Rabbie’s treasures on display in capital


By Karrie Gillett

ICONIC works from Robert Burns are going on display to mark the 250th anniversary of the national bard’s birthday.

The treasures include a rare first edition of Burns’ first published works and a one-off manuscript of Auld Lang Syne.

The display at Edinburgh’s National Library of Scotland takes its name from an autobiographical letter penned by Burns in 1787 in which he describes his life as “zig-zag” like.

Nat Edwards, education manager at the library, said the poet’s letter to Dr John Moore was well ahead of its time more than 200 years ago.

He said: “Burns was only 28 when he wrote this letter but he did it for a very conscious reason as he wanted there to be a public account of himself.

“He had a passionate desire to create a very public image around his personality and his work. It’s a bit like modern day celebrities such as footballers and glamour models who release autobiographies in their twenties.”

The exhibition takes the letter as a starting point and explores Burns’ journey throughout his short life and looks at his passion to write about Scottish identity.

The event will run until February 1 to take in Burns Night before going on tour to Aberdeen, Dumfries and Glasgow as part of the Homecoming Scotland 2009 celebrations.

One unique artefact to be spotted is The Kilmarnock Edition – the first printed text of Burns’ poems in 1786.

Mr Edwards, who helped put together the exhibition, said: “The Kilmarnock Edition is probably the most important. It is very, very rare and it is vital that we preserve it. This is the work which marked the real start of his career.

“He wrote the book for a very pragmatic reason in order to raise some funds to pay £10 for his passage on a ship to Jamaica to start a new life.

“But the works were so hugely popular that they sold out almost immediately and his career and life took another direction as a result.

“There were around 600 editions printed originally and there are less than 100 that we know of left in existence. So this really is a historic piece of literature. 

And other showcase manuscripts available to view are Tam O’Shanter, Holy Willie’s Prayer and Ae Fond Kiss

The exhibition – which took around six months to create – also features portraits of Burns, his drinking horn and a Masonic apron given to him in 1791.

All the printed works and artefacts have come from Burns collections from museums in Edinburgh, East Ayrshire, Dumfries and the National Heritage Park in Alloway.

Martyn Wade, National Librarian, said the exhibition would allow people from across Scotland to celebrate the life of the national bard.

He said: “There can be no more fitting way to mark the 250th anniversary of Burns’ birth than to bring together some of the highlights of the national collection of Burns material for the first time and take it round the country.”