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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - Aug/Sep 2002
Robert Burns Lives

By: Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, Georgia –

Burns StatueThis is a new column that will appear regularly in our paper. The column will attempt to bring insights into Robert Burns for those who may not be as familiar with him 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 after trying to understand the Scots dialect, they eventually give up - sooner rather than later. I know, I’ve been there.

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" (a.k.a. understanding the Scots dialect) was to expose myself to those who know more than me on the subject and to buy books on Burns for study. I have fallen in love with Atlanta’s Burns Cottage, which is an exact replica of the original in Alloway, Scotland where Burns was born. The club’s members have welcomed my wife, Susan, and me and made us feel right at home. The meetings are a lot of fun mixed with a little learning, and we both look forward to our meeting 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 that knowledge. Some of our better speakers are among our own membership. My quest to be better informed about Robert 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, the possibility of having a regular column on Burns. Why wait for Burns Nicht once 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, as well as laymen, will write the 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 himself, statues and places in the Burns triangle - Ayr, Edinburgh and Dumfries - where he lived, loved, drank, ploughed, wrote, sang, collected taxes and died. Susan and I will be in London and Scotland for a couple of weeks in October, and 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 introduce you to 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. This future column will, by and large, be one of teaching.

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 scholarly.

We’ll see how this young genius died between his 37th and 38th years but who 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 us!

My only regret is that The Family Tree is published just every two months, but if you will 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 go.

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!

Return to August/September 2002 Index


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