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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
A miniature edition of a book of the author's poetry.

PROVO — A little-known collection of Scottish author Robert Burns' books, poems and papers — perhaps the largest existing collection — has been in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections section of the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library since the 1920s.

Some of the items may go on display at the annual supper in the university's Wilkinson Center honoring Scotland's national bard on Saturday. For more than two centuries Burns' devotees have been honoring him in suppers around the world on or near his birthday.

Although Burns' heart gave out at an early age (he died at 37), he shared it often with the lassies and left many descendents "some of whom were legitimate," said BYU English professor Matthew Wickman. He also shared his poetry and other works with the world, including the lyrics to the tune, "Auld Lang Syne," traditionally sung every New Year's Eve.

More than 900 Burns items are in the BYU collection. The core was willed to the library by former Salt Lake public library librarian, Mrs. Robert Forster.

It includes both the 1787 Kilmarnock Edition and the 1793 Edinburgh Edition of poetry. The latter contains additions to the first printing, including the "peasant poet's" famous poem, "Address to the Haggis."

Many of his poems were written in the Scottish dialect.

"Burns was a unique Scottish author in that he was popular in his life and still is," Wickman said. He described Burns as a poet of the people and a craftsman as a wordsmith.

"(His writing was) folksy but highly crafted," Wickman said. His works included drinking songs and songs about sex.

Many consider Burns a pioneer of the Romantic Movement, which after his death inspired the founders of liberalism and socialism. His "Scots Wha Hae" became the unofficial Scottish national anthem for years.

The collection includes miniature books measuring 12 centimeters by 3 centimeters, and the library continues to collect Burns' works.


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