On this day in 1786, Robert Burns decides not to emigrate to Jamaica, as he had planned, and heads for Edinburgh instead.
Burns, the son of a poor farmer, received little formal schooling, though he was well-read. A restless, dissatisfied spirit, he fell in love with Jean Armour in the mid-1780s but refused to marry her when she became pregnant. (Later, the pair finally married and had nine children, the last one born on the day of Burns’ funeral.) After spending the summer of 1786 escaping Armour’s entreaties that they marry, Burns planned his emigration. His first poetry collection, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, had just been published and had started attracting favorable attention. Burns soon became the darling of elite Edinburgh intellectuals.
Perhaps more famous for his lively lyrics in the Scottish dialect than for his longer, more literary poems, Burns is still beloved and celebrated today. Burns fans around the world celebrate his birthday, January 25, with rowdy and ribald dinners of haggis and other Scottish delicacies, and his words resound every New Year’s Eve, when his poem “For Auld Lang Syne” is sung.