Visitors to Glasgow’s Kelvin Hall were given a rare treat as they got a chance to see an original manuscript hand-written by Robert Burns to mark the annual Burns Supper celebrations.
The letter, usually kept in Edinburgh, is the last of the Burns’ correspondences with Agnes “Nancy” McLehose and is significant in that it contains the poem “Ae Fond Kiss”. The exhibit, on display for two hours, had hundreds of people lined up to see it, quite a sight for Head of Collections and Research at the National Library Robin Smith who said:
“People are very reverential about it, it’s an experience. We see it all the time and, perhaps, become a bit blasé about it. You forget how special they are until you see the numbers coming to see it for themselves.”
The letter and poem were written in 1791 to Nancy McLehose, a long-time correspondent of Burns, as a farewell before she left for Jamaica to reunite with her estranged husband. The fact that Nancy was married meant that they were to write to each other under the pseudonyms Sylvander (Burns) and Clarinda (McLehose) to avoid scrutiny, even though there’s no evidence of a physical relationship.
For most, though, the joy of the exhibit was to see a rare example of the Bard’s words in his own handwriting. Visitor Peter Kay said:
“It’s good to see an original. It’s one of my favourite Burns songs, but it’s just great to see an original.”
Others were glad to see such a document in the city, such as Sandra Aitkin, who said:
“I’m glad it’s come to Glasgow, it would be good to see more of the exhibits in Edinburgh brought through on a temporary basis.”
Those running the exhibition are expecting to confirm over 300 visitors through the two hours.