The son of a hard-working and intelligent farmer, Burns was the oldest of seven children, all of whom had to help in the work on the farm. Although always hard pressed financially, the elder Burns, until his death in 1784, encouraged his sons with their education. As a result, Burns as a boy not only read the Scottish poetry of Ramsay and the collections compiled by Hailes and Herd, but also the works of Pope, Locke, and Shakespeare. By 1781, Burns had tried his hand at several agricultural jobs without success. Although he had begun writing, and his poems were circulated widely in manuscript, none were published until 1786. At this time he had already begun a life of dissipation, and he was not only discouraged but poor and was involved simultaneously with several women.
Burns decided to marry Mary Campbell and migrate to Jamaica. To help finance the journey, he published at Kilmarnock Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (1786), which was an immediate success. Mary Campbell died before she and Burns could marry, and Burns changed his mind about migration. He toured the Highlands, brought out a second edition of his poems at Edinburgh in 1787, and for two winters was socially prominent in the Scottish city. In 1788 he married Jean Armour, who had borne him four children, and retired to a farm at Ellisland. By 1791 Burns had failed as a farmer, and he moved to nearby Dumfries, where he held a position as an exciseman. He died at 37 after a severe attack of rheumatic fever.
Burns's art is at its best in songs such as "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton," "My Heart's in the Highlands," and "John Anderson My Jo." Two collections contain 268 of his songs—George Thomson's Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs for the Voice (6 vol., 1793-1811) and James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (5 vol., 1787-1803). Some of these, such as "Auld Lang Syne" and "Comin' thro' the Rye," are among the most familiar and best-loved poems in the English language. But his talent was not confined to song; two descriptive pieces, "Tam o' Shanter" and "The Jolly Beggars," are among his masterpieces.
Burns had a fine sense of humor, which was reflected in his satirical, descriptive, and playful verse. His great popularity with the Scots lies in his ability to depict with loving accuracy the life of his fellow rural Scots, as he did in "The Cotter's Saturday Night." His use of dialect brought a stimulating, much-needed freshness and raciness into English poetry, but Burns's greatness extends beyond the limits of dialect. His poems are written about Scots, but, in tune with the rising humanitarianism of his day, they apply to a multitude of universal problems.
See his poems (ed. by J. L. Robertson, 1953); letters (ed. by D. Ferguson and G. Ross Roy, 2 vol., 1985); biographies by M. Lindsay (2d ed. 1968) and R. T. Fitzhugh (1970); studies by D. Daiches (1978), H. Hecht (1985), and C. McGuirk (1985).
Robert Burns, detail of an oil painting by Alexander Nasmyth; in the National Portrait Gallery, elipsis
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New York State Route 70 crosses the north part of the town and passes through Canaseraga.
There were 456 households out of which 36.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.9% were married couples living together, 10.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.4% were non-families. 19.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.74 and the average family size was 3.08.
In the town the population was spread out with 29.6% under the age of 18, 6.1% from 18 to 24, 28.8% from 25 to 44, 23.5% from 45 to 64, and 11.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 102.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.1 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $33,152, and the median income for a family was $37,054. Males had a median income of $32,120 versus $21,181 for females. The per capita income for the town was $14,613. About 10.4% of families and 12.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.7% of those under age 18 and 2.7% of those age 65 or over.