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Database sorted, so all the letters will reappear at the next refresh in the next 24 hours. Thanks everyone for patience.

And stay tuned for a very special video featuring Robert Burns himself. More details in a week or so…

Published in: on April 10, 2009 at 9:53 am  Leave a Comment  


Last few postings have had problems. We’re sorting it and will have them back up shortly. Apologies for this.

Published in: on February 25, 2009 at 12:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 27 1788

Sunday noon
27th January 1788

‘I have almost given up the excise idea.-I have been just now to wait on a great person, Miss Nimmo’s friends, Mrs Stewart.

-Why will Great people not only deafen us with the din of their equipage, and dazzle us with their fastidious pomp, but they must also be so very dictatorially wise? I have been question’d like a child about my matters, and blamed and schooled for my Inscription on Stirling window.I-Come, Clarinda- “Come, curse me Jacob; come, defy me Israel! ”

Sunday Night
I have been with Miss Nimmo. She is indeed, “a good soul,” as my Clarinda finely says.-She has reconciled me, in a good measure, to the world, with her friendly prattle.-

Schetki has sent me the song, set to a fine air of his composing.-I have called the song, Clarinda: I have carried it about in my pocket, and thumbed it over all day.-

I trust you have spent a pleasant day: and that no idea or recollection of me gives you pain.-

Monday morning

If my prayers have any weight in Heaven, this morning looks in on you and finds you in the arms of peace; except where it is charmingly interrupted by the ardours of Devotion.-

I find so much serenity of mind, so much positive pleasure, so much fearless daring toward the world, when I warm in devotion, or feel the glorious sensation, a consciousness of Almighty Friendship, that I am sure I shall soon be a honest Enthusiast-
“How are Thy servants blest, O Lord, How sure is their defence!
Eternal wisdom is their guide, Their help Omnipotence! ”

I am, my dear Madam, yours, Sylvander

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, 26 January 1788

26th January 1788

I was on the way, my Love, to meet you (I never do things by halves) when I got your card.-Mr [Ainslie] goes out of town tomorrow morning, to see a brother of his who is newly arrived from France.

-I am determined that he and I shall call on you together; so look you, lest I should never see tomorrow, we will call on you.Tonight.

-Mary and you may put off tea till about seven; at which time, in the Galloway phrase, “an the beast be to the fore, and the branks bide hale,” expect the humblest of your humble servants, and his dearest friend.-We only propose staying half an hour,-for ought we ken.”

-·I could suffer the lash of Misery eleven months in the year, were the twelfth to be composed of hours like yesternight. -You are the soul of my enjoyment: all else is of the stuff of stocks & stones.-


Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 9:51 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, 25 January 1788

Clarinda, my life, you have wounded my soul.-Can I think of your being unhappy, even tho’ it be not described in your pathetic elegance of language, without being miserable?

Clarinda, can I bear to be told from you, that “you will not see me tomorrow night-that you wish the hour of parting were come”! Do not let us impose on ourselves by sounds: if in the moment of fond endearment and tender dalliance, I perhaps trespassed against the letter of Decorum’s law; I appeal, even to you, wbether I ever smned m the very least degree against the spirit of her strictest statute.

-But why, My Love, talk to me in such strong terms; every word of which cuts me to the very soul? You know, a hint, the slightest signification of your wish, is to me a sacred command.

-Be reconciled, My Angel, to your God, your self and me; and I pledge you Sylvander’s honor, an oath I dare say you will trust without reserve, that you shall never more have reason to complain of his conduct.

-Now, my Love, do not wound our next meeting with any averted looks or restrained caresses: I have marked the line of conduct, a line I know exactly to your taste, and which I will inviolably keep; but do not you show the least inclination to make boundaries: seeming distrust, where you know you may confide, is a cruel sin against Sensibility.-

“Delicacy, you know it, was which won me to you at once-“take care you do not loosen the dearest most sacred tie that unites us” Clarinda, I would not have stung your soul, I would not have bruised your spirit, as that harsh crucifying, “Take care,” did mine; no, not to have gained heaven! Let me again appeal to your dear Self, if Sylvander, even when he seemingly half-transgressed the laws of Decorum, if he did not shew more chastised, trembling, faultering delicacy, than the MANY of the world do in keeping these laws.-

O Love and Sensibility, ye have conspired against My Peace! I love to madness, and I feel to torture! Clarinda, how can I forgive myself, that I ever have touched a single chord in your bosom with pain! would I do it willingly? Would any consideration, any gratification make me do so?

O, did you love like me, you would not, you could not deny or put off a meeting with the Man who adores you; who would die a thousands deaths before he would injure you; and who must soon bid you a long farewell!-

I had proposed bringing my bosom friend, Mr Ainslie, tomorrow evening, at his strong request, to see you; as he only has time to stay with us about ten minutes, for an engagement; but-I shall hear from you: this afternoon, for mercy’s sake! for till I hear from you I am wretched.-O Clarinda, the tie that binds me to thee, is entwisted, incorporated with my dearest threads of life!

