by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
I began writing this column
even before it first appeared in September 2002 on
www.electricscotland.com. At times it seemed like a chore with my work
pulling me to different cities throughout the southeast United States on a
weekly basis (after all the bills had to be paid!) but yet most of the time
it was a joy. Through this website I have met many a good man and woman,
many a layman or professor, Burnsians and some who wanted to be. I have met
a vast number of friendly people, but one time I encountered a rascal of a
man who told me I had offended him because I mispronounced a word. He was
the exception! I’ve often wondered how this Glaswegian would have sounded to
my fellow Southerners here in America. I have made permanent friends with
some over the years and eaten with many in their homes and in restaurants
throughout Scotland, England, France, and in the States. Quite a few have
even been overnight guests of Susan and me in our home, some so long it was
tempting to put their names on strips of paper, drop them in a hat, and then
naming the guest room after the person whose name was picked.
I have grown tremendously in
my knowledge and understanding of Burns. He is not simply someone to study,
he is someone I cannot help but love. I am not afraid of Burns and neither
do I feel unworthy to write about him. I do not worship him and neither do I
feel unworthy to represent him. Why, you ask? Because Burns championed the
dignity of man! If I chose to, I could verbally arm wrestle or tilt with
many Burnsians but I see no need to find out who can quote the most of
Burns, as if quoting is what makes one a Burns scholar.
As any rookie might, I made
a big error in introducing this website when I stated it was for laymen. How
foolish of me! Now as I look back on the history of Robert Burns Lives!,
I find that professors, others with earned doctorates, and lecturers
volunteered to write for the website. I have been introduced as a Burns
scholar on more than one occasion, but I beg to disagree. I have made it
clear that a Burns scholar is usually one who has given his or her entire
life to teaching Burns. Ross Roy is a great example as are many associated
with universities. I may collect Burns books, manuscripts, busts, as well as
pictures and paintings, the so-called Burnsiana, but that does not make one
a scholar, particularly me.
I have been lucky to meet
and cultivate many friendships in the name of Robert Burns. Alastair
McIntyre stands out in this category. He wrote me sometime back with a
reminder that we were approaching our 200th chapter of Robert
Burns Lives!. As owner and publisher of
he suggested I ask someone to write about this milestone. (For the 150th
chapter, Professor Ross Roy willingly accepted my invitation.) So
following Alastair’s idea, I made a list of ten people whom I felt
comfortable contacting and, not surprisingly, one of the names was Alastair
himself. After a short time of reflection, I chose Alastair because only he
knows of the many times we have worked together to get a chapter right, many
times right up to his deadline. He has always been a gentleman and, for
someone who has lived all over the world, he is a “down to earth” fellow.
Alastair had earlier shared with me his goal to reach “a million hits” (or
“visits” as he calls them) on electricscotland and I’m happy to report that
the projected number of hits has come and gone by millions more. I cannot
imagine reaching a million viewers, much less millions upon millions, as
Alastair has. It seems strange to welcome him to the pages of Robert
Burns Lives! but that is what I have the honor of doing now.
Celebrating Frank's 200th
Chapter of Robert Burns Lives!
Picture of Alastair sitting outside a local pub
in Aberfeldy in Scotland having had a dish of haggis stovies and a pint,
hence the smile!
I first met Frank Shaw at the Scottish Weekend in Moultrie in
Georgia. I had been invited to give a talk at the event while I was living
in Scotland. This was in February 2004.
Robert Burns Lives! column was first launched in the two
monthly Family Tree Newspaper which was edited by Beth Gay. It is worth
quoting Frank's Introduction at the time...
This is a new column that will appear regularly in our paper.
The column will attempt to bring insights into Burns for those who may not
be as familiar with Burns as they would like. On more than one occasion I
have heard people say they would like to know more about the writings of
Burns but they try to understand the Scots dialect and eventually give up –
sooner rather than later. I know. I have been there. Done that!
Well, nearly two years ago I took the bull by the horns and
joined the Burns Club of Atlanta. I felt that the only way to get past this
"bump in the road", aka understanding the Scots dialect, was to expose
myself to those who know more than me on the subject and buy books on Burns
to study. I have fallen in love with the Atlanta Burns Cottage, which is an
exact replica of the original one in Scotland where Burns was born at
Alloway. The membership has welcomed us and made the two of us, Susan, my
wife and I, feel right at home. We both look forward to the monthly
meetings. It is just a lot of fun mixed with a little learning each month.
