Letter, 1803, September 24, to Dr. Currie, Liverpool


Robert Burns (1759-96) is best known for his poems and songs that reflect Scotland's cultural heritage. He was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland, the first of seven children belonging to William Burnes, a tenant farmer, and his wife Agnes Broun. Burns had little formal education, but he read English literature and absorbed the traditional, largely oral Scots-language folk songs and tales of his rural environment. He began to compose songs in 1774, and published his first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, in 1786. The work was a critical success, and its poems in both Scots and English, on a range of topics, established Burns's broad appeal. While building his literary reputation, Burns worked as a farmer, and in 1788 he was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. He spent the final 12 years of his life collecting and editing traditional Scottish folk songs for collections including The Scots Musical Museum and A Select Collection of Original Scotish [sic] Airs for the Voice. Burns contributed hundreds of Scottish songs to these anthologies, sometimes rewriting traditional lyrics and setting them to new or revised music. This letter was sent by John Rennie regarding Dr. James Currie's The Works of Robert Burns, published in 1800. It contains poems such as "Logan Water" by John Maynethe, Rennie's own version of Burns's "The Blue-Eyed Lassie," and two other poems by Rennie. Rennie replaced the first line of the originial "The Blue-Eyed Lassie," which reads "I gaid a waefu' gate yestreen," with "Last night while glowed the lingering skies." In sending this manuscript, Rennie hoped that Currie would add his contributions to a later editon of Burns's biography and works. On side four, there is a summary of the contents with the following note: "[received] Sept. 24, 1803, ansd. 18th March 1804," presumably in Currie's hand.

Last updated: September 18, 2015