Allan Massie

A Man For A’ That

The Bard: Robert Burns, a Biography

By

Jonathan Cape 480pp £20 order from our bookshop

‘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’.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter