Tonight is Burns Night and many Scots and others will celebrate the anniversary of the poet. There is no shortage of material on the web about Robert Burns, his poetry and his life.
But there are the might have been aspects. Like us all he had choices to make and some made for him which directed the course of his life and there were plenty of alternatives. Apart from those known there are some which did not happen but were possible.
What if he had gone into the Royal Navy as a midshipman? We might now think of Admiral Burns who sailed with Hood and Nelson. What if he had gone to India, like another in his family? A letter from a laird involved in the Ayr Bank to Arnold Nesbitt in The City of London could have given him a cadet post in Calcutta.
More likely is to have managed to become a member of one or other of the Incorporations of Ayr, the associations of Freemen who ran the Burgh and the lives of those within it. He would have had his own designated seat in the Kirk and in time might have been a man of standing.
In this last case he may well have been totally forgotten if the poetry, if any, had not been published like that of so many at the time and since. The Incorporations declined during the 19th Century and as the quote below suggests, there are now only what is left of local documents that tell us only part of the tale.
TRADE INCORPORATIONS AT AYR.
I beg to ask the Lord Advocate whether he is aware that the funds of certain Charitable Institutions in Ayr are being diverted from their original purpose; and, if so, whether he can suggest a remedy for the misappropriation of these funds, or direct an inquiry into the working of the existing Trade Incorporations of Ayr?
I presume the question of my hon. Friend refers to the three Incorporations of Tailors, Weavers, and Fleshers of Ayr. As regards the first, my only information is that there is an existing membership, and that recently a Mr. Loudon raised an action in the Court of Session asking that he should be admitted a member, but in this claim he was unsuccessful.
The case of the Weavers' Incorporation has also been the subject of litigation, which does not appear to have yet been finally decided, and the membership of the Fleshers' Incorporation having become extinct, the property which formerly belonged to them has fallen to the Crown as ultimus hœres.
I am further informed that a movement is on foot to ask that the sums which have fallen to the Crown may be devoted to benevolent purposes within the district; but as this is a matter which falls to be dealt with by the Treasury, I am unable to give my hon. Friend any further information on the subject.
Imagine, when it came to Burns, the last words might well have applied, no further information.