Robert Burns: the people’s poet

As the world prepares to celebrate Burns Day, Christopher Whatley examines the effect the poet had on the working-class people of Scotland, and suggests three places where you can honour his memory

Scottish poet Robert Burns. His poetry captured a familiar if rapidly disappearing rural way of life, says Christopher Whatley. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the January 2011 edition of BBC History Magazine

On a grey, sleet-spattered Thursday in 1877, a vast crowd comprising an estimated 100,000 people crushed into Glasgow’s George Square. Others watched from windows and even rooftops, while in the surrounding streets thousands more strained to catch at least part of the proceedings. The occasion, which had been preceded by a colourful procession of the city’s trades, accompanied by the cacophonous sounds of 30 or so bands struggling to play the same tune at the same time, was the unveiling of a statue of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. The day chosen was 25 January, the date of Burns’s birthday, in 1759.

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now