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 : 27-08-1798
Correspondent : William ThomsonCorrespondent Location : Dumfries
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : William Thomson writes with the Minutes of the meeting of Burns's Trustees discussing Currie's edition.
Dear Sir,
          In consequence of yours to M↑r↓. Syme communicating the very agreeable information of the bargain concluded with Mess↑rs↓. Caddell & Davies, we have lost no time in meeting. A Copy of the Minutes of our resolutions is inclosed for the information of Mr. Roscoe in drawing up the necessary deeds. It will be proper to include Mr.McMurdos name along with Dr. Maxwell & Mr Syme as Trustees, and it will be attended to that they are properly the Contractors on the part of the family, as I can only consent so far as my office directs but I consider myself as having no powers to dispose of the property of the pupils however advantageous for them. I shall be glad to hear from you as soon as the necessary deeds have been prepared & am Dear Sir

          Your mo: ob. Serv↑t↓.

                    Will Thomson

[?] 27 august 1798

At a meeting of the Trustees for managing the Subscriptions and affairs of the family of the late Robert Burns-

Present Dr. Maxwell Mr Syme Wm Thomson Factor loco tutoris

The meeting took under them the consideration a letter from Dr. Currie to Mr Syme dated 23d. Current stating that he had concluded a bargain subject to the ratification of the Trustees with Messrs. Cadell and Davis, relative to the posthumous and other works, and after full deliberation on the terms they appear to the meeting to be extremely benificial and such of the family as it must be for the evident utility to accept. It was therefore resolved that Mr. Thomsons should immediately communicate to Dr Currie that the Trustees were ready to enter into the agreement with Cadel and Davis which he as Factor loco tutoris so far as his powers led him approved and gave his entire consent thereto –
          The terms are that the copy right of the post humous works as well as of the former publication shall be conveyed to Messrs. Cadel and Davis, they taking upon themselves the burthen of arranging with the present proprietors of the published works. –
          In consideration of which Conveyance Cadel and Davis shall deliver to the trustees 500 copies of the publication containing the published and posthumous works in 4 vols. Octavo in Boards, and that betwixt [?] and October 1799; In Cash they shall then pay £250 on a Second edition £200 more and on a third £150 more; the number of copies of 2de. of the first and second edition being limited to 2000 each. The above 500 copies are to be delivered free of all kind of expence (Carriage excepted). The paper, printing, correcting and other incidental expence being wholly to be defrayed by the publishers – Out of the Subscribers obtained or that may yet be obtaind for copies of the book, the family are to select 500 to be supplied with the Copies stipulated for, and the remainder are to be assigned to Cadel and Davis, without however pledging that these Subscribers will either accede to the alteration of the terms or for their responsibility, with all which and any trouble & expence that family are to have no concern in any sort.

          Signed John Syme


Notes :

Dr William Maxwell (1760-1834):
Second son of James Maxwell of Kirkconnel; educated in France at Jesuit College of Dinant. As a member of the National Guard he witnessed the execution of Louis XVI. Medical practitioner in Dumfries from 1794, he was suspected of radical political sympathies. Highly regarded by Burns, he treated the poet throughout his last illness. The son born on the day of his father’s funeral was named Maxwell in the doctor’s honour by Jean. Like McMurdo, Syme, and Cunningham, a trustee of the fund for the Burns family.

John McMurdo (1743-1803):
From 1780 to 1797 chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry at Drumlanrig, succeeding his father in the post; in retirement at Dumfries, became one of the trustees of the funds raised for Burns’s widow and children; listed in the agreement for publication of Currie’s edition as ‘John Murdo, Esquire of Hardriggs’.

William Roscoe (1714-1763):
Liverpool lawyer, poet, and historian. Works include Life of Lorenzo de Medici (1796), and The Life of Pope Leo X (1805), the last two being translated into German, French, and Italian. His poem, ‘O’er the vine-covered hills and gay regions of France’, was cited approvingly by Burns in the letter to Mrs. Dunlop which caused the break in their friendship (Letters, ed. Roy, II, 334). In the same month (January 1795) Burns wrote ‘Is there for honest Poverty?’.In 1806 as independent member of parliament for Liverpool, Roscoe spoke out in favour of the abolition of the slave trade, thereby prompting riots by Liverpool slave traders and terminating his career in parliament.

John Syme (1755-1831):
An ensign in the 72nd regiment, he became manager of his father’s estate at Barncailzie but it was lost with the failure of the Ayr Bank. In 1791 he became Distributor of Stamps for Dumfries and Galloway, residing at Ryedale and with his stamp office below the first Burns family Dumfries residence in the Vennel. Syme accompanied Burns on two tours of Galloway (July 1793 and June 1794), giving an account of the earlier to Currie. Burns regarded him very highly, terming him his ‘Supreme Court of Critical Judicature, from which there is no appeal’ (Letters, ed. Roy, II, 354). Alexander Cunningham proposed the fund for the poet’s family to Syme on 20 July 1796 and he was an active participant.

William Thomson:
Dumfries lawyer and member of the Royal Dumfries Volunteers; legal advisor to the Trustees and the poet’s widow.

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