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 Agnes McLehose, January 16 1788

Clarinda, Your letter found me writing to you.-I read yours two or three times by way of welcome: by and by, I shall do it more justice. – Friday evening, about eight, expect me. – If I can’t walk all the way, I’ll take a chair to Nicolson’s square, or so; and walk the rest.

-You talk of vanity; in mercy remember me, when you praise my letter writing talents so extravagantly.-Inured to flattery as I have been for some time past, I am not proof against the applauses of one whom I love dearer, and whose judgement I esteem more, than I do all the world beside.-I forget the chairman waits-God bless you!



Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 12:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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 14 1788

Monday Even, 11 o’clock
( 14th January 1788 )
Why have I not heard from you, Clarinda!-Today I well expected it; and before supper, when a letter to me was announced, my heart danced with rapture: but behold, ’twas some fool who had taken it into his head to turn Poet, and made me an offering of the first fruits of his nonsense.

“It is not poetry, but prose run mad.” Did I ever repeat to you an epigram I made on a Mr Elphinstone, who has given a translation of Martial, a famous Latin poet? The poetry of Elphinstone can only equal his prose-notes. I was sitting In a merchant’s shop of my acquaintance, waiting somebody; he put Elphinstone into my hand, and asked my opmion of it; I begged leave to write it on a blank leaf, which I did-

To Mr Elphinstone,&c.-
o thou, whom Poesy abhors!
Whom Prose has turned out of doors! Heard’st thou yon groan? proceed no further! ‘Twas laurel’d Martial calling murther!

I am determined to see you, if at all possible, on Saturday evening. Next week I must sing-

The night is my departing night,
The morn’s the day I maun awa’;
There’s neither friend nor foe O’ mine But wishes that I were awa’!
What I hae done for lack O’ wit, I never, never can reca’;
I hope ye’re a’ my friends as yet-
Gudenight, and joy be wi’ you a’!

If I could see you sooner, I would be so much the happier; but I would not purchase the dearest gratification on earth, if It must be at your expence in wordly censure;’far less, inward peace!-

I shall certainly be ashamed of thus scrawling whole sheets of incoherence.- The only unity, (a sad word with Poets & Critics!) in my ideas, is Clarinda.-There my heart “reigns and revels.”-

“What art thou Love! whence are those charms,
“That thus thou bear’st an universal rule!
“For thee the soldier quits his arms,
“The king turns slave, the wise man fool.-
“In vain we chase thee from the field,
“And with cool thoughts resist thy yoke:
“Next tide of blood, Alas! we yield;
“And all those high resolves are broke!”

I like to have quotations ready for every occasion.-They give one’s ideas so pat, and save one the trouble of finding expression adequate to one’s feelings.- I think it is one of the greatest pleasures attending a Poetic genius, that we can give our woes, cares, joys, loves, &c. an embodied form in verse, which, to me, is ever immediate ease. Goldsmith says finely of his Muse-

“Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe,
“Who found’st me poor at first, and keep’st me so”_

My limb has been so well today that I have gone up and down stairs often without my staff.- Tomorrow, I hope to walk once again on my own legs to dmner.-It is only next street.-Adieu!

Published in: on January 14, 2009 at 9:51 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  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 12 1788

( 12th January 1788 )
You talk of weeping Clarinda; some involuntary drops wet your tines as I read them.-Offend me, my dearest Angel! you cannot offend me: you never offended me! If you had ever given me the least shadow of offence; so pardon me, my God, as I forgive Clarinda-I have read yours again: it has blotted my paper.-Tho’ I find your letter has agitated me into a violent headache, I shall take a chair and be with you about eight.

-A friend is to be with us at tea on my account, which hinders me from coming sooner.-Forgive, my dearest Clarinda, my unguarded expressions.-For Heaven’s sake forgive me, or I shall never be able to bear my own mind!-
Your unhappy Sylvander

Published in: on January 12, 2009 at 9:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 10 1788

Thursday noon
(10th January 1788 )

I am certain I saw you, Clarinda; but you don’t look to the proper story for a Poet’s lodging-

“Where Speculation roosted near the sky”

I could almost have thrown myself over, for very vexation.-Why didn’t you look higher? It has spoilt my peace for this day.-To be so near my charming Clarinda; to miss her look when it was searching for me-I am sure the soul is capable of disease, for mine has convulsed itself into an inflamatory fever.-

I am sorry for your little boy: do, let me know tomorrow how he is.-You have converted me, .Clarinda.-(I shall love that name while I live: there is heavenly music in it.-) Booth and Amelia I know well.

Your sentiments on that subject, as they are on every subject, are just and noble.-“To be feelingly alive to kindness – and to unkindness,” is a charming female character.-

What I said in my last letter, the Powers of fuddling sociality only know for me.-By yours, I understand my good Star has been partly in my horizon, when I got wild in my reveries.- Had that evil Planet which has almost all my life shed its baleful rays on my devoted head, been, as usual, in my zenith (sic), I had certainly blab’d something that would have pointed out to you the dear Object of my tenderest friendship, and, in spite of me-something more.-Had that fatal information escaped me, and it was merely chance or kind stars that it did not; I had been undone! you would never have wrote me, except perhaps once, more!

