The Murison Burns Collection
Statue of Robert Burns in Dunfermline Carnegie Library
John Murison was born in
It was his friendship with Craibe Angus, the most notable Burns collector of his time, which inspired Murison to create a private library devoted to books by and about Robert Burns. Collecting Burns books and memorabilia became Murison’s obsession for the next 40 years.
Towards the end of his life he began to consider the library’s future. Murison was keen to avoid the dispersal of a collection which had taken so long to build. While he was reluctantly preparing to put his books up for sale, a decision was taken to find a home for the collection in
A Gift to
Easton Gibb and Son Ltd were the principal contractors involved in constructing the naval dockyard at Rosyth. In 1921, Sir Alexander Gibb, owner of the firm, heard of the availability of Murison’s collection. Gibb had formed many friendships among the people of
This outcome was very satisfactory to all concerned. Murison’s life-work remained intact, Dunfermline’s recently-extended public library received a very prestigious addition to its holdings, and Burns enthusiasts were able to see the collection properly housed, available to the public at large and within
The books are kept today in the Special Collections room of Dunfermline Carnegie Library. Originally they were housed separately in the room which became the Children’s Library in 1935. The poet’s crest with mottoes, “Wood-notes wild” and “Better a wee bush than nae bield” can still be seen above the door.
The major part of the collection consists of the fifteen hundred or son books which Murison gathered during his lifetime. They range from the modestly produced first edition of Burns poems, published in
Unfortunately, Murison’s copy of the Kilmarnock edition is in far too mutilated a condition to be of much interest or value but the collection does contain number of other early editions, including many so-called “pirate” editions which were produced in Scottish, English and Irish towns during the poet’s lifetime. Among these is the first edition printed in
As well as Burns’ poems, the collection also contains many critical works, essays and translations. Burns’ poetry has been translated into a wide range of languages and the collection included editions in French, German, Flemish, Gaelic, Latin, Italian and many others.
Prints, pottery and other relics also feature in the collection. John Murison’s obsession drove him to collect any kind of object which had some connection with Burns’ life and work. Naturally this included the various engraved portraits of the poet but also extended to the countless commemorative tokens, medals, brooches, and earthenware which began appearing after Burns’ death and continued throughout the nineteenth century. Worth mentioning are the set of Tam o’ Shanter jugs, issued by Ridgway in 1834, and two Wedgewood busts of the poet in white and black basalt.
The Mursion Burns Collection, when it was presented to
In 1953 a printed catalogue of the books in the collection was issued under the sponsorship of the Dunfermline Public House Society. The collection continues to be of interest and benefit to the people of