July 15, 2011

Tibby Fowler; Up in the Morning Early; The Thorn; Donnocht-Head; Fareweel to Whisky

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 Burns's "Tibby Fowler" and "Up in the Morning Early."

Letter, 1789, August 24

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 poetic letter from Dr. Thomas Blacklock, a blind clergyman-poet living in Edinburgh, commends the newly published Kilmarnock edition of Burns's works. Following this encouraging message, Burns decided in summer 1786 to abandon his planned emigration to Jamaica, and instead go to Edinburgh. Burns later wrote to Dr. John Moore, "Blacklock's letter of September 1786 fired me so much that away I posted to Edinburgh without a single acquaintance in town." In 1789, the two friends exchanged rhyming epistles (initiated by this poem), and Blacklock, like Burns, contributed songs to Johnson's Scots Musical Museum. Burns's response to this poem began, "Wow, but your letter made me vauntie!" While the manuscript was made available to Burns's biographer, James Currie, no manuscript was known to James Kinsley. The Roy Collection version is the only known manuscript, and constitutes unique evidence on a friendship of crucial importance in establishing Burns's poetic reputation.

Elegy on Sir J. H. Blair

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 elegy was written by Burns in memory of the Scottish financier and former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Sir James Hunter Blair, two weeks after his death in 1787. Like Burns, Blair was a freemason, and had subscribed to eight copies of Burns's Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Burns addressed the elegy to his friend Robert Aiken, enclosing "rather an incorrect" printed copy as well. He commented in an accompanying letter that "The melancholy occasion of the foregoing Poem affects not only individuals but a Country. That I have lost a friend is but repeating after Caledonia."

Portion of a Letter. Holograph of Burns from the Thornhill Letter Book

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. 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 worked as a farmer while building his literary reputation, but following the success of the Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland, 1788. This document is a file copy of a business letter Burns wrote while serving as an excise officer. A strong oak chest containing excise documents from the Thornhill office near Ellisland, purchased at a sale of Burns's effects by the antiquary Joseph Train, was exhibited by the Greenock Burns Club in 1859. Pages from these documents in Burns's handwriting were among the relics displayed at the Glasgow Memorial Exhibition in 1896.

Letter, 1788, February 14, to Clarinda

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. During his stay in Edinburgh, Burns met Mrs. Agnes Craig M'Lehose in December 1787. It was love at first sight for both of them. In addition to numerous visits, the couple carried on what has been termed a "hothouse romance" by correspondence. The two soon decided to use "Arcadian names" as Burns called them: she was Clarinda, he Sylvander. Marriage turned out to be impossible, and the correspondence dwindled once Burns left Edinburgh. In the first months of 1788, Burns and Mrs. M'Lehose wrote to each other frequently, sometimes more than once in a day. This letter is the second sent that day from Sylvander to Clarinda. Note the suspicious-looking mark on the paper where the poet has written, "I have read yours again: it has blotted my paper." It is left to the reader to decide whether or not he or she is looking at the dried remains of a teardrop.

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.