Robert Burns

Scottish poet and lyricist (1759–1796)

Robert Burns (25 January 175921 July 1796) was a poet and pioneer of the Romantic movement and after his death became an important source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion.


The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a-gley;
And leave us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy.
The social, friendly, honest man,
Whate'er he be,
'Tis he fulfills great Nature's plan,
And none but he!
  • Beauty's of a fading nature
    Has a season and is gone!
    • Will Ye Go and Marry Katie? (1764)
  • Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
    O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
    Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
    Wi' bickering brattle!
  • I'm truly sorry man's dominion
    Has broken Nature's social union.
    • To a Mouse, st. 2 (1785)
  • The best laid schemes o' mice and men
    Gang aft a-gley
    And leave us naught but grief and pain
    For promised joy.
    • To a Mouse, st. 7 (1785)
  • Nature's law,
    That man was made to mourn.
    • Man Was Made to Mourn, st. 4 (1786)
  • Man's inhumanity to man
    Makes countless thousands mourn.
    Man was made to Mourn.
    • Man was Made to Mourn (1786)
  • Gie me ae spark o' Nature's fire,
    That's a' the learning I desire.
    • First Epistle to J. Lapraik, st. 13 (1786)
  • The social, friendly, honest man,
    Whate'er he be,
    'Tis he fulfills great Nature's plan,
    And none but he!
    • Second Epistle to J. Lapraik, st. 15 (1786)
  • On ev'ry hand it will allowed be,
    He's just—nae better than he should be.
    • A Dedication to Gavin Hamilton (1786)
  • It's hardly in a body's pow'r,
    To keep, at times, frae being sour.
    • Epistle to Davie, st. 2 (1786)
  • Misled by fancy's meteor ray,
    By passion driven;
    But yet the light that led astray
    Was light from heaven.
    • The Vision, II, st. 18 (1786)
  • His lockèd, lettered, braw brass collar
    Showed him the gentleman an' scholar.
    • The Twa Dogs, st. 3 (1786)
  • An' there began a lang digression
    About the lords o' the creation.
    • The Twa Dogs, st. 6 (1786)
  • O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us!
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An' foolish notion.
    What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us
    An' ev'n Devotion
  • Wee, modest, crimson-tippèd flow'r,
    Thou's met me in an evil hour;
    For I maun crush amang the stoure
    Thy slender stem:
    To spare thee now is past my pow'r,
    Thou bonie gem.
    • To a Mountain Daisy, st. 1 (1786)
  • Stern Ruin's plowshare drives elate,
    Full on thy bloom.
    • To a Mountain Daisy, st. 9 (1786)
  • There's nought but care on ev'ry han',
    In every hour that passes, O:
    What signifies the life o' man,
    An 'twerna for the lasses, O.
    • Green Grow the Rashes, O, st. 1 (1787)
  • Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears
    Her noblest work she classes, O:
    Her prentice han' she tried on man,
    An' then she made the lasses, O.
    • Green Grow the Rashes, O, st. 5 (1787)
  • Green grow the rashes, O;
    Green grow the rashes, O;
    The sweetest hours that e'er I spend
    Are spent among the lasses, O.
    • Green Grow the Rashes, O, chorus (1787)
  • Some books are lies frae end to end.
    • Death and Dr. Hornbook, st. 1 (1787)
  • I was na fou, but just had plenty.
    • Death and Dr. Hornbook, st. 3 (1787)
  • John Barleycorn got up again,
    And sore surprised them all.
    • John Barleycorn, st. 3 (1787)
  • The heart benevolent and kind
    The most resembles God.
    • A Winter Night (1787)
  • Ye're aiblins nae temptation.
    • Address to the Unco Guid, st. 6 (1787)
  • Then gently scan your brother man,
    Still gentler sister woman;
    Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang,
    To step aside is human.
    • Address to the Unco Guid, st. 7 (1787)
  • If naebody care for me,
    I'll care for naebody.
    • I Hae a Wife o' my Ain (1788)
  • Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
    And never brought to min'?
    Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
    And days o' auld lang syne?
  • For auld lang syne, my dear,
    For auld lang syne,
    We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet
    For auld lang syne!
    • Auld Lang Syne, chorus (1788)
  • Flow gently, sweet Afton! amang thy green braes,
    Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise.
    My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
    Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
    • Sweet Afton, st. 1 (1789)
  • This day, Time winds th' exhausted chain,
    To run the twelvemonth's length again.
    • New Year's Day, st. 1 (1790)
  • The voice of Nature loudly cries,
    And many a message from the skies,
    That something in us never dies.
    • New Year's Day, st. 3 (1790)
  • When Nature her great masterpiece designed,
    And framed her last, best work, the human mind,
    Her eye intent on all the wondrous plan,
    She formed of various stuff the various Man.
    • To Robert Graham, st. 1 (1791)
  • Suspense is worse than disappointment.
    • Letter to Thomas Sloan, (1 September 1791)
  • While Europe's eye is fix'd on mighty things,
    The fate of empires and the fall of kings;
    While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
    And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
    Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
    The Rights of Woman merit some attention.
    • The Rights of Woman, st. 1 (1792)
  • She is a winsome wee thing,
    She is a handsome wee thing,
    She is a lo'esome wee thing,
    This sweet wee wife o' mine.
    • My Wife's a Winsome Wee Thing, chorus (1792)
  • The golden Hours on angel wings
    Flew o'er me and my Dearie;
    For dear to me as light and life
    Was my sweet Highland Mary.
    • Highland Mary, st. 2 (1792)
  • But, oh! fell death's untimely frost,
    That nipt my flower sae early.
    • Highland Mary, st. 3 (1792)
  • O whistle, and I'll come to you, my lad:
    Tho' father and mither and a' should gae mad.
    • Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad, chorus (1793)
  • If there's a hole in a' your coats,
    I rede you tent it;
    A chield's aman you takin' notes,
    And faith he'll prent it.
    • On the Late Captain Grose's Peregrinations Thro' Scotland, st. 1 (1793)
  • Some hae meat and canna eat,
    And some wad eat that want it;
    But we hae meat, and we can eat,
    And sae the Lord be thankit.
    • The Selkirk Grace (1793)
  • O Mary, at thy window be!
    It is the wished, the trysted hour.
    • Mary Morison, st. 1 (1793)
  • Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
    Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
    Welcome to your gory bed
    Or to Victorie!

