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Robert Burns

Robert Burns

Robert BurnsRobert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire in 1759. His father, William Burness had seven children of whom Robert was the eldest. They originally lived at the cottage which is now the Burns’ Museum in Alloway, and then moved to Mount Oliphant Farm just outside the village. Even as a child, Robert had to work on the farm and the intensive labouring from an early age left him with a weak heart and general ill health which plagued him throughout his short life.His father taught him arithmetic, geography, and history, and he was tutored by a teacher called John Murdoch who introduced him to Latin and French and extended his knowledge of Maths which later allowed him to get a job as an Excise Man. He still had to work on the farm and he was by all accounts an expert ploughman.By the age of 15, Burns was the principal labourer at Mount Oliphant. During the harvest of 1774 he was assisted by Nelly Kilpatrick (1759-1820), who inspired his first attempt at poetry, O, Once I Lov'd A Bonnie Lass. In the summer of 1775 he was sent to finish his education with a tutor at Kirkoswald, where he met Peggy Thomson (b.1762), to whom he wrote two songs, Now Westlin' Winds and I Dream'd I Lay.When Robbie was 18, his father moved the family from Mount Oliphant, which was difficult to run successfully, to Lochlea, near Tarbolton, where they stayed until William Burness's death in 1784. The family became active members of the community of Tarbolton. In 1780, Robert and his brother Gilbert formed the Tarbolton Bachelor's Club; a year later, Burns became a Freemason at Lodge St David, Tarbolton. He began to write poems and songs in the 1780s.Robert and Gilbert could not run the farm at Lochlea profitably, and after its failure, they moved to a farm at Mossgiel, near Mauchline. Here, Robert met Jean Armour whom he married.He is of course almost as famous for his womanising and drinking as for his poetry.His first illegitimate child, Elizabeth Paton Burns was the child of his mother’s maid, Elizabeth Paton, born about the time that he was courting Jean Armour. Jean bore him twins in 1786, and they were eventually married in 1788. She bore him nine children in total, but only three survived infancy.Burns planned to emigrate to Jamaica, to work as a bookkeeper on a plantation. He was persuaded to stay and published the first of his collections of verse, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish dialect, known as the Kilmarnock Edition). It included well known poems such as The Twa Dogs, The Cotter's Saturday Night, and To a Mouse. The book made him famous across the country.By the end of the year, a revised edition, the first Edinburgh edition, was printed, and he was embraced by polite society and the aristocracy, where his lack of airs and graces was well received. He met James Johnson, a music publisher, with a love of old Scots songs and a determination to preserve them. Burns shared this interest and became an enthusiastic contributor to a series of books called The Scots Musical Museum. He eventually contributed about 200 songs out of the 600 songs in the whole collection.Robert and Jean Armour leased a farm at Ellisland near Dumfries in 1788, but he also trained to be an Excise Man as insurance against another unsuccessful farming venture; he began working for Customs and Excise in 1789 and gave up the farm a couple of years later, moving to Dumfies.He was writing some of his best work; in 1790, he wrote Tam O' Shanter. Burns also worked to collect and preserve Scottish folk songs, and many of his most famous poems are songs with the music based upon older traditional songs, such as Auld Lang Syne and My love is like a Red, Red Rose .Robbie Burns wrote on an amazing range of topics. His themes included republicanism, including the French Revolution which he lived through, Radicalism, Scottish patriotism, anticlericalism, class inequality, gender roles, the Scottish Kirk, Scottish cultural identity, poverty, sex, and having a good time.Burns the MasonRobert Burns was initiated into Lodge St David Tarbolton in 1781, when he was 22. The Lodge closed and he joined its sister Lodge St James Tarbolton Kilwinning number 135.In 1784, Burns became Depute Master, regularly standing in for the local laird as leader of the Lodge until he moved to Dumfries in 1788.In his 30s, Burns health became progressively worse. Although he had a long-standing rheumatic heart condition, his death was probably caused by a bacterial infection following a tooth extraction late in 1795. On the 21st July 1796, he died in Dumfries at the age of 37.