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 : 19-11-1801
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : William Davies Recipient Location : London
Subject : Currie writes approving a cheap edition of Burns, discussing the third edition and noting Stewart & Meikle’s publishing of work he has omitted, especially ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’.

Dear Sir
      I am quite ashamed that your favour of the 9th Octo, should remain unanswered, but more numerous & more pressing engagements in my profession than I ever before experienced, must plead my excuse. I delayed writing also in the expec=tation of hearing from Mr Macneill to whom I had put certain questions respecting his intended publication – Hitherto I have been disappointed. His returning to Edr. without calling here was quite unexpected by me. —
      Mr. Macneill left me the second volume of the intended memoirs in ms, which I have peru=sed. It is much superior to the first volume as it appears in print, which I understand you have seen. He has also left me an inter-leaved Copy of this printed volume, with considerable additions as well as erasures. I have communicated to him my opinions & Strictures on these two volumes, which will perhaps lead to some alterations & enlargements — I have proposed to him to entitle his work the “Life & opinions of Charles McPherson Esqr. or of Hector Macneill Esqr” and to enlarge on all interesting subjects whether of morals taste or criticism as they suggest themselves. I have advised him to finish the whole work (which he may do in the course of the present winter if his health continues good) before he again presents any part – to make the whole three volumes handsome octavo for which a gui=nea may be charged, and to have the printing done here by McCreery – This of course will occa=sion him to Reside here, ^ during the operations of the press & give me an oppor=tunity of offering my opinions in detail — What do you think of this? Perhaps the whole might be included in two handsome Octavos.
      Macneill has not answered me – He is a man of very great truth delicacy & honour, but carries his sensibility to an ex=treme point, & may perhaps have felt my criticisms more than I intended. I very earnestly wish that this publication may be the means of ensuring his independence. He is a man of the truest dignity – His wants are neither numerous nor expensive, and the little he does want he will not want long — He has long laboured under an incurable disease which has brought on premature old age, & which in a very few years at farthest will terminate his career — If this publica=tion could be the means of procuring him something in the form of annuity, <> to enlarge his narrow means, it would an=swer every purpose that his friends could wish. — I am aware that this infor=mation is too imperfect to enable you to form an opinion of the chance of this advantage, yet you will oblige me by communicating what may suggest itself either on the advice I have given him, or on the probable success of the project.
      I am happy that Gilbert Burns has got the copies of his brothers works – Gilbert is an extraordinary man, & will yet be heard of in the world.
      In regard to the publication of the poems of Burns complete in a cheap form with two or three engravings, it meets my approbation entirely, provided you do not think it will interfere with the sale of the third edition. As I shall have no responsibility in regard to this cheap edition, (which of course will not include the life) you may take into your own consideration the propriety of printing the poems which were printed separately by Stewart & Meikle in a form similar to our edition, price 2/6 – One or two of these have been often asked after, particularly Holy Willys prayer”.
      In regard to the third Edition now in hand be so good as to get on with it in you own way at your own con=venience — There are many things in the first volume I wish to enlarge but I shall not be able to execute much of my intentions at present —
      If this 3d. edition is not very numerous a 4th will be wanted in a few years, and the means of improving that very much, are in my mind, if I had time from incessant professional labours [ms damaged:] to give berth to my conceptions —
      Is there any nearer prospect of a third edition of my Medical Reports? I shall have to enlarge them very much – My Gallant friend Capt. Moore is come home in poor health. Two copies I sent him of the Works of Burns to the West-Indies have miscarried. I wish now to present him with as handsome a Copy, as hand=somely bound in green Morrocco, as can be procured — Do me the kindness to attend to this particularly, & make yr. charge to my account.
      Mr Mackintosh paid me a visit of two days lately. He has I find been collecting materials for the life of Cowper the poet. Such a life from his pen would be of the highest value. Mr Mackintosh’s literature & talents are of the very first order – It is a thousand pities they are to be trans=ported to India — If he would sit down in England to write for the press, he might ensure his own independence & do much to retrieve the literary character of the age.
      Leo the Xth is again going on. The Life of Poggio is in the press at McCreery by Mr Shepherd – Mrs Laurence has nearly finished her task of translating Gesner — For a <> prefatory article a few particulars of his life would be desireable —
      I think you expect me to superintend this article.
      Will you have the goodness to apply again for my Philosophical Transac=tions at your convenience.

      I am with respc Compls to Mr Cadell
      Dear Sir
           yrs with regard
           JCurrie.

P.S. Capt Moore is at his fathers Richmond Surry.


Notes :

Macneill: Hector Macneill (1746-1818), Scottish poet.

"Charles McPherson": The Memoirs of Charles Macpherson, 2 vols , (1800 & 1801).

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

Gilbert Burns: (1760-1827), Robert Burns’s brother who took issue with some of Currie’s character portrayal of the poet; in the event, however, he did little to alter the assessment in Currie’s biographical introduction for subsequent editions.

Stewart & Meikle … “Holy Willys prayer”: Stewart and Meikle were Glasgow publishers who were at this time printing previously unpublished works by Burns and representing an annoyance to Currie and his publishers.‘Holy Willie’s Prayer' was suppressed during Burns’s lifetime. Though Cadell & Davies held the copyright to Burns’s works from 1800, Thomas Stewart published Poems Ascribed to Robert Burns (Glasgow, 1801), with the poems, including ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’, reset from his earlier pamphlet series.

Medical Reports: Reports on the Effects of water in Febrile Disease (1797).

Moore: Graham Moore (1764-1843). Glasgow-born distinguished naval officer, later knighted; son of Dr. John Moore (1729-1802) and younger brother to Sir John Moore of Corunna (1761-1809). Currie dedicated the edition of 1800 to him.

Mackintosh … life of Cowper: Sir James Mackintosh, Scottish lawyer, historian, political writer and man of letters who was appointed Chief Judge in Bombay in 1804; his projected life of the English poet, William Cowper (1731-1800) was never written as a discrete, extended work.

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

Life of Poggio … Shepherd: Rev William Shepherd, a Unitarian minister and part of the same Liverpool cultural circle as Currie published his life of the Italian Humanist, Poggio Bracciolini in 1802.

Mrs Laurence … Gesner: Mrs Rose Lawrence (fl 1799-1829), Liverpool friend of Currie’s whose translation of Gesner appeared in 1802.

Philosophical Transactions: publication of the Royal Society.

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