British and Irish Literature Robert Burns
by
Pauline Mackay
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0122

Introduction

Robert Burns (b. 1759–d. 1796) is the national bard of Scotland and is recognized globally as the country’s most iconic literary figure. Burns was born in Alloway in Ayrshire, the eldest son of William Burnes (b. 1721–d. 1784), a farmer, and Agnes Broun (b. 1732–d. 1820). The family endured great financial hardship, the consequence of failed agricultural ventures at the farms of Mossgiel and Lochlea. However, Burns’s father insisted on the necessity of education and arranged for Burns’s tuition by schoolmaster John Murdoch (b. 1747–d. 1824). Burns was a keen scholar, and his vast reading clearly informed his literary output. As a founder of the Tarbolton Bachelors’ Club, a distinguished Freemason, and a member of convivial gentlemen’s clubs such as the Crochallan Fencibles in Edinburgh, the poet pursued his passion for intellectual debate and homosocial culture. Profoundly religious in his own way, Burns often courted the disapproval of the Presbyterian Kirk owing to his dalliances with the opposite sex (he fathered at least twelve children with at least five women). However, such relationships yielded a wealth of material for Burns’s poetic consideration of love, gender, and sexuality, as well as witty and scathing religious satires such as “The Fornicator’ and “The Holy Fair.” Burns eventually married Jean Armour (b. 1767–d. 1834), following a fraught relationship which culminated in the poet’s proposed emigration to Jamaica in 1786. However, Burns was encouraged to remain in Scotland following the success of his first collection, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which met with emphatic critical acclaim and prompted Burns’s lionization by the Scottish literati. Consequently, Burns successfully produced an extended publication from Edinburgh in 1787 (reprinted in several editions thereafter). Despite his literary success, Burns returned to farming at Ellisland in Dumfries in 1788, and it was there that he produced what is perhaps his most famous work, “Tam o’ Shanter” (1790). However, his agricultural ventures continued to be plagued by misfortune. He eventually secured work as a government exciseman (a job to ensure that people paid their taxes, particularly where related to alcohol) in 1791, an appointment that was endangered on at least one occasion owing to Burns’s complex political predilections and sympathetic poetical treatment of Republicanism at the time of the French Revolution. Burns’s literary output in his later years largely centered on his activities as a writer and collector of songs for Scots Musical Museum by James Johnson (b. 1787–d. 1803) and Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs by George Thomson (b. 1792–d. 1851). Burns died from a recurring medical complaint at the age of just thirty-seven. The diversity of Burns’s extensive oeuvre is reflected in the multifarious critical examination of the poet’s life and legacy, which pays tribute to Burns’s status as a national poet and international literary figure and demonstrates his cultural importance as a proto-Romantic and an author of the Scottish Enlightenment.

General Overviews

A vast number of studies providing overviews of Robert Burns’s literary output have been produced since the beginning of the 19th century; therefore, the selections in this section have been selected as representative examples. Carruthers 2006, Crawford 1960, and McGuirk 2014 are scholarly, yet highly readable, introductions that, owing to their close engagement with Burns’s works and attention to his historical and cultural contexts, will prove useful to students and researchers alike. Daiches 1952 scrutinizes the verses selected by Burns for inclusion in his Kilmarnock volume and goes on to consider works that were initially omitted, offering the reader an insight into the decisions made by the poet in producing his first collected edition. This, taken together with Daiches’s consideration of Burns’s activities as a writer and collector of songs, allows the reader to draw conclusions about Burns as an editor as well as an author. Angellier 1893 is the first and most extensive European critical study of the poet’s biography and literary canon. However, this text is frequently criticized as a melodramatic and overly sentimental interpretation of Burns’s life and works. As a part of such a critique, Hecht 1991 seeks to debunk the inaccuracies and myths repeated and propelled by 19th-century critics and biographers.

  • Angellier, Auguste. Robert Burns: La vie, les œuvres. 2 vols. Paris: Hachette, 1893.

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    A French-language study, the first volume examines Burns’s biography, whereas the second provides a critical interpretation of his literature. Useful as an overview, this study is also significant as an example of 19th-century European critics’ treatment of the poet and his works. An important text for those studying Burns’s reception outside of Scotland.

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    • Carruthers, Gerard. Robert Burns. Tavistock, UK: Northcote, 2006.

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      A broad and accessible introduction to Burns studies for both students and researchers, this thematic study of Burns’s works examines the poet’s religious and political predilections, his satires, and his love poetry, while situating Burns within his cultural and national contexts as both a Scottish and a British writer.

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      • Crawford, Thomas. Burns: A Study of the Poems and Songs. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1960.

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        This text is remarkable for Crawford’s extensive and thoroughly enjoyable close reading of Burns’s poetry and song, carefully contextualized and complemented by an extensive glossary and phonetic guide to help readers understand Burns’s use of the Scots language.

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        • Daiches, David. Robert Burns. London: Bell, 1952.

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          Daiches’s study makes a particular effort to couch Burns within the Scottish literary tradition and to consider the poet’s creative output with reference to the production of his first published edition, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Wilson, 1787), as well as his activities as a writer and collector of songs.

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          • Hecht, Hans. Robert Burns: The Man and His Work. Translated by Jane Lymburn. Ayr, Scotland: Alloway, 1991.

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            Initially published in Germany in 1919, Hecht’s study is a highly readable biography that incorporates critical interpretations of selected excerpts from Burns’s poetry and prose. Hecht does much to correct inaccuracies previously reiterated by 18th- and 19th-century critics and biographers regarding the poet’s life and character. This book also contains a carefully categorized bibliography.

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            • McGuirk, Carol. Reading Robert Burns: Texts, Contexts, Transformations. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014.

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              A recently published critical overview of Burns’s works, McGuirk’s study approaches the bard’s literary skill and complexity, paying particular attention to the relationship between Burns’s poetry and song, his use of both Scots and English, and the influence of Burns’s works on later significant literary figures, including William Wordsworth.

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              Biography

              Although many biographies of Robert Burns have been published, representations of the poet’s life and character are extremely varied and not always reliable. The 19th-century biographers of Burns tended to omit or emphatically regret aspects of the poet’s life (for example, his enjoyment of convivial male company, his relationships with women, and his sexual promiscuity) that would have compromised Burns’s status as the widely acclaimed Scottish national bard or, indeed, rendered the publications themselves in any way unappealing to a general readership. Lockhart 1914, which erroneously suggests that Burns was dissipated by an unhealthy consumption of alcohol, is an example of this. First printed in 1828, Lockhart’s account became the standard biography of Burns for a large part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Snyder 1932, for the most part, presents a sensitive study of the poet’s life founded on notable scholarship and does much to dispel several myths perpetuated by 19th-century predecessors. Crawford 2009, however, points out that, on occasion, Snyder’s research leads him to the wrong conclusion. Indeed, Crawford 2009 and Ferguson 1939 are highly readable, objective, and erudite studies. Mackay 1993 provides a wealth of factual information and supporting quotation and is therefore useful as a reference volume. Carswell 1990 was, on its first publication in 1930, a groundbreaking, albeit semi-fictional, novelistic biography which, along with McIntyre 1995, will appeal mainly to a general readership and to scholars and researchers studying Burns’s memorialization.

              • Carswell, Catherine. The Life of Robert Burns. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1990.

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                Although engaging, the reader should be aware that Carswell’s novelistic treatment of Burns’s biography contains significant exaggerations and, indeed, fictions. This was the first biography of Burns from a female perspective, and Carswell is frequently commended by critics for presenting a frank discussion of the poet’s character and sexual digressions. Originally published in 1930.

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                • Crawford, Robert. The Bard: Robert Burns, a Biography. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009.

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                  The most recently published biography, Crawford’s study is both well written and intellectually astute. Crawford’s consideration of the poet’s life is incisive and fluent in its presentation of factual information. This book is therefore useful for students and researchers, but it will also appeal to the wider readership of Burns enthusiasts.

