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 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 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 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 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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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 5 1788

Saturday noon [5th January 1788)
Some days, some nights, nay some hours, like the “ten righteous persons in Sodom,” save the rest of the vapid, tiresome, miserable months and years of life. -One of these hours, my dear Clarinda blesst me with yesternight-

“One well spent hour,
“In such a tender circumstance for Friends,
“Is better than an age of common time!”


My favorite feature in Milton’s Satan is, his manly fortitude in supporting what cannot be remedied-in short, the wild broken fragments of a noble, exalted mind in ruins.-I meant no more by saying he was a favorite hero of mine.

– I mention’d to you my letter to Dr Moore, giving an account of my life: it is truth, every word of it; and will give you the just idea of a man whom you have honor’d with your friendship. -I am afraid you will hardly be able to make sense of so torn a piece. -Your verses I shall muse on-deliciously-as I gaze on your image in my mind’s eye, in my heart’s core: they will be in time enough for a week to come. – I am truly happy your head-ach is better – O, how can Pain or Evil be so daringly, unfeelingly, cruelly savage as to wound so noble a mind, so lovely a form!-

My little fellow is all-my Namesake.-Write me soon.-My every, strongest good wishes attend you, Clarinda


I know not what I have wrote-I am pestered with people around me –

Published in: on January 5, 2009 at 12:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 4 1788

You are right, my dear Clarinda: a friendly correspondence goes for nothing, except one write their undisguised sentiments.-Yours please me for their intrinsic merit, as well as because they are yours; which, I assure, is to me a high recommendation.

– Your religious sentiments, Madam, I revere.-If you have, on some suspicious evidence, from some lying oracle, learnt that I despise or ridicule so sacredly important a matter as real Religion, you have, my Clarinda, much misconstrued your friend. – “I am not mad, most noble Festus!’

Have you ever met a perfect character? Do we not sometimes rather exchange faults than get rid of them? For instance; I am perhaps tired with and shocked at a life, too much the prey of giddy inconsistencies and thoughtless follies; by degrees I grow sober, prudent and statedly pious – I say statedly, because the most unaffected devotion is not at all inconsistent with my first character

– I join the world in congratulating myself on the happy change. But let me pry more narrowly into this affair; have I, at bottom, any thing of a secret pride in these endowments and emmendations? have I nothing of a Presbyterean sourness, a hypercritical severity when I survey my less regular neighbours? in a word, have I miss’d all those nameless and numberless modifications of indistinct selfishness, which are so near our own eyes we can scarcely bring them within our sphere of vision, and which the known spotless cambric of our character hides from the ordinary Observer?-

My definition of Worth is short: Truth and Humanity respecting our fellow-creatures; Reverence and Humility in the presence of that Being, my Creator and Preserver, and who, I have every reason to believe, will one day be my Judge. – The first part of my definition is the creature of unbiassed Instinct; the last is the child of after Reflection. – Where I found these two essentials; I would gently note, and slightly mention, any attendant flaws-flaws, the marks, the consequences of Human nature.-

I can easily enter into the sublime pleasures that your strong imagination and keen sensibility must derive from Religion, particularly if a little in the shade of misfortune; but I own I cannot without a marked grudge, see Heaven totally engross so amiable so charming a woman as my friend Clarinda; and should be very well pleased at a circumstance that would put it in the power of Somebody, happy Somebody! to divide her attention, With all the delicacy and tenderness of an earthly attachment.-

You will not easily persuade me that you have not gotten a grammatical knowledge of the English language.-So far from being inaccurate, you are elegant beyond any woman of my acquaintance, except one whom I wish I knew.-

Your last verses to me have so delighted me, that I have got an excellent old Scots air that suits the measure, and you shall see them in print in the “Scots musical Museum,” a work publishing by a friend of mine in this town.

– I want four stanzas; you gave me but three, and one of them alluded to an expression in my former letter; so I have taken your two first verses with a slight alteration in the second, and have added a third, but you must help me to a fourth.Here they are: the latter half of the first stanza would have been worthy of Sappho; I am in raptures with it-

Talk not of Love, it gives me pain,
For love has been my foe:
He bound me with an iron chain,
And sunk me deep in woe.-
But Friendship’s pure and lasting joys
My heart was form’d to prove:
There, welcome win and wear the prize,
But never talk of Love!-
Your Friendship much can make me blest,
O, why that bliss destroy!
Why urge the odious, one request
You know I must deny!

The alteration in the second stanza is no improvement, but there was a slight inaccuracy in your rhyme.-The third, I only offer to your choice, and have left two words for your determination.-The air is “The banks of Spey,” and is most beautiful.

– Tomorrow evening, I intend taking a chair and paying a visit at Park-place to a much valued old friend.-If I could be sure of finding you at home, and I will send one of the chairmen to call, I would spend from five to six o’clock with you, as I go passt, I cannot do more at this time, as I have something on my hand that hurries me much.

-I propose giving you the first call, my old friend the second, and Miss Nimmo as I return home. – Do not break any engagement for me, as I will spend another evening with you at any rate before I leave town.

– Do not tell me that you are pleased when your friends inform you of your faults. I am ignorant what they are; but I am sure they must be such evanescent trifles, compared with your personal and mental accomplishments, that I would despise the ungenerous, narrow soul who would notice any shadow of imperfections you may seem to have, any other way than in the most delicate, agreeable rallery. Coarse minds are not aware how much they injure the keenly feeling tie of bosom-friendship, when in their foolish officiousness they mention what nobody cares for recollecting.-People of nice sensibility and generous minds have a certain intrinsic dignity, that fires at being trifled with, or towered, or even too nearly approached.

You need make no apology for long letters: I am even with you.Many happy New-years to you, charming Clarinda! I can’t dissemble were it to shun perdition.-He who sees you as I have done and does not love you, deserves to be damn’d for his stupidity! He who loves you and would injure you, deserves to be doubly damn’d for his villainy! Adieu!

Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Letter to Agnes McLehose, January 3 1788

My dear Clarinda, Your verses, my dearest Madam, have so delighted me that I have copied them in among some of my own most valued pieces, which I keep sacred for my own use.-Do, let me have a few now and then.-

Did you, Madam, know what I feel when you talk of your sorrows! Good God! that one who has so much worth in the sight of Heaven, and is so amiable to her fellow-creatures should be so unhappy! I can’t venture out for cold.-My limb is vastly better, but I have not any use of it without my crutches.-Monday, for the first time, I dine at a neighbour’s next door: as soon as I can go so far, even in a coach, my first visit shall be to you.-Write me when you leave town and immediately when you return, and I earnestly pray your stay may be short.

-You can’t imagine how miserable you made me when you hinted to me not to write. Farewell.


Published in: on January 3, 2009 at 12:59 am  Comments (1)  
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