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Capital's Tribute to Burns

It may be more than 200 years since Robert Burns last visited the Capital but as Gary Flockhart discovers, Edinburgh still plays a key role in the legend of the Bard.


Through a narrow wynd typical of 18th Century Edinburgh lies the Writers Museum. This building on Mary Stairs Close pays homage to the city's most famous literary lights; notably Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns. In fact, the Writer's Museum is situated just yards from the now demolished Baxter's Close tenement, where Robert Burns lodged on arrival here in 1786.

The Museum is split largely into three sections one for each of the three principle writers and although Stevenson and Scott are native sons' of Edinburgh, the building houses more than its fair share of Burns memorabilia and manuscripts.

Inside, the first thing that catches the eye is a fabulous model statue of Burns by the sculptor George Flaxman. It was presented to George Thompson (songwriter and publisher) and by him, in turn, to the poets son Col. William Burns. On a nearby wall hang three Burns quotes and a Burns sketch by C M Hardie, RSA, made in preparation for his work "Burns in Edinburgh."

It's claimed that Burns' associations with Edinburgh induced too much work in English, made him far less original and way too self-conscious and when you consider that the poet's homespun wisdom derived from Alloway and Ayrshire it's hardly surprising.

Interestingly enough, the museum doesn't just relate to Burns’ time in Edinburgh. Several glass cabinets are displayed and each contains a treasure-trove of Burns' memorabilia including a lock of Jean Armour's hair (Bonnie Jean), a knife, fork and sugar tongs from Nanse Tinnock's Inn and four elm chairs and several of Burns' snuff boxes.

From his time in Edinburgh you'll find a Cordial glass believed to have been used by the poet and a silver mounted snuff box given by Burns to John Richmond (a close friend of his early years), bearing the inscription:

"This Frae the oak that bare the riggin and This frae the thron aboon the well where Mungo's mither hanged hersel."

In a glass cabinet near a window sits a beautiful writing desk used by Burns until his death in 1796 and in glass display case sits a surprisingly well-kept copy of the London Herald from Wednesday July 27th 1796, announcing his death.

On the whole, there's an array of odd and interesting items on display at the Writers Museum and it's not just Burns either, there's more than enough to see concerning some of Scotland’s other literary favourites. And with free entry all year round the Writer's Museum is well worth a visit.



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