This week marks the 259th birthday of Robert Burns – The National Poet of Scotland, the Bard of Ayrshire, the Ploughman Poet and a pioneer of the Romantic movement.
Born on January 25, 1759 in Alloway, Scotland to tenant farmers William and Agnes Burns, he was the eldest of seven and grew up in hardship and poverty which left him in poor health later in life.
Although called a fornicator, philanderer and father of bastard bairns, it is for his love of women, whom he worshipped and considered the superior of the species, he is considered a feminist. T’was he who said, “Mither nature…her prentice hand she tried on man and then she made the lasses, O”.
Burns advocated the rights of women at a time when the British Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was still a twinkle in Mither Nature’s e’e. It may seem frivolous today, but in 1792, Burns’ poem “The Rights of Women”, was ground-breaking. At a time when women had no basic rights, Burns not only honored women for their beauty, humor and intellect, he stood up for their place in society as equals to men and abhored the fact that other men did not.
In May, 1785, his first illegitimate child was born to his mother’s servant – in true Burns style he was already wooing a local lass, Jean Armour. By year’s end she would become pregnant with twins. Although they made an exchange of bibles and a promise, her father disapproved of their scandalous “wedding” – declaring them sinners and through the church forced Burns to stay away from Jean.
Burns continued his life of Casanova, relocating to Edinburgh in 1787 where he was published and very well received – raising him to rock star status – the Shagger of Scotland now had women throwing themselves at him – after all, what drops a woman’s pantaloons faster than a charming and succesful poet?
Here Burns met Agnes “Nancy” Maclehose, a well bred beautiful young woman separated and lonely and they took up a clandestine affair. In all he wrote 9 songs for Nancy, the most well known of which, “Ae Fond Kiss”, he sent to her by letter. Although in love, the poius Nancy refused to consumate the relationship and when Nancy dispatched her servant, Jenny Clow, to deliver a letter to Burns, the rascal could not resist seducing her.
Nearly broke and becoming bored with Edinburgh, in February of 1788 he left the now pregnant Jenny Clow and returned to his ever faithful wife Jean Armour, renting a farm in Dumfriesshire. After a few years the life of farming was taking it’s toll and he moved the family to the town of Dumfries in 1791. Here he had another 5 children with Jean – the last of which was born the day of his funeral in July, 1796. He was 37.
Robbie Burns wrote, in his relatively short life, an astonishing collection of songs and poems and sired some 13 children, 9 with wife Jean (of which only 3 survived), and at least 4 (that we know of!), with other women and was a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic – “till I get once heartily in love, and then rhyme and song were in a manner, the spontaneous language of my heart”.