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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

BURNS'S BAWDRY Robert Burns, The Merry Muses of Caledonia, edited by James Barke and Sydney Goodsir Smith, with a Prefatory Note and some authentic Burns Texts contributed by J. DeLancey Ferguson (Macdonald) £6.95
Bawdy Verse And Folksongs, written and collected by Robert Burns; introduced by Magnus Magnusson (Macmillan) £3.50

The Merry Muses of Caledonia, a collection of Scottish bawdy verse made by Burns and to which he had contributed, appeared in 1800 in pirated form. Early biographers ignored, denied or condemned their subject's involvement. Yet it was a publication which would not go away. It resurfaced, with no imprint, in 1827 and down the years there were small, clandestine, garbled editions. Finally, in 1911, the Burns Federation brought out 750 copies of Duncan McNaught's 'improved' version. He had earlier set himself the task of proving that the association of Burns's name, 'either as author or editor, with the ribald volumes', was 'not only an unwarrantable mendacity, but one of the grossest outrages ever perpetrated against the memory of a man of genius'.

Not until 1965 did the collection go on the open market. It was the same as had been issued six years earlier from a private press, and edited by James Barke and Sydney Goodsir Smith. In the preface to the new work, however, DeLancey Ferguson showed their source, the one extant copy of the 1800 edition, to be of doubtful value, its not having been prepared from Burns's own MSS. This critic's having given his imprimatur to only a small section of the whole, and Kinsley's disproving, in the 1968 definitive complete works, some of the editors' attributions, what is still required is a scholarly recension. Instead, that which Goodsir Smith himself confessed to be an 'approximate', 'overgenerous' version has now reappeared substantially the ...


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