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                  • Ferguson, J. DeLancey. Pride and Passion: Robert Burns, 1759–1796. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939.

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                    Informative and astute, Ferguson’s biography incorporates a contextual and critical framework and is particularly instructive regarding Burns’s political predilections and the poet’s often contradictory character (as reflected in his works).

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                    • Lockhart, John Gibson. The Life of Robert Burns, Edited with Notes and Appendices by William Scott Douglas and an Essay on Robert Burns by Sir Walter Raleigh. 2 vols. Liverpool, UK: Henry Young, 1914.

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                      Initially published in 1828 and followed by multiple reprints, Lockhart’s study became the standard biography of Burns’s life for a large part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is therefore invaluable in understanding the poet’s reception among the wider readership of that era, although readers should be aware that Lockhart perpetuates several inaccuracies concerning Burns’s private life.

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                      • Mackay, James. Burns: A Biography of Robert Burns. London: Headline, 1993.

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                        An extensive account of Burns’s life in over 700 pages, Mackay incorporates a significant amount of secondary material and factual information. Although its reception among scholars and critics has been mixed, Mackay’s biography is nonetheless useful as a reference volume, if not exactly a fluent read from cover-to-cover.

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                        • McIntyre, Ian. Dirt & Deity: A Life of Robert Burns. London: HarperCollins, 1995.

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                          McIntyre’s consideration of Burns’s life incorporates a close examination of the poet’s works and is sensitive to his historical and social context. Highly readable, this biography will appeal to those new to Burns studies who require a general (and relatively brief) account of his life and works.

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                          • Snyder, Franklyn Bliss. The Life of Robert Burns. New York: Macmillan, 1932.

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                            This extensively researched and relatively balanced account of Burns’s life and works does much to dispel the myths propagated by 19th-century biographers. Despite some factual errors (which have since been identified and rectified), Snyder’s groundbreaking biography is regarded as an important milestone in the scholarly consideration of Burns.

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                            Collections of Essays

                            Several collections of essays examine and reflect the diversity of Robert Burns’s literary works and offer differing perspectives regarding the poet’s life, artistic output, and cultural and historical contexts. The collections cited in this section are all notable for their scholarship and accessibility. Produced to mark the 250th anniversary of Burns’s birth, Carruthers 2009 and Rodger and Carruthers 2009 are recently published general collections. Both are popular among academics, students, and the general readership for their diversity of subjects and fresh perspectives couched in erudite scholarship. The same may be said of Pittock 2011, the first edited collection to examine Robert Burns in a global cultural context and essential reading for those who wish to have a better understanding of Burns’s status as an international poet. Crawford 1997 and Jack and Noble 1982 offer more thematically focused collections, whereas Low 1975, McGuirk 1998, and Simpson 1997 offer diverse and intellectually stimulating treatments of Burns’s wide and varied canon.

                            • Carruthers, Gerard, ed. The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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                              Thirteen articles by prominent Burns scholars offer a wide range of critical perspectives on Burns’s canon, as well as his historical, cultural, and literary contexts. Included are considerations of Burns and his publishing history, thematic treatments of his poetry and song, and critical examinations of intertextuality, narrative, and Romanticism in Burns’s works.

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                              • Crawford, Robert, ed. Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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                                This collection of twelve essays by recognized Burns scholars considers Burns’s canon in relation to literary and social institutions from the 18th to the 20th century and addresses a wide range of topics including the influence of Burns’s literary predecessors, gender, politics, religion, and the reception of Burns among 20th-century literary figures.

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                                • Jack, R. D. S., and Andrew Noble, eds. The Art of Robert Burns. London: Vision, 1982.

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                                  This collection of nine critical essays provides detailed analysis of the literary forms found across the body of Burns’s work. From satire to narrative, love composition, and the influence of sentimental authors, this collection is a survey of Burns’s various literary modes and personae.

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                                  • Low, Donald A., ed. Critical Essays on Robert Burns. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

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                                    Ten essays survey Burns’s literary canon, from his correspondence to language, song, and poetry. This volume also offers considerations of the poet’s influence and reception. Although an older collection, astute critical treatments by leading 20th-century Burns scholars ensure that the articles contained therein still have currency in the critical field.

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                                    • McGuirk, Carol, ed. Critical Essays on Robert Burns. New York: Hall, 1998.

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                                      A collection of sixteen essays written by prominent Burns scholars worldwide, this collection surveys the main preoccupations of Burns’s literature and offers modern critical considerations of the poet’s works and reception.

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                                      • Pittock, Murray, ed. Robert Burns in Global Culture. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2011.

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                                        The product of research carried out by members of the Global Burns Network, sponsored by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, leading Burns scholars offer fourteen essays examining Burns’s global influence, his worldwide reception, and his links to international literature.

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                                        • Rodger, Johnny, and Gerard Carruthers, eds. Fickle Man: Robert Burns in the 21st Century. Dingwall, Scotland: Sandstone, 2009.

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                                          A selection of eighteen essays by leading Burns scholars broadly categorized in three sections: “The Image of Burns,” “Burns and the Enlightenment,” and “Burns Abroad.” This collection reflects the diversity of the poet’s literary canon and provides an essential scholarly survey of contemporary critics’ approaches to Burns’s life and works.

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                                          • Simpson, Kenneth, ed. Love and Liberty: Robert Burns; A Bicentenary Celebration. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell, 1997.

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                                            A collection of thirty-two essays produced to mark the bicentenary of Robert Burns’s death, this volume is comprised of papers from a host of international Burns scholars. Essays range from critical and interpretative examinations of Burns’s works to considerations of his influence, translation, reception, and biography.

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                                            Principal Editions

                                            Robert Burns’s works have been reproduced in many editions since the first publication of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (commonly referred to as the “Kilmarnock edition”) in 1786. With the exception of this edition and the expanded publication of the same name published in Edinburgh in 1787 (reproduced in several print runs thereafter), all later editions of Burns’s work are posthumous. The editions of poetry, song, and correspondence catalogued in this section have been selected for their significance in constructing and disseminating Burns’s canon and for their accessibility and usefulness to both a scholarly and general audience. Those editions that are considered to be definitive by current scholars are marked as such, although it should be noted that an updated comprehensive and definitive edition of his poetry, song, prose, and correspondence is now required. This is being addressed by researchers at the University of Glasgow who are in the process of producing the new, multivolume Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns; Nigel Leask edited the first volume: Commonplace Books, Tour Journals, and Miscellaneous Prose (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014)

                                            Poetry and Song

                                            The first publications of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (referred to as the “Kilmarnock edition”) (Burns 1786) and Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (referred to as the “Edinburgh edition”) (Burns 1787) are included in this section owing to their importance as contemporary volumes and, particularly, because Robert Burns himself was seriously engaged in the editorial process. Currie 1800 is important as it is the first extensive posthumous collection of Burns’s works and correspondence. Currie presented readers with a significant amount of previously unseen material and laid the foundations for the posthumous construction and reception of Burns’s literary canon. Kinsley 1968 is, as of the early 21st century, the most extensive and authoritative scholarly edition of Burns’s works (both poetry and song), whereas Crawford and MacLachlan 2009 and McGuirk 1993 are impressive scholarly editions of Burns’s selected works that are manageable and particularly useful as teaching resources and/or introductions to his poetry and song. Low 1993 focuses on Burns’s activities as an avid collector and composer of songs, and the inclusion of musical scores makes this a useful resource for both literary enthusiasts and musicians. Finally, Burns 1999 is included as a reproduction of the unofficial 1799 volume of bawdy songs, which has a proven association with Burns, and as the most reliable of several publications bearing the same name (many of which became contaminated with songs of dubious provenance throughout the 19th century).

                                            • Burns, Robert. Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Wilson, 1786.

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                                              The poet’s first published edition, which includes a preface and glossary by Burns. A very rare edition, only 612 copies were printed, of which fewer than one hundred are known to be extant. Conveniently reproduced in facsimile. Available online.

