James Boswell & Robert Burns: Sons of Ayrshire
James Boswell Robert Burns
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© 1994, 1995, Tom Kinsella. All rights reserved
Robert Burns (1759-1796) is considered Scotland's greatest poet. Best known for his feeling descriptions of country life and for satires against the political and religious hypocrisy of the day, Burns wrote much of his poetry in his broad Scots dialect. The eldest child of William and Agnes Burnes (the elder Burnes spelled his name with an "e"), Burns was born in Ayrshire and lived a life of hard labor and poverty as he struggled with his father to make a series of poor farms productive. By 1786, with his father dead, and more failed farms to the family credit, Burns nearly emigrated to Jamaica. His first volume of poetry, however, was published that year to great acclaim, and Burns became the darling of Edinburgh.
Further editions of poetry developed Burns' international reputation. Late in his life, supporting himself as an exciseman, Burns helped to collect and also wrote a wide-range of traditional Scottish songs.
James Boswell (1740-1795) is best known as the author of the greatest biography written in English: The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (1791). A prolific writer, published regularly in both Edinburgh and London, his stated profession was as Barrister, first at the Scots bar and then at the English. The eldest child of Alexander and Euphemia Boswell, he was heir to a respectable estate in Ayrshire. In 1782 upon the death of his father (who was a member of the Scottish supreme court), Boswell became the ninth Laird of Auchinleck.
An outgoing man who loved to keep company with the most famous people of the age, and who compulsively wrote about his life, Boswell left a treasure of manuscript materials that today provide thoughtful, first-hand accounts of life and writing in Britain during the second half of the eighteenth century.
Four works--two by Boswell and two by Burns--provide windows into late eighteenth-century Scots literature.
"To a Mouse"
"Tam 'O Shanter"
Johnson & Wilkes
The apt question is whether analysis of these works will allow us to formulate one coherent view of that literature.
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