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100 BURNS FACTS

Burns Education - (Facts 15-22)

15. Burns first attended a school run by William Campbell at Alloway Mill, in January/February 1765, but this closed after a few weeks. William Burnes then joined forces with four neighbours to hire John Murdoch (1747-1824) in May 1765. Murdoch boarded with the five families turn about. The building used as a school was demolished in 1878.

16. From Murdoch comes the notion that Burns was tone deaf and could not sing, a fact made much of by successive biographers. But Robert's ineptitude was probably in the context of psalm-singing, part of the curriculum. Given Burns's remarkable grasp of Scots melody in later life Murdoch's judgment must be wrong: 'Robert's ear in particular, was remarkably dull and his voice untunable'.

17. Murdoch thought that Gilbert possessed a more lively imagination and was more of a wit than Robert: 'If any person who knew the two boys had been asked which of them was most likely to court the muses, he would surely never have guessed that Robert had a propensity of that kind'.

18. Though he had less than two years of formal schooling, Burns got a good grounding in English and French and had a smattering of Latin. His maths were subsequently polished by several weeks under Hugh Rodger at Kirkoswald.

19. Burns was essentially self-taught. From the earliest age he was a voracious reader and the range and quality of the books he read (listed in his Autobiographical Letter to Dr Moore) are prodigious. He never lost the habit of omnivorous reading as his letters amply testify.

20. Far from being the unlettered rustic - 'the heaven-taught ploughman' - Burns was exceptionally well educated for the period he lived in, and his letters show that he was more than able to hold his own with lawyers, academics, ministers and other members of the learned professions.

21. That Burns read French fluently is not in doubt, but how well did he speak it? From the occasional use of French in his poetry his pronunciation was unusual to put it mildly. After an embarrassing encounter with a French lady in Edinburgh, when neither could understand the other, Burns enrolled with Louis Cauvin who stated later that Burns learned more in three months than most of his pupils did in three years.

22. Burns first song was probably composed in the autumn of 1774, though Burns himself made contradictory statements placing it in 1773 or 1775. 'Handsome Nell' was a tribute to a local girl, a year younger. Isabella Burns in 1850 (aged 80 and recalling events when she was three or four) identified her as Helen Kilpatrick, daughter of the blacksmith at Parclewan, Dalrymple; but she was only three weeks younger than Burns. From 1828 to 1850 the heroine was named as Helen Blair, whose age and circumstances fit the story better.

 

 

 

 

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