Left: James Currie. Right: a portrait of Burns by Archibald Skirving, published in The Works of Robert Burns, by Blackie and Son, Glasgow, 1854.
Date : 27-09-1800
Correspondent : Archibald LawrieCorrespondent Location : St Margaret's Hill, Near Kilmarnock
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Archibald Lawrie gives Currie a description of Burns at Edinburgh, describing his entertainment and the lectures attended by the poet.
[…] down a long dark misty close, his room up a flight of dark stairs lighted by one window, which whatever light it might throw on the sheet of white paper then before him could contribute but little to enliven his mind then only enlightened by the native sentiments of a warm & benevolent heart not yet tainted by the cold and dissipated manners of a Town life -. At this time he was much engaged in Company; on the mantle piece above his chimney he had a small bit of white paper pasted up on my observing written on it the names of Earl Glenca[MS torn] Sir John Whitefoord &c &c – I asked him what it meant he told me it was invitations to dinner & supper for weeks to come that his old rhyming jade of a muse had introduced him to such a train & tribe of strangers that ↑he had↓ nothing to do but to visit the Great; and as he had a strong aversion at making promises without fulfilling them he had pasted up the names of friends with the dates of their invitations lest he should make any mistakes. Such was his fame at this time in Edinr - One day on my conversing with him on the Street and mentioning the name of Burns a crowd instantly collected around him from which he sprung like an arrow from a Bow exclaiming “this will not do” a wonder lasts but nine days”, - - . upon another occasion as I met with him on my informing him that I was just on the way to attend one of the professors Lectures (professor Stewart) he expressed a desire to go with me, adding as he had never been under the roof of a College nor heard a Lecture that it would be something new to him & matter of great entertainment he accordingly accompany’d me but never was I more delighted in my life than with the expression of his Countenance during the Lecture & the striking remarks he made upon it when it was over, whither the animated & eloquent Style of professor Stewart, or the novelty of the scene had charmed him I do not know; but the impression it made on him was altogether as [MS torn] Thus sir; have I presumed to trouble [MS torn: you to] whom I am an entire stranger with these few particulars respecting our much lamented friend, I wish my letter had been less copious & more interesting, but if these particulars can be of any use you are extremely welcome to them; if not they will at least shew my desire to serve to cause in which you have so humanely engaged; most sincerely wishing that your benevolent efforts [MS faded]d with the success which they so justly deserve, I remain with much respect Dear Sir your very obedient & most humble servant,

Arch↑d↓ Lawrie

PS_ I beg you will put my name down as a subscriber for the 2↑d↓ Edition - and as I have a particular affection for the original letter of Burns now enclosed I beg it may be returned.- Please


Notes :

Archibald Lawrie (1768-1837): Son of Revd. George Lawrie of Loudoun whom he succeeded in 1799. A student at Edinburgh University during Burns’s sojourns in the capital, he socialised with the poet. George Lawrie had commended the Kilmarnock edition to Thomas Blacklock. After visiting the Lawrie family in late October 1786 Burns described them to Archibald as representing ‘one of the sweetest scenes of domestic Peace and kindred Love that at I ever saw’ (Letters I, 61).

Dugald Stewart (1753-1828): Professor of Mathematics at Edinburgh University, 1775-85; thereafter Professor of Moral Philosophy. At Catrine House, Stewart’s home near Mauchline, Burns had met Lord Daer, 23 October 1786. Burns wrote two days later, ‘I had the honour of paying my devoirs to that plain, honest, worthy man, the Professor’ (Letters I, 60) One of the foremost thinkers and teachers of his day, Stewart was greatly respected by Burns.

James Cunningham, 14th Earl of Glencairn (1749-91): Born at Finlayston, he succeeded his father in 1775, his elder brother having died earlier. He was one of Burns’s foremost patrons. Burns wrote to Mrs. Dunlop, 22 March 1787, ‘The noble Earl of Glencairn, to whom I owe more than to any man of earth, does me the honor of giving me his strictures: his hints, with respect to impropriety or indelicacy, I follow implicitly’ (Letters I, 100). His death at Falmouth in 1791 prompted Burns’s ‘Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn’.

Sir John Whitefoord (1734-1803): Third Baronet of Blairquhan, he inherited Ballochmyle estate. Master of St. James’s Lodge, Tarbolton, 1782, on its separation from St. David’s Lodge; Burns was elected depute Master, 27 July 1784. After the collapse of Douglas, Heron & Co.’s bank forced the sale of Ballochmyle in 178, he retired to Edinburgh. Whitefoord is mentioned by the poet as one of those by whom he was ‘generously Patronised’ (Letters I, 69) on his arrival in the capital.

‘a wonder lasts but nine days’: Cf. Burns in a letter of 16 December 1786: ‘Various concurring circumstances have raised my fame as a Poet to a height which I am absolutely certain I have not merits to support; and I look down on the future as I would into the bottomless pit’ (Letters I, 73).

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