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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Bibles

Four Bibles associated with Burns have been preserved:

(I) The Armour Family Bible, which contains the record of the marriage of James Armour and Mary Smith, 7th December 1761, and the register of the birth of their children, is in the Burns house, Mauchline. The imprint on the title page is: 'Edinburgh, printed by Adrian Watkins, 1756'.

(II) The 'Big Ha' Bible, which belonged to William Burns, and is mentioned in 'The Cotter's Saturday Night', is in the Cottage Museum, Alloway. It was bought at Sotheby's on 12 July 1921, for £450. It carries the imprint: 'Edinburgh: Printed by Alexander Kincaid, MDCCLXII'. A 'Ha Bible' was the one kept in the hall of a mansion, from where it was carried into the room where the servants had assembled for household worship.

(III) The Poet's Family Bible, which on the reverse of the title of the New Testament, contains an entry in Burns's own hand recording his birth date and that of his wife, as well of his first seven children by her. There are also entries by James Glencairn Burns and William Nicol Burns, sons of the poet.

This Bible passed from Jean Armour Burns to the eldest son, Robert, and from him to William Nicol Burns. He gave it to his niece, Mrs S E M T Burns Hutchinson, on whose death it was sold at Quaritch's for £1,700. It is now in the Cottage Museum, Alloway. It bears the imprint: 'Edinburgh: Printed by John Reid, 1766'.

(IV) Highland Mary's Bible. A two volume copy bearing the date on the title page, 1782, and the price, five shillings and sixpence, marked on volume one. (For the story of Burns's exchanges of Bibles with Mary, see Campbell, 'Highland' Mary) On the fly leaf on volume one is written in Burns's hand: 'And ye shall not swear by My Name falsely: for I am the Lord — Levit. Xix 12'.

In the second volume, also in Burns's hand, there is: 'Thou shall not forswear thyself but shall perform unto the Lord thine oaths — Math. V.33'

The names inscribed on the fly leaves of both volumes have been mutilated, apparently by smudging. Mary's name is inscribed in volume one — the 'M' and part of the 'a' remain — and Robert's in volume two — the 'Robert' and the 's' of Burns remain, together with 'Mossgaville', the old spelling of Mossgiel and his mason's mark.

The Bible — incidentally, no trace has ever been found of the bible Burns is supposed to have received from Highland Mary — passed from Mary's mother to her grandson, William Anderson, a mason from Renton, Dunbartonshire, who took it to Canada with him in 1834. There, he was forced to sell it. It was bought by a group of Burns lovers in Montreal for £25 and sent to the Provost of Ayr, who hand it over on 25th January 1841 to the Custodian of the Alloway Monument, where it still is. A lock of Highland Mary's hair has been pressed in volume one.

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Complete Burns Songs

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