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Robert Burns Lives!
Book Review of Scottish and Irish Romanticism By Murray Pittock

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

For years the name Murray Pittock has been popping up in conversations with Scots on both sides of the pond, and I had wanted to meet him for as long. I recently ran across his name again when I read The Ultimate Burns Supper Book by Clark McGinn. Pittock and McGinn go back a long way - 32 years - and Pittock wrote the foreword for Clark’s book. Finally the opportunity to meet Murray via email presented itself through Keith Dunn, a friend in the Burns Club of Atlanta, who recommended Pittock’s book Scottish and Irish Romanticism. Intrigued by the title, I introduced myself to Dr. Pittock through a couple of Scottish friends. Having secured a copy of his book, I learned it was “designed for reading by advanced scholars, postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, senior undergraduates, and all those with an interest in Romanticism or in how Irish and Scottish studies intersect with other English literature.” Having failed to qualify in the first four categories, I convinced myself I might qualify as a part of the last group.

It did not take me long to realize that this publication was different from any I had ever read. Upon completion I was reminded that the professors I learned the most from during my undergraduate and graduate work were those who demanded the most out of me. I may not have made my best grades with them, but 45 years later I remember them and their courses more than some of those I “aced” in college and graduate school. The same goes for Scottish and Irish Romanticism.

If you like to read about literature, particularly Scottish, and its place in world literature, this is as good as it gets! You may not agree with all of the conclusions Pittock presents, but you will agree you have been challenged to learn more than probably ever before. Here one finds new material on many subjects. Among others I was impressed by what I found on Allan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Moore, James Hogg, and Maria Edgeworth. Interestingly, every chapter would use more than the person’s name to describe the chapter as in “Scott and the European Nationalities Question” or in “Allan Ramsay and the Decolonization of Genre”. BUT when you come to the Bard of Scotland, the chapter on him is simply entitled “Robert Burns”. Enough said!

You’ll learn how Burns “was expelled” from British Romanticism (American, too). Burns’ decline was evidenced by his not even being considered for a place in romanticism and Pittock points out that even “scholars often acted as if his poetry did not exist.” Case in point, I am aware of a Burns book collector with a pretty fair collection who was told by his university that there was no place for his books in their system because there was no one to teach Burns. Interpret that as the university not being interested. This suppression of Burns is similar to Johnson’s suppression of Scots as found in his Dictionary. Some of the authorities, if they considered Burns at all, had categorized him, along with Fergusson, as a “peasant poet”. Ironically, their suppression and lowly criticisms have not kept him out of the hearts of Scots all over the world - he is more popular now than ever before. In fact, in a recent email to me, Dr. Pittock said that “there’s another good year for Burns ahead…”

In conclusion, you may have to dig a little harder with this book but you will be rewarded over and over. The 49ers from the Old West used to say, “There’s gold in them thar hills” and they were amply rewarded by digging just as you will be for reading and studying this book. It is important to remember that “the outcomes of Scottish and Irish Romanticism, though different, were both conditioned by Union: in Ireland in 1801, in Scotland as part of a process which began in 1707 and ended in 1746.” But wait, there is so much more and it will be left up to you to discover what awaits you in this excellent tome. What do I think of Murray Pittock’s book? It is an interesting book. Impressively written. If you are looking for quiche and soup go elsewhere. This is a book of heavy, tasty meat! In my opinion Murray has succeeded in his quest to move Scottish and Irish literature, as well as Robert Burns, back into the academic arena of world literature and particularly the so-called British or English literature.

If I were writing a blurb for this book it would simply be “WOW! WHAT A MASTERPIECE!!”
(FRS: 9.2.10)

Murray Pittock is Bradley Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow, Head of the College of Arts and Vice-Principal. He has formerly held chairs and other senior appointments at Strathclyde, Edinburgh and Manchester universities. He has been BP Humanities Prize Lecturer at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he is a Fellow, and Chatterton Lecturer in Poetry at the British Academy. His recent work includes Scottish and Irish Romanticism (2008), The Reception of Sir Walter Scott in Europe (2007) and James Boswell (2007). Forthcoming work includes collections on Robert Burns in Global Culture, the Reception of Robert Burns in Europe and the textual edition of the Scottish Musical Museum for the Oxford Burns. He is currently Principal Investigator of the Arts and Humanties Research Council Beyond Text project, ‘Robert Burns, 1796-1909: Inventing Tradition and Securing Memory’.

Scottish and Irish Romanticism by Murray Pittock was published by Oxford University Press in 2008 and can be purchased at all quality book stores. ISBN 978-0-19-923279-6.

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