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 : 11-02-1804
Correspondent : Dr WorthingtonCorrespondent Location : Ludlow
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Worthington writes in praise of Currie’s edition of Burns.
P.S. My wife writes in regards to you, and M?rs?. Currie. Do you ever hear from the Vicar of Old Windsor? His History of Venice has some time been completed; and he has written a good Tragedy, w?h?. I have advised him to put into the hands of Mrs Kemble; but, he is timid. Ludlow. Feb?ry?. 11 _ 1804 Dear Currie Within this hour my wife and I had some high words; an epithet, of which you will see the propriety, when you are told, that yourself, and Burns, were the heroes of our discourse – Such indeed has been the warmth and obstinacy of the disputants, that, unless you come forward in the character of moderator, as well as arbitrator, it is easy to foresee, and painful to contemplate, the height where unto this controversy may mount and the depth to which it may descend - I broke it off for, for the present, by declaring I would immediately address you on the great occasion - We shall mutually endeavour to suppress the subject ‘till the arrival of your reply - This Lady insinuatos, nay, roundly asserts, that I have never yet expressed to you, what I have done to all the rest of the world, my admiration of your biography of that extraordinary man, worthy of your pen; and second in the requisites, and productions, of a poet, perhaps to ?no? man dead, nor living, but – Shakespeare – Now, I, as strenuously contend, insist, and affirm, that I have expressed my admiration of said biography to you personally, or by letter, in the most unqualified and effectual mode possible, by refering you, for my sentiments on the work, to the British Critic, with which I felt my taste & judgement – and proud I am of the sympathy – in perfect unison. Perhaps, even this will hardly compose the scruples, and do away the misgivings, of my hesitating and sceptical wife: therefore, I must add, in tender regard to her future quiet, that I esteem the reports, given in the British Critic, of “Currie’s Biography of Robt. Burns”, the highest, and best earned, panegyric, I ever read of any work – I request, that this declaration may neither be committed to the consuming agency of fire, nor dismissed to that bourne from which no traveller returns, but, that it may be treasured in some favourite and secure depôt, that will ?admit? its reproduction at a moment’s notice – – After all this, I am now to remark on my uneasiness, occasioned by your delay to answer my former letter, in which an enquiry was made into the condition of your seminaries for classical education - I am afraid ?you are? not yet perfectly recovered - Notwithstanding the differences and contentions which may occasionally arise between the lady at my elbow, and the gentleman at her’s on other matters, we are pretty well agreed in our anxious wishes for your entire reinstatement, and hope we shall soon hear that our wishes are not vain - She desires me to tell you that her eldest daughter has learned, by heart most of Burn’s Eng: poetry - I hope to inform you, in due time, that she has relished your Essay on the Scotch Peasantry as much as I have done – What a noble subject for an Essay of anticipation – Look to St. Domingo! The theatre in which, I trust, is now exhibiting the rise and progress of the Black Empire – Here is a subject for public thanksgiving and reverential joy! Tho’ not quite so gratifying to all the people of Liverpool ,as to you, my good friend & y?rs? very sincerely R?d?. Worthington .

Notes :

Mrs. Kemble Sarah Kemble, Mrs. Siddons (1755-1831): the actress whose career and renown spanned 5 decades. Best known for her sympathetic portrayal of Lady Macbeth, she appeared as Hermione in The Winter’s Tale in 1802; her portrayal of Hamlet in Dublin, 27 July 1802, was widely publicised.

St. Domingo: Santo Domingo, the former Spanish colony on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (now the republic of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Ceded to France in 1795, it had come under the control of the native population, led by the freed slave, Toussaint L’Ouverture (1743-1803), by 1797. Napoleon despatched his brother-in-law, General Leclerc, with an army of 20,000 to retake the colony and restore slavery. The eventual defeat of the native army led to the imprisonment of Toussaint in the French Alps. His general, Jean Jacques Dessalines, overcame the French at the battle of Vertieres, ironically just after Toussaint’s death, and the liberated Haiti declared itself independent on 1 January 1804. Worthington’s ‘thanksgiving and reverential joy’ are typical of the response of British radicals and liberationists.

Dr Richard Worthington: physician who had been a class-mate of Currie at Edinburgh University.

Vicar of Old Windsor: Rev. W. Warrington, who wrote to Currie, 26 Oct. 1801.

review in the British Critic: See Robert Nares, British Critic XVI (Oct 1800) 366-79 & XVII (April 1801) 416-22.

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