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Bard of Friendly Fire

Robert​ Crawford: The Radical Burns

25 July 2002
Robert BurnsPoems 
edited by Don Paterson.
Faber, 96 pp., £4.99, February 2001, 0 571 20740 5
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The Canongate BurnsThe Complete Poems and Songs of Robert​ Burns 
edited by Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg.
Canongate, 1017 pp., £40, November 2001, 0 86241 994 8
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... as a bard. In the next century, the idea of the bard became linked to Homeric epic. By 1735 the Aberdeen philosopher Thomas Blackwell was writing that Homer was a ‘stroling indigent Bard’. RobertBurns liked that idea. In ‘Love and Liberty’ a bard sings alongside prostitutes and tinkers, and pronounces himself ‘Homer like’. Burns’s footnote (Burns enjoyed footnotes) points out ...

How Does It Add Up?

Neal Ascherson: The Burns​ Cult

12 March 2009
The Bard: Robert Burns, a Biography 
by Robert​ Crawford.
Cape, 466 pp., £20, January 2009, 978 0 224 07768 2
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... hypothetical excuses. This is a tough standard to follow – so tough that most biographers have tried to forget that Crick ever set it. Nowhere is it more difficult to observe than in the matter of RobertBurns. Long ago, Edwin Muir said that ‘for a Scotsman to see Burns simply as a poet is almost impossible.’ Robert Crawford, himself an admired and graceful poet, writes on the closing page of The ...

Peeping Tam

Karl Miller

6 August 1981
... RobertBurns wrote about art, friendship, religion, animals, drink, marriage and love. The First two and the last of these themes – poetry, sociability and sexual adventure, to call them by other names – ...
5 March 1981
Precipitous City 
by Trevor Royle.
Mainstream, 210 pp., £6.95, May 1980, 0 906391 09 1
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RLS: A Life Study 
by Jenni Calder.
Hamish Hamilton, 362 pp., £9.95, June 1980, 0 241 10374 6
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by J. MacDougall Hay.
Canongate, 450 pp., £4.95, November 1979, 0 903937 79 4
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Scottish Satirical Verse 
edited by Edwin Morgan.
Carcanet, 236 pp., £6.95, June 1980, 0 85635 183 0
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Collected Poems 
by Robert​ Garioch.
Carcanet, 208 pp., £3.95, July 1980, 0 85635 316 7
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... tyros arriving at King’s Cross. Edinburgh is a literary city. Its architecture and atmosphere are still rich in hints of the life savoured by its great authors, from Dunbar to Norman MacCaig and Robert Garioch. The heyday of its literary, cultural and philosophic life lasted for a hundred years to the death of Scott and left its mark on Europe and America. An ancient city, a capital, with authors ...

Short Cuts

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘The Trip to Echo Spring’

12 September 2013
... had a copy of something he called the ‘Big Book’ in there too, and so, in my mind, the bond between heavy drinking and writing was forged. When I thought of poetry I thought of drink. There was RobertBurns, after all, and his skirling, birling Tam O’Shanter. There was Hugh MacDiarmid and his drunk man looking at the thistle. And there were all those Scots poets meeting in Milne’s Bar in ...
6 June 2019
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee 
by Casey Cep.
Heinemann, 314 pp., £20, May 2019, 978 1 78515 073 9
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... Radney suffered guilt by association. But a spectacular twist to the story changed everything for both of them. The reverend had married a third time after Dorcas’s death. His new wife, Ophelia Burns, brought an adopted daughter (actually her niece), Shirley Ann, into the household. On a June evening in 1977 the 16-year-old took off for some reason, and, well: Ford Torino, roadside, insurance ...

Asking to Be Looked at

Wayne Koestenbaum

25 January 1996
Mapplethorpe: A Biography 
by Patricia Morrisroe.
Macmillan, 461 pp., £20, September 1995, 9780333669419
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Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert​ Mapplethorpe 
by Arthur Danto.
California, 206 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 520 20051 9
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... New York’s Guggenheim Museum contains in an annex a covert Robert Mapplethorpe gallery, a sober exhibition space which, like the masterpieces of its namesake, seems consecrated to the unusual and the mortifying. The current show – Joel-Peter Witkin’s ...