    Now's the day, and now's the hour;
    See the front o' battle lour!
    See approach proud Edward's power—
    Chains and slaverie!
    • Scots Wha Hae, st. 1, 2 (1794)
  • Lay the proud usurpers low!
    Tyrants fall in every foe!
    Liberty's in every blow—
    Let us do or die!
    • Scots Wha Hae, st. 5 (1794)
  • The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
    The man's the gowd for a' that.
    For a' that an a' that.
    • A Man's A Man For A' That, st. 1 (1795)
  • Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
    Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
    Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
    He's but a coof for a' that:
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    His ribband, star, an' a' that:
    The man o' independent mind
    He looks an' laughs at a' that.

    A prince can mak a belted knight,
    A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
    But an honest man's abon his might,
    Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    Their dignities an' a' that;
    The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
    Are higher rank than a' that.

    Then let us pray that come it may,
    (As come it will for a' that,)
    That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
    Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
    For a' that, an' a' that,
    It's coming yet for a' that,
    That Man to Man, the world o'er,
    Shall brothers be for a' that.

    • A Man's A Man For A' That, st. 3-5 (1795)
  • Drumossie moor — Drumossie day —
    A waefu' day it was to me!
    For there I lost my father dear,
    My father dear, and brethren three.
    • Lament for Culloden

The Cotter's Saturday Night (1786)

  • Gars auld claes look amaist as weel's the new.
    • Stanza 5
  • Beneath the milk-white thorn that scents the evening gale.
    • Stanza 9
  • He wales a portion with judicious care;
    And "Let us worship God" he says, with solemn air.
    • Stanza 12
  • Perhaps Dundee's wild-warbling measures rise,
    Or plaintive Martyrs, worthy of the name.
    • Stanza 13
  • From scenes like these, old Scotia's grandeur springs,
    That makes her loved at home, revered abroad:
    Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
    "An honest man's the noblest work of God."
    • Stanza 19

Epistle to a Young Friend (1786)

  • Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
    Perhaps turn out a sermon.
    • Stanza 1
  • I waive the quantum o' the sin,
    The hazard of concealing:
    But, och! it hardens a' within,
    And petrifies the feeling!
    • Stanza 6
  • The fear o' hell 's a hangman's whip
    To haud the wretch in order;
    But where ye feel your honour grip,
    Let that aye be your border.
    • Stanza 8
  • An atheist-laugh's a poor exchange
    For Deity offended.
    • Stanza 9
  • And may you better reck the rede,
    Than ever did the adviser!
    • Stanza 11

Johnson's The Scots Musical Museum (1787-1796)

