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ruption, and he would not introduce an emendation without giving the reader warning of the change. Currie, moreover, went further than would be expected from what he says. He frequently altered sentences and added or omitted words without any necessity; and sometimes he rewrote a whole paragraph. The modern admirer of Burns will hardly thank him for omitting from one letter what seemed to him to be a repetition of what the poet has written to another correspondent. There is more to be said for the suppression of "parts of great delicacy.” Currie was in a difficult position. His work was published in order to raise money for Burns's family, and it was printed only four years after the poet's death. Many of the persons referred to in the correspondence were still alive, of whom some were Burns's friends, and others were persons whom it was not desirable to offend. There was, moreover, a duty toward Burns's own memory, which, unfortunately, made it impossible to print some passages in the letters ; but even in this respect Currie made many suppressions which were hardly necessary at the time, and which may now with perfect propriety be restored. Every student of Burns feels grateful for the disinterested services of his first editor; but for a complete knowledge of the man we need to have before us, as far as may be, all that he wrote. Mr. Scott-Douglas gave a more correct version of many of the letters printed by Currie; the purpose of this paper is to give the exact text, from manuscripts that have come to light since 1879, of a few others, and to show, incidentally, the latitude that Currie and others allowed themselves.
We will take first the letter to Mrs. Dunlop of the 16th August, 1788 (“Works of Robert Burns,” edited by Mr Scott Douglas, v. 147). The year is not mentioned in the
). original MS., and has been supplied from internal evidence. After the couplet,—“Why droops my heart," &c., come the following words, omitted by Currie :-“or, in the more homely poetry of the 'Psalms of David in Metre,'
Why art thou cast down, my soul ?
What should discourage thee? a physical potion to expel a slight indisposition, with my increasing cares," &c. Lower down, the MS. has—“I could indulge these (reflections), nay, they press for indulgence, till my
humour would ferment into the most acid vinegar of chagrin,” &c. The words in italics, here and throughout these extracts, were omitted by Currie, who inserted “reflections,” and changed “would” to “should.” After a few more words, we read in the MS.,-"I always find that the most sovereign balm under Heaven for my wounded spirit. I was yesterday at Mr. Miller's to dinner, '[for] the first time since I had been his tenant. My reception was quite to my mind ; from the lady of the house quite flattering. I believe in my conscience that she respects me more on account of my marrying a woman in circumstances somewhat similar to her own, when she commenced Mrs. Miller. See what it is to be rich! I was going to add, and to be great, but to be rich is to be great,” “Scottish,” in “Scottish songs .
.” and “Scottish ballad," should be “Scots.” Then we find “Mine, Madam'—they are indeed my very best verses ; sacré Dieu ; she took not the smallest notice of them ! .... The lady is actually a woman of sense and taste; a proof, if the subject needed, that these said two qualities, so useful and ornamental to human nature, are by no means inseparably of the family of Gules, Purpure, Argent, Or, &c.” Instead of “whose days are sold to the minions of fashion,” Burns wrote, “whose days, whose thoughts, whose independence, whose peace, nay, whose very gratification and enjoyments are sacrificed and sold to those few bloated minions of fortune.” For “his most voluptuous enjoyment was to sit down and cry,” Currie substituted “his highest enjoyment,” &c.; and he omitted the conclusion of the letter : “I am really afraid you will wish me to return to my post-sheet again. I have the honour to be, most sincerely and gratefully, madam, your humble servt., ROBT. BURNS.”
In another letter to Mrs. Dunlop, dated 4th March, 1789, (Scott-Douglas, v. 214), the MS. reads :- “When I must skulk into a corner, lest the rattling equipage of some gaping blockhead, contemptible puppy, or detestable scoundrel, should mangle me in the mire, I am tempted to exclaim—'What merits have these wretches had, or what demerits have I had, in some state of pre-existence, that they are ushered into this state of being with the sceptre of rule, and the key of riches in their puny fists, and I am kicked into the world, the sport of their folly,
1 “Has he ” (Currie.)
2“ He is” (Currie.)
3 “His puny fist" (Currie.)
or the victim of their pride?'” The “if” in “that if a man,” &c., is an interpolation of Currie's, which does not make the sense clearer. Instead of "it has one great fault,” the MS. reads "it has one damning fault," and "Scottish Poetry” should be ‘Scots Poetry.” The words omitted by Currie after “a few lines done by a friend of mine,” can be filled in; they are,—"which for beauty, I shall put against any as many lines in our language.”
In the letter to Dr. John Moore, 23rd March, 1789 (v. 221), Currie omitted the following words at the end of the first paragraph "That I am persuaded in soliciting your goodness in this business I am gratifying your feelings with a degree of enjoyment”; and he left out “late” before “Mrs. Oswald.” In the next sentence there should be no stop at “tenants”; Burns says that she was detested among her servants and tenants.
The letter to Mrs. Dunlop, of the 4th May, 1789, (v. 229), has already been corrected by Dr. Waddell ; but Burns wrote Esquire ” after “the Rt. Honble. Ch. J. Fox.”
