Robert Burns (1759-96) came of Scottish Lowland farming stock and worked the land himself. These origins gave his poems an earthy realism which crated a sensation in an age still dominated by notions of literary refinement. At home in both English and Scots, Burns turned his hand with equal ease to animal fables, satire, epistolary and lyrical verse. In addition, many of his most famous poems – such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘A Red Red Rose’ and ‘Highland Mary’ – were based on collections of folk-songs he made during his travels in the Highlands. Unmistakenly a Scot, Burns nevertheless appeals to the widest audience by virtue of humour, wit and lyrical charm.
The 19th-century scholar and educationalist J S Blackie summed up Burns’s importance to Scotland and the Scots with the words:
‘When Scotland forgets Burns, then history will forget Scotland.’
Today, Burns is unique in the affection and fascination that his memory inspires. The fruits of his legacy can be seen not only in Scotland but around the world – on product packaging, in advertising and on a wealth of merchandise, as well as through continued scholarship and academic study.
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