  • A gaudy dress and gentle air
    May slightly touch the heart;
    But it's innocence and modesty
    that polished the dart.
    • Handsome Nell (1773) (also known as "My Handsome Nell"), st. 6
  • Oh, my Luve is like a red, red rose,
    That's newly sprung in June.
    O, my Luve is like the melodie,
    That's sweetly played in tune.
  • Contented wi' little and cantie wi' mair.
    • Contented wi' Little, st. 1
  • Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon,
    How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
    How can ye chant, ye little birds,
    And I sae weary fu' o' care!
    Thou'll break my heart, thou warbling bird,
    That wantons thro' the flowering thorn!
    Thou minds me o' departed joys,
    Departed never to return.
    • The Banks o' Doon, st. 1
  • Chords that vibrate sweetest pleasure
    Thrill the deepest notes of woe.
    • Sensibility How Charming, st. 4
  • Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
    Ae farewell, alas, forever!
    • Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever, st. 1
  • But to see her was to love her;
    Love but her, and love for ever.
    Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
    Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
    Never met—or never parted,
    We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
    • Ae Fond Kiss, And Then We Sever, st. 2
  • It was a' for our rightfu' King
    We left fair Scotland's strand.
    • It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King, st. 1
  • Now a' is done that men can do,
    And a' is done in vain.
    • It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King, st. 2
  • He turn'd him right and round about
    Upon the Irish shore;
    And gae his bridle reins a shake,
    With adieu forevermore,
    My dear—
    And adieu forevermore!
    • It Was A' for Our Rightfu' King, st. 3
  • John Anderson, my jo, John,
    When we were first acquent,
    Your locks were like the raven,
    Your bonie brow was brent;
    But now your brow is beld, John,
    Your locks are like the snaw,
    But blessings on your frosty pow,
    John Anderson, my jo!
    • John Anderson, My Jo, st. 1
  • My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
    My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
    A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
    My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.
    • My Heart's in the Highlands, st. 1
  • Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,
    Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
    Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
    • Line 10
  • Ah, gentle dames! it gars me greet
    To think how monie counsels sweet,
    How monie lengthened, sage advices,
    The husband frae the wife despises!
    • Line 33
  • The landlady and Tam grew gracious
    Wi' favours secret, sweet, and precious.
    • Line 47
  • The landlord's laugh was ready chorus.
    • Line 50
  • His ancient, trusty, drouthy crony:
    Tam lo'ed him like a vera brither—
    They had been fou for weeks thegither.
    • Line 43
  • Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious,
    O'er a' the ills o' life victorious.
    • Line 57
  • But pleasures are like poppies spread—
    You seize the flow'r, its bloom is shed;
    Or like the snow falls in the river—
    A moment white—then melts forever.
    • Line 59
  • Nae man can tether time or tide.
    • Line 67
  • That hour, o' night's black arch the keystane.
    • Line 69
  • Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
    What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
    Wi' tippenny, we fear nae evil;
    Wi' usquabae, we'll face the devil!
    • Line 105
  • As Tammie glow'red, amazed, and curious,
    The mirth and fun grew fast and furious.
    • Line 143
  • Her cutty sark, o' Paisley harn,
    That while a lassie she had worn,
    In longitude tho' sorely scanty,
    It was her best, and she was vauntie.
    • Line 171
  • "Weel done, Cutty Sark!"
    • Line 189
  • Ah, Tam! Ah! Tam! Thou'll get thy fairin!
    In hell they'll roast you like a herrin!
    • Line 201

Posthumous Pieces (1799)

  • For a' that, and a' that
    An' twice as muckle 's a' that,
    I've lost but ane, I've twa behin',
    I've wife eneugh for a' that.
    • The Jolly Beggars, chorus
  • God knows, I'm no the thing I should be,
    Nor am I even the thing I could be.
    • To The Reverend John M'Math, st. 8
  • If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
    If there is none, he made the best of this.
    • Epitaph on William Muir
  • In durance vile here must I wake and weep,
    And all my frowsy couch in sorrow steep.
    • Epistle from Esopus to Maria
  • It's guid to be merry and wise,
    It's guid to be honest and true,
    It's guid to support Caledonia's cause
    And bide by the buff and the blue.
    • Here's a Health to Them That's Awa', st. 1

