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 : 28-08-1804
Correspondent : Henry MackenzieCorrespondent Location : Office for Taxes, Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Henry Mackenzie mentions unpublished letters by Burns in the hands of George Thomson
Dear Sir,
Your Letter of the 29. July contained but too good an Apology for your Silence; but it gave me very sincere pleasure to be informed, that your Health was now so much re-established as to admit of a return to your former highly useful Occupations, & to the Bosom of your Family. I can give an equally satisfactory Answer to your kind Enquiries after my health, which was in such a State during the Spring & beginning of Summer as to give myself some, & my Friends more uneasiness; but it is now thank God, perfectly re-established.
I feel all the kindness of your Invitation to Liverpool, & [all the value] of a Vizit to that place; but it is always difficult for me to leave Edin.b & this Season particular Business renders it impossible. I am aware of the Facility of accomplishing the Object, & certainly when I can command an Opportunity for the Purpose, will be happy to embrace it. Our Friend Lord Woodhouselee set out Yesterday on aTour Southward, for the benefit of his Health, which has for and of its Objects a Visit to you. He will save me the writing, & you the reading, of an imperfect Account of any thing worth giving an Account of here. I am extremely sorry you could not come forward to Edin.b from Moffat. Our Town is worth looking at to any body; & I think must be still more interesting to one who has known it in its former Days of comparative Simplicity. In some respects we old men think it has not improved; but to the eye it certainly has become much more attractive.
I happen’d to meet lately, at a musical Party, Thomson, the friend of Burns, who spoke to me of You, & of a new Edition of Burns’s Works which he had heard you were preparing. He mentioned his being posessed of some Letters not included in the former Edition, which he could communicate for Insertion, if you should deem it proper, in this. They might, it is very likely, be of little value for that purpose, but if you chuse, I can speak more particularly to Thomson on the Subject, & make any further Enquiry you may suggest.
I by you will return my thanks to your Son for his Letter which you included. He much overrates the little Attentions we had it in our power to show him while in Edin.b. It will give us pleasure to renew them, if his future plans include another Winter here. My James, who has not forgotten his kind reception from your Family, begs his best respects to them. It could have much gratify’d my Daughter to have seen Liverpool, but she had, as is not uncommon with young Ladies, outstayed her appointed Time in London so much as to be desirous of returning by Shortest Route, & as speedily as [possible].
Lord [Craig?], to whose health Relaxation & Exercise are necessary, has been again in England as far as Buxton, but returns hither in a few days to resume his Official Labors. I shall not fail to convey your Remembrances to him. Since it is not easy for Us to meet, it will give me great pleasure to have occasionally the pleasure of your Correspondence, tho from the place whence this is dated you can expect neither long Letters, nor any that are worth being long. They will however, always carry the very sincere Sentiments of esteem & regard with which I am, Dear Sir,

Your very faithful & obed’t Serv.
H Mackenzie


Notes :

Lord Woodhouselee: Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813), Edinburgh lawyer and historian. Famous for advising Burns to excise certain lines from ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ advice with which the poet complied.

Thomson: George Thomson (1757-1851), one of Burns’s two major song editors, with whom Burns began his published association in 1793 with the volume Select Scottish Airs. Thomson’s correspondence with Burns has historically been not very well understood, not least because Currie on receiving some of these letters, used that correspondence so selectively. See J De Lancey Ferguson, ‘Canceled Passages in the Letters of Robert Burns to George Thomson’ in PMLA Vol 43, No. 4 (December 1928).

James Mackenzie: (1780-1870), third son of Henry Mackenzie, like his father a lawyer. He features in the correspondence of Thomas Carlyle.

Lord Craig: William Craig (1745-1813), Edinburgh law lord and part of Mackenzie’s literary circle.

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