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 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  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 19 1788

There is no time, my Clarinda, when the conscious thrilling chords of Love and Friendship give such delight, as in the pensive hours of what our favourite Thomson calls, “Philosophic Melancholy.”

The sportive insects who bask in the sunshine of Prosperity, or the worms that luxuriant crawl amid their ample wealth of earth, they need no Clarinda; they would despise Sylvander- if they durst.

– The family of Misfortune, a numerous group of brothers and sisters! they need a resting-place to their souls: unnoticed, often condemned by the world; in some degree perhaps condemned by themselves, they feel the full enjoyment of ardent love, delicate tender endearments, mutual esteem and mutual reliance.-

In this light I have often admired Religion.-In proportion as we are wrung with grief, or distracted with anxiety, the ideas of a compassionate Deity, an Almighty Protector, are doubly dear.-
” ‘Tis this, my friend, that streaks our morning bright;
” ‘Tis this that gilds the horrors of our night”

I have been this morning taking a peep thro’, as Young finely says, “the dark postern of time long elaps’d;” and you will easily guess, ’twas a rueful prospect.-What a tissue of thoughtlessness, weakness and folly!

My life reminded me of a ruin’d temple: what strength, what proportion in some parts! what unsightly gaps, what prostrate ruins III others! I kneele down before the Father of mercies and said, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son!” I rose, eased and strengthened.-I despise the superstition of a Fanatic, but I love the Religion of a Man. – “The future,” said I to myself, “is still before me: there let me-

On Reason build Resolve,
“That column of true majesty in Man!”

“I have difficulties many to encounter,” said I; “but they are not “absolutely insuperable: and where is firmness of mind shewn, but “in exertion? mere declamation, is bombast rant.-Besides, wherever I am, or in whatever situation I may be-

-” ‘Tis nought to me:
“Since God is ever present, ever felt, “In the void waste as in the city full;
“And where He vital breathes, there must be joy!”

Saturday Night-half after ten

What luxury of bliss I was enjoying this time yesternight! My everdearest Clarinda, you have stolen away my soul but you have refined, you have exalted it; you have given it a stronger sense of Virtue, and a stronger relish for Piety. -Clarinda, first of your Sex, if ever I am the veriest wretch on earth to forget you; if ever your lovely image is effaced from my soul,

“May I be lost, no eye to weep my end;
“And find no earth that’s base enough to bury me!

What trifling silliness is the childish fondness of the every day children of the world! ’tis the unmeaning toying of the younglings of the fields and forests: but where Sentiment and Fancy unite their sweets; where Taste and Delicacy refine; where Wit adds the flavour, and Good-sense gives strength and spirit to all, what a delicious draught is the hour of tender endearment! Beauty and Grace in the arms of Truth and Honor, in all the luxury of mutual love!

Clarinda, have you ever seen the picture realized? not in all its very richest colouring: but

“Hope thou Nurse of young Desire;
“Fairy promiser of joy”

Last night, Clarinda, but for one slight shade, was the glorious Picture-

Look’d, gayly smiling on; while rosy Pleasure
Hid young Desire amid her flowery wreath,
And pour’d her cup luxuriant; mantling high,
The sparkling heavenly vintage, Love and Bliss!

Clarinda, when a Poet and Poetess of Nature’s making, two of Nature’s noblest productions! when they drink together of the same “cup of Love and Bliss”

-Attempt not, ye coarser stuff of Humannature, profanely to measure enjoyment ye never can know!

Goodnight, my dear Clarinda!


Published in: on January 19, 2009 at 9:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Anonymous, January 16 1788

(Enclosing On the death of the late Lord President Dundas.)

Edinburgh 16th January, 1788

I inclose you some verses I made on the loss, I am afraid irreparable loss, our Country sustains in the death of the late Lord President. Little new can be said, at this time of day, in Elegy.
Robt Burns

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 15 1788

Tuesday Evening

That you have faults, my Clarinda, I never doubted; but I knew not where they existed, and Saturday night made me more in the dark than ever. O, Clarinda, why will you wound my soulby hinting that last night must have lessened my opinion of you! True; I was “behind the scenes with you,” but what did I see? A bosom glowing with honour and benevolence; a mind ennobled by genius, informed and refined by education and reflection, and exalted by native religion, genuine as in the climes of heaven; a heart formed for all the glorious meltings of friendship, love and pity. These I saw.-I saw the noblest immortal soul, creation ever shewed me.

I looked long, my dear Clarinda, for your letter; and am vexed that you are complaining. I have not caught you so far wrong as in your idea, that the commerce you have with one friend hurts you, if you cannot tell every tittle of it to another. Why have so injurious a suspicion of a good God, Clarinda, as to think that Friendship and Love, on the sacred, inviolate principles of Truth, Honour and Religion, can be any thing else than an object of His divine approbation?

I have mentioned, in some of my former scrawls, Saturday evening next. Do, allow me to wait on you that evening. Oh my angel! how soon must we part! and when can we meet again! I look forward on the horrid interval with tearful eyes! What have I lost by not knowing you sooner. I fear, I fear my acquaintance with you is too short, to make that lasting impression on your heart I wish I could.


Published in: on January 15, 2009 at 9:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 12 1788

Your thoughts on Religion, Clarinda, shall be welcome—You may
perhaps distrust me when I say ‘tis also my favorite topic; but mine
is the Religion of the bosom—I hate the very idea of controversial
divinity; as I firmly believe, that every honest, upright man, of
whatever sect, will be accepted of the Deity

If your verses, as you seem to hint, contain censure, except you want an occasion to break with me, don’t send them—I have a little infirmity in my disposition, that where I fondly love or highly esteem, I cannot bear reproach.—

‘‘Reverence thyself’’ is a sacred maxim, and I wish to cherish it—-I
think I told you Lord Bolingbroke’s saying to Swift—”Adieu,dear
Swift! with all thy faults I love thee entirely; make an effort to love
me with all mine. “—A glorious sentiment, and without which there
can be no friendship! I do highly, very highly esteem you indeed,
Clarinda; you merit it all! Perhaps, too, I scorn dissimulation! I
could fondly love you: judge, then, what a maddening sting your
reproach would be—Oh, I have sins to Heaven, but none to you!”1
With what pleasure would I meet you today, but I cannot walk to
meet the fly—I hope to be able to see you, on foot, about the
middle of next week.—

I am interrupted—Perhaps you are not sorry for it—You will tell me
—but I won’t anticipate blame.—O Clarinda! did you know how dear
to me is your look of kindness, your smile of approbation! you
would not, either in prose or verse, risque a censorious remark.—

“Curst be the verse, how well soe’er it flow,
That tends to make one worthy man my foe!”


Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 9:33 am  Leave a Comment