Smiles Better

Andrew O’Hagan: Glasgow v. Edinburgh

23 May 2013
On Glasgow and Edinburgh 
by Robert​ Crawford.
Harvard, 345 pp., £20, February 2013, 978 0 674 04888 1
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... to living? Could you feel let down by a city? Can you get huffy with a conurbation or fancy the essence of a town? Can you dedicate a book to a dot – two dots – on the map? The poet and academic Robert Crawford has a soft spot for nice spots and he dedicated his 1990 collection, A Scottish Assembly, ‘to Scotland’. Some countries and some cities – like some people – openly insist on being ...
4 January 2001
... in place of much that wasn’t. Madness for instance. The Bedlams yielded to medicine: even madness has, a little. Madness: would you rise from the grave back through madness? It took you and left us Burns of the Night. Many jubilant returns: this at last is Robert Fergusson Night ...
22 March 2001
... we’re deid they gie us – stane, like this: a ‘simple stone’, whaur all Scotia ‘Should pour her sorrows o’er her poet’s dust’. Whit’s wrang wi dust? I’ve no min’ here to flyte wi Burns, but staunin unner the Calton Hill, Embro’s ‘disgrace’; amang these smeekit monuments, I’m thinking – poets are dust, or should be, free tae blaw a’ tapsalteerie aboot this brave, clean ...

Malvolio’s Story

Marilyn Butler

8 February 1996
Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert​ Burns 
by Ian McIntyre.
HarperCollins, 461 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 00 215964 3
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... in his pride; Of Him who walked in glory and in joy Following his plough, along the mountain-side ... Chatterton the creative medievalist killed himself at 17 in the year Wordsworth was born. Burns the ‘Heaven-taught ploughman’ died at 37, Wordsworth’s age when he published ‘Resolution and Independence’. Wordsworth and Burns were much of an age – 28, 27 – when each published a ...

Kafka’s Dog

P.N. Furbank

13 November 1997
The Treasure Chest 
by Johann Peter Hebel, translated by John Hibberd.
Libris/Penguin, 175 pp., £19.95, May 1995, 0 14 044639 7
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... to his childhood haunts, in a sudden burst of inspiration, he composed a volume of dialect verse, the Alemannische Gedichte, which became very famous, earning him the reputation of a sort of German RobertBurns. Goethe admired the poems greatly, and Jean Paul declared he never tired of reading them. Thus when he took on the editorship of the Rheinländische Hausfreund he was already known as a writer ...


Marc Weissman: Mysteries of the Russian Mind

18 April 1985
... explanation is at hand: one of the founders of Marxism-Leninism referred to his books as a truthful representation of the class struggle in Medieval Europe. Meanwhile the poems of a second Scotsman, RobertBurns, are better-known in Russia than in his native Scotland – and for reasons that go beyond ideology. Burns’s language, somewhat difficult to understand in the original, has been beautifully ...
5 March 1987
Baroque ’n’ Roll 
by Brigid Brophy.
Hamish Hamilton, 172 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 241 12037 3
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... vogue in Regency circles and associated with Tom Moore and the fashion for Irishness – sedulously cultivated by Lady Morgan – as for Scotchness. Jane Austen was impressed by neither Glorvina nor RobertBurns, championing instead that model of quiet English moral sobriety Fanny Price. Brigid Brophy’s funniest piece is on fish, that silent persecuted majority, whom even hostesses who are delighted ...

Bully off

Susannah Clapp

5 November 1992
by Shena Mackay.
Heinemann, 341 pp., £14.99, July 1992, 0 434 44048 5
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... Edinburgh. It sports a George Street, a Hanover Street and an Albany Street, as well as a Castle Street (without the castle) and a Princes Street (with no prince); even in the 1960s, the statue of RobertBurns in the middle of the main street was surrounded by Highland dancers every Friday night. The Scottishness of Mackay’s Dunedin is more a matter of moral style than of civic life, and her New ...

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