Burns letter rejecting Jean Armour to fetch £5000 in US

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WHEN the 27-year-old Robert Burns penned his letter to James Smith in 1786, he was adamant that he would never marry and settle down.

But, within months, Jean Armour had given birth to the Bard’s twin children and, two years later, the man who would become Scotland’s greatest poet did just that.

Now the note is expected to fetch up to 5000 when it comes up for auction in New York next month. The correspondence to Smith - one of Burn’s associates in Edinburgh - describes his turbulent courtship with Jean, and reveals his unguarded thoughts on sex and marriage.

Burns was vehement that he would not marry his then girlfriend after her father tore up a document acknowledging her as his lawful wife. Jean was then 19 and, at the time of this letter, was expecting.

Burns wrote in the letter: "Against two things, however, I am fix’d as fate: staying at home and owning her conjugally. The first, by Heaven I will not do. The last, by Hell, I will never do."

Jean gave birth to twins the following month, in September 1786, and just two years later, in 1788, Burns married her. They eventually had nine children.

At the time of the letter, Burns’s gift of transforming the dialect of his local peasantry into high poetry had won him a host of admirers in the social circles of Edinburgh.

David Sibbald, who presents and performs on the recording The Greatest Poems in the World by Robert Burns, said: "His poems were published, he was adored in Edinburgh and, just as boys will be boys, he wrote and said, ‘I am in Edinburgh and there are more things out here’. Anybody’s head would be slightly turned.

"But he was probably still smarting from the fact that Jean’s father thought he was unworthy as a husband as he was a poet - and an unknown poet at that - and he wasn’t knuckling down to farm work."

Despite the image of Burns as a roistering bard, a legendary sexual athlete and a romantic who dearly loved the lassies, the remarkable truth is that he was a one-woman man.

Mr Sibbald added: "Burns soon tired of the hoi polloi in Edinburgh, realised his roots were in Ayrshire and returned to Jean. He had always loved Jean, she was the right woman for him, and he for her."

The Burns letter is among an extraordinary collection of 263 literary treasures, including autographed first editions and manuscripts, assembled by the American property tycoon Maurice Neville.