The George Beattie Project - A Poet Lost in Time



In 1791, riled by a recent review that criticised a supposed abundance of "obscure language" and "imperfect grammar" in his poetry, celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns channelled his anger and wrote the following magnificent letter to the
critic responsible.
It really is a thing of beauty.
(Source: The Works of Robert Burns, Volume 4; Image: Robert Burns, courtesy of the BBC.)

Ellisland, 1791.

Dear Sir:

Thou eunuch of language; thou Englishman, who never was south the Tweed; thou servile echo of fashionable barbarisms; thou quack, vending the nostrums of empirical elocution; thou marriage-maker between vowels and consonants, on the Gretna-green of caprice; thou cobler, botching the flimsy socks of bombast oratory; thou blacksmith, hammering the rivets of absurdity; thou butcher, embruing thy hands in the bowels of orthography; thou arch-heretic in pronunciation; thou pitch-pipe of affected emphasis; thou carpenter, mortising the awkward joints of jarring sentences; thou squeaking dissonance of cadence; thou pimp of gender; thou Lyon Herald to silly etymology; thou antipode of grammar; thou executioner of construction; thou brood of the speech-distracting builders of the Tower of Babel; thou lingual confusion worse confounded; thou scape-gallows from the land of syntax; thou scavenger of mood and tense; thou murderous accoucheur of infant learning; thou ignis fatuus, misleading the steps of benighted ignorance; thou pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense; thou faithful recorder of barbarous idiom; thou persecutor of syllabication; thou baleful meteor, foretelling and facilitating the rapid approach of Nox and Erebus.


The  Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire, at what is now Burns Cottage.

The day of his birth is celebrated today throughout the world as Burns' Night, with Burns' Suppers, poems and songs. Find details on some of the key milestones in Burns' short but eventful life below.
Key events in the life of Robert Burns: Ayrshire years
1759 – Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire on January 25, in the ‘auld cley biggin’ that is now known as Burns Cottage. He was the eldest of the seven children of William Burnes and Agnes Broun.
1766 – Burnes family move to the 70-acre Mount Oliphant Farm, near Alloway

1774 – Writes his first song, O once I lov’d [a bonie lass]
1777 – Burnes family move to a larger farm at Lochlea, near Tarbolton
1781 – Moves to Irvine, North Ayrshire, to learn flax-dressing
1781 – Becomes a freemason
1784 – Robert’s father William dies
1784 - The family change their name to Burns. The family move to Mossgiel farm near Mauchline
1785 – Meets Jean Armour. Becomes a father to Elizabeth Paton Burns (1785–1817), born to his mother’s servant Elizabeth Paton
1785 – Writes ‘To a Mouse’
1785 – 6 – Has an affair with Margaret Campbell (‘Highland Mary’)
1786 – The first edition of Burns’ poetry, Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, known as the Kilmarnock edition, was published. It sells out within a month.
1786 – Becomes a father to twins, Robert and Jean, born to Jean Armour
Key events in the life of Robert Burns: Edinburgh years
1786 – Abandons plans to emigrate to Jamaica to work as a bookkeeper on a slave plantation. Instead, travels to Edinburgh to look into publishing a second edition of his poems
1786 – Mary Campbell (Highland Mary) dies of typhus
1787 – Second edition of poems is published in Edinburgh.
1787 – Becomes a father to a child, born to Edinburgh servant May Cameron
1787 – Meets Agnes McLehose (‘Clarinda’)
1788 – Marries Jean Armour
Key events in the life of Robert Burns: Dumfries years
1788 - Takes a lease on a farm at Ellisland near Dumfries but also trains as an exciseman should farming prove unsuccessful

1788 – Becomes a father to twin girls, born to Jean Armour
1788 – Becomes a father to Robert Burns Clow, born to Janet Clow a domestic servant
1788 – Burns writes Auld Lang Syne
1789 – Begins work as an excise officer
1789 – Becomes a father to Francis Wallace Burns, born to Jean Armour
1790 – Write Tam o’ Shanter
1791 – Moves to Dumfries
1791– Writes ‘Ae Fond Kiss’
1791 - Becomes a father to Elizabeth, born to Ann Park
1791 – Becomes a father to William Nicol Burns, born to Jean Armour
1792 – Becomes a father to Elizabeth Riddell Burns, born to Jean Armour
1794 – Becomes a father to James Glencairn Burns, born to Jean Armour
1796 – Dies in Dumfries on July 21st at the age of 37
1796 - Robert’s youngest son, Maxwell Burns, is born to Jean on the day of the poet’s funeral.


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