In the famous letter to Mrs. Dunlop of the 13th December, 1789, (v. 274), which contains the first mention of Highland Mary, Burns, speaking of his nervous system, wrote, "a system of all others the most essential to our happiness,” &c. Currie omits “Lord !” before “What is man !" and the end of the paragraph should read—“yet the awful dark termination of that life is a something-perhaps Nothing—at which he recoils with still more horror.” The words “and as close,” at the end of the verses, are an interpolation. Lower down we find ---"is there probability in your many conjectures, any truth in your many stories”; and “it must be only for the first” has been altered to "it must only be,” &c. Before the last paragraph but one comes the following interesting passage:-“I am glad you have put me on transcribing my departed friend's epitaph. Transcribing saves me the very great trouble of thinking.
EPITAPH ON R. MUIR.
Was he who lies under this sod;
Then whom wilt Thou favour, Good God ?” Turning to a letter to Gilbert Burns, of the 11th January, 1790, (v. 283), we find that Currie has substituted “ cursed.
state for “damnable state.” In the second paragraph the MS. has, “ David Campbell, in Ayr, wrote [to] me, by the manager of the company, a Mr. Sutherland, who is indeed a man of genius and apparent worth.” The letter ends, “If once I were clear of this accursed farm, I shall respire more at ease. ---I
I am, yours, RobT. BURNS.”
The alterations in the letter of the 25th January, 1790, to Mrs. Dunlop, (v. 285), are slight. “To” has been inserted in
” "written to you”; “but” substituted for “only,” in “only why
; will you make me," &c.; "that glorious poem " omitted after “the Shipwreck?"; "country" substituted for “nation" in “Scotland beyond any other nation"; "Scots” changed to “Scottish ” songs; and “would,” to “should,” in “And O, sae sound as I would sleep!” The letter ends, “Dear madam, your obliged humble servt.”
Currie omitted the following postscript to the letter of the 11th April, 1791, to Mrs. Dunlop, (v. 362) :—"In a letter I had
a lately from Dr. Moore he bids me to remember him to you, and to beg of you not to think that his friendship flags when his
pen lies still. He says, except on business, he now seldom lifts a pen at all. But this is from myself, the devil take such apathy of Friendship !!!-R. B.”
A fragment of a letter to Mrs. Riddell, with the hypothetical date “November, 1793,” (vi. 93), appears to be a concoction of two separate letters, for an autograph note was sold at Messrs Sotheby's rooms in May last, which began with the first four lines as printed (“Dear Madam,
Hesperian fruit") and then proceeded,—“On Sunday I shall have the pleasure and honor of assuring you, in propria persona, how sincerely I am
yours, R. B.”
In the sad letter to Mrs. Walter Riddell, of the 4th June, 1796, (vi. 193), Burns spoke of his miserable health “would you have me in such circumstances copy you out a love-song ?” Currie was perhaps justified, at least at the time when he wrote, in omitting the words that followed :—“No! if I must write, let it be Sedition, or Blasphemy, or something else that begins with a B, so that I may grin with the grin of iniquity, and rejoice with the rejoicing of an apostate angel.
1 “Was" (Currie).
3 “Should " (Currie).
- All good to me is lost,
Evil, be thou my good !'” Cromek, whose “Reliques” appeared in 1808, wrote to Creech :-“Though I think most highly of Dr. Currie's performance, yet I must say that the fear of giving offence has led him to disfigure the work most strangely;" and he hoped that it would never be said of him that he performed similar mutilations, (vi. 162). At the same time he told Creech that he had cut away much that related to him :-“I do assure you, you are the only person to whom I have acted so delicately, with the exception of a few letters of a very private nature addressed by the Poet to Mrs. Burns.” But Cromek was hardly so punctilious as he represented himself to be. A comparison of the “ Address of the Scottish Distillers to the Right Hon. William Pitt," (v. 205), as he printed it, with a MS. copy, shows many verbal differences; but it is possible that some, at least, of these were made by Burns himself in copying out the piece afresh. The same cannot be said of a letter to Gavin Hamilton, which he printed, without date (v. 235) :-“Most fervently do I beseech the Power that directs the world,” should be, “most fervently do I beseech the Holy Trinity, or the holy somebody that directs this world.” And in the next paragraph the sense is spoilt by misprinting. It should read thus : -"Above all things, as I understand you are now in habits of intimacy with that Boanerges of Gospel power, Father Auld, be earnest with him that he will wrestle in prayer for you, that you may see the vanity of vanities in trusting to, or even practising, the carnal moral works of charity, humanity, generosity and forgiveness, things which you practised so flagrantly, that it was evident you delighted in them, neglecting, or perhaps profanely despising the wholesome doctrine of faith without works, the only anchor of salvation.”
In an undated letter of 1792 to Miss Fontenelle, (vi. 38), Cromek altered “secure to "insure,” in “your talents would secure admiration”; changed “on” to “in,” in “on your approaching benefit night”; and “shall” to “should,” in
though they shall add.” The letter ends—“I have the honour to be, madam, your very humble servt.”
1“In the habit” (Cromek.) ,
2“Powers" (Cromek.) 3 Cromek reads "generosity, and forgiveness of things which," &c. 4 “Means" (Cromek.)