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 : 19-02-1797
Correspondent : William RoscoeCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Roscoe writes of Burns's famous biographical letter to John Moore; as well as political and literary matters.

My dear Sir

      Before I received your welcome Letter I had begun an Epistle to you which I shall now throw aside to condense what I have to say— After passing a pleasant day with Will. Smyth at Cambridge we proceeded to London he having accompanied me in the chaise 27 miles on the road & walked back the following morning at the Stretch of Cambridge
      Soon after I got to Town I called on Dr Aikin who engaged me to accompany him on Wednesday Evening last to a Club at the Chapter Coffee house St. Paul’s Church Yd. where we were to meet Mr. Porson Mr. Southey & other notorious characters — These Gentn. did not make their appearance but there were about a dozen others & amongst them Mr Friend who was dismissed from Cambe. . Dr. Tattersall was also of the party & to him I delivered your Letter after having first communicated it to Dr. Aikin who thought it both proper & necessary – I could not then speak to him on the subject but I gave him my address since which I have not heard from him - - probably he will address you himself as I did not inform him that I was apprised of the Contents & this will perhaps be the best, for I perfectly agree with you that no good can be derived from making the matter more public & your Letter has I hope nipt it in the bud – As to the purport of ↑your Letter↓ it was certainly keen enough even if you had known him to be the author of the report, which I am sorry to say is I believe certainly the case. I have explained the matter to Aikin. & if nothing further arises from it shall let the ↑business↓ rest –
      I some time since found Mrs. Riddell & delivered your parcel – Her Childn. are very much indisposed with the hooping Cough - & one of them dangerously ill – When all is right at home, I find ?hdc time paper in fashionable life, with the Duchess of G - &c – She paid us a visit the other morning, & we are to have some future interviews – I hear nothing of Mr. R— nor thought it necessary to call him to her recollection – She is in lodgings & in all respects just the same as when we saw her in Liverpool.
      Your introduction to Dr. Moore was received by him with great kindness, & has been the source of much satisfaction to me — My Wife & I dined there on Thursday – The party were Dr., Mrs., & Miss Moore - The Drs. 2 sons James, the Surgeon, & Chas. the Lawyer – Mr. Gyfford the Poet Fuseli – Ma Femme & myself. I hope I need not say our time passed very pleasantly – The Dr. is full of anecdote Fuseli is a Hero in conversation – Chas. gave us some imitations of the Oratory of Burke, & Dundas, &c - Gyfford is a little, rather common looking man, but shrewd & intelligent, tho not very talkative – I have paid the Dr. several morning visits, & he has called on me. At one of these he shew’d me the original of Burns’s Life, & several other Letters, papers, & poems – All of wch he says are at your service if you write the Life – He will also consent, I doubt not, to his Letters being printed after having first perused them. Fuseli is an old acquaintance of the Drs., whom he calls a good unctious sociable family man.
      Soon after my arrival in Town I called at Lord Orfords’s, but found him dangerously ill, & not in a state to be seen. I therefore introduced myself to his intimate friends, the Miss Berrys, who resided a long time in Italy, & with whom I dined yesterday – They told me they had mentioned to him that I was in Town, to which he answered - “Alas it is too late – I shall never see him—” He afterwards said “It is a melancholy thing to be so much dead, & so much alive.” – It is not yet improbable that he may so far recover as that I may get a sight of him, which I confess would much gratify my curiosity.
      I have been frequently with the M. at morning visits, & am to dine with him on Tuesday. at one of these morning calls, I met with Mr. Grey, & had a good deal of interesting conversation with him & the M.; & yesterday I met Mr. Fox there, & had a long discussion on the face of affairs at home & abroad &c. – In these accidental recontres I consider myself fortunate; but I shall not at present attempt to sketch the conversation that took place – All I shall say is that opposition, to judge from its leading members, seems to have no certain system or bond of union – ut nec p nec caput uni peddatur formæ – Whether these visits to the M. are mere ceremony, or portend some new arrangement I know not, but presume the former. I left Mr. G. with the M. but sat out Mr. F. as he instantly left the room when I got up to go away—
      The People here begin to talk about the French preparations &c. but nobody seems to care. The fact is they are too busy to attend to such matters – “Two shall be grinding at the Irish &c.” you are too well read in the sacred volumes to stand in need of an interpretation. Your Letter mentions two circumstances which give real pleasure – Your commendation of my Son, & Dr. Cromptons perseverance in his intention to purchase Eaton – I consider him as a valuable acquisn. to any neighbourhood –
      The next week I mean to pay a visit to both Houses of Parliament when if any thing occurs worth while, you shall hear from me again – In the mean time believe me – with kindest respect to Mrs. Currie – in wch my Wife desires to join

      Your ever affectionate friend

      Sunday Morning 19th. Feb.- 96.

