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 : 26-07-1799
Correspondent : George ThomsonCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : George Thomson discusses Burns's letters to his friends Nicol and Ainslie, and describes his attempts to procure them.
Trustees Office Edinr.
26 July 1799

Dear Sir
          Burns’s letters to Nicol being now in my possession, will be sent by the first vessel from Leith to Liverpool, and [MS torn]all immediately go down to enquire for one. Mr Douglas on opening the packet of Nicol’s let-ters, & finding you had them copied, would not part with the Poet’s, ‘till he took a copy, - proceeding you see on the strict principle of reciprocity. It is more than probable that Burns answered two letters of his friend, the one re-lating to his fracas with Dr. Adam rector of the high school, and the other expostulating with & admonishing Burns about some political indiscretion of his at the Dumfries Theatre. As the answer to the last would doubtless be inte-resting, it is to be regretted that it cannot be found. Mr Douglas permitted me to go through all Nicol’s papers in quest of it, but nothing of the kind appeared Should he ever meet with such a thing, he promised to send it to me. There is an excellent humorous letter written in broad Scotch, the only piece of prose of his which I remem-ber to have seen in the vulgar tongue.
          Mr Ainslie positively refuses to give up the original letters of Burns He values them highly he says, and likes to shew them occasionally to particular friends who relish that species of wit which they contain. I urged your reasons for wishing to have them, to no purpose, he will not part with them, - After he had broke open the packet containing his own letters, I of course caused him seal them up again, and they will be returned to ↑you↓ along with the Poet’s letters before mentioned. Mr Duncan took charge of your letter to Mr Ramsay of Ochtertyre, and I understand has trans-mitted a packet received in answer – I trust we shall soon have the happiness of seeing the result of all your labours. – Accept of my thanks for your attention to the little paper which I last sent – By all means, omit whatever is superfluous or improper. Had I ever dreamed that my Letters would be honoured with publication, I would certainly have bestowed much more attention in writing them. – Do not forget a copy for me on fine paper I remain Dear Sir

Yours very respectfully

G Thomson

I am just informed that the Leith & Liverpool packet is to sail this evening from Leith, so that you may depend on my sending the Letters by her


Notes :

[Burns’s letters to Nicol]:
There are 11 extant letters to William Nicol.

[Mr Douglas]:
This may be Alexander Douglas, fellow-member of the Dumfries Volunteers.

[Mr Duncan]:
George Duncan (1771-1831), married, 1796, Christian Currie, daughter of James Currie (1716-73), minister of Middlebie, and Jean Boyd; and sister of Dr. James Currie (1756-1805).

[[Nicol’s] fracas with Dr Adam]:
Burns wrote of this to Ainslie (Letters I, 309).

[humorous letter written in broad Scotch]:
see Letters, I, 120-1. The letter is headed ‘Carlisle, 1st June – or I believe the 39th o’ may rather’.

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