Biography

Robert Burns (1759-96) : Born 25 Jan 59 in Alloway, Ayrshire. At Alloway Mill School, he was influenced by literature, while his father instilled religious belief, and his mother made him familiar with folk tradition at an early age. His education suffered some interruptions caused by moving house. In 1781 Burns became a freemason and after his father’s death in 1784. He and his brother rented Mossgiel, a farm near Mauchline. Burns' relationship with Jean Armour, who bore him four children before he married her, nearly forced him to emigrate. Of course his marriage did not stop him from having affairs with other women, such as “Highland Mary” Campbell.

He started writing in 1783, and some of his greatest satirical poems date from that early phase. In 1786, his first collection, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect appeared. An immediate success, it got him the epithet of the “heaven-taught ploughman”. That same year, he came to Edinburgh, where he was greatly admired and embarked on affair with Agnes McElhose.

In 1788, he returned to his family and farm life, and worked as an excise officer from 1789 until his death from rheumatic fever in 1796. His birthday is, to this day, celebrated all over the world. Burns’ work covers a wide range of topics, from idylls, biting satire, Jacobitism, love and passion, to carousing, friendship and nationalism. Of course, he had a sure ear for music and his songs are among the most popular works, as is his long narrative poem Tam O’Shanter.