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 : 15-08-1800
Correspondent : James MackintoshCorrespondent Location : [?Seile] Street, Lincolns Inn, London
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : James Mackintosh writes to praise Currie's edition and discusses various bibliophilic matters.
My Dear Sir,
Your letter found me in a disposition in which it would have been difficult for me to have refused you anything for I had just been reading your edition of Burns which charms me as much by the generosity of the Sentiments which gave rise to it as by the ingenious & elegant criticism with which it abounds. I scarcely am acquainted with any book which shews so happy an union of a Man of taste with a Man of Science that you had higher claims to respect than your genius & learning I had long known from our Friend Scarlett a most unexceptionable witness both respect to ↑the↓ virtues & talents of those whom he commends, being himself one of the most amiable as well as one of the most intelligent men I ever knew. & having scarce any fault that I know except a little tendency to fastidiousness which however adds weight to his testimony when he chuses to praise, especially when he uses such warm language of praise as he always does when he speaks of you – To have the pleasure of corresponding with you after having so long admired you seems something like the pleasing idea my fancy has sometimes delighted to form of meeting the greatmen of past times in another State of existence.
I am (very unwillingly) detained in town in this stifling weather by business at the Cockpit – our Court of the Law of Nations.- This business must be my excuse for having so imperfectly complied with your request. I should have been very proud of contributing more effectually towards the formation of such a noble Library which does so much honour to the taste & spirit of your great [MS torn]n _ The Catalogue on public Law is I think pretty complete _ On the Laws of Rome, France, England & Scotland it only contains the principal writers which I presume is all you wish – with respect to the Schoolmen & the reviewers of literature I have referred you to Brucker _ if you have him not he ought to be procured for the Athanaeum (such men as you & Mr. Roscoe justify the name) The only way of procuring these old books will be to give orders to ↑booksellers to↓ pick them as they may come into the market. It will be a matter of uncertainty & delay to find them. The German Booksellers here by sending orders to Leipsic might help you considerably._
The English writers of the seventeenth Century are invaluable if they had not wasted their mighty powers on absurd Controversies of theology & if they had chosen an English arrangement of words instead of a Latin one they would have been as permanently famous as their great genius deserved to be. You are well acquainted with Bacon Raleigh, Hooker, Burton, Milton’s prose, & above all Barrow in whom alone the full force & compass of our language can be [MS torn] discovered _ All the works of B.↑p↓ Jeremy Taylor (one of [MS torn] most extraordinary men that the world ever saw/have [MS torn] indisputable little to a place in your Collection – as the English Genius during the last age was chiefly exerted in theology it seems to me that any Library which does not contain all [MS torn] famous Sermons of that period would present a chasm in the history not only of our language but of our national Genius._ Is your Collection of English history particularly constitutional & parliamentary history large? - It is an extensive but most interesting department. There is a great collection of French Memoires from Ioinville to the present time. There is a very curious collection of all the information about China since the Lettres edificantes published at Paris between 1774 & 1784 under the title of Memoires Chinois. You are acquainted with the new edition of Buffon which Sonnini is publishing. If you will <[?]> my pride so far as to employ me in helping you to procure any books you desire which my situation in London may make it easier for me to get you will do me a real favour especially as in that Case I may hope sometimes to have the pleasure of hearing from you – If your Catalogue be printed & if you would send me a Copy I should in a few days send you a list of such desiderata as I could discover – By the end of next week I am going into South Wales where I pass the autumn – If you should favour me with a letter during that time my address will be Cresselly near Narbeth – Pembrokeshire, Adieu My Dear Sir _ Believe me to be yours with esteem & admiration

James Mackintosh


Notes :

Athenaeum: originally, the temple of Athene, then the name of college of higher education founded by the Emperor Hadrian, c.133; revived as name for literary institutions. Liverpool Athenaeum developed from activities of Liverpool Literary Society; plans drawn up, 1797, and premises opened in Church St., 1799. Funded by subscription, it had Currie and Roscoe as founder members. Currie alludes to it in his letter to Cadell & Davies, 27 June 1799.

Bacon: Francis Bacon (1561-1626): lawyer, politician, and philosopher. His many works, including Essays (1597) laid the foundations of the natural sciences.

Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-67): theologian and preacher. The Liberty of Prophesying (1647) was a plea for tolerance and freedom of speech. His Sermons (1651; 1653) and other prose works are models of eloquence.

Brucker: Johann Jakob Brucker (1696-1770): historian and biographer, born Augsburg. His many works include Historia Critica Philosophiae (5 vols., 1742-44).

Burton: Robert Burton (1577-1639): author of the Anatomy of Melancholy (1621); revered by Johnson, and variously influential on Milton, Lamb, Sterne, and Byron.

Buffon: George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-88): Studied law at Dijon, then turned to natural science, producing Histoire Naturelle (15 vols., 1749-67).

Hooker: Richard Hooker (1554-1600), theologian and philosopher whose Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594) is arguably the earliest great philosophical work in English. A model of English prose excellence, his work is habitually termed ‘judicious’.

Leipsic: Leipzig, city on the plain of Saxony; commercial, legal, educational, and publishing centre, with university founded 1408. Leipzig fairs (3 annually), dating back to 12th century, were especially prosperous in late 18th century, Leipzig rivalling London and Paris as a centre of publishing.

James Macintosh (1765-1832): philosopher and politician; studied at King’s College, Aberdeen, medicine and then law at Edinburgh, and became distinguished forensic lawyer. Vindiciae Gallicae (1791), his reply to Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, established him as one of the foremost liberal thinkers. Appointed secretary of the Friends of the People, 1792, which sought parliamentary reform by constitutional means; gave outstanding series of lectures, 1799, at Lincoln’s Inn on the law of nature and nations. His successful defence, Feb. 1803, of Peltier, accused of libelling Buonaparte, was translated into French by Mme. De Stael. Knighted 1804. Contributed to the Edinburgh Review; writings include Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy (1831). Milton: John Milton (1608-74): great English poet, prose writer, and Latinist. His greatest prose work, Areopagitica, a Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing (1644), is a key defence of freedom of speech.

Raleigh: Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618): Elizabethan adventurer, writer, and politician. In captivity he wrote the first volume of his History of the World (1614), The Prerogative of Parliament (1615, published 1628), The Cabinet Council (published by Milton in 1658), A Discourse of War, and an appeal for free trade, Observations on Trade and Commerce.

Scarlett: James Scarlett (1769-1844): lawyer and politician; born Jamaica, educated at Cambridge. Appointed Attorney-General and knighted, 1827.

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