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 : 05-07-1800
Correspondent : George PhilipsCorrespondent Location : Manchester
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : George Philips writes in praise of Currie's edition, encomiating his account of the Scottish peasantry and Currie's writing style.
My Dear Sir

I cannot deny myself the gratification of thanking you for the volume that you have prefixed to the new edition of Burns’s poems. I have read it with uninterrupted delight, & can say with truth that very few books ever seised so powerfully in my mind. Your picture of the Scotch peasantry, which interested me strongly is, I am told in good authority, drawn to the life. You are not less happy in your exposition of the causes which have concurred to produce the peculiar manners, & character of that very respectable order of men. Though I am much indebted to you for introducing me to so intimate an acquaintance with Burns, & his family, I should express my own feelings very inadequately if I were to make my acknowledgments to you only as a Biographer. In that character you are well entitled to praise, but were I to select according to my own opinion, & judgement the most valuable parts of your work, they would consists of your discussions of a number of very important topics which respect human beings generally, & not any individual of our species. In these descriptions you fully prove that you are skilled, & in no common degree, in what, you justly denominate, the highest sort of knowledge; the knowledge of the nature, & character of man.
I conclude from many passages in your book that Hartley is a favourite writer with you, for you have in several instances applied his general doctrine of association in a way ↑which↓ seems to imply that you have like him a much more comprehensive, &, as I think, a much more just, & philosophical view of this subject than has been exhibited by such of the Scotch moral philosophers as I am acquainted with. I could refer to many pages of the work, ↑that↓ separately impressed me with this opinion, particularly to those ↑which↓ relate to the influence of scenery on the mind, & its association with music, & poetry, &, your investigation of the causes which produce & augment our attachment to our native soil.
You would be troubled with a very long letter if I wereto enumerate all the passages of your book that particularly pleased me. In some of them there is a remarkable force, & felicity of expression, & on certain subjects the [?Edi-?tor] of Burns shows that his feelings, though better regulated, are not less lively, & acute than those of the poet.
I have read but little of Burns’s poetry, but I was surprised that a Scotch farmer should address the shade of his mistress with so much delicacy of passion as is exemplified in the verses to Mary in Heaven. A plough-mans’ love I should have expected would have ↑had↓ something of grossness in it, but Tibullus could not write of his mistress with more tenderness, or in strains better according with the pensive, & elegant character of his [?own] mind..
As I have disposed of my own four copies of Burns, I will thank you to order your book seller to send me two here, & to deliver another set to Mess.↑s↓ Rathbone Hughes & Duncan whom I shall desire to forward it to a Scotch friend of mine, Mr Cramond of Philadelphia. If I am not greatly mistaken would not make him a more acceptable [present?], for in that “quarter of the <[?]> earth” the volumes that you have published will charm him with the strains of nature, & awake in his memory the scenes of his early days.”
I do not pretend like Mr Brothers to be gifted with a pro[MS torn]tic spirit, but I can predict with confidence that your reputation which is already very considerable will be greatly promoted by yr edition of Burns which does equal credit to your humanity, & your literature. You sent my friend Sharp away from Liverpool delighted both with you & your book. If I am not deceived you would not be much less pleased with him than he was with you.
What think you of the French consul now, & of the evidence of facts with which he has gratified our unbelieving Minister? Mrs. P. desires me to <[?]> ↑offer↓ her best compts to Mrs Currie, & her thanks to you for the pleasure that she has derived from yr volume. Have the goodness also to make my remembrances to Mrs C & believe me Dr Sir Most truly Yrs G Philips

Geo. Philips
Esqr. Manch.


Notes :

Mr Cramond of Philadelphia [?]:
Most likely William Cramond (Crammond) (1754-1843) Wealthy merchant. Built the first Gothic Revival domestic building in the USA, named Sedgeley, on the banks of the river Schuylkill.

David Hartley (1705-1757):
Yorkshire-born philosopher whose Observations on Man (1749) was the product of 16 years’ work; part 1 concerned the constitution of the human mind, part 2 religion and morals. Influenced by Newton, Hartley’s Doctrine of Vibrations offered a theory of nervous action analogous to the propagation of sound. His most important work was on the principle of Association of Ideas.

George Philips: (1766-1847):
Manchester merchant. Published The Necessity of a speedy and Effectual Reform in Parliament (1792). A good friend, Currie would sometimes stay at Philips’s house when in Manchester, particularly when attending events by the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester.

Rathbone Hughes & Duncan; William Rathbone (1757-1809):
Liverpool merchant, philanthropist, and member of the Society of Quakers, he was prominent in efforts in 1792 to avoid war with France, and was both an advocate of free trade and a supporter of William Roscoe’s call for the abolition of the slave trade. Rathbone had become head of his family firm in 1789, a partnership, ‘Rathbone, [William] Hughes and [McMurdo] Duncan’ headed it up from 1796.

My friend Sharp:
Richard Sharp (1759-1835) - Partner of George Philips. Known as ‘Conversation Sharp’. Merchant, politician and wit. Born in Newfoundland. Returned to England in infancy. Represented the pocket borough of Castle Rising, Norfolk, 1806-1812, as a staunch whig. Believed to be the inspiration for Dickens’s Conversation Kenge in Bleak House.

Tibullus (c.60-19 B.C.):
Roman elegiac poet, one of the circle of Marcus Valerius Messalla (as distinct from the poets of the imperial court). A friend of Horace, who addressed an epistle to him. His themes are love, peace, and the simplicity of rural life.

the French consul:
Napoleon Buonaparte who, in late 1799, staged a coup d’etat to install himself as First Consul of France.

back to search