FESTIVAL LECTURE 2012
Sponsored by the Tweeddale Society
Monday, 27th August 2012
Eastgate Theatre, Peebles, 7.30 p.m.
The Two Roberts – Burns and Chambers:
The Poet & his Great Biographer
Prof. David W. Purdie MD, FRCP Edin., FRSSA, FSA(Scot)
Doctor of Medicine
Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Fellow of the Royal Scottish Society of Arts
Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
The poet Robert Burns suffered greatly from his early biographers who, while attesting his greatness as a poet and song-writer, were merciless in condemning him as a gifted but flawed peasant who lived in penury, serially abused women – and died of drink. These facts became well known – but like many facts which are well known, they were also untrue. It was left to Peebles’ great son Robert Chambers to produce the first truly factually objective biography of the poet in 1851. This he did with his usual assiduity by ransacking Edinburgh and then going down to Ayrshire and Dumfries to hunt down and then interview men and women who had known Burns in life.
Robert Chambers’s four-volume biography stands to this day as a major resource for scholars, not least for Professors Purdie and Gerald Carruthers, the latter of Glasgow University, who are preparing a new Edition of the Burns Encyclopaedia, dealing with all aspect of the poet’s life and times.
This Talk will be illustrated with images from our National Archives and will tell the story of Burns’s life – and how his poems and songs, first laid before his family and friends in the farmlands of Ayrshire, were to become the property and the patrimony of Mankind.
Prof. Purdie followed a medical academic and research career, and was latterly Postgraduate Dean of the new Medical School at Hull & York Universities. His medical research work centred on the diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease.
Originally destined for a Classics degree before switching to Medicine, David Purdie is a Member of the Classical Association and of the British Society for the History of Philosophy, a Patron of the National Gallery and of the National Trust.
David Purdie’s family originated in Peeblesshire’s Manor Valley. He was educated at Ayr Academy and Glasgow University where he read Medicine. He is Chairman of the Walter Scott Society and Editor-in-Chief of the Burns Encyclopaedia which deals with the life and work of the poet Robert Burns. He contributes essays on literary subjects for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times, and is a speechwriter and editor for several members of the House of Commons.
His particular interest is in the literary and scientific components of the Scottish Enlightenment and he is presently working with Prof Peter Millican of Oxford University on an edition of the philosopher David Hume’s works on the nature of religion.
A golfer since childhood he is a past Captain of the Scottish Universities Golfing Society and is a member of the Royal Burgess Golf Club in Edinburgh and of Sunningdale Golf Club in Surrey. In 2010 he and the golf artist Hugh Dodd published ‘The Greatest Game’, a humorous history of golf which has gone through two editions with a third now projected.