Yon High Mossy Mountains, Sae Lofty & Wide


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 is the manuscript of a short lyric later published in 1792, in the Scots Musical Museum, Volume 2, with the first line altered as "Yon wild mossy mountains" among other textual changes. The accompanying letter is dated 1829 from Joseph Elias Perochon, a French Royalist who settled in Dumfries out of failing eyesight. Outlining the provenance of the manuscript, he recounts that Burns "sent this song to my wife in the first year he began to compose his inimitable verses." His wife, Agnes Eleanor, had been the eldest daughter of Mrs. Dunlop, who had been close friends with Burns. Correspondence betwen the two began in 1786, a few weeks before his departure to Edinburgh, when Mrs. Dunlop requested six copies of his Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. The two continued frank exchanges of ideas on personal matters and poetry until Burns's death.

Last updated: September 18, 2015