Today is the first day of Book Week Scotland, a national celebration of books and reading which takes place every year in November. Nearly everyone can say that they’ve been inspired by books at some point in their life, and Robert Burns was no exception. Thanks to William Burnes’s belief that his children should receive an education, and the diligence of the family’s tutor John Murdoch, Burns could both read and write. As a result of this, he was able to immerse himself in the various authors and poets who inspired him to become Scotland’s National Bard.
Robert himself, in an autobiographical letter to Dr John Moore, talks of two books that influenced him during his childhood:
‘The two first books I ever read in private, and which gave me more pleasure than any two books I ever read again, were, the life of Hannibal and the history of Sir William Wallace. Hannibal gave my young ideas such a turn that I used to strut in raptures up and down after the recruiting drum and bagpipe, and wish myself tall enough to be a soldier; while the story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice in my veins which will boil along there till the flood-gates of life shut in eternal rest.’
Evidence of that ‘Scottish prejudice’ can be seen in poems such as Scots Wha Hae, and Burns wrote many poems on the subject of war throughout his life, evidencing the impact both of these works had on him.
Gilbert – Robert’s brother – recalls one particular book which affected the future poet considerably, which was actually bought in error by their Uncle: ‘Luckily, in place of The Complete Letter-Writer, he got by mistake a small collection of letters by the most eminent writers… This book was to Robert of the greatest consequence. It inspired him with a strong desire to excel in letter-writing, while it furnished him with models by some of the first writers in our language’.
Robert wrote a great deal of letters throughout his life to his friends and family, and modelled many of them on letters that he read in this volume.
Burns read and was influenced by many more authors and poets throughout his life. He quoted Alexander Pope frequently, particularly in his early letters; described Henry MacKenzie’s ‘Man of Feeling’ as ‘the book I prize next to the Bible’; and perhaps most importantly was influenced by earlier vernacular poets such as Alan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson to write his poetry in Scots rather than English. There was however one book, or rather play, that certainly did not take his fancy – Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare. As he was about to leave for Dumfries, John Murdoch presented the Burns family with the play as a gift, but it proved too violent for the young Robert, who threatened to burn it if his tutor did not take it away again. Not all books are for everyone!
However you’re celebrating Scottish Book Week, whether it’s by picking up a new book for the first time, or by going back to an old favourite, we hope you enjoy wherever it may take you, and we hope it inspires you as much as Robert’s books inspired him!
Last Saturday, we held our third and final workshop for ‘Friends On Baith Sides’, an intergenerational project aimed at learning new skills through a series of creative endeavours, using Burns as an inspiration.
Our guest workshop leader was Iain Brown from Photography Made Simple, introducing us to the world of photography. We began by looking at some of Ian’s cameras and discovered that some of the most famous photographs in the world were actually taken with relatively simple equipment. The key to a good photograph, as it turns out, was not about a fancy camera but all about setting the shot.
To this end, Iain stepped up as the model/victim for the group’s first attempts at a portrait shot! With little time to prepare, everybody snapped a quick photo of Ian, each directing him to stand up, sit down, smile, look serious, wear glasses, or stare thoughtfully into the distance. We quickly realised we had more than one potential David Bailey in our talented gaggle of budding photographers.
Next up, it was time for the group to hone their skills and consider how to extract light for that perfect shot. Iain explained that they should be aiming to recreate the ‘Rembrandt Triangle’, a popular lighting technique used in portrait photography where light is on one half of the face of the subject, and a triangle of light is on the shadowed side of the face just under the eye.
Tricky indeed but admirably attempted by all and it was obvious to see vast improvements from the original portrait shots. It was also fascinating to see how taking a photograph of the same person in the same place using the same camera could produce completely different images!
To round off the day, the group went outside to explore the landscape that inspired so much of Burns’ poetry. Here the technical side of photography (composition, direction, approach) combined with the creative and the group produced lots of lovely snaps.
All in all, a wonderful day was had by all. New skills were learnt and lots of stories were shared – did you hear the one about the time Iain was the official photographer at a horse-racing event? It involves a slightly new photographer, a nervous horse, a camera flash and a rather disgruntled jockey!