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Some wee short hours ayont the twal.
    • Death and Dr. Hornbook
  • When chill November's surly blast
    Made fields and forests bare.
    • Man was made to Mourn
  • O Life! how pleasant is thy morning,
    Young Fancy's rays the hills adorning!
    Cold-pausing Caution's lesson scorning,
    We frisk away,
    Like schoolboys at th' expected warning,
    To joy and play.
    • Epistle to James Smith
  • And like a passing thought, she fled
    In light away.
    • The Vision
  • Affliction's sons are brothers in distress;
    A brother to relieve,—how exquisite the bliss!
    • A Winter Night
  • What 's done we partly may compute,
    But know not what 's resisted.
    • Address to the Unco Guid
  • O life! thou art a galling load,
    Along a rough, a weary road,
    To wretches such as I!
    • Despondency
  • We twa hae run about the braes,
    And pu'd the gowans fine.
    • Auld Lang Syne
  • Dweller in yon dungeon dark,
    Hangman of creation, mark!
    Who in widow weeds appears,
    Laden with unhonoured years,
    Noosing with care a bursting purse,
    Baited with many a deadly curse?
    • Ode on Mrs. Oswald
  • To make a happy fireside clime
    To weans and wife,—
    That is the true pathos and sublime
    Of human life.
    • Epistle to Dr. Blacklock
  • To see her is to love her,
    And love but her forever;
    For Nature made her what she is,
    And never made anither!
    • Bonny Lesley
  • 'T is sweeter for thee despairing
    Than aught in the world beside,—Jessy!
    • Jessy


  • There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing.
    • Reported as attributed to Burns but unverified in Suzy Platt (ed.), Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations Requested from the Congressional Research Service (Washington, DC : Library of Congress 1989)[2]


  • The white moon is setting behind the white wave,
    And Time is setting with me, O!
The wan Moon is setting beyond the white wave,
And Time is setting with me, oh!

