Lesley Bailie: A Scots Ballad


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. This manuscript, from the G. Ross Roy Collection at the University of South Carolina, indicates that "Lesley Baile: A Scots Ballad" should be set to the tune of "My Bonie Lizie Bailie." Lesley Baille, the daughter of Robert Baille of Mayfield, Ayrshire, inspired the song; on the second page, Burns notes that he composed the ballad "as I galloped from Cumbertrees to town, after spending the day with the Family of Mayfield."

Last updated: September 18, 2015