The Later Life of Robert Burns

Robert Burns' Later Life


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Robert Burns:
Who was he?

Short biography:
Early life
Farm Life
Later life

Background to the man:
His poetry
His women
His politics
His Freemasonry


His celebration:
Burns Night
Celebration running order
Auld lang syne

References
Burns home page

Robert Burns: His Later Life

"But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;" (Tam O’Shanter)

When he moved to Edinburgh he lodged in the Old Town his plans were twofold at this point. On the one hand he wanted to write poetry and publish a second book, perhaps gaining a Patron who would pay his living expenses.

On the other side, from a purely practical, viewpoint he was looking for the possibility of an appointment in the Excise – a tax collector, or more accurately that branch of the Tax Service that ensured that tax was paid on alcoholic drinks, by intercepting and arresting smugglers.

The family of Jean Armour, who had previously been opposed to his relationship with her, now saw what they thought was a good thing and were now pursuing him to be recognised as her husband.




Between 1785 and 1787 he made journeys into the Scottish Lowlands and Highlands, exploring and fuelling his store of images and ideas for poetry. Unfortunately for the latter journeys his companion was not invited to stay at the homes of the rich who wished to have the "heaven-taught ploughman" under their roof. As a result Robert felt he could not accept the hospitality offered and lost valuable connections (one of which was Robert Graham, a Commissioner of Excise who could have helped him get the job he wanted).

In April 1788 Burns acknowledged Jean Armour as his wife, she was tolerant of his behaviour and even raised some of his illegitimate as her own.
Later in 1788, even though he had succeeded in getting his Excise appointment, he rented a farm in Ellisland from his friend Patrick Miller who he had met on his first Scottish journey. It was a disaster and he took up his position in September 1789, ridding himself of the farm in 1791.

On his return to Edinburgh he joined forces with James Johnson to collect and publish a collection of Scottish songs. Johnson had invented a cheap way to print music and intended to capitalise on it. Robert spent a good portion of his remaining years collecting, collating and preparing Scottish folk songs. However he refused any payment for his work and he still needed to eat.

Despite his antagonism to the Establishment, as a concept, he worked hard as an exciseman and gained the respect of his seniors. However his job required Robert to be on horseback and on the road at all times of the year, day or night. It took a toll on his health.

He was also a notorious drinker and even if he wasn’t drinking continuously there were certainly bouts of heavy drinking. This no doubt contributed to his general ill-health and ultimate death.

Robert Burns died on the 21st July 1796, aged 37 leaving his wife Jean pregnant with another child.