Not Mr Burns the Scrooge-like boss from The Simpsons, not Pete Burns, unique frontman of the band Dead or Alive, not Frank Burns character in the hit TV show M.A.S.H. and the butt of many a joke, also not Gordon Burns journalist and broadcaster, host of the Krypton Factor or indeed, not the wonderfully named Otway Burns the American privateer and later State Senator for North Carolina born just a few years after the Burns of today’s blog – Robert Burns, our National Bard.
“Life is but a day at most.”Written In Friars Carse Hermitage
Robert Burns, fair fa’ his honest, sonsie face, writer of everything and the voice of Scotland since the beginning of time, even though he was born in 1759, and died in 1796, at the age of only 37.
“Now health forsakes that angel face.”Fragment “Now health forsakes that angel face”, Robert Burns
Burns, Robert Burns, licensed to rhyme, lived his short live to the full, his many roles included exciseman, poet, republican, song collector, father of four.
“I’m twenty-three, and five feet nine, I’ll go and be a sodger.”Extempore Burns 1781/82
His legendary excesses, his many loves and love affairs resulting in, at least, the four children mentioned earlier and his membership of the Crochallan Fencibles, an Edinburgh convivial club who had their meetings in the Anchor Tavern just off the High Street.
“I flatter my fancy I may get anither, My heart it shall never be broken for ane”.As I go wand’ring, A song collected by Burns, C1792
Robert Burns, so good they only had to name him once, is known as a great poet, with a catalogue of hundreds of works and these hundreds of poems and songs make up the lyrics of the great Scottish song collection since the mid 1700s. With a cannon of works as large as Burns has, it is the case that he is the go-to lyricist for all of the songsters since, well since him, Robert Burns.
“God knows, I’m no the thing I should be, Nor am I even the thing I could be”.Epistle To The Rev. John M’math
Our small display in the Music Library highlights the Burns collection of Jean Redpath with Serge Hovey. In 1976, when Jean Redpath began recording the complete songs of Robert Burns, Hovey researched and arranged 324 songs for the project but died before the project could be completed, leaving only seven critically acclaimed volumes of the planned twenty-two, Jean Redpath felt unable to continue without Hovey.
“While winds frae aff Ben-Lomond blaw,Epistle to Davie, A Brother Poet
An’ bar the doors wi’ driving snaw,
An’ hing us owre the ingle,
I set me down to pass the time,
An’ spin a verse or twa o’ rhyme,
In hamely, westlin jingle.”
Thereafter our display highlights the works of other notable poets, many known by, or contemporaries of, Burns. Many of these works, poems and songs by the people below and their contempories were collected by Burns on his travels round the country, this small selection demonstrate that although Burns is the pre-eminent lyricist in the Great Scottish Songbook, there are many others wordsmith for us to celebrate.
Owre the Muir, Amang the Heather (O’er the Moor, Amang the Heather) by Jean Glover
Jean Glover (1758 – 1801) of Kilmarnock was known by Burns as a fine singer and poet, it was he who recorded this song. Burns seems to have had some sort of relationship with Glover, possibly literary sparring partners, possibly more.
Jock O’Hazeldean by Sir Walter Scott
The fifteen-year-old Scott met Burns at a ‘literary’ get together, where he prompted the bard with the name of a poet whose lines had just been quoted. Scott later remembered how touched he was by the gratitude shown by the great Burns.
Cam’ ye by Athol James Hogg
It is not clear whether Burns was aware of the work of the Ettrick Shepherd but Hogg was certainly aware of the former’s work. Hogg recounts in his memoir how he was in rapture when he heard Tam O’Shanter for the first time and how he learned it in an afternoon.
Farewell to Lochaber by Allan Ramsey
Allan Ramsey died a year before Burns birth, so was unaware of the talent to come. Burns was more familiar with the work of the great Ramsey. Burns was always willing to acknowledge the elder influence, he was not, however, always fulsome with his praise.
Auld Robin Gray by Lady Anne Lindsay
Born Ann Lindsay in 1750, she became Lady Anne Barnard when she married Sir Andrew Barnard in 1763. She accompanied him to the Cape of Good Hope when he became colonial secretary there in 1797. They returned to London in 1802. When Sir Andrew chose to return to the Cape in 1806, Anne decided to remain in London. Sir Andrew Barnard died in the Cape in 1807. “Auld Robin Gray,” written to the music of an old song, was first published anonymously; in 1823 she confided its authorship to her friend Sir Walter Scott, who in 1825 prepared an edition of the ballad. Lady Anne died in 1825 in London.
O! Are you sleepin’ Maggie by Robert Tannahill
The Weaver Poet was born in Paisley, in 1774, where he lived and worked all his short life. Prone to bouts of depression, Robert took his own life in 1810. Tannahill was a great admirer of Burns and was the first Sectretary of the Paisley Burns Club, one of the oldest Burns clubs, which was founded in Tannahill’s house in 1805.
Annie Laurie by William Douglas
William Douglas (1682(?) to 1741) soldier, poet and Jacobite. It was this last part which brought Douglas into direct, and at times physical, conflict with Annie Laurie’s royalist father. Annie and William’s flaming romance fizzled out and they both went on to marry others, but we are left with a wonderful song.
The Auld House by Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne
Carolina Oliphant was a prolific author and collector of songs and poems. Considered by many to be a national bard second only to Robert Burns.
Mary McNeill by Erskine Conally
Conally, born in the year of Burns’ death would have been aware of the Bard’s work. After schooling at a local high school, Conally was apprenticed to an Anstruther bookseller. He moved to Edinburgh and worked as a clerk to a writer to the signet. From there he went into partnership with a solicitor. On his partner’s death Conally took over and ran the firm. Although he never published a collection of his work, many are well-known, with “Mary McNeill” being the best known.
Song Gems (Scots) The Dunedin Collection which contains Mary McNeill is edited by composer Learmont Drysdale, who arranged a number of the songs in this volume. The list of arrangers/composers contains some names of composers/arrangers who crop up regularly in the “Scots Songbook” – J Kenyon Lees, C R Baptie, Ord Hume. In amongst these, there are a few notables in Scottish Music including Sir Alexander McKenzie, Natale Corri and Learmont Drysdale himself.
There is another book to mention in our wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous display, which is a Volume of “Seventy Scots Songs” by Helen Hopekirk. Hopekirk was born in Portobello in 1856 and became a world-famous concert pianist and composer, working and touring in Europe and America. After making her home in America, she visited her native Scotland many times during her long life, song collecting and composing. During an extended visit she played her own piano concerto in D major with the Scottish Orchestra in 1919.
So, gie bring to me a pint o’ wine and we will celebrate Rabbie’s birth on the 25 January with suppers and socially distanced get togethers, to drink whisky, or Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru, eat Haggis and too much tablet, whilst we recite the verse and sing the songs.
To everyone else born on the 25 January we celebrate you too, and raise a glass in hope that this year is better than last.
Explore Burns in our collections! Here are just a few suggestions –
The Complete Works of Robert Burns
Borrow the ebook
Robert Burns – complete classics
Borrow the audiobook
Burns Supper Companion by Hugh Douglas
Reserve print copy online
Burns Supper Companion by Nancy Marshall
Reserve print copy online
The Broons’ Burns Night
Reserve the print copy online
The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection has lots more material available on Robert Burns and the Music Library has many CDS of Burns’ music available. Go to the Your Library website and search the catalogue for Burns suppers, Burns songs etc for much, much more.
And for a quick virtual tour of the Bard’s time in Edinburgh, read the Robert Burns in Edinburgh story on Our Town Stories.