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 : 12-06-1800
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : Cadell & Davies Recipient Location : London
Subject : Currie discusses distribution numbers to particular towns for his edition.
Dear Sirs Having a private opportunity I enclose you some orders for the “Works of Burns” which you will execute according to your discretion, and at the same time trouble you, I hope for nearly the last time, on the subject of the present Edition. I formerly mentioned to you my wish that you would have the goodness to undertake the distribution of 100 Copies of the Widows, to Subscribers in London; which you very kindly agreed to. Finding however that we could dispose of more than a hundred copies here, I made an arrangement as follows, by which I meant you to have been released from that trouble. 100 Copies to Dumfries 50 — to Ayr 100 — to Glasgow 100 — to Edinburgh 150 — to Liverpool &ca 500 … By direction of Mr Syme the Acting Trustee in Dumfries, the Copies for Edinburgh were addressed to Mr Alexr. Cunningham No3 South Bridge; a hundred copies were shipped ^to him two days ago, in a vessel still lying in our River. Of this I gave notice to Mr Cunningham. — By the post of yesterday I have Mr Cunningham’s reply. He says that ^all the subscribers’ names at Edinburgh have been taken in by the Booksellers, who of course supply the persons on their respective lists. That each of them have ordered (from you I presume) copies to the full amount of their sub=scription, and that of course he cannot dispose of the Copies of the widow. The copies ordered from you by the Edinburgh Booksellers, are, I presume, those shipped by Mr McCreery in sheets, and they are in fact on board the same vessel with the copies of the widow addressed to Mr Cunningham. In these circumstances, I would have re=landed the package containing the last mentioned co=pies, but they were found ^to be at the bottom of the hold, & could not be got out without the greatest inconvenience. And on reflection it struck me that it might be as well that they should go to Edinburgh. For if the Booksellers there have ordered no more copies than their subscribers names, no more in fact than are going <> from Mr McCreery, I cannot doubt that the demand will exceed the supply, and a part of the deposit which you meant to have remained with Mr McCreery here, may probably be better made with Mr Creech. The package directed for Mr Cunningham (which is insured) may therefore be delivered to Mr Creech, and the supply of the Edinburgh market left wholly to the Booksellers. In case you will not have to increase your insurance (if you do insure the books on their postage, which is done for 1 per Cent), but the premium we have paid (31/6) will fall to be charged to you. Under these Circumstances I must recur to your obliging offer, and request of you to deliver 100 copies in boards in London, to subscribers, for the widow, selecting such subscribers as your judgment may approve – In this respect you will judge better than Jean – but as you desire it I have herewith inclosed a printed sheet of the subscription list, with such names marked off as occurred to me. This business will I know oblige you to incur some trouble & expence & therefore I propose that you should pay 30/- ^a copy to the family, as you receive payment, deducting 1/6 from each. In my last letter I made a request for 20 <> of the Heads to be sent by the coach, for 20 copies, of which I gave you some account — I find Mr McCreery has mentioned to you the price of the paper of these copies, contrary to my intention & wish, because it never was my notion that you should pay for the extra-price of the pa=per, but simply that I should receive from you the copies at the same rate as they had been on common paper. I conceived this had been understood ^ between us – but you have I know been at great expence, and if you have any difficulty on this point, I will not say a word farther upon it, but settle the business with McCreery. Still however, I shall want the heads to make up the Copies. If you approve of what I have mentioned on the preceding page, in your next advertise=ment respecting the publication, it would I think be proper to say that “subscribers <> <> may have their copies on application to you”, & thus those <> to whom you do not chuse to send out copies, will know when to apply, and not wait to <> have them delivered at their houses — Thus the business will be simplified. It has occurred to me, that several copies might be sold in Dublin & Cork, and if that market is attempted, it should be attempted early, because if the Works get into demand they may be printed there. There might be a considerable sale also in Philadelphia & New York ^ Quebec – and the same argument will apply for sending them soon to these places, if it be thought of any consequence to send them at all. It is also evident that the “Works” would sell in the East & West-Indies – in short wherever there are Scotchmen; and as Dr Johnson would say, where there are not Scotsmen, there is nothing. I was much pleased with the opinion you had formed of the publication. From one or two of my literary friends I have had equally agreeable reports. In the sketch of Scottish literature, I have touched a mine of considerable riches, which however I wanted Antiquarian lore ^ & time to bring to advantage, even if the occasion had been a proper one to have explored it more deeply. Besides I am here out of the way of all assistance even had I time (which God knows I have not) for such researches. Otherwise I should be tempted to recur to the subject at some future period. The dawning of letters <> in Scotland has been ^traced <> with great talent & research by Mr Pinkerton, with whom I have not the pleasure of being acquainted – It is a curious subject – But the revival of letters ^in that kingdom in the 18th Century is a subject of greater splendour, and might in good hands be made singularly interesting. < I wish I could attempt it. > Liverpool is seized at present with a kind of literary mania. So at least it would appear to a stranger. The shares in our Athenaeum, since the library has been opened, have risen to 40 Guineas which is 30 beyond the first cost – and a new Institution of the same kind is setting on foot on the foundation of the old Liverpool Circulating Library to which there are already 700 Subscribers at 12 guineas each! <> ^ besides a guinea per annum to the Coffee-room & half a guinea to the library. There was a general meeting of subscribers a few days ago & a Committee elected to consider the scheme. Of this Committee (consisting of 21) are Mr Case, Mr Roscoe, Dr Rutter & myself, tho’ we had no share in setting the scheme on foot. On this occasion our Booksellers might take a fresh alarm – But I presume they are now convinced that such institutions do not injure the sale of Books, as you very clearly contended. I have a nephew in the City, James Currie Cairncross, son to Mr Cairncross Surgeon No6 Pancras Lane– I wish to make him a present of Heyne’s Virgil handsomely bound on account of his success at Dr [???]combes — Would you have the goodness to under=take this Commission for me & charge the work (which please send to him) to my account. This rambling letter I write in great haste. You will have heard that the “Works of Burns” are advertised <> & published here – They go off well — I mean to write to the Duchess of Gordon, Ms Walker, & one or two others of our fashionable persons when I hear the Works are out.— I wish therefore the copies of these two ladies to be sent to them ^soon. I shall mention that I have desired it & request them to make what contribution they may please to the widow, thro’ you. Probably they may not pro=duce any thing, but it can do no harm, [same hand, different ink:] and it will remind them that they are to pay for ^their copies. Will you have the goodness also to send as soon as convenient the Marquis of Lansdown’s Copy to him (by the Coach) at Bath ; I am Dear Sirs Yr. faithful St JCurrie P.S. That I may finish all my Commissions at once, I <> beg to add that Dr Valpy of Reading has paid me for two copies — Will you have the goodness to send them addressed to him, to the Office of the Star Evening paper, and charge them to me They may be considered as two of Mrs.Burns’ & you will thus have ^only 98 besides to deliver.— If my arrangement respecting the 100 copies sent to Mr Cunningham meets your approbation, you will have the goodness to give directions to Mr Creech to receive them.— I inclose to you various orders for copies – one from Inverness from Messrs. Young and Imray for 50 Copies, which if sent from Edinr. will itself take off half of the surplus number going to Mr Creech — Inverness will be more easily supplied from your side of the Island than from ours. There is also an order from Birmingham & another from Newcastle. Adieu JC

