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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Heron, Robert (1764 — 1807)

Born in Creehead, New Galloway, the son of a weaver, Heron became Burns's first biographer and was partly responsible, along with Dr Currie, for the widely current, though erroneous, 19th Century view that Burns drank himself to an early grave. After studying at Edinburgh University, Heron became a licentiate of the Church in 1789. But he was really a professional man with letters, and was, in fact, finally imprisoned in Newgate Jail for debt. There he would have died, but because of the severity of his last illness, he was removed to the Fever Hospital in St Pancras, where he died a week after his admittance.

He wrote on a wide variety of subjects for a large number of Periodicals and kept from time to time a Journal, characterised by a certain engaging frankness. For example, the entry for Saturday 19th September 1789 reads: 'Prayed carelessly and hastily. At breakfast read my chapter, carelessly too, although it related the trial and last sufferings of my Saviour...' The entry for 6th August 1791, reads: 'Mr Grierson dined with me and drank tea. He, Mr Bradefute, and Mr Burns supped. Left me at eleven.' Grierson later wrote the notes about Burns and his friends which are now known as the Grierson Manuscript.

Because it was the first biography of Burns to be written, Heron's Memoir of the Life of the Late Robert Burns — 1797, although it had appeared in The Monthly magazine and British Register, Volume III, in 2 parts a year earlier — is of greater interest than its intrinsic merits deserve.

However, as well as several errors and numerous references to the poet's excesses, apparently designed to blacken his character, the essay does contain a fairly shrewd tribute to Burns's achievement:

'It may be doubted whether he has not, by his writings, exercised a greater power over the minds of men, and, by consequence, on their conduct, upon their happiness and misery, upon the general system of life, than has been exercised by any half dozen of the most eminent statesmen of the present age.'

When Heron visited Burns at Ellisland on his way to or from New Galloway, Burns gave him a letter to take to Blacklock, which Heron failed to deliver. Burns referred to this in his 'Epistle to Dr Blacklock':

"The ill-thief blaw the Heron south!
And never drink be near his drouth!
He tauld myself by word o' mouth,
He'd tak my letter,
I lippened to the chief in trouth,
And bade no better.
But aiblins, honest Master Heron
Had, at the time, some dainty fair one,
To ware his theologic care on
And holy study;
And tired o' sould to waste his lear on,
E'en tried the body."

Burns first met Heron at Dr Blacklock's house in Edinburgh.

Heron recorded an obviously spontaneous description of the reception the Kilmarnock Edition received: 'Old and young, high and low, grave and gay, learned or ignorant, all were alike delighted, agitated, transported. I was at that time resident in New Galloway, contiguous to Ayrshire; and I can well remember how that even plough boys and maid servants would have gladly bestowed the wages which they earned the most hardly, and which they wanted to purchase necessary clothing, if they might but procure the works of Burns.'

Heron's Journey through the Western Counties of Scotland published in 1793, is a social study still worth reading.

Catherine Carswell's essay Heron: A Study in Failure, which appeared in The Scots Magazine for October 1932, was based upon Heron's Journal of my Conduct, 1789 — 98, the manuscript of which is still in the Laing Collection, Edinburgh University Library.

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Complete Burns Songs

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