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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scholarly, involving, illuminating
Robert Crawford is a poet ; he is also Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St. Andrews. This well-researched and well-written book is the latest biography of Robert Burns, and it appears just before the 250th. anniversary of his birth. It displays taste, judgement, scholarly application and enthusiasm in pretty well equal measure. It adopts a...
Published on 23 Jan 2009 by Mr. Ian A. Macfarlane

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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars pity about the index
A well-written and informative book. What a pity more care wasn't taken over the index. There are numerous entries with very long lists of page numbers after them, without being broken down into subheadings e.g. Jean Armour. How much more usable it would have been with a reader-friendly index.
Published on 28 Jan 2010 by Margaret Mccormack


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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scholarly, involving, illuminating, 23 Jan 2009
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Mr. Ian A. Macfarlane "almac1975" (Fife, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Bard (Hardcover)
Robert Crawford is a poet ; he is also Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St. Andrews. This well-researched and well-written book is the latest biography of Robert Burns, and it appears just before the 250th. anniversary of his birth. It displays taste, judgement, scholarly application and enthusiasm in pretty well equal measure. It adopts a chronological approach but marries events in Burns's life with his writings, often establishing links between the two, and is particularly strong in identifying what might be called 'strands' - his awareness of Scots song from a very early age, elements in his education which helped to form his taste and give his writing direction, the nature and character of his father William and his priorities in bringing up the family, his political radicalism, his developing sexuality and the directions in which it led him (a series of affairs, of illegitimate children, of local gossip and scandal, of appearances before the Kirk Session and so on) - which were key in his life and important in our understanding and appraisal of it.

The book is full of quotations and references, but never heavy or dull. I found it increasingly involving as it went on and unusually successful in conveying, very vividly, the complexity of Burns's personality, of the times in which he lived and of the social realities with which he had to contend. It was a rigidly stratified society - lords and ladies, genteel folk with wealth and education, a burgeoning merchant/middle class, the poor - farmers, labourers, servants. Burns belonged to the last category but had the gifts, the personality, the education and the good luck to be involved with all of them. Clearly there was a growing awareness, in the golden time of the Scottish Enlightenment, that this was a remarkable man, who was never socially the equal of polite Edinburgh society but nonetheless fascinated it and looked straight in its eye without fear, fully aware of the dullness of some of its members yet at the same time aware also of the necessity of playing a certain role to win its acceptance.

Crawford oftens treads familiar ground, but does so with a weight of scholarship and a depth of insight which hold and convince the reader. He admires the poet but finds occasional evidence of behaviour which is unattractive, indeed disgraceful (a word he openly uses once in a biography which is seldom judgemental), by the standards of 2009, never mind those of 1789.

The final pages of the book deal movingly with Burns's struggle to keep on the right side of insolvency, to satisfy his masters at the Excise while remaining as true as he prudently could to his radical ideals (and his admiration of the spirit of the French Revolution), and eventually to cope with declining health and the worries it brought about Jean's future and that of his children. All the material is handled with skill so that the story is told in all its complexity without damaging the narrative thread. Finally, very sadly, The Bard dies, his grand, rather pompous but well-intended, says Crawford, funeral procession watched by 10,000 people - but not, of course, by his wife, who was delivered that day of the poet's last child, a little boy, Maxwell, who did not live more than three years.

It is a fine biography, though more than just a biography, from which the power, beauty and truth of the poems and the songs emerge the stronger. Crawford is good at pinpointing, by judicious quotation and comment, just what it is that makes these poems what they are - that is, satirical, universal, funny, deeply moving, lyrical, beautifully crafted, highly personal, wonderfully simple and direct and a lot more besides. I liked Burns before I read this book. I like him more now. I have read a lot of his work and heard many of his songs. I want to read more and hear more. I am grateful to Professor Crawford for offering such pleasure and insight ; if it was his intention to guide well-disposed readers to a deeper knowledge and appreciation of a very great and unusually interesting writer, he has succeeded in my case.

Incidentally, Crawford has also just produced an excellent anthology of Burns's poems and prose, 'The Best Laid Schemes' (q.v.), which acts as a very good companion to the biography
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Bard - a gift, 21 Nov 2013
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This review is from: The Bard (Paperback)
As far as I know the book is ideal and as it is a gift for Christmas I am sure it will please - as for liking it or loving it - it is not really for me but for the recipient to judge! It look fine though.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Bard, 16 Jan 2013
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This review is from: The Bard (Kindle Edition)
Excellent! Super! Crawford presents some new material and re-assesses Burns as man and as poet, covering his politics, his radicalism, his intenisty, his warmth, his passion, his loving kindness. I enjoued it very much and found it a usefu as I was preparing to give a Speech at a forthcoming Burns Supper at the time of reading.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars pity about the index, 28 Jan 2010
A well-written and informative book. What a pity more care wasn't taken over the index. There are numerous entries with very long lists of page numbers after them, without being broken down into subheadings e.g. Jean Armour. How much more usable it would have been with a reader-friendly index.
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3 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bored by the Bard, 2 Feb 2009
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This review is from: The Bard (Hardcover)
This is a well written biography which covers both the life and the work - Crawford himself is a well-regarded poet- with special strength in connecting Burns' verse with the song tradition passed on to him by his mother. Reading it in the run up to Burns' 250th anniversary, I found the book illuminating and very readable. At the end, though, I felt not fully satisfied. On reflection,this was not a fault of the book but rather because Burns' life itself was not greatly interesting - poverty, farming, education at the hands of his father (himself largely self taught to an impressive degree), philandering with servants and peasant girls many of whom he left pregnant, and a slightly cowardly flirtation with politics. I am also tempted to agree with the sassanach view that Burns' poetry itself was not of the first rank, and found myslef beginning to skip over Crawford's numerous quotations. Still, I did enjoy a recent Burns' Night Supper and am grateful to the Bard for providing a pretext for an uplifting evening in these disheartening times and to "The Bard" for providing me with the story behind the poet.
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The Bard by Robert Crawford (Hardcover - 1 Jan 2009)
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