Allan Massie

A Man For A’ That

The Bard: Robert Burns, a Biography

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‘The Bard’ is Robert Burns, and this book will be published in January, on the 250th anniversary of his birth. The word ‘bard’ is now rarely used without a touch of irony, but in the eighteenth century it had a more positive and agreeable flavour. A polite society looked back with nostalgia to a more heroic age. Thomas Gray’s poem entitled ‘The Bard’ aims at the sublime. Macpherson’s only partly fraudulent Ossian poems popularised the idea of the bard as the expression of national spirit. When Burns called himself a bard, he did so self-consciously, as an indication that he aspired to speak for all Scotland. On the other hand, as Robert Crawford points out, there is a Scots word ‘bardie’ that means bold, impudent of speech, forward, quarrelsome. Burns was ‘bardie’ as well as ‘bard’.

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