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 : 22-01-1803
Correspondent : Cadell & DaviesCorrespondent Location : London
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : The publishers write about progress of a new edition.

Dear Sir –
     It is now a long Time since we had the Pleasure of hearing from you, or writing to you – We hope Mr McCreery is proceeding with your new Edition, to your Satisfaction, and that we shall soon be authorised to announce it as speedily to b[MS torn] published.
     You will be pleased to hear that our Edition of Burns is again getting very low, and, we hope, will favour us with your Advice and Assistance in preparing a new one – Mrs Riddell, whom we had the Pleasure of seeing lately, is very desirous that those Songs, &c. which in the Correspondence with Mr Thomson, &c. are at present given twice, should only be given once, and pointed out some few other Alterations in the Arrangement of the Bard’s Works – but we confess we are, ourselves, very unwilling to disturb the Arrangement, or, in any Way, materially to alter a Publication that has been so well received – In short, our grand Wish is to be guided, on the Occasion, wholly by your Opinion and Advice - Mr Creech wrote us, a few Days since, that he had lately found a good many Poems of Burns’, never printed, and which would make a valuable Addition to a new Edition – We have Thoughts, too, of availing ourselves of an Offer made us by Mr Cunningham, to get Raeburn to make a Copy of his fine Picture of the Bard, in Mr Cunningham’s Possession, and have it sent up here to be well engraved for the new Edition, if we ?can? so manage as to get all this done with sufficient Dispatch –
     Our much-valued Friend is, we imagine, gradually advancing with Leo X, through Mr McCreery’s Press – We have not lately had the Pleasure of any Communication with him, either – Will you be so obliging as present our kindest Remembrances to him, when next you see him?
     We are ever, dear Sir, with sincere Respect and Regard

Your faithful and obedient Servants

Cadell & Davies


Notes :

McCreery: John McCreery (1768-1832), a Liverpool Printer.

Mrs Riddell: Maria Woodley Riddell (1772-1808)

Thomson: 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?’.

Creech: William Creech (1745-1815). Tutor to Lord Kilmaurs, later 14th Earl of Glencairn, who probably introduced him to Burns. Friend of Hugh Blair and Dugald Stewart and publisher of Beattie, Campbell, and Mackenzie. Burns wrote, 16 December 1786 to Robert Aiken, ‘I have found in Mr Creech, who is my agent forsooth, and Mr Smellie who is to be my printer, that honor and goodness of heart which I always expect in Mr Aiken’s friends’ (Letters, ed. Roy, I, 72). Enlarged edition of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect appeared, 17 April 1787, with list of 1,300 subscribers. Burns sold the copyright to Creech, 23 April 1787, for 100 guineas, the sum suggested by Henry Mackenzie.In an unpublished fragment in the Lochryan MS, Burns described Creech as a ‘little, upright, pert, tart, tripping wight’.

Mr. Cunningham to get Raeburn…: If there is a Raeburn portrait of Burns it has not yet come to light. James Mackay writes “It is unfortunate that Henry Raeburn, then Scotland’s foremost portrait painter, was in Italy at the time of Robert’s visit, and thus never produced an authentic portrait of the poet, although he may have touched up one of the several paintings produced by Alexander Nasmyth at the behest of George Thomson” (A Biography of Robert Burns, James Mackay, 1992, 289). Basil Skinner counter argues, “That Raeburn reached Edinburgh on his return from Italy in sufficient time to overlap with Burns’s visits to the city, there is no doubt, and the possibility of finding a portrait of Scotland’s greatest poet by her greatest painter has been too long a lure for enthusiastic and over-optimistic collectors of more than one generation. On the other hand letters from Raeburn to Messrs. Cadell and Davies, the publishers in London, show that he did, in fact, paint a copy of Naysmith’s bust portrait. The most significant of these letters is that of 14 November 1803: ‘According to your order transmitted to me by Mr. Cunningham, I have finished a copy of Burns the poet from the original portrait painted by Mr. Naysmith…and I hope it will also meet with your approbation’” [Basil Skinner Burns: Authentic Likenesses, (second edition Darvel 1990) p 11)].

Raeburn: Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) wrote to Cadell & Davies in November 1803 that he had painted Burns based on the Naysmith portrait, and which, he said, Alexander Cunningham thought a fine piece.

Leo X: The Life and Pontificate of Leo the Tenth (1805) was published by Currie’s close friend William Roscoe (1753-1831).

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