With Scottish independence looming as a real possibility, it’s especially appropriate to note that it’s Robert Burns’ birthday today. And nobody notes these things like Sheila:
He was born poor, in the middle of the 18th century. He had a lot of brothers and sisters, and his parents were farmers. Yet his father decided that Robert, his eldest, should have a bit of an education. A tutor was hired, and Robert, in between the farm chores and hard work, learned how to read and write. And a whole world opened up to him through language (as it is wont to do). Writing came naturally to him. He started writing poems and songs almost immediately, some of which are still famous today.
The thing about Burns, his time and his place that fascinates me is its commentary on education. Burns came a bit before the “Edinburgh Renaissance”, but he was something of a model for that blossoming in technology, politics and art – mostly self-educated, a polymath, one of many brilliant people who leapt out of normal class distinctions through the sheer will to learn and intellectually conquer; men who didn’t distinguish between conquering technology and mastering art, since they went hand in hand; people who didn’t need academics to pronounce them fit to contribute, but who learned what they wanted and needed and proceeded to change the world.