"O WAD SOME POW'R THE GIFTIE GIE US TO SEE OURSELS AS OTHERS SEE US!" No other poet excites such fanatical - and sometimes ignorant - devotion as Robert Burns. His birthday is celebrated each year by Burns Clubs in every continent, and he provides a continuing stimulus to the Scottish tourist industry - 1995 saw the opening of the Burns National Heritage Park at Alloway, where visitors may sample a three-screen audiovisual presentation called 'The Tam o'Shanter Experience'. 'What an antithetical mind!' Lord Byron wrote of Scotland's most famous and feted poet: 'Tenderness, roughness - delicacy, coarseness - sentiment, sensuality - soaring and grovelling - dirt and deity - all mixed up in that compound of inspired clay!' Ian McIntyre's biography, published to mark the bicentenary of Burns's death, strips away myth and legend and explores what lies beneath. It is based meticulously on documentary and archival sources, and uses only the first-hand testimony of those who knew the man. It sets Burns in his historical context, and paints both his emotional life and his political views in vivid colours. On public matters he had no difficulty in holding simultaneously two views that were contradictory. In his private life he could be effortlessly in love with several women at the same time, appallingly cruel one moment, wonderfully tender the next. McIntyre offers a more extensive evaluation of Burns's songs and poetry than most previous biographers. He stresses the importance and quality of the satirical verse, as well as the haunting love poems for which Scotland's 'bard' is best known. In an illuminating final chapter, he examines the extraordinary ramifications assumed after the death of the poet by the Burns legend, a fantastical 'afterlife' bearing little resemblance to biographical reality. Through all this, McIntyre achieves a balance between scepticism and enthusiasm. The 'lewd, amazing peasant of genius' emerges clearer, less idealized, more sharply appreciated - and perhaps more truly great - than from any previous biography.