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 9:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, 24 January 1788

“Unlavish Wisdom never works in vain”..!
I have been tasking my reason, Clarinda, why a woman, who for native genius, poignant wit, strength of mind, generous sincerity of soul, and the sweetest female tenderness, is without a peer; and whose personal charms have few, very, very few parallels, among her sex; why, or how she should fall to the blessed lot of a poor hairumscairum Poet, whom Fortune has kept for her particular use to wreak her temper on, whenever she was in ill-humour.

One time I conjectured that as Fortune is the most capricious jade ever known; she may have taken, not a fit of remorse, a paroxysm of whim, to raise the poor devil out of the mire, where he had so often and so conveniently served her as a stepping-stone, and give him the most glorious boon she ever had in her gift, merely for the maggot’s sake, to see how his fool head and his fool heart will bear it.

At other times I was vain enough to think that Nature, who has a great deal to say with Fortune, had given the coquettish goddess some such hint as, “Here is a paragon of Female Excellence, whose equal, in all my former conposItions, I never was lucky enough to hit on, and despair of ever doing so again; you have cast her rather in the shades of life; there is a certain Poet, of my making; amongst your frolicks, it would not be amiss to attach him to this master-piece of my hand, to give her that immortality amongst mankind which no woman of any age ever more deserv’d, and which few Rhymesters of this age are better able to confer.”

Evening, 9 o’clock I am here, absolutely unfit to finish my letter-pretty hearty after a bowl, which has been constantly plied since dinner, till this moment.

I have been with Mr. Schetki, the musician, and he has set it finely. -1 have no distinct ideas of any thing, but that I have drunk your health twice tonight, and that you are all my soul holds dear in this world.-


Published in: on January 24, 2009 at 9:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Margaret Chalmers, January 22 1788

Now for that wayward, unfortunate thing, myself. I have broke measures with (Creech) and last week I wrote him a frosty, keen letter. He replied in terms of chastisement, and promised me upon his honor that I should have the account on Monday; but this is Tuesday, and yet I have not heard a word from him. God have mercy on me! a poor damned, incautious, duped, unfortunate fool! The sport, the miserable victim, of rebellious pride; hypochondriac imagination, agonizing sensibility, and bedlam passions!

“I wish that I were dead, but I’m no like to die!” I had lately “a hairbreadth ‘scape in th’ imminent deadly breach” of love too. Thank my stars I got off heart-whole, “waur fleyd than hurt.” Interruption

I have this moment got a hint. . . I fear I am something – but I hope for the best. Come, stubborn pride and unshrinking resolution! Accompany me through this, to me, miserable world!

You must not desert me! Your friendship I think I can count on, though I should date my letters from a marching regiment. Early in life, and all my life; I reckoned on a recruiting drum as my forlorn hope. ‘Seriously though, life at present presents me with but a melancholy path: but-my limb will soon be sound, and I shall struggle on.

Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose , January 21 1788

( 21st January 1788 )
* * * I am a discontented ghost a perturbed spirit. Clarinda. if
ever you forget Sylvander, may you be happy, but he will be miserable.

O, what a fool I am in love!-what an extravagant prodigal of affection! Why are your sex called the tender sex, when I never have met with one who can repay me in passion? They are either not so rich in love as I am, or they are niggards where I am lavish.

O Thou, whose I am, and whose are all my ways! Thou see’st me here, the hapless wreck of tides and tempests in my own bosom: do Thou direct to thyself that ardent love, for which I have so often sought a return, in vain, from my fellow-creatures!

If Thy goodness has yet such a gift in store for me, as an equal return of affection from her who, Thou knowest, is dearer to me than life, do Thou bless and hallow our band of love and friendship; watch over us, in all our outgoings and incomings, for good; and may the tie that unites our hearts be strong and indissoluble as the thread of man’s immortal life!

I am just going to take your Blackbird, the sweetest, I am sure, that ever sung, and prune its wings a little.


Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 4:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop of Dunlop, January 21 1788

Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop of Dunlop
Edinburgh, 21st January 1788

After six weeks’ confinement, I am beginning to walk across the room. They have been six horrible weeks, anguish and low spirits made me unfit to read, write, or think.

I have a hundred times wished that one could resign life as an officer resigns a commission: for I would not take in any poor, ignorant wretch, by selling out. Lately I was a sixpenny private; and, God knows, a miserable soldier enough: now I march to the campaign, a starving cadet; a little more conspicuously wretched.

I am ashamed of all this; for though I do want bravery for the warfare of life, I could wish, like some other soldiers, to have as much fortitude or cunning as to dissemble or conceal my cowardice.

