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 : 13-12-1797
Correspondent : Cadell & DaviesCorrespondent Location : London
Recipient : James Currie Recipient Location : Liverpool
Subject : Cadell & Davies discuss format and pricing of Currie’s edition.
Dear Sir
      We are favoured with your Letter descriptive of the intended Publication of the posthumous Works of poor Burns, and lose no Time in assuring you of our Reddiness to receive Subscriptions and to do every Thing else in our Power to promote its Success –
      It appears to us that the Contents of the Volume will be much more miscellaneous and interesting than will be generally expected and we therefore submit to you whether it might not be advisable to add to the Proposals a Prospectus of the Work – We also earnestly recommend that no Subscriptions be depended on but those which come accompanied by the Money, and that after “Price one Guinea in Boards” to be paid at the Time of subscribing be inserted in the Proposals – This, we well know, will save an Infinity of Trouble, and Persons disposed to subscribe will as readily give their Guineas as their Names in the first Instance – Printed Receipts must therefore be put into the Hands of each Party receiving Subscriptions –
      We will take an early Opportunity of mentioning the Business to Mess.rs Nicol and Edwards, who, we doubt not, will be very willing to receive Subscriptions and otherwise serve the Work – Mr Creech’s Name, too, we think should also appear, and we recommend that, before the Names of the Booksellers, those of Mr Cunningham and Mr Syme should be retained, together with the Addition of such other Gentlemen as interest themselves for the Family and would undertake to receive Subscriptions – It is not for us, dear Sir, to say that you ought, also, to come forward as Editor, but we must be permitted to observe that, in our Opinion, your doing so would essentially benefit the Subscription –
      No further Alteration in the Proposals suggests itself to us at present, but if you will do us the Favour of transmitting us a Proof of it with such Alterations as you shall think proper to adopt, we shall by that Time have seen Mess.↑rs↓ Nicol and Edwards, and also have turned the Matter further in our own Minds, when we may perhaps use the Freedom of recommending some new Alteration –
      The next Step will be to advertise the Proposals in the London, Liverpool and Edinburgh Papers –
      A Mr Lawrie of this City, a Friend of Burns’s Family, and who told us he had collected a good many Guineas, called upon us about three Weeks ago respecting this Business – It then appeared to us that Quarto was not the proper Size, but we have since thought differently, on the Ground that for no other Size could a Guinea with Propriety be demanded – It may not be [amiss] to mention, even in this early Stage of the Business, as it may tend to relieve Mrs Burns from any Anxiety about the Expences of the Edition, that as her Friends will probably recommend it to her to dispose of the Copyright of these posthumous Works, and as we shall be very ready to treat for it, our taking upon ourselves the Discharge of Mr McCreery’s Bill, &c. might perhaps form the best Basis of an Agreement – but of this hereafter –
      With kindest Compliments to our truly respected Friend Mr Roscoe, we are, dear Sir,

           Your faithful and very obedient Servants

                Cadell & Davies -

Decr 13th, 1797 –

The Edition of the “Reports”, we have little Hesitation in saying, will soon be totally disposed of –

Notes :

Mess.rs Nicol and Edwards: George Nicol (?1740-1825), London bookseller; James Edwards (1757-1816), bookseller at Pall mall, London.

Mr Creech: William Creech (1745-1815). Tutor to Lord Kilmaurs, later 14th Earl of Glencairn, who probably introduced him to Burns. Friend of Hugh Blair and Dugald Stewart and publisher of Beattie, Campbell, and Mackenzie. Burns wrote, 16 December 1786 to Robert Aiken, ‘I have found in Mr Creech, who is my agent forsooth, and Mr Smellie who is to be my printer, that honor and goodness of heart which I always expect in Mr Aiken’s friends’ (Letters, ed. Roy, I, 72). Enlarged edition of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect appeared, 17 April 1787, with list of 1,300 subscribers. Burns sold the copyright to Creech, 23 April 1787, for 100 guineas, the sum suggested by Henry Mackenzie.In an unpublished fragment in the Lochryan MS, Burns described Creech as a ‘little, upright, pert, tart, tripping wight’.

Mr Cunningham and Mr Syme: Alexander Cunningham (c.1763-1812), 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; John Syme (1755-1831), an ensign in the 72nd regiment, he became manager of his father’s estate at Barncailzie but it was lost with the failure of the Ayr Bank. In 1791 he became Distributor of Stamps for Dumfries and Galloway, residing at Ryedale and with his stamp office below the first Burns family Dumfries residence in the Vennel. Syme accompanied Burns on two tours of Galloway (July 1793 and June 1794), giving an account of the earlier to Currie. Burns regarded him very highly, terming him his ‘Supreme Court of Critical Judicature, from which there is no appeal’ (Letters II, 354). Alexander Cunningham proposed the fund for the poet’s family to Syme on 20 July 1796 and he was an active participant.

Mrs Burns: Jean (Armour) Burns (1765-1834), the poet’s widow.

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

Mr 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.

“Reports”: James Currie's Reports on the Effects of water in Febrile Disease (1797).

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