25th of January – Burns’ Night

St Juventinus and Maximinus, martyrs at Antioch, 363. St Apollo, abbot in Thebais, about 393. St Publius, abbot in Syria, 4th century. St Projectus (or St Prix), bishop of Clermont, martyr, 674. St Poppo, abbot of Stavello, 1048.


Born. – Robert Boyle, 1627, Lismore; Thomas Tanner, antiquary, 1674; Paul Whitehead, 1709; Robert Burns, 1759; James Hogg (the Ettrick Shepherd), poet, 1772; Daniel Maclise, artist, 1811, Cork
Died. – William Shield, dramatic composer, 1829.




Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, first saw the light on the 25th January 1759 in a small cottage by the wayside near the Bridge of Doon, two miles from Ayr. A wonderful destiny was that of the peasant’s babe born that day – a life of toil, imprudence, poverty, closed in early death, but to be followed by an afflatus of popular admiration and sympathy such as never before nor since attended a literary name in any country. The strains of Burns touch all hearts. He has put words together, as scarcely any writer ever did before him. His name has become a stenograph for a whole system of national feelings and predilections. Other poets, after death, have a tablet in Westminster Abbey, and occasional allusions in critical writings. But when the centenary of Burns’s birth arrives, it is celebrated in every town in the country; nay, wherever our language is spoken – alike in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Cape Colony – there is a pouring out of grateful sentiment in honour of Burns.

It is amusing to learn that Burns, when just emerging from obscurity, jocularly anticipated that his birthday would come to be noted among other remarkable events. In a letter to his early patron. Gavin Hamilton, in 1786, he says: ‘For my own affairs, I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas à Kempis, or John Bunyan; and you may expect henceforth to see my birthday inscribed among the wonderful events, in the Poor Robin and Aberdeen Almanacks, along with the Black Monday and the Battle of Bothwell-bridge.’


It is an affecting circumstance that Burns, dying in poverty, and unable to remunerate his medical attendant in the usual manner, asked the doctor’s acceptance of his pair of pistols as a memorial of their friendship. Dr Maxwell, who proved a generous friend to the poor bard’s surviving widow and children, retained these weapons till his death in 1834, after which they were preserved for some years by his sister. On her death, they were presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, in whose museum in Edinburgh they are now kept in an elegant coffer, but open to the inspection of the public.1



On St Paul’s day, 1503, there took place a marriage in the royal family, which has been attended with most important consequences to the welfare of the entire island. The Princess Margaret, eldest daughter of Henry VII., was then united at the manor of Richmond to King James IV. of Scotland, as represented by his proxy, Patrick Earl of Bothwell. It was foreseen by the English king that this union might lead to that of the two kingdoms, which had so long been at enmity with each other; and when some of his council objected, that in this event England would become a province of Scotland.

The young Queen of Scots was at this time only thirteen years and a quarter old; nevertheless, a learned Scotsman, Walter Ogilvy, who was present at the marriage, describes her as if she had already acquired all the graces, mental as well as bodily, of mature womanhood. She was ‘decens, urbana, sagax’. Beauty and modesty were united in her. She was of tall stature, had lively eyes, smooth arms, beautiful hands, golden hair, and a tongue enriched with various languages. Her complexion united the beauty of both the roses of her father and mother. Whether she walked or lay, stood or sat, or spoke, a grace attended her.



Posts were erected at the sheriff’s gate, and used for the display of proclamations. In Rowley’s play of A Woman Never Vexed, 1632, a character says:

‘If e’er I live to see thee sheriff of London, 
I’ll gild thy posts.’

A trace of this old custom is still to be found in Edinburgh, where it is a rule that a pair of guilded lamp-posts are always erected before the door of the Lord Provost.


1  At a sale of Dr Maxwell’s effects in Dumfries, several pairs of pistols of an ordinary make were disposed of – for the Doctor had been a weapon-fancier to some extent – and two of these sets have since been severally set forth as Burns’s pistols. One of them, which had been bought for the sum of fifteen and sixpence, fell into the hands of a modern bard, and was enshrined by him in an elegant case. See a curious paper on Burns’s Pistols, by the Right Rev. Bishop Gillis, of Edinburgh, 1859.


