ROBERT BURNS, 1759-1796

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Island 2: Burns, Chapbooks, and Popular Culture

Burns's poems and songs were widely distributed through Scotland and beyond as simple chapbooks, often a single sheet folded to form eight pages, heavily represented in the Roy Collection. The exhibit included a selection of chapbooks containing Burns material, from Stirling, Glasgow, and Newcastle; with the items given individual description here is also grouped the items relating to "Tam o' Shanter."


Robert Burns 
The whistle 
Dumfries, 1791. 
Modern burgundy crushed morocco.

The rare chapbook form of Burns's poem celebrating the drinking contest at Friar's Carse in 1789, won by Alexander Fergusson of Craigparoch.

Egerer 22 variant


Robert Burns 
Autograph letter, signed, to Robert Cleghorn, Ellisland [? October, 1791]

Burns enclosed for Cleghorn one of his twelve proof-copies of "The Whistle."


Robert Burns 
Elegy on the year eighty-eight, Elegy on Puddin' Lizzie, Colin Clout a pastoral, etc., etc. 
Edinburgh: printed by D. Willison for George Gray, 1799.

bound with

Alexander Thomson, 1763-1803, and Robert Burns 
Sonnets from the Robbers, by Alex. Thomson, Esq., The Pretender's soliloquy, Bruce's address, and The Lass of Ballochmyle, by Burns, The minstrel, &c., &c. 
Edinburgh: 1799. 
Green morocco with Scottish wheel design, extra gilt, by D. Moncur.

Egerer 37 and p. 59, n. 7


Robert Burns 
Holy Willie's prayer, and epitaph 
Edinburgh: printed by T. Oliver, 1801. 
Early 19th century boards, hand-lettered.

Not in Egerer


Robert Burns and others 
Four funny tales: Alloway Kirk, or Tam o' Shanter, Watty and Meg, or the wife reformed, The loss o' the pack, and The monk and the miller's wife 
Air: printed by J. & P. Wilson, 1802. 
Modern quarter calf, marbled boards, contemporary leather label.

The other poets represented were Allan Ramsay and Alexander Wilson.

Not in Egerer


Robert Burns 
The sodier's return: a love song 
Boston: N. Coverly, [?1810].

"The sodier's return" was popular in Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, but it is more likely that the occasion of this American broadside, printed in Boston between 1810 and 1816, was the war between the United States and Britain of 1812-1814. This broadside with illustrative woodcut appears to be unique.


Robert Burns 
Tam o'Shanter. A tale 
extracted from The antiquities of Scotland by Francis Grose 
Second edition. London: Printed for Hooper & Wigstead, 1797. 
Nineteenth-century red straight-graon morocco.

Captain Francis Grose was already well known for his six-volume Antiquities of England and Wales (1773-1787) when he came to Scotland to work on a like project. Burns persuaded him to include a drawing of Alloway Kirk, which Grose promised to do if Burns would supply him with a ghost story to go with it. Burns sent him three stories of diablerie, one a prose precursor of "Tam o'Shanter." On December 1, 1790, he sent Grose the poem. It first appeared in The Edinburgh Herald for March 18, 1791, and somewhat later in volume II of Grose's Antiquities of Scotland. The poem as printed here contains four lines at the bottom of the right-hand column of page 200, beginning "Three Lawyers' tongues, turn'd inside out," but when Burns submitted the poem to Alexander Fraser Tytler before his poems were published by Creech in 1793, Tytler suggested that these lines might give offense, and the poem appeared in Creech's edition without them.

In this copy, the pages with the illustration of Alloway Kirk and "Tam o'Shanter" itself have been removed from Antiquities of Scotland and separately bound. The item belonged to the great ballad collector William MacMath, who collaborated with Francis James Child. The Roy Collection also includes a copy of the full Grose volume.


Virgil 
The XIII. Bukes of Eneados of the famose Poete Virgill translatet out of Latyne verses into Scottish metir, bi . . . Mayster Gawin Douglas 
London, 1553. 
Modern russia, tooled in gold and blind.

Gavin Douglas's Eneados was the first complete translation of Virgil in Scots or English and was published in 1553, although completed in 1513, nine years before his death. Burns's epigraph to "Tam o'Shanter," which had been omitted from the Antiquities of Scotland version and did not appear until the 1793 edition of Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect, was taken from the Eneados: "Of Brownyis and of Bogillis full is this buke." The Oxford English Dictionary lists the earliest known use of the word "brownie" as that of Gavin Douglas in this work.


Robert Burns 
Alloway Kirk; or, Tam o'Shanter: a tale 
Glasgow: Brash & Reid, 1796. 
Modern wrappers.

The popularity of "Tam o'Shanter" was immediate. The well-known firm Brash and Reid of Glasgow brought it out as the third of a series of ninety-nine chapbooks in 1795 and within a few years there were at least six printings of the tale.

Egerer 32


 

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