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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Skinner, The Reverend John (1721 -1807)

The author of the song 'Tullochgorum' was born at Balfour, Aberdeenshire, the son of the schoolmaster of Birse. He was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, became assistant schoolmaster at Monymusk, took orders in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1742, spent two years in Shetland as preceptor in the family of the Sinclairs of Scalloway, then, returning to Aberdeen, ministered at Longside, near Linshart, for the rest of his life.

He was the author of an Ecclesiastical History of Scotland and many other theological works, as well as 'Tullochgorum' and other Scots songs which included 'John o' Badenyon' and 'Ewie wi' the Crookit Horn'.

Although he was willing to subscribe the oath of allegiance, Skinner's church was wrecked after the '45 rising by the Duke of Cumberland's men, and Skinner was imprisoned for six months in Aberdeen because he preached to an assembly of more than four people.

His song 'Tullochgorum', which Burns described as 'the best Scotch Song ever Scotland saw', was suggested by Mrs Montgomery, wife of the Inland Revenue Officer in Ellon. She thought Skinner might provide for the air. 'The Reel o' Tullochgorum', a set of decorous words, which were sadly lacking for many Scottish airs at that time.

Bum was disappointed that he did not meet Skinner on his Highland tour, having unwittingly passed only four miles from the minister's home; but Burns did meet Skinner's son in Aberdeen — he had previously been introduced to him in Edinburgh — and suggested that his father might write him. The Reverend John Skinner senior wrote Burns a long verse epistle - 'by far the finest poetic compliment I ever got' -- and Burns answered on 25th October 1787, 'in plain dull prose'. Burns asked Skinner to send him any songs he had suitable for inclusion in the Museum, telling him that 'Tullochgorum', 'John of Badenyon' and 'Ewie wi' the Crookit Horn' were going into the second volume. Burns duly sent Skinner the second volume of the Museum from Edinburgh on 14th February 1788: 'as a mark of the veneration I have long had, and shall ever have, for your character....' Among Skinner's other correspondents were John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, and Dr Gleig, Bishop of Brechin.

Skinner lost his wife in 1799, and when his son met with a similar misfortune some years later, he retired from his duties and went to live with his son at Aberdeen. The old man died quietly in his chair, having just dined happily with three generations of his descendants.

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Complete Burns Songs

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