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 : 11-06-1787
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : Graham Moore Recipient Location : Unknown
Subject : Currie talks of receiving a copy of Burns’s poems gifted by John Moore.

My dear Graham
      I rec’d your Father’s obliging present of Burns’ poems safe and am ashamed to have so ↑long↓ delayed [expressing] my sense of his very kind attention – Such a present from such a man is doubly valuable . . I did intend to have [addressed] a few lines to Dr. Moore himself on the occasion, but on second thoughts I have trusted my acknowledgements to his son, who has sufficient zeal & eloquence to give them proper colouring of [kindness] & respect –
      The poems of Burns have certainly great merit. An original poet which he may be called in most highly welcome to every man of taste & feeling after the disgust which arises from listening to a long [succession] of Copyers of Copyers who have inherited from each other the same thoughts, the same [expressions] & even the same cadence – This West Country poet (the first I believe which that psalm-singing region has produced) has that admirable simplicity which is the attribute of true Genius – His thoughts are natural & flow easily, & by turns he is humourous pathetic & sublime . . . His [address] to the Mouse has all these characters of writing united, & it is certainly one of the happiest productions of Modern poetry – and what gives it additional value ↑in this case↓, none but a ploughman could have wrote it. I agree with you that Burns ought to keep clear of Politics, & we may add Religion which from its very nature cannot be made the vehicle of good Poetry, as Johnson has demonstrated in his life of Waller in a passage of amazing force & elegance to which I beg your attention . . . -
      Now that we are on the subject of poetry, I wish to mention to you that there is a poem lately published which has been sent me from London entitled “The Wrongs of Africa” that is well worth your perusal – Some say it is Cooper’s, others I hear ascribe it to [Paley]; but be that as it may, it has very considerable poetical beauties & breathes throughout a noble indigonation and an ardent humanity –
      The following description, the beauties of which a sailor will best appreciate, introduces an affecting story –

      Safe on the sheltering coast of wide Benin,
      The stately [vessel] rode; and now the sun,
      Deep in the western flood had quench’d his fires,
      And the wan moon in heaven’s opposing scale,
      Hung her pale lamp; that o’er to breezy main,
      Scatter’d it’s broken radiance – All was still –
      When dim, beneath the sober beam of night
      Was seem the light canoe which tow’rds the ship
      Its hasty course directed - &tca.

Be so good as to get this poem which is published by [Faulder] in New Bond Street, & for the subject’s sake, if for nothing else, [puff] it off wherever you go – Mention this to French who is now in London – You will have much pleasure in meeting together, but I hope you will not detain him long in [MS torn: London] for you know I can very ill spare him here –
      I am glad that you are got so intimate with Julius [Cæser], the most accomplished & most able man of Antiquity – Furious republicans have railed & even raved against him – but I cannot unite in their acclamations – The greatness of his soul & the splendour of is action dazzle my sight, & if his head be bald (to use a figure of Burke’s) the laurels of victory & of genius form a wreath which covers the [nakedness] from ↑view↓ –
      In one respect [Cæser] had advanced two thousand years before his contemporaries – he knew, & he only, how noble it is to forgive – When I reflect that a spirit so magnanimous joined to talents so sublime, was placed at the head of the [Universe] & think on what he would have attempted, & what he might have accomplished, <&> I see the virtuous but deluded Brutus & his murderous [associates] draw their concealed weapons against him with horror & affright, & ↑as he falls↓ I feel the dagger of the bloody [Cæser] cold at my heart –
      The stile of [Cæser] is remarkable for elegance purity & [conciseness] – his peculiarity is the frequent use of the participle past, & of the ablative absolute –
      You will in time extend your attention to Virgil & to Horace – It was a remark of my Father’s the justice of which I have seen abundant occasion to admit, that he who would make a figure in Conversation [MS torn] cially to be well acquainted with three books, Horace Shakespeare & the Bible – . . . . . . I write in a rambling way & therefore you ↑June 11th 1787↓ must expect me to be abrupt & unconnected – There is to be an application to Parliament next [Session] in favour of the [friendless] Africans – Wilberforce is to bring the Subject forward, & ↑his↓ plan I hear is to propose that the traffic in human flesh shall first be restricted & in the course of a limited number of Years entirely abolished – There are many Members who have engaged to support a measure of this kind, & there are many reasons to believe that it will be carried in the end – Speak to your Brother on the subject –
      I have just rec’d an invitation to Will James’ wedding dinner on Thursday – I hope the weather will be cooler … They have made me a trustee in the Marriage Settlement, which is the cause of [Ashton’s] inviting me –
      When you write to me let me know what English Books are your reading – History & the Belles lettres are the most useful kind of reading for a man who is not of a [profession] – Blair’s lectures I should think deserve your particular notice – I have lately been reading Heron’s letters of literature, a work of some learning, some taste, great petulance & much absurdity – I rem’r Pinkerton the writer of them Clerk to a [MS torn] in [Ed’n] within these few years – He has published Scotch poetry in two volumes, but has omitted many of the finest poems – Ask your father if he knows this man, & what his present situation is – Dr Gillies who was here lately speaks rather favourably of him -
I have ↑troubled you with↓ a much longer letter than I had any [MS torn] thoughts of. Mrs Currie is gone to the Country & [MS torn] I am drinking my tea alone in my study – Sometimes I sip half a cup, & sometimes I scribble half a dozen sentences as the thoughts occur – - You will take every thing in good part – - Rem’r me very kindly to French – and respectfully to your father – If my wife were at home she would [MS torn:tainly] send your her best wishes – If I can [MS torn] a leisure hour I will write to French –
      I am always My dear Graham
      Yrs most truely
           Ja Currie


Notes : Dr Moore: John Moore (1729-1802), Burns’s friend and correspondent.

‘The Wrongs of Africa’: poem (1787) by William Roscoe (1753-1831).

Wilberforce: William Wilberforce (1759-1833) leading light of the British anti-slavery movement.

Will Jones: not identified.

Blair’s Lectures: Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783) by Edinburgh Professor and clergyman, Hugh Blair (1718-1800).

Pinkerton: John Pinkerton (1758-1826): prolific writer, born Edinburgh, worked mainly in London and Paris. He edited Ancient Scotish Poems (London, 1786).

Dr Gillies: not identified.

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