When Walter Scott met Robert Burns at Sciences Hill House

The exact date when 15-year-old Walter Scott met Ploughman Poet Robert Burns at Sciennes Hill House in Edinburgh, the home of Professor Adam Fergusson is not known.

But it had a profound effect on the youngster and his literary development which lasted until the end of his life.

The encounter was briefly and later depicted in a celebrated painting by Charles Martin Hardie entitled ‘The meeting of Burns and Scott’ was painted in 1893.

On the evening in question Burns sought to discuss lines of poetry under a print on the wall and asked whose they were.

Scott was the only person who knew the answer but was too shy to speak to the poet, so he whispered the information to a friend who passed it on to Burns.

Scott later recalled that Burns: “Rewarded me with a look and a word, which, though of mere civility, I then received and still collect, with very great pleasure.”

Many believe that night inspired Scott’s subsequent literary career although he had been writing poetry since his days at the Royal High School of Edinburgh which he left at the age of 12 to go to university and actually published poetry long before he embarked on the novels for which he is more renowned.

Forty years later Scott wrote: “I was a lad of fifteen in 1786-7, when he came first to Edinburgh, but had sense and feeling enough to be much interested in his poetry and would have given the world to know him; but I had very little acquaintance with any literary people, and still less with the gentry of the west country, the two sets that he most frequented.

“Mr Thomas Grierson was at that time a clerk of my father’s. He knew Burns and promised to ask him to his lodgings to dinner, but he had no opportunity to keep his word from him, otherwise I might have seen more of this distinguished man.

“As it was, I saw him one day at the late venerable Professor Fergusson’s, where there were several gentlemen of literary reputation, among whom I remember the celebrated Mr Dugald Stewart. Of course, we youngsters sat silent, looked and listened.”

Scott was later a key player in efforts to build a national monument in Edinburgh to honor the memory of Burns. History tells us that the campaign started in 1812 and eventually resulted in the monument at the foot of Calton Hill, in Edinburgh. By the time the foundation stone was laid in the early autumn of 1831 however Scott was very ill and would not live to see it take shape.

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