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 : 28-09-1799
Correspondent : Robert AndersonCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Anderson describes Burns's wide education in literature and outlines his favourite writers. He also explores the 'heaven-taught ploughman' theory and questions Burns's naivety.
Sir,

I was favoured with your letter yesterday; & have procured for you, to send by this day’s coach the “Introduction” & the “Orpheus” The latter is lent, for your use, to be returned to me; it is an exceedingly scarce book, & rarely comes into the hands of the booksellers. Mr Ramsay commends it highly. I have taken the liberty, which you have so politely given me to put into the package two other publications which, I think, may be useful to you; Tytler’s “Remains of K. James”, for the sake of the “Dissertation on Scottish Music”, at the end, & the 2d. vol of “the Bee” which contains Mr Ramsay’s ideas of Scottish Song, in a paper signed [?Runoscole*]. I recollect nothing else on the subject worth sending, since you have got the “Highland Voice Airs”. By the way, the Essay “On the influence of poetry & music on the Highlanders” was, I am fully assured, wholly written by Dr Young Minister of Erskine. I took Mr Ramsay’s account of it; ?only on looking over it, may parts of it appear to me fanciful & unsatisfactory. But you will make a right estimate of it; & of all that has been written by our countrymen formally; as well as of what has been written incidentally by English ↑men-↓; Percy, Hawkins Burney Aitkin & Pattison. Besides ?Pattison’s ?Apolem* many Essays to his ?Leverse* Collections, his “Historical view of the Progress of English Song from the Conquest to the present time” within Europ: Mag: vol. 6 & 7. may be worth consulting. Burns, I know, was familiarly acquainted with all the popular poetry in the English as well as in the Scottish language. I was astonished at the extent of his poetical reading, & the extraordinary retentiveness of his memory. I have heard him repeat whole poems of considerable length. Cunningham ↑& Shenstone↓ were favourites with him, & of the Scottish poets Fergusson. probably as an avowal of some similarity in the circumstances of their lives.
          A Life of this Poet has lately been written by a young friend ?*, from Dumfriesshire, of which I sent you a copy, detached from his Writing, to which it is prefixed, by Dr Pegado, a Portuguese gentleman, who left this place two days ↑ago↓ the purpose to shew his respect for you, Dr Darwin & Dr Ferriar. I gave him a letter to my friend Ferriar, & in composition with our common friend Brown, to you; with a small parcel, for your acquaintance, Thomson’s Pictures of Poetry, & a Ni of the Edinburgh Mag. containing some corrections of Heron’s “Memoir”, relating to Mr Miller, & an original letter of Burns to Mr Miller. The “Memoir” is ?* an injudicious & extravagant performance written to display the author’s talents ↑in panegyric & ?* sentiment↓ rather than to illustrate the life & character of Burns
          It was, I know, a part of the machinery as he called it, of his poetical character to pass for an illiterate ploughman, who wrote poems from inspiration. When I pointed out some evident traces of poetical imitation in his verses, privately, he readily acknowledged his obligations; & even admitted the advantages he enjoyed in poetical composition from the copi verborum, the command of phraseology which the knowledge & use of the English & Scottish dialects afforded him; but in company, he did not suffer his pretensions to pure inspiration to be challenged; & it was seldom done where it might be supposed to affect the success of the subscription for his Poems. Mr ?* was in my house last year, & promised to write you soon after. Since the account is closed, it will not, I suppose, be necessary for me to urge him farther. He introduced him to Glencairn, & was in all his secrets & projects. It is of importance to Mr Millar, that you see the defence of his friend in the Ed. Mag. & it is honourable to Burns. The imitators of Burns are numerous, as you will see in Campbell’s book; Tayler Macaulay Gillivray Picken, Scott Wilson, Crawford Gale Macneil — Wilson & Macneil, especially the latter come nearest him. I send you a new poem of Macneils “The Links of Forth” which I suspect ended through the Press in his absence. I send also, one of the best of the modern Scottish poets Alex Ross; his songs were particularly admired by Burns; & therefore I must put him in. Mr Constable, the bookseller, sends one his sale Catalogues. I purchased the books of him. He is a diligent Collector of scarce & curious books relating to Scottish literature & Antiquities, & his liberal & enterprising spirit, as a reviver of the free publishers, is generally encouraged among us. If you, or any of your friends, want any books in his Catalogues he will serve you. Lord Spencer gets books from him frequently. I write this ↑addition to my letter↓ hastily, at Mr Constable’s desk. to save time. The poetical phenomenom you allude to us our James Thomson, a weaver at Kenleth* in the parish. Colin Maclaurin, the Advocate in his patron, & published the accounts you have seen of him in the newspaper. He shewed me a little biography of him: & proposes to publish a collection if his pieces, by subscription. He is quite illiterate, & cannot write; but his verses are poor indeed. I inlcose a specimen. If you wish to see any other books let me have a line, & they shall be sent. From you I expect a Life of Burns that were, as far as it is possible be honourable to his character, & interesting & useful to the world.

Adieu Dear Sir,

Your’s faithfully

          RO. Anderson

P.S .I inclose Mr Constable Accounts of the price of the books. Which I have paid. –


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