A Bard Named Burns

Celebrated each year on January 25th Burns night is an annual Scottish fixture extraordinaire. The supermarket shelves are full of the traditional and, of course, essential accompaniments to the bard’s memory. Not perhaps for the faint hearted, the haggis features strongly on eye-level shelves and on the dinner tables of those who choose to recall the impact the bard had on the folklore of the Scottish Nation.

In his short time on this earth, Burns commented on every subject known to man at that time - from winsome witches to wee timorous beasties. He even inspired an Inverbervie born ship-designer to name The Cutty Sark in his memory. Robert Burns was of course almost certainly a fan of a dram as this extract from John Barleycorn clearly illustrates:

“John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
'Twill make your courage rise.

'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy;
'Twill make the widow's heart to sing,
Tho' the tear were in her eye.

Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne'er fail in old Scotland!”

But was it the drams, the liking for the ladies or indeed the horrors of balneology which finally did for him.
Here is a wee extract from The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire which just might shed some light on the matter:
Also known as Medical Bathing, Balneology was popular in Burns’ time with various proponents claiming that exposure to the effects of healing waters might affect a cure where all other treatments had failed. Dissertations were published and intense debate erupted amongst medical men as to the efficacy of cold spring water versus cold sea water in the curing of the sick.
Burns sadly died on 21 July 1796 age just 37 and there are many theories as to the exact cause of his death. These range from venereal disease to rheumatic fever with conditions such as liver cirrhosis and alcohol induced seizure not far behind. The years of hard labour spent as a tenant farmer must also have taken their toll and exacerbated his already poor health.
A more likely exclamation is that the sickly bard died of fever after being advised by his doctor, William Maxwell, to bathe naked in freezing seawater. Robert Burns died within days of trying this curative treatment and was duly buried on 25 July 1796.’

There’s much more about Scotland’s National Bard in my book:  The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire


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