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Robert Burns, 1759-1796

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ROBERT BURNS, 1759-1796

His father W. Burns was a hardworking farmer. He knew the value of a good education and he was determined to give his children the best schooling possible.

There were 7 children in the family and Robert was the eldest. When he was 6 his father sent him to school to Alloway. His mother's friend Betty told him many fantastic tales about devils, ghosts, fairies and witches.

At 13 he was out in the fields all day helping his father, and he studied nature closely and following the plough, he whistled and sang. In his songs he spoke of what he saw, of the woods, the fields, the valleys, of the deer, of the hare and the small field mouse, of the farmer's poor cottage home.

Burns began to write poetry in his l6th. His first love song "Handsome Nell" was dedicated to the girl who helped him in the harvest fields.

Life was hard for the family. His father died 1784. In 1788 Burns married Jean Armour she is immortalized in many beautiful poems written by the poet, such as " I LOVE MY JEAN ", " THY BONNIE FACE".

Robert and Jean continued meeting secretly and Robert gave Jean a paper declaring them man and wife. When Jean's father learned about it, he tore the paper up and forbade his daughter to see Robert. Jean obeyed and Robert being offended by it, swore never to see her again.

One of the finest poems widely popular in Scotland "TAH O'SHANTER' was written in 1790. 1793 saw the appearance of the "TREE OF LIBERTY" in which R. Burns greeted the French Revolution but the poem was published only 40 years after Burn's death.

All of R. Burn's poetry shows him to be one of great masters of lyrical verse, warm patriot of his native country. He had always stood for liberty, equality, justice and honesty. His poetry is deeply democratic and full of criticism directed against the landlords, the government officials.

Our reader finds pleasure in reading Burn's poems and songs in the wonderful translation of Samuel Marshak.

Whenever we speak of Scotland, the name of Scotland's Bard R.Burns is always there, as the ever-living, never-dying symbol of that country.

The University of South Carolina is marking the bicentenary of Robert Burns's death in 1796, not only with an international research conference on "Robert Burns and Literary Nationalism," but with a major exhibition of works by and about the poet, showing selected highlights from the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burns, Burnsiana and Scottish Poetry.

This extensive collection, acquired from Professor Roy through a generous gift-purchase agreement in 1989, is now widely recognized as among the best Burns collections anywhere in North America, and it regularly attracts to the University researchers from around the world. It is a special pleasure to me to see the Roy Collection displayed for the bicentenary, as its acquisition was one of the first goals to be realized after I became director of the University of South Carolina Libraries.

The present exhibition, curated by Prof. Roy himself, represents of course only a very small part of the whole collection, which covers Scottish poetry from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, with some earlier items. On-line entries for items in the collection are available through the University's USCAN catalogue, and through the World Wide Web, and a full printed catalogue of the Burns items is now also in preparation, with Prof. Roy's help. This exhibit catalogue gives a sample of what is to come and provides an informative commemoration of the University's Robert Burns bicentenary celebrations.

The items chosen for the University's Robert Burns bicentenary exhibit have been selected from over four thousand items in the Roy Collection on Burns alone. In making the selection, the aim has been not only to display some of the outstanding high points and the rarest items (the Kilmarnock edition, the 1799 Merry Muses, the letter to Clarinda), but also to represent some of the different strengths of the collection, as for instance in sections on the early editions, on the development of Burns scholarship in the nineteenth century, on Burns chapbooks, on Burns and Scottish song, and on Burns translations. For the display, but not in this catalogue, I also included some items, such as postcards, banknotes and postage stamps, to illustrate the poet's popular reputation. The great majority of items have now been transferred with the Roy Collection to the University of South Carolina Libraries; a few items on display, notably manuscripts and artifacts, are from my personal collection, and the postcards were from the collection of Thomas E. Keith. The items on Burns in America, originally displayed as part of a small separate exhibit in South Caroliniana Library, have here been integrated with the main exhibit sequence.

While I have selected the items and provided the descriptions, I should like to thank Jamie S. Hansen, who coordinated the exhibit for Special Collections, my wife Lucie who helped with the exhibit planning and with this catalogue, and Patrick Scott who helped in mounting the exhibit and in editing. Thanks are due to the South Carolina Humanities Council, a state-level agency of the National Endowment for the Humanities, for support of the Burns bicentenary project, and to the Thomas Cooper Society, for generously funding this exhibit catalogue.