Dirt & Deity: A Life of Robert Burns

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9780002159647: Dirt & Deity: A Life of Robert Burns

This biography illuminates and explores the complexities and contradictions of Burns's character and personality, untangling the myth from the legend. Based on new evidence from 700 letters Burns wrote during his life, McIntyre concentrates on the circumstances of the writing of poetry itself, and paints a vivid picture of Burns's emotional and impulsive political views, the cruelty and gentleness of which he was capable, stressing the importance and the quality of the satirical poetry as well as the unforgettable love poetry immediately associated with his name.

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From Publishers Weekly:

A marginally educated seducer and drunk who died at 37 in 1796 remains Scotland's premier poet and songsmith. McIntyre's bicentenary biography (his last was a life of BBC founder John Reith, The Expense of Glory) is unsparing about Burns and his uneven output, from haunting lyrics to bawdy songs. Carlyle, so McIntyre writes, saw Burns's career as "a tragedy of potential unfulfilled and opportunity squandered." Rather, McIntyre contends, there was scant opportunity in hardscrabble Ayrshire in Burns's time, and the flavor of that bleak life as it was actually lived is vividly evoked, as are the poet's self-defeating imprudences of every sort. Having little schooling, Burns pragmatically described his working methods as "Untill I am compleat master of a tune, in my own singing... I can never compose for it." His practice was not that of the university, but it produced "Flow gently, sweet Afton" and "The Cotter's Saturday Night." He also produced more children, illegitimate and legal, than he could afford, and left his plough for a meager salary as excise tax inspector that kept him on horseback and away from home, from the contemplative time for writing and from exploiting usefully his flair for friendship with admiring men and adoring women in circles above his class. His lyrical gift had pushed him out of the milieu that moved him to verse. As McIntyre observes, Burns's local literary reputation, once spread, "had both made and undone him." He had "an extraordinary blindness to where his own interest lay." Although he was "never the slave of time," that became another of his many failings. McIntyre's careful scrutiny of Burns is exemplified by his quoting an exculpatory letter ostensibly done in haste. "Pardon this confused scrawl," Burns explains. "?Indeed I know not well what I have written." But, McIntyre notes, "That was not strictly true?he had taken time to try his hand at a draft." Illustrated.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal:

In this bicentennial of Burns's death, the national poet of Scotland will be toasted liberally in Burns clubs around the world with spirited renditions of "Address to a Haggis" and "For Auld Lang Syne." McIntyre, a British broadcaster and newspaperman, approaches the legend of the "Heaven-taught ploughman" as one would stripping "treacle-dark varnish" from an old painting. In a graceful narrative that advances via bits and pieces of Burns's letters, poetry, and songs, McIntyre prudently maneuvers among the numerous historical and critical versions of the poet's short life and happily sticks to the record. He does not employ the usual condescension in describing how the young farmer, largely self-taught, published a volume of home-spun verse at age 27 and galvanized a country's national pride; nor does McIntyre romanticize Burns's weakness for strong spirits, young women, and subversive politics. The biographer has done his homework here and even includes his rather shameless attempts to have exhumed the infant buried with "Highland Mary" to determine its paternity. The son of Caledonia sings again. Highly recommended.?Amy Boaz Nugent, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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