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                                              • Burns, Robert. Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Edinburgh: Creech, 1787.

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                                                Encouraged by the success of the Kilmarnock edition, Burns had this second extended edition published in Edinburgh in 1787. This volume includes some twenty-two additional poems and songs, including several scathing satires, which Burns had refrained from publishing in 1786. Conveniently reproduced in facsimile. See Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

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                                                • Crawford, Robert, and Christopher MacLachlan, eds. The Best Laid Schemes: Selected Poetry and Prose of Robert Burns. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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                                                  A concise and informative introduction charts Burns’s development as a poet and songwriter, followed by a wide-ranging selection of Burns’s poetry and prose from his Commonplace Book and correspondence. The collection boasts five “rediscovered’ poems transcribed from manuscripts in Burns’s holograph.

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                                                  • Currie, James, ed. The Works of Robert Burns: With an Account of His Life, and a Criticism on His Writings, to which Are Prefixed Some Observations on the Character and Condition of the Scottish Peasantry. 4 vols. Liverpool: Cadell & Davis, 1800.

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                                                    The first posthumous edition of the bard’s life and works, compiled with the assistance of Burns’s family and contemporaries. Although scholarship has demonstrated that this is a cautious edition that omits several important works, it is a useful volume for scholars and researchers studying Burns and his publishing history and reception. Conveniently reproduced in facsimile. See Eighteenth Century Collections Online.

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                                                    • Kinsley, James, ed. The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.

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                                                      Considered the definitive published edition as of the early 21st century, Kinsley provides the most extensive range of Burns’s poetry and song, arranged chronologically as far as possible and with information regarding variant texts. The third volume is comprised of extensive annotation and information regarding the archival and publishing history of the texts.

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                                                      • Low, Donald, ed. The Songs of Robert Burns. London: Routledge, 1993.

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                                                        An extensive edition of Burns’s songs comprised of his individually composed songs, as well as those collected and produced for George Thomson’s Select Collection and James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum. Songs are accompanied by music and a useful critical apparatus.

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                                                        • McGuirk, Carol, ed. Robert Burns: Selected Poems. London: Penguin, 1993.

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                                                          This selection of Burns’s poetry and song is accompanied by a useful glossary, musical scores where applicable, and erudite notes. A scholarly yet manageable and accessible edition, this collection is particularly useful for students and as a teaching resource.

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                                                          • Burns, Robert. The Merry Muses of Caledonia: A Collection of Favourite Scots Songs, Ancient and Modern: Selected for Use of the Croghallan Fencibles. Introduced by G. Ross Roy. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1999.

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                                                            A facsimile reprint of the only complete 1799 edition in existence. This collection of bawdy songs has been attributed to Burns. As the earliest known publication, it is considered the most reliable. Subsequent editions contain additions of dubious provenance. A pamphlet, provided with the facsimile, helps to explain the complex book history of this volume.

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                                                            Correspondence and Prose

                                                            Leask 2014 represents a milestone in Burns scholarship in that it is the first edition to compile Burns’s miscellaneous prose writings and present them to the public in edited form. The other citations in this section represent the sum of correspondence to and from Robert Burns that has been published as of the early 21st century. Roy and Ferguson 1985 is the most comprehensive collection of Burns’s correspondence as of the early 21st century. O’Rourke 2000 and Stewart 2009 focus particularly on Burns’s epistolary relationship with Agnes M’Lehose (who wrote to Burns using the nom d’amour “Clarinda”), whereas Wallace 2009 presents Burns’s correspondence with an older female patron, Mrs. Frances Anna Dunlop. It should be noted, however, that new correspondence has been discovered, but a publication of all extant correspondence to Robert Burns has yet to be undertaken. As such, these publications do not represent the entirety of extant letters, something that will be rectified by Leask 2014.

                                                            • Leask, Nigel, ed. The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns. Vol. 1, Commonplace Books, Tour Journals, and Miscellaneous Prose. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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                                                              Presents Burns’s prose writings, transcribed (wherever possible) from original manuscripts. Contains unique drafts of many of the poet’s most important poems and songs, and offers a fascinating insight into his creative process. Includes an introductory essay, head notes, and full scholarly annotations connecting Burns’s prose to his life, poetry, and correspondence.

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                                                              • O’Rourke, Donny, ed. Ae Fond Kiss: The Love Letters of Robert Burns and Clarinda. Edinburgh: Mercat, 2000.

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                                                                This edition of Burns’s sentimental correspondence with Agnes M’Lehose is reprinted from the 1843 publication edited by W. C. M’Lehose. These letters are particularly valuable as an example of Burns’s sentimental writing, as well as for the fact that this epistolary relationship inspired two of Burns’s most famous works: “Ae Fond Kiss” and “O My Luve’s Like a Red, Red Rose.”

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                                                                • Roy, G. Ross, and J. DeLancey Ferguson, eds. The Letters of Robert Burns. 2d ed. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1985.

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                                                                  Considered the definitive published edition as of the early 21st century, Roy and Ferguson provide the most extensive collection of letters written by Burns, arranged chronologically as far as possible. This edition also includes a useful introduction and a table of correspondents, together with brief biographies for each.

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                                                                  • Stewart, Thomas, ed. Letters Addressed to Clarinda, & c. Introduction by G. Ross Roy. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009.

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                                                                    A facsimile reprint of the pirated edition of Burns’s correspondence with Agnes M’Lehose first published in 1802 by Glasgow bookseller Thomas Stewart. The 1802 edition prompted the only major court case regarding the posthumous publication of Burns’s papers. Includes images of related manuscripts held in the G. Ross Roy collection.

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                                                                    • Wallace, William, ed. Robert Burns and Mrs. Dunlop: Correspondence Now Published in Full for the First Time. 2 vols. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2009.

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                                                                      A facsimile reprint of Burns’s correspondence with Frances Anna Dunlop (b. 1739–d. 1815), a patron of Burns with whom he corresponded regarding both his life and work. First edited and published by Wallace in 1898, it should be noted that this edition does not include all extant letters between Burns and Dunlop.

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                                                                      Bibliographies, Indexes, and Catalogues

                                                                      This section details useful bibliographical publications. Dawson 2006 indexes articles about Robert Burns and his commemoration by the Robert Burns World Federation, Egerer 1964 offers a chronological bibliography of Burns’s work, and Robotham 1998 records Burns’s own reading and in doing so provides an essential frame of reference for those studying Burns’s works and influences. Fisher 1996, Sudduth 2009, Rogers 1948, and Watkins 2008 catalogue significant Burns collections worldwide and offer useful information for researchers regarding the whereabouts of rare editions, manuscripts, and associated Burnsiana.

                                                                      • Dawson, Bill, compiler. A Directory to the Articles and Features Published in “The Burns Chronicle” 1892–2005. Cornwall, UK: Exposure, 2006.

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                                                                        An index to the only specific Burns periodical, this is a very useful resource for researchers wishing to mine the extensive Burns Chronicle, although it should be noted that the periodical continues to be published, and therefore this index is now outdated.

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                                                                        • Egerer, J. W. A Bibliography of Robert Burns. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964.

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                                                                          A useful, if now outdated, chronological bibliography of published editions of Burns’s works, known translations, and original material first published in periodicals, beginning with the Kilmarnock edition in 1786 and concluding in 1964.

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                                                                          • Fisher, Joe, ed. Catalogue of Robert Burns Collection, The Mitchell Library, Glasgow. Glasgow: Glasgow City Libraries and Archives, 1996.

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                                                                            This publication catalogues one of the largest collections of Burns-related publications, rare first editions, manuscripts, and Burnsiana, in general, in the world. Items are categorized very usefully. Although extensive, the Mitchell Library’s collection continues to grow, and this catalogue is now outdated.

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                                                                            • Robotham, John. “The Reading of Robert Burns.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Carol McGuirk, 281–297. New York: Hall, 1998.