As soon as I can bear the journey, which will be, I suppose about the middle of the next week, I leave Edinburgh, and soon after I shall pay my grateful duty at Dunlop-house.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 4:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose , January 20 1788

Sunday night
( 20th January 1788 )

The impertinence of fools has joined with a return of an old indisposition, to make me good for nothing today.-The paper has lain before me all this evening, to write to my dear Clarinda, but-

“Fools rush’d on fools, as waves succeed to waves”

I cursed them in my soul: they sacreligiously disturbed my meditations on her who holds my heart.-What a creature is man! A little alarm last night and today that I am mortal, has made such a revolution on my spirits! There is no Philosophy, no Divinity, comes half so home to the mind.-I have no idea of courage that braves Heaven.-‘Tis the wild ravings of an imaginary hero in Bedlam.-

I can no more, Clarinda; I can scarce hold up my head: but I am happy you don’t know it, you would be so uneasy.-

Monday morning-
I am, my lovely friend, much better this morning, on the whole; but I have a horrid languor on my spirits.-

“Sick of the world, and all its joy,
“My soul in pining sadness mourns:
“Dark scenes of woe my mind employ,
“The past and present in their turns”

Have you ever met with a saying of the Great and likewise Good Mr Locke, Author of the famous essay on the human understanding,He wrote a letter to a friend, directing it, “not to be delivered till after my decease;” it ended thus-“I know you loved me when “living, and will preserve my memory now I am dead.-All the use to “be made of it is; that this life affords no solid satisfaction, but in “the consciousness of having done well, and the hopes of another “life.-Adieu! I leave my best wishes with you-J. Locke-”

Clarinda, may I reckon on your friendship for life? I think I may. Thou Almighty Preserver of Men! Thy friendship, which hitherto I have too much neglected, to secure it shall, all the future days and nights of my life, be my steady care! -The idea of my Clarinda follows-

“Hide it my heart, within that close disguise,
“Where mix’d with God’s her lov’d idea lies”

But I fear that inconstancy, the consequent imperfection of human weakness.- Shall I meet with a friendship that defies years of Absence and the chances and changes of Fortune? Perhaps “such things are”; One honest man I have great hopes from, that way: but who, except a Romance-writer, would think on a love that could promise for life, in spite of distance, absence, chance and change; and that too, with slender hopes of Fruition?

-For my own part, I can say to myself in both requisitions, “Thou art the man!” I dare, in cool resolve I dare, declare myself that Friend, and that Lover.-If Womankind is capable of such things, Clarinda is.-I trust that she is; and feel I shall be miserable, if she is not.

– There is not one Virtue which gives worth, or one Sentiment which does honor to the Sex, that she does not possess superiour to any woman I ever saw: her exalted mind, aided a little perhaps by her situation, is, I think, capable of that nobly-romanticLove-enthusiasm.-

May I see you on Wedensday evening, my dear angel? The next wedensday again will, I conjecture, be a hated day to us both.-I tremble for censorious remark, for your sake; but in extraordinary cases, may not usual and useful Precaution be a little dispensed with? Three evenings, three swift-winged evenings, with pimons of down, are all the past-I dare not calculate the future.-I shall call at Miss Nimmo’s tomorrow-evening; ’twill be a farewell call.-

I have wrote out my last sheet of paper, so I am reduc’d to my last half-sheet-What a strange, mysterious faculty is that thing called Imagination? We have no ideas almost at all, of another world; but I have often amused myself with visionary schemes of what happiness might be enjoyed by small alterations, alterations that we can fully enter to, in this present state of existence

-For instance; suppose you and I just as we are at present; the same reasoning Powers, sentiments and even desires; the same fond curiousity for knowledge and remarking observation in our minds; & imagine our bodies free from pain and the necessary supplies for the wants of nature, at all times and easily within our reaeli: imagine farther that we were set free from the laws of gravitation which binds us to this globe, and could at pleasure fly, without inconvenience, through all the yet unconjecture’d bounds of Creation-what a life of bliss would we lead, in our mutual pursuit of virtue and knowledge, and our mutual enjoyment of friendship and love!-

I see you laughing at my fairy fancies, and calling me a voluptuous Mahometan; but I am certain I would be a happy creature, beyond any thing we call bliss here below: nay, it would be a paradise congenial to you too.

-Don’t you see us hand in hand, or rather my arm about your lovely waist, making our remarks on Sirius, the nearest of the fixed stars; or surveying a Comet flaming inoxious by us, as we just now would mark the passing pomp of a travelling Monarch: or, in a shady bower of Mercury or Venus, dedicating the hour to love; in mutual converse, relying honor and revelling endearment-while the most exalted strains of Poesy and Harmony would be the ready, spontaneous language of our souls!

Devotion is the favorite employment of your heart; so is it of mine: what incentives then to, and powers for, Reverence, Gratitude, Faith and Hope in all the fervours of Adoration and Praise to that Being whose unsearchable Wisdom, Power and Goodness so pervaded, so inspired every Sense and Feeling!-

By this time, I dare say, you will be blessing the neglect of the maid that leaves me destitute of Paper.-


Published in: on January 20, 2009 at 11:06 am  Leave a Comment