Observations: National Trust Burns a CD

John Walsh
Friday 23 January 2009 01:00
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It's the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's birth this Sunday, and fans of the "Heaven-taught ploughman" are massing like the blue-faced clansmen in Braveheart. The Royal Mail is issuing two stamps featuring his handsome face. There's a major new biography by the poet Robert Crawford, a reissue of A Night Out With Robert Burns, Andrew O'Hagan's warmly sympathetic selection of the most characterful poems, a "collectable" new edition of the immortal Kilmarnock Edition that introduced the world to "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose". Sunday is also, of course, Burns Night. Wherever large, sentimental men in tartan skirts are gathered together with glasses of Talisker 18-year-old in their hands, someone will declaim Burns's "Address to a Haggis" and whip a skean dhu from his sock and stab the inoffensive oatmeal pudding to death.

Burns really has become an immortal – and he's now about to become digital. The National Trust of Scotland, which is building a new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, scheduled to open in July 2010, are placing nearly 100 of his letters on the website www.burnsletters.word press.com. Visitors to the site can read his missives to friends, lovers, aristocrats, newspapers, literary magazines and assorted companions – and will, in the modern way, be able to append their own random comments ("Never understood the lyrics to Old Lang Zyne. What were you on about? Lol, jamieT") beneath each new arrival.

If the great lover would have been surprised to find his intimate correspondence with Agnes McLehose (whom he addressed, with flowery courtliness as "Clarinda") made public, he would have been shocked to find his poetry turning up amid the vapidities of the Twitter world. Amazingly, the National Trust is trying to reach a yoof audience for Burns by means of www.twitter. com/ayrshirebard. Subscribers will receive tiny, three-line whisky-slugs of Burns's verse on their mobile phones, laptops, computers and iPhones. But what on earth will they make of Burns's lapidary assurances that "a man's a man for a' that"? And his fondness for eating sheep's tummy?

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