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                                                                              A very useful bibliography of the bard’s reading, compiled from references in Burns’s works. Entries appear with information referring the reader to Burns’s association with each individual text. This is essential reading for any researcher investigating influence and intertextuality in Burns’s literary canon.

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                                                                              • Rogers, Bruce, ed. Robert Burns, 1759–1796: A Collection of Original Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, First Editions and Association Copies. Philadelphia: Rosenbach, 1948.

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                                                                                An extensively annotated catalogue of the holdings at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. This publication also includes facsimile images from holograph manuscripts of Burns’s “Tam o’ Shanter,” “Bannockburn,” and “For a’ That and a’ That.”

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                                                                                • Sudduth, Elizabeth A. The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns An Illustrated Catalogue. Compiled by Elizabeth A. Sudduth, with the assistance of Clayton Tarr. Introduction by G. Ross Roy and foreword by Thomas F. McNally. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009.

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                                                                                  This publication catalogues one of the largest collections of Burns-related publications (including rare first editions and manuscripts) outside of Scotland and incorporates several facsimile images of manuscripts and title pages.

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                                                                                  • Watkins, Larissa P. Burnsiana: A Bibliography of the William R. Smith Collection in the Library of the Supreme Council, 33º, S.J. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2008.

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                                                                                    This publication catalogues another significant collection of Burns-related publications held outside of Scotland and includes prefatory materials regarding Burns’s activities as a Freemason and his ongoing associations with Freemasonry both in Scotland and in the United States.

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                                                                                    Translations

                                                                                    Although the multitude of publications of Burns’s poetry, song, and correspondence have been produced in English, no fewer than 3,045 foreign-language translations of his works have been recorded in the National Library of Scotland’s Robert Burns 1759–1796, which is a reflection of the poet’s status as a global figure and the universal appeal of his literary canon. As the limits of this article do not permit citations representative of each individual language, readers are directed to the Bibliography of Scottish Literature website.

                                                                                    • Robert Burns 1759–1796. Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation. National Library of Scotland.

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                                                                                      This fully searchable catalogue of 3,045 known translations of Robert Burns’s works will prove useful to international readers, as well as researchers interested in foreign language translations of Burns. This record also functions as a useful index of the Scottish national bard’s global reception.

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                                                                                      Journals and Special Issues

                                                                                      The Burns Chronicle, which has been published fairly consistently from 1892 to the early 21st century, is the only Burns-specific journal in production. Its appeal extends to the general public, Burns enthusiasts worldwide, and scholars wishing to trace archival/biographical information or to understand Robert Burns’s popular appeal. Beyond this, the upsurge of scholarly interest in Burns in recent years has merited the production of special Burns issues of major journals. The Special Issue: Byron and Burns published the proceedings of the Burns and Byron Conference on the activities of the Global Burns Network and hosted by the University of Manchester in December 2010 (Special Issue: Byron and Burns), whereas a 1998 issue of Studies in Scottish Literature draws together the proceedings of several conferences held in celebration of the bicentenary of Burns’s death in 1996.

                                                                                      • Burns Chronicle. 1892–.

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                                                                                        Published from Kilmarnock by the Robert Burns World Federation, the Burns Chronicle contains updates of events supported by Burns Clubs worldwide, records of various Burns-related discoveries and articles of interest, as well as scholarly essays. This is a useful resource for anyone studying the popular and/or scholarly perception of the bard, his life, and works.

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                                                                                        • Special Issue: Byron and Burns. The Byron Journal 39.2 (2011).

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                                                                                          Contains five specially commissioned essays on Lord Byron and Robert Burns from a conference held at the Byron Centre, University of Manchester, 4–5 December 2010. Discusses the fundamental connections between the authors with reference to nostalgia, the baroque, sublime, carnivalesque, and material culture. Available online by subscription.

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                                                                                          • Studies in Scottish Literature 30.1 (1998).

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                                                                                            Twenty-nine articles address Burns’s influence, reception, and biography; Burns and the vernacular; and Burns’s songs and musical settings. An important milestone in Burns studies, the collection makes explicit the diversity of critical perspectives on Burns at the end of the 20th century and foregrounds a significant upsurge in the critical treatment of Burns moving into the 21st century.

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                                                                                            Critical Commentary

                                                                                            This section is comprised of studies and contextual resources categorized according to the various critical approaches to Burns’s oeuvre and its reception. Although Pittock 2003 and Pittock 2008 (cited under Literary and Cultural Contexts) rightly posit that Burns was marginalized from 1945 on and point to a distinct decline in the scholarly treatment of Burns since the 1960s, there has been a resurgence in Robert Burns studies in the 21st century. In addition to the references in this article that represent Burns scholarship in the 20th and 21st centuries, there has been an upsurge in the scholarly treatment of the bard since the 250th anniversary of his birth in 2009 with the publication of several major essay collections, in addition to numerous monographs and individual articles. In recent years, critics have explored Burns’s status as the Scottish national bard and have argued convincingly for the poet’s place among the major authors of the Enlightenment and Romantic period, both in Scotland and elsewhere. This article does not include an exhaustive bibliography due to space limitations. However, the works that have been selected illuminate Burns’s political and religious predilections, his use of language and style in both the Scots vernacular and English, his penchant for bawdy and humorous writing, his complex and often contradictory attitude toward gender and sexuality, his status as one of the most significant collectors and writers of song in the 18th century, and his remarkable reception and afterlife which is, in many ways, as fascinating as his biography and literary output.

                                                                                            Literary and Cultural Contexts

                                                                                            The critically astute studies cited in this section offer an examination of Burns’s body of work in the context of particular literary and cultural spaces and movements. As such, these references will prove useful for an in-depth understanding of Burns’s literary and cultural background. Whatley 1994 situates Burns in a Scottish social historical context, whereas Pittock 2003, Pittock 2008, and Leask 2011 offer a broader examination of Burns in the context of British and Irish Romanticism, confirming Burns’s place among the great Romantic authors. McGuirk 1985, Andrews 2004, and Leask 2010 take three very different approaches to Burns as an author of the Scottish Enlightenment, highlighting his diversity as an author with multifarious literary voices ranging from the sentimental, 18th-century “man of feeling,” the intellectually astute “ploughman poet,” and the convivial, clubbable wit.

                                                                                            • Andrews, Corey. Literary Nationalism in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Club Poetry. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2004.

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                                                                                              Examines Burns’s poetic output in the context of Scottish, homosocial, club culture and offers a new perspective on Burns’s social and intellectual motivations for producing poetry and song by focusing on his relationship to Freemasonry and the Caledonian Hunt, as well as his membership in the Edinburgh gentleman’s club, the Crochallan Fencibles.

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                                                                                              • Leask, Nigel. Robert Burns and Pastoral: Poetry and Improvement in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199572618.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Considers the way in which Burns’s works engage with the experience of rural modernity between 1760 and 1800, setting the poet in the context of the Scottish and European Enlightenment. Demonstrates Burns’s sophistication as a poet and social commentator, as well as his significance as a proto-Romantic author.

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                                                                                                • Leask, Nigel. “Robert Burns and Romanticism in Britain and Ireland.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Romanticism. Edited by Murray Pittock, 127–138. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                  This essay argues that Burns was a key figure in the development of British and Irish Romanticism with reference to his poetry and song and considers Burns’s reception among other major Romantic literary figures.

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                                                                                                  • McGuirk, Carol. Robert Burns and the Sentimental Era. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                    Examines and situates Burns’s writing within the context of “sentimental” writing, and considers the influence of authors such as Henry MacKenzie, Laurence Sterne, James Thomson, and Alexander Pope on his literary output.

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                                                                                                    • Pittock, Murray. “Robert Burns and British Poetry.” In Proceedings of the British Academy. Vol. 121. 191–211. Chatterton Lecture on Poetry 2002, 2003.

