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The Club

Robert met up again with old literary friends and they decided in 1803 to set up a social club in the Sun Tavern on 12, High Street, Paisley. The Paisley Literacy and Convivial Association was to allow members to read and discuss essays, songs, and musical compositions and any other cultural subjects. The members numbered from fifteen to twenty, and they considered themselves the cream of the intellectual tradesmen in town. It was this club that brought Robert to the attention of two composers who set some of his poems to music, RA Smith of Paisley who became well-known for writing the tune for Burns' "My love is like a red, red rose" and William McLaren.


Knock-back and the Burns Anniversary Society

Not all went smoothly for the Poet. Most of his work was praised by the Club but a play called The Soldier's Return was not well received and Robert became quite depressed, despite some of the songs being set to music by Smith. In addition, his health was not good; an inveterate smoker with blackened teeth, he developed a dry rasping cough and worried that he was dying. However, in 1805, the Poet and William McLaren decided to form The Burns' Anniversary Society with McLaren elected president and Tannahill elected clerk. The still-existing minute book was hand-written by Robert.

1807 titlepage

More songs and fame

He attended all meetings of the Society until his death and wrote the two Burns' Night poems for 1807 and 1810 although he seems to have given up being clerk in order to concentrate on his writing. He contributed to periodicals in Glasgow as well as Paisley and sent 25 songs to the Nightingale or Songster's Magazine in Glasgow. Robert also got together with Alexander McNaught to raise funds by public subscriptions for setting up the Trades Library for working men, in response to a library set up for gentlemen in 1803. The Trades Library survived until 1846.

The first collection

A few of his best songs, set to music by John Ross of Aberdeen and R. A. Smith of Paisley were engraved and published in sheets. This quickly brought him to public attention and he was encouraged to publish a book of his works, which he did in 1807 and 900 copies were printed. It seems to have had a mixed reception although he obviously found it profitable, depositing 20 in his bank account that July.

More knock-backs

Although he was discouraged in an attempt to contribute to a book of Irish airs, between 1807 and 1810 he contributed 6 songs to the prestigious Scots Magazine. His fame was increasing and he wrote in a letter to a friend how happy he felt whenever he passed a house and heard someone inside singing one of his songs. However, when he tried to have a new volume of songs published by Alan Stewart, Stewart declined and returned his manuscript. This was early in 1810. Another publisher then turned him down and in a letter written soon after, Robert showed clear signs of a depressed mind.

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