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 : N/A
Correspondent : Dugald StewartCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Dugald Stewart discusses Burns's education, and describes the poet's memorial to Robert Fergusson and his letters.
My dear Sir

          A short absence from Town prevented me from receiving your letter till this morning. I enclose the notes about Burns very nearly in the same state in which they were originally sent; requesting your attention, however, to one or two very trifling corrections or rather erasures. I read lately the ↑enclosed↓ paper to your acquaintance Mr Alexander Cunningham who I thought might be able to correct me, if I had stated any circumstances inaccurately. The only point in which we differ, relates to his knowledge of French, which Mr. Cunningham thinks I have underrated. He says he remembers to have heard Burns speak of reading the old French of Rabelais.
          Mr C. informs me also, that Burns while in Edinburgh was at the expence of a monument in the Canongate Church yard to the memory of Robert Ferguson who published about Twenty years ago some pieces of considerable merit, in the Scotch dialect. I intended to have enclosed the Inscription, (although of no great value) but cannot lay my hand on it at this moment. I shall however desire Cunningham to send it by tomorrow’s post. I don’t recollect whether I ever told you that Sir John Sinclair had requested me to direct your attention to a letter by Burns which is published in one of the volumes of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. I don’t recollect the volume, nor have I read the letter, but it is signed a Peasant; and if you have not happened to hear of it, I can easily procure you whatever information with respect to it you may wish for.
          Nothing further occurs to me at present on this subject.- My constant residence in Edinburgh for some years past has put it out of my power to make any enquiries in person among his Ayrshire acquaintance. I have not the pleasure of knowing his Brother, whose judgement & taste he used to rate very highly; but I think I have heard he paid you a visit at Liverpool some years ago. I once saw a sister of his who was then (and is perhaps still) dairy-maid at Dumfries-House. I conversed with her much about her Brother who was alive at that time, and to whom she appeared to me to bear a very striking resemblance both in looks & in intellect.
          I am much obliged to you for mentioning your Review of Dr Reid. I have not yet had leisure to search for it, but I shall not fail to attend to it, when I come to that part of my Undertaking.

          In very great haste my dear Sir,

          yours most truly

          Dugald Stewart

          Ed↑r↓ 31 August.

Notes :

Alexander Cunningham (c.1763-1812):
Edinburgh lawyer who was one of Burns’s closest friends and most regular correspondents. On 20 July 1796 he proposed to Syme the setting up of the fund for the poet’s widow and children.

Robert Fergusson (1750-1774):
educated in Edinburgh, Dundee, and St Andrews University.His Poems were published by Walter and Thoams Ruddiman in January 1773. Later that year published ‘Auld Reekie’, a celebration of Edinburgh life in its diversity. Awaiting publication of the Edinburgh edition of his work, Burns commissioned a headstone for Fergusson’s previously unmarked grave in Canongate churchyard. Burns acknowledged Fergusson’s influence, describing him as ‘Heaven-taught’ and ‘my elder brother in Misfortune/ By far my elder Brother in the muse’ (Poems and Songs, 258).

Sir John Sinclair (1754-1835):
parliamentarian and first baronet. Published History of the Revenue of the British Empire, 1793, and Statistical Account of Scotland, 21 vols. 1791-9, published by Creech in Edinburgh, the first compilation of the economic and social statistics of all the parishes of Scotland. Under the soubriquet ‘A Peasant’, Burns supplied supplementary information to the entry for the parish of Dunscore on the circulating library established by himself and Robert Riddell (Letters, ed. Roy, II, 106-8).

[the old French of Rabelais]:
In the winter of 1787-8 Burns took lessons in French from Louis Cauvin to improve his fluency in the language. His letters, especially to Mrs. Dunlop, have passing reference to French texts.

[a sister of his]:
Isobel Burns, the poet’s youngest sister, widely acknowledged to bear a striking resemblance to him. She married John Begg and died in 1858.

back to search