This is the first episode of the Open Book Podcast, a new series of talks and discussions from National Records of Scotland dedicated to preserving Scotland’s past, recording the present and informing our future.

We kick off with a talk given by Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, on Scotland’s most famous poet and lyricist – Robert Burns.

Centered on recently identified documents at the National Records of Scotland, Gerard’s talk discusses Burns’ place in the Excise Service during revolutionary times.

Was the poet a willing government employee or was he a reluctant, neutered individual, deliberately de-barbed by the powers that be? What were the cultural and intellectual contexts afforded to Burns as a civil servant? What kind of relationships did he have with Excise colleagues and how did his career intersect with his creative and family lives?

Following the French Revolution and the Excise Service enquiry into the poet’s political beliefs, Gerard discusses the nature of Burns’ views and how these were expressed during the turbulent 1790s.

Our exhibition Robert Burns: Radical Exciseman is free to visit on weekdays at General Register House, Edinburgh, between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm until 23 February 2018.

You can find extracts from the letters on display, to which Gerard refers, below.

Burns Letter 1 compressed

“He stood, with Eyes & hands, directed upwards, in an attitude Poetically fancifull”…

Letter from John Mitchell, Collector of Excise, to Robert Graham of Fintry, Commissioner of Excise, 6 August 1789 (National Records of Scotland, GD151/11/26/35A)


Burns Letter 4 compressed
“He had certainly many shining qualities, blended with foibles of various kinds, the most irreconcileable whereof were his political principles, which somehow unluckily was rooted, & proves now a drawback to the humane feelings of many, but such a Genious as he possessed behoved to have eccentricities of some kind or other”.
Letter from John Mitchell, Collector of Excise, to Robert Graham of Fintry, Commissioner of Excise, 2 September 1796 (National Records of Scotland, GD151/11/26/47A)

Recording and images Crown Copyright 2018.

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