Rare books in the National Library of Scotland

This page gives details of some of the significant volumes in the Library's collections relating to Robert Burns's work and other writings — many of them first editions.
See also: List of illustrated Burns works | List of illustrators of Burns works

The chronological list is based on 'A bibliography of Robert Burns' by J W Egerer, London: Oliver and Boyd, 1964. If you would like to know more about how, why and where Robert Burns's work was published, the Egerer volume is a detailed and wonderful resource that describes the poet's printed output. We have given the reference number for books covered by Egerer.

The list maps early printed material by Burns. It is an exciting voyage of discovery, and shows how Burns's work spread over the globe as more and more publishers produced editions of the verse of Scotland's national poet.

You will need our shelfmark to consult a book if you visit the Library.

Unless specified, the book's author is Robert Burns.

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
This is the first collection of Burns's work to appear in print. Published in Kilmarnock by John Wilson in 1786, it is known as 'the Kilmarnock edition'. It includes the poems 'Scotch drink', 'The Cotter's Saturday night', 'To a mouse' and 'To a louse'. (Egerer reference: 1)
NLS shelfmark: RB.s.65
Read the Kilmarnock edition online

'Man of feeling'
By Henry Mackenzie
A review of the first edition from 'The Lounger', no 97, December 1786. Published in Edinburgh by William Creech in 1787. (Egerer: cf 1)
Shelfmark: Ai.3.11

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
The first Edinburgh edition, published by William Creech in 1787. Includes 'To a haggis'. (Egerer: 2)
Shelfmark: L.C.1533

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
In this Edinburgh edition, published by William Creech in 1787, in 'To a haggis' the word 'skinking' is misprinted 'stinking'. (Egerer: 2)
Shelfmark: L.C.1534

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
First Dublin edition published in 1787 by William Gilbert. (Egerer: 4)
Shelfmark: RB.s.1416

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
The first London edition, published by A Strahan, T Cadell and W Creech in 1787. (Egerer: 5)
Shelfmark: L.C.290

'The calf'
Published in 1797, this is probably the first chapbook issue of any of Burns's poems. It was inspired by a sermon given by the Rev James Steven and written in order to win a wager with Gavin Hamilton that he "would not produce a poem on the subject in a given time." (Egerer: 7)
Shelfmark: L.C.2441

'The Scots musical museum'
By James Johnson
Although this was produced by Johnson, Burns was the virtual editor and principal contributor. Includes 'For a' that an' a' that', 'Ae fond kiss' and 'Auld lang syne'. Published in Edinburgh by N Stewart, 1787-1803. (Egerer: 8)
Shelfmark: Inglis.41-43
Read 'The Scots musical museum' online

'Animadversions on some poets and poetasters of the present age'
By James Maxwell
A diatribe against Burns, and the first appearance of the lines Burns is said to have scrawled on the window of his room beginning: 'Here Stewarts once in triumph reigned.' Burns's Jacobite sympathies had been aroused by seeing the ruined state of the former home of Scotland's kings while visiting Stirling. Published in Paisley by J Neilson in 1788. (Egerer: 9)
Shelfmark: RB.s.896

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
In 1788 the first American edition was published in Philadelphia by Peter Stewart and George Hyde. (Egerer: 10)
Shelfmark: RB.s.472

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
Published in New York in 1788 by J and A MacLean, natives of Glasgow who went to America in 1783. (Egerer: 11)
Shelfmark: RB.s.419

'Poems'
By David Sillar
David Sillar was one of Burns's closest friends, and had his own poems printed in 1789 in which he included a poem he had been sent by Burns. Published in Kilmarnock by John Wilson in 1789. (Egerer: 14)
Shelfmark: [Ak].6.33

'Edinburgh Herald'
The 18 March 1791 issue includes an early printing of 'Tam o' Shanter'. Published by Stewart, Ruthven, and Co. (Egerer: cf 21)
Shelfmark: GIVB.2/55(4).

'Essays on the lives and writings of Fletcher of Saltoun and the poet Thomson'
By David Stewart Erskine Buchan
Burns sent Lord Buchan a copy of his 'Address to the shade of Thomson' as he was unable to attend a memorial ceremony held to honour James Thomson's memory. Also included is Burns's apology, explaining he would be unable to come in the middle of the harvest. Published in London by J Debrett in 1792. (Egerer: 24)
Shelfmark: ABS.3.89.33

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
The considerably enlarged second edition, published in Edinburgh by T Cadell (London) and William Creech (Edinburgh) in 1793. (Egerer: 25)
Shelfmark: L.C.165

'An unco mournfu tale'
The first of the pamphlets, containing many original works, which were printed for Stewart & Meikle Glasgow in 1796. (Egerer: 33)
Shelfmark: 5.2051(18) [A facsimile]

'The merry muses of Caledonia'
A collection of bawdy verse collected by Burns and containing much of his own work. Published in 1799 (possibly in Edinburgh). (Egerer: 51)
Shelfmark: Mf.1059 [A microfilm]

'The prayer of Holy Willie, a canting, hypocritical, kirk-elder'
A satire based on William Fisher, an elder of Mauchline Kirk, and showing Burns's disapproval of orthodox Calvinism. Published in 1799 in Edinburgh.
Shelfmark: RB.s.445(21) [Imperfect: wanting pages 5-6.]

'The works of Robert Burns; with an account of his life, and a criticism on his writings'
The first collected edition of Burns's work, edited by Dr James Currie, Burns's first editor and major biographer. Published in Liverpool by J McCreery for W Creech (Edinburgh), 1800. (Egerer: 50)
Shelfmark: H.30.c.3-6

'Poems ascribed to Robert Burns … not contained in any edition of his works hitherto published'
This volume includes 'Epitaph on Holy Willie', and was published in Glasgow by Chapman & Lang in 1801. (Egerer: 58)
Shelfmark: RB.s.996

'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect'
Published in Glasgow in 1801 by Thomas Duncan. A new edition, considerably enlarged, it includes the complete version of 'The jolly beggars' with the addition of the 'Merry Andrew' episode. (Egerer: 58)
Shelfmark: NE.1169.h.37

'Letters addressed to Clarinda, &c.'
Letters to Agnes (Nancy) McLehose for whom Burns wrote 'Ae fond kiss'. Published in 1802 in Glasgow by Niven, Napier and Khull, for T Stewart & A Macgoun. (Egerer: 68)
Shelfmark: F.7.f.31(2)

'The merry muses: a choice collection of songs'
Irish edition of 'The merry muses of Caledonia', printed in Dublin, possibly in 1804.
Shelfmark: RB.s.2046

'Reliques of Robert Burns'
Includes previously unavailable poems and correspondence. Published in London by J M'Creery, for T Cadell, and W Davies, in 1808. (Egerer: 112)
Shelfmark: ABS.3.81.17

List of illustrated Burns works >>

List of illustrators of Burns works >>