Tam o' Shanter Proof Sheets


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. "Tam o' Shanter: A Tale" was published 1791 in The Antiquities of Scotland, second volume. Among those to whom Robert Burns sent the separate off-prints of his poem was the lawyer and historican, Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813). Tytler wrote a detailed and largely appreciative response, but advised Burns to cut the four lines he marked on this copy as out-of-place. Burns accepted this advice when reprinting "Tam o' Shanter" in Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. The holograph note at the bottom reads: "Burns left out these four lines at my desire, as being incongruous with the other circumstances of pure horror."

Last updated: September 18, 2015