Burns' Popular Songs
Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns’s broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. Burns’s works were widely distributed throughout Scotland and beyond in chapbooks. These small, inexpensive eight-page booklets were often illustrated with woodcuts and printed on coarse paper. Chapbooks (called garlands if they included songs) were a popular form of entertainment in the 18th and early 19th centuries and the principal way that ordinary people encountered songs and poetry. They were distributed by traveling “chapmen” who sold the books at markets and door-to-door in rural areas. Chapbooks often included poems by more than one author, and the authors were not identified. This book, from the G. Ross Roy Collection at the University of South Carolina, includes 30 songs by Burns.
G. Caldwell, Glasgow
Type of Item
24 pages; 16 centimeters
Last updated: September 18, 2015