Monday, April 14, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Top-secret plan for Auld Lang Syne to head for the New World

View GalleryBy Craig Brown og

STORED in a custom-made safe within a walk-in strongroom in the depths of Glasgow's Mitchell Library is one of the original manuscripts of Robert Burns's Auld Lang Syne. It does not see the light of day too often.
But later this month, the precious 220-year-old script will be carefully packed into a carry case, padded with polystyrene cut specifically to cushion and secure it and transported across the Atlantic.

With the manuscript under lock and key until it has reached its destination, the prestigious Grolier Club in Manhattan, even the exact date of the journey is a closely guarded secret. When the revered cargo arrives, it will become part of the Scotland Week celebrations in New York.

Unique even among the six remaining copies of what is arguably the best-known song in the world, the document is an irreplaceable part of Scottish cultural history. The remaining music sheets are scattered across the United States and Scotland.

Karen Cunningham, head of libraries at Culture and Sport Glasgow, will accompany the manuscript on the journey.

She said: "The manuscript is in very good condition and we'll have it packed in a way that there won't be any damage.

"The Mitchell's insurance demands we follow strict guidelines when transporting the manuscript. As soon as I arrive, I'll take a car and install it personally at the Grolier Club. My staff have been talking to their staff, and they're happy with the storage and presentation conditions and security."

She added: "It's lasted all these years, and it's more robust than people imagine, but I certainly won't be leaving it lying about."

While in New York, Ms Cunningham will be giving a lecture on the manuscript and the Mitchell Library.

Written by Burns in 1788, the manuscript only came into the library's possession in 1998, after being bought at auction in New York for almost £200,000.

Though Burns is credited with writing the definitive version of Auld Lang Syne, it is believed to have originally existed in Scots oral tradition.

Valued at £250,000, though priceless in terms of historical importance, the manuscript has never been in a major Burns exhibition. That will change next year when it goes on display as part of Homecoming Scotland, a series of events for the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth.

Tom McWilliam, VisitScotland's area director for Glasgow, said: "Scotland Week gives us a fantastic platform to showcase Glasgow and Scotland. Our programme will focus on Homecoming Scotland, showing US consumers why they should come to Scotland in 2009 to join us in our year-long celebrations. The Burns manuscript will be an important element of this."

The manuscript will go on display in the Grolier Club, then the Bryant Park New York Public Library from 30 March to 6 April.

The Grolier Club of New York is America's oldest and largest society for book lovers. Formed in 1884 and named after Jean Grolier, the Renaissance collector renowned for sharing his library, it aims to foster the study of graphic arts.


THE popularity and literary worth of Burns' Auld Lang Syne has meant the surviving six manuscripts of the text are scattered between Scotland and the United States.

Two of the other original manuscripts are in the Burns Cottage Museum in Alloway. The remaining three are in the Library of Congress, the de facto US national library, based in Washington DC; the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (although not on public display), and the Lilley Library, at the Indiana University Bloomington, in the US.

Experts believe the song was originally transcribed by Burns for a collection of old Scots songs called A Select Collection of Scottish Airs which was then published by George Thomson in 1793.

Burns, who in addition to his role as poet was also a collector of folk songs, accompanied the manuscript with the note: "The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man's singing, is enough to recommend any air."

However it is widely accepted that he finished the lyric himself.

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used both in Scotland and in the rest of the world.

The full article contains 741 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.

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