ROBERT BURNS. BLACKIE & SON, GLASGOW, EDINBURGH & LONDON. Engraver Robinson, Henry, active 1827-72 and Artist Nasmyth, Alexander, 1758-1840

Bard’s manuscripts to go on display on Burns Day

Burns fans are urged to visit Kelvin Hall, Glasgow on Burns Day (Friday 25 January) for a glance at rare manuscripts containing some of his most provocative social commentary.

Holy Willie’s Prayer (1785) and The Ordination: A Scotch Poem (1786) – both of which explore the use and misuse of religious power in 18th-century Scotland – will sit side-by-side for the first time in many years through this joint display by the National Library of Scotland and The Mitchell Library.

Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development Ben Macpherson said:

“This one-day exhibition is not to be missed. Robert Burns’ poetry, songs and sentiments on the human condition continue to resonate with people the world over and, some 250 years after he developed his work, this exhibition is an exciting opportunity to see two of those original manuscripts close up.

“Burns Day is one of Scotland’s most well-known and best loved national days, where Scots and Scots at heart around the world celebrate Burns’ poetry and affirm some of our country’s most important values – fairness, equality and internationalism.”

Cllr David McDonald, the Chair of Glasgow Life, said:

“Glasgow is home to some priceless treasures, not least our collection of original manuscripts and objects associated with the Bard. To get to see not one, but two original works, albeit for a short period of time, presents an unmissable opportunity on Burns Day. I would urge everyone to get down to the Kelvin Hall and see them for themselves, before enjoying a traditional Burns Night celebration.”

Details of the manuscripts include:

Holy Willie’s Prayer. Written in 1785 to expose the hypocrisy of the Mauchline Kirk elder, William Fisher, Holy Willie’s Prayer is one of the best examples of Burns’s religious satire. In addition to the poem itself, here Burns explains the background to it. From the National Library of Scotland’s collections.

The Ordination: A Scotch Poem. Written in 1786, The Ordination is a satire on the appointment of the evangelical Reverend James Mackinlay (1756–1841) to the Laigh Kirl, Kilmarnock, reflecting conflicts between the traditional and progressive religious ideas within the community. From the Mitchell Library, Glasgow Museums and Collections.

The display will take place at the National Library of Scotland, Kelvin Hall, 1445 Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AW on Friday 25 January, from 11am–3pm. Entry is free. 

Contact Information

Barbara Burke

National Library of Scotland

+44131 623 3738

+447904 791002

Notes to editors


The National Library of Scotland has several hundred manuscripts of, and relating to, Robert Burns and his milieu. It is the second most important collection of Burns’s manuscripts in Scotland after the pre-eminent collection at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway.

At Glasgow Life, the Robert Burns Collection is one of the Mitchell Library’s foundation collections, set up by the Trustees of Stephen Mitchell’s bequest in 1874. It is now recognised as one of the largest Burns Collections in the world, containing over 5,000 items, including many editions of the works, translations, scrapbooks, journals, ephemera, manuscripts and objects. The Collection continues to grow, is searchable on Glasgow Libraries’ online catalogue and can be consulted in the Mitchell Library.