1791 - Burns's Glenriddell Manuscript

This copy of 'Holy Willie's Prayer' in Robert Burns's own hand is from the Library's famous Glenriddell Manuscript - two volumes of poems, letters, and other papers compiled by Burns for presentation to his friend Robert Riddell of Glenriddell.

'Holy Willie's Prayer' is one of the greatest satires in European literature. It was occasioned by a quarrel between the minister and elders of Mauchline and Burns's lawyer friend Gavin Hamilton, who was accused of failing to attend church regularly. Burns himself had previously been publicly condemned for fathering the first of his illegitimate children. The poem lampoons 'Holy Willie' (the sanctimonious church elder William Fisher), and is a telling indictment both of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and of the hypocrisy of those who (like Holy Willie) consider themselves to be among the elect and therefore predestined to salvation.

MS. 86

Burns's Glenriddell Manuscript


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