The idea of compiling this book occurred to me when I was first writing Robert Burns: the Man; his Work; the Legend (1954, 2nd Edition 1968). At that time, I thought a book of this kind would be useful to the general reader of Burns's poems whose difficulties with the Scots tongue could be overcome by looking up the glossaries attached to every edition of the poet's works, but whose lack of background information could not be remedied without recourse to the Chambers-Wallace or Henley and Henderson editions, both enormously bulky, hard to come by, and, in any case, inevitably out of date so far as some of the biographical information is concerned. So I began to make a few notes. Before I had got very far, other projects claimed my attention, and The Burns Encyclopedia lay, so to say, in arrested embryo; until, in the Spring of 1958, Mr Iain Hamilton, then Editor-in-Chief for Messrs Hutchinson, invited me to compile and write precisely the kind of volume I had originally meditated.
Time, however, was limited, since part of Mr Hamilton's intention was that The Burns Encyclopedia should form part of the Burns Bi-Centenary celebrations in January, 1959. With considerable assistance from my wife, the work was put together during the summer months of 1958. So rapid was its compilation and subsequent production that the first edition inevitably contained a number of errors. These have now been corrected, every entry in the book has been revised, a number have been extended, and many new entries have been added. It is therefore perhaps misleading to call this a second edition, since very few entries still appear as they originally did.
The book was, and is, designed to be of interest in several ways. First and foremost, of course, it is meant to provide a handrail for the ordinary reader of Burns anxious to explore the temper of the age in which the poet lived and wrote. In the second place, it is designed to attract readers interested in eighteenth-century Scotland, for whom the approach may well be that of anthology-taster, browsing and savoring for leisure and pleasure. Those who find themselves periodically forced to their feet, by custom dubious and strange, to deliver Burns Supper orations should find it a convenient quar4ry.
The sources from which I have drawn my information are too numerous to mention individually. Whenever possible, I have used Burns's own works. Where the letters are concerned, the text I have followed is that of Professor de Lancey Ferguson's definitive edition. The text used for the poems in the first edition was that of Chambers-Wallace. Between editions, Professor James Kinsley's magnificent three-volume definitive text was published. I have used Professor Kinsley's text where it differs in word or line from the Chambers-Wallace text, but ignored minor variations of spelling, preferring the Chambers-Wallace usually more modern versions to the archaic spelling of some originals to be found in Kinsley's edition.
James Currie was once thought to have disto9rted the story of Burns's life in order to use the poet as a Dreadful Warning against the evils of drink. Professor R.D.Thornton's James Currie: The Entire Stranger and Robert Burns (1963) has shown that this was probably an unfair interpretation of Currie's behaviour. In his youth, Currie was himself so intemperate that the unexpected respectability of his middle-age made it virtually impossibly for him publicly to avoid condemning one whose sins he deemed to have been so similar to his discarded own. As is well known, the reformed rake often ends up the narrowest and most intolerant of puritans.
Currie's incompetence as an Editor may now thus be more or less satisfactorily explained. His processing of Burns's reputation, however, can hardly be condoned.
When cheese is processed, richness of flavour and tang of texture disappear. What is left is a smooth, tasteless substance, which may be easily spread and which could not possi8bly offend the dullest palate. The object of most of Burns's nineteenth-century editors and commentators was to turn the rich Dunlop of his life and work into a processed product acceptable to Church and State, and sufficiently characterless and colourless to enable him to occupy with absolute decorum the niche of National Bard prepared for him.
Reputations and cheeses differ in that while cheese cannot be unprocessed, reputations can. We owe the emergence of the real Burns first and foremost to Catherine Carswell and Franklin Bliss Snyder. Mrs Carswell's The Life of Robert Burns (1931) though written in the manner of a novel creates a warm and convincing portrait of the poet. Snyder, in his book, The Life of Robert Burns (1932), cuts away the pious falsifications of more than a century and brings the clear light of impartial scholarship and an awareness of international literary standards to bear on Burns's achievements. Since then, there have been Hans Hecht's Robert Burns (1963), J. de Lancey Ferguson's wholly admirable study Pride and Passion (1939), David Daiche's Robert Burns (1950), principally a piece of literary criticism, Thomas Crawford's Burns; A Study of the Poems and Songs (1960) and , to name only one other, Cyril Pearl's Bawdy Burns (1958), a witty but devastating attack on the so-called Christian virtues upon which Scotland's post-Reformation society was, and to some extent still is, based and against which Burns was so strenuous a rebel. Some further details of Agnes M'Lehose's life have been uncovered by Raymond Lamont Brown in Clarinda: The Intimate Story of Robert Burns and Agnes MacLehose (1968). Other aspects of Burns treated with scholarship and integrity by J.C. Dickin The Songs of Robert Burns (1903), and by J. de Lancey Ferguson, James Barke and Sydney Goodsir Smith in the Auk Society edition of The Merry Muses (1959). So greatly has our honest of attitude to sexual peccadilloes altered that The Merry Muses can now be bought as a paperback on railway station bookstalls. Dick's collection has been re-issued along with a copy of Burns's Notes on Scottish Song interleaved in the Scots Musical Museum, by Folklore Associates, Hatboro', Pennsylvania (1962). The same press has also put out a two volume reprint of the Museum itself (1962). Burns scholarship has otherwise been well served by Professor J.W.Egerer's A Bibliography of Robert Burns (1964).
It seems unlikely that any of the riddles ably examined by Hilton Brown in There Was a Lad (1949) will now be unraveled, though 'lost' Burns manuscripts will no doubt turn up from time to time. Discoveries, significant and insignificant, are annually reported in the pages of the Burns Chronicle. With kind help from the former Keeper of the Records of Scotland, Sir James Fergusson, and the Archivist to the Marquess of Bute, Miss Catherine Mrmet, I have been able to present some hitherto unknown facts about John Arnot of Dalquhatswood.
For the first edition of this book, the then President of the Burns Federation, Mr J.B. Hardie, wrote:
'Many people are mentioned in Burns's poems and letters. Reference to the Encyclopedia will immediately bring a much closer and personal acquaintance with any particular individual. Similarly, with places and anecdotes. The Encyclopedia is brimful with knowledge and information, and the reader who carefully st5udies it will not only get a clearer idea of Burn's attitude to people and to life generally, but will also get a new and better idea of Burns himself.
'Mr Lindsay's work makes most interesting and enlightening reading for the ordinary reader. Many may not have in their possession the complete letters of Burns. The Encyclopedia gives a remarkably extensive selection of the more noteworthy and revealing examples of his correspondence. A study of the Encyclopedia is a generous education in itself. Many of the entries contain the most vivid word-pictures, and the amount of detail in them should be an ideal aid to speakers on Burns, teachers and members of Scottish Societies.
'Maurice Lindsay has to be complimented on producing a book which should be in great demand, not only for its value as a work of reference, but for the sheer enjoyment it will give to its readers.'
The purpose of this book revised and enlarged, remains the furtherance of the enjoyment of Burns's poems and letters by readers who share my own pleasure and delight in them. To all such readers, therefore, this second edition of The Burns Encyclopedia is dedicated.