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Robert Burns & 18th Century Scotland

A rapid reference guide to online and selected other sources about Robert Burns

Introducing Robert Burns

A Burns Timeline

See also the page on Biographical Resources.

A Burns Symposium

A symposium at the Library of Congress, for the 250th anniversary, 2009

What Burns Wrote

There are hundreds of editions of Burns's poems, though they vary in completeness and accuracy.  The standard scholarly edition remains James Kinsley, ed., The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). This is being gradually superseded by  a new multi-volume complete works, the Oxford Edition of Robert Burns; vol.1  (prose, commonplace books, tours), and vols 2-4 (songs) have been  published, to be followed by multi-volume series for the correspondence and poems. For reference in citing the Kinsley edition, note that Kinsley's one-volume Oxford Standard Authors edition (1971) uses the same item-numbering for the poems and songs as his 3-volume version, even though the page-numbers differ between the two. For research, it is generally useful to consult the commentary and background notes in several editions.

Quick Background Information: Works, People, Places

For short entries on Burns’s individual works, friends, and places, see the earlier edition of Maurice Lindsay's Burns Encyclopaedia, linked above. Note: the new 4th edition of the Burns Encyclopaedia, ed. David Purdie, Kirsteen McCue, and Gerard Carruthers (2014) is only available in print format.  There are further links on later pages of this guide to Burns places and biographical sources.

The most authoritative, comprehensive, and up=to-date general guide to Burns is now Gerard Carruthers, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Robert Burns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2024). Its 42 essays on specific Burns topics are not really for quick reference, but are too wide-ranging to fit under  "Biography" or "Criticiism."

Where Did Burns Say That?

Most people search for Burns quotations on-line, but the modern concordance by James Mackay includes entries for some of the major variants in Burns quotations, not just for one version, and helpfully also includes entries for poems sometimes attributed to Burns but that are generally regarded as apocryphal.

James A. Mackay, comp., Burns, A-Z: the Complete Word-Finder (Dumfries: James A. Mackay, 1990): PR4345 .M32 1990


Robert Burns was a great letter-writer. The current standard print edition is edited by G. Ross Roy, The Letters of Robert Burns, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985). The Roy edition is chronological; James A. Mackay's Complete Letters of Robert Burns (Ayr: Alloway, 1987) rearranges  the Roy texts in groups by correspondent. On-line editions currently available for free vary in completeness and in the sources from which they draw. There is not yet any comprehensive edition of letters written to Burns, to match the editions of letters he wrote to other people; the Glasgow team is preparing a new edition that will bring together both sides of the correspondence. For further studies of the letters, see under Biography.

Robert Burns

From a crayon drawing of Robert Burns, by Archibald Skirving (1749-1819)

Burns's Autobiography


If you have already checked the on-line Burns Encyclopedia (see adjacent box), or other relevant sources in this guide, and you have not found the answer you need, then contact one of the following:


This guide was developed by Patrick Scott (2013, 2015-2016, and subsequent updatings), working with Jo DuRant (2015), and with Jake Sillyman (November 2016).