On this Day in Other Sources.



In the year 1350, Sir David Barclay [of Brechin], knight, was traitorously killed at Aberdeen, on [St. Timothy]‘s eve [25th of January], by John de St Michael and his accomplices, by the instigation (as was thought) of Sir William Douglas, then a prisoner in England, in revenge of his brother, John Douglas’, death, father to James Douglas of Dalkeith, whom the said Sir David Barclay caused [to] be killed at Howwood.

Historical Works, pp.104-124.



The 25th day of January this year, 1502, King James’ ambassadors finish the treaty of marriage, and solemnly marry the Lady Margaret of England, as the King’s procurators, in Paul’s church of London, which thereafter was solemnly published, with great joy and triumph at Paul’s cross this same day, to the great joy and contentment of King Henry [VII.] and the Lady his daughter.

Historical Works, pp.214-238.



In the administration of justice the magistrates appear to have shown considerable vigour, and if the constitutional liberty of the subject was sometimes invaded – as undoubtedly it occasionally was – the error was generally on the side of equity, and the act one of poetical justice. Some of the punishments awarded were certainly of the latter character. On one occasion “Richeart Herbertsoun fleschour” was brought before them “for the maist barbarus bangsterrie done be him against James Watsoun fleschour, and for stiking of the said James Watsouns grit dog.” The slain dog was represented as worth £2 sterling, and “maist necessar and profitable to him;” and James craved “to be fred of the said Richearts oppressioun, bost, and bangsterrie, in tyme cuming and to mak the said James satisfactioune and recompens for his said dog.” Richard having appeared and confessed, the punishment awarded was that he be “wardit qll monanday next and that day stockit at the croce, and the dog to be laid befoir him,” and thereafter to be put in sure ward till he find security to keep the peace.1

Old Glasgow, pp.215-237.

1  25th January, 1612.



‘Alloway’s auld haunted kirk,’ – a little roofless ruin, – long known only as marking the obscure resting-place of the rustic dead, is now an  object of veneration, and many an enthusiastic pilgrimage, on account of its having been chosen by Burns as the scene of the grotesque demon revelry, at once ludicrous and horrible, described with such graphic and tremendous power in his tale of Tam o’ Shanter, – for it would seem that imagination is not restricted in her flight here by the actual and real. It is situated on the east bank of the Doon, a little below the point where the road from Ayr to Maybole is carried across that river by the new bridge, and a quarter of a mile from the cottage on Doon side in which the peasant-bard was born on the 25th of January, 1759.

Scotland Illustrated, pp.48-51.



2284. The Life of James McKaen. Third Edition. 1797.

James McKaen, a shoemaker in Glasgow, was executed at the Cross on 25th January, 1797, for the murder of the Lanark carrier.

Memorial Catalogue, Gallery 1.

caledonianmercury thursday26january1797 britishnewspaperarchivejpg

Caledonian Mercury‘ (26th January, 1797), Edinburgh, p.3.



The leading article of the [Scotsman’s] first number appeared on the 25th of January, 1817, and was from the pen of Charles Maclaren, who, during Mr. Ritchie’s absence on the continent, found a valuable coadjutor in Mr. John Ramsay McCulloch, afterwards the eminent statist and economist, who temporarily assumed the office of responsible editor of the infant journal…

At this time the paper consisted of eight pages, less than half the size of the present page, and the price was 10d. – 6d. for the paper and 4d. of stamp duty. From the latest news columns of the number for 25th of January, some idea, says Mr. Bremner, of the time occupied in the transmission of intelligence in 1817 may be gleaned; the latest from London was the 22nd; from Paris, January 15th; and from New York, December 15th.

Old and Edinburgh, pp.282-290.

scotsman 25january1817 frontpage

Scotsman‘ (25th of January, 1817), Edinburgh, p.1.

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