Robert Burns and Pastoral: Poetry and Improvement in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland

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Robert Burns and Pastoral is a full-scale reassessment of the writings of Robert Burns (1759-1796), arguably the most original poet writing in the British Isles between Pope and Blake, and the creator of the first modern vernacular style in British poetry. Although still celebrated as Scotland's national poet, Burns has long been marginalised in English literary studies worldwide, due to a mistaken view that his poetry is linguistically incomprehensible and of interest to Scottish readers only. Nigel Leask ...
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Overview


Robert Burns and Pastoral is a full-scale reassessment of the writings of Robert Burns (1759-1796), arguably the most original poet writing in the British Isles between Pope and Blake, and the creator of the first modern vernacular style in British poetry. Although still celebrated as Scotland's national poet, Burns has long been marginalised in English literary studies worldwide, due to a mistaken view that his poetry is linguistically incomprehensible and of interest to Scottish readers only. Nigel Leask challenges this view by interpreting Burns's poetry as an innovative and critical engagement with the experience of rural modernity, namely to the revolutionary transformation of Scottish agriculture and society in the decades between 1760 and 1800, thereby resituating it within the mainstream of the Scottish and European enlightenments. Detailed study of the literary, social, and historical contexts of Burns's poetry explodes the myth of the 'Heaven-taught ploughman', revealing his poetic artfulness and critical acumen as a social observer, as well as his significance as a Romantic precursor. Leask discusses Burns's radical decision to write 'Scots pastoral' (rather than English georgic) poetry in the tradition of Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson, focusing on themes of Scottish and British identity, agricultural improvement, poetic self-fashioning, language, politics, religion, patronage, poverty, antiquarianism, and the animal world. The book offers fresh interpretations of all Burns's major poems and some of the songs, the first to do so since Thomas Crawford's landmark study of 1960. It concludes with a new assessment of his importance for British Romanticism and to a 'Four Nations' understanding of Scottish literature and culture.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Scrupulously detailed...Leask convincingly explains how the life of the poet is much more complicated than the myths of the life, and how the poetry plays between the two in a stunning variety of attitudes and addresses. The poetry looks all the better for it." --The Wordsworth Circle

"Excellent...offers a rich new contribution to the cultural and intellectual history of the Scottish Enlightenment." --Modern Philology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199572618
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 8/23/2010
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nigel Leask is Regius Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Glasgow. He grew up in Stirlingshire and was educated at Edinburgh Academy, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He was a Fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge for many years, and a Reader in Romantic Literature at Cambridge University, before moving to Glasgow in 2004. He has published widely on Romantic literature and has a special interest in Scottish Literature and Culture of the 'Long Eighteenth Century', Romantic literature and the British Empire, and travel writing. He has also taught at the University of Bologna, Italy, and a visiting professorship at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. He is married with two daughters and lives in Glasgow.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: 'The Heaven-taught ploughman'
1. Burns and the 'New Husbandry'
2. Scots Pastoral
3. The Making of a Poet
4. Pastoral Politics
5. Beasties
6. Hellfire and Commonsense
7. The Annals of the Poor
8. The Deil and the Exciseman
9. Across the Shadow Line: Burns and British Romanticism
Bibliography
Index

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