Burns, Robert, 1759-1796

Alternative names
Birth 1759-01-25
Death 1796-07-21
Scots, English, Uncoded languages

Biographical notes:

Robert Burns, Scottish poet.

From the guide to the Robert Burns manuscript material : 3 items, 1783-1794, (The New York Public Library. Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.)

Thomas Campbell owned the small estate of Pencloe in Glen Afton, about 2 mi. from New Cumnock Kirk. Cf. Lindsey, Burns Encyclopedia, 1980.

From the description of Letter : New Cumnock to Monsr. Thomas Campbell, Pencloe, 1786 Aug. 19. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 50812171

Robert Burns is a national symbol for Scots, the greatest in a long line of poets who wrote in the Lowland Scots dialect. The son of a tenant farmer (cottar), he had little formal education; but he read widely, and drew largely on the folk tales and tunes of his native land. He began his life as a poet while working a farm with his brother, Gilbert, from 1784 to 1788. During this period he wrote some of his best poetry, but managed to scrape only the barest living. In 1786, trying to raise money for passage to Jamaica where a job awaited him, he published the Kilmarnock edition of his early poems. It made him famous, though not rich, and he continued to combine careers as farmer and poet. In 1789 he supplemented his income by obtaining an appointment in the excise, finally giving up his farm in 1791.

From the description of Collection, 1779-[ca. 1885] (bulk 1785-1796). (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122626299

Burns met Robert Ainslie when he was in Edinburgh in 1787 seeing a new edition of Poems through the press. Ainslie subscribed to two copies of the work. They became intimate friends and Ainslie accompanied Burns on the initial part of his border tour in May 1787. Burns gave Ainslie a signed copy of Poems with the names of people referred to in the volume noted. In most cases Burns followed the pattern of giving the first initial, followed by a number of asterisks which represent the omitted letters, and ending with the last letter of the name in question.

From the description of Letter : 1788, October 11, Dumfries to Robert Ainslie, Edinburgh. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 298711179

AMs, (Unsigned) Robert Burns (1759-1796); "On reading in a newspaper an account of the death of J. M'L. Esq., brother to Miss Isabella M' -- a particular friend of the author's & whose family had for some time suffered a train of misfortunes."

From the description of Robert Burns Manuscript Poem, <17--?> (Florida State University). WorldCat record id: 52398148

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a Scottish poet and a lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and as a seminal member of the Romantic movement.

From the guide to the Robert Burns Letter, 1793, (Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries)

Robert Ainslie was a law student in Edinburgh when he first met Robert Burns in 1787. Ainslie accompanied Burns on his border tour later in 1787. He later practiced law in Edinburgh and is known as the author of several works on agricultural, legal, and financial subjects, as well A father's gift to his children and Reasons for the Hope that is in us.

From the description of Letter : 1788, June 23, Mauchline to Robert Ainslie, Edinburgh. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 52814823

Robert Burns, Scottish poet widely regarded as the "national poet of Scotland."

From the description of Robert Burns manuscript material : 3 items, 1785-1794 (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 77743982

Following the success of the Edinburgh edition, Burns sought a government position as an officer in the Excise. He was commissioned on July 14, 1788, and served until his death. He was first based at his farm in Ellisland, and then from November 1791, in the town of Dumfries, where for a time from 1794-1795, he served as Acting Supervisor. A "strong oak chest" containing excise documents from the Thornhill office, near Ellisland, purchased at a sale of Burns's effects by the antiquary Joseph Train, was exhibited by the Greenock Burns Club in 1859, and pages from it in Burns's handwriting were among the relics displayed at the Glasgow Memorial Exhibition in 1896.

From the description of Holograph of Burns from the Thornhill Letter book. [1790]. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 299126096

The Scottish financier and former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Hunter Blair, Bt., died on July 1, 1787, at age 47. Like Burns, Hunter Blair was a freemason, and he had subscribed to eight copies of Burns's Edinburgh edition. Only two weeks after Blair's death, Burns (who was in Mauchline) wrote to his friend Robert Aiken enclosing "rather an incorrect copy" of his elegy (presumably this copy) and commenting that "The melancholy occasion of the foregoing Poem affects not only individuals but a Country. That I have lost a friend is but repeating after Caledonia."

From the description of Elegy on Sir J. H[unter] Blair. [1787]. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 298615098

Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796) was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland 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 also in English.

From the guide to the Robert Burns papers MSS. 0235., unknown, (W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, The University of Alabama)

Scottish poet.

From the description of Come! my weel-lo'ed and trusty cronies : autograph manuscript signed of poem : [n.p.], [n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270132532

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Mossgavil, to Mr. Thomas Orr, 1784 Nov. 11. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270131623

From the description of Papers of Robert Burns, n.d. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 32960304

From the description of Letter, n.d. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 39670296


From the description of Robert Burns papers, 1788-1859. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79453464

The "collection of Scots songs" to which Burns refers was his manuscript of "The merry muses of Caledonia." The songs included in this collection were circulated to a few chosen friends. The manuscript disappeared after Burns's death, possibly removed from his papers by Dr. James Currie. In 1799 a collection of songs appeared anonymously, but bearing Burns's working title. The following year Currie included this letter in his edition of Burns's works, but added a spurious sentence: "A very few of them [the poems] are my own." (Liverpool, 1800) The extra sentence may have been intended to play down Burns's role in producing the collection of bawdy poems.

John McMurdo (1743-1803) was Chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry at Drumlanrig. He and Burns probably met in 1788 and remained friends until Burns's death in 1796. Burns's poem "Bonnie Jean" was written about McMurdo's younger daughter. McMurdo became one of the trustees of the money raised for Burns's widow and children.

From the description of Letter : Dumfries, to John McMurdo, Drumlanrig, [1792 Feb.?] (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 38234850

Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire on 25 January 1759. From 1765 to 1768 Burns was educated at an 'adventure' school by his father, neighbours and a teacher, John Murdoch. In 1775 he attended a mathematics school in Kirkswald. Burns spent his youth working on his father's tenant farm and by the age of 15 he was the principle worker on the farm. At this early age Burns began to write poetry about aspects of Scottish life. On the death of his father in 1784, Robert and his brother became partners in the farm. Robert abandoned farming in 1785 to concentrate on writing poetry.

He published his first collection of poems, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect - Kilmarnock Edition , in 1786. Burns moved to Edinburgh where he won critical acclaim for his poetry amongst the Edinburgh literati. In 1787 he was sponsored by the Caledonian Hunt to publish a new edition of his poems. He left Edinburgh in 1788 for Ellisfarm near Dumfries to begin farming once again. However he continued to write poetry. In 1789 Burns began working for the Excise in Dumfries and in 1791 he left the farm to live and work in the town. Burns died in Dumfries from heart disease on 21 July 1796.

From the guide to the Burns, Robert, 1791, (Senate House Library, University of London)


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  • Illumination of books and manuscripts--Specimens
  • Scottish poetry--18th century
  • Farmers--Scotland--18th century
  • Fine bindings
  • Ballads, Scots
  • English poetry--Scottish authors--18th century--Manuscripts--Specimens
  • Folk songs, Scots
  • Poems
  • Poets, Scottish--18the century
  • Poetry
  • Literary forms and genres
  • Poets
  • Literature
  • Poets, Scottish--18th century--Correspondence
  • Poets, Scottish
  • Poets, Scottish--18th century--Manuscripts
  • Literature and Authors
  • Jeweled bindings--Specimens
  • Miniature painting--Specimens
  • Literature--British
  • Songs, Scottish--18th century
  • English language--Dialects--Scotch (Ayrshire)
  • Scottish poetry


  • Authors
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