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 : 08-07-1800
Correspondent : Alexander Fraser TytlerCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Tytler writes in praise of Currie's edition and discusses the suppression of Burns's poetry. He discusses the work of Allan Ramsay.
Dear Sir
          I sit down to thank you for the very high pleasure I have received from the perusal of The Life and Works of Burns. Your part in that publication does you infinite honour as an able writer and judicious critic. I do not recollect ever to have met with a more pleasing or instructive piece of Biography than your Life of our illustrious Bard: And I give you credit particularly for the fine moral Lesson which you have so powerfully inculcated, (a lesson useful indeed to all, but of particular utility to men of splendid talents) from the latter scenes and melancholy termination of that bright, but violent career. The delicacy too with which you have painted the defects ↑of our poor friend↓ without impairing the force of the moral picture, is deserving of the highest praise - I know it was the opinion of some friends of the Bard’s and of mine, that it were desireable in any account of his Life that a veil should be thrown upon every circumstance of that unfortunate defect in the structure of his mind which you have well termed “the weakness of volition” to which all his Errors, and at length his fate, were assignable. But I ever thought that this was a false and a fastidious refinement, and that the Biographer of poor Burns would fail in the main part of his duty if he neglected strongly to enforce, but with a delicate hand & feeling heart that most important moral document which a true delineation of his character and Life supply. Surely the purpose of Biography is not “to soothe the dull, cold ear of death” but to warn and instruct the living -
          On the incidental topics of discussion, as the observations on the character of the Scottish Peasantry, the connection of Patriotism with the social and domestic affections, the important Question whether the bent of the Genius should invariably be followed in Education - on all these subjects your observations are at once ingenious, just and useful - But as one is more particularly struck when he meets with a continued train of Thought which reflects as it were, his own Opinions, and even those which he has deliberately committed to writing, so I have been <[?particularly]> singularly pleased with your critical observations on the Genius of Allan Ramsay, and with your apology for the use of the Scottish Dialect in our native Poetry, which so wonderfully coincide with what I have recently given to the Public in the New Edition of the Poems of Ramsay, that I am persuaded every reader will conclude that we had exchanged our Thoughts upon the subject in the most ample and unreserved discussion.- I know not whether you have yet seen the new Edition of Ramsay printed by Strahan Cadell and Davis, and published in a few weeks ↑ago↓ - I am sure when you see it, you will be struck with the coincidence as well as I. – The only part I have in that Edition are the Remarks on the Genius and writings of Ramsay, an Essay of about 100 pages _-with the Life of the Poet, the arrangement of the works &c I have no concern whatever. The Remarks I furnished at the request of my friends Strahan and Davies who earnestly asked them of me _ The Biographer ↑of Ramsay↓ I believe you will be at no loss to discover, from the peculiarities of his Style. But I am rather displeased at seeing the prefatory Advertisement, which appears to attribute the Life and Remarks to the same Pen. I truly have no ambition to share the honours which are due to another.
          Wishing you dear Sir, every thing that is good and prosperous, and trusting that when you visit this Country I shall have the pleasure of seeing you, I am with Esteem

          Your most obedient & most faithful humble Servant

                    Alex. Fraser Tytler

[added in pencil:] (Lord Woodhouselee)


Notes :

Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813):
Lawyer, essayist, and minor poet, he was son of William Tytler of Woodhouslee. In 1786 he became sole Professor of Universal History at Edinburgh University and in 1790 Judge-Advocate of Scotland. Burns valued his views of his work (see Letters, II, 140, 167) and, having sent Tytler a draft of ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, gave this response to his criticism of the lines, ‘Three lawyers’ tongues…in every neuk’: ‘As to the faults you detected in the piece, they are truly there: one of them, the hit at the lawyer and priest, I shall cut out’ (Letters II,85)

New Edition of the Poems of Ramsay:
The Poems of Allan Ramsay. A New Edition, Corrected and Enlarged; With a Glossary. To Which are Prefixed, A Life Of The Author, From Authentic Documents; And Remarks On His Poems, From a Large View of Their Merits. In two Volumes. London: Printed by A. Strahan, Printers Street, For T. Cadell Jun. And W. Davies, Strand. 1800. The ‘Remarks’ were by Fraser Tytler.

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