The Project

AHRC major-funded project: ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’
General Editor: Gerard Carruthers

The work of the new Oxford University Press collected Burns housed here in the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow will take upwards of fifteen years. Below are descriptions by their editors of the first tranche of volumes for the edition (2011-16): Prose (one volume); The Scots Musical Museum (two volumes); and Songs for George Thomson (one volume). Preparatory work is currently being undertaken for three volumes of Letters – to as well as from Burns, and two volumes of Poetry. At the planning stage also are editions of Miscellaneous Songs; Pirated, Fugitive and Chapbook Texts and an anthology of Burns’s contemporaries. In support of and drawing from the edition, The Oxford Handbook to Robert Burns is at the prospectus stage, comprising around 40 critical essays (and about 300,000 words) by experts from around the world. Updates on all of the work mentioned above will be posted on this site when available and it is a major hope of the Glasgow team that through this website and its links (to Facebook, Twitter etc.) the wider Burnsian community will collaborate in the collection and exchange of information pertaining to ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’. Many people share a love of Robert Burns and his work, and this website aims to be a portal enhancing that collective appreciation.
— Gerard Carruthers


Robert Burns: Commonplace Books, Tour Journals, and Miscellaneous Prose
Edited by Nigel Leask.

Coat of Arms from the Glenriddell Manuscript

The first volume of the new Oxford edition represents a milestone in Burns scholarship, the contents of which have never before been presented to the public in edited form. That’s to say, although most of the items have been published before, they’ve never been gathered together in one volume with an introductory essay, headnote, and full annotations, connecting each to the poet’s life, poetry, and correspondence. The three commonplace books (the ‘Ayrshire’ Commonplace Book 1793-5, the ‘Edinburgh Journal’ 1787-90, and the ‘Glenriddell Manuscripts’ 1792-4) are transcribed (wherever possible) from original manuscripts, and offer a fascinating insight into the poet’s creative process, as well as containing unique drafts of many of his most important poems and song. The Tour Journals narrate Burns’s travels in the Borders and Highland at the height of his fame in 1787, conveying his reflections on Scottish culture and society at a time of intense historical change. The volume also collects Burns’s miscellaneous prose writings, ranging from the prefaces to the Kilmarnock and Edinburgh Poems, through the poet’s blueprint for a working-class library in Dumfriesshire, to his correspondence in the newspapers touching on matters of contemporary political and social import. The volume fills a major gap in our knowledge of the poet and his world, and establishes high scholarly standards for the edition as a whole.
— Nigel Leask


The Scots Musical Museum
Edited by Murray Pittock.

'Auld Lang Syne' - The Scots Musical Museum

The Scots Musical Museum is one of the canonical texts in the formation of what we now think of as the Scottish song tradition. It also lies at the heart of the question: what is the Burns canon? Until the 1960s, Burns was credited with the authorship of an increasing number of songs in the Museum, until almost 40% of its 600 songs were attributed to him. At the same time, it has been recognized that many of the questions surrounding the status of Burns’ authorship are in reality unresolved. As Margaret Smith puts it: ‘Editorial working to establish the Burns canon have not yet settled which songs Burns partly or indeed completely rewrote, which he edited, and which he merely collected and transmitted’, while Mary Ellen Brown stated almost thirty years ago that ‘the difficulties of accurately determining what Burns did write, particularly in the area of song, are evident and are hampered at every turn’. Now for the first time, a full annotated research edition of the Museum’s 600 songs will both examine the background and development to Burns and Johnson’s collection, and also, through an archaeology of known eighteenth-century variants, seek to establish which songs were by Burns, which almost by him, which edited by him and which he collected. The result could change the Burns canon for ever.
— Murray Pittock


Burns’s Songs for George Thomson
Edited by Kirsteen McCue

George Thomson (1757-1851)

The third volume of the OUP edition will focus exclusively on Burns’s songs for his second song editor George Thomson (1757-1851). Previous editors of Burns’s songs – notably James C. Dick, James Kinsley and Donald A. Low – have produced the songs as a body of work, extracting them from the collections for which many of them were originally created, amended or collected by Burns. But this new edition is going to revisit the songs within the context of those collections for which they were intended. Thomson’s work was aiming for a similar domestic music market to his rival James Johnson, for whom Burns worked tirelessly on The Scots Musical Museum (edited for this new edition by my colleague Murray Pittock). Johnson is respected by those interested in Scottish song and culture, but Thomson has received LOTS of bad press! Dick called him ‘the egregious editor’; Kinsley referred to him as ‘priggish’, because he edited out the ‘naughty’ bits in many of Burns’s songs. The Scottish musicologist David Johnson called his work ‘a monstrous white elephant’ and composer Cedric Thorpe Davie thought his volumes were ‘a sad memorial to misplaced enthusiasm and ignorant amateurishness’. But the close working relationship between Burns and Thomson – which only lasted from 1792 until the poet’s untimely death four years later – is the main source of information we have about Burns’s song-writing methods and his opinions of what makes a good song and what doesn’t, or what he liked about a song and what he didn’t. And, furthermore, Burns was committed to Thomson’s collection and even left Thomson the copyright of many of his songs. So I really hope that my work for this new edition will allow everyone to see the details of this bit of the Burns story in a much more balanced way. Thomson’s claim to fame, aside from commissioning Burns and many of his contemporaries, was that he asked contemporary European composers like Beethoven and Haydn to ‘set’ or ‘arrange’ the melodies for these songs for piano and voice along with parts for violin and ‘cello. So we end up with the amazing combination of Burns and Haydn or Burns and Beethoven. These new ‘foreign’ settings are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they have a really interesting place in the new drawing-room musical world which was coming to the fore at this point in our history. So I’m also really hoping that the new edition – and some newly commissioned recordings – will explain this whole context more clearly for us in the 21st century.
— Kirsteen McCue