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Robert Burns Lives!
The Bard - Robert Burns, a biography.

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Is this the next definitive biography on Robert Burns?

This is an exceptional book! It is inspiring. The pages flow freely – it is easily readable and understood. As a layman who reads a lot on Burns, I cannot recommend it too highly. For me, it is the finest biography on the Bard that has been published in recent years. For quite some time I have read and studied the masters of Robert Burns’ literature, particularly the biographies of MacKay, Snyder, McIntyre, and Kinsley. These books are good biographies, and Burnsians around the world are indebted to the authors. They have stood the test of time.

Any book on Burns that I can get my hands on, biography or not, is fair game for me to read. If I can get just one or two “new” ideas about Burns from a book, it has been worth my time. In my “Burns Room” I now have over a thousand books on him. Like I said, I read a lot of Burns. Some of those thousand books would have been better off unwritten, but at least the writers felt they were honoring Rabbie and saluting their bard.

Now comes Professor Robert Crawford, gifted speaker and writer, with a fresh, contemporary book on Robert Burns. The Bard - Robert Burns, a Biography is a book I already cherish. I have underlined and marked in it so much that no one would want it years down the road. I have something special to say about this extraordinary book. I’ll go on record right now and say what I have been saying in meetings, individual conversations, and on radio since December (2008) and that is I believe The Bard, in five years or less, will become the definitive book on Robert Burns - it is that good. This most comprehensible book will appeal to the vast majority of Burnsians because of its rich details and the author’s style of writing. This publication is not just a home run in baseball’s vernacular - it is a grand- slam home run!

I said all of the above after reading just the first hundred pages and have no reason to change my opinion now after finishing the book. It is noteworthy that on textual criticism Crawford refers or relies on James Kinsley’s three volume classic, The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. Heretofore to get the kind of information on Burns that Crawford gives, I would need several biographies to refer to regarding the particular subject being studied. For years to come, this volume will be a favorite of mine that I will quote from and continue digging for nuggets of gold.

I do not expect everyone to agree with me as I am not a Burns scholar. BUT, I know what I like, and I like this book. I’m a layman who reads much on the Bard and enjoys speaking about him to various groups. I am certainly not an academic but may be what Crawford refers to in his book as “a general reader”.  

It must have been an interesting conversation between Scottish poet Don Paterson and Robert Crawford when Paterson told Crawford that a new biography of Burns would be “the world’s least necessary book”.  Not so in this case! This book is a masterpiece that, like those mentioned above, will stand the test of time. I’m glad Crawford has proven Paterson to be wrong!

One other thing that sets this book apart is that the author has uncovered new material on Burns from the diary of Reverend James Macdonald whose insightful material was hidden away in the archives of St. Andrew’s University.  The diary of Reverend Macdonald focuses on a conversation he sat in on just two months before Burns died. Crawford mentions that this “is the last extended account of his conversation written during the bard’s lifetime”. The author goes on to say that “this is Burns the spirited rebel, Bard of Sedition, even Blasphemy”.

As with an over painted portrait, Crawford has stripped the veneer of myth and legend from Burns and has given us a modern look at the Bard.  It will be interesting to see how Burnsians today react to his version which allows Roberts Burns to once again walk among the living. 

This publication can be ordered online through Barnes & Noble at a price of $35 (members price $28) or from other quality bookstores.  ISBN-13: 9780691141718  (FRS: 4-16-09)

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