Axed Burns manuscript could have put career in jeopardy, says Glasgow University Scholar

Professor Gerard Carruthers of the University of Glasgow made the discovery at Barnbougle Castle, near Edinburgh

A recently discovered cancelled manuscript by Robert Burns exposes the poet’s revolutionary ideas during the difficult years of the French revolution.

A leading Burns expert based at the University of Glasgow discovered the manuscript in a collection of Burns materials held at Barnbougle Castle, near Edinburgh.

An early version of Burns famous song “Ye Jacobites by name,” the manuscript offers a unique insight on Burns sympathy for reformers challenging the status quo of Britain in the 18th century.

Written in 1791, the cancelled draft named “Ye Black-neds by name,” lifts the vail on Burns support and alignment for democratic principles accompanied by his willingness to jeopardise his Crown Service position to advocate for political change.

The finding made by Burns expert, Professor Gerard Carruthers of the University of Glasgow, at Barnbougle Castle near Edinburgh, illustrates Burns’ ability to highlight political themes into seemingly historical narratives.

Page 1 of the cancelled manuscript of Ye Jacobites by Name in the handwriting of Robert Burns, via University of Glasgow

Professor Curruthers points out that it’s clear that Burns very much had his eye on the current affairs of the 18th century, and most likely kept the manuscript under raps in order to avoid prosecution.

Carruthers points out how Burns using his work to subtly highlight his political stance – behind a versed of historical events – was seemingly nothing out of the ordinary for the poet. Furthermore, Professor Carrutheres notes parallels with other songs such as “Scots Wha Hae” and “A Mans a Man for a That,” where revolutionary ideas were subtly hidden behind seemingly unrelated themes.

This discovery calls into question the general understanding of Burns political persuasion, proposing the “Ye Jacobites by Name” may have acted as coded reference to reformers of the time. Professor Carruthers speculates on Burns potential open support for political reforms if he had lived longer, illustrating the poets seemingly rocky relationship with political expression.

Burns was a skilled poet operating and navigating a politically treacherous landscape where support for ideas of reform could have severe consequences. The cancelled manuscript therefore underscores the intricate interplay between Burns’ personal circumstances and the border political climate, providing a nuanced perspective on his creative output.

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Featured image via University of Glasgow