Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns
Unlike William Burnes, however, Burns was able to escape the vicissitudes and vagaries of the soil in two ways: toward the end of his life he became an excise collector in Dumfries, where he died in ; and throughout his life he was a practicing poet. As a poet he recorded and celebrated aspects of farm life, regional experience, traditional culture, class culture and distinctions, and religious practice and belief in such a way as to transcend the particularities of his inspiration, becoming finally the national poet of Scotland. Although he did not set out to achieve that designation, he clearly and repeatedly expressed his wish to be called a Scots bard, to extol his native land in poetry and song, as he does in "The Answer":. And perhaps he had an intimation that his "wish" had some basis in reality when he described his Edinburgh reception in a letter of 7 December to his friend Gavin Hamilton: "I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas a Kempis or John Bunyan ; and you may expect henceforth to see my birthday inserted among the wonderful events, in the Poor Robin's and Aberdeen Almanacks Burns is often seen as the end of that literary line both because his brilliance and achievement could not be equaled and, more particularly, because the Scots vernacular in which he wrote some of his celebrated works was—even as he used it—becoming less and less intelligible to the majority of readers, who were already infected with English culture and language. The shift toward English cultural and linguistic hegemony had begun in with the Union of the Crowns when James VI of Scotland became James I of Great Britain; it had continued in with the merging of the Scottish and English Parliaments in London; and it was virtually a fait accompli by Burns's day save for pockets of regional culture and dialect. Thus, one might say that Burns remains the National Poet of Scotland because Scottish literature ceased with him, thereafter yielding poetry in English or in a pale Anglo-Scots or in inferior and slavish imitations of Burns.
He came to fame as a poet when he was 27 years old, and his lifestyle of wine, women and song made him famous all over Scotland. He was the son of a farmer, born in a cottage built by his father, in Alloway in Ayr. This cottage is now a museum, dedicated to Burns. After the death of his father in , Burns inherited the farm but by he was in terrible financial difficulties: the farm was not successful and he had made two women pregnant. He was persuaded not to leave Scotland by Dr Thomas Blacklock and in an Edinburgh edition of the poems was published. He married Jean Armour in — she had been one of his many women during his early life.
He was also famous for his amours and his rebellion against orthodox religion and morality. It was watching his father being thus beaten down that helped to make Robert both a rebel against the social order of his day and a bitter satirist of all forms of religious and political thought that condoned or perpetuated inhumanity. He received some formal schooling from a teacher as well as sporadically from other sources. He acquired a superficial reading knowledge of French and a bare smattering of Latin, and he read most of the important 18th-century English writers as well as Shakespeare , Milton , and Dryden. Proud, restless, and full of a nameless ambition, the young Burns did his share of hard work on the farm. He took sides against the dominant extreme Calvinist wing of the church in Ayrshire and championed a local gentleman, Gavin Hamilton , who had got into trouble with the kirk session a church court for Sabbath breaking.