Rare chance to see Burns handwritten song in Glasgow
One of the literary treasures of Scotland is being put on special display in Glasgow on 25 January, when people will get the rare chance to see a famous Robert Burns love song in his own handwriting.
The National Library of Scotland is inviting people to come and see the manuscript of 'Ae Fond Kiss' which Burns wrote for his departed love, Agnes McLehose. It is the Library's contribution to the celebration of the poet's work on Burns day.
It is fittingly being shown in Glasgow which is the birthplace of Agnes, who was known by her friends as Nancy. Burns wrote the song in December 1791 as she prepared to depart for Jamaica to attempt a reconciliation with her husband. It expresses the poet's despair at the end of their relationship.
'Ae Fond Kiss' is one of the most recorded of all Burns's songs and its familiar opening lines are famous around the world:
'Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then forever!'
It will go on show at the Library's premises in the Kelvin Hall from 13.30 in the afternoon of Wednesday 25 January until 15.30. Entry is free. The viewing time is limited due to the need to restrict the amount of time the 226-year-old document is exposed to light.
Agnes was born in Glasgow in 1758, the daughter of a prominent surgeon, Andrew Craig. At the age of 18, she married a Glasgow lawyer, James McLehose, and had four children in the first four years of their marriage. It was not a happy union and she left him shortly afterwards, complaining of mental cruelty. Meanwhile he emigrated to Jamaica to try to make his fortune.
Agnes moved to Edinburgh where she met Burns and they became infatuated with each other. The couple exchanged a series of love letters using the pseudonyms Sylvander and Clarinda. It was a delicate situation given that Nancy was a married woman and the relationship remained a platonic one.
They met for the last time in early December 1791 and 'Ae Fond Kiss' was sent to Agnes a few weeks later. They never saw each other again although Agnes remembered the day of their parting forever. At the age of 72, she wrote in her journal on 6 December 1831: 'This day I never can forget. Parted with Burns, in the year 1791, never more to meet in this world. Oh may we meet in Heaven.'
'Burns's love songs and poems are famous around the world and 'Ae Fond Kiss' is one of his best known works,' said Dr Ralph McLean, manuscripts curator at the National Library. 'We are pleased to be able to offer people in Glasgow the opportunity to see the original version that Burns composed for Agnes.'
The National Library at Kelvin Hall is at 1445 Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8AW.
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18 January 2017