Burns, Robert

Burns, Robert, celebrated Scottish poet, born at Alloway, near Ayr, in 1759, son of an honest, intelligent peasant, who tried farming in a small way, but did not prosper; tried farming himself on his father's decease in 1784, but took to rhyming by preference; driven desperate in his circumstances, meditated emigrating to Jamaica, and published a few poems he had composed to raise money for that end; realised a few pounds thereby, and was about to set sail, when friends and admirers rallied round him and persuaded him to stay; he was invited to Edinburgh; his poems were reprinted, and money came in; soon after he married, and took a farm, but failing, accepted the post of exciseman in Dumfries; fell into bad health, and died in 1796, aged 37. “His sun shone as through a tropical tornado, and the pale shadow of death eclipsed it at noon.... To the ill-starred Burns was given the power of making man's life more venerable, but that of wisely guiding his own life was not given.... And that spirit, which might have soared could it but have walked, soon sank to the dust, its glorious faculties trodden under foot in the blossom; and died, we may almost say, without ever having lived.” See Carlyle's “Miscellanies” for by far the justest and wisest estimate of both the man and the poet that has yet by any one been said or sung. He is at his best in his “Songs,” he says, which he thinks “by far the best that Britain has yet produced.... In them,” he adds, “he has found a tune and words for every mood of man's heart; in hut and hall, as the heart unfolds itself in many-coloured joy and woe of existence, the name, the voice of that joy and that woe, is the name and voice which Burns has given them.”

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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