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Faculty Publishes Bawdy Burns Poem

Tuesday, 03 March 2009

A bawdy poem by Robert Burns, probably penned in 1786 and subsequently privately printed for the entertainment of gentlemen, has been printed and published in a limited edition by the Faculty of Advocates.

The version reproduced in facsimile by the Faculty, and with a limited print run of 1000 copies, was discovered in the Abbotsford library of Sir Walter Scott and was probably one of a handful of the privately printed book versions of the poem produced in Edinburgh in 1823.

Sir Walter was a member of the Faculty of Advocates and his unique Library of more than 9000 volumes is owned by the Faculty. The on-line cataloguing of the collection is now well under way and, already, a number of priceless antiquarian volumes including priceless medieval manuscripts have been rediscovered.

However, in this Year of Homecoming with its theme celebrating Scotland's national bard, it was decided to produce a facsimile edition of the Abbotsford version of The Fornicator's Court.

All proceeds from sale of the book will go to the Abbotsford Library Project Trust which was established in 1996 to assist financially in the ongoing conservation of Sir Walter's library. The Trust is co-publisher of the work.

The facsimile edition - true to the Abbotsford original - also includes a manuscript copy in Burns' own hand of  'O saw ye my Maggie' , another risqué composition which Sir Walter had 'tipped into' his copy of The Fornicator's Court.

The Fornicators Court is a humorously satirical account of the disciplinary practices of the 18th century Presbyterian Kirk, particularly as they refer to sexual shenanigans. As an adulterer and begetter of illegitimate children, Burns was no stranger to the quasi-legal and sometimes hypocritical and voyeuristic processes of the Kirk and the Kirk Session.

The Faculty's cloth-bound facsimile contains an Introduction by Burns scholars and experts Gerard Carruthers and Pauline Anne Gray of Glasgow University's Centre for Robert Burns Studies.

Carruthers and Gray say that in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century any publication of The Fornicators Court would have been privately printed and at the request of only a few subscribers.

"Verses and publications such as this were obviously being shared and enjoyed by gentlemen in the drawing room, at clubs or discreetly circulated among friends," they say.

As a young man in Edinburgh Scott famously met Burns and maintained a lifelong admiration for him. Carruthers and Gray write: "This facsimile version of the Fornicators Court, including the tipped in 'O saw ye my Maggie' is one of the rarities of the library at Abbotsford.

"It is testament also to Scott's fascination with the man he called his 'favourite author'. It is an item that links those two of Scotland's writers who do more than any others to broadcast to the modern world the idea of Scotland, and highlights their conjunction also as creative artists interested in the more intimate spaces of human culture."



Issued on behalf of the Faculty of Advocates by Beattie Communications

Note to Editors:

The facsimile edition of The Fornicators Court is published by The Abbotsford Library Project Trust and the Faculty of Advocates.

It is priced at £20 with all proceeds going to the Trust.

 It is available only from Andrea Longson, Senior Librarian, Advocates Library, Parliament House, Edinburgh EH1 1RF.