The Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759–1796) became a Freemason in 1781 in Tarbolton, Ayrshire, and wrote a number of Masonic poems. Traditionally, it has been believed that he was made Poet Laureate of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, Edinburgh in 1787, although this has been questioned.
He was a Freemason for the rest of his life, and in 1787, Francis Charteris, the Grand Master of Scotland, praised Brother Burns as “Caledonia’s bard.” (Caledonia is the Latin name for Scotland that was used by the Romans, which later took on poetic connotations.)
During the last quarter of the 18th Century, Freemasonry was at the height of its popularity. To the Age of Enlightenment, its tenets seemed to promise brotherhood and intellectual equality. Scholars, philosophers, gentlemen, farmers and tradesmen were Masons in Scotland.
Scots is still spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland today and is often called Lallans, the Scots word for ‘lowlands’.
The poet was just 37 years old when he died.
Burns was buried in a modest grave in St. Michael’s Churchyard in Dumfries, but in 1813, his admirers—including writer Sir Walter Scott (another Lowlander)—began raising money to build a grand mausoleum in his honor. It was completed in 1817.
Sir Walter Scott’s father was a Freemason, being a member of Lodge St David, No. 36 (Edinburgh), and Scott also became a Freemason in his father’s Lodge in 1801, albeit only after the death of his father.
During the winter of 1786–1787, a 15-year-old Walter Scott met the Scots poet Robert Burns at one of these salons, their only meeting. When Burns noticed a print illustrating the poem “The Justice of the Peace” and asked who had written it, Scott alone named the author as John Langhorne and was thanked by Burns.
Burns night traditionally done is as follows:
Proceedings kick off with the saying of the Selkirk Grace, which, according to The Scotsman, is “a short prayer, originally said in the Lallans dialect of lowland Scotland, which gives thanks to God for the meal about to be eaten.” The haggis is then brought out to the accompaniment of bagpipes, and Burns’s “Address to a Haggis” is recited. Once the haggis, neeps (mashed turnip), and tatties (mashed potato) have been eaten, the Immortal Memory is given, along with readings of his works. The event then finishes with everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne.”