Notes :

Widow: Jean (Armour) Burns (1765-1834), the poet’s widow.

Syme: John Syme (1755-1831) of Ryedale, Distributor of Stamps in Dumfries, a close friend of the poet.

Alexr. Cunningham: Alexander Cunningham (c.1763-1812), Edinburgh lawyer who was one of Burns’s closest friends and most regular correspondents. On 20 July 1796 he proposed to Syme the setting up of the fund for the peot’s widow and children.

McCreery: John McCreery (1768-1832), a Liverpool Printer.

Dr Johnson … there is nothing: seemingly, not a direct quotation of Samuel Johnson though it may be a paraphrase of his question, "What enemy would invade Scotland, where there is nothing to be got?” found in Boswell’s biography of Johnson.

Pinkerton John Pinkerton (1758-1826): prolific writer, born Edinburgh, worked mainly in London and Paris. Publications range from Essay on Medals (1784) and Letters on Literature (1785) to Walpoliana (1799) and Tetralogy, or A Treatise on Rocks (1811). Particularly controversial was his Dissertation on the Progress of the Scythians or Goths (1787).

Athenaeum originally, the temple of Athene, then the name of college of higher education founded by the Emperor Hadrian, c.133; revived as name for literary institutions. Liverpool Athenaeum developed from activities of Liverpool Literary Society; plans drawn up, 1797, and premises opened in Church St., 1799. Funded by subscription, it had Currie and Roscoe as founder members. Currie alludes to it in his letter to Cadell & Davies, 27 June 1799.

Mr Case: ?Thomas or Clayton Case (both Liverpool merchants).

Mr Roscoe: William Roscoe (1753-1831), literary scholar, writer, historian, botanist and politician. A prominent member of the Unitarian community in Liverpool, Roscoe, like Dugald Stewart, was another early candidate for providing the life and edition of Burns prior to its undertaking by Currie.

Dr Rutter: John Rutter, Liverpool physician, friend and colleague of Currie’s and likewise a graduate of the University of Edinburgh.

James Currie Cairncross: named for James Curie, son of London surgeon, Andrew Cairncross (husband of Currie’s sister Isobel).

Heyne’s Virgil: the German Christian Gottlob Heyne (1729-1812) translated his Virgil (published in London, 1793).

Dr Holcombes not identified.

Duchess of Gordon: Jane, Duchess of Gordon (1746-1812) who on several occasions sought out Burns to join her drawing-room society.

Ms Walker: Not identified.

Dr Valpy of Reading: Richard Valpy (1754-1836), Headmaster of Reading Grammar School for over fifty years.

Mrs Burns: Jean (Armour) Burns (1765-1834), the poet’s widow.

Creech: (1745-1815) Tutor to Lord Kilmaurs, later 14th Earl of Glencairn, who probably introduced him to Burns. Friend of Hugh Blair and Dugald Stewart and publisher of Beattie, Campbell, and Mackenzie. Burns wrote, 16 December 1786 to Robert Aiken, ‘I have found in Mr Creech, who is my agent forsooth, and Mr Smellie who is to be my printer, that honor and goodness of heart which I always expect in Mr Aiken’s friends’ (Letters, ed. Roy, I, 72). Enlarged edition of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect appeared, 17 April 1787, with list of 1,300 subscribers. Burns sold the copyright to Creech, 23 April 1787, for 100 guineas, the sum suggested by Henry Mackenzie.In an unpublished fragment in the Lochryan MS, Burns described Creech as a ‘little, upright, pert, tart, tripping wight’.

Young and Imray: booksellers in Inverness.

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