Today marks the 220th anniversary of the death of the poet Rabbie or Robert Burns.
Where I live in Ayrshire, this is a big thing!
He was raised near to Ayr, and his old family cottage in Alloway where he was born, is now a museum to his works. Everyone knows his most famous poem, Auld Lang Syne, though maybe not all of the words as he wrote them, and it is sung in most of the country at New Year.
Local to me there is a popular pub named after another of his famous poems, the Tam O’Shanter. Lovely steak pie, if you’re ever in the area……..
He was once voted to be Scotland’s greatest Scot in a tv poll, even beating William Wallace and Robert the Bruce !!
And probably the strangest fact about him is that he is very popular in Russia, both before the break up of the USSR and after, his strong patriotic words in many of his poems spoke loudly to the small people of the Russian state.
He did not live to see the growth of his poems popularity, that has mostly happened since his death. His wife Jean Armour originally came up with the idea of publishing a complete works style of book after he had died, in order to maintain their children.
His life was mostly spent moving from farm to farm and trying to avoid creditors. Some of his poems were released during his lifetime though they did not make him the fortune or fame that you might expect from such a modern day well-known poet. He did spend some time in Edinburgh, the toast of some important critics of the day, but soon returned to the west coast of Scotland, to a farm with his family.
He is also known to have been a romantic wanderer, begetting twelve children in all, though only three of his children with his wife made it to adulthood. It is thought that his descendents currently number well over 600 !!
He was a member of the masonic lodge in Tarbolton in Ayrshire, and a founder member of the Bachelor’s Club in that village too, which can be visited to this day. The village of Tarbolton is still reltively small and close-knit and the Burns family became a big part of village life when they moved there in 1777. While in the village Burns became the father of a child with a girl called Elizabeth Paton, and managed to fall in love and eventually marry two other girls, Mary Campbell and Jean Armour. Campbell died only a few months after their marriage, and Jean would become his wife who stayed by his side until his death.
On returning from Edinburgh, he took on the property at Ellisland Farm in Dumfriesshire, with his family. This is kept going as a working farm too, by the Friends of Ellisland, and can be visited, along with the Robert Burns museum that has been created there. He had been offered a job in London at this time, but had turned it down, preferring to stay in Scotland.
He died in the town of Dumfries on this day in 1796 of a suspected heart condition. It is also said that some dental treatment he had recently contributed to his death, but that is not certain.
Burns was a great follower of revolution and the need for reform in his beloved home country of Scotland. There was revolution going on in France at the time he lived, and he supported the idea of this revolution. He lost many friends and even family through holding this point of view.
This sounds a little familiar to some people, the need for reform and revolution in Scotland……….
Maybe Rabbie Burns should be the one pictured shouting “Freeedddoooommmm” instead of a blue faced Mel Gibson…………………..