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 : 01-02-1789
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : Graham Moore Recipient Location :
Subject : Currie writes of having obtained two manuscript poems by Robert Burns.

My dear Graham
      Tho’ you complain with justice of the [tardiness] of my replies, yet I cannot plead in excuse the difficulty of the task of writing to you. When the paper is before me, the pen in my hand, and [stillness] round me, nothing can be more easy. You require no preface nor apology; you stand on no modes of studied [expression]; you request no particular train of sentiment; - you are contented with the simple & spontaneous effusions of mind, [whenceoever] they may arise, & [whethersoever] they may tend. These facilities to our Correspondence are, I trust, mutual; and they are founded on that acquaintance with each other’s general character, & particular habits of thought & action, on which only regard & friendship can be firmly built.
      I rec’d your letter this morning with [Miss] William’s beautiful poem. I shall write to her to thank her, and shall feel pleasure in this opportunity of renewing our acquaintance . . Whether the poem will add to her laurels, I do not know – Very considerable beauties it certainly contains, but such a reputation as her’s is not easily kept up, & is still [less] easily augmented. There is nothing in modern times, that reflects such lustre on the influence of letters, as what is likely to take place is respect to the Slave-Trade – A commerce of three hundred years standing, has been exposed in its true colours from the [press] – The more it has been examined, the more hideous it has appeared, and this monstrous fabric of inequity & blood will son experience, not a gradual, but a sudden overthrow – The [matchless] arm of Pitt is reared against it, and what shield can resist the sword of truth in the hand of such a champion. Under the blade of Rinaldo, the inchantment of error, shall vanish into air! - I speak this confidently, for I have information on the subject from the very first authority. The poor King did what he could to soften his minister, under the influence of his unfortunate prejudices. The Chancellor & Lord Hawkesbury were to head the King’s friends in the upper house, for in the Commons they could not make a show of resistance. Some dependence they had on the Opposition Lords, and much reliance on the Bench of Bishops, the Canterbury & London were declaredly [w/h] the Minister. Mr Pitt kept firm, & boldly declared, he would divide the Lords of the Bedchamber [w/h] the King. . . In this state of things, the Royal malady commenced, which has unfortunately protracted M Wilberforce’s motion on the subject – But it will be brought into the house immediately on settling the Regency, and as the King’s friends now have existence only thro’ Mr Pitt, the [issue] is not doubted – - All this I have not from the Minister himself, but I have it from the next best authority - The blow given to the hopes of the Slave Merchants, arises from not one of the West India Islands having interfered in their favour, tho’ strongly urged so to do; and they ought to be farther dispirited, by certain communications between Mr Pitt & Mr [Reckar], who are likely to go hand & hand. - On this subject I find it [impossible] to keep within proper bounds. Painfully as my mind has been affected for many years past by the familiar list of murder, which every week has presented, I feel a gratification which is, I hope [?], as pure as it is strong, in the prospect of this regular, sytematic & national villainy, being closed forever .
      I rec’d your two printed accounts of [Coffin’s] trial. That directed to me I have sent every where. His case seems to have ↑been↓ peculiarly hard indeed! I was happy to see that no stain lies ↑on↓ his integrity or honour. I sent Gregson the copy [addressed] to him, and when I met him ten days after I found he had not looked at it. He is a dark unfeeling fellow, as French and I are nearly agreed – He cares not a damn for Coffin (to use his own phrase) or for any one else. For my own past I have introduced the subject in all companies, and endeavoured to do poor Coffin justice. I hope his rank will be restored –
      So you are going on the Ocean on the Black Douglas. I cannot say whether I am glad to hear it or not. If you must go, you cannot be in better Company, tho’ I presume you have no great hope of advancement in the service – You must carry books to the sea with you, and if you will come & see me before you go, I will give you one that I value very much, [Bayle’s] Dictionary – Take it with you, ↑at any rate↓ if you can, for you will find it contains a vast body of knowledge – Bayle’s principles were liberal & enlightened. He was one of those men who are more admired by the succeeding generation that ↑by↓ their Cotemporaries, merely because they anticipate society in the [progress] of mind.
      I have got two manuscript poems of [Burn’s’] written lately, which I admire much. If I can get them copied, I will send them to you. They were given me by a boy from Ayr now an apprentice here, with whom I have lately made an acquaintance. His name is Andrew Aiken, & it is to him that Burns [addressed] his “Epistle to a young friend” as his Cottager was [addressed] to his father. This is a surprising Boy. In personal appearance I never saw any thing so beautiful, and they tell me his endowments of mind are equally extraordinary – He is now seventeen years of age, is very tall, very modest & very contemplative – Burns & he are constant correspondents, and I am told the poet comes from Nithsdale next summer to pay him a visit - - - I was looking ↑today↓ into a collection of old Scotch Songs lately sent me from Edin~., one of which struck me as a thing you would like. There is certainly nature in the following extract.

