in Alloway, Ayrshire, in 1759 to William Burness, a poor tenant
farmer, and Agnes Broun, Robert Burns was the eldest of seven. He
spent his youth working his father's farm, but in spite of his poverty
he was extremely well read - at the insistence of his father, who
employed a tutor for Robert and younger brother Gilbert. At 15 Robert
was the principal worker on the farm and this prompted him to start
writing in an attempt to find "some kind of counterpoise for his
circumstances." It was at this tender age that Burns penned his
first verse, "My Handsome Nell", which was an ode to the other subjects
that dominated his life, namely scotch and women.
his father died in 1784, Robert and his brother became partners
in the farm. However, Robert was more interested in the romantic
nature of poetry than the arduous graft of ploughing and, having
had some misadventures with the ladies (resulting in several illegitimate
children, including twins to the woman who would become his wife,
Jean Armour), he planned to escape to the safer, sunnier climes
of the West Indies.
at the point of abandoning farming, his first collection "Poems-
Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect - Kilmarnock Edition" (a set of
poems essentially based on a broken love affair), was published
and received much critical acclaim. This, together with pride of
parenthood, made him stay in Scotland. He moved around the country,
eventually arriving in Edinburgh, where he mingled in the illustrious
circles of the artists and writers who were agog at the "Ploughman
a matter of weeks he was transformed from local hero to a national
celebrity, fussed over by the Edinburgh literati of the day, and
Jean Armour's father allowed her to marry him, now that he was no
longer a lowly wordsmith. Alas, the trappings of fame did not bring
fortune and he took up a job as an exciseman to supplement the meagre
income. Whilst collecting taxes he continued to write, contributing
songs to the likes of James Johnston's "Scot's Musical Museum" and
George Thomson's "Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs."
In all, more than 400 of Burns' songs are still in existence.
last years of Burns' life were devoted to penning great poetic masterpieces
such as The Lea Rig, Tam O'Shanter and a Red, Red Rose. He died
aged 37 of heart disease exacerbated by the hard manual work he
undertook when he was young. His death occurred on the same day
as his wife Jean gave birth to his last son, Maxwell.
the day of his burial more than 10,000 people came to watch and
pay their respects. However, his popularity then was nothing compared
to the heights it has reached since.
the anniversary of his birth, Scots both at home and abroad celebrate
Robert Burns with a supper, where they address the haggis, the ladies
and whisky. A celebration which would undoubtedly make him proud.
Indexes of Burns' birth and marriage certificates can be found at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk