To a Mouse
To a Mouse ‘Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect’ Robert Burns. This is the first collection of Burns’s work to appear in print. Published in Kilmarnock by John Wilson in 1786, it is known as ‘the Kilmarnock edition’. It includes the poems ‘Scotch drink’, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday night’, ‘To a mouse’ and ‘To a louse’.
By 1786, Robert Burns had farming and personal difficulties.
Mossgiel was not profitable, and his willingness to marry Jean Armour, who was pregnant by him, was opposed by her father. The only way out, it seemed, was to emigrate.
Burns’s plans to sail for Jamaica were well advanced when events took an unexpected turn. He had been advised by Gavin Hamilton — a local lawyer — to finance the voyage by publishing some of his poems, but the success of that volume — the ‘Kilmarnock edition’ — caused him to reconsider his plans to emigrate.
Printed by John Wilson of Kilmarnock in July 1786, Burns’s ‘Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect’ cost three shillings.
The entire print-run of 612 copies sold out within a month, justifying his belief in his abilities and in the merit of his poems.
There are only a few illustrated books of Burns’ poems, one of which was illustrated by Thomas Bewick. Sadly not this poem. With a nod to this collaboration I have paired ‘To a Mouse’ with a this lovely mouse illustration also held in the NLS collection: Long-tailed Field-mouse, A general history of Quadrupeds. 1824. JB.156.
The National Library of Scotland, Special Collections
The National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh contains a fascinating holding of books, manuscripts and archives. The Library’s Special Collections are particularly eclectic, ranging from witchcraft to the French Revolution, from beekeeping to Esperanto and from the Reformation to cookbooks. Rare books include Stirling’s ‘Annals of the Artists of Spain’ the first illustrated art history and Fox Talbot’s ‘Sun Pictures in Scotland’. With over one million books to consult all you need is a library card and time to delve history.