Program from a ‘Birth of Burns’ Supper, Newcastle, England, January 25, 1859
The very first Burns Night was held by his close friends at his birthplace, Burns’ Cottage, a few years after the poet’s untimely death in 1796. It has continued on ever since, moved only to mark his birth, spreading in popularity while keeping much of the humble form and close camaraderie of the original. Essential to a Burns Night is the reading and singing of his work and the sharing of biographical tidbits of his life—a life too large and tumultuous to be summarized, and rightly overshadowed by his legacy of verse. If ever a poet understood the character of his nation, it was Robert Burns.
Burns Cottage & Museum, birthplace of Robert Burns in Alloway, Scotland
In Burns we see a fierce pride for his country warring with disdain for many of its foundational attributes. We see swelling tributes to Christian principles sitting side-by-side on the page with scathing renouncements of the constraints of morality. Rarely was a man so torn in his admiration, so viciously uncomfortable in his love, or so successful in capturing Scotland’s own torn history. But there is no debate that the Scotland which Robert Burns captured in his writings was a noble, vivid, Christian country.
A 1787 manuscript of ‘Address to Edinburgh’ in Burns’ hand