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 : 19-09-1799
Correspondent : Robert AndersonCorrespondent Location : Edinburgh
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Anderson writes with details of items he has forwarded to Currie, including songs, poems and correspondence.
          I received a letter, the day before yesterday, from my friend Mr Ramsay of Ochtertyre requesting me to procure for you Thomson’s “Orpheus Caledonius”, Campbell’s “Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland” & Macdonald’s “Highland Airs”, &, to save time, which he observes is of more importance to you than postage, to communicate to you directly the result of my diligence.
          In compliance with the request of my learned & worthy friend, & to shew my readiness to contribute, however little to promote the curious & important inquiries in which you are engaged, I hasten, without the formality of an introduction, to acquaint you that I have obtained a copy of the “Orpheus” &c, for your use, from my liberal & communicative friend Mr George Paton, of the Custom House, & purchased, conditionally, a copy of the “Introduction” & from the publisher, but to my great mortification as yet, I have only been able to obtain a sight of a single copy of the “Airs”, in the possession of Johnson, the engraver, the property of a Gentleman in Glasgow. The “Orpheus” &c is a very scarce & curious collection of Scottish songs: the editor was a coeval of Ramsay’s. The “Introduction” &c is a thick quarto, price 2 Guineas: 90 copies only were printed, 12 on fine paper at 4 guineas, upon a very reprehensible plan of making the book valuable from it scarcity. Prefixed to the “Introduction” is a “conversation on Scottish Song, which merits your attention, as well as many parts of the “Introduction subjoined is a collection of “Sangs of the Lowlands of Scotland”, with characteristic engravings, from designs by Allan. The author is a native of the Highlands, married to Mrs Macdonald of Keppoch, a musician, a painter & poet, a man of a vigorous & enthusiastic mind, but of very moderate learning & incorrect taste. His book is ill written, ill arranged & inaccurately, though elegantly, printed. But a book may be indifferently written & arranged which yet contains valuable materials for one who can separate the corn from the chaff. The “Airs” were published in 1784, in folio, by subscription, with a Preface, & a very learned & Ingenious Essay “On the influence of Poetry & Music on the highlanders”, which may be a subject for discussion, when you are considering the models which Burns had before him, among which songs make a part, & contrasting the lowland songs & highland airs. Some use was made of the “Airs” by Burns, Johnson informs me, in the songs he furnished for his Collection. Mr Ramsay, Dr Young of Erskine & Dr Stuart of Luss assisted the editor, a highland minister, still living, in the musical part. They have been long out of print. Johnson re-engraved the Airs in a new edition, which is common but did not reprint the letter-press, because it would enhance the price. I called upon all my friends here yesterday who were subscribers, but unfortunately none of them, not even the amateurs, had preserved their copies. Dr Gregory Grant & Mr S. Fletcher Advocate have, however, undertaken to apply to all their highland friends in town, & I do not yet despair of getting a copy. At any rate I can get the Essay, of 8 or 9 folio pages, which concerns you most, transcribed from Johnson’s copy in a fair hand, & transmitted to you along with the books.
          As it is possible you may, in the mean time, have procured the books you want from some other quarter, I delay forwarding them to Liverpool, till I have your orders to that purpose, mentioning the mode of conveyance
          While I rejoice with every lover of elegant literature, that a gentleman so eminently qualified for the task has engaged to work the “Life of Burns with critical observations on his works” I take this opportunity to say that I should be happy to promote, to the utmost of my ability, the undertaking. I therefore beg Sir, you may do me the honour to command me whenever you may think it might be in my power to serve you.
          If you have not already procured all the other collect[ion]s of Scottish songs & poems from Forbes’s published about the beginning of th[e] reign of Charles II (the 3d edition is in 1682) to Herd’s collection in 2 vol 1776 & Rittson’s in 2 vol 1794, they can be procured now, for your use. I knew poor Bu[rn]s & gave Mr Cunningham all the verses I had of his which there were not other copies. Have you had any communications from Mr Alex. Dalzel, father to the two last Earls of Glencairn & Mr Graham of Gartmore? He was Burn’s most intimate friend, a poetical & convivial man, has many of his poems & letters, & knows more of his Ayrshire history & is more capable of appreciating his real character than any of his common associates.

          I am, very respectfully, Sir

          your most faithful humble servt.

                    Ro. Anderson

Notes :

Alexander Campbell(1764-1824):
Composer, musician, poet and author, he studied singing in Edinburgh with Tenducci and taught singing and harpsichord there where he met Burns. Publications include Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland (1798) Songs of the Lowlands of Scotland (1799), illustrated with engravings by artist David Allan (1744-96), A tour from Edinburgh through parts of Northern Britain (1802) which he illustrated himself; the two volume Albyn’s Anthology (1816). His Jacobite sympathies are evident from his poem The Grampians Desolate(1804). Campbell set songs of Robert Tannahill (1774-1810) to music. He married the widow of Ranald Macdonald of Keppoch in c. 1796.

George Paton (1721-1807):
Edinburgh antiquary and bibliographer. In 1780 he helped the Earl of Buchan to found the Society of Antiquaries.

Johnson the engraver:
James Johnson (c. 1750-1811), engraver and song collector whose first volume of the Scots Musical Museum was almost ready when he Burns in spring 1787.

David Allan (1744-96):
Artist and portrait painter who studied at Robert Foulis’ (1707-76) Art Academy in Glasgow and then in Rome. Director of the Edinburgh Academy of Arts (17860, he provided illustrations for Allan Ramsay’s The Gentle Shepherd and engravings of Tam o’ Shanter and The Cotter’s Saturday Night.

Dr Gregory Grant:
[?] In 1777 he became Chieftain of the clan Allan. Dr. Gregory Grant’s Strathspey was composed in his honour.

Mr Fletcher:
Archibald Fletcher (1746-1828), advocate and political reformer, born Perthshire.

Scottish songs and poems from Forbes’s:
John Forbes [?], published songs and Fancies, also known as Cantus, Songs & c with English Airs in Aberdeen (1662), second edition (1666) and third edition (1682).

David Herd(bap. 1732- 1810):
One of the greatest Scottish song collectors and editors, his Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads &c (1769, enlarged 1776) was revered by Sir Walter Scott and Joseph Ritson.

Alexander Dalzell(d. 1816 ?):
Alexander Dalzell, factor to the Earl of Glencairn at Finlayston, near Port Glasgow. According to Cromek Dalzell brought the Kilmarnock poems to the Earl’s attention and encouraged him to recommend Burns to try for a second edition in Edinburgh.

Robert Graham(1749-1815):
The 12th Laird of Fintry, in 1787 he was appointed commissioner of the Scottish board of excise; friend and patron of Burns in the excise service and the recipient of poetic epistles and various letters from Burns. Burns referred to him as ‘one of the worthiest and most accomplished Gentlemen, not only of this Country, but I will dare to say it, of this Age.’ Letters III, 1302.

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