Works of the Late Celebrated Robert Burns with a Sketch of his Life


Author: Robert Burns

Works of the Late Celebrated Robert Burns; with a Sketch of his Life. Edinburgh; Printed by John Johnstone, High Street. 1807.

This is a very interesting and rare little book. It is small (64mo). The text block measures about 3 ¼” x 1 7/8″, and the pages bulk about ½”. The boards measure about 3 ½” x 2 1/8″.

There are no free blanks in front. The first page is the title page (image provided), which is blank on the reverse side. The title page is followed by a “Dedication./to the/ Noblemen and Gentlemen/of the/Caledonian Hunt.” The dedication text continues onto the reverse side and is ended with: “Robert Burns. April 4, 1787.” This is followed by “Contents.” on the next page and its reverse side (images provided). Next is “Sketch/of the/Life of Burns” which runs 6 pages, 3 sheets front and back (images provided).

The first note of pagination appears at the top of the reverse side of the Dedication and is “iv”, which is consistent with the title page being page 1. At the top of the second contents page is “6”, still consistent but not in Roman numerals. The second page of the Sketch is “viii”, and the remaining pages of the Sketch are numbered at the top ix, x, xi, xii. At the bottom of the last page of the Sketch is the word “Poems.”

The next page is titled “Poems,/Chiefly/Scottish.” This is followed by the first poem “The Twa Dogs”. This page has the letter “B” at the bottom. The next page is numbered “26” at the top and the remaining pages of text are numbered at the top in sequence through the last page “252”. There is an unnumbered blank page at the back.

Other than the pagination, I see no obvious indications that any pages have been removed.

With regard to the Sketch of his Life, there is no writer indicated. I have provided images of the entire Sketch to provide opportunity for someone to possibly identify the writer from another source.

I have found some additional information on the printer, John Johnstone, and on this edition.

Here is a link to the University of Edinburgh archives that provides some information on John Johnstone.

Also, one can go to the Advanced Book Exchange and search on John Johnstone as publisher and find numerous other books published by him.

Here is a link to the full text of “Bibliotheca Burnsiana; life and works of Burns”, which appears to be an early bibliography of the works of Robert Burns.

There are two entries of note with regard to this book. If you scroll down to item XLVni., you will find the following:


WORKS OP THE LATE CELEBRATED ROBERT BURNS, with a Sketch of his Life and Character. Edinburgh : Printed by J. Johnstone, Strichen*s Close, and Sold at his Book Shop, Blackfriars Wynd. 1805. [64mo.] with a Portrait. Unique.]”

Scroll to the second entry down from there to item LIV, and you will find:


WORKS OF THE LATE CELEBRATED ROBERT BURNS ; with a Sketch of his Life. Edmbwrgh: Printed by John Johnstone, High Street. 1807. [64mo. – ^with a View of the Cottage where Burns was Bom.]”

So, it appears that Johnstone printed an edition in 1805. The word “Unique” makes it seem that perhaps only one copy was printed. This copy seems to be the 1807 edition. I find no “View of the Cottage”, but all else is consistent. The 1807 edition is not described as “Unique”, but it seems likely very rare.

Overall this is an attractive little book. The text block is square and sound. The title page has some chips at the top and top right. The first several pages have some chipping along the top edges. After that, the pages are in nice condition, though a bit browned. It seems likely that the boards have been repaired in some way. The rear board is stiff to open, as is the front board but less so. The rear is chipped at the top and the top ¾” is not connected to the spine. When partially opened and held in light, it can be seen that the top portion of the front board is not connected to the spine. There is a small spot near the bottom where the board is connected and about a 1 ½” section near the middle is connect. Even so, the boards feel pretty well connected. The spine shows heavy wear, especially at the bottom. The images show the condition of the outer hinges and the spine.

Book ID 5287