Burns Night

Burns night is celebrated annually on 25 January to mark the birth of Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns who was also known as Rabbie Burns or the Bard of Ayrshire and is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland. He was born 25 January 1759 two miles (3 km) south of Ayr, in Alloway in a house built by his father (now the Burns Cottage Museum). In Easter 1766, when Robert was seven years old he moved to the 70-acre Mount Oliphant farm, southeast of Alloway where he grew up in poverty and hardship. He had little regular schooling and got much of his education from his father, who taught his children reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and history He was also taught by John Murdoch (1747–1824), who opened an “adventure school” in Alloway in 1763 and taught Latin, French, and mathematics from 1765 to 1768.

After a few years of home education, Burns was sent to Dalrymple Parish School during the summer of 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. At 15, Burns became 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 the summer of 1775, he was sent to finish his education with a tutor at Kirkoswald, where he met Peggy Thompson (b.1762), to whom he wrote two songs, “Now Westlin’ Winds” and “I Dream’d I Lay”.

In 1777, he moved to a farm at Lochlea, near Tarbolton, where they stayed until William Burnes’ death in 1784. Whilst living in Tarbolton Robert joined a country dancing school in 1779 and, with Gilbert, formed the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club in 1780 and In 1781 Robert Burns was initiated into masonic Lodge St David, Tarbolton. In December 1781, Burns moved to Irvine to learn to become a flax-dresser, but during the workers’ celebrations for New Year 1781/1782 the Flax mill caught fire. In 1780 Robert and Gilbert moved to the farm at Mossgiel, near Mauchline, in March. In 1784 Burns met The Belles of Mauchline, one of whom was Jean Armour, the daughter of a stonemason from Mauchline. Robert Burns also had manyLove affairs His first child, Elizabeth Paton Burns, was born to his mother’s servant, Elizabeth Paton. Jean Armour, also became pregnant with twins in March 1786 while Burns was with Paton. Although Armour’s father initially forbade it, they were eventually married in 1788. Armour bore him nine children, only three of whom survived infancy.

Sadly Burns Farm was always in financial difficulties, So in 1786 he took up a friend’s offer of work as a Bookmaker on a slave plantation in Jamaica which prompted him to write The Slave’s Lament” six years later. At about the same time, Burns fell in love with Mary Campbell whom he met in Tarbolton. He dedicated the poems “The Highland Lassie O”, “Highland Mary”, and “To Mary in Heaven” and the song “Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary, And leave auld Scotia’s shore?” Unfortunately In 1786, Mary’s brother fell ill with typhus, which Mary caught. She died of typhus on 20 or 21 October 1786 and was buried there. Burns’ friend Gavin Hamilton suggested that Burnsshould “publish his poems in order to raise the money for passage to Jamaica and Scotch Poems was published by a printer in Kilmarnock in 1786. John Wilson also published the volume of works by Robert Burns, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect. (the Kilmarnock Volume) which included the poems “The Twa Dogs”, “Address to the Deil”, “Halloween”, “The Cotter’s Saturday Night”, “To a Mouse”, “Epitaph for James Smith”, and “To a Mountain Daisy”. Jean Armour gave birth to twins soon after

Soon after this his friend Dr. Thomas Blacklock suggested Robert write an enlarged second edition of the Kilmarnock Volume. So On 27 November 1786 Burns set off for Edinburgh and the first Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect was published on 1787. Burns then sold his copyright for 100 guineas and Alexander Nasmyth was commissioned to paint the oval bust-length portrait now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which was engraved to provide a frontispiece for the book. In Edinburgh, he was received as an equal by the poets Dugald Stewart, Robertson, Blair and Walter Scott —and was a guest at aristocratic gatherings, where he bore himself with unaffected dignity. He also published a new edition of his poems and also became friends with Lord Glencairn, and Frances Anna Dunlop who sponsored him. In Edinburgh He embarked on a relationship with the separated Agnes “Nancy” McLehose then had an affair with Jenny Clow, Nancy’s domestic servant, who bore him a son, Robert Burns Clow, and also had an affair with a servant girl, Margaret “May” Cameron.

In 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. In 1789 he returned from Edimburgh and resumed his relationship with Jean Armour and took a lease on Ellisland Farm, Dumfriesshire. He also trained as a gauger or exciseman and was appointed to duties in Customs and Excise in 1789 and in 1790 he wrote the poem “Tam O’ Shanter” and in 1792 he became a member of the Royal Company of Archers before moving to Dumfries. He was then requested to write lyrics for The Melodies of Scotland, and responded by contributing over 100 songs. He also 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. Thomson also commissioned arrangements of “Scottish, Welsh and Irish Airs” by such eminent composers of the day as Franz Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, with new lyrics.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. Many of Burns’s most famous poems are songs with the music based upon older traditional songs. For example, “Auld Lang Syne” 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”

Despite being hugely popular he had alienated many of his best friends by expressing sympathy with the French Revolution and unpopular advocates of reform at home. His political views also came to the notice of his employers and in an attempt to prove his loyalty to the Crown, Burns joined the Royal Dumfries Volunteers in 1795. Unfortunately his health began to deteriorate due to a possible rheumatic heart condition and 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 moved to the Burns Mausoleum, in September 1817 and The body of his widow Jean Armour was buried with his in 1834. Burns was posthumously given the freedom of the town of Dumfries, and was also made an Honorary Burgess of Dumfries.

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