Prose poser

January 21, 2005

As Scots celebrate the birth of poet Robert Burns on January 25, the star turn at many Burns Nights will be a rendition of the poem Tam O'Shanter , writes Olga Wojtas. But Scottish literature expert Gerry Carruthers disputes the long-held view that Burns was inspired to write Tam O'Shanter by the folk tale of a drunken husband who stumbles on witches on Hallowe'en and narrowly escapes hell. Dr Carruthers, of Glasgow University's Scottish literature department, was co-director of last weekend's Burns International Conference with Ken Simpson of Strathclyde University. He said that Burns created the legend. The alleged 'Galloway' version of the poem is promoted in John Gibson Lockhart's 19th-century biography of Burns. It turns out that Lockhart was the son-in-law of Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott and was loath to credit Burns with creativity.

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