July 15, 2011

Address to the Unco Guid or the Rigidly Righteous

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. Burns sent a copy of Thomas Randall's Christian Benevolence to John Leslie in June 1789, "as a remembrance of his interest in the Case lately before Ayr Presbytery." The "Case" refers to a running dispute between the Reverend William Auld, minister at Mauchline, and Burn's friend Gavin Hamilton, who was charged with unnecesary absences from church. The Presbytery of Ayr and the Synod of Glasgow ultimately found in Hamilton's favor, but the pitting of Auld Licht (conservative) against New Licht (liberal) aroused considerable interest and animosity in the vicinity, giving rise to Burns's great satire "Holy Willie's Prayer." Burns then transcribed the entire text of his poem "An Address to the Unco Guid or the Rigidly Righteous," on the endpapers and blank preliminary pages of the copy. This appears to be the only known manuscript of the poem in the poet's hand. A collation with the first printing of the poem in the 1787 Edinburgh edition shows several minor differences, and one major variant. In stanza seven, where Burns points out that "To step aside is human," the last two lines read "An just as lamely as can ye mark, / How far perhaps they rue it." The manuscript version appears to make better sense with the word "plainly" in lieu of "lamely."

Letter, 1788, February 13, Brown Square, to Robert Burns, Mr. Cruikshank's, St. James Square

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 is a signed autograph letter from Henry Mackenzie, with manuscript jottings adding up a column of numbers (1000, 500, 1500, 250) for a total of 3250 in Robert Burns's hand. The numbers relate to the size of the two print runs for the Edinburgh edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Henry Mackenzie was an important literary figure in Scotland, and established himself as a novelist, playwright, poet, and editor. He contributed a critique of Burns's works to the literary magazine The Lounger, of which he was editor, and commended the Kilmarnock Edition of Burns's Poems.

Letter, 1788, June 23, Mauchline to Robert Ainslie, Edinburgh

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. Burns first met Robert Ainslie, to whom this letter is addressed to, in early 1787. The poet was in Edinburgh seeing a new edition of Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect through the press, and Ainslie subscribed to two copies of the work. Ainslie and Burns became intimate friends, and the two became traveling companions of a border tour in May 1787. Burns describes this letter as "only a business scrap," but his request illustrates the relationship between Burns, Ainslie, Dr. Blacklock, Lord Glencairn, and John Miers. Burns suggests that Ainslie sit for a profile by painter John Miers, in order to hang "Lord Glencairn, the Dr. and you, in trio, over my new chimney-piece that is to be." The "chimney-piece" is a reference to Burns establishing his home with Jean Armour, whom he married in 1788.

Letter, 1792 Feb.?, Dumfries to John McMurdo, Drumlanrig

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. John McMurdo, to whom this letter is addressed to, was Chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry at Drumlanrig. He and Burns likely met in 1788, establishing a lifelong friendship - Burns's poem "Bonnie Jean," for instance, was written about McMurdo's younger daughter. After Burns's death, McMurdo became one of the trustees of the money raised for Burns's widow and children. The second section of this letter reads, "I think I once mentioned something to you of a collection of Scots songs I have for some years been making. I send you a perusal of what I have gathered...There is not another copy of the collection in the world..." The collection of Scots songs to which Burns refers was his manuscript of "The Merry Muses of Caledonia." The songs included in this collection were circulated to a few chosen friends, but the manuscript disappeared after Burns's death, possibly removed from his papers by Dr. James Currie. In 1799 a collection of songs appeared anonymously, bearing Burns's working title. The following year Currie included this letter in his edition of Burns's works, but added a spurious sentence: "A very few of them [the poems] are my own." (Liverpool, 1800) The extra sentence may have been intended to play down Burns's role in producing the collection of bawdy poems.

Letter, 1794, May to Collector Syme

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 document contains a poem addressed to John Syme, with a contemporary endorsement in another hand, dated May 1794. This extempore verse was included by James Currie in his Works of Robert Burns(1800), but without Syme's name in the title or in line 4 of the poem. Syme first met Robert Burns in Dumfries, 1791, when Burns lived in the floor above his office of Distributor of Stamps. Burns respected his critique on literary matters, and the two became traveling companions for a tour of Galloway in 1793. After Burns's death, Syme assisted his friend's family and encouraged the publication of his later works, which were edited and published by Currie.

Letter, 1788 July 18th, Mauchline, to Mr. John Smith, Jun., Bookseller, Glasgow

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 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. The spring and early summer of 1788 saw many significant transitions in his life. After leaving Edinburgh for Mauchline, Burns married Jean Armour, took a lease on the farm at Ellisland, and was appointed an excise officer in Ellisland. It is hardly surprising that he was also trying to clear up outstanding debts owed to him, as seen in this letter requesting payment for his books. Burns refers to the nine copies sent from Kilmarnock, and mentions that he "will be in Glasgow in a month or two myself." As Burns did not receive a reply to this letter, he wrote a follow-up letter to the same bookseller five months later (See related item link to "Letter, 1789 Janry. 17th, Mauchline, to Mr. John Smith..."). This unsuccesful correspondence conveys the complexity and delay in settling accounts, where both individual subscribers and multiple booksellers were involved.