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
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.
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.