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                                                                                                      Argues that, despite the enthusiasm of earlier scholars, Burns’s centrality as an international literary figure and major British poet became marginalized after 1945. Considers the reasons for the decline in the scholarly treatment of Burns’s work with close reference to his poetry. Emphasizes Burns’s diversity as an author, arguing that scholars must reclaim his reputation as a significant British poet.

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                                                                                                      • Pittock, Murray. Scottish and Irish Romanticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199232796.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        Contrasts Burns’s popularity and international reception with the decline in scholarly treatment since 1960, arguing that assessments of Burns as a “peasant poet” are misleading and underestimate the linguistic sophistication of his canon. Argues that Burns’s poetry may be read as a prelude to that of William Wordsworth.

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                                                                                                        • Whatley, Christopher A. “Burns: Work, Kirk and Community in Later Eighteenth-Century Scotland.” In Burns Now. Edited by Kenneth Simpson, 92–116. Edinburgh: Canongate Academic, 1994.

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                                                                                                          Examines Burns’s life and literary canon in the context of Scottish social history. Points to new, contemporary understandings of 18th-century social history and offers an alternative understanding of Burns’s social context in response to the “changing historical landscape,” with reference to his literature.

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                                                                                                          Influence

                                                                                                          Burns was an extremely well-read individual. This is reflected in his correspondence, in which he praises the work of several significant literary predecessors, and also in his poetry and song, in which their influence might be clearly observed. The studies cited in this section make convincing arguments for influence on, and intertextuality within, Burns’s works and will therefore prove useful for students and scholars of Burns, as well as those with a scholarly interest in the authors who inspired the bard’s oeuvre. Crawford 1997 takes as his subject the profound influence of Edinburgh poet Robert Fergusson (b. 1750–d. 1774), who informed Burns’s use of the Scots vernacular and directly inspired several of Burns’s most famous works, whereas Stafford 2000 demonstrates the influence on Burns of William Shakespeare (b. 1564–d. 1616). Mackay 2011 draws attention to some less well-known intertextual connections in Burns’s work with particular reference to the poet’s knowledge of French literature, whereas Stafford and Sergeant 2012 provides a broader, book-length overview of literary influences on Burns as well as his influence on later writers.

                                                                                                          • Crawford, Robert. “Robert Fergusson’s Robert Burns.” In Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Edited by Robert Crawford, 1–22. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                            Considers Robert Fergusson’s influence on Burns with reference to the major works of both poets. Argues that Fergusson influenced Burns’s use of vernacular, tone, and even subject and takes as a particular focus the poets’ mutual interest in homosocial culture and 18th-century club society.

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                                                                                                            • Mackay, Pauline. “Enlightened Religion and Enlightened Sex: Robert Burns and His French Contemporaries.” In Robert Burns in Global Culture. Edited by Murray Pittock, 123–138. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                              Considers and explains the influence of the work of Jean-François Marmontel (b. 1723–d. 1799) on Burns’s religious outlook (as expressed in his correspondence) and the influence of Charles Collé (b. 1709–d. 1783) on his sexually explicit religious satire. Identifies two previously unacknowledged textual sources for Burns’s writing.

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                                                                                                              • Stafford, Fiona. Starting Lines in Scottish, Irish, and English Poetry: From Burns to Heaney. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                Chapter 2, “Scottish Bards and English Epitaphs,” considers Burns’s use of Shakespeare, demonstrating that Shakespeare had a profound influence on the Scottish bard. It is argued that Burns’s poetic voice can be considered in parallel with Shakespeare’s. Particular attention is paid to King Lear and Burns’s “A Winter Night.”

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                                                                                                                • Stafford, Fiona, and David Sergeant, eds. Burns and Other Poets. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                  This collection features seventeen essays from leading Burns scholars that examine the poet’s relationship to the work of his Scottish, English, and Irish literary predecessors, contemporaries, and heirs. Provides significant close readings of Burns’s literary canon, situating the poet in the wider context of Scottish, English, and Irish literary culture.

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                                                                                                                  Reception

                                                                                                                  Robert Burns is one of the world’s most widely read poets. Taken together, the following references provide an overview of his reception from the time of his first publication in the 18th century to the early 21st century, to commentators publishing in the Scottish periodical press, and to translators, publishers, and critics worldwide. Low 1974 records the early reception of Burns’s works in literary reviews, the periodical press, and the correspondence of significant cultural and literary figures to the mid-19th century. Alker, et al. 2012 and Pittock 2014 provide an insight into Burns’s worldwide popularity and his status as one of the world’s most famous poets, whereas Vid 2011 is a focused study that examines Burns’s reception in Russia and the adaptation of his works for a specifically Russian audience. These texts will prove useful to scholars and enthusiasts who wish to learn more about Burns’s popularity as a Scottish cultural icon and his phenomenal international success.

                                                                                                                  • Alker, Sharon, Leith Davis, and Holly Faith Nelson, eds. Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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                                                                                                                    Fourteen critical essays by prominent Burns scholars from around the globe examine Burns’s reception and representation in the Unites States, Canada, and Latin America and consider the Scottish national bard’s impact on transatlantic cultural understanding.

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                                                                                                                    • Low, Donald A., ed. Robert Burns: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974.

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                                                                                                                      A record of the reception of Burns among his contemporaries and his reception among notable literary figures and critics to the mid-19th century. This volume is a collection of excerpts from several rare publications and periodicals and is therefore an invaluable resource for students and scholars alike.

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                                                                                                                      • Pittock, Murray, ed. The Reception of Robert Burns in Europe. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

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                                                                                                                        Fourteen essays by leading Burns scholars examine the cultural impact of Burns across Europe from the 18th century to the early 21st century. Prefaced by a timeline of the reception of Burns in Europe, with a critical introduction that contextualizes the translation of Burns’s oeuvre and his popularity beyond Scotland.

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                                                                                                                        • Vid, Natalia Kaloh. Ideological Translations of Robert Burns’s Poetry in Russia and in the Soviet Union. Maribor, Slovenia: Filozofska Fakulteta Univerza v Mariboru, 2011.

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                                                                                                                          This study surveys the popularity of Burns in Russia and in the Soviet Union, while demonstrating the numerous adaptations to Burns’s works that were motivated by ideology, editorial politics, and the prospect of censorship.

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                                                                                                                          Song

                                                                                                                          The following studies will prove useful to scholars, musicologists, and performers interested in Burns’s prolific activities as a writer and collector of Scottish song. Daiches 1975 and Pittock 1997 offer two considerably different treatments of Burns’s political and creative motivations in engaging with traditional Jacobite political song, whereas Low 1994 focuses on his activities as a famous writer of love songs. Freeman 2012 and McCue 2012 do much to elucidate Burns’s interest in, and contribution to, traditional Scottish song in the 18th century, whereas Davie 1975 is notable for his approach to Burns’s songs from a more musicological perspective. Finally, McCue 2012 considers modern treatments of Burns’s song by the American composer Serge Hovey, demonstrating the universal appeal and timelessness of Burns’s writing for music.

                                                                                                                          • Daiches, David. “Robert Burns and Jacobite Song.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Donald A. Low, 137–156. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

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                                                                                                                            This study considers Burns’s various treatments of Jacobitism with reference predominantly to Burns’s song, but also to his poetry and correspondence. Daiches explains the intricacies of understanding Burns’s complex, and at times contradictory, attitude toward Jacobitism and demonstrates this with carefully chosen excerpts from his works.

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                                                                                                                            • Davie, Cedric Thorpe. “Robert Burns, Writer of Songs.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Donald A. Low, 157–185. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

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                                                                                                                              This study redresses what Davie considers to be an absence of critical appraisal of Burns’s songs as “integrated works of art” by considering words and music together as a single entity. He argues that, to be fully understood, the songs must be considered with reference to their musical origins.

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                                                                                                                              • Freeman, Fred. “Back to Burns.” In Robert Burns & Friends: Essays by W. Ormiston Roy Fellows presented to G. Ross Roy. Edited by Patrick Scott and Kenneth Simpson, 83–94. Columbia: University of South Carolina Libraries, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                Freeman considers Burns’s significant contribution to Scottish folksong, positing that Burns “recreated” the song tradition in the 18th century and calling for a renewed investment in the Scottish song tradition.

