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 : 01-09-1801
Correspondent : George ThomsonCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : George Thomson gives remarks on Currie's edition; discusses his song collection.
Dear Sir
          I am altogether ashamed to appear before you, feeling as I do that I ought long ago to have thank’d you not only for the superb copy of Burns’s works which you so kindly sent me, but more particularly for the very handsome & friendly manner in which you brought me forward as the Bard’s Correspondent. This was indeed an act of kindness which it is equally impossible for me ever to forget or repay And when I tell you that I cannot find words to express the gratitude of my heart, believe me I do not use the language of profession, but of Sincerity - I thank you my good Sir a thousand times - Could I in any way return the great obligation I owe you, ‘twould give me the utmost pleasure. I congratulate you on the masterly manner in which you have accomplished the arduous task you undertook The life of Burns will do you immortal honour And the Biographer as well as the Poet will go down to the latest posterity. I never have read any Life, that of Savage excepted, with so much delight & interest. Your prefatory remarks concerning the Scottish Peasantry are admirable What you say of the influence of the national Music & Songs on the manners & character of the people, struck me forcibly. Your investigations, your reasoning, and your reflections, & the elegant language in which they are given, bespeak at once the man of Genius, the Philosopher, the Scholar, & the Gentleman,- far above the feeble praise of my humble pen.-
          In the preface to a new edition of my Songs, (or rather of my Collection,) I have taken the liberty to quote an observation of yours on the important tendency of that species of Poetry associated with national Airs. The musical part of the Work has been revised & improved by Kozeluch. About a month hence the new edition will be published, and as I would wish the daughter of Dr. Currie to have the Work in its most perfect state, I mean to send a copy of it to her by on of the Liverpool ships from Leith - It will be accompanied by another for your amiable & excellent friend Mr. Roscoe, to whom I feel very highly obliged. He honoured me with a kind letter, and his exquisite translation of the Nurse, of which I am not a little proud: And altho’ he had not conferr’d this favour on me, I owe him much for the pleasure which his Lorenzo de Medici has afforded me; It is truly, a finished Work; I am quite delighted with the noble & accomplished Florentine, and in reading the book it often struck me that the mind of the biographer must very much resemble that of his hero - I hope it is true that the age of Leo the 10th. now engages his attention that singularly luminous period of the Arts is well worthy of such an Enquirer His Account would be invaluable - Will you have the goodness to tell him this, and at the same time to offer him my most respectful Compliments.
          I take the present opportunity of sending you a copy of some beautiful Verses, the original of which I sent to your venerable friend Mrs. Dunlop yesterday under a blank cover. They come from an amiable friend of mine, a Lady, whose name I am not at liberty to mention. She writes me thus –

“I very lately met with Burns’s Life Correspondence &c. You may believe that
          “By turns I felt the glowing mind
          Disturb’d, delighted, rais’d, refin’d.”

In short I could not think that any thing out of my domestic circle could so much agitate and interest me after what I have felt and seen.- My admiration of worthy Mrs. Dunlop, which was very high before, was kindled into a high fit of enthusiasm, during the paroxysm of which fit the within truly extempore Lines were pour’d forth, which I have an unaccountable desire to transmit to the amiable Subject of them, in such a way that she should not know from whence they come” &c.
          It has been reported here that you & Mr Roscoe are to visit Scotland this season. If so, you will surely include Edinburgh un your tour How happy I should be to see you both.- Do you remember my sending you a Music book which contained some Observations On Gaelic Airs & Poetry by Mr Ramsay of Auchtertyre? The Lady from whom I borrowed it has applied to me for it again & again. May I beg therefore that you will take the trouble of returning it sometime soon - And if you have no objection to restore Manuscripts, I would like to possess the original Letters of the Bard to me.

I remain with the utmost respect & esteem

          Yours G Thomson


Notes :

Leopold Kozeluch (1747-1818):
composer, pianist, music teacher, and publisher; studied music in Prague and went in 1778 to Vienna where he established his reputation, becoming prime representative of Czech music. His compositions were published widely across Europe and in Britain. From 1804 he became increasingly involved in arranging Scottish, Irish, and Welsh folksongs for George Thomson.

John Ramsay of Ochtertyre (1736-1814):
Educated at Edinburgh and became advocate, 1753. Wrote a series of essays on Scottish life and biographies of deceased friends and relatives. A selection from his extensive writings was published in 1888 as Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Alexander Allardyce. Burns wrote to Nicol, [8 Oct.. 1787], ‘I called at Mr Ramsay’s of Ochtertyre as I came up the country, and am so delighted with him that I shall certainly accept of his invitation to spend a day or two with him as I return’ (Letters, ed. Roy, I, 161). Ramsay was free with advice to Burns, some of it disregarded; and he was visited by Walter Scott six years later.

George Thomson (1757-1851):
Son of a Dunfermline schoolmaster; trained as lawyer’s clerk and in 1780, recommended by John Home, appointed junior clerk to the Board of Trustees in Edinburgh, later becoming chief clerk. In 1792 proposed A Select Collection of Scottish Airs. Burns, to whom he had been introduced by Alexander Cunningham, began contributing songs, September 1792. The first volume appeared, May 1793, containing 7 new songs by Burns. To Burns he emphasised the need to avoid indelicacy and recommended the use of English words. Claiming sole copyright to Burns’s contributions, he regarded his submission of them for inclusion by Currie as a generous gesture. His unsigned obituary for Burns in the London Chronicle, July 1796, acknowledged the poet’s ‘ardent and poetical mind’ but added ‘his talents were often obscured and finally impaired by excess’, a judgement which may have influenced Currie and subsequent commentators. The conclusion of the obituary anticipated the fund-raising appeal with this comment: ‘He has left behind a wife, with five infant children, and in the hourly expectation of a sixth, without any resource but what she may hope from the public sympathy, and the regard due to the memory of her husband. Need we say anything more to awaken the feelings of Benevolence?’.

{Life of Savage]:
Richard Savage (1697-1743) died in prison in Bristol, August 1743. In the same month Dr. Samuel Johnson sent an unsigned letter to The Gentleman’s Magazine announcing the preparation of a biography of him; it was published in February 1744. Johnson had shared with Savage times of hardship and poverty in London, and his Life of Savage differs from his other Lives by focusing more on the personality of the writer than his poetry.

[his [Roscoe’s?] translation of the Nurse]:
[to follow]

[the lady and her verses]:
[to follow]

back to search