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Robert Burns Lives!
The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns: An Illustrated Catalogue


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

It has been much too long since the writings of Dr. Kenneth Simpson have graced these pages. One of the kindest and most polite men I have ever known, an undisputed Burns scholar, as well as a talented writer, scholar, author and speaker, it is wonderful to welcome my good friend back to Robert Burns Lives!. Among my favorite books written on Burns are two edited by Ken: Love & Liberty and Burns Now.

In this article Ken reviews The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns: An Illustrated Catalogue which first appeared in the Scottish Literary Review edited by Sarah Dunnigan and Rhona Brown who edits the reviews section. Thanks to them for allowing the review to appear on our web site.

By way of introduction to Ken’s review below, I take great pride in sharing a blurb I was asked to write for this book:

“This eagerly awaited publication will be a joy for all serious Burnsians since there has been no major Burns catalogue in recent times. It is a useful research tool by the world’s most preeminent Burns scholar. Ross Roy’s comments and illustrations regarding the rarer items make this great collection even better for all who wish to study the Scottish bard. This book will be of special value as a guide to the major Burns collection in North America.” (FRS: 5.25.11)

Book Review
By Dr. Kenneth Simpson
of
The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns: An Illustrated Catalogue
Compiled by Elizabeth A. Sudduth With the assistance of Clayton Tarr

Introduction by G. Ross Roy
Foreword by Thomas F. McNally

Published by The University of South Carolina Press
in cooperation with the Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina, 2009

Arguably pride of place in the G. Ross Roy Collection should go to the edition of Burns inscribed ‘from his friend, Charlotte A. Sprigings, Xmas 1890’ to W. Ormiston Roy. The gift exchanged between Professor Roy’s paternal grandparents initiated the collection begun by W. Ormiston Roy and greatly enlarged by his grandson, so that it now forms the most extensive collection of Scottish books and manuscripts outwith Scotland. The Burns material here catalogued comprises a third of the collection.

In his Introduction Dr. Roy acknowledges that since the publication in 1964 of J.W. Egerer’s Bibliography of Robert Burns he has been ‘on a chase to obtain a copy of every volume listed’. Few have eluded him. This Burns cornucopia includes Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions; one of only two known copies of The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1799) – ‘by far the most important eighteenth-century volume in the collection’ in Roy’s view; a wealth of songbooks and chapbooks; several interesting Burns letters; a Miers silhouette of Clarinda with a lock of her hair; and items such as a recording of J. Ramsay MacDonald, ‘Robert Burns, a Man Amongst Men’, the 1937 movie, Auld Lang Syne with Andrew Cruikshank as the Bard, and Burns’s porridge-bowl and spoon. Courtesy of the W.Ormiston Roy Research Fellowship, scholars have been afforded access to such materials; and the University of S. Carolina has a distinguished record in hosting international conferences on Scottish literature. Rightly Thomas F. McNally in his Foreword claims for the University’s Thomas Cooper Library ‘a distinctive research strength in Scottish literature…unrivalled in North America’; and, since the catalogue is now online, access is available to all.

Appropriately published in 2009, this illustrated catalogue is the most valuable of the many Burns books of that year. This is a book to be read, rather than merely consulted: it opens up so many roads to, and from, Burns. The chronological order of publication in the first two sections – ‘Manuscripts and Typescripts’ and ‘Printed Materials, Books, and Sheet Music by Burns’ - fosters awareness of movements in taste, fluctuations in Burns’s reputation, and – above all – publishing history. For selected major items Roy offers informative annotations: the expansion of the five-page glossary of the Kilmarnock edition to twenty-five pages in the Edinburgh indicates the ever-increasing range of Burns’s readership; it is helpful to be reminded that ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ first appeared in a chapbook in 1789; and a promissory note by Burns shows that ‘in late eighteenth-century small towns, handwritten drafts and IOU’s substituted for more formal banking’, hence some of the poet’s financial problems are contextualised.

Inscribed editions of Moore’s Zeluco, Thomson’s The Seasons, and Cumberland’s The Observer reflect Burns’s range of reading; and marginalia testify to his boast in a letter, ‘I would not give a farthing for a book, unless I were at liberty to blot it with my criticisms’. Various items give insight into Burns’s methods of composition and the contexts thereof: on the manuscript of ‘Lesley Bailie: A Scots Ballad’ the poet writes, ‘the foregoing Ballad was composed as I galloped from Cummertrees to town, after spending the day with the family of Mayfield’ (surely there is a thesis to be written on Burns’s trotting, cantering, and galloping poetic rhythms?); a poem to Syme is written at the ‘Jerusalem Tavern, Dumfries, Monday even’; and – a wonderful irony which Burns must have relished – ‘An Address to the Unco Guid’ is inscribed on the endpapers of a published sermon, Thomas Randall’s Christian Benevolence.