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                                                                                                                                • Low, Donald. “‘My Tocher’s the Jewel’: Love and Money in the Songs of Burns.” In Burns Now. Edited by Kenneth Simpson, 117–128. Edinburgh: Canongate Academic, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                  This study is a thematic consideration of Burns’s songs about love, which pays particular attention to the theme of money, or rather dowry. Low suggests that Burns objects to the “intrusion of mercenary thinking” in matters of the heart and is sympathetic to issues of financial inequality. Useful and extensive glossaries accompany the lyrics.

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                                                                                                                                  • McCue, Kirsteen. “Burns, Women, and Song.” In Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Edited by Robert Crawford, 40–57. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                    McCue considers Burns’s place as a writer and collector of songs in folk culture alongside female songwriters and collectors of the time. She compares a selection of Burns’s songs with similar productions of contemporary female songwriters arguing that, just as Burns has influenced songwriting and tradition, the influence on him by female songwriters should not be underestimated.

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                                                                                                                                    • McCue, Kirsteen. “‘Magnetic Attraction’: The Transatlantic Songs of Robert Burns and Serge Hovey.” In Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture. Edited by Sharon Alker, Leith Davis, and Holly Faith Nelson, 233–246. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                      Examines the work by American composer Serge Hovey (b. 1920–d. 1989) on the settings of Burns’s songs, considering how and why Hovey became interested in Burns’s activities as a songwriter. McCue argues that Hovey’s research is an example of the way in which modern renovation contributes to the understanding and appreciation of Burns as a literary figure and of modern transatlantic engagement with the Scottish musical tradition.

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                                                                                                                                      • Pittock, Murray. “Burns and the Jacobite Song.” In Love and Liberty: Robert Burns; A Bicentenary Celebration. Edited by Kenneth Simpson, 308–314. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                        Considers Burns’s relationship to and renovation of traditional Jacobite song with reference to his use of musical setting, his interpretation of the role/character of the singer, and his treatment of theme. Demonstrates Burns’s indebtedness to the established tradition of Jacobite song and, beyond this, his reinvention of traditional materials.

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                                                                                                                                        Language and Style

                                                                                                                                        Burns is renowned for the talent and ease with which he adopts both the Scots vernacular and English in his poetry, song, and correspondence. The following studies provide detailed analysis of his use of language across the body of his work and will prove useful for scholars and students seeking to interpret and understand Burns’s literary technique. Smith 2007 undertakes a detailed examination of Burns’s linguistic nuance. Murison 1975 and Bentman 1998 demonstrate that Burns was very deliberate and extremely skilled when choosing whether to write in Scots or English, and their studies elucidate the relationship between the two languages. Jack 1998 also acknowledges Burns’s skill but goes on to highlight the limits of Burns’s writing in the Scots vernacular by comparing his use of the Scots language to that of the Scottish medieval makars. Skowblow 2001 and Broadhead 2013 have been selected for their in-depth, modern, theoretical approaches to Burns and language.

                                                                                                                                        • Bentman, Raymond. “Robert Burns’s Use of Scottish Diction.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Carol McGuirk, 79–94. New York: Hall, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                          Examines Burns’s use of Scots and English, and considers the roots of the poet’s Scots writing and vocabulary. Rejects the frequently reiterated notion that Burns wrote “as he spoke” and emphasizes the ease with which Burns wrote in both Scots and English. Argues that Burns does not write in “pure” Scots as even his Scots verses adopt English grammar and syntax.

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                                                                                                                                          • Broadhead, Alex. The Language of Robert Burns: Style, Ideology, and Identity. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                            This study approaches Burns’s use of language through 21st-century sociolingustic theory, arguing that modern theoretical approaches enhance readers’ understanding of Burns’s creative approach to language and positing that Burns’s use of language, as influenced by different places and groups of people, is fluid and subject to reinvention.

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                                                                                                                                            • Jack, R. D. S. “Which Vernacular Revival? Burns and the Makars.” Studies in Scottish Literature 30 (1998): 9–17.

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                                                                                                                                              This study argues that Burns did much to resuscitate the Scots vernacular, but that he could never restore it to its former glory. Jack considers Burns’s language alongside that of the Scottish medieval makars and considers the impact of the latter on Burns’s linguistic and poetic techniques.

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                                                                                                                                              • Murison, David. “The Language of Robert Burns.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Donald A. Low, 54–69. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

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                                                                                                                                                Murison posits that, to understand Burns’s poetic achievements, it is necessary to understand the relationship between the two languages in which he composed verse: Scots and English. Using several examples, Murison demonstrates Burns’s poetic skill in both languages and argues that Burns helped to revive the Scots language in the 18th century.

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                                                                                                                                                • Skowblow, Jeffrey. Dooble Tongue: Scots, Burns, Contradiction. London: Associated University Presses, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                  A theoretical approach to language, literature, and cultural politics, Skowblow’s study considers the Scots language, its relationship to English vernacular literature, and its relationship with “culturally elite” modes. Burns is central to Skowblow’s examination, although not the only author to whom he refers. Useful contextualization of Burns, language, and modes.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Smith, Jeremy J. “Copia Verborum: The Linguistic Choices of Robert Burns.” Review of English Studies 58.233 (2007): 73–88.

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                                                                                                                                                    Demonstrates Burns’s linguistic nuance with detailed reference to his poetry and correspondence. Argues that Burns is more self-aware in his skillful use of language to “strike poses” than previously acknowledged by scholarship. Offers a comparison between Burns and Keats, and advocates Burns’s status as a major Romantic poet.

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                                                                                                                                                    Politics

                                                                                                                                                    Burns’s politics are a fraught area for scholarly consideration, not least because Burns’s political predilections, as evidenced by his poetry, song, and correspondence, are complex and often contradictory. Burns expresses multifarious potential positions on political matters, some of which proved the source of controversy during his lifetime. For example, Burns is known to have provoked the alarmed interest of his superiors in the Excise Department when he—a government employee—was rumored to have expressed support openly for the French Revolution, but was he truly a republican? Or was Burns, rather, a democrat? Did his political preferences lean toward the Whigs or the Tories? Was the self-proclaimed Scottish bard a Nationalist or a Unionist? There is no straightforward answer and, as such, the studies in this section have been chosen for their responsible and reasonably measured treatment of this contentious aspect of Burns’s outlook and authorship. Butler 1997 and Kidd 2009 pay particular attention to the complexity of Burns’s political perspective and the way in which it is manifested in his works. Crawford 1990 addresses Burns’s interest in and creative response to the French Revolution, whereas McIlvanney 2002 casts light on Burns’s links to radical politics in the 18th century.

                                                                                                                                                    • Butler, Marilyn. “Burns and Politics.” In Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Edited by Robert Crawford, 86–112. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                      Discusses Burns’s overtly and latently political works, highlighting the complexity of his political enquiry and responses in the wider context of British Romanticism. Argues that the perceived contradictions in Burns’s political outlook are the product of conflict, or rather “difference,” between 18th-century politics and modern political thought.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Crawford, Thomas. Boswell, Burns and the French Revolution. Edinburgh: Saltire Society, 1990.

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                                                                                                                                                        Provides a detailed examination of Burns’s response to the French Revolution with close reference to his poetry, song, and correspondence. Posits that, for Burns, the Revolution represented an awakening and the promise of equality. Contrasts Burns’s political perspective with that of Boswell.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Kidd, Colin. “Burns and Politics.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Edited by Gerard Carruthers, 61–73. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                          A sophisticated and nuanced consideration of Burns’s political predilections which makes clear the complexity of the bard’s political outlook with detailed reference to his poetry, song, and correspondence. Argues that such complexity is in response to the vexed 18th-century political landscape (which is also carefully explained). Contexualized by an account of previous scholarly responses to Burns and politics.

