son of William Burns, a Scotch farmer, was born near the town
of Ayr, January 25, 1759. His father, though very poor, gave
him a solid English education; and the boy read eagerly all books
he could come at. But the life was hard, and at the age of 15
Burns was working as his father's head labourer. The father died
in 1784, brought to great straits through the failure of a lawsuit.
Burns, with his brother Gilbert, struggled on bravely, but with
poor success. He was then in the first glow of his passion for
Jean Armour, whom he finally married, and but for her parents'
opposition would have married earlier. During the next two years
many of his best poems were written, as the Cottar's Saturday
Night, Holy Willie's Prayer, Address to the Deil, The
Daisy, and others. In 1786, having published some of
these to gain passage-money for the West Indies, an invitation
to Edinburgh, then containing the most brilliant intellectual
society in Britain, made him famous. He gained, however, nothing
but the rather meagre appointment of exciseman, with which he
settled in Dumfries. Like other brave spirits of his time, he
was accused of sympathy with the French Revolution. It is the
fact that in the spring of 1792, Britain being still at peace
with France, he sent to the Legislative Assembly two guns that
had passed into his hands from a captured smuggler. And two of
his noblest lyrics, Scots wha hae, and A man's a man
for a' that, written 1792-5, show that the fiery heat of
the great crisis had reached him. His poetry was the outcome
of his nature. His scathing satire of Calvanistic hypocrisy,
the wild humour of Tam o' Shanter, the burning passion
of his love-songs, will live as long as the language endures.
Burns died at Dumfries, 21st July 1796.
by Robert Burns
|This biography is
reprinted from The New Calendar of Great Men. Ed. Frederic
Harrison. London: Macmillan and Co., 1920.