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Newsletter     February 2000

100 Burns Facts

Dr. James Mackay, the worlds leading authority on Burns, presents exclusively for the World Burns Club, a regular contribution of lesser-known "Burns Facts" On an ongoing basis, 100 facts will be introduced and made available within our expert analyses archive. As an introduction to our series Jim says: -

"More than two hundred years after his death, Robert Burns continues to fascinate all manner of people the world o'er. No other poet ever touched such a chord in the hearts of men everywhere, and no one ever articulated the range of emotions felt by everyone. Not for nothing has he been dubbed the "Bard of All Humanity." You don't have to be Scottish to appreciate his poetry or be entertained by his songs; much of what he wrote was in standard English anyway, but even the vernacular poetry is couched in such simple language that, with a little help, it can be easily understood."

"His great song of parting, 'Auld Lang Syne' is arguably the most widely sung song in the world, while 'A Man's a Man' is regarded today as the great hymn of universal brotherhood. Many of his lines, from. 'the best laid schemes o mice an men'... to... 'man's inhumanity to man', have passed into every day language."

 "Burns the man, however, remains a controversial figure, largely as a result of the efforts of so many nineteenth century biographers to denigrate him. Burns the womaniser and drunken debauchee is a powerful image; the reprobate redeemed by his sublime poetry was a popular impression ! "

"Burns himself wrote that 'Facts are chiels that winna ding', but in his case it has been a long struggle to set the record straight. Of course, Burns took a drink and sometimes drank more than was good for him, but in an age when hard drinking was the rule rather than the exception His duties as an Exciseman and his responsibilities as a husband and father, belie the popular image !"

 "The man who farmed 170 of the poorest acres in southern Scotland,.. rode 200 miles a week on Excise surveys,.. wrote up four different sets of books, ..was a voluminous correspondent... and found time to write so much matchless verse, was a workaholic... not an alcoholic !"

  • Was Burns really the unlettered rustic patronised by the Edinburgh literati, or an exceptionally well educated (though mainly self-educated) man?
  • What was the nature of his mysterious illness at the town of Irvine in Ayrshire?
  • Who jilted him and who, really, was the girl known to posterity as 'Highland Mary?
  • Did Burns really send a parcel of cannon to the French revolutionaries?
  • What was the "Rape of the Sabine Women" that got him into such trouble with his closest friend? 

"These and many other questions that are hotly argued to this day  will be presented on regular basis,.... exclusive to The World Burns Club" 

Note: -  Abbreviations (CW) & (CL) appearing beside a "Burns Fact" are references to  page numbers in the books 

 "The Complete Works of Robert Burns"(CW)
 "The Complete Letters of Robert Burns" (CL).

These books are available for purchase within 
The Burns Shop


2008 The Robert Burns World Federation