I have been impressed with most of the speakers, particular
those who did not try to impress you, but the general membership is to be
admired and respected for their knowledge of Burns and, more importantly,
their willingness to share their knowledge. Some of our better speakers are
among our own membership. My quest to be better informed about Burns by
joining the Burns Club has not been disappointing. To the contrary, it has
been more than I ever imagined.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a local Burns Club
to fall back on for information about Scotland’s National Bard, his life and
his work. So, I discussed with Beth Gay, our Editor, about the possibility
of having a regular column on Burns. Why wait for Burns Nicht one time a
year to honor Burns? Maybe the haggis but not Burns! This will be like a
mini correspondence course without the exams. It will be an Introduction to
Robert Burns 101, if you please. Guest authors, and laymen like myself, will
write this column and from time to time, I’ll stick my two cents worth in
with an article or two.
We’ll try to bring you pictures of Burns, the statues of him
& the places in the Burns triangle – Ayr, Edinburgh and Dumfries, where he
lived, loved, drank, ploughed, wrote, sang, collected taxes & died. Susan
and I will be in London and Scotland for a couple of weeks in October if
everything works out the way we plan and, with the guidance of Thomas Keith,
our friend from New York City and fellow Burnsian, we will search out as
many of the statues as possible. We will bring you the men and women who
influenced Burns by their lives, their loves and their writings. We will
talk about the poems, songs and letters of Burns. We will learn the
difference between a "Skinking haggis" and a "stinking haggis". We will look
at the best and the worst of Burns in his writings and his life since this
by and large this will be a teaching column.
We will learn that bawdy is not necessarily dirty and that
the sublime is, sometimes, rather simple. Hopefully, some of you,
particularly those who are unfamiliar with Burns, will build a notebook of
the columns to have as a reference when needed. We will recommend books to
the beginner and tell you if some are a wee bit scholarly.
We’ll see how this young genius died between his 37th and
38th year but left the world a much better place because of what he left us.
We’ll hear about his views on liberty, freedom, love, "my Jacobitism" and
whom he would hold as his chief enemy. The Burns scholar may be bemused
about this effort but we will enjoy the last laugh since Burns was one of
My only regret is that The Family Tree is only published
every two months but if you hang in there with us, the ride will be worth
it. Some may scoff at this undertaking but it is at least that – an
undertaking that we all can participate in if we are willing to learn as we
One thing is for sure, we’ll take this journey together and
somewhere down the road we will look back and feel good about where we
started. Welcome aboard!
Frank's first column was published on 11th September 2002 and
was entitled "Background of the Times in Which Burns Lived, Loved and
Unfortunately the Family Tree newspaper was closed down by
the Moultrie Library and so it was suggested that I might take over this
regular column on my Electric Scotland web site. I was happy to do so and
ever since have worked with Frank and Susan on posting it up on the site.
Robert Burns Lives! covers all aspects of Robert Burns and
how he has affected people's lives over the years.
In chapter 11 he wrote of his young friend Rachel.. at the
time she would have been nine years of age. He told the story of how he told
her about Burns and how she developed on interest in him. You can read this
In chapter 121 Frank also gave us an update on Rachel in
which she said...
Her “thank you” note said, “I will be attending Indiana
University in the fall, where I hope to study writing of some kind. It all
started with Robert Burns and I have the bust statue to thank for that!”
Now between these 110 chapters Frank has brought us a whole
series of columns on "what Robert Burns means to me" in which folk like,
Professor David Purdie, Dr. Carruthers, Billy Kay, Eddi Reader, Dr. Kenneth
Simpson, G. Ross Roy, James Macsween, and others contributed articles.
In an introduction to one of these articles he said...
Robert Burns made haggis the National Dish of Scotland in
1786 when he published “Address To A Haggis”, a dish you either love or
dislike. I fall in the former category – I love good haggis! I now want to
introduce you to James Macsween who makes a living selling haggis and is
known all over Scotland as “the king of haggis”. He and his sister Jo
operate Macsween of Edinburgh, the business started by their grandfather,
making them third-generation haggis makers. To hear James Macsween present
the “Address To A Haggis” at a Burns Night Supper would be a royal treat.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy his haggis here in the States (the “food
police” will not allow you to do so), but when you are in Scotland, you can
find it almost everywhere. If I told you it was good, that would not be good
enough! The Macsween recipe is as well protected as that famous American
The article itself by James Macsween starts...
"From a young age, Burns spoke to me as no other poet did.
