Happy birthday, Robert Burns! The “”national poet of Scotland” was born 254 years ago today, on 25 January 1759. During his lifetime, Burns earned widespread and lasting acclaim for his poetry, much of which was written in the Scots language or in the Scottish dialect of English. His best-known works include “To a Mouse,” “A Red,Red, Rose” and “Tam O’Shanter.” He also collected and preserved existing traditional Scottish songs and poems, including the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne.”
In Scotland, his birthday is celebrated as “Burns Night.” Traditional festivities center around a “Burns Supper.” These gatherings follow a traditional format and menu. First, the host welcomes his guests. Then, the “Selkirk Grace” is recited to give thanks for the meal. The menu includes traditional Scottish foods like Scotch broth, mashed potatoes and turnips, and of course, haggis.
Haggis, in fact, is the centerpiece of the meal, and is brought to the table with great fanfare and to the accompaniment of bagpipes. Burn’s poem “Address to a Haggis” is recited, and everything is washed down with plentiful amounts of Scotch whisky.
This year, there’s an additional bonus for Burns enthusiasts. A previously unpublished letter from Burns to actress Elizabeth Kemble on the subject of slavery (Burns was an abolitionist) will be published for the first time today. In the letter, Burns asks Kemble to take care of an unpublished abolitionist manuscript for him, requesting her to “lay the book under lock & key, when you go out.”
Project director Helena Anderson Wright told the Daily Record:
“It is quite remarkable that, over 200 years after Burns’ death, a find like this is still possible. Now that we have had it authenticated, we are delighted to share this letter with the world. There is still a mystery surrounding its complete interpretation which will no doubt be hotly debated by academics for years to come.”