PAGES of Robert Burns’s handwritten prose, written on his employer’s stationery, suggest that the Scottish Bard’s passion for poetry couldn’t escape him during his working day.

The 220-year-old manuscript from the University of Edinburgh’s collection shows Burns’s writing on paper featuring the red watermark of the government’s excise office, where he worked from 1788 until his death in 1796.

The celebrated Scottish poet and lyricist was employed as an exciseman to collect taxes and intercept illegal goods, such as smuggled alcohol. He had previously struggled to earn money as a tenant farmer.

The unique archive document contains notes and poetry that form part of Burns’s essay, Notes On Scottish Song. The essay reflects upon his contributions to publisher James Johnson’s much-loved collection of Scottish folk music, the Scots Musical Museum.

Burns contributed a range of works to the folk music publication, including his famous version of Auld Lang Syne.

This precious insight into how Burns may have spent his time at the excise office came to light through manuscripts bequeathed to the university by antiquarian David Laing.

Studied by students, staff and available to the public, it is the university’s largest archival collection and includes a wide range of historical manuscripts dating from the 16th to the 19th century.

Alongside his notes on excise office stationery, the archive includes a letter to the Earl of Glencairn, a nobleman and patron of Robert Burns, asking for help in getting a job as an exciseman.

His letter includes a copy of his well-known poem, Holy Willie’s Prayer, a satirical rendition about Kirk of Scotland elder Willie Fisher.

Paul Barnaby, the university’s modern literary collections curator, said: “Our collections have many interesting stories to tell about Robert Burns and it is fascinating to see this unique insight into his life and career. We are very fortunate to have these works to help us to gain a broader understanding of Scotland’s most famous poet.”

The university holds a number of manuscripts from Robert Burns in its Centre for Research Collections, including 19 poems, 13 letters and extracts from Notes On Scottish Song.