The first time I had to learn Burns, aged about ten, was for a school
project in which we had to learn a verse of To a Haggis. I ended up learning
the whole poem. I never took to other poets like I took to Burns. Dulce et
Decorum Est was just schoolwork; Shakespeare went right past me. I took to
Burns because he used such simple images, which stuck in my mind. For
instance, the simple honesty of To A Mouse."
You can read this article at Chapter 63.
He has also brought us chats with significant Burnsians,
explored great Burns collections such as the one of G. Ross Roy who passed
away recently to everyone's great regret.
In that article he says...
G. Ross Roy has done it again! He has published another
masterful book that will be used by scholars and laymen alike for years to
come. The new publication was compiled by Elizabeth A. Sudduth with the
assistance of Clayton Tarr. Sudduth is the head of Rare Books and Special
Collections Processing and Services for the Thomas Cooper Library at the
University of South Carolina and is very experienced in this field of work
and publishing. This catalogue contains over 6,000 items on Burns. Written
between the lines of this book is the story of a book collector’s dream – to
build one of the world’s most significant libraries or collections on Robert
Burns. Mission accomplished!
You can read this article at Chapter 41.
LR: Wife Susan, Son Scott holding Stirling, Frank with Ian and Denise, proud
mother of the bairn-folk. April 27, 2002. Culloden, Georgia.
Many significant Burnsians have also contributed articles and
you will likely know of them if I mention, Dr. Carruthers, Professor David
Purdie, G. Ross Roy, Patrick Scott, Robert Crawford, Dr. James W. Flannery,
Clark McGinn, Chris J. Rollie, Megan Coyer, Gerard Carruthers, Robert
Carnie, and many others.
In his 200 chapters to date Frank has followed up on his
promise to tell us of statues of Robert Burns. He has brought us articles
from Russia and Ukraine and a number of Immortal Memories.
Frank himself gives a number of Immortal Memories around
Burns Supper season and we have a video recording of one given at the Burns
Cottage in Atlanta.
He has also given talks at the Burns conference at Glasgow
University and he took his family to Scotland, England and France in which
he took then to visit places of Robert Burns interest in each of these
An example of one of his interesting articles is by Clark
McGinn in which he said...
"My life with Burns is truly a journey (and not the reality
TV cliché!) in the last seven years travelling 166,000 miles (6.7 times
round the globe) with 100 speeches in 26 different cities in 13 countries!
Each time has been a great occasion: from major Corporate Hospitality events
in some of the most stunning locations in the world (like the Sydney Opera
House!) to the prestigious Society of Scots Lawyers in London Burns Supper
or The Burns Club of London: to Ayrshire Burns Clubs and private functions;
across the US, the UK and Europe; audiences ranging from 50 to over 700
people have enjoyed my trademark style of combining humour, poetry, history
and an ability to tailor a message from Burns and his work which touches
that particular group of men and women in that particular evening’s audience
– every speech I give is unique."
Frank said at the time... Can you imagine going around the
globe 6.7 times speaking about Burns? With countless years yet to go, there
is no telling how many more times Clark will circle our globe. If you check
out his website mentioned above, you’ll be in for a real treat. I say again
in closing that one of my dreams is to have him speak at the Burns Club of
Atlanta which has met the first Wednesday of each month since its inception
in 1896 and in the Burns Cottage since 1911.
Like Johnny Rodger said about Clark’s article, “it’s great
And then he goes on to give as Clarke's article about "Robert
Burns and The Invention of the Haggis" which he started by saying...
Cynics might well describe the Burns Supper ritual of
addressing the haggis as the inedible praised by the incomprehensible, and,
to be fair, it is a hard concept to explain. I was travelling to New York
to speak at a Burns Supper and when I arrived at the fearsome JFK
Immigration Desk, the border officer stared at me and asked why I was
seeking entry to the States. I nearly said ‘I am going to put on a skirt,
stand in front of six hundred people and use the language of eighteenth
century Scotland to declaim a love poem to a sausage which I shall then
eviscerate with a huge knife.’ In the end it seemed simpler to say that I
was there on business.
You can read this article at Chapter 148.
Frank always gives an excellent introduction to each article.
For example in the article "Robert Burns and the Excise by Gerard Carruthers"
"One of my favorite Scottish journals is THE DROUTH, and one
of the reasons I enjoy it so is because its two editors, Mitchell Miller and
Johnny Rodger, write and live on the cutting edge of Scottish life. THE
DROUTH also has a guest editor for each issue and for the Winter 2009/2010
volume it was none other than Dr. Rhona Brown who has written two articles
for Robert Burns Lives!, both concerning the man affectionately known as the
Chairman of the Bard, Professor G. Ross Roy.