Quotes about Robert Burns

  • Burns stood, as regarded the old and the new world of poetry, both in Scotland and in England, at the parting of the ways. He was at once the climax of the old and the harbinger of the new. He brought to perfection what many of his Scottish predecessors and models had practised with much charm and ability. In the vernacular Scottish song, in the satire, in the familiar Epistle, in dramatic narrative, he rose to a height which no successor could depose him. He was the greatest of Scottish poets. ... More than any one else, more than Cowper or Wordsworth, did he serve to break up the frost that seemed to be settling upon the lyric flow in England at the end of the last century. The renaissance of poetry early in this century owed much to him, and those who owed to poetry no small part of their higher education would not grudge him their thoughtful gratitude.
    • Alfred Ainger, lecture in Toynbee Hall (10 December 1891), quoted in The Times (12 December 1891), p. 9
  • Their great national poet spoke to Scotland in her language, that he read the hearts of her people, and gave eloquent utterance to their dumb thoughts. In his scathing words he was able to condemn everything that was ignoble, selfish, and mean; and he stimulated everything that was noblest and best in the hearts of the people. He gave lessons of the loftiest patriotism and of aspirations for political freedom, while at the same time he maintained a steadfast devotion to the cause of everything that savoured of uncompromising hatred of oppression and wrong.
    • George Anderson, speech to the unveiling of the statue of Burns in the gardens adjoining Charing Cross Station in London (26 July 1884), quoted in The Times (28 July 1884), p. 4
  • Now, Robert Burns was a great man and a great poet, and the influence of his truly tremendous satiric and lyrical genius has been one of the great factors in the disintegration of Scottish superstition.
  • Scottish virtues were Wallace, who started the idea of independence, to John Knox for the ineradicable reverence for the Kirk, and to Robert Burns for that feeling of brotherhood and sense of humanity that got below all differences of rank.
    • Patrick Carnegie Simpson, speech to the 264th St. Andrew's Day festival of the Royal Scottish Corporation in the Holborn Restaurant (30 November 1928), quoted in The Times (1 December 1928), p. 9
  • There was neither fortune nor title in the man's pedigree, and yet he sprang from the salt of the earth, for he came from that lowland Scottish peasant stock which was one of the finest stocks that the world could show, if one might judge from its results. The limitations of these men might be marked, but there sprang from them every now and again one who could voice the feelings of his fellow men, and such a man was Robert Burns.
    • Arthur Conan Doyle, quoted in Charles W. Thomson, Scotland's Work and Worth: An Epitome of Scotland's Story from Early Times to the Twentieth Century, with a Survey of the Contributions of Scotsmen in Peace and in War to the Growth of the British Empire and the Progress of the World, Volume I (c. 1910), p. 433
  • He has given voice to all the experiences of common life; he has endeared the farm-house and cottage, patches and poverty, beans and barley; ale, the poor man's wine; hardship, the fear of debt, the dear society of weans and wife, of brothers and sisters, proud of each other, knowing so few, and finding amends for want and obscurity in books and thought. ... And, as he was thus the poet of the poor, anxious, cheerful, working humanity, so had he the language of low life. He grew up in a rural district, speaking a patois unintelligible to all but natives, and he has made that Lowland Scotch a Doric dialect of fame. It is the only example in history of a language made classic by the genius of a single man.
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, speech to the Boston Burns Club (25 January 1859), quoted in Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Robert Burns, by the Boston Burns Club. January 25th, 1859 (1859), pp. 36-37
  • He speaks for a community he is rooted in, as Chaucer and Langland did. He is a lyrical poet of simple tenderness; but he is also a comic and satirical poet with a hard and definite moral vision, a very sharp eye indeed for permanent kinds of human folly, and a glancing and flickering wit... He is also a poet of the people as no modern English poet worth anything has been. He thus fills a gap for the English reader; and if young English poets, ingenious but academic, were to read him to-day they might learn to double their strength by touching the earth.
  • I also liked the Romantic poets. Wordsworth, Keats, Burns and Blake were some of my favourites. There was something about their rebellious spirit against the evils of industrialization that moved me. Of course now, some of their pessimism, mysticism and limited critical realist visions make me quite uncomfortable.
  • He was a leading Liberal, certainly. It had been said by a great statesman in the old days that he did not care who made the laws so long as he could make the ballads. In the last century the accents of freedom were heard in Scotland in the ballads of Burns. "Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled" and "A man's a man for a' that" were regarded as almost revolutionary in the days when he wrote.
    • William Harcourt, speech to the banquet of the Liberal Club in Derby (25 January 1894), quoted in The Times (26 January 1894), p. 8
  • The economic truths of Socialism, its industrialism, and its sociology, must remain the vainest of vain dreamings unless we preserve among the people the political frame of mind which can appreciate democratic liberty and worth. When "a man's a man for a' that" is recited without making the blood tingle, the man has ceased to be.
  • The influence of Burns on the imaginative literature of Scotland has been deep and abiding. Many Scotsmen have been so touched, moved, and stirred by his writings, as to arouse an irrepressible feeling within them to compose verse themselves; and to-day there are many in the humble walks of life who can write passable and even animated verse and song, and appreciate the highest works of the imaginative and elaborate faculties of the race. Burns has exercised much influence over the mind of the Scottish people by removing prejudice and superstition, fostering liberty and independence of spirit, and greater freedom of thought.
    • John Mackintosh, The History of Civilisation in Scotland, Volume Fourth (rev. ed. 1896), pp. 181-182
  • Burns had intellectual breadth and religious susceptibility enough to appropriate what was best in the two phases of the religious thought of his time. Thus it happened that while the average Moderate looked upon Calvinism as represented by the Covenanters as a detestable fanaticism, an enemy to the amenities of social life, Burns paid tribute to their magnificent stand for liberty... Burns, who had Covenanting blood in his veins, had no need to go to Rousseau for his democratic fervour. His "A man's a man for a' that" owes infinitely more to Samuel Rutherford than to Rousseau.
