Ward's Book of Days.
Pages of interesting anniversaries.
What happened on this day in history.
On this day in history in 1759 was born Robbie Burns.
Burns was a penniless farmer from Dumfriesshire of minimal education who became known as the National Poet of Scotland on account of his lyrics and songs written in the Scots dialect.
Burns eked out a miserable existence as a tenant farmer. Burns had a meagre education but could read and write, had some Latin and was familiar with several English Classical works but his everyday language was the local dialect of Lalland Scots. As a man of the soil, he had a thorough knowledge of local folk legend, of witches warlocks, goblins and The Deil himself.
Burns had a natural gift for the verse form. He crafted Scots words into a form normally associated with formal English. He wrote about fiends and sprites and gremlins: about farmers and workmen who get drunk at the alehouse and are plagued by their uncompromising wives. The reader of Tam O’Shanter gets impression that the recalcitrant Tam is in reality Burns himself. Clues in the text such as ‘we sit bousing at the nappy (ale)/ An’ getting fou (drunk) and unco happy.’
Burns earned a reputation as an adversary of the Kirk, the established Calvanistic church which dominated all aspects of social life in the Eighteenth Century. Holy Willie’s Prayer is a bitter satire on a real person, William Fisher, whom history records having a pious inclination but whom Burns attacks for self-righteousness. Burns takes issue with lawyers. Twa Dogs is less about the tussle between two farm animals than the evil machinations of two lawyers who were known to and despised by Burns.
Burns was what we today would call a rebel. He had no respect for the Kirk, for the law, for the mores of society. He almost lost a position as an exciseman for speaking out in favour of the French Revolution. And he was a rebel against conventional writing. He wrote in Scots rather than in conventional English and if he was at a loss for a Scots word for his poems, he would simply invent one.
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