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The History of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Who is Robert Burns?

He is best known as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, Poet Robert Burns is now considered one of the most famous characters of Scotland's cultural history and heritage. Poet Robert Burns began life as just a poor tenant farmer, using his intellectual energy and converting this into poetry and song he has become one of the most famous characters of Scotland's cultural history. Known as Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire, Although best known as one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement for his lyrical poetry and his rewriting of Scottish folk songs, many of which are still well known across the world today. Even since his death his work has continued to inspire founders of both liberalism and socialism.

Where was Robert Burns Born?

Who was Robert Burns Parents?

Born on January 25, 1759, in Alloway, Scotland, Robert Burns was the eldest son of tenant farmers William Burnes and Agnes Broun, who had a total of seven children – Robert, Gilbert, Agnes, Annabella, William, John and Isabella.

His parents manage to afford some basic education for their son, Robert’s parents encouraged him to start reading books by important contemporary writers as well as Shakespeare and Milton.

Robert Burns early life

Poor Burns found farm work demanding and detrimental to this health. Being a young boy on the farm, destine for a life in agriculture. He broke up the drudgery of his day to day work by writing poetry. Toiling away at his father’s farm, he wrote songs to impress girls.

This lead to him acquiring the nickname "Ploughman poet"

Inside Robert+Burns House+Sotland

Robert is also known for founding the ‘Tarbolton Bachelors Club’ with his brother Gilbert Burns and six other friends, used as a debating club and ale house Robert Burns also attended dancing lessons here in 1779, much to his father's annoyance as the poet later recorded:

"In my seventeenth year, to give my manners a brush, I went to a country dancing school. My father had an unaccountable antipathy against these meetings; and my going was, what to this hour I repent, in absolute defiance of his commands. My father, as I said before, was the sport of strong passions; from that instance of rebellion he took a kind of dislike to me..."

The Tarbolton Bachelors Club is where Burns was initiated into Freemasonry in 1781.

Sadly his father died in 1784, worn out and bankrupt, this only served to deepen Burns's critical view of the political establishment and Scotland's rigid class system.

In the years following his farther death 1784 to 1788, Burns engaged in in a string of illicit relationships that led him to having several illegitimate children. it was in In 1785, he fathered his first child, Elizabeth, born out of wedlock to his mother’s servant, Elizabeth Paton, although at the same time he was courting Jean Amour.

When Jean became pregnant, her father unfortunately forbade the two to get married, and Jean honored her father’s wishes, this was only temporarily. Becoming enraged at Jean's rejection, Burns began seeing Mary Campbell and the pair contemplated running away with one another to the Caribbean. A turn of events and the sudden death of Mary of typhoid , changing these plans.

Unbelievably amidst all the domestic chaos in Burns’s life, it was in in July 1786, that he managed to published his first major volume of verse, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Praised for the work by critics, its appeal spanned all the classes of Scottish society. It was with this sudden success, Burns decided to stay in Scotland, moving that November to Edinburgh basking in the glory.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect by Robert Burns, V1
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect by Robert Burns, V1

His achievements and Sudden Fame

Robert did not expect the success, yet the first book brought him enough money and popularity: those who liked the genre were touched by the unknown poet’s works. Thus, Burns could join the Edinburg high society.

Robert Burns sat at his desk in a portrait of him at work
The famous poet Robert Burns at work

During his time in Edinburgh, Burns made many close friends this included Agnes “Nancy” McLehose, the pair exchanged passionate letters, but was unable to consummate the relationship. Frustration turned him to seduce her servant, Jenny Clow, who bore him a son. Burns befriended James Johnson along the way, James a fledgling music publisher, who asked him for help. The result of this was The Scots Musical Museum, a collection of traditional music of Scotland. Growing tired of the urban life, Burns moved to Ellisland in the summer of 1788, where he settled on a farm. This is where he finally married his true love Jean Amour. The couple ultimately went on to have nine children together, sadly only three of whom survived infancy.

Robert Burns farm in Ellisland
Robert Burns farm in Ellisland

However after his move, Burns quit farming for good In 1791 and moved his family to the nearby town of Dumfries. Where he accepted the job of an excise officer (basically a tax collector). He continued to write and collect traditional Scottish songs.

This was also the year he published “Tam O’Shanter,” a slightly veiled autobiographical story of a ne’er-do-well farmer, tis is now considered a masterpiece of narrative poetry.

In 1793 he then contributed to publisher George Thomson’s A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice. This work and The Scots Musical Museum make up the bulk of Burns’s poems and folk songs, these works including the well-known pieces “Auld Lang Syne,” “A Red, Red Rose” and “The Battle of Sherramuir.”

A Red, Red Rose


O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
Though it were ten thousand mile.

His late life and death

During the final three years oh his life, living in poverty. Burns sympathized with the French Revolution abroad and radical reform at home, neither of which was popular with many of his neighbors and friends. Not being in good health, having had several bouts with illness, possibly attributed to a lifelong heart condition.

Sadly on the morning of July 21, 1796, Robert Burns passed away in Dumfries at young age of 37 years old. The funeral that took place on July 25, was also the same day his son Maxwell was born.

Rabbie Burns, the National Bard, Bard of Ayrshire,  Although best known as one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement

The legacy of Robert Burns

Robert Burns will live on in Scottish history for being a man of great intellect and considered a pioneer of the Romantic movement. Many of the early founders of socialism and liberalism found inspiration in his works. Considered the national poet of Scotland, he is celebrated there and around the world every year on "Burns Night,” January 25, his date of birth in 1759.

Did you know?

Our well known New Years Eve song "Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns is really popularity in China, but not as we know it.

The song is known as You Yi Di Jiu Tian Chang or Friendship Forever and Ever.

Most Chinese people would probably be able to hum the tune and sing a few lines of it in Mandarin, but very few will actually be able to sing the whole song.

Even fewer people will have any idea about the song's origins.

The song is frequently played at school and university graduations, other formal gatherings, as well as parties.

Bonus Fact: 'Auld Lang Syne' is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as one of the top three most popular songs in the entire English language

We really hope you enjoyed this tribute to legendary Scotsman and the History of the Scottish Poet Robert Burns .

The celebrating of Burns night is a big night on the Scottish calendar every year on the 25th of January. Read our guide on hosting a exceptionally Scottish Burns Night.

Hairy Haggis Tours provide historical and cultural days out from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, Why not take a look at our tours here, We look forward to seeing you..

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