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 : 13-01-1801
Correspondent : Robert AndersonCorrespondent Location : Heriot's Green
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Anderson praises Currie’s edition, commending particularly the accuracy of the treatment of the kirk and sex.

Dear Sir,

      I duly received your last agreeable & interesting favour. I am sensible that it is but an ill return I make to you for it to have delayed my acknowledgment so long. There is great danger in deferring the performance of any duty. I designed you an early answer, when your excellent Life of Burns came first into my hands, & my mind was occupied with the subject of your elegant & interesting narrative; but it was delayed from time to time by my being much annoyed by an increase of my habitual feverishness, in the hot weather of the hottest summer I ever remember. During the oppressive heat of the atmosphere that surrounded us, I was literally almost melted away; & lounged about from chair to couch in a state of mental & corporeal debility. Change of weather produced a favourable change in my animal economy; but I had a second edition of the Life of Smollett on my hands, & was much hampered by temporary business. – Other causes concurred to render my tardiness in writing, of not excusable, in some measure unavoidable – When I had myself perused your work with great satisfaction, I sent it to Ochtertyre, to communicate the pleasure I had received to my worthy friend Mr Ramsay, who, in his own strong phrase “devoured” it. On his returning it, after some time, I glanced over the first volume again, with a pencil in my hand, & marked, as I went along, the passages which I thought might be separated from the narrative, without breaking the thread of it, & recommended the abridgment for insertion in the Edinburgh Magazine, to be circulated more widely through the nation. I selected, likewise, for the same purpose, the most universally interesting & instructive passages from your valuable Prefatory Remarks; which with the Life, were inserted in successive numbers of that publication. Under a particular passage in your Observations on irregular Marriages I took the liberty to place the following note – “The account here given by Dr Currie is inaccurate. Persons who contract marriage in Scotland, without observing the ceremonies of the church are only subjected to a rebuke for their conduct before the Kirk Session, not in the face of the congregation. Married persons, indeed, chargeable with anti-nuptial fornication undergo this part of the discipline of the church. In the cities & principal towns of Scotland the punishment prescribed by the church for adultery & fornication has for a long time past been commuted to a pecuniary fine, for the benefit of the poor, at the discretion of the Church session - While this process was going on, your work was out of my reach, & my remarks upon it were delayed till Mr Ramsay & others have anticipated me, & a new edition has been announced for publication.
      Your country, in my opinion, owes you, dear Sir, a high obligation for conferring an adequate Tribute of Respect on the memory of a man who does her so much honour, & with regard to whom she has incurred a censure of ingratitude. It is fortunate too for poor Burns that this task of Duty has fallen into hands that were capable of fulfilling it with such splendid & solid ability. There is, I reckon, but one opinion in this country concerning the manner [MS torn] have performed your task, & it is equally honorable to your head & heart. I mean not to say that your work, though highly interesting & instructive is, in every respect, perfect, or that your observations & critical judgements have not, in some instances, been controverted here, but the objections I have heard are neither numerous nor important. When every deduction is made which criticism requires, it is unquestionably the most perfect of its kind in our language; for Mason’s Gray, which it resembles, is a languid performance. The mechanical part, though elegant, & creditable to the Liverpool press, is not free from errors; which I have no doubt you have corrected. Our friend Professor Tytler desires me to request your attention to the following errata in his Letter. Vol 2.p.331 line 12 for unfortunate read infernal. p.332 line 3. for than the four-lines read than with the four lines. I designed you a long list of corrections for your Glossary, which if they have not been supplied by others, are still at your service. * has been pointed out, but bauk & many more are wrong. I was disappointed in the information I expected respecting the process you observed in preparing the edition. The account given in the Dedication is unsatisfactory. A general preface is wanting – Your apology for overwhelming me in the distribution of copies was quite unnecessary. I had no claim to such a distinguished mark of your attention. My little services were performed with good will, & your favourable acceptance was ample recompense.
      With best compliments of the season, I am, my dear Sir, your’s faithfully

               Ro. Anderson

P.S. Poor Mundell died while the Life of Smollett, which he urged me incessantly to finish, was printing. I designed a copy for your acceptance, but no private conveyance has occurred – Macneill is here & well. He was much gratified with your present, & your favourable opinion of Charles. His poems are printing at London in 2 vol. with a dedication to you – You censured me for my ignorance respecting the birthplace & family of Falconer, but your own account is erroneous in every particular. Mr Irving is printing here a Life of him, with Ferguson & Dr Russell **. Falconer turns out to be a relative of our friend Cunningham.


Notes :

Life of Smollett: Anderson had edited Miscellaneous works of Smollett (six vols, Glasgow 1796). The printer, Mundell, died during the printing of the second edition (1800).

Ochtertyre: John Ramsay of Ochtertyre (1736-1814). Educated at Edinburgh and became advocate, 1753. Wrote a series of essays on Scottish life and biographies of deceased friends and relatives. A selection from his extensive writings was published in 1888 as Scotland and Scotsmen in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Alexander Allardyce. Burns wrote to Nicol, [8 Oct. 1787], ‘I called at Mr Ramsay’s of Ochtertyre as I came up the country, and am so delighted with him that I shall certainly accept of his invitation to spend a day or two with him as I return’ (Letters I, 161). Ramsay was free with advice to Burns, some of it disregarded; and he was visited by Walter Scott six years later.

Mason’s Grey: The poems of mister Gray, to which are prefixed Memoirs of his Life and Writing, by W. Mason (York, 1775).

Professor Tytler: Alexander Fraser Tytler (1747-1813), Edinburgh lawyer and historian. Famous for advising Burns to excise certain lines from ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ advice with which the poet complied.

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

Charles: The Memoirs of Charles Macpherson, 2 vols, (1800 & 1801), by Hector Macneil.

Falconer: William Falconer (1732-69), sailor and poet best known for The Shipwreck 1762. Falconer drowned with the wreck of the frigate Aurora. In a letter Burns refers to him sympathetically (Letters II, 6-8).

Mr Irving: David Irving (1778-1860), Scottish antiquarian, who published his Lives of the Scottish Poets (1804).

'with Ferguson': not identified.

Dr Russell: William Russell 1746-1793), Scottish historian.

Cunningham: Alexander Cunningham (c.1763-1812), an Edinburgh lawyer who was one of Burns’s closest friends and most regular correspondents.

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