and Jean Armour.
1794 – Son, James Glencairn Burns, born to Robert and Jean Armour.
1796 – Dies in Dumfries on July 21st at the age of 37
1796 - Robert’s youngest son, Maxwell Burns, is born to Jean on the day of the poet’s funeral.
(1) The book "No' Rabbie Burns: Poetry the Bard Would Not Have Put His Name To", by Stuart McLean, includes these examples ...
In the introduction : "Rabbie Burns is indisputably (well I'm certainly not disputing it) Scotland's favorite poet."
The verse : "What's the weather like today, Bob?" "Is it no still June, Rabbie?" "Aye, it is that, Bob." "Well, it'll be raining then, Rabbie."
A verse inscribed on an old goblet owned by one Mr. Dunbar : "Rabbie wis here, Drinkin' beer."
(2) The introduction to the book "Robert Burns: A Life", by Ian McIntyre, states in part ...
"... Robert Burns (also known as Rabbie Burns, Scotland's Favorite Son, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire or simply the Bard)."
(3) The book "The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns", by Elizabeth A. Sudduth, includes these entries ...
"Rabbie Burns and his friens," (1825 )
"Rabbie Burns 1759-1796: Poet Admired by Ulster-Scots" (2005)
"Original blue cloth, stamped in gold. Poem in pencil with first line 'Oh, Rabbie! Once comes around' on verso of half-title page", along with the "Signature of Alexander Sinclair Lauries, former owner"
↑ "Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XY2X-RJ5 : 10 February 2018), Robert Burns in entry for Elizabeth Burns, 24 May 1785; citing , TARBOLTON, AYR, SCOTLAND, reference , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 1,041,472.
↑ 10.010.110.2 Wikipedia contributors, "Jean Armour," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Jean Armour (accessed November 26, 2018).
↑ "British Newspaper Archives, Obituaries," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q269-SNMR : 18 March 2018), Robert Burns in entry for Jean Burns Also Armour, 12 Apr 1834; citing Obituary, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, England, United Kingdom, page 0004, Records extracted by FindMyPast and images digitized by FamilySearch. The British Library, London; FHL microfilm 102,001,236.
↑ "Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XBG3-N8P : 10 February 2018), Robert Burns in entry for Jean Burns, 05 Sep 1786; citing , MAUCHLINE, AYR, SCOTLAND, reference , index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 1,041,395.
↑ "Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XTKQ-Z9F : 10 February 2018), Robert Burns in entry for Robert Burns, 03 Sep 1786; citing , reference 2:15G9HK5, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 1,041,395.
↑ 18.018.1 Find a Grave, database and images : accessed 17 June 2022, memorial page for Robert Burns (25 Jan 1759–21 Jul 1796), Find A Grave: Memorial #1853, citing St Michael's Churchyard, Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland ; Maintained by Find a Grave.