Robert Burns letter on '˜night out with the lads' to go on show

A letter from Robert Burns to one of his oldest friends about a good night out they shared is to go on special display in Edinburgh for the first time in 100 years.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 23rd January 2018, 12:14 pm
Updated Friday, 26th January 2018, 4:18 pm
The letter from Burns to his old school friend will go on show in Edinburgh: PIC: National Library of Scotland.
The letter from Burns to his old school friend will go on show in Edinburgh: PIC: National Library of Scotland.

The letter, from Burns to William Niven, of Maybole in Ayrshire, an old school friend, will go on show at the National Library of Scotland on Thursday to celebrate Burns Day.

The correspondence was acquired by the library at auction last year and tells of an enjoyable evening Burns spent with Niven and a number of lads, including ‘Spunkie’ and ‘youthful Tammie’.

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It was written in August 1786, just weeks after publication of his first work Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, which was to make his name.

At the time he was still considering emigrating to Jamaica but this plan was shelved following the positive reaction to his poems.

In the letter, Burns thanks Niven for what was clearly a very enjoyable encounter.

Burns writes: “I thank you with the most heart-felt sincerity for the worthy knot of lads you introduced me to.

“Never did I meet with so many congenial souls together……... To all and each of them make my most friendly compliments particularly ‘Spunkie, youthful Tammie’.

Burns also suggests in the letter that he may have been worried about his behaviour on the night out.

He refers to “two truly worthy old gentlemen” and adds: “I am afraid the conduct you forced me on may make them see me in a light I would fondly think I do not deserve.”

Although his life was about to change due to the success of his published poems, Burns appeared willing to play down the importance of his writing.

“Never blaze my songs among the million, as I would abhor to hear every prentice mouthing my poor performances in the streets,” he states to Niven.

The National Library of Scotland said the letter, which has been in private hands since 1899, is an important addition to its collection of material by and about Robert Burns.

It goes on show at the National Library, George IV Bridge in Edinburgh on January 25 from 11am to 3pm. Entry is free.