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Robert Burns Lives!
Robert Burns and the Philosopher By Walter McGinty

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA

Sometime back I published on this site a review of Walter McGinty’s book entitled Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns, and today I am happy to report that he has now published a volume on Burns and philosophers. Yes, I am taking the unusual approach of using an email from McGinty about his new book rather than a review from yours truly. After I first read the email, I found myself being drawn back to it several times and came to the conclusion he had reviewed the book for me and I did not see where I could improve on the explanation! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This book is worthy of adding to your own Burns collection. (FRS: April 19, 2018)

Robert Burns and the Philosopher
By Walter McGinty

Dear Frank,

Some time ago I provided some material for your web site on the 'Humour of Robert Burns'. I thought you might like to know that my latest book Robert Burns and the Philosophers. It has just been published by Routledge, part of the Taylor and Francis Group, based in New York. This work completes a trilogy on the subject of the influence that the books read by Robert Burns had on his life and work. The earlier parts of the trilogy are Robert Burns and Religion, Ashgate, (Burlington, Vermont, 2003), and Robert Burns the Book Lover, Humming Earth, (Kilkerran, Scotland, 2013) Your readers might be interested to know that I began my research into this subject in 1989 when I was looking for a book on the subject of the books that had been read by Robert Burns and discovered that to the best of my knowledge there wasn't one specifically looking at that area of Burns's interest. For me, a hobby of trying to read what Burns read turned into a Ph. D. then the books followed on from that.

A few words from the Introduction to Robert Burns and the Philosopher by J. Walter McGinty:

This book will attempt to show the influence of philosophy on Burns's own outlook and in some of the ways in which this is reflected in his work [...]

This book does not purport to be a work of philosophy but rather one that seeks to explore how the poet's work and life was influenced by the philosophy he read and the few philosophers that he met.

To me it is a tribute to the status of the intellect of the poet that he should have read so widely and so deeply. It is also a matter of some surprise that this area of research had remained relatively unexplored. For although all of Burns's biographers have referred to some of the books that were influential in the poet's life, none of them, for it was not their primary task, dealt with the subject in the detail that was needed to explore fully just how influential Burns's reading was. I have been very fortunate to stumble across this hitherto relatively unexplored area of Burns Studies and to have had the time to explore it.

Both the Burnsian and the general reader will find the book accessible. It has been described as a 'crossover book', bridging the gap between the student and the scholar. One passing observation: the poet himself was untrained in philosophy but he found people like Adam Smith, John Locke and Thomas Reid fascinating and helpful in providing insights into life. Remember what Burns wrote to James Tennant his farmer friend and neighbour as he sent him by the local carrier a loan of two books of philosophy:

I've sent you here by Johnie Simson'
Twa sage Philosophers to glimpse on!
Smith, wi' his sympathetic feeling,
An' Reid, to common sense appealing.
Philosophers have fought an' wrangled
An' meikle Greek an' Latin mangled,
ill with their Logic-jargon tir'd,
An' in the depth of science mir'd,
To common sense they now appeal,
What wives and wabsters see an' feel;

Smith and Reid and another six philosophers Burns came to know are dealt with in the book.

Hope that you can make use of the above.

With kind regards,


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