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 : 14-05-1798
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : Cadell & Davies Recipient Location : London
Subject : Currie discusses the contents of his edition and its potential retail price.

Dear Sirs

      The second Edition of my Reports is now very nearly printed off. You will find the work a good deal corrected & considerably enlarged. There is an addition of 21 pages in the body of the work, and an Index, with a 3d. Appendix. I sincerely hope you will find it improved —
      I have in the course of the Winter collected abundant materials for the posthumous Vol. Of Burns, and McCreary & I should now set seriously about the printing. But before we begin I wish to have a little confidential communication with you.
      In tracing the life of this singular Genius, it is most curious & interesting to observe the incidents which gave rise to the effusions of his muse. Every one of his poems printed & imprinted has a history attending it, which while it illustrates the character of the poet, illustrates also the manners & Character of the class of men to which he belonged. In giving his biography therefore, it would be very desirable to have the liberty of introducing such of his poems as relate to the incidents recorded, in their proper places, as well as to introduce occasionally his letters to his friends and his own private observations from his imperfect diaries.- In this way, his journey through the classical ground in the South of Scotland, as well as his tour thro’ the Highlands <& his> including his visit to the Dukes of Atholl & Gordon may be made out clearly & very amusingly — But to do this properly, it would be requisite to give a complete edition of all his poems new arranged, and his poems to be added to those in your Copy-right, would exceed considerably in bulk, those you possess. I have already explained to you that in giving his life I mean every where to take a wide range (where I find occasion) as to life & manners; and without deviating from the subject a great variety of observations may be admitted. In estimating his genius references must be often made to his published poems, & I need not mention to you that it will be an awkward circumstance if these should neither be quoted where mentioned, nor referred to in the volume — Again, his correspondence often refers to his poems printed & unprinted, and often contains in the body of the letters copies of particular poems. If these are not printed in this letter, they should be where they can be referred to – that is, in the volume.
      I need not enlarge – you will easily see that to make a respectable publication the works of Burns complete should be given. It seems that some friends of the family in the North, adverting to these Circumstances have advised them to print only a sufficient number of Copies at present to meet the subscription – and, afterwards to publish a new & complete edition of the poems &ca on the expiration of your Copy-right – And on this point a letter has been written to me by the law-solicitor appointed by the Court of Session for the family. I have for my own part a great objection to an abortive publication on which I shall waste much precious time & trouble, and have written to them to advise that if possible some immediate arrangement may be made with you, by which the whole may be printed now, or with as much speed as convenience will admit; & I have offered, if such should be their wish, to consult with you on the Subject — To this letter I have recd. no answer – but I think it very unlikely that they will reject any thing that Roscoe & myself decidedly recommend — In the mean time, perfectly confiding in your characters, I will enter a little on the views that strike me.
      In revaluing the matter Roscoe & myself wish much than any plan could be proposed, by which you might at once become the purchasers of the post-humous works, and the interest of the family be properly consulted — If this were the case all trouble about subscriptions &ca &ca might be given up, for it is not for a moment to be apprehended that the whole being one property, any possible hazard could arise from the publication being thrown on the public supported by its own buoyancy only. Nevertheless, means might be taken with perfect propriety, to gain any advantage that might arise from the attachment of individuals to the poets family.
      The difficulty in the way is for you to know what sort of terms you should offer – that is, what the mss may be worth — I have formerly given my opinion in this point, and since then it is rather raised – especially if the whole be printed together – for the works combined will be worth a vast deal more than the aggregate of their separate value — But, it will be impossible for you to judge accurately without a personal inspection, or the inspection of some person or persons on whose judgement you can rely – And the best of all method, would be that of either of yourselves inspecting them here, should business enable you to call here for a day or two on your way to Scotland – In that case we could have time to examine every thing together, & you might see the proposals I have made in the Biography & judge of my talent. We could also settle all future proceedings.—
      To send the mss to London in their present state would be impossible. If you listen to the scheme of becoming immediate purchasers, I would advise a publication of two volumes 4vo – or four 8vo– If the last, one volume might contain the biography, one the Correspondence & two the poems complete — In this case, each volume might be printed separately as ready – price 7/- or 7/6 — These are Mr Roscoes sentiments as well as mine —
      In [?]ulating for a price, the principal sum might remain in your hands, at least for a time, the interest being paid to Mrs Burns.
      Excuse haste & do me the favour of considering these suggestions & communicating your sentiments
      I am [?De Sirs]
           truely yours
                JaCurrie —

Notes :

Reports: James Currie's Reports on the Effects of water in Febrile Disease (1797).

McCreary: John McCreery (1768-1832), a Liverpool Printer.

Dukes of Atholl & Gordon: On his ‘Highland Tour’ during August 1787, Burns met the Duke of Atholl and the men liked each other (here Burns also met Graham of Fintry who was to be important to the poet in his gaining employment in the Excise service); likewise on the same tour Burns met the Duke of Gordon for whom he afterwards expressed admiration for his conviviality.

Roscoe: William Roscoe (1753-1831), literary scholar, writer, historian, botanist and politician. A prominent member of the Unitarian community in Liverpool, Roscoe, like Dugald Stewart, was another early candidate for providing the life and edition of Burns prior to its undertaking by Currie.

Mrs Burns: Jean (Armour) Burns (1765-1834), the poet’s widow.

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