Dirt and Deity

Two oil paintings, The Burns Monument on the Banks of the Doon by Patrick C Auld, 1839, and Tam Pursu’d by the Witches, 1870, by James Drummond acquired by the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in 1985 and 1983 with NFA grants of £1,500 and £600 respectively.

Thanks to the National Fund for Acquisitions, we have been able to secure many objects for the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum – from original manuscripts to contemporary art. They cover many aspects of Burns’s colourful life and legacy – from publishing success to personal scandal.

Burns Monument on the Banks of the Doon by Patrick C Auld

Oil painting, The Burns Monument on the Banks of the Doon, 1839, by Patrick C Auld

However, there is one rather under-stated landscape worth a mention. Burns Monument on the Banks of the Doon by Patrick C Auld was painted in 1839 but captures everything that today makes the museum such a magical place. In the background is Burns Cottage – already well-established as a place of pilgrimage (the world’s first Burns Supper was held there in 1801); poking out of the trees is the ruined bell-tower of Alloway’s Auld haunted Kirk where Tam o’ Shanter famously disturbed a satanic orgy; in the foreground, the Brig o’ Doon, over which Tam raced for dear life to escape Alloway’s witches (depicted in another NFA-funded acquisition by James Drummond); centre-stage Burns Monument, opened in 1823 with an exhibition of Burns manuscripts and related artworks – making it one of the world’s earliest literary museums.

Oil painting, 'Tam Pursu'd by the Witches' by James Drummond

Oil painting, ‘Tam Pursu’d by the Witches’ by James Drummond

In this simple painting, the enduring appeal of the museum is encapsulated. What is now the most extensive and important collection of Burns manuscripts does not rest in an academic institution or metropolitan archive but in the heart of the countryside that shaped it. A visit to the museum should never be a cold and intellectual experience. It should be immersive – just as Keats wrote, describing his 1814 visit to Burns Cottage:

Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window-sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o’er and o’er,–
Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind,–
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name,–
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!

Nat Edwards
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum


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