Scotland's Son

The cult of Burns rapidly rose to huge proportions. As the ‘National Bard’ he assumed spiritual dimensions, becoming all things to all people - admired as poet, nationalist, democrat, republican, conversationalist, womaniser, drinker, naturalist, folklorist, lyricist, Freemason and atheist to name a few. His humble origins, in particular as the ‘heaven taught ploughman’, have added to the idolatry.

Photograph of Queen Elizabeth at Mausoleum
Queen Elizabeth at Burns Mausoleum, 1956

Scotland is arguably the only country where a literary figure such as Burns could have been elevated to such a level. The Reformation had turned Scotland into a strongly Protestant society and had confirmed the population’s high regard for learning. Education Acts in 1646 and 1696 required that each parish had to have its own school for the education of the poor. This ensured a high standard of literacy amongst the Scottish peasantry as early as the eighteenth century. Another part of Scottish tradition was verse, music and dancing. These had survived the Reformation and had become an essential aspect of Scottish life. The education of Burns himself bears witness to this.

Drawing of Burns Statue
Burns Statue

It was against this unique background that the phenomenon of Burns could arise. The appeal of Burns even in his own lifetime covered all social groups and to this day remains universal.

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