Robert Burns

Robert Burns (1759-1796)
   Robert Burns, Scotland's greatest poet, becomes the world's favorite each New Year's Eve with the traditional singing of his "Auld Lang Syne." It is fitting tribute to a poet who loved good company, good song, and simple pleasures.

   Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Ayrshire, Scotland. His father was a poor farmer who valued education and strict morality. Although Robert's help was needed on the farm, his father encouraged him to read and gave him as much schooling as he could.

   Robert read everything he could, from collections of songs to Shakespeare and Milton. He carried small volumes in his pocket and studied them while he was in the fields or at the table. He began writing his own verses and collected them in a scrapbook.

   When his father died in 1784, Robert and his brother Gilbert tried to make a success of farming but failed. Robert then fell in love with Jean Armour, but her father refused to have him as a son-in-law.

In 1786, Burns published Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. The poems were a great success, and a second edition appeared the following year. Burns began to collect, adapt, and compose lyrics of folk songs for a publication called The Scots Musical Museum. For this and for George Thomson's Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1793), Burns composed over 300 lyrics. Some of his best-known poems are "Sweet Afton," "To a Mouse," "John Anderson, My Jo," and the patriotic "Scots, Wha Hae."

   In 1788, Burns began a new life of farming, at Ellisland, near Dumfries, and finally married Jean Armour. But he failed again at farming. He took a government position as a tax officer and moved to Dumfries in 1791. His outspoken sympathy for the French Revolution damaged his popularity. Illness added to his troubles. He died in Dumfries on July 21, 1796, a broken and bitter man. But his poems found a permanent place in literature.