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Burns Night celebrates the wrong Scottish poet


The bard honoured on 25 January was a fine writer, but he also treated women appallingly. I can think of at least one other Scots author more worthy of a national festival

At this time of year, with one of the few days on the calendar given over to the celebration not of poetry, but a poet, I always find myself reading Percy Shelley’s A Defence of Poetry again – in particular his argument that the character or moral behaviour of a poet is not a factor in analysing the worth of the poetry.

Shelley writes: “Let us assume that Homer was a drunkard, that [Virgil] was a flatterer, that Horace was a coward, that Tasso was a madman, that Lord Bacon was a peculator, that Raphael was a libertine, that Spenser was a poet laureate. It is inconsistent with this division of our subject to cite living poets, but posterity has done ample justice to the great names now referred to. Their errors have been weighed and found to have been dust in the balance; if their sins ‘were as scarlet, they are now white as snow’; they have been washed in the blood of the mediator and redeemer, Time.”

Related: Burns night: the battle over Scottish identity continues

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