Who Is Robert Burns?

Who Is Robert Burns?

Scottish Folklore is full of songs and legends. In some cases, the truth can be more exciting than fiction. In no case is that statement more accurate than that of Robert Burns.

Robert Burns is one of Scotland’s most famous cultural-historical figures. Among his many achievements is the credit he receives as one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement in Scotland. 

At The Celtic Croft, tradition is important to us. We celebrate all aspects of Scottish and Irish culture. The life and writings of Robert Burns are a prominent piece of that culture, and we can all draw inspiration from this inspiring figure. 

Robert Burns, Scottish poet and lyricist

Early Life

Robert Burns was born on January 25th in the year 1759 with the name Robert Burnes. He was the first-born son of tenant farmers from Alloway, Scotland. Like most common people of the time, he received only a rudimentary education. 

His parents could see his potential, though, so they encouraged him to expand his knowledge. His free time was spent devouring books by some of the most influential writers of the time. 

Even as a child, Robert Burns hated farm work. Not only did he find it tedious, but he considered it detrimental to his health. To amuse himself, he spent his free time writing poetry. He also spent quite a lot of time on various and varied conquests of the fairer sex. 

In fact, from the years 1784 to 1788, he occupied himself with many illicit relationships, often engaging in multiple trysts at a time. The result of these dalliances, as you might imagine, was an unidentified number of illegitimate children. 

It could be argued that the death of his father in 1784 spurned this reckless and amorous behavior. When someone as creative and sensitive as Burns experiences tragic loss, the repercussions are often far-reaching and pervasive. To forget death, we tend to dive head-first into life. 

Robert’s father, William Burnes, died penniless and worn. This shaped Burn’s worldview dramatically. He was perpetually critical of establishments, both religious and political. In his eyes, the oppressive power of these institutions perpetuated the rigid class system that kept the majority of Scottish people in powerless poverty. 

The Writing Years- Fame and Achievement

Burns published his first substantial volume of poetry in July of 1786. Titled Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, this work was generally praised by critics. The major attraction of this volume was its widespread appeal. People from all classes appreciated Burns’ work.

Burns had been considering a move to a different country, but with his sudden success, he decided to stay in Scotland. 

His first child was born in 1785. This daughter, Elizabeth, was born out of wedlock to the servant of his mother. This girl is the first of many to be born to Burns. 

In 1786, Burns decided to move to Edinburgh. While there, he made and maintained many prominent friendships. One of the most notable of these friendships was with James Johnson.

Johnson was a budding music producer. The fruit of this friendship was a collection of traditional Scottish music entitled, The Scots Musical Museum. You can check it out here.

This collection included the famous song, Auld Lang Syne. So next time you sing this song of farewell at the close of a new year, raise a toast to Robert Burns. 

Burns didn’t stay in Edinburgh for long. He became restless and longed for a simpler life. In the summer of 1788, he married Jean Amour and settled on a farm in Ellisland. The couple would conceive nine children, but only three would live beyond infancy. 

Farm life didn’t suit Burns, though, and in 1791 the family relocated to the town of Dumfries. He accepted a position as the local tax collector and carried on with his writing. 

It was in this time that he penned Tom O’Shanter, one of his better-known works. Many consider it to be a masterpiece of Scottish narrative poetry. 

In 1793, Burns collaborated with publisher George Thompson to help create A Select Collection of Orignal Scottish Airs for the Voice. In these works, you will find the majority of the poems and folk songs of Robert Burns, including A Red, Red Rose, and The Battle of Sherramuir. 

Robert Burns Monument on Regent Road in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Robert Burns is considered the National Poet of Scotland.

The Later Years

Towards the end of his life, Burns became more political. He empathized with the common people during the French Revolution. That sympathy carried over to his home country, where he believed in a radical reform of the status quo. 

This opinion was drastically unpopular with the general population of Scotland, placing Burns’s political sympathies in the minority of views. 

Robert Burns never celebrated good health throughout his life. He was often sick, and she suffered from a lifelong heart condition. This condition is the probable cause of his death at the age of 37. 

Rustic meal of haggis, neeps and tatties served with a tumbler of whisky to celebrate Robert Burns Supper in a high angle view

The Legacy of Robert Burns

Robert Burns is considered a pioneer of the Scottish Romantic age. The founders of liberalism and even socialism drew inspiration from his philosophy and writings. He is still considered the national poet of Scotland. 

To this day, every year, on January 25, people all around the world celebrate Burns Night. The first Burns Night was held in the year 1801. Many traditions have been added, but the original sentiment remains the same. 

People celebrate Burns Night by paying tribute to the life and works of the Scottish National Poet. And as with any good Scottish tradition, the celebration revolves around good food and laughter. 

The centerpiece of a good Burns Night is the classic dish, haggis, which Robert Burns labeled, the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race.” If you want to be really traditional, you will wash it down with a hefty glass of whiskey. 

No Burns Night would be complete without a recital of some of Burns’s classic poetry. Popular choices include the Selkirk Grace or the Address to a Haggis. The most verbose of your guests should also be tapped to provide a toast the Scottish Bard himself. 

As for the supplies you might need to host this special night, The Celtic Croft has you covered. Serve drinks in this Robert Burns whisky glass. Look the part in this tartan tam.

Of course, what better way to get in the spirit than wearing a kilt. For the ladies, we have a variety of earasaids and kilts and skirts. Go all out when you are celebrating this special night.

When you are ready to host your own Burns Night, be sure to check out the offerings at The Celtic Croft. Throw a Burns Night that Robert Burns himself would be proud to attend.