Secret Tax Life Of Robert Burns, The [Radio Scotland]

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2016012020160124 (RS)

Keara Murphy explores the state of poet Robert Burns's finances.

Nowadays a superstar author like JK Rowling can make millions but poor Robert Burns, one of our greatest ever literary stars couldn't even give up his day-time job. Indeed he was lucky to have that job - taxing people as an exciseman. Even with the security of a position in the excise, it turns out that as he lay on his deathbed, he faced a terrifying prospect. He was dying beyond his means, in fear of the debtors' prison. Burns expert Clark McGinn's new research shows that Burns had a habit of overspending. He owed more than his yearly salary to over a dozen tradesmen and if any of them had called in the debt, he would have had to bankrupt his beloved brother Gilbert to get the money. Meanwhile Gilbert's affairs were so shaky, there was no guarantee that calling the debt in wouldn't have bankrupted both of them. How did Burns get into such a precarious position? There was some method in his madness - if he'd lived promotion might have finally allowed him break even - sometime in the year 1800, but poor Burns died in 1796. Keara Murphy explores Burns and money - why couldn't he live off his poems, why did he need that excise job, and how was it that he and Gilbert got into such a mess in the first place.