To hear more about this and see the final products from our photographers, come along to our Creative Showcase on Saturday 1st October 11am -1pm. We will be displaying all of the work produced over the last three weeks for Friends On Baith Sides and celebrating the achievements of all involved with songs, stories and refreshments. Free entry, all welcome.
With thanks to Austin Hope Pilkington Trust and Craigie Development Trust for funding this project.
Friends on Baith Sides is an intergenerational outreach project. We are seeking to teach people new skills and make new connections to the museum through a series of creative workshops. Saturday was our first week and we got off to a flying start by making some beautiful handmade willow baskets.
Our teacher, Geoff Forrest, chose a basket for the day’s project as it is an object that may have been familiar and useful in the 18th century when Burns was living in Alloway. We started with a circle of willow that Geoff had already constructed for us. The next step was to add in ‘spines’ using a thick section of willow and then tie it with strands of willow to the circle in a cross stitch. We then simply started weaving the reed between the spines and the circle.
The process sounds fairly simple but the material frays and snaps quite easily and can be tricky to manipulate the way you want it. One trick Geoff showed us was to wind the willow around a stick to start with so it had a curve already as one of our participants demonstrates below:
It was lovely to see everyone pitching in to help each other with the trickier bits and several people commented on how therapeutic it became once they got the hang of the technique.
Feedback on the workshop has been very positive. One person said, ‘Great class, great teacher, great fun. Thank you very much’ while another said ‘what a fabulous day’.
We are pleased to offer these workshops free of charge thanks to funding from Austin Hope Pilkington Trust and The Craigie Development Trust. Next Saturday, 10th September, we have a song writing workshop and there are still a few places left if you would like to take part. A photography workshop will take place on 17th September as well. Contact 01292 430 316 if you would like to book a place.
This May 16th, as part of the Museums at Night 2015 festivities, we are turning the clock back once more to the days when Burns Cottage was a pub. But how did the Cottage become a pub, and what was it like? Learning Intern, Mhairi Gowans, delves into the Cottage’s unusual past.
After the Burnes family left the Cottage in the 1760’s to the farm at Mt Oliphaunt, Burns Cottage (originally named ‘New Gardens’) was left vacant until William found a buyer in the Shoemakers Incorporation in 1781. Buying before the publishing of the Kilmarnock Edition, the Shoemakers managed to land themselves a bargain: what they bought for £160, they would sell for £4000 a hundred years later.
By the time of Robert Burns’s death, the Cottage was already receiving a great deal of interest and the tenant present in 1803, John (Miller) Goudie, made the decision to transform the Cottage into a pub called the Burns Head Inn, adding on a new section to the Cottage building. The first public mention of the pub comes from the Scots Magazine of 1805, which states that ‘the person who occupies it at present has turned it into a snug public house. At this house, early on the birthday of the poet, a social party meet to celebrate it with festivity.’
Festivity seems to be the word to use in regard to Miller Goudie, who appears in anecdotes as an infamous local character. For example, an Irish lawyer visiting in 1810 said he saw ‘Miller Goudie, the man that transformed it into a public house, sitting drunk in the corner where ‘the saint, the father, and the husband prayed.’ Keats said about his visit in 1818, that the innkeeper was a ‘mahogany faced old jack ass,’ while a 1904 book published by the Monument Trustees says that, ‘Goudie’s chief aims in life seem to have been pledging the Poet’s memory with anyone who would furnish him with the wherewithal to do so.’ It also said that Miller Goudie claimed to know Burns, although the writer of his obituary in the Ayr Advertiser in 1842 stated that ‘he seems to have retained but very slight recollection of the Poet. The Miller thought he was eccentric, and ‘no that richt in the head.’
