- The Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns: The Scots Musical Museum (Volume II and III) ed. by Murray Pittock
Since the 1970s, Scottish literary studies have spearheaded the production of collected works of major Scottish authors and set international standards in textual editing practice. The Duke–Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, the Stirling/South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg, the New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, the Edinburgh Edition of Walter Scott’s Poetry, and the Edinburgh Edition of the Works of John Galt are among the major scholarly editions either completed or currently underway. As a result of this activity, a culture of excellence in textual editing has flourished across the Scottish Universities network and at its heart sits the University of Glasgow’s multi-volume Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns. Headed by Gerard Carruthers as General Editor, and based in the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at Glasgow, the edition has already begun to transform our understanding of Burns and furthers the Centre’s mission of debunking the myth-making that lingers around his legacy.
Following Nigel Leask’s impressive first volume in the series, Commonplace Books, Tour Journals, and Miscellaneous Prose, Murray Pittock has taken the helm to produce volumes II and III, The Scots Musical Museum and accompanying Notes and Appendices respectively. This has been a significant undertaking to say the least and has resulted, somewhat astonishingly given the centrality of this material to the Scottish canon, in the very first scholarly edition of the complete Scots Musical Museum in over two centuries. Initiated, printed and published by James Johnson in six volumes between 1787‒1803, The Museum was originally conceived as a rich repository for the nation’s songs and is inextricably linked to its greatest contributor, Robert Burns. In the Oxford edition, Pittock deftly interrogates the status of this collection as a national ‘museum’ and Burns’ role in its production.
This approach has led to major new points of departure between the present edition and those that have preceded it. Crucially, Pittock distinguishes between Burns the author and Burns the editor, and throws into relief the primacy of [End Page 185] his contribution to the Museum in the latter capacity. The relevance of Burns’ identity as an editor has been obfuscated by the prevailing narrative of Burns as Scotland’s poetic voice which has resulted in the increasing attribution of songs to Burns in each successive edition of the Museum (between the first edition and Kinsley’s 1968 edition, songs attributed to Burns had grown from a few dozen to in excess of two hundred). Pittock’s research has led him to suggest removing fifty songs from the Burns canon, on the basis that they demonstrate little or no evidence connecting him to either their authorship or to significant textual intervention in them. Conversely, he has discovered that some of the songs dismissed by Kinsley deserve the status of ‘possibly’ edited by Burns. Appendix 3 of the present work, ‘Burns Attributions’, offers an indispensable at-a-glance summary of the proposed differences in Burns canon formation between the Oxford edition and three notable editions that have gone before it, i.e. the Catch Club (to which the first edition of the Museum was dedicated) edition of volumes 1‒5 (1787‒96), the 1803, and the Kinsley edition. Songs that have been placed in the category of ‘possible’ attribution include those which have been either positively attributed to Burns or found to have no connection to him in previous editions. Appendix 2 offers a more detailed breakdown of this information (separating the status of the songs into seven different categories). Undoubtedly, the information contained in these two appendices will offer the basis for much critical discussion.
Clearly, the Oxford edition has profound implications for Burn studies. Casting Burns predominantly...