Kilmarnock Burns

By 1786, Robert Burns had farming and personal difficulties.

Mossgiel was not profitable, and his willingness to marry Jean Armour, who was pregnant by him, was opposed by her father. The only way out, it seemed, was to emigrate.

Kilmarnock edition

Burns's plans to sail for Jamaica were well advanced when events took an unexpected turn.

He had been advised by Gavin Hamilton — a local lawyer — to finance the voyage by publishing some of his poems, but the success of that volume — the 'Kilmarnock edition' — caused him to reconsider his plans to emigrate.

Book sells out

Printed by John Wilson of Kilmarnock in July 1786, Burns's 'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect' cost three shillings.

The entire print-run of 612 copies sold out within a month, justifying his belief in his abilities and in the merit of his poems.

You can read the 1786 edition online.

Detail from engraving
Detail from title page
Kilmarnock Edition
Painting of seated woman and man
'Highland Mary'.
Glasgow Museums: Art Gallery & Museum, Kelvingrove.
Man's portrait
Thomas Blacklock.
By permission of the National Galleries of Scotland.
Portrait of Jean Armour
Jean Armour.
By permission of the National Galleries of Scotland.

I had taken the last farewel of my few friends; my chest was on the road to Greenock; I had composed my last song I should ever measure in Caledonia … when a letter [suggesting that a second edition of his poems be published] overthrew all my schemes by rousing my poetic ambition.

— Autobiographical letter to Dr John Moore, London, 2 August 1787: part of the Cowie Collection.