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 : 14-09-1798
Correspondent : George ThomsonCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : George Thomson encloses a copy of 'The Lass of Ballochmyle' and a transcription of Burns's accompanying letter to Wilhelmina Alexander.
Edinburgh 14↑th↓. Sept 1798

Dear Sir

Having lately seen in the possession of a friend, a copy of a Letter & Song written by Burns, which appeared to me well worthy of a place in his works, and understanding that the heroine had refused her consent to publish the Song when the Poet applied to her; I wrote a letter ostensible to the Lady, in which I solicited the favour so earnestly, as to have procured it. She sent me the original MS, on condition I should return it and you may depend upon the inclosed being a faithful copy – That I might the more readily obtain the MS, I told her that in printing the letter, I would recommend it to you to omit the last two lines, which you’ll see I have scored out. I think there is as much poetry in the letter as in the Song, tho’ the Verses are at the same time highly beautiful – Excuse me for not sending a fairer copy I have so much writing on my hands that I could not well transcribe them – I ordered a copy of my last book of Songs to be sent you from London some-time ago It would have given me great pleasure could I have presented it personally, but I found it impossible to to return by Liverpool – I hope you are to give the whole works, & in octavo – When the precise time of publication is fixed, I shall be glad to know it –

I remain Dear Sir

Very respectfully yours

G Thomson

P.S. Though the Public will see that the Correspondence between the Bard & me was written without an idea of its being published, a circumstance that should soften the Severity of criticism, yet I hope you will do me the justice distinctly to mention the motive on which I permit my letters to appear, as otherways the merciless reviewers will give me no quarter –

Notes :

Wilhelmina Alexander (1753-1843):
Daughter of Claude Alexander, owner of the estate of Ballochmyle, previously the property of Sir John Whitefoord, on the river Ayr near Mauchline. She inspired Burns’s song, ‘The Bonnie Lass of Ballochmyle’, which he sent, accompanied by a high-flown letter of 18 Nov. 1786, asking her permission to include the song in his second edition. She refused, as Burns noted (Letters, ed. Roy, I, 63-4), though in later life she treasured possession of them . Burns wrote to Gavin Hamilton, 8 Mar. 1787: ‘My two songs, on Miss W. Alexander and Miss P. Kennedy, were likewise tried yesterday by a jury of Literati, and found defamatory libels against the fastidious Powers of Poesy and taste; and the Author forbid to print them under pain of forfeiture of character’ Letters I, 98).

Thomson prepared a selection of the correspondence between himself and Burns for inclusion in the Currie edition. He destroyed the originals of his letters, but Burns’s responses indicate Thomson’s letters must have been different from the published versions.

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