"My father was a farmer upon the Carrick border O
And carefully he bred me in decency and order O
He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing O
For without an honest manly heart, no man was worth regarding O
Then out into the world my course I did determine. O
Tho' to be rich was not my wish, yet to be great was charming. O
My talents they were not the worst; nor yet my education: O
Resolv'd was I at least to try to mend my situation. O"
~ My Father was a Farmer, Robert Burns, 1784
Though celebrated in his lifetime, Burns was never able to sustain a stable financial situation. Hard work and hard living destroyed his health, and he died in poverty at the age of thirty-seven, haunted by the shadow of debtors' prison. Even on his death-bed, he got a letter in which he was threatened with imprisonment for a debt of seven pounds. After his death, his widow and children were left impoverished. But his funeral was attended by a crowd of a thousand, and enough money was raised by subscription to provide his widow with sustenance for the rest of her life and to give all his children an education. His exceptional talents and his ability to empathize with and portray the plight of common man and the human condition, continue to make for a personal connection for many to this very day.
Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), also known as Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman Poet and various other names and epithets, is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature.
Born in a small town in Ayrshire in 1759, the son of a tenant farmer, Burns was well-read and was educated both at school and at home. He began writing while working on his father's farm, and his first works were songs declaring his love to local girls.
Burns' first collection of poetry, 'Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect', was published in 1786 and includes the favourite 'To A Mouse'. This collection became known as the 'Kilmarnock Edition' after the town in which it was published. All copies were sold within a few weeks.
Burns had been planning to emigrate to Jamaica, but encouraged by the success of his book, he stayed in Scotland where he took the Scottish literary world by storm. He published a second edition of his poems, but his popularity did not make him wealthy. The money made from writing did not last long.
By 1787, he was working as a farmer again and in 1788, despite his increasingly radical views, he took a job in the Excise Service. The hard work this job entailed and his dissolute lifestyle took its toll, and he died on 21 July 1796 aged 37 the very day his son Maxwell was born.
This tartan was designed by Claire Donaldson of The House of Edgar for Robert Nicol of South Methven Street, Perth to commemorate the poet Robert Burns.
For more on the the one of his better known subjects, Highland Mary, click the vintage poster illustrating many of the characters in his poems.