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Getting to Know Burns.. hopefully a first cut
on November 21, 2009
Robert Crawford has put together a tremendous amount of material. He has arranged it chronologically putting the poetic pieces, some never published before, along in the time where they are presumed to be written. One of Burns' best loved poems is appropriately and beautifully out of sequence (as to writing, not publishing) at the end.
Like most Burns "fans" I loved a few poems, but knew little of his oeuvre. I somehow imagined the life force he seemed to live and celebrate. Now that I know more of Burns and his work, my appreciation of the poetry is stronger, but as to the life force it will take a while for it all to settle in.
His humble roots are never said to leave him, but Crawford shows how he must compromise and hold back to live among the royalists who control his job (a kind of tax collector) and "allow" him to publish his poems.
Early on he does public penance for the first of his affairs. Perhaps he decided it was not so bad, because sexual infidelity becomes a theme of his life. In it, he betrays not only people, but ideals; he idolizes the females who are raised to a life of leisure while getting servant and farm girls pregnant. Through much of his adult life there is someone pregnant by him whether he is married or not. There are probably women and offspring that history has not recorded.
Burns died at age 37, as much a victim of illness as the medical treatment of his time. His last dramatic, and somewhat redeeming act, could be construed as a statement of loyalty... or maybe a desire to die at home.
There is a lot here. Crawford presents it all in reportorial neutral prose, which is at times very stilted. Perhaps this is necessary, since it is one of the first modern biographies of Burns. I hope it is the first cut of the material, because the issues this book are worthly of more exploration. My problem with this book is that while the person is interesting, and the material very good, at times I was totally bored. I rarely do this, but the material was so dryly presented, I read the book over 6 weeks, with several books in the middle. For this reason I hold back a star and recommend this only for those with a deep interest in Burns.