Robert Burns’ ability to spontaneously produce musical and poignant verse earned him the title of “Scotland’s Bard,” and ensured that his legacy would remain especially close to that nation’s people and their descendants. Special Collections & Archives’ forthcoming exhibit, “In his ‘Great Shadow’: Robert Burns’ Legacy,” opening January 22nd, explores not only the lyrical finesse that led to our remembrance of him, but especially how he is remembered.
Items created by Burns Clubs for memorial celebrations evince the long history of social responses to Burns’ greatness; drawing on the Scottish and John McKay Shaw Collections at FSU’s Special Collections & Archives, the exhibit especially highlights the tradition of Burns Suppers, which are still celebrated around the world. Like memorial celebrations, poetic homages to Burns began almost at the moment of his death. This exhibit explores these poetic echoes, from Sir Walter Scott to current Scottish poet laureate Jackie Kay. Experience firsthand the social and poetic legacies of Burns — what Keats called “his Great Shadow” — through beautiful historical items in our collections.
The exhibit is holding a soft opening starting January 22, 2018, and then will be open through the Spring semester in the Exhibit Room in Strozier Library, Monday-Thursday, 10am to 6pm and Friday 10am to 5:30pm.
As previous posts have shown, the work of Special Collections & Archives staff is not confined to the walls of the library. We love being able to get out into the community, so Associate Dean of Special Collections Katie McCormick and I jumped at the chance to attend the Burns’ Supper hosted by the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee on Saturday, January 23rd at Westminster Oaks. The Burns’ Supper is a celebration of the life and works of Scotland’s National Poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), which was begun by Robert Burns’s friends in 1801 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his death. It is traditionally held on or around January 25th, Burns’s birthday, and commences with the famous “Address to Haggis,” followed by the eating of haggis with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips). It was my first time trying haggis, and, I must say, it was delicious! The evening continued with dinner, toasts and poetry recitations, and a wonderful performance of Scottish music and songs set to Burns’s poetry put on by the FSU School of Music.
FSU Special Collections & Archives has over one-hundred editions of Burns’s poetry in our John MacKay Shaw Childhood Poetry and Scottish Collections, as well as many more volumes on the history, culture, and literature of Scotland. John MacKay Shaw was a founding member of the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee, and his impressive book collection includes the famous Kilmarnock edition of Burns’s poetry, published in Edinburgh in 1786. Each year, the St. Andrew Society of Tallahassee generously provides us with a donation to support the upkeep and development of our Scottish Collection. At this year’s Burns’ Supper, we received an extra treat when society member Ken Sinclair presented FSU Special Collections & Archives with an 1873 Edinburgh imprint of The Complete Works of Robert Burns which had been passed down in his family for several generations. We look forward to adding this book to our collections, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s Burns Night!