Book Review of The Best Laid Schemes:
Selected Poetry & Prose of Robert Burns Edited by
Robert Crawford & Christopher MacLachlan
Is this a good book? Yes, but
it is even more its a great book! It is also an interesting book,
well-written, refreshing, and a first-class gathering of the works of Robert
Burns most appreciated by authors Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan.
Crawford has become one of the worlds most acclaimed Burns scholars and
MacLachlan is one of the best textual experts on Scotlands Bard! The two
men have combined their scholarship to produce, according to Princeton
Press, a definitive, wide-ranging collection of the poems and prose of
Burns. It is a book you and I will return to time after time as we continue
to study, write or speak about him. As a teaser, the editors mention that
there are more statues of Robert Burns in the United States than there are
of any American Poet. What wonderful sound bite!
Many books have come on the
market this year in celebration of the 250th anniversary of
Burns birth, and I highly recommend this one be placed in the top tier of
the lot. Its easy to project that it will be welcomed by scholar and layman
alike. Lets look briefly now at the various sections in the volume.
The section on POEMS is rare
since line-by-line marginal glossing is used to enhance the meaning of the
poetry and make for easier reading. Crawfords selection of poetry typifies
his genius, and I am unaware of a better selection other than the whole of
Burnss poems. If you need a guide to the best of Burnss verse, this is it.
As Graham Greene was wont to say, This is the heart of the matter.
Robert Crawford & Christopher
The REDISCOVERED POEMS were
tracked down by Crawford through extensive digital searching of the
National Burns Collection (along with a few cups of coffee) which other
researchers either overlooked or chose to dismiss or ignore. As the editors
say, all (of these) manuscripts are in Burnss hand. What a discovery!
The PROSE of Burns, always a
favorite of mine, covers important sections of Burnss First Commonplace
Book during the years 1783-1785. Predictably, the autobiographical letter
from Burns to Dr. John Moore is among the prose chosen. Other selections are
from his literary lover and maybe paramour Agnes McLehose, dear friend
Robert Ainslie, his often neglected pen pal Frances Dunlop, and his touching
and sad letter to father-in-law James Armour, whom he at one time despised,
written from his death bed and describing himself as Your most affectionate
Crawford and MacLachlan share
their indebtedness to James Kinsleys three-volume masterpiece as most of us
should but do not always do! Who contributed what to the book? It is my
understanding that the textual notes were by MacLachlan and his Notes on
pages 225-264 are worth the price of the book. The introduction by Crawford
on pages xiii xxxv (13 35) are the best 22 pages you will find anywhere
to sum up the life of Burns. Crawford, in a recent email writes, We each
kept an eye on what the other was doing and made some adjustments.
MacLachlan declares that we hope this edition provides texts that are
clear, well glossed, reliable, and allow readers to get a good sense of the
vivacity of Burnss works. All I can add is GOAL ACHIEVED! These two
editors do give us a Burns to believe in, a phrase I will borrow for the
Scotsman.com. As William Faulkner taught us, the past is never dead and
neither is Robert Burns.
You may purchase The
Best Laid Schemes: Selected Poetry & Prose of Robert Burns from
Princeton University Press, ISBN13: 978 0 691 14295 1 (Paper) or ISBN13: 978
0 691 14294 4 (Cloth). You can also find it online at Barnes & Noble,
Amazon.com, and you may order it from your local book seller. (FRS:
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