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                                                                                                                                                          • McIlvanney, Liam. Burns the Radical: Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                            The first book-length treatment of Burns’s politics. Considers Burns’s political predilections and the way in which they manifest in his works. Offers a new perspective on Burns’s links to radical politics and the political community in Scotland and beyond. Argues that Burns’s engagement with radical thought forms an essential component of his creative apparatus, and seeks to confirm his status as one of the great political poets.

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                                                                                                                                                            Religion

                                                                                                                                                            Robert Burns’s religious attitudes are another complex area for consideration by critics. Although religious satires such as “Holy Willie’s Prayer” and “The Holy Fair” have, at times, been misunderstood as merely a mocking and irreligious attack on the Kirk, these, in fact, are a skillful and effective challenge to those hypocrites who traduce religion from the inside. Certainly, and infamously, Burns crossed paths with the Kirk session owing to a number of adventures, or misadventures, with the opposite sex, and this clearly also has had an impact on the opinions formed by critics and commentators over the years with regard to the poet’s religious position. Yet, throughout his correspondence and poetry, Burns declared and rationalized his sincere belief in religion. This tension is explored in detail in McGinty 2003 and McKenna 1997. Manning 1997 is an erudite study that focuses particularly on Burns’s perceptions of God and Satan, whereas McIlvanney 1995 addresses Burns’s intellectual engagement with 18th-century Scottish Calvinism. Taken together, these studies will provide students and scholars with a balanced and wide-ranging understanding of Burns’s complex understanding of religion.

                                                                                                                                                            • Manning, Susan. “Burns and God.” In Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Edited by Robert Crawford, 113–135. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                              Argues that Burns’s relationship with God is part of the “vexed and unknowable” part of his character. Pursues this via a detailed account of the way in which Burns grapples, both imaginatively and poetically, with the notion of Satan.

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                                                                                                                                                              • McGinty, J. Walter. Robert Burns and Religion. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                The most extensive study of Burns and religion as of the mid-2010s, McGinty provides a detailed account of the tension between Burns’s sincere and profoundly thoughtful religious outlook and his reaction against self-righteousness and hypocrisy.

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                                                                                                                                                                • McIlvanney, Liam. “Robert Burns and the Calvinist Radical Tradition.” History Workshop Journal 40 (1995): 133–150.

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                                                                                                                                                                  McIlvanney begins with a sophisticated and nuanced contextualization of Scottish Calvinism in the Age of Enlightenment and proceeds to argue that the intellectual influence of Calvinism is an “energising and motivating” influence in Burns’s works, albeit one that is consistently overlooked.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • McKenna, Steven R. “Churches Built to Please the PRIEST: The Dialectics of Morality in Burns’s Poetry.” In Love and Liberty: Robert Burns; A Bicentenary Celebration. Edited by Kenneth Simpson, 156–167. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                    This study considers Burns’s religious predilections with reference to his poetry and correspondence. McKenna navigates the tension between Burns’s religious outlook and the strict religious orthodoxy of his Ayrshire Presbyterian community, with particular attention to the poet’s acceptance of worldly pleasures.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Satire

                                                                                                                                                                    Burns’s scathing, yet highly skillful, satirical verse addresses a broad range of matters social, political, and religious and varies in tone from humorous mockery to violent condemnation. Scott 1975 addresses the mixed reception of Burns’s satire among critics who have been, at times, cautious in their acknowledgement or scholarly consideration of his writing in this vein. Weston 1998 examines Burns in his satirical mode and moves beyond the motivations and subjects of the poet’s satire to consider the means by which Burns achieves satirical effect. Both are scholarly studies that will benefit students and researchers alike.

                                                                                                                                                                    • Scott, Alexander. “The Satires: Underground Poetry.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Donald A. Low, 90–105. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Discusses the reception of Burns’s satirical verse from the 18th to the 20th century, emphasizing that early critics of Burns’s work remained relatively silent on the satires and that Burns published very few of them in his lifetime. Considers potential reasons for these omissions in a detailed critical discussion of Burns’s satirical works.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Weston, John C. “Robert Burns’s Satire.” In Critical Essays on Robert Burns. Edited by Carol McGuirk, 117–133. New York: Hall, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Argues that Burns’s satirical work, although for the most part comic, is not the product of “gentle humour,” but of “fierce anger” and a desire to injure his adversaries. Pays particular attention to Burns’s use of the Scots vernacular for satiric effect.

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                                                                                                                                                                        Gender and Sexuality

                                                                                                                                                                        Burns’s attitude toward gender is problematic and often contradictory. Indeed, Burns can be seen intermittently to objectify women and to advocate the mutual nature of heterosexual relationships. The following references have been selected for their balanced approach to these complexities and will prove valuable to those seeking an objective view of Burns’s infamous reputation as a “man’s man” and his attitude toward the opposite sex. Beaty 1968 provides an astute perspective on the levity with which Burns can, at times, be seen to approach relationships with the opposite sex. Dunnigan and Carruthers 2000 challenges simplistic readings of Burns’s famous poem, “Tam o’ Shanter,” and identifies the poet’s skepticism about stereotypical gender roles, whereas Dunnigan 2009 provides a detailed consideration of Burns’s attitudes toward women with close reference to his work and biography.

                                                                                                                                                                        • Beaty, Frederick L. “Burns’s Comedy of Romantic Love.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 83.2 (May 1968): 429–438.

                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/1261196Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                          Considers Burns’s complex attitude toward women and heterosexual relationships, and examines his deployment of humor when addressing romantic and sexual love in verse.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Dunnigan, Sarah. “Burns and Women.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Edited by Gerard Carruthers, 20–33. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Discusses Burns’s attitude toward women and sex alongside his varied poetic representations of women. Emphasizes the complexity of Burns’s attitude toward women, and challenges the mythology surrounding his relationships with the opposite sex throughout his life, as well as his treatment of women and womanhood in his poetry.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Dunnigan, Sarah, and Gerard Carruthers. “Two Tales of ‘Tam o’ Shanter.’” Southfields 6 (2000): 36–43.

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                                                                                                                                                                              A sophisticated and nuanced interpretation of Burns’s most famous work. Challenges readings of “Tam o’ Shanter” that advocate the poem’s inscription and reinforcement of received gender roles by identifying and addressing the complexity of Burns’s consideration of gender and sexuality.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Reserved Oeuvre

                                                                                                                                                                              Burns’s bawdy and sexually explicit writing, his “reserved oeuvre,” is a legitimate body of his artistic output and is an important element of the poet’s literary canon—a fact that, in the past, has been undermined by over-prudent and censorious contemporaries, editors, biographers, and critics alike. Indeed, it was illegal to publish this material until the 1960s. That Burns’s bawdry has been preserved is largely owing to the fact that it has always retained an audience of sorts—a cross-section of male cronies, progressive scholars, and fascinated enthusiasts. The appreciation (or, at the very least, acceptance) for this branch of the poet’s artistic output is testament to the fact that Burns’s sexually explicit material is highly skillful, effective, and frequently enjoyable as literature, as well as crucial to a comprehensive understanding of Burns as man and poet. The selections listed here make this clear and will prove interesting to those who wish to know more about the poet’s “unofficial” body of work. Carruthers 2009, Ferguson 1951, and Roy 1986 illuminate the complicated textual history of those works that were suppressed and only gradually emerged as part of the poet’s canon, and they consider the impact of these on the scholarly understanding of Burns in the 20th and 21st centuries. Jack 1982 and McIlvanney 2002 address the subject matter of Burns’s bawdry and consider his motivations for engaging with the genre.

                                                                                                                                                                              • Carruthers, Gerard. “Burns and Publishing.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Edited by Gerard Carruthers, 6–19. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                                Considers Burns’s “official” body of work alongside his “reserved oeuvre”—those works that were held back from publication or printed privately for a select audience. Explores the textual history of these categories and the effect of the “official” and “unofficial” bodies of work on the shaping of Burns’s canon, reception, and reputation.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Ferguson, J. DeLancey. “Burns and the Merry Muses.” Modern Language Notes 66.7 (1951): 471–473.