Some of the biographical issues which currently preoccupy Burnsians are represented. Was Burns serious about emigration? Burns’s farewell letter – ‘my last this side of the Atlantic’ - to Thomas Campbell, August 19, 1786, might seem to settle the matter until one realises that it predates both Jean Armour’s giving birth to twins and Thomas Blacklock’s recommending a second, enlarged edition of the poet’s work. There is material aplenty relating to the Edinburgh sojourns, influential in a variety of ways on the poet’s career: a newly recovered letter from Clarinda speaks for Burns’s personal life; proof-sheets of ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ with Alexander Fraser Tytler’s marginal emendations betoken the influence of the literati. Burns’s life is here contextualised in the context of his age and its values. The contemporary concern with the relationships between primitive and modern societies and cultures is typified in Tytler’s translation for Burns of part of Lucan’s Pharsalia concerning the Druids and human sacrifice; and the poet as Man of Feeling is revealed by what appears to be the shedding of the requisite single tear upon a letter to Clarinda.


Susan Shaw and Ken Simpson walking in Dumfries

The catalogue also provides a useful index both to Burns’s popularity and to the ways in which he came to be viewed and used. It is comforting to know that for those for whom the cost of a Kilmarnock or Edinburgh edition was prohibitive there was still access to Burns through chapbooks. It is salutary to note that ‘To a Mountain Daisy’, a poem little in favour now, was included in 1794 in The Young Gentleman and Lady’s Poetical Preceptor: Being a collection of the most admired poetry selected from the best authors. Similarly, the frequency of nineteenth-century printings of ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ attests to the selectively didactic use of Burns. An edition of Burns’s Works is inscribed, ‘Marmaduke Head Best with the best wishes of Robert Sheppard Routh, On his leaving Eton, Easter 1864’; Logie Robertson’s edition, Selected Poems (1889) bears the bookplate of Edinburgh Ladies College; and Valentine & Sons printing of ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ (189-?), complete with original tartan covers, is inscribed ‘with best wishes from Aunt Jeannie’. That Burns came to be identified with ‘Scottishness’ is variously testified: Burns is anthologised in Heather Bells (London; Paris, New York: Raphael Tuck & Sons [ca. 1900]) with a frontispiece, ‘The Bairn’s Breakfast’ by H.J. Dobson; in Glasgow and New York in 1903 appeared Guid Bits frae Robert Burns. Witty, humorous, serious, pathetic & pithy; and a presentation copy of ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ to Sir Harry Lauder has two poems inscribed on the preliminaries – ‘In Robbie Burns o’ deathless fame’ and ‘Address to Harry Lauder’. As counter to couthiness the various translations – Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, Gaelic, and others – indicate that Burns reaches all corners of the globe. The many whom he inspired include Robert Tannahill, with whose songs Burns’s were often reprinted; the freed slave, Frederick Douglass; the artists, John Faed and Thomas Landseer; and the poet and dramatist, Tom Wright, whose play, There Was a Man, did so much to further popularise Burns in the nineteen-sixties and seventies.

Materials vital to Burns scholarship abound in this collection – five letters from Cromek to Creech in 1808; Agnes McLehose’s letter to Cunningham reiterating the embargo on access to Burns’s letters to her; Isabella Burns Begg’s letter referring to Jean Armour in unflattering terms; and the research manuscripts of major Burns scholars such as J. DeLancey Ferguson, Robert H. Thornton, and G. Ross Roy.

As well as enlightenment, this catalogue offers entertaining moments. Celebration of the 111th Anniversary of Robert Burns’ Natal day, at Delmonico’s Hotel, New York, January 25th, 1870 sounds promising; one longs to have been in the audience when the ‘Eastern-Empire Lyceum Bureau present[ed] The Scottish Musical Comedy Company in an Original Adaptation of Robert Burns’ “The Cottar’s Saturday Night”’; and James Findlay, Burns in Heaven: Suggested When Looking at Burns’ Statue, Union Terrace, Aberdeen (1908) tantalises.

Elizabeth A. Sudduth is to be warmly congratulated and thanked. This book is a Herculean achievement, the result of what must often have seemed a Sisyphean endeavour. The catalogue records the contents of this outstanding collection to July 2008. Dr Roy writes that he continues ‘scouring dealers’ catalogues and the Internet for more titles’. Charlotte A. Sprigings certainly started something!


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