      W. Roscoe

[Marginal insertion R2: I was detected the other day dining at Gray’s Inn which - by Creevy whichever &c – risum teneatis?

Monday 20th. They talk of an important change in the highest department of Admn. – I think the rumour not intirely without foundn. ]

[in fact posted Feb 20, 1797]


Notes :

Will. Smyth at Cambridge: William Smyth (1765-1849), eventually Professor of Modern History there.

Dr Aikin: John Aikin (1747 - 1822), medical doctor and song scholar.

the Chapter Coffee house: St. Paul’s Church Yd. although a coffee house chiefly frequented by establishment clergy in the eighteenth century, dissentors such as Richard Price and Roscoe and friends, clearly also used it.

Mr. Porson: Mr. Southey Richard Porson (1759-1808), a classical scholar, darling of the Whig set of Samuel Parr, who was Professor of Greek at Cambridge from 1792; Robert Southey (1774-1843), ‘Lake Poet’, a Whig enthusiastic about the French Revolution though eventually a reactionary Tory who was made Poet Laureate in 1807.

Mr Friend who was dismissed from Cambe: Not identified.

Dr. Tattersall: Not identified.

Mrs. Riddell: Maria Woodley Riddell.

one of them dangerously ill: Maria had a son and a daughter, the latter did not die as a child; the son, Alexander, died in 1804.

Dr. Moore John Moore (1729-1802), Burns’s friend and correspondent.

Fuseli: Henry Fuseili (1741-1825), painter of Swiss origin who frequented the circles of political radicals and religious dissentors during the late eighteenth century.

Gyfford: William Gifford (1756-1826) opponent of the French Revolution who edited The Anti-Jacobin (from 1797) also translated the Roman poet Juvenal in 1800.

Oratory of Burke, & Dundas: Edmund Burke(1729-1797), Irish member of the British parliament, famed as an orator, whose rhetoric of the late 1780s and early 90s formed the first backlash against the course of the French Revolution in Britain. Burke and Henry Dundas (1742-1811), Secretary of State for War, became two particular hate figures among the Whigs.

Lord Orford: Robert Walpole (1752-1822), 2nd Earl of Orford, member of parliament.

Miss Berrys: one of Roscoe’s correspondents is the English writer Mary Berry (1763-1852).

Mr. Grey: Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey (1764–1845) part of the Whig grouping centred around Charles James Fox, and an advocate of the reform of parliament and the British constitution generally.

Mr. Fox: Charles James Fox (1749-1806), major Whig and member of parliament.

ut nec p nec caput uni peddatur formæ ut nec pes, nec caput uni Reddatur formæ: (‘As neither head, nor feet, one form retain’); from Ben Jonson’s Translations from the Latin Poets (Horace, His Art of Poetry).

French preparations: two days following this letter the Battle of Fishguard (February 22nd-24th 1797) occurred, when the French unsuccessfully attempted to land in England.

“Two shall be grinding at the Irish”: ‘Two women shall be grinding at the Mill’ Gospel of Matthew 24:41. The Irishmen republicans under Wolfe Tone were to cooperate with the attempted French invasion of the British Isles of 1797.

Dr Crompton … Eaton: Dr Peter Crompton (?1760-1833), Political reformer and member of the Derby Philosophical Society founded by Erasmus Darwin in 1783; probably Daniel Isaac Eaton (1753-1814) whose political journalism was often illegally produced.

Gray’s Inn: one of the Inns of Court (professional association of lawyers) in London.

Creevy: Thomas Creevey (1768-1838) Liverpool Whig politician and lawyer.

risum teneatis risum teneatis amici: ‘retrain your laughter, friend’ (Horace, De Arte Poetica I).

19th Feb – 96 … Monday 20th: posted Feb 20, 1797, as the postmark shows.

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