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ROBERT BURNS was born on the twenty-ninth day of January, 1759, in a small house about two miles from the town of Ayr in Scotland. The family name,
which the poet and his brother modernized into Burns, was originally Burnes or Burness. Their father, William, appears to have been early inured to poverty and hardships, which he bore with pious resignation, and endeavoured to alleviate by industry and economy. After various attempts to gain a livelihood, he took a lease of seven acres of land, with a view of commencing nurseryman and public gardener; and having built a house upon it with his own hands (an instance of patient ingemuity by no means uncommon among his country. men in humble life), he married, December 1757, Agnes Brown. The first fruit of his marriage was Robert, the subject of the present sketch.
In his sixth year, Robert was sent to a school at Alloway Miln, about a mile distant from his father's bouse, where he made considerable proficiency in reading and writing, and where he discovered an inclination for books not very common at so early an age. With these, however, he appears at that time to have been rather scantily supplied; but what he could obtain, he read with avidity and improvement. About the age of thirteen or fourteen, he was sent to the parish school of Dalrymple, where he increased his acquaintance with English_grammar, and gained some knowledge of the French language, of which he was probably fond, because he traced in it many of those words which are in our days reckoned broad or pure Scotch. Latin was also recommended to him ; but he was not induced to make any great progress in it.
The far greater part of his time, however, was employed on his father's farm, which, in spite of much industry, became so unproductive as to involve the family in great distress. This early portion of affliction is said to have been, in a great measure, the cause of that depression of spirits of which our poet often complained, and during which his sufferings appear to have been very acute. His father having taken another farm, the speculation was yet more fatal, and involved his affairs in com. plete ruin. He died, February 13, 1784, leaving behind him the character of a good and wise man, and an affectionate father, who under all his misfortunes, struggled to procure his children an excel. Jent education; and endeavoured, both by precept and example, to form their minds to religion and virtue. It appears that his children felt the high obligation such a parent confers, and bestowed on his memory every tene!er and grateful testimony of honourable respect and filial piety.
It was between the fifteenth and sixteenth year of his age, that Robert, as he himself informs us, first “committed the sin of rhyme.” Having formed a boyish affection for a female who was his companion in the toils of the field, he composed a song which is inserted in the present edition of his works; but which, however extraordinary from one at his age, and in his circumstances, is far inferior to any of his subsequent performances. He was at this time "an ungainly awkward boy," unacquainted with the world, but who occasionally had picked up some notions of history, literature, and criticism, from the few books within his reach. These, he informs us, were Salmon's and Guthrie's Geographical Grammars, the Spectator, Pope's Works, some plays of Shakspeare, Tull and Dickson on Agriculture, the Pantheon, Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding, Stackhouse's History of the Bible, Justice's British Gardener's Directory,Boyle's Lectures, Allan Ramsay's Works, Taylor's Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin, a Select Collection of English Songs, and Hervey's Meditations. Of this motley assemblage, it may readily be supposed, that some would be studied, and some read superficially. There is reason to think, however, that he perused the works of the poets with such attention, as, assisted by his naturally vigorous capacity, soon directed his taste, and enabled him to discriminate tenderness and sublimity from affectation and bombast.
It appears afterwards, that during the space of seven years in which the family lived at Tarbolton, where his father's last farm was situated, that is, from the seventeenth to the twenty-fourth year of Robert's age, he made no considerable literary improvement. His accessions of knowledge, indeed, or his opportunities of reading, could not be frequent, involved as he was in the common difficulties of his family: but still no external circumstances could prevent the innate peculiarities of his charac. ter from displaying themselves, always to the astonishment, and sometimes to the terror of his neighbours. He was distinguished by a vigorous understanding, and an untameable spirit. His resentments were quick, and, although not durable, expressed with a volubility of indignation which could not but silence and overwhelm his humble and illiterate associates; while the occasional effusions of his muse on temporary subjects, which were handed about in manuscript, raised bim to a