Robert Burns was born on January 25, 1759, in Alloway, some three miles south of the seaport town of Ayr. He was the first son of William Burnes (the original spelling of the family name that the poet eventually altered) and Agnes Broun. The father belonged to a lowly class of Scots agricultural society: He was a cotter, one who occupied a cottage on a farm in exchange for labor. As such, he engaged in a constant struggle to keep himself, his illiterate wife, and their seven children fed and clothed. In 1766, the elder Burnes leased seventy acres near Ayr and committed his family to farming. High rents and poor soil, however, only increased the size of the family debt.
Young Robert studied at a small village school,...
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