One of the major contributors to THE DROUTH is Dr. Gerard
Carruthers whose contributions are usually about one person – Robert Burns.
Thus, “Robert Burns and the Excise” which appeared in the above mentioned
issue will now grace the pages of Robert Burns Lives! thanks to the writer
and editors who have consented for it to appear on our web site as the 102nd
chapter or article about Burns. Little did I know when I started editing RBL
a few years ago that so many would be so willing to contribute to its pages.
A lot has been written about Burns the exciseman, some of it
good, some of it…well, you finish the sentence. This is an excellent piece,
and over lunch recently at the University of South Carolina, two of the
people who should know the good from the bad and the ugly pronounced it very
good! Thank you, Drs. Robert Crawford and Patrick Scott. And, I offer my
thanks on behalf of our readers for such a quality example of writing by Dr.
While there are many scholarly works in these chapters Frank
always manages to find grand wee stories to add to the mix and one such was
"Burns Supper held at the Stonehouse Primary School near Larkhall, Glasgow"
in which he says...
"Last month Susan and I had the privilege of attending the
annual conference at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Robert Burns
Studies. It always provides an opportunity to hear several outstanding
speakers, renew auld acquaintances and make some new ones. At dinner one
evening, Kirsteen McCue, Co-Director of the Centre, told us about an
intriguing Burns Supper put on by school children. Kirsteen’s son, Gregor,
was a participant in the supper, so I did what I always do when I hear
something interesting about Burns - I asked for a copy of the program and
pictures of the event! With thanks to Gregor, his classmates and his
mother, I hope you enjoy this rare Burns Supper held at the Stonehouse
Primary School near Larkhall, Glasgow that these young people attend. You
will also find an email of introduction from Gregor as well."
The article starts...
"Dear Mr Shaw,
My mum is Kirsteen McCue – I think you met her? I am Gregor.
I am sorry you couldn’t come to our Burns supper this January. But I’m
enclosing some pictures, and some documents (like the lassies toast and my
immortal memory and some memories of the event) which were written by me and
some of my classmates."
Another article is his International collection is
"Rehabilitating the Radical: Robert Burns in the Belfast Press in the Period
of the Irish Act of Union by Dr. Carol Baraniuk."
And again an excellent introduction to this article...
"I met Dr. Carol Baraniuk while attending the annual Robert
Burns International Conference at the University of Glasgow in 2010. While
at a post-conference dinner for the symposium speakers, we were able to talk
a wee bit about family, friends and Burns. I learned that Dr. Baraniuk is
the aunt of Jennifer Orr who recently published The Correspondence of Samuel
Thomson (1766-1816) which has many references to Burns. (See Chapter 138 in
the index to Robert Burns Lives! for a review of this magical book.) I met
Jennifer several years ago at the University of South Carolina while
attending one of Ross Roy and Patrick Scott’s outstanding conferences. This
is the first time I have had the pleasure of publishing articles by family
members, an aunt and a niece in this case, and it is a joy to do so.
Carol Baraniuk was a school teacher for many years and had
the pleasure of teaching her niece Jennifer when the latter was preparing
for university. Carol moved into university academic life when appointed to
a position at Stranmilis University College in Belfast. She was awarded a
PhD by the University of Glasgow for her thesis on the Ulster-Scots poet
James Orr. She has been widely published on the Ulster-Scots poetic
tradition and has delivered conference papers in Ireland, Scotland, Europe
and the United States. Carol has a particular interest in the relationship
between Robert Burns and the Ulster poets who wrote in the Scots tradition.
She is currently a researcher with the Ulster-Scots Poetry Project at the
University of Ulster and a member of the Ministerial Advisory Group for
Ulster-Scots. Carol recently visited British Columbia and the Yukon,
following in the footsteps of her grandfather and great-grandfather, both of
whom spent time in Canada as young men – her great-grandfather helped lay
the Canadian Pacific Railroad. We are all glad he found his way back to
Ireland, otherwise we would not be writing this story. I think you will
enjoy this connection of Burns and Ireland as we continue to celebrate the
fact that Robert Burns Lives! after all these years."
Another example of the content of his Robert Burns Lives! is
"Flow Gently Sweet Afton. The Story Behind the Song by Norrie Paton."
Again here is his introduction...
