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Rare Burns Ballad Is Latest Find Sir Walter Scotts Abbotsford

Monday, 11 January 2010


The discovery, which has excited the literary world, is the latest priceless artefact to be unearthed as Faculty of Advocates' Rare Books Librarian, Lindsay Levy, continues with her task of cataloguing the Faculty-owned collection of literary gems in the Sir Walter Scott library.


Burns wrote four broadside ballads in support of Patrick Heron who was elected as Member of Parliament for the Stewartry of Kircudbright in 1795.


Previously, it was known that Walter Scott's collection of books and manuscripts contained two of these, Fy Let us to Kircudbright, one of only four original copies known to exist, and Buy braw troggin, the only other surviving original pamphlet version of which being that held by the Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway.


Now a previously unnoticed printing of a second of the Heron Ballads, Buy braw troggin, has been discovered by Ms Levy as she continues her work at Abbotsford.


Both items are to be found bound into Scott's copy of R.H. Cromek's Reliques of Robert Burns (1808).


In an inspired piece of detective work, Levy has also discovered a hitherto unpublished letter from Maria Riddell to Walter Scott gifting the two 'election' ballads to him. Riddell's letter of 1807 talks of the two texts as being not among Burns's best work, but also not 'unworthy'.


Maria Riddell was the 19-year-old English wife of the younger brother of Robert Riddell, a close friend of Burns. Burns's daughter, Elizabeth Riddell Burns, who died aged only four, was named after his friend's family. Maria wrote one of the first memoirs of Burns following his death in 1796. This first appeared in the Dumfries Journal in August 1796, and was strongly influential in Burns biography for many years thereafter Lindsay Levy explained: "I just found it bound into this book and realised it was not mentioned in the printed catalogue. I began to wonder how Scott got it so I had a look around some letters and found a reference that Maria Riddell had gifted it to Scott."


Buy braw troggin is the latest in a string of spectacular discoveries made by the Faculty of Advocates in recent years among Scott's personal collection, ranging from the medieval period onwards.


 Dr Gerry Carruthers, Director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow, said: "This is an exciting find in itself. But it also helps disprove what I call the 'bampot' version of Scottish literature which seeks to depict Walter Scott as jealous of Burns, an enemy to his memory even. In fact, Scott is intensely interested in Burns's legacy, helping accurately to preserve it."


During 2009 the Abbotsford Library Project Trust and the Faculty published a handsome limited edition printing of Scott's rare printing of Burns's bawdy poem, The Fornicators Court to mark the link between Burns and Scott for the year of Homecoming.


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 Faculty also gifted to the nation 750,000 items from its non-legal collection in 1925 and this formed the basis of what is now the National Library of Scotland.


The on-line cataloguing of the Abbotsford collection is now well established and, already, a number of significant antiquarian volumes including priceless medieval manuscripts have been rediscovered.


They include the Legenda Aurea (the Golden Legend), a lavishly illuminated manuscript believed to be about 500 years old and described as the one of the most significant literary finds for 70 years and  the 500 -year-old Teuerdank, a medieval German text.


The Fornicator's Court is a bawdy Burns poem, probably penned in 1789 and privately printed "for the entertainment of gentlemen."


The Faculty has now printed 1,000 copies of the poem which includes a manuscript copy of "Oh saw ye my Maggie" another risqué Burns composition which Scott had bound into his copy of the Fornicator's Court.

Issued on behalf of the Faculty of Advocates by Beattie Communications