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Biography of Robert Burns

Robert Burns

Born into poverty, Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 at Alloway, Ayrshre, Scotland. He was the son of William Burness (or Burns), a small farmer.

Robert's youth was full of hardships and severe manual labor. As a child, he received little schooling, much of his education was taught by his father; including reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history and Christian belief.

Despite his father's education, the elder Burns was unable to hold a steady income.

In 1781, Robert left to Irvine to become a flax-dresser. But due to New Year's partying by the workmen, including himself, the shop was burned to the ground.

In 1783, he began composing poetry in a traditional style using Ayrshire dialect of Lowland Scots. A year later, his father died. Robert and his brother Gilbert struggled to keep their father's farm. Moving to Mossigel, they held an equally tough battle for four years trying to get by.

During this time, Robert had a love affair with Jean Armour. While with her, he was thinking about moving to Jamaica to become a bookkeeper on a plantation. However, he was quickly persuaded otherwise by a letter from Thomas Blacklock and his brother's suggestion in June 1786 to publish his poems in the volume, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect. The volume included many of his best works including The Twa Dogs, The Address to the Deil, Hallowe'en, The Cottar's Saturday Night, To a Mouse, and The Daisy. Many were written while Burns stayed in Mossgiel. Copies of the book are now extremely scarce costing as much as £550 each.

The volume was a great success. Burns' name was known throughout Scotland. He was even induced to visit Edinburgh to superintend the next edition. While there, he received an equally great welcome by Dugald Stewart, Robertson and Blair. He also made life-long friendships while at Edinburgh, including Lord Glencairn and Mrs. Dunlop.

The new edition of his book brought in £400. And on his return to Ayrshire, he renewed his relationship with Jean Armour, married her, took a farm of Ellisland near Dumfries, and took lessons to be an exciseman incase his farming again proved unsuccessful. With his literature and duties in the Customs and Excise, which he was appointed in 1789, left his farm unsuccessful and in 1791 gave up.

In 1790, Burns' published Tam o' Shanter. Around the same time, he was offered a job on the London Star newspaper and a job as the Chair of Agriculture in the University of Edinburgh, but refused both.

After giving up his farm, Burns' left to Dumfries. While there, he was requested to write for The Melodies of Scotland. In return he contributed over 100 songs and came to the forefront of lyric poets.

As he grew older, Burns became sour and alienated many of his friends; mainly due to his support of the French Revolution. His health began deteriorating and fell into despondency and habits of intemperance.

Robert Burns died on July 21, 1796. Before his death, money from all over Scotland came in to support his widow and children.

Burns is still celebrated by Scots all over the world on his birthday with "Burns suppers."

Poems by Robert Burns


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