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The trivial art of Poetry' was how Burns first described and therefore approached the subject in his youth and it was not until he met the educated sailor, Richard Brown that he took poetry more seriously. His first book published on July 31st 1786 “Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” was met with great adulation. It was very popular in the farms and villages as it dealt largely with rural life. Yet it was also a huge success with the Edinburgh Literati, he was dubbed “the heaven-taught ploughman”.
He was perceived as a primitive, yet the truth of course was that his education, while sporadic, had been very thorough in many areas, particularly literature. Perhaps it was that the cream of Edinburgh society were also looking for a hero.
Unfortunately he made almost no money and while he may have been able to dine out on his reputation, he still had no money. Nor was he able to find any patron who would fund his poetry writing. However he was able to arrange a better deal on the second edition.
Robert seemed very aware of how precarious his position as a superstar actually was, how popularity could disappear as fast as it had come. As a result he cultivated another set of friends, people who were not rich. With two of these he travelled through Scotland collecting more extensive images and understanding of his country of birth.
On his return to Edinburgh he joined forces with James Johnson to collect and publish a collection of Scottish songs. Johnson had invented a cheap way to print music and intended to capitalise on it.
Robert spent a good portion of his remaining years collecting, collating and preparing Scottish folk songs.
While this may be seen as a disappointment, since he was not writing original material, the political situation in Scotland and England was becoming strained (with the events in France leading to the storming of the Bastille) and it was no longer wise for a man to express radical views. In addition, Burns’ sympathies with the French revolutionaries was not a secret. (A sympathy that he lost with the horrors that came later.)
Scottish songs were a safe bet and suited to his talents.