In the heart of the financial district, near the intersection of Otis and Devonshire Streets, there is a small green area highlighted by an uncharacteristic monument. The buildings on all sides are home to some of the most significant financial centers in the country, including the largest banks and investment centers. However, the sculpture adorning the area is of an impoverished Scottish poet. In 1975, a statue of Robert Burns was moved to this spot from its original location in the Fens (a gardened area of the Fenway neighborhood).
Burns is best known for composing Auld Lang Syne, the unofficial theme song of New Year's Eve. The statue was dedicated in 1920 by Massachusetts Governor and future President Calvin Coolidge. For the first 55 years, it was located in the Fens neighborhood of Boston but was moved to its present location in 1975.
In Winthrop Square, there is a
bronze statue depicting the beloved Scottish Bard, Robert Burns (1759-1796). He is shown standing with a walking stick in
his right hand, a poetry book under his left arm, and his faithful collie
walking along at his side. Burns wrote
over 300 poems and songs during his short career, including: My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose and Auld Lang Syne.
The statue of Robert Burns was
created nearly a century ago. Its first
home was in the Caledonian Grove near the Charles River. There was a ceremony, led by then-Governor
Calvin Coolidge, to celebrate its unveiling on New Years Day, 1920. Henry Hudson Kitson sculpted Robert Burns’
memorial. Kitson was already well-known in the area for some of his other
sculptures, including the Minuteman statue in Lexington, Massachusetts and a
memorial to Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, which is located in South Boston’s
In 1975, the statue was relocated
to Winthrop Square in the Financial District.
This was an interesting move since Winthrop and Burns were very
different men. In a square named for a
pious former Governor, one of the early Puritan settlers, the city placed a
statue of a poor, Scottish poet emblazoned by a scandalous love affair. Apparently, when the city established the
small park in the early 1970s, they tried to get a statue of John Winthrop that
was currently in the hands of a church but formerly sat at the US Capitol. The church would not allow the sculpture to
be moved to Boston, so the park’s developer and the Boston Arts Commission
decided to move the statue of Robert Burns from its original home in the Back
Bay to Winthrop Square.
Who was Robert Burns, after
Robert Burns was born on January
25, 1759 in Alloway, Scotland. He was
the first of seven children born to William and Agnes Burns. The family earned a hard living as tenant
farmers. The difficult labor was likely
the cause of the heart problems that Robert suffered throughout his life. Young
Robert was educated primarily at home.
He attended one year of mathematics school as well as an “adventure
school” that was established by his father.
When he was fifteen years old, he wrote his first poem. He pursued his love of poetry and printed Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in
1786. This book was a collection of
poems written mainly over the previous two years. The success of his first anthology earned
Burns the accolade as one of England and Scotland’s greatest “peasant-poets.”
Shortly after his marriage to
Jean Armour, the couple and their children settled in Ellisland. Burns worked with James Johnson to create another
anthology, the Scots Musical Museum. This collaboration was a collection of traditional
folk songs, including My Luve is Like a
Red Red Rose and Auld Lang Syne. Burns used several kinds of writing styles:
poems, epistles to friends, ballads and songs.
Over the course of his short career, he composed over three hundred
songs devoted to love, friendship, work, and drink. Many of his songs had humorous tones and were
sympathetic to the plights of poor Scottish farmers. Among some of Burns’ most famous works are: Tam O’ Shanter (a mock heroic written in
1795); The Cotters Saturday Night
(1795); The Jolly Beggars (1799); and
Burns’ Poetical Works (1824).
Robert Burns died when he was
just thirty-seven years old, from heart disease. His wife gave birth to their last son,
Maxwell, on the day of his death. Burns
will always be remembered as the National Bard of Scotland, or as Rabbie Burns,
Scotland's favourite son, the Ploughman Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire and in
Scotland as simply The Bard.