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Burns's Life


The Immortal Memory

In 1823 the cenotaph on the banks of the Doon at Alloway, Burns' birthplace, was completed at a cost of £3300. In 1844 a huge festival in his honour was held at Alloway, presided over by the Earl of Eglinton. The centenaries of his birth in 1859 and his death in 1896 saw nationwide celebrations. 

Over the years floods of biographies have been written on the poet's life and many anthologies of his songs and poems have been published. There are many statues to him all over the world, the one in Dumfries by Mrs D.O. Hill being unveiled in 1882. His works have been translated into many languages and there is a particular interest in him in Canada, the Soviet Union and Japan.

Scotland's Son 

The cult of Burns rapidly rose to huge proportions. As the 'National Bard' he assumed spiritual dimensions, becoming all things to all people - admired as poet, nationalist, democrat, republican, conversationalist, womaniser, drinker, naturalist, folklorist, lyricist, Freemason and atheist to name a few. His humble origins, in particular as the 'heaven taught ploughman', have added to the idolatry. 

Scotland is arguably the only country where a literary figure such as Burns could have been elevated to such a level. The Reformation had turned Scotland into a strongly Protestant society and had confirmed the population's high regard for learning. Education Acts in 1646 and 1696 required that each parish had to have its own school for the education of the poor. 

This ensured a high standard of literacy amongst the Scottish peasantry as early as the eighteenth century. Another part of Scottish tradition was verse, music and dancing. These had survived the Reformation and had become an essential aspect of Scottish life. The education of Burns himself bears witness to this. 

It was against this unique background that the phenomenon of Burns could arise. The appeal of Burns even in his own lifetime covered all social groups and to this day remains universal.