Robert Burns

Robert Burns, author of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Portrait by Alexander Nasmyth © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth © National Portrait Gallery, London


Robert Burns was born on 25 January 1759 in Alloway, a small village near the river Doon just south of the town of Ayr in south-west Scotland. Burns received a good education in mathematics and English literature, but from his teens had to contribute hard labour to the working of the family’s rented farm.

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published at Kilmarnock in 1786 and made him famous; an expanded edition appeared at Edinburgh the following year, and through his new friends among the Scottish ruling class he was able to get a job in the Excise service in Dumfriesshire, where he moved in 1788. Here he concentrated his creative energies in contributing song lyrics to two major collections, each published in several volumes over a period of years: The Scots Musical Museum (1787–1803) and A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1793–1841). Long-standing health problems led to his early death on 21 July 1796.

Further information about the life of Robert Burns can be found here via the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.