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ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796)

Burns was born near 'Alloway's auld haunted kirk' on the banks of the Doon, in a two-roomed cottage which his father had built with his own hands out of rough stone and clay. A storm blew down the gable a few days after his birth, and A blast o' Janwar' win' Blew hansel in on Robin.' 'No wonder that one ushered into the world amid such a tempest should be the victim of stormy passions,' Burns would afterward say. His father was a poor renter' who moved from one farm to another while Burns was growing up. Amid the unceasing moil of a galley slave,' he found time for the ordinary education of a Scotch peasant lad and added considerable reading in history and English poetry; but he had known many a weary day at the plow-tail and in harvest by the time he was fifteen. It was at this age, as he has told us, that he found himself partner in the harvest-field with a bonnie sweet sonsie lassie.' Among her love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favorite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rime. Thus with me began love and poetry.'

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Farming, love, and poetry were the staples of Burns's life from now on. He tried flaxdressing at Irvine, a town of some size near-by, but succeeded only in acquiring the bad habits of the place and soon returned to the farm and to poetry. After his father's death in 1784, he and his brother Gilbert moved to the farm of Mossgiel and a little later he met Jean Armour, who after a long and irregular courtship became his wife. His first collection of poems was issued at Kilmarnock in 1786, and such was their immediate success that he went to Edinburgh and brought out a new edition the following winter. He was lionized for a season, but had bitterly to learn the difference between curiosity and social acceptance. From this publication he realized enough money to pay for a tour of the Highlands, contribute two hundred pounds to the needs of his brother, and stock a farm at Ellisland. Here he settled with his wife Jean, now regularly married, in December, 1788. But he had chosen his farm with a poet's rather than a farmer's eye, and shortly undertook to add to his earnings by securing a post in the excise at Dumfries,-gauging auld wives' barrels,' he called it. His next course was to give up the farm and remove his family to town. It was a perilous position for one of his temperament. Too many trusty drouthy cronies' clustered around him; the 'social glass' became too frequent; thoughtless follies laid him low, and stained his name.'

Yet even during these years of decline in health and respectability his genius burned brightly. Many of the old Scots songs' with which his name is inseparably connected were given to the world at this time; many equally fine were not printed until after his death. Though it is totally uncritical to think of him as merely an unlettered natural singer, Burns never had the leisure or opportunity to become a highly cultivated poet in the English language or on the grand scale. He constantly falls back upon his native dialect for his most telling phrases and his most magical bursts; and he is at his best in those brief snatches, perfect in pitch and infinite in variety, for which- and for the passionate, imperfect, human bounty of his nature- - the world so deeply loves him.

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