Following the death of Miller Goudie, the Inn and Cottage passed through the hands of several tenants over a short period of time. One of the tenants, Davidson Ritchie, was photographed here with some notable Alloway residents. However, the Cottage’s time as a public house was coming to an end as the Monument Trustees, with aid from the Earl of Stair, bought the Cottage in 1880. However, the roaring trade of sight seers to the Burns Head Inn has left its mark in the form of graffiti. If you have ever been to Burns Cottage you might have noticed the writing on the doors: initials, names, dates, all scrawled onto the wood. If you look even closer you will also find graffiti on some of the windows: all from historic visitors wanting to write messages to their favourite poet, or to show that they had been there.
So come along to the Burns Head Inn this May 16th and while you’re toasting the Bard spare a thought for the infamous Miller Goudie!
For information and tickets for the event please click here!
Robert Burns was not just a great poet; he was also an avid reader. Remembered by many as a lad who loved his books so much he would read at the table, we have honoured this with an artwork by Su Blackwell that represents his favourite childhood book: The Life of Hannibal. Regarding this book, Burns was to say: ‘Hannibal gave my young ideas such a turn that I used to strut in raptures up and down after the recruiting drum and bagpipe.’
We all remember books like this that inspired us when we were children and which have special places in our hearts. To celebrate this, each Easter we focus on a specific children’s author. This year we have selected Beatrix Potter, whose books have become some of the earliest stories we are introduced to. However, we haven’t selected Potter merely due to her fame, but also due to her love of the countryside.
Both Burns and Potter were inspired by the Scottish countryside and by the people they met there. For Burns, the Ayrshire he grew up in became his muse, but for town-bred Beatrix, her family holidays in Perthshire were to be a revelation. Staying with her family at Dalguise House, a young Beatrix honed her artistic skills in hours of painting and sketching. This in adulthood would earn her good money – not only through her stories – but through commissions for scientific illustrations. While the Lake District was the place Potter was to ultimately make her home, it was Perthshire again which helped her make her mark. On holiday with her rabbit in a house owned by a Mr McGregor, Beatrix sent a ‘picture letter’ to a friend’s son with a story of four rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail, and Peter. Like Burns, Potter also creates characters for the animals and people that surround her. While Burns immortalised Souter Johnnie, Potter turns local washer woman, Kitty MacDonald, into Mrs Tiggy-Winkle –a mysterious washer of pocket handkins and pinnies.
So come along to the museum from Friday 3rd to Monday the 6th of April, and see Burns Cottage transformed and alive with with inspiration from Peter Rabbit’s world. Take part in our Cadbury’s Peter Rabbit Easter Egg Trail and you’ll make the day even better with some delicious chocolate!
This is an Italian take on the traditional Scottish meal of Haggis, Neeps & Tatties. In Italy sausage and potato is a common pizza topping, so this seemed like the perfect Burns Night experiment!
For the pizza dough (enough for 2 pizzas):
- 300g. strong bread flour
- 200ml warm water
- 1tsp instant yeast
- 1tbsp olive oil
For the topping:
- Haggis for 2-3 people (I used vegetarian)
- Grated turnip (1/3 average size)
- Grated potato (1 medium sized)
- Olive oil
Cook the haggis according to package instructions. Once cooked scoop the contents of the package into a bowl and separate with a fork. While the haggis is cooking (usually it takes over 50 minutes) prepare the pizza dough.
To make the pizza bases:
1. Put the flour into a large bowl, then stir in the yeast and salt.
2. Make a well, pour in 200ml warm water and the olive oil and bring together with a wooden spoon until you have a soft, fairly wet dough.
3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 mins until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. You can leave the dough to rise if you like, but it’s not essential for a thin crust.
Putting it all together:
4. Once you have prepared the pizza dough, grate the turnip and potato and set aside.
5. Roll out the pizza dough, making sure you cover the pizza trays with flour.
6. Once the Haggis is ready, increase the oven temperature to 200C.
7. Sprinkle the haggis, turnips and potatoes (in that order as the potatoes will moisten the rest of the ingredients) over the pizza bases. Drizzle plenty of olive oil on the pizzas.
Cook for 8-10 minutes and Buon appetito!
Recipe by Elena Trimarchi Learning Intern
Thanks to Christine Jones for the photographs and for the pizza dough!