ROBERT BURNS, 1759-1796
His father W. Burns was a hardworking farmer. He knew the value of a
good education and he was determined to give his children the best
There were 7 children in the family and Robert was the eldest. When he
was 6 his father sent him to school to Alloway. His mother’s friend
Betty told him many fantastic tales about devils, ghosts, fairies and
At 13 he was out in the fields all day helping his father, and he
studied nature closely and following the plough, he whistled and sang.
In his songs he spoke of what he saw, of the woods, the fields, the
valleys, of the deer, of the hare and the small field mouse, of the
farmer’s poor cottage home.
Burns began to write poetry in his l6th. His first love song «Handsome
Nell» was dedicated to the girl who helped him in the harvest fields.
Life was hard for the family. His father died 1784. In 1788 Burns
married Jean Armour she is immortalized in many beautiful poems written
by the poet, such as » I LOVE MY JEAN «, » THY BONNIE FACE».
Robert and Jean continued meeting secretly and Robert gave Jean a paper
declaring them man and wife. When Jean’s father learned about it, he
tore the paper up and forbade his daughter to see Robert. Jean obeyed
and Robert being offended by it, swore never to see her again.
One of the finest poems widely popular in Scotland «TAH O’SHANTER’ was
written in 1790. 1793 saw the appearance of the «TREE OF LIBERTY» in
which R. Burns greeted the French Revolution but the poem was published
only 40 years after Burn’s death.
All of R. Burn’s poetry shows him to be one of great masters of lyrical
verse, warm patriot of his native country. He had always stood for
liberty, equality, justice and honesty. His poetry is deeply democratic
and full of criticism directed against the landlords, the government
Our reader finds pleasure in reading Burn’s poems and songs in the
wonderful translation of Samuel Marshak.
Whenever we speak of Scotland, the name of Scotland’s Bard R.Burns is
always there, as the ever-living, never-dying symbol of that country.
The University of South Carolina is marking the bicentenary of Robert
Burns’s death in 1796, not only with an international research
conference on «Robert Burns and Literary Nationalism,» but with a major
exhibition of works by and about the poet, showing selected highlights
from the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burns, Burnsiana and Scottish Poetry.
This extensive collection, acquired from Professor Roy through a
generous gift-purchase agreement in 1989, is now widely recognized as
among the best Burns collections anywhere in North America, and it
regularly attracts to the University researchers from around the world.
It is a special pleasure to me to see the Roy Collection displayed for
the bicentenary, as its acquisition was one of the first goals to be
realized after I became director of the University of South Carolina
The present exhibition, curated by Prof. Roy himself, represents of
course only a very small part of the whole collection, which covers
Scottish poetry from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, with
some earlier items. On-line entries for items in the collection are
available through the University’s USCAN catalogue, and through the
World Wide Web, and a full printed catalogue of the Burns items is now
also in preparation, with Prof. Roy’s help. This exhibit catalogue gives
a sample of what is to come and provides an informative commemoration of
the University’s Robert Burns bicentenary celebrations.
The items chosen for the University’s Robert Burns bicentenary exhibit
have been selected from over four thousand items in the Roy Collection
on Burns alone. In making the selection, the aim has been not only to
display some of the outstanding high points and the rarest items (the
Kilmarnock edition, the 1799 Merry Muses, the letter to Clarinda), but
also to represent some of the different strengths of the collection, as
for instance in sections on the early editions, on the development of
Burns scholarship in the nineteenth century, on Burns chapbooks, on
Burns and Scottish song, and on Burns translations. For the display, but
not in this catalogue, I also included some items, such as postcards,
banknotes and postage stamps, to illustrate the poet’s popular
reputation. The great majority of items have now been transferred with
the Roy Collection to the University of South Carolina Libraries; a few
items on display, notably manuscripts and artifacts, are from my
personal collection, and the postcards were from the collection of
Thomas E. Keith. The items on Burns in America, originally displayed as
part of a small separate exhibit in South Caroliniana Library, have here
been integrated with the main exhibit sequence.
While I have selected the items and provided the descriptions, I should
like to thank Jamie S. Hansen, who coordinated the exhibit for Special
Collections, my wife Lucie who helped with the exhibit planning and with
this catalogue, and Patrick Scott who helped in mounting the exhibit and
in editing. Thanks are due to the South Carolina Humanities Council, a
state-level agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities, for
support of the Burns bicentenary project, and to the Thomas Cooper
Society, for generously funding this exhibit catalogue.