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 : 02-06-1800
Correspondent : James CurrieCorrespondent Location : Liverpool
Recipient : Cadell & Davies Recipient Location : London
Subject : Currie discusses ‘disposal’ of copies of the edition.

Dear Sirs
      A thousand copies of the Works of Burns are now on the road to you, & will be with you, I presume, in 7 or 8 days. By a letter from Edinburgh I find there has been an omission that hurt the feelings of an excellent man the Correspondent of Burns, Mr Cunningham, nephew to your late celebrated friend, Dr Robertson; & that in printing the letter of Professor Stewart one or two verbal inaccuracies have occurred. I have determined to correct these by printing a slip of paper to be pasted on the last leaf of the first volume, which McCreery is now printing, & which shall be sent up to meet the volumes now on their way to you, & which I hope you will not think it too much trouble to have pasted in the first vol. of each set.
      You have had the goodness to mention your wish that I should dispose of as many Copies as I might ↑desire↓ to my particular friends — I have no wish to dispose of any, except to a few who are connected with the undertaking, ^ and to a few of my own relations. The poor family of the Bard I wished to send 5 or 6 to, to Mr Syme, Mr Thomson, &ca each one —
      In the expectation of this I ordered twenty to be struck off on a finer paper, in addition to the two thousand of which the Edition consists. Mr Davies will recollect that this was settled between us, (except as to the circumstances of a finer paper) while he was here —
      It occurs to me that the presents I mention, & which I shall paint out to you more particularly, <(the Copies xx ?bound)> had better be presented in your names – In which ^case I shall reserve ^for myself of the stipulated number, ten copies only, & hold the other ten for you, 4 ^(of these last) to be sent ^in your names to the brothers & sisters of Burns, one to Syme, one to Thomson, one to Mr Murdoch in London, & one to Mr Roscoe, & the other two as you may direct — For these twenty copies we want 20 impressions of the head, which please to dispatch by the Coach.
      I am truely sorry for all your expence and trouble, but will do my best to prevent your suffering any injury in the End.
      In great haste
           Yr. faithful St

Notes :

Mr Cunningham: Alexander Cunningham (c.1763-1812), an 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 peot’s widow and children.

Dr Robertson: Rev. William Robertson (1721-1793), Church of Scotland minister, historian and Principal of Edinburgh University.

Professor Stewart: Dugald Stewart (1753-1828). Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University from 1785. In the aftermath of Burns’s demise a number of individuals, Currie included, felt that Stewart might be the best person to undertake the biography and first collected edition of Burns.

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

Syme: John Syme (1755-1831) of Ryedale, Distributor of Stamps in Dumfries, a close friend of the poet.

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?’.

Mr Murdoch in London: ?John Murdoch, bookseller, Bloomsbury born in Ayr.

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.

back to search