Rare Burns’ manuscript set to go under hammer

Robert Burns wrote Afton Braes in 1789. Picture: TSPL
Robert Burns wrote Afton Braes in 1789. Picture: TSPL
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A 222-year-old poem by Robert Burns is set to fetch £20,000 when it goes under the hammer at auction later this year.

The hand-written manuscript of Afton Braes was penned by Burns in 1789. Now known as Sweet Afton, the poem is considered one of his most beautiful lyrics.

It romantically describes the Afton Water, near Burns’ home in Cumnock, Ayrshire, and his sweetheart Mary sleeping by its “murmuring stream”.

The poem is thought to recall Margaret Campbell – ‘Highland Mary’ – whom Burns courted when first estranged from Jean Armour.

The poem was set to music by Jonathan E Spilman in 1837 under the title Flow gently, sweet Afton – now familiar as the tune to Away in a Manger, which was published in 1885.

The rare manuscript will be sold by Bonhams in London in May, as part of the Roy Davids Collection.

It includes the bard’s own corrections.

Poet and scholar Roy Davids, who has collected more than 500 poetical manuscripts and portraits of poets for more than 40 years said yesterday: “This is a key poem for Scotland, and one of the most beautiful Burns ever wrote.”