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 : 22-05-1799
Correspondent : Dugald StewartCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Dugald Stewart praises Burns's genius and describes his own editorial projects, providing notes for Currie.
My dear Sir,

          I had the pleasure yesterday of receiving your letter by Mr. Gladstones. Our friend Mr. Bannatine must have misunderstood my last conversation with him about Burns, when he spoke of MSS. which I had yet to send; as I have neither any in my possession of the smallest value, nor the slightest prospect of being able to procure anything from his other friends which you have not yet seen. If I had been master of my own time, I could have wished to commit to writing my ideas about the most striking features in Burns’s poetical genius;-and this wish, if I recollect right, I mentioned to Mr. B.- But at pre-sent, I have not a single minute which I can call my own, as, in addition to my <[?]> ordinary occupations, I am forced by the importunity of some of my friends, to prepare for the press two papers, which for several weeks will require all the leisure that I can afford to bestow on them. The one is, a Biographical account of dr. Robertson; the other, a Biographical account of dr. Reid. Of the former I executed a very hasty sketch some years ago, which I read before the Royal Society, in hopes that nothing more would be required of me, till the circumstances of the times should be some-what different. But the impatience of his family leaves me no choice; and I must accordingly bring out this memoir in the next volume of our Transactions, which is already in great forwardness. My Account of dr. Reid is scarcely begun; but I should not wish to delay it after the other publication, as my connection with the sub-ject of it was of still longer standing, & of a more intimate nature. - If I can command a few hours in the mean time, I shall not lose sight of Burns, although I have not the most distant hope that I can say any thing which is likely to be of use to you.
          I have not the least objection to your making use of the notes I sent you in any way that you chuse, but I cannot think of my name being mentioned. Various reasons weigh with me on this occasion, independent-ly of the hurry & agitation of mind in which my letter was written. If it were not that I am very unwilling to give you un-necessary trouble, I would request of you to send me a sight of the proof-sheet in which you have occasion to take notice of the particulars I stated, in case I should wish to alter ↑or↓ to enlarge the very imperfect information I had then in my power to communicate.
          I shall avail myself of Mr. Gladstones civility, by sending you a small volume of poems just published here. The Author is a very obscure man from Glasgow, & in very indigent circumstances, but appears to me to possess an uncommon share of genius, sensibility, & taste; and as he is ex-tremely young (not yet one & twenty) I have little doubt that he will one day at-tain a respectable rank among our Eng-lish Poets. I regret that the value of the publication should be so much diminished by the pieces added at the end, and by the execrable prints that deform the volume.

          I ever, am dear Sir,
          most Sincerely yours
          Dugald Stewart.

Edr. 22 May
1799

P.S. Since writing the above, I have seen Mr. Mundell the Printer (to whom Mr. Campbell had sold the Copy-right of his Poem for a trifle) and I find that he would very willingly consent, in consideration of the Author’s nar-row circumstances to ↑publish↓ a splendid edition, with Prints designed & executed by London Artists, for his benefit, if there was a probability that the subscriptions would be such as to afford any considerable profit, after paying the necessary expences. As I feel a sincere interest in this young man, you will oblige me much by writing a few lines to inform me, if such a work would be likely to meet with en-couragement in Liverpool; and also how the poetry is relished by yourself & your frien[MS torn] My Anxiety about the success of this scheme is [MS torn] greater, that the Author with many very valuable qualities, is said to have some peculiarities both in principles & in temper, which render him very unfit for [?pushing] his way in the world.


Notes :

[Biographical account]:
Stewart presented biographical papers, subsequently published, on William Robertson and Thomas Reid to the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Thomas Campbell (1777-1844):
poet, educated at Glasgow University. Mundell published his ‘The Pleasures of Hope’ in April 1799 to the praise of many including Thomas Telford. He offered radical sentiments without being suspected of French revolutionary sympathies.

Robert Mundell: printer in Edinburgh from 1771.

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