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Robert Burns Lives!
Robert Burns: A Life in Letters by George Scott Wilkie

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

In our last article I mentioned a book I planned to review in the near future. To quote Burns, “Now is the Time. Now is the Hour”. I finished reading George Wilkie’s book last night or, more accurately, early this morning. My wife and I are on our annual beach trip on Amelia Island (Florida) with son Scott, his wife Denise and two grandchildren Ian and Stirling. Kids and grandkids have scattered for lunch at T-Ray’s for shrimp (as good as it gets), burgers and hot dogs. Susan and I went to eat early so we could come back and complete this article. All too soon the grandchildren will file back in for bathing suits and their afternoon in the pool and ocean. Who can blame them? The temperature yesterday was 100 degrees. I’m drooped over my laptop trying to describe something that means a lot to me, another book on Burns! Susan has a book in hand waiting for me to finish this so she can work her magic for it to be readable! Correct grammar is not my best friend or my first cousin.

In continuing last week’s thought process about letter writing, I direct you to one of history’s best letter writers - Robert Burns. George Scott Wilkie, to his own credit, has three other books on Burns so is not a newcomer to the arena. Wilkie’s newest edition follows in the footprints of the others and is an excellent study of the letters of Burns. The letters, I might add, are like his poems - talked about by a lot of people but actually read by few. Wilkie’s book should go a long way in helping the Burns novice, as well as those who have reached the status of being referred to as Burnsians (including the so-called “Burns experts”), to read and understand the Bard’s letters. The publication is a fascinating read, and I am honored to have opportunity to review it. Here you will find 379 pages of sheer delight.

In my opinion, not since Ross Roy took pen in hand to completely revise The Letters of Robert Burns by J. De Lancey Ferguson has a book on the letters of Burns been so impressively presented. Here is a volume for scholar and layman alike. If you have put off reading and studying the letters of Burns, or have not visited them lately, Wilkie has made your task much easier. Each of the letters chosen by him has a brief description which will prove invaluable to the reader.

Since I highlight passages and turn down pages in the books I study regularly on Burns, they probably will be of little value to someone else in the future. This book is a good example as I counted 52 pages turned down at the corners and 318 highlighted with my trusty yellow marker. I’ll leave it to you to decide if you think I think this is a great book.

In a brief email Wilkie mentions, and I agree, “that Burns would not have wasted his time in pursuit of a married woman…”. He goes on to say that “…the world would have been a poorer place without the Clarinda correspondence.” We agree again.

Concluding A Life in Letters is a never before published letter to Robert Graham of Fintry from John Mitchell, Burns’ Excise Superior. Researchers at the National Archives of Scotland found this letter which describes the last meeting between Mitchell and Burns and supplied the text of the letter for Wilkie to include in his book. In my opinion, the letter is worth the price of the book, and below is one sentence from this important document:

“Dear Sir,

Upon my return home, today, having been in the Country all last Week, attending Revenue, [I] found poor Burns was no more, [he] dyed on Thursday.” This worthy patron of Burns is the one he always turned to when any trouble surfaced regarding his job.

Like I said earlier, this is a most valuable book and a wonderful tool for research and personal enjoyment!

For another article by George Scott Wilkie, see Chapter 113 in Robert Burns Lives!

Editor’s note: Neil Wilson, one of Scotland’s leading independent publishers, informed me the cost of the print addition is £19.99 in the UK, $24.99 in the USA (ISBN 978-1-906476-16-8), £9.99 on Ebook (ISBN 978-1-906476-37-3). Find the book on (Neil Wilson Publishing), Amazon UK, or order from your local bookshop by the ISBN. The book will also appear in the Interlink catalogue this fall.

(FRS: 6.21.11)

Electric Scotland Note: This book is available for ordering through Electric Scotland Amazon Shopping Mall. A Kindle edition is available through the mall.

You can also read another two of his books, Understanding Robert Burns and also Robert Burns - The Lassies.

Shown below is the back cover of Wilkie’s “Robert Burns: A Life in Letters” and will further whet your appetite.

Return to Robert Burns Lives! Index Page


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