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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - December/January 2003
Robert Burns: The Tinder Heart

A Highlander And his books
Robert Burns: The Tinder Heart (ISBN 0-7509-1213-8) By Hugh Douglas
Reviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA. USA email:

Robert Burns: The Tinder Heart

Hugh Douglas is a man with a pen who has a way with words as did Scott, Stevenson and Burns. Yes, in my book, he ranks with the best of them, and after you have read his works, you will think so yourself! Like Burns, he was born in Ayrshire, and also like the poet, he is the son of a farmer. One will find family members of Hugh Douglas dating back to Burnsí time buried not far from the gravesite of William Burns, father of Scotlandís national bard, in the auld kirkyard. Educated at George Watson College in Edinburgh and at the University of Aberdeen, Douglas says that while in college he "wasted a lot of time but enjoyed himself immensely and managed to squeeze in an M.A. degree." Sounds like he does not take himself too seriously and that makes him my kind of man!

Hugh Douglas makes his living writing biographies and social histories, mostly telling wonderful stories of Burns, Flora MacDonald, and Prince Charlie. News flash: Publication of The Private Passions of Bonnie Prince Charlie is scheduled for 13 March 2003, and his best selling and critically acclaimed biography, Flora MacDonald: The Most Loyal Rebel, will be out 17 April 2003. Jot these dates down and pop over to your favorite bookstore for copies.

When you read The Tinder Heart, you will discover that the authorís great love is Burns. His other books on Burns only add fuel to that fire! The "over-full love life" of Burns which greatly influenced his poetry is told by this author with grace and style! Among the 15 books Mr. Douglas has written are Robert Burns - A Life, Portrait of the Burns Country, and The Burns Supper Companion (on how to organize a Burns celebration). Douglas says that "songs and love are aspects of the Poet which touch us all. It has been fascinating to link his songs to the women he loved and his tinder heart was set alight easily."

His favorite? "Thatís a hard question to answer, but I think I must go for the tender beauty of the song he wrote when he and Jean Armour, the woman he married and loved so dearly, were parted:

Of aí the airts the wind can blaw, (directions, blow)
I dearly like the west;
For there the bonie lassie lives, (fair)
The lassie I loíe best. (love)

There wild-woods grow, and rivers row, (roll)
And monie a hill between, (many)
But day and night my fancyís flight
Is ever wi my Jean. (with)

"Could true love be more beautifully expressed? I doubt it." (Parens above are inserted compliments of Burns scholar, Thomas Keith.)

In addition to the books I review, I currently read two or three books a month from my collection on Burns. And, I can state without hesitation that Hugh Douglas has written one of the finest books on the Bard that I have ever read. One has to be careful what you recommend to your wife to read. Yet, The Tinder Heart which deals with the total Burns - his life, his poems and his songs - was recommended by me to her. It is that good! This is the easiest book review I have ever written because the work of the author is so good. In fact, his research is excellent.

One day I hope to sit with Hugh Douglas for a cup of coffee, a meal or a wee dram, maybe all three, and it will be my honor to pick up that tab. I am not easily impressed, but I deeply respect his scholarship, devotion and loyalty to Burns the poet and man. He does not sugarcoat his feelings about Burns or bury the bad while accentuating the good. He draws a picture of this man who has come to mean so much to so many of us without being too sweet about Robert Burns. As the artist he is, he paints us a picture of Burns, warts and all, but gently reminds us that Burns was a work in progress which, unfortunately, was never completed because of his untimely death. Hugh Douglas has personally helped me complete the picture of Burns in my own heart and mind. When the roll call is sounded for those who see Burns as the man and poet that I think Burns saw himself to be, Hugh Douglas will be at the front of the line.

Moreover, the author has the gift of writing to make the man in the street feel at home with Burns, revealing that he has not forgotten his roots in Ayrshire, the land of Burns. I admire that in any man or woman. Then to, his scholarship and writing style appeal to the scholar and the university student. Not many authors or scholars have that ability or gift. Locally, Emory University offers evening classes, and if Douglas ever showed up to teach a class on Burns, I would be the first in line to sign up. I would camp out all night for that honor, something Iíve never considered doing for any artist, and that is what I consider Hugh Douglas to be.

What I love about the author is that he does not try to impress you as to how smart he is or how many "dictionary words" he knows. You do not need a Scots dictionary in one hand while reading The Tinder Heart in the other. I have read Hugh Douglas for years and have all but a couple of his books. I think I can speak from my heart and from first hand knowledge that Mr. Douglas is one of Scotlandís finest authors, and he has proven it again with The Tinder Heart. In my opinion, if Burns was alive today and had read Douglasí fifteen books, I can almost hear him say, as he raises his glass in honor of the author, "Hugh Douglas, aye, heís a man for aí that."

To find a publication larger than The Family Tree, you will have to go to Scotland. I cannot recommend The Tinder Heart or Hugh Douglas too highly to our 70,000 plus subscribers. The new paperback edition of Douglasí book will be published to coincide with Burns Night, 25 January 2003. Along with the set of proofs I received from the publisher was the proposed book jacket. It is most attractive, very sensitively done and a real eye catcher. What a great treat this book is for all Burnsians, old and new, and those who want to be.

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