Promissory Note to Mr. Alexr. Crombie, Mason in Dalswinton, Dated April 6th 1791, Dumfries


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 note, which carries an official sixpenny tax stamp, indicates a loan of 20 pounds that Burns gave to a local mason. The record is exemplary of handwritten drafts and IOU's in late 18th century small towns, which substituted for more formal banking procedures. The reverse shows that Burns subsequently endorsed the IOU over for repayment to a Dumfries architect, Thomas Boyd.

Last updated: September 18, 2015