A white marble bust of Scotland’s national poet is on the wall of Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey near the memorials to William Shakespeare and Scottish poet James Thomson. The sculptor was Sir John Steell and the bust was unveiled by the Earl of Rosebery on 7 March 1885. It was paid for by means of a ‘shilling subscription’, co-ordinated by a committee in Glasgow, established in 1878. Contributions were received from all over the world. The inscription reads simply:
1759 BURNS 1796
Robert was born on 25 January 1759 in a small cottage at Alloway in Ayrshire in the west of Scotland. His parents were William (d.1784) and Agnes. Although he was composing songs by 1774 his profession was as a farmer and ploughman. His Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect appeared in 1786 and was an instant success. He collected and wrote about 200 songs, and some of his best-known lyrics are ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘Ye banks and braes’ and ‘O my luve’s like a red, red rose’. In 1788 he finally married Jean Armour and became an Excise officer. He died on 21 July 1796, probably of rheumatic heart disease, and is buried in St Michael’s churchyard, Dumfries. Celebrations are now held throughout the world on ‘Burn’s Night’, 25 January.
A photograph of the bust can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004