Biographer: Robert Burns was democratic, sympathized with French Revolution





In the late 18th century, it was a dangerous idea, a political view that could entail deportation to the penal colonies. But the revered Scots poet Robert Burns was openly discussing republican sentiments in the last months of his life, risking punitive action for challenging the authority of the king, an expert in Scottish literature has found.

In a biography to mark the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth, Prof Robert Crawford of St Andrews University has unearthed new evidence which he believes is conclusive proof that Burns was a democrat who sympathised with the French revolution.

A private journal written by a contemporary of Burns records meeting the poet and a friend in Dumfries, two months before he died there in July 1796, aged 37. The diary by James Macdonald recalled: "They were both staunch republicans." Crawford said this claim could have had explosive consequences for Burns: "It was dangerous to be called that then."

At the time, the British aristocracy was extremely fearful about the risks of radical, democratic ideas spreading in Britain following the French revolution and of threats to George III's life. Men such as Thomas Muir, the Scots political reformer, were being deported to the Botany Bay penal colony for sedition.

"Particularly towards the end of his life in the 1790s, democracy was a dirty word. It was a word associated with terrorism, a word which has just come into the English language; it's associated with the terreur in France," he said.

Crawford's biography of Burns, The Bard, is published by Cape in the UK and Princeton in the US next month to coincide with more than 300 cultural and arts events being held across Scotland next year to mark the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth in Alloway, Ayrshire, on 25 January 1759.



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