"His name may be Norman but his friends call him Norrie, and
I wish there were more people like him. Norrie Paton has a gifted pen and
can tell a story as good as anyone I know. He has as much to say on his
subject as any university professor does and continues to go out of his way
to support Robert Burns Lives!. Visit Chapter 129 of this website which was
published on December 14, 2011, and read his excellent piece on Highland
Mary. And then listen to what this Campbelltown, Scotland man has to say
below regarding the young lady who captivated the heart and thoughts of
Robert Burns until death took her away from him.
Norrie is always welcome to these pages dedicated to Burns.
But Norrie, please do not wait two years next time to surprise me with
another article! For our readers who have not visited the monument of
Highland Mary, go back to Chapter 129 for a great picture of it. Norrie, it
has been said, is “one of the good guys.”
Here is how the article starts...
Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes,
Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
On the 5th February, 1788, Robert Burns wrote to his constant
correspondent, Mrs Dunlop, enclosing a song that he had, apparently, just
composed, and he described it thus:
There is a small river, Afton, that falls into the Nith, near
New Cumnock, which has some charming, wild, romantic scenery on its banks. I
have a particular pleasure in those little pieces of poetry such as our
Scots songs, &c. where the names and landskip-features of rivers, lakes, or
woodlands, that one knows are introduced. I attempted a compliment of that
kind, to Afton, as follows: I mean it for Johnson’s Musical Museum."
And just one more example is an article by Dr. Natalia Kaloh
Vid (Slovenia, University of Maribor, Faculty of Arts) on "Ideological
Adaption of Robert Burns in the Soviet Union".
As he says in his introduction...
Attending any conference on Robert Burns has always been a
treat for me. Attending an international conference in Scotland is indeed a
rare treat. Susan and I were able to do just that on January 15th when we
visited the University of Glasgow to participate in a one-day conference
hosted by The Centre for Robert Burns Studies entitled Burns and Beyond.
There were only six speakers and yours truly was lucky enough to be invited
as one of them. We heard some great presentations with outstanding messages
about Burns. One of the best, if not, in my opinion, the best, was Dr.
Natalia Kaloh Vid, who has a PhD from the University of Maribor, Slovenia.
Her speech on Robert Burns and Russia was mesmerizing.
She says in her opening sentence...
This paper focuses on ideological adaptation of Robert
Burns’s translations in the Soviet Union which underwent numerous
adaptations and changes caused by editorial politics and the overwhelming
influence of ideology on literary production.
Frank has also forged links with folk in Kiev in Ukraine and
you can read more about this in Chapter 192 entitles "Robert Burns 255th
Anniversary from Robert Burns Kiev Junior Club". It is worth including a bit
of Frank’s comments on this article...
A few weeks ago an article was posted on Robert Burns Lives!
about three Ukrainians and their outstanding work on Robert Burns. This week
I want to tell you a bit more about one of them, Hanna Dyka, and a Burns
event she and her students put on in honor of Burns’ 255th birthday
celebration. Today a treat awaits you as we look at some youngsters from the
school in Kiev which, interestingly, is a twin city of Edinburgh in gymnasia
56 (high school). These students do not come from one class but come from
many grades and are naturally of different ages. Hanna, quite a Burns
enthusiast, is a relatively new friend of mine, and she recently wrote in an
email that “in 2012 our Junior Robert Burns Club was enrolled into
membership of the Robert Burns World Federation (N 2097).” Hanna goes on to
say that “the youngest children are in the 3rd grade and the rest are from
the 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades.” I think that is quite an
accomplishment for this group of youngsters to be a registered member of the
Burns Federation. There are many Burns Clubs in America that are not members
even though it’s so easy to become a member and so worthwhile not only to
the clubs but to the federation itself. To paraphrase, let the little
children lead them!
Frank was a good friend of G. Ross Roy and he did a special
article about Professor Ross Roy’s Gift of Robert Burns Manuscripts to the
University of South Carolina. You can see this article at the foot of his
And so in all these 200 chapters to date he has covered many
aspects of the poet by producing detailed articles on many aspects of his
life and work from slavery to humour and much in between.
It is clear in all this tremendous work that Frank is a true
Burnsian that wants to share with the world the love he has for the bard and
that Robert Burns Lives on!
And in his final paragraph of his introduction in which he
said "One thing is for sure, we’ll take this journey together and somewhere
down the road we will look back and feel good about where we started.
Well done Frank! I think we can all say we feel good about
what you started all those years ago! and "lang may yer lum reek!" and we
look forward to your next 200 chapters!
You can get to all these 200 chapters at: