Famous People's Cause of Death Robert Burns

About the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns, biography, history and cause of death.



Born: Jan. 25, 1759

Died: July 21, 1796

Cause of Death: Rheumatic fever

Physician's Notes: His real name was Robert Burnes. Now Scotland's most famous son, his poems were not "the result of easy composition but of laborious correction." Raised on a farm, he grew up on a diet of oatmeal, notoriously poor in essential vitamins. When he was 27, Burns published Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. He sold 612 copies, which provided him with a profit of pound20 and a firm reputation. He celebrated his continued success by heavy drinking, which caused him to develop "a flying gout." When a drunken coach driver overturned a vehicle in which he was a passenger, Burns injured his knee so badly that he was in bed for six weeks. Still later, he had two serious riding accidents, one of which left him with a broken arm. The damp air of Dumfries aggravated the injuries until they developed into severe rheumatism. His once jovial outlook was altered by the acute pain caused by the disease, leading him to write, "My body was attacked by that most dreadful distemper, a hypochondria, or confirmed melancholy." Rather than face his temper tantrums, society preferred to shun him. His drinking increased, and he began to suffer from heart palpitations. In 1795 his only daughter died. Severely shocked, he quickly contracted a severe case of rheumatic fever. He lost his appetite, suffered trembling fits, and spent sleepless nights wracked with pain. On his doctor's advice Burns went to a Scottish spa, Brow Well, on the Solway Firth some 20 mi. away. There he drank pints of iron water every day, then walked out into the bitterly cold muddy waters of the Solway and submerged himself to his armpits for as long as he could stand it. He ended his day with a long session of horseback riding, followed by the consumption of several glasses of port wine. This "cure" slowly helped to kill him. Weakened to the point of having to be helped out of his chair and emaciated beyond recognition, Burns again fell victim to the fever. While still in the throes of this latest attack, he was pestered into returning home to settle two trivial debts. He arrived totally exhausted and collapsed into a box bed in the kitchen, where he died four days later while cursing someone who had sent yet another bill. Without doubt, his death was partially due to the crass medical advice he took from his doctor. It is a perverse twist of irony that Burns's posthumous son, born during the funeral service, was named Maxwell in honor of that same doctor.

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