Bard’s manuscripts go on display on Burns Day


A rare manuscript containing some of the most provocative social commentary by Robert Burns went on public show for one day only on 25 January to mark the poet’s birthday.

Holy Willie’s Prayer (1785) and The Ordination: A Scotch Poem (1786) – both of which explore the use and misuse of religious power in 18th-century Scotland – will sit side-by-side for the first time in many years through this joint display by the National Library of Scotland and The Mitchell Library at Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall.

“Robert Burns’ poetry, songs and sentiments on the human condition continue to resonate with people the world over and, some 250 years after he developed his work, this exhibition is an exciting opportunity to see two of those original manuscripts close up,” said Ben Macpherson, Scotland’s Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development.

“Burns Day is one of Scotland’s most well-known and best loved national days, where Scots and Scots at heart around the world celebrate Burns’ poetry and affirm some of our country’s most important values – fairness, equality and internationalism.”

Holy Willie’s Prayer was written in 1785 to expose the hypocrisy of the Mauchline Kirk elder, William Fisher. It is one of the best examples of Burns’s religious satire. In addition to the poem itself Burns explains the background to it.

The Ordination: A Scotch Poem, written in 1786, is a satire on the appointment of the evangelical Reverend James Mackinlay (1756–1841) to the Laigh Kirl, Kilmarnock, reflecting conflicts between the traditional and progressive religious ideas within the community.

“Glasgow is home to some priceless treasures, not least our collection of original manuscripts and objects associated with the Bard,” said Cllr David McDonald, the Chair of Glasgow Life.

To get to see not one, but two original works, albeit for a short period of time, presents an unmissable opportunity on Burns Day. I would urge everyone to get down to the Kelvin Hall and see them for themselves, before enjoying a traditional Burns Night celebration.”