                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2909993Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                  Records the discovery of a holograph letter from Burns to John McMurdo that nullifies an attempt by the first editor of Burns’s works, Dr. James Currie, to distance Burns from the genre of bawdy verse. Clarifies that the McMurdo letter, previously quoted to refute Burns’s association with bawdry, instead supports such an association.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Jack, R. D. S. “Burns and Bawdy.” In The Art of Robert Burns. Edited by R. D. S. Jack and Andrew Noble, 98–126. London: Vision, 1982.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Posits that Burns’s bawdry must be examined in order to understand fully his poetic range. Considers examples of Burns’s original sexually explicit compositions and his adaptation of traditional bawdry for a polite audience.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • McIlvanney, Liam. Burns the Radical: Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland. East Linton, Scotland: Tuckwell, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Chapter 7, “The Democracy of Sex: Burns’s Bawdry,” examines Burns’s sexually centered writing and posits that Burns deployed bawdry as a means of scrutinizing the institutions of official culture, both religious and political.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Roy, G. Ross. “The ‘1827’ Edition of Robert Burns’s Merry Muses of Caledonia.” Burns Chronicle (1986): 32–45.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Demonstrates the complicated publishing history of Burns’s bawdry published as part of privately printed collections entitled The Merry Muses of Caledonia by collating various imprints of a volume supposedly published in 1827.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        Slavery

                                                                                                                                                                                        Burns’s seeming intention to emigrate to Jamaica in 1786 to assist in the management of the slave economy, his motivations for preparing to make the journey, and his reasons for deciding to remain in Scotland have, historically, proven a point of contention among critics and biographers. The studies listed in this section offer contrasting, yet equally direct and balanced, assessments of this particular episode in Burns’s life, as well as his associated literature. Carruthers 2009 provides a detailed account of Burns’s circumstances as he contemplated the journey and considers his attitude toward slavery and abolition with close reference to his works. Leask 2009 continues this discussion and also offers a significant new interpretation of one of Burns’s most famous songs, “Is There for Honest Poverty,” whereas Pittock 2012 adopts a more theoretical approach to Burns and slavery and situates his discussion in the wider context of European and transatlantic debates on abolition.

                                                                                                                                                                                        • Carruthers, Gerard. “Robert Burns and Slavery.” In Fickle Man: Robert Burns in the 21st Century. Edited by John Rodger and Gerard Carruthers, 163–175. Dingwall, Scotland: Sandstone, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Explains the circumstances surrounding Burns’s planned emigration to Jamaica to take a position on a slave plantation. Posits that Burns did not seriously intend to emigrate and addresses Burns’s complex attitude toward slavery with reference to poems including “On a Scotch Bard Gone to the West Indies” and “The Slave’s Lament.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Leask, Nigel. “Burns and the Poetics of Abolition.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Robert Burns. Edited by Gerard Carruthers, 47–60. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            Discusses Burns’s attitude toward slavery in the context of the abolition movement, with close reference to his poetry and correspondence. Offers a new interpretation of Burns’s song, “Is There for Honest Poverty.” Argues that, despite Burns’s complex attitude to slavery, the song implies Burns’s subscription to “a newer abolitionist sense of the term which had emerged in the late 1780s” (pp. 59–60).

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Pittock, Murray. “Slavery as a Political Metaphor in Scotland and Ireland in the Age of Burns.” In Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture. Edited by Sharon Alker, Leith Davis, and Holly Faith Nelson, 19–30. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Considers the lexis of slavery with reference to American and European debates on abolition and voluntary or involuntary servitude and the concepts of “voluntary moral inferiority” and “unconditional victimhood.” Considers the application of this lexis to Scottish and Irish Catholics and Jacobites. Scrutinizes the concept of slavery in Burns’s canon, arguing that the poet “wavered in his use of the lexis of slavery” (p. 26).

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Commemoration and Material Culture

                                                                                                                                                                                              Robert Burns is one of the most commemorated of all poets, and the study of his memorialization at public events and in material culture is currently a vibrant area of scholarly investigation. Studies and resources listed in this section examine the many and varied ways in which Burns has been remembered from the late 18th century to the early 21st century. Rigney 2011 and Whatley 2011 provide very different and equally fascinating studies of the part played by communities, both in Scotland and beyond, in the remembrance of the Scottish national bard. Rigney discusses public events, whereas Whatley considers the commission and unveiling of statuary. Vance 2012 provides a particularly focused study of three Canadian statues to Burns, whereas Watson 2006 considers the construction and development of “The Land of Burns” in Scotland, as a result of Victorian literary tourism. Mackay and Pittock 2011 and Mackay and Pittock 2012 relate the research findings of a major research project examining the memorialization of Burns and demonstrate the direct effect that material culture has had on his reputation. The online resource Robert Burns: Inventing Tradition and Securing Memory, 1796–1909 provides access to images and information regarding different types of Burns-related material culture, gathered as part of the same project.

                                                                                                                                                                                              • Mackay, Pauline, and Murray Pittock. “Beyond Text: Burns, Byron and Their Material Cultural Afterlife.” Byron Journal 39.2 (2011): 149–162.

                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.3828/bj.2011.18Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                This article demonstrates the role played by material culture in preserving and creating the reputation and cultural memory of Robert Burns and then undertakes a comparative study of the role played by a selection of memorabilia in the cultural afterlife of Byron.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Mackay, Pauline, and Murray Pittock. “Highland Mary: Objects and Memories.” Romanticism 18.2 (2012): 191–203.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.3366/rom.2012.0084Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Explains the circumstances surrounding Burns’s frequently mythologized relationship with Highland Mary (Mary Campbell), whom he immortalized in poetry and song. Argues that Highland Mary’s fame owes more to the images, objects, and memorialization through which her relationship with the poet was constructed in the 19th century than to the archival record.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Rigney, Ann. “Embodied Communities: Commemorating Robert Burns, 1859.” Representations 115.1 (2011): 71–101.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1525/rep.2011.115.1.71Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Considers the 1859 centenary celebrations of Robert Burns’s birth that were held worldwide in the context of 19th-century commemorative culture. Argues that the 1859 celebrations were not only an occasion to remember the poet, but also represented an opportunity to celebrate the interconnectedness of the geographically separated Scottish diaspora and its associated communities.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Robert Burns: Inventing Tradition and Securing Memory, 1796–1909.” In Centre for Robert Burns Studies.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      This online resource provides a catalogue of public monuments to Robert Burns worldwide erected by 1909, with a selection of images from the same period, combined with a web-based classification of the different kinds of Burns-related material culture available commercially or for domestic use.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Vance, Michael E. “Burns in the Park: A Tale of Three Monuments.” In Robert Burns and Transatlantic Culture. Edited by Sharon Alker, Leith Davis, and Holly Faith Nelson, 209–232. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Examines three Burns statues erected in the early 20th century in three Canadian cities—Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver. Describes the statues and their locations, and interprets and provides information regarding their sponsorship. Argues that the statues are part of a “collective colonial legacy.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Watson, Nicola. The Literary Tourist: Readers and Places in Romantic and Victorian Britain. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2006.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1057/9780230584563Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Chapter 2, “Cradles of Genius,” considers the development of Burns’s birthplace and the surrounding “Land of Burns” as sites for commemoration and literary pilgrimage in the 19th century. Explains the ease with which the “Land of Burns” was developed with reference to Burns’s oeuvre.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Whatley, Christopher. “Robert Burns, Memorialization and the ‘Heart Beatings’ of Victorian Scotland.” In Robert Burns in Global Culture. Edited by Murray Pittock, 204–228. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2011.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            This chapter explains the motivations behind commemorating Burns in statues and public memorials by exploring the circumstances surrounding their funding, installation, and public inauguration. Whatley emphasizes the important part played by Scots, both at home and abroad, in the public memorialization of the national bard.

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