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 : 26-10-1801
Correspondent : Rev. William WarringtonCorrespondent Location : Old Windsor, Berks
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : William Warrington writes in praise of Currie's edition, with particular emphasis on his account of the Scots peasantry. He discusses Burns's education and letters.
I will not incur, my Dear Sir, by making an appology, the implied censure fixed on it by the facetious Charles the Second . Instead of pleading avocations and events, of a chequered and varied nature, it is at once better to own, that I have too long neglected to discharge a debt, to which you Sir had a claim on every principle of goodwill, of politeness, and of esteem.
          Accident has thrown into my way the life of the late Mr. Burns. To that accident I am indebted for thus recovering the paths of propriety, from which I had wandered. It is needless to express the gratification, which my Wife and myself have felt by the perusal of that Work. In every point of view it gratifies the mind : whether we survey the Original in his masculine or softer characters; or the fine touches, and discriminating powers of the Painter. But to take up the cause of the Fatherless and the Widow : to honor the memory of departed Genius, are surely the most amiable features of Benevolence.
          The combination of the Two, which distinguish your Drama, bear in my opinion a resemblance to the portraits, which Sully has drawn of himself, and of his Master. In those memoirs, as in your work, the Editor and the Hero reflect a lustre on each other. So forcible is the Imagery, that we see the gallant Henry in a variety of attitudes : armed at all points as a warrior, or nobly sustaining a delegated trust, or bending at the feet of the fair Gabrielle.
          In the picture which you have drawn, the Scottish hero is brought forward in equally luminous and impressive colours. By the magic of its pencil, I associate with the Man, in all the versatility of ↑his↓ character. I see him at the Social board, in a circle of his friends, by his wit and humour, give spirit and taste to the Festive hours. But should a morbid Air: or the morbid pressure of Thought, strike on the nerve of the sensitive Burns; I then see him, his Soul disquieted within him, a prey to painful reflection. But the candid and the just, the generous and the good will know how to appreciate his worth.
          As I reflect on the narrowed education, and circumscribed walks of Mr. Burns, it raises my surprize, that he should have acquired such a judgement in Letters, and such an insight into the human character. But Genius, surely, pervades all Nature by a kind intuitive glance.
          I was highly gratified by the description which you have given of the peasantry of Scotland. It is a true picture, and a finished piece. And I have only to lament, that the remnant of that Race, which is yet left in England, is not the counterpart of yours.
          As I read the concluding parts of your Work, I can say with a degree of truth, that I feel the like regret, which the weary traveler feels, as he sees the rays of a declining Sun, diminish on his anxious Eye.
          In retracing this letter, I can easily perceive that I night have framed it in a stile of greater sobriety; more suitable to the Writer, who has passed his Grand Climacterick. But if my Glow Worm fancy has caught a blaze _ You will remember Sir, that it was kindled on the Altar which you yourself have raised : as a votive offering to Genius : as sacred to a Bard : whose memory will be revered, and his Woodland Notes cherished as ↑long as↓ sentiment and taste and feeling shall remain, with the sons and daughters of Scotia.
          With the usual ceremonial of a formal Adieu, but with a closer affinity, I trust, to affection and esteem,

I remain, my Dear Sir, your friend & very faithful Serv↑t↓.

          W↑m↓. Warrington

You will be pleased, Sir, to present my most respectful Comp↑ts↓. to your Lady, to Mr. Roscoe, and our friend Mr. Shepperd. If you should condescend to answer this letter, you will have the goodness to say, where I can be a Subscriber for a Copy or two of the Work –

While I have waited for a Cover to convey this letter to you, I have perused the poems and sonnets, which are inserted in the two last volumes. Not being poetically gifted, it is not in my ↑power↓ critically to discriminate, or perhaps sufficiently to admire the merits of each. I can only say, that the applause which I could give to those poems, warranted by my feelings, and the little judgment I possess, would only be an Echo to the Public voice, But I will not, in mercy, fatigue you any longer with my vapid effusions; or hazard any farther strictures on a Work; which, whether considered for intrinsic merit or benevolent design, reflects an equal honor on the talents, as on the heart of the Editor.

Notes :

apology…Charles the Second:
Charles II was alleged to have refused to apologise for taking so long to die.

Grand Climacterick:
since classical times the climacteric is a key turning-point in one’s life, generally associated with the various stages of aging. There are two theories: one is that these occur in multiples of 7; the other, in multiples of 9. The ‘grand climacteric’ is most often regarded as 63, but occasionally 81.

Mr Shepperd:
Rev. William Shepherd, a close friend of Currie, whose sons had part of their education at the school he established in his parsonage. A leading member of the Liverpool Literary Society he was prominent in the cultural life of the city and a radical liberal thinker and Dissenter, regarded by some as ‘Jacobin’. For a time he contemplated finding refuge in Kentucky; and in 1793 Currie toyed with the prospect of returning across the Atlantic

Sully and his master:
Maximilien de Bethune, duc de Sully, principal minister of Henry IV of France, was credited with the rehabilitation of France after the Wars of Religion, 1562-98.

back to search