You could stock a fair sized library with all the books that have been written about Scotland's national bard, Robert Burns, and you could be forgiven for thinking that everything it was possible to say about him - certainly everything it was worth saying about him - had already been said. "Growling in the Kennel of Justice: Lawyers' Reflections on the Legacy of Robert Burns" by Allan Nicolson proves that with sufficient ingenuity, research and ability, it is still possible for an author to find a new, interesting, and thoroughly worthwhile angle on this well covered subject. Still better, this book shows how shining new light from an unusual angle on Robert Burns can help illuminate aspects of the wider society in Scotland at the time.
The title of the book comes from a comment made by Burns in a letter: "When my father died, his all went among the Hell-hounds that growl in the Kennel of Justice." Burns, it seems, did not have a high regard for lawyers, certainly at this point in his life. But what did the many lawyers who came into contact with Burns think of him? Many had the opportunity to form a view. Burns' life was punctuated with legal disputes of one form or another, whether to do with bank failure, land dispute, threat of dismissal, breach of copyright, and of course, multiple claims for support from illegitimate children. Even Sir Walter Scott, who only met Burns once, would have formed clear views on his life and his work.
In his introduction, Allan Nicolson says "This is a work of quasi-fiction. Not everything in the recollections actually happened, but I am satisfied that everything could have happened..." The main body of the book comprises the recollections of 22 lawyers who in one way or another interacted withRobert Burns during his life. They are set out chronologically, and between them give a fascinating new account of Burns' life. Significant events, legal wrangles and documents are real, and the author has drawn on his (obviously) extensive research to fill gaps and to give each of these lawyers a voice. The result tells us nearly as much about Scotland at the time and, especially, about its legal processes, as it does about Burns, and the end result is a "must read" for all those interested in the life of the bard.