Beloved son and Scottish national bard Robert Burns did more than any other poet to export the Scots language of the 18th century to the world, through the New Year’s classic Auld Lang Syne and his other famous works.
His lyrics, such as “we twa hae run about the braes/and pou’d the gowans fine”, may be incomprehensible to many, but the fame and influence of a man celebrated every year on January 25 has endured ever since. more than two centuries.
His line of To a Mouse, “best plans o’ Mice an’ Men/Gang aft-agley”, is said to have inspired John Steinbeck’s classic 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.
Still, Burns was advised not to write in Scots by a correspondent, who thought it would limit his audience, according to new research.
Dr John Moore, a Scottish physician and travel writer, who wrote to Burns regularly, warned him that London readers would not connect with his works. Burns, of course, ignored the advice, and the rest is history.
Academics from the Center for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow have reviewed around 800 letters written by Burns and 300–400 letters from his friends and admirers.
“In the correspondence we come closer to Burns the man than anywhere else: his letters reveal his triumphs, failures, anxieties, fears and joys,” said Dr Rhona Brown, Lecturer in Scottish Literature In the center.
“Two of Burns’ relationships stand out – with Dr John Moore and Mrs Frances Dunlop [a Scottish heiress and landowner] – because we have both sides of the correspondence.
“What is fascinating, for example, is that early on Moore advised Burns not to write in Scots. He warned Burns that he was limiting his audience and felt that London readers would not understand or connect with the Scots language. Dunlop advised him to avoid political topics.
“But Burns is his own man and ignores advice and carries on regardless. I think history has now shown him to be right.
People around the world will celebrate Burns Night on January 25 to celebrate the anniversary of the poet’s birth on that date in 1759.
The correspondence will be published as part of the new Collected Works of Robert Burns published by Oxford University Press.
Dr Craig Lamont, research associate at the Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, said: “Burns sends Dr John Moore a heartfelt long letter giving a detailed account of his childhood and life up to 1787: this letter is now known as Burns’ autobiographical letter.
“In response, Moore asks Burns to ‘split your letters when they are so heavy’, as ‘I was compelled to pay six and eightpence for it’.
The team will premiere their video documentary on the Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century: Correspondence project at 10 a.m. on January 17.
The center will also host an online Q&A session on January 20 so members of the public and Burns scholars can find out more about the project, with more information available through GlasgowBurns.