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 : 27-01-1799
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : Cadell & Davies Recipient Location : London
Subject : Currie writes about Beugo’s engraved portrait of Burns.

Dear Sirs
      I duely recd. yours of the 15th Jany, and observe the balance due me is £116.6.5 for which I have drawn on you of date the 18th, at a month, according to your desire. I am perfectly satisfied with your statements.
      Mr McCreary has nearly finished one volume, but his progress has not been quite so rapid as I wished – We will however do our best to press matters ↑forward↓ so as to be ready by the time proposed for publication.—
      I think it may be desireable to take some measures as to the Portrait – a Mr Be[?]o of Edinr. offered a present of the Engraving, which was accepted – He is a friend of Mr Thomson whose engraving I have not seen.
      If you wish it I will write to Edinr. on the subject of Mr Beugo’s engraving, unless you think you could arrange the matter by writing to Mr. Creech. On reflection I think it may be best for me to write, & I will write in a few days accordingly. I have not seen Mr Thomsons engraving. I presume it is Mr G Thomson you mean who is publishing the Scottish music –
      Since I drew on you, it occurs to me that there are two Books which I wish to have - Sir D. Dalrymples Annals of Scotland, and Pinkertons history of Scotland – If it be convenient to you will you have the goodness to forward them to Mr Jones, to whom they may be charged if you have any account with him – Otherwise, I will order [?] payment in London —
      We have lately completed in part a building under the name of Athenaeum, which ↑Mr Davies↓ might perhaps observe in progress when he was here. It is intended to include a public library & Coffee-room under one roof & under one management. The Coffee-room is finished – & the library will be completed early in summer when we shall have from 1000 to 2000 Guineas I hope, to lay out in Books. Mr Roscoe & myself are of the Committee, & we are disposed to consult with you in confidence as to the best means of laying them in on the best terms — We shall want all the best editions of the British Authors, particularly on History & Political economy, the greater part of which have I think been published by your predecessors or yourselves — We shall want the best Editions of the French writers also, & the Greek & Roman Classics.
      At your leisure, any communication on this subject will be recd. kindly, but as I have no authority from the Committee to apply to you in this stage of the Business, will you have the goodness to consider this as confidential & private. I am Gentlemen

      Yr. faithful Sr JaCurrie

Notes :

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

Thomson: George Thomson (1757-1851), son of a Dunfermline schoolmaster; trained as lawyer’s clerk and in 1780, recommended by John Home, appointed junior clerk to the Board of Trustees in Edinburgh, later becoming chief clerk. In 1792 proposed A Select Collection of Scottish Airs. Burns, to whom he had been introduced by Alexander Cunningham, began contributing songs, September 1792. The first volume appeared, May 1793, containing 7 new songs by Burns. To Burns he emphasised the need to avoid indelicacy and recommended the use of English words. Claiming sole copyright to Burns’s contributions, he regarded his submission of them for inclusion by Currie as a generous gesture. His unsigned obituary for Burns in the London Chronicle, July 1796, acknowledged the poet’s ‘ardent and poetical mind’ but added ‘his talents were often obscured and finally impaired by excess’, a judgement which may have influenced Currie and subsequent commentators. The conclusion of the obituary anticipated the fund-raising appeal with this comment: ‘He has left behind a wife, with five infant children, and in the hourly expectation of a sixth, without any resource but what she may hope from the public sympathy, and the regard due to the memory of her husband. Need we say anything more to awaken the feelings of Benevolence?’.

Beugo: John Beugo (1759-1841), engraver who engraved for William Creech the Nasmyth portrait for Burns’s Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Edinburgh, 1787).

Dalrymple’s Annals of Scotland and Pinkerton’s History of Scotland: David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes (1726-1792), Scottish Law Lord and Historian published this work in two volumes (1776 & 1779); John Pinkerton (1758-1826), Scottish antiquarian published his Enquiry into the History of Scotland (1789).

Mr Jones: John Jones, Liverpool bookbinder.

Athenaeum: a club founded in Liverpool in 1797; key among its early membership were Currie, Roscoe and other men of an anti-slavery disposition. The club, still in existence today, boasts one of the finest proprietary libraries in the United Kingdom.

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.

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