  • There was a world of well-dressed company that evening in Dumfries; for the aristocracy of the adjacent country for twenty miles round had poured in to attend a county ball, and were fluttering in groupes along the sunny side of the street, gay as butterflies. On the other side, in the shade, a solitary individual paced slowly along the pavement. Of the hundreds who fluttered past, no one took notice of him; no one seemed to recognise him. He was known to them all as the exciseman and poet, Robert Burns; but he had offended the stately Toryism of the district by the freedom of his political creed; and so, tainted by the plague of Liberalism, he lay under strict quarantine. He was shunned and neglected; for it was with the man Burns that these his contemporaries had to deal. Let the reader contrast with this truly melancholy scene, the scene of his festival a fortnight since. Here are the speeches of the Earl of Eglinton and of Sir John M'Neill, and here the toast of the Lord Justice-General. Let us just imagine these gentlemen, with all their high aristocratic notions about them, carried back half a century into the past, and dropped down, on the sad evening to which we refer, in the main street of Dumfries. Which side, does the reader think, would they have chosen to walk upon? Would they have addressed the one solitary individual in the shade, or not rather joined themselves to the gay groupes in the sunshine who neglected and contemned him? They find it an easy matter to deal with the phantom idea of Burns now: how would they have dealt with the man then?
    • Hugh Miller, 'The Burns' Festival and Hero Worship' (24 August 1844), Essays: Historical and Biographical, Political and Social, Literary and Scientific (third edition, 1869), p. 141
  • I think Burns was one of the most extraordinary men I ever met with; his poetry surprised me very much, his prose surprised me still more, and his conversation surprised me more than both his poetry and prose.
    • William Robertson to Professor Christieson, quoted in Allan Cunningham, The Life of Robert Burns (1835), p. 348
  • I would claim that Burns is not merely Scotland's greatest poet, but that he is worthy to rank among the greatest poets of the world... Why I claim this place for Burns is this—that he was the poet of nature and of humanity. He raised the conception of the peasant and gave honour and dignity to toil. It is for that reason that all the labouring classes and masses of the world have found in Burns their truest interpreter and their truest friend; and it is as that friend and as that interpreter that I do claim for him a place in the innermost niches of the temple of Fame.
    • Lord Rosebery, speech to the unveiling of the statue of Burns in the gardens adjoining Charing Cross Station in London (26 July 1884), quoted in The Times (28 July 1884), p. 3
  • His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish; a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its effect, perhaps, from one's knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His features are represented in Mr. Nasmyth's picture, but to me it conveys the idea, that they are diminished as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school, i.e. none of your modern agriculturists, who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the douce gudeman who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a dark cast, which glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time. His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest presumption. Among the men who were the most learned of their time and country, he expressed himself with perfect firmness, but without the least intrusive forwardness; and when he differed in opinion, he did not hesitate to express it firmly, yet at the same time with modesty.
    • Walter Scott to John Gibson Lockhart, quoted in The Works of Robert Burns; Containing His Life; by John Lockhart, Esq. (1835), p. xlviii
  • [A]ll the faculties of Burns' mind were, as far as I could judge, equally vigorous; and his predilection for poetry, was rather the result of his own enthusiastic and impassioned temper, than of a genius exclusively adapted to that species of composition. From his conversation, I should have pronounced him to be fitted to excel in whatever walk of ambition he had chosen to exert his abilities.
    • Dugald Stewart to Dr. Currie, quoted in The Collected Works of Dugald Stewart, Vol. X, ed. William Hamilton (1858), p. cxliii
  • This prophecy of the unity of the [human] race [in "A man's a man for a' that"] is founded on the thoroughly Scottish sentiment, fostered by Scottish history from the days of Wallace till our own times, of the value of man as man, of the dignity of labour, whether physical or mental or moral, as compared with the tinsel shows of privileged indolence. The scorn for the empty "birkie ca'd a lord," and for the king-made dignities unbacked by merit, have persistently remained as Scottish qualities all down the ages, and they are becoming the qualities of men wherever thought has filtered down to the humbler classes, wherever the peasant has learned to venerate himself as man.
    • Charles W. Thomson, Scotland's Work and Worth: An Epitome of Scotland's Story from Early Times to the Twentieth Century, with a Survey of the Contributions of Scotsmen in Peace and in War to the Growth of the British Empire and the Progress of the World, Volume I (c. 1910), p. 433
  • Dear Rob! manly, witty, fond, friendly, full of weak spots as well as strong ones—essential type of so many thousands—perhaps the average, as just said, of the decent-born young men and the early mid-aged, not only of the British Isles, but America, too, North and South, just the same. I think, indeed, one best part of Burns is the unquestionable proof he presents of the perennial existence among the laboring classes, especially farmers, of the finest latent poetic elements in their blood.
    • Walt Whitman, 'Robert Burns as Poet and Person', November Boughs (1888), p. 59
  • Though I have never been able to trace my ancestry to the Land o' Cakes, I have—and I know it is saying a great deal—a Scotchman's love for the poet whose fame deepens and broadens with years. The world has never known a truer singer. We may criticise his rustic verse and compare his brief and simple lyrics with the works of men of longer scrolls and loftier lyres; but after rendering to Wordsworth, Tennyson and Browning the homage which the intellect owes to genius, we turn to Burns, if not with awe and reverence, [yet] with a feeling of personal interest and affection. We admire others; we love him. As the day of his birth comes round, I take down his well-worn volume in grateful commemoration, and feel that I am communing with one whom living I could have loved as much for his true manhood and native nobility of soul as for those wonderful songs of his which shall sing themselves forever.
    • John Greenleaf Whittier, letter to the Burns festival in Washington (18 January 1869), quoted in W. Sloane Kennedy, John Greenleaf Whittier: His Life, Genius, and Writings (1895), pp. 206-207