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Unusual SuspectsPitt's Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s$
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Kenneth R. Johnston

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199657803

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657803.001.0001

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‘A Man for a’ That’

‘A Man for a’ That’

Robert Burns (1759–1796)

Chapter:
(p.287) 17 ‘A Man for a’ That’
Source:
Unusual Suspects
Author(s):

Kenneth R. Johnston

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199657803.003.0017

Robert Burns’s general reputation does not seem to be that of a political suspect, but his legacy has been bitterly contested in political terms ever since his early death in 1796. In this respect, he is a victim of Pitt’s policies of Alarm. He was dependent on local gentry and Edinburgh aristocrats, but had to hide his politics from them. His position in the Excise Office prevented him from political activity, forcing him to express his liberalism indirectly, including anonymous publication and coded language. Denounced by enemies, his political conduct was subjected to official inquiry. He was cleared, but the prospect of losing his job and facing debtors’ prison terrified him. He collected many Scottish folk songs, in which he could more freely express his opinions. He knew of Thomas Muir and the other ‘Scottish Martyrs,’ but his only poetical mention of them reveals his shame at having to keep silent.

Keywords:   Excise Office, Robert Burns, Scottish aristocracy, Political conduct, Debtors’ prison, Scottish folk songs, Self-censorship

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