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Robert Burns The Bard


January 25th is known throughout Britain as Burns' Night, when the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's favourite son, is celebrated. Burns became known for his ballads and his poetry, most people are familiar with at least one of "Rabbie" Burns' works, the song "Auld Lang Syne". He is considered the pioneer of the Romantic Movement, and his style influenced other later poets including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth.

Robert Burns was born at Alloway near Ayr in 1759. This birthplace was a thatched cottage built by his father which now houses the Burns Museum. Although his father was a poor nurseryman and later a struggling tenant farmer at Mount Oliphant, Robert did get some education at local schools. However he was largely self-taught through books. When Robert Burns reached adulthood he had a good knowledge of English, French and literature.

In 1777 the family moved to Lochlea and Burns worked as a farm labourer and then as a flax-dresser in nearby Irvine, writing poems in his spare time. Here he met the first of many loves, Nelly Kirkpatrick, who inspired him to try his hand at writing poetry.

After his father's death in 1784, Robert and his brother Gilbert moved to a farm at Mauchline where he was a member of the Lodge of Freemasons.

In some financial difficulty, Burns decided to emigrate and to fund his passage to Jamaica, he published his poems with a firm of Kilmarnock publishers in 1786. His first volume was "Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect" which contains some of his best-known works.

Robert Burns' writings were a resounding success, so much so that he abandoned the idea of emigrating and moved instead to Edinburgh where he enjoyed the cultural city life. Burns worked for a publisher, James Johnson, writing and editing Scottish songs.

During this period Burns fathered 8 children to five different women, one of whom was Jean Armour who he finally married. They moved to a farm at Ellisland. When the farm failed, they moved to Dumfries in 1791 where Burns worked in Excise. Burns' favourite pub was the Globe Inn which is still open for business on the Dumfries High Street.

Burns continued to write songs but received very little payment. Inspired by the French Revolution, in 1795 Burns turned to more political writings to appeal for human equality.

Sadly at the age of just 37, Burns contracted rheumatic fever and died, leaving his wife in childbirth with their ninth child. He was buried in the local St Michael's churchyard in Dumfries in 1796.

As with many artists and writers, Robert Burns only really achieved fame and fortune after his death. Many of his songs and poems written in the Scottish dialect have since been recognized internationally. Some of his original manuscripts can be seen at Burns House in Dumfries and at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright.

Burns' Night is a national night remembered by Scots all over the world. "Haggis, neeps and tatties are traditionally served; tatties are potatoes and neeps are mashed turnips. Before the supper, bagpipes are played and Burns' famous work the "Address to a Haggis" is recited.

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