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 : 17-11-1798
Correspondent : Dugald StewartCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Dugald Stewart gives a sketch of his own professional life, and describes his friendship with Burns.
My dear Sir

          Since I had the pleasure of hearing from you last, I have frequently revolved in my mind the very interesting subject on which you wished me to write to you; but although I have more than once taken the pen in my hand with the intention of complying, as far as I was able, with your request, I have found it so difficult to satisfy myself in conveying all that I think & feel with res-pect to Robert Burns, that I have been tempted to delay my letter from day to day & from week to week. The commencement of my winter labours now reminds me for-cibly of my debts to my Correspondents; and among these, there is none which at this moment I am so anxious to discharge as that which I consider myself as under – both to you, & to the memory of my unfortunate friend. My course of Lectures began a few days ago; but as I shall not be much occupied till after the Christmas vacation, I should still have some leisure time at your disposal, if I knew precisely in what respects your information concerning Burns is defec-tive. In this view, it has occurred to me, that if you MS. could be safely conveyed to Edinburgh, it would enable me to supply what is wanting, in a way at once easier to myself, & more useful to you. If you find this impracticable I confess indeed I should be sorry if your Biographical account were to be sent to the press, without some communication between us about his genius & character; for although my acquaintance with him was of a late date, & I was but little in Ayrshire after it commenced, I saw enough to enable me to form a tolerable judgement of the fidelity of your portrait; more especially as what I did see was in the best & happiest period of his life. If you find the transmission of the MS. inconvenient, be so good as send me specific queries about the points on which you wish to be informed, and I shall either answer them myself, or put them into the hands of those who are better acquainted with his history. As to the particulars mentioned in your last, “the Marriage Laws in Scotland, & the nature of our parochial schools”, I shall transmit sufficient informa-tion for your purpose, along with some letters in Burns’s hand-writing, which I mean to send as soon as I can get the parcel franked,or conveyed by a private hand.
          I shall say nothing about the cruel disappointment I suffered in passing through Liverpool without seeing you. But I am not without hopes that in the course of next Summer I may be again in the same part of England, without being so limited in point of time. I assure you, there is no place whatever where <[it]> I should feel more satisfaction in being able to pass a few days, from what I know of the writings & have heard of the characters of some of your friends, if any additional inducement were wanting beside the pleasure of a personal interview with your-self & M↑r↓. Houldbrooke.

          I ever am my dear Sir

          yours most faithfully

          Dugald Stewart


Notes :

Dugald Stewart(1753-1828): Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1785. In the aftermath of Burns’s demise a number of individuals, Currie included, felt that Stewart might be the best person to undertake the biography and first collected edition of Burns.

[...]although my acquaintance with him was of a late date[...]: On 23rd October 1786 Stewart had Burns as a dinner guest at his home of Catrine Bank near Mauchline. The two continued a friendship during the poet’s long sojourn in Edinburgh during November 1786 to March 1788.

Houldebrooke: Rev. Dr. Theophilus Houlbrooke LL.B, FRS Ed. (1745-1824), originally from Shrewsbury and latterly of Barnes in Surrey. He was a Unitarian clergyman and president of the Liverpool Athenæum, succeeded in that role by William Roscoe. ‘Houldbrooke’ was the pseudonym of the author of the abolitionist tract, A Short Address to the People of Scotland on the subject of the Slave Trade (Edinburgh, 1792), perhaps why Stewart confuses the name.

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