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 : 14-09-1799
Correspondent : Lord BuchanCorrespondent Location : Dryburgh Abbey
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Buchan writes of Burns’s greatness and his limitations.

Sir,
      I am happy to think that the generous care of the fame and family of Burns has fallen into the hands of the author of your letter from Liverpool of the 9↑th↓. which I answer immediately to grant its request. So far from regretting the [?] of my card and letter to Burns however [?] written, & with however little expectation of their either being preserved or published, I only wish I could have shared in the honours of assisting him when he came first out to the public, if I could have done it so as to ↑have↓ fan’d the fire of his genius & protected the integrity of his virtue. Indeed Sir this thought has often given me some passing uneasiness especially when I consider the modern rage for literary [?] & anything of the dead friends of literature however [?] and [inconsiderable?], and therefore since your letter affords me the occasion I will embrace it to mention that when Burns made his first appearance at Edinburgh (where I then was) I rather thought they were spoiling him and clogging the wings of his Muse with too much patronage & festivity. I remembered the Town & Country mice of Horace, the “[?] me [redde?] priori” and the coarse saying of ↑one of↓ the royal wards & patrons of my own family James the I. of England & 6. of Scotland to a Scotch Laird “ leave the Town & gang to the country, the happiest man is he who lives there independent and never sees my face.”— The only time Burns saw mine was on the street of Ed.↑r↓ when coming from a meeting of the infant Society of Antiquaries he was introduced to me as the poetical meteor of the day, & to whom I expressed myself as I really felt and do still feel on the subject of his poetical merit, when he suddenly said to me as I may repeat without blushing considering the apology of Waller.

      “<[?]> ↑Praise↓ from they lips, tis mine with joy to boast
      he but can give them who deserves them most.”

I am after this, willing to expose Ciceronian poetry rather than be wanting to[MS torn] I wrote some lines to him which have been printed in the Bee, together with Burns’s letter in answer to them Vol. 11. p. 317. & afterwards I recommended to him the choice of Bruce as the subject of an Epic poem.—
      Burns appeared to me a real Makar a Creator a Poet & I wished him to assume the language as well as the Character of a Briton & to throw off the masquerade garb of Allan Ramsay whom, he so greatly surpassed, & that I thought him capable of great attempts worthy of this Country & of posterity. –

The only merit I have is, that in the course of a long & sequestered life I have endeavoured to assist others in the delight, benefit, and information of Society, while I myself in [professed?] retreat have derived no other pleasure or emolument than arrives from this employment and reflection.

      I am Sir with regard;
      Y↑r↓. obliged humble serv↑t↓.
      Buchan.


Notes :

The Bee, vol.11. p.317: The Bee, 27 April 1791, printed the letter, one of the earliest of Burns’s letters to appear in print.

David Stewart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan) (1742-1829): Self-regarding patron of literature, he advised Burns in February 1787 to keep his ‘Eye upon Parnassus and drink deep of the fountains of Helicon, but beware of the Joy that is dedicated to the Jolly God of wine’; and he recommended that the poet seek inspiration in the classic scenes of the Scottish past. Such advice may have prompted Burns’s exclamation, 8 March 1787, ‘Damn the pedant, frigid soul of Criticism for ever and ever’ (Letters I, 98). Burns replied to his ‘bombast epistle’ on 7 Feb. 1787 (Letters I, 90).

Edmund Waller (1606-87): Poet and politician.

the poetical meteor of the day Cf. Burns, 23 April 1787 [to Dr. John Moore]: ‘I am afraid my meteor appearance will by no means entitle me to a settled correspondence with any of you, who are the permanent lights of genius and literature’ (Letters I, 109).

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