      How tempting sweet these lips of thine are?
      Thy bosom white, and legs sae fine are,
      That when in pools I see thee clean them
      They carry away my heart between them!
      I wish – I wish- while it gaes [dunten]
      O [gin] I had thee on a mountain!
      Tho’ kith & kinshould a’ revile thee,
      There’s my thumb – I’d ne’er beguile thee.
      O my dear [lassie!] it is but [daffin],
      To had thy wooer up ay, riff, raffin;
      That na, na, na, I hate most vilely
      O say yes! and – I’ll ne’er beguile thee.

There is nothing in [Tibullus] or Hammond more to the point – I shall be glad to hear from you soon & often. You are going abroad in a few months and tho’ our correspondence will not close on that account, yet it will suffer some interruption. Write to me now, therefore, as often as you can – If you hear of any thing of Fox’s health that can be depended on, let me know it. My information, no wise to be depended on, indeed, says ↑it is seriously↓ [superscript in pencil] ↑affected↓ - My heart softens towards him on the thoughts that this is true – Great as his follies have been, I should lament that such talents should [pass] away without leaving a single record behind of any action by which his country has benefited – In one of his speeches against Pitt’s restrictions there was something affecting in ↑the↓ personal appeal he made ↑against↓ him. “He will not deliver the power he has himself enjoyed unimpaired to his [successors]. Jealous of the reputation that may be acquired by his adversaries, he is determined to fetter their exertions. NO man” says the R. Hon. Gentm. “shall be the Competitor of my glory, or the rival of my fame” .
           I am dear Graham
                Yrs. very sincerely
                     Ja. Currie


Notes :

Miss Williams’ beautiful poem … slave trade: Helen Maria Williams (1761 or 1762-1827), English poet vocal against the salve trade who published her ‘A Poem on the Bill Lately Passed for Regulating the Slave Trade’ (T Cadell: London, 1788).

William Pitt: ‘the Younger’ (1759-1806, Prime Minister at this time, advanced anti-slavery measures when William Wilberforce the chief parliamentary proponent of the cause was ill in May 1788.

blade of Rinaldo: in Ariosto’s sixteenth century poem, Orlando Furioso, Rinaldo’s sword is much feared by the Saracens.

Bayle’s dictionary: the famous early Enlightenment work by Pierre Bayle, Dictionnaire Historique et Critique (1695).

Andrew Aitken: (d 1831) son of Burns’s friend Robert Aiken (1739-1807), referenced in ‘The Cottar’s Saturday Night’; Andrew worked for a time in Liverpool as a merchant.

How tempting sweet these lips of thine are? Song, ‘My sweetest May, let love incline thee’ to the tune of ‘There’s my thumb, I’ll ne’er beguile thee’ attributed to Allan Ramsay.

Tibullus: Albius Tibullus (c.55BC-19BC) Latin poet.

Hammond: not identified.

Fox’s health … liver: Charles James Fox’s poor health was attributed sometimes to his habits as a bon viveur.

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