Burns 'find' breathes life into Rabbiefest

JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

A festival marking the 200th anniversary of the death of the poet Robert Burns, which almost collapsed in chaos last month, received a timely boost yesterday when a Dumfriesshire poet claimed he had discovered 40 new works by Scotland's national bard.

Patrick Hogg, a poet and singer from Stranraer, is convinced that the works, uncovered in yellowing newspaper files, are genuine. The radical political poems published in the 1790s bear the nom de plume "A Briton", a known Burns pseudonym, and are in the anglicised style Burns used when writing his political satire.

Mr Hogg, 35, found the works while examining claims Burns made in a 1794 letter that he had written for the London-based Morning Chronicle and the Edinburgh Gazetteer. "I just started looking at back copies of the newspapers in Glasgow libraries, thinking that it would be a billion-to- one chance that I would find anything," he said. "But I came across these works. I looked at the style and the names and more I looked at them the more convinced I became that they were the real thing."

Although senior academics have cast doubt on the find, describing Mr Hogg's analysis as "naive", organisers of this year's troubled Burns Bicentenary Festival, who have spent the last month fending off allegations of mismanagement and impropriety, welcomed the news.

John Struthers, the festival director who took up his post after his predecessor, Eric Rowe, suddenly fled amid a cash crisis, said: "This is great news. More research is needed before we can begin revising our anthologies, but it is creating renewed interest in Burns 200 years after he died and that, after our difficulties, is terrific."

Mr Hogg presented his discovery at a conference on Robert Burns at Strathclyde University yesterday. The Burns enthusiast, who is writing a book on poet called The Patriot Bard, said the nom de plume and works "fitted Burns's ideas and style in the late 18th century before he died".

His claims have divided academics. Dr Andrew Noble, senior lecturer in English studies at Strathclyde, told delegates he believed the poems "resembled" Burns's style and could well be authentic. But Dr James Mackay, Burns's biographer who has edited a collection of the bard's poems and letters, has examined six of the poems and declared them fakes. Computer analysis of the texts, to be carried out later this year, will resolve the controversy.

The Burns International Festival, dubbed the "Rabbiefest", opens in Dumfries, where Burns died, next week with a torchlight procession and a ceilidh.

Excerpt from a 'discovered' poem

We brib'd to divide them,

Tried all arts to chide 'em,

To starve them, made a great fuss;

When some Demon of Hell,

Inverting the spell,

Turn'd the picture of Famine on us!

1795. Signed 'A Briton'

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