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Robert Burns & 18th Century Scotland: Burns Editions

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

How Burns was Published

Publication history of the Kilmarnock edition, in Young and Scott, The Kilmarnock Burns (2017), xxi-xxvi.

Skinking & Stinking: the Edinburgh Edition (1787), Book Collector, 65:4 (2016): 601-616.

"The Part-Issue of Waddell's Life & Works of Robert Burns," Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, 12 (2017): 67-84

Bibliographies of Burns's Writings

J. W. Egerer, A Bibliography of Robert Burns (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964; Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1965): PR4328 .E43 1965

Catalogue of Robert Burns Collection, the Mitchell Library, Glasgow (Glasgow: Glasgow City Libraries, 1996):  PR 4328 .M5 1996

Elizabeth Sudduth, The G. Ross Roy Collection of Robert Burns, an illustrated Catalogue (Columbia, SC: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2009):  PR4331 .S8 2009 (note that subsequent additions to the Roy Collection are available in the main online library catalogue).

Memorial Catalogue of the Burns Exhibition: held in the Galleries of the Royal Glasgow Institute (Glasgow: Hodge, 1898): PR4335 .B86 1898

Larissa P. Watkins, Burnsiana: a Bibliography of the William R. Smith Collection in the Library of the Supreme Council, 33rd degree, SJ (Newcastle, DE: Oak Knoll, 2008): PR4328 .W37 2008

Allan Young & Patrick Scott, The Kilmarnock Burns: A Census (Columbia, SC: South Carolina Scottish Literature Series, 2017):    PR 4337.3.Y66 K22 2017 .

The Songs Burns Wrote and Collected

The words for the songs Burns wrote are usually included in collections of his poems (e.g. in the Kinsley edition), but not always with the music. For fuller information on available editions and recordings, see the separate page on Burns's Songs

The Main Editions in Burns's Lifetime

For a full list, including many first periodical and chapbook appearances, see the bibliography of Burns by J. W. Egerer (in the Bibliographies panel).

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock: John Wilson, 1786);  PR4300 1786 .K1

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh: Creech, 1787); PR 4300 1787 .E3  (There are two type-settings of the first part of the book, with the second setting distinguished by having the misprint "stinking" for "skinking" in "Address to a Haggis."; Copy 1 in the Roy Collection belonged to Burns's friend Robert Ainslie and has annotations in Burns's handwriting) 

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (London: Strahan, 1787): PR 4300 1787 .L6

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Belfast: James Magee, 1787): PR4300 1787 .B3

[Also issued as: Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Dublin: William Gilbert, 1787):  PR 4300 1787 .D8]

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Philadelphia: Stewart and Hyde, 1788): PR4300 1788 .P3 

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (New York: J. and A. M'Lean, 1788): PR 4300 1788 .N4

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Creech, 1793);  PR 4300 1793 .E3  (Vol. II includes the first appearance of "Tam o' Shanter" in any of Burns's collections)

Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, 2 vols (Edinburgh: Creech, 1794);  PR 4300 1794 .E3


The Main Nineteenth-Century Editions Available On-line

Many of Burns's poems were not published in any collection of his work during his lifetime, and for research on these the information (and misinformation) provided by his nineteenth-century editors remains important. The major 19th century edition not available in the list below is William Scott Douglas's six-volume Works of Robert Burns (Edinburgh: Paterson, 1877-1879).

Editing Burns


Not all the poems added to the Burns canon after his death were genuine; the fullest collections of this "Burns apocrypha" are in Kinsley's "XIV. Dubia" and "Appendix," in Poems and Songs (1968), II: 898-932, and in Mackay's "Appendix B: Dubious and Spurious Works, in Burns A-Z (1990), pp. 699-765..

The Book That Made Burns Famous

The first collection of Burns's poems, published by subscription, July 31, 1786, and printed for Burns by John wilson of Kilmarnock in an edition of 612 copies. Available here from the University of Glasgow

Standard Scholarly Editions

James Kinsley, ed., Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968): index of titles and first lines at end of vol.II; commentary in vol. III:  PR4300 1968 .O9

G. Ross Roy, ed., Letters of Robert Burns, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985): PR4331 .A4 1985

James C. Dick, ed., The Songs of Robert Burns (orig. 1903; repr. Hatfield PA: Folklore Assoc., 1962):  M1746.B94 S7

Nigel Leask, ed., Commonplace books, Tour Journals and Miscellaneous Prose, The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014). 

Murray Pittock, ed., The Scots Musical Museum: The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns, vols 2 & 3 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Some Modern Annotated Editions

Carol McGuirk, ed., Selected Poems, Penguin Classics (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993 etc.)

Robert Irvine, ed., Selected Poems and Songs (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013)

Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan, eds, The Best-laid Schemes: Selected Poetry and Prose (Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 2009) 

Andrew Noble and Patrick S. Hogg, ed., The Canongate Burns (Edinburgh: Canongate Classics, 2001, revd. 2003). 

Robert Donald Thornton, ed., Selected Poetry and Prose, Riverside editions (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966)