The greater part of Burns's verse was posthumously published, and, as he himself took no care to collect the scattered pieces of occasional verse, different editors have from time to time printed, as his, verses that must be regarded as spurious. Poems chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, by Robert Burns (Kilmarnock, 1786), was followed by an enlarged edition printed in Edinburgh in the next year. Other editions of this book were printed - in London (1787), an enlarged edition at Edinburgh (2 vols., 1793) and a reprint of this in 1794. Of a 1790 edition mentioned by Robert Chambers no traces can be found. Poems by Burns appeared originally in The Caledonian Mercury, The Edinburgh Evening Courant, The Edinburgh Herald, The Edinburgh Advertiser; the London papers, Stuart's Star and Evening Advertiser (subsequently known as The Morning Star), The Morning Chronicle; and in the Edinburgh Magazine and The Scots Magazine. Many poems, most of which had first appeared elsewhere, were printed in a series of penny chap-books, Poetry Original and Select (Brash and Reid, Glasgow), and some appeared separately as broadsides.
A series of tracts issued by Stewart and Meikle (Glasgow, 1796-1799) includes some Burns's numbers, The Jolly Beggars, Holy Willie's Prayer and other poems making their first appearance in this way. The seven numbers of this publication were reissued in January 1800 as The Poetical Miscellany. This was followed by Thomas Stewart's Poems ascribed to Robert Burns (Glasgow, 1801). Burns's songs appeared chiefly in James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum (6 vols., 1787-1803), which he appears after the first volume to have virtually edited, though the two last volumes were published only after his death; and in George Thomson's Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (6 vols., 1793-1841). Only five of the songs done for Thomson appeared during the poet's lifetime, and Thomson's text cannot be regarded with confidence. The Hastie MSS. in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 22,307) include 162 songs, many of them in Burns's handwriting; and the Dalhousie MS., at Brechin Castle, contains Burns's correspondence with Thomson. For a full account of the songs see James C. Dick, The Songs of Robert Burns now first printed with the Melodies for which they were written (2 vols., 1903).
The items in Mr W. Craibe Angus's Printed Works of Robert Burns (1899) number nine hundred and thirty. Only the more important collected editions can be here noticed. Dr Currie was the anonymous editor of the Works of Robert Burns; with an Account of his Life, and a Criticism on his Writings ... (Liverpool, 1800). This was undertaken for the benefit of Burns's family at the desire of his friends, Alexander Cunningham and John Syme. A second and amended edition appeared in 1801, and was followed by others, but Currie's text is neither accurate nor complete. Additional matter appeared in Reliques of Robert Burns ... by R.H. Cromek (London, 1808). In The Works of Robert Burns, With his Life by Allan Cunningham (8 vols., London, 1834) there are many additions and much biographical material. The Works of Robert Burns, edited by James Hogg and William Motherwell (5 vols., 1834-1836, Glasgow and Edinburgh), contains a life of the poet by Hogg, and some useful notes by Motherwell attempting to trace the sources of Burns's songs.
The Correspondence between Burns and Clarinda was edited by W.C. McLehose (Edinburgh, 1843). An improved text of the poems was provided in the second "Aldine Edition" of the Poetical Works (3 vols., 1839), for which Sir H. Nicolas, the editor, made use of many original MSS. In the Life and Works of Robert Burns, edited by Robert Chambers (Edinburgh, 4 vols., 1851-1852; library edition, 1856-1857; new edition, revised by William Wallace, 1896), the poet's works are given in chronological order, interwoven with letters and biography. The text was bowdlerized by Chambers, but the book contained much new and valuable information. Other well-known editions are those of George Gilfillan (2 vols., 1864); of Alexander Smith (Golden Treasury Series, London, 2 vols., 1865); of P. Hately Waddell (Glasgow, 1867); one published by Messrs Blackie & Son, with Dr Currie's memoir and an essay by Prof. Wilson (1843-1844); of W. Scott Douglas (the Kilmarnock edition, 1876, and the "library" edition, 1877-1879), and of Andrew Lang, assisted by W.A. Craigie (London, 1896). The complete correspondence between Burns and Mrs Dunlop was printed in 1898.
A critical edition of the Poetry of Robert Burns, which may be regarded as definitive, and is provided with full notes and variant readings, was prepared by W.E. Henley and T.F. Henderson (4 vols., Edinburgh, 1896-1897; reprinted, 1901), and is generally known as the "Centenary Burns." In vol. iii. the extent of Burns's indebtedness to Scottish folk-song and his methods of adaptation are minutely discussed; vol. iv. contains an essay on "Robert Burns. Life, Genius, Achievement," by W.E. Henley.
The chief original authority for Burns's life is his own letters. The principal "lives" are to be found in the editions just mentioned. His biography has also been written by J. Gibson Lockhart (Life of Burns, Edinburgh, 1828); for the "English Men of Letters" series in 1879 by Prof. J. Campbell Shairp; and by Sir Leslie Stephen in the Dictionary of National Biography (vol. viii., 1886). Among the more important essays on Burns are those by Thomas Carlyle (Edinburgh Review, December 1828); by John Nichol, the writer of the above article (W. Scott Douglas's edition of Burns); by R.L. Stevenson (Familiar Studies of Men and Books); by Auguste Angellier (Robert Burns. La vie et les oeuvres, 2 vols., Paris, 1893); by Lord Rosebery (Robert Burns: Two Addresses in Edinburgh, 1896); by J. Logie Robertson (in In Scottish Fields, Edin., 1890, and Furth in Field, Edin., 1894); and T.F. Henderson (Robert Burns, 1904). There is a selected bibliography in chronological order in W.A. Craigie's Primer of Burns (1896).