O, I could curse circumstances! and the coarse tie of human laws which keep fast what Common Sense would loose; and which bars that happiness itself cannot giveHappiness which otherwise Love and Honor would warrant! But hold-I shall make no more “hairbreadth ‘scapes”

My friendship, Clarinda, is a life-rent business.-My Likings are both strong, and eternal.-I told you I had but one Male friend: I have but two female.-I should have a third, but she is surrounded by the blandishments of Flattery and Courtship.- Her I register in my heart’s core-by Peggy Chalmers.-Miss Nimmo can tell you how divine she is.-She is worthy of a place in the same bosom with my Clarinda.-That is the highest compliment I can pay her.-
Farewel, Clarinda! Remember

Published in: on January 10, 2009 at 12:34 am  Leave a Comment  

Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 8 1788

Tuesday night
( 8th January 1788 )
I am delighted, charming Clarinda, with your honest enthusiasm for Religion. Those of either sex, but particularly the female, who are lukewarm in that most important of all things, “O my soul, come not thou into their secrets!”

– I feel myself deeply interested in your good opinion, and will lay before you the outlines of my belief. He, who is our Author and Preserver, and will one day be our Judge, must be, (not for his sake in the way of duty, but from the native impulse of our hearts,) the object of our reverential awe and grateful adoration: He is almighty and all-bounteous, we are weak and dependent; hence, prayer and every other sort of devotion.

– “He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to everlasting life;” consequently, it must be in everyone’s power to embrace His offer of “everlasting life;” otherwise He could not, in justice, condemn those who did not. A mind pervaded, actuated and governed by purity, truth and charity, though it does not merit heaven, yet is an absolutely necessary pre-requisite, without which heaven can neither be obtained nor enjoyed; and, by Divine promise, such a mind shall never fail of attaining “everlasting life:” hence, the impure, the deceiving, and the uncharitable, extrude themselves from eternal bliss, by their unfitness for enjoying it.

The Supreme Being has put the immediate administration of al this, for wise and good ends known to himself, into the hands of Jesus Christ, a great Personage, whose relation to Him we cannot comprehend, but whose relation to us is a Guide and Saviour; and who, except for our own obstinacy and misconduct, will bring us all, through various ways and by various means, to bliss at last.

These are my tenets, my lovely friend; and which, I think, cannot be well disputed. My creed is pretty nearly expressed in the last clause of Jamie Dean’s grace, an honest weaver in Ayrshire;

“Lord grant that we may lead a gude life! for a gude life maks a gude end, at least it helps weel!”

I am flattered by the entertainment you tell me you have found in my packet. You see me as I have been, you know me as I am, and may guess at what I am likely to be.

I too may say, “Talk not of Love, &c.” for indeed he has “plung’d me deep in woe!” Not that I ever saw a woman who pleased unexceptionably, as my Clarinda elegantly says, “In the companion, the friend, and the mistress.” One indeed I could except – One, before passion threw its mists over my discernment I knew it, the first of women! Her name is indelibly written in my heart’s core-but I dare not look in on it-a degree of agony would be the consequence. Oh, thou perfidious, cruel, mischief-making demon, who president o’er that frantic passion thou mayst, thou dost poison my peace, but shall not taint my honour-I would not for a single moment give an asylum to the most distant imagination, that would shadow the faintest outline of a selfish gratification, at the expence of her whose happiness is twisted with the threads of my existence – May she be happy as she deserves! And if my tenderest, faithfulest friendship can add to her bliss-I shall at least have one solid mine of enjoyment in my bosom! Don’t guess at these ravings!

I watched at our front window to-day, but was disappointed. It has been a day of disappointments. I am just risen from a two-hours bout after supper, with silly or sordid souls, who could relish nothing in common with me-but the Port. “One”-‘Tis now “witching time of night;” and whatever is out of joint in the foregoing scrawl, impute it to enchantments and spells; for I can’t look over it, but will seal it up directly, as I don’t care for tomorrow’s criticisms on it.

Your are by this time fast asleep, Clarinda; may good angels attend and guard you as constantly and faithfully as my good wishes do!

“Beauty, which whether waking or asleep,
“Shot forth peculiar graces-,

John Milton, I wish thy soul better rest than I expect on my pillow to-night! a for a little of the cart-horse part of human nature!

Good night, my dearest Clarinda!

Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Robert Graham of Fintry, January 7 1788

St James’ Square, Monday morn:
( 7th January 1788 )


When I had the honor of being introduced to you at Atholehouse, I did not think of putting that acquaintance so soon to the test.
When Lear, in Shakespeare, asks old Kent why he wished to be in his service, he answers, “Because you have that in your face I-could like to call Master:” for some such similar reason, Sir, do I now solicit your Patronage.

– You know, I dare say, of an application I lately made to your Board, to be admitted an Officer of Excise. – I have, according to form, been examined by a Supervisor, and today I give in his Certificate with a request for an Order for instructions. – In this affair, if I succeed, I am afraid I shall but too much need a patronising Friend. – Propriety of conduct as a Man, and fidelity and attention as an Officer, I dare engage for; but with any thing like business, I am totally unacquainted.

– The man who till within these eighteen months was never the wealthy master of ten guineas, can be but ill-acquainted with the busy routine. – I had intended to have closed my late meteorous appearance on the stage of Life, in the country Farmer; but after discharging some filial and fraternal claims, I find I could only fight for existence in that miserable manner, which I have lived to see repeatedly throw a venerable Parent in the jaws of a Jail; where, but for the Poor Man’s last and often best friend, Death, he might have ended his days.

– I know, Sir, that to need your goodness is to have a claim on it: may I therefore beg your Patronage to forward me in this affair till I be appointed to a Division; where, by the help of rigid Economy, I shall try to support that Independance so dear to my soul, but which has too often been so distant from my situation.-

I have the honor to be, Sir,
your most humble servant
Robert Burns

Published in: on January 7, 2009 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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