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  
Tags: , ,

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  
Tags: , ,

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  
Tags: , , ,

Letter to Captain Richard Brown, December 30 1787

Edinburgh, 30th December 1787

My dear Sir,

I have met with few things in my life which has given me more pleasure than Fortune’s kindness to you, since those days in which we met in the vale of misery, as I can honestly say that I never met with a man who more truly deserved it, or to whom my heart more truly wish’d it.

-I have been much indebted, since that time, to your story and sentiments, for steeling my mind against evils of which I have had a pretty decent share.-My will o’ wisp fate, you know: do you recollect a sunday we spent in Eglinton woods? you told me, on my repeating some verses to you that you wondered I could resist the temptation of sending verses of such merit to a magazine: ’twas actually this that gave me an idea of my own pieces which encouraged me to endeavour at the character of a Poet.

-I am happy to hear that you will be two or three months at home: as soon as a bruised limb will permit me, I shall return to Ayrshire-and we shall meet!

“And faith, I hope we’ll no sit dumb,
Nor yet cast out!”

I have much to tell you, of “Men, their manners & their ways,” perhpas a little of t’other Sex.

-Apropos, I beg to be remembered to Mrs Brown; there, I doubt not, my dear friend, but you have found substantial happiness.-I am impatient to see her, as well as you.-I expect to find you something of an altered, but not, a different man: the wild, bold, generous young fellow, composed into the steady affectionate husband, and the fondly careful Parent.-For me, I am just the same will-o’-wisp being I used to be.

-About the first, and fourth quarters of the moon, I generally set in for the trade- winds of wisdom; but about the full, and change, I am the luckless victim of mad tornadoes, which blow me into chaos.-Almighty Love still “reigns and revels” in my bosom; and I am at this moment ready to hang myself for a young Edinburgh widow, who has wit and beauty more murderously fatal than the assassinating stiletto of the Sicilian Banditti, or the poisoned arrow of the savage African. My Highland durk, that used to hang beside my crutches, I have gravely removed into a neighbouring closet, the key of which I cannot command; in case of spring-tide paroxysms.

– You may guess of her wit by the following verses which she sent me the other day-

“Talk not of Love, it gives me pain,
“For Love has been my foe;
“He bound me with an iron chain,
“And plung’d 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! ”

My best compliments to our friend, Allan.-Adieu! Robt Burns

Published in: on December 30, 2008 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: ,

Letter to Agnes McLehose, December 28 1787

Friday eve

I beg your pardon, my dear “Clarinda,” for the fragment scrawl I sent you yesterday.

– I really don’t know what I wrote. A gentleman for whose character, abilities and critical knowledge I have the highest veneration, called in, just as I had begun the second sentence, and I would not make the Porter wait.

– I read to my much-respected friend several of my own bagatelles and among others your lines which I had copied out.

– He began some criticisms on them as on the other pieces, when I informed him they were the work of a young lady in this town; which I assure you made him stare.

– My learned friend seriously protested that he did not believe any young woman in Edinburgh was capable of such lines; and if you know any thing of Professor Gregory you will neither doubt of his abilities nor his sincerity.

– I do love you If possible better for having so fine a taste and turn for Poesy.

– I have again gone wrong in my usual unguarded way, but you may erase the word, and put esteem, respect, or any other tame Dutch expression you please in its place.

– I believe there is no holding converse or carrying on correspondence, with an amiable woman, much less a gloriously amiable, fine woman, without some mixture of that delicious Passion, whose most devoted Slave I have more than once had the honor of being: but why be hurt or offended on that account? Can no honest man have a prepossession for a fine woman, but he must run his head against an intrigue? Take a little of the tender witchcraft of Love, and add it to the generous, the honorable sentiments of manly Friendship; and I know but one more delightful morsel, which few, few in any rank ever taste.

-Such a composition is like adding cream to strawberries – it not only gives the fruit a more elegant richness, but has a peculiar deliciousness of its own.

– I inclose you a few lines I composed on a late melancholy occasion. -I will not give above five or six copies of it at all, and I would be hurt if any friend should give any copies without my consent.

You cannot imagine, Clarinda, (I like the idea of Arcadian names in a commerce of this kind) how much store I have set by the hopes of your future friendship.

– I don’t know if you have a just idea of my character, but I wish you to see me as I am.

– I am, as most people of my trade are, a strange will o’ wisp being; the victim too frequently of much imprudence and many follies.

– My great constituent elements are Pride and Passion: the first I have endeavoured to humanize into integrity and honour; the last makes me a Devotee to the warmest degree of enthusiasm, in Love, Religion, or Friendship; either of them or all together as I happen to be inspired.

– ‘Tis true, I never saw you but once; but how much acquaintance did I form with you in that once! Don’t think I flatter you, or have a design upon you, Clarinda; I have too much pride for the one, and too little cold contrivance for the other; but of all God’s creatures I ever could approach in the beaten way of acquaintance, you struck me with the deepest, the strongest, the most permanent impression.

– I say the most permanent, because I know myself well, and how far I can promise either on my prepossessions or powers.

– Why are you unhappy? and why are so many of our fellow creatures, unworthy to belong to the same species with you, blest with all they can wish? You have a hand all benevolent to give, why were you denyed the pleasure? You have a heart form’d, gloriously form’d, for all the most refined luxuries of love; why was that heart ever wrung?

O Clarinda! shall we not meet in a state, some yet unknown state of Being, where the lavish hand of Plenty shall minister to the highest wish of Benevolence; and where the chill north-wind of Prudence shall never blow over the flowery fields of Enjoyment? if we do not, Man was made in vain! I deserv’d most of the unhappy hours that have linger’d over my head; they were the wages of my labour; but what unprovoked Demon, malignant as Hell, stole upon the confidence of unmistrusting busy Fate, and dash’d your cup of life with undeserved sorrow?

– Let me know how long your stay will be out of town: I shall count the hours till you inform me of your return.

– Cursed etiquette forbids your seeing me just now; and so soon as I can walk, I must bid Edinburgh adieu.

– Lord, why was I born to see misery which I cannot relieve, and to meet with friends whom I can’t enjoy! I look back with the pang of unvailing avarice on my loss in now knowing you sooner: all last winter; these three months past; what luxury of intercourse have I not lost! Perhaps tho’ ’twas better for my peace.You see I am either above, or incapable of Dissimulation.

– I believe it is want of that particular genius.

– I despise Design because I want either coolness or wisdom to be capable of it.

– I may take a fort by storm, but never by Siege.-
I am interrupted-Adieu! my dear Clarinda!

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Letter to Robert Ainslie, November 25 1787

Sunday morn

I beg, my dear Sir, you would not make any appointment to take us to Mr Ainslie’s tonight.-On looking over my engagements. constitution, present state of health, some little vexatious soul concerns, &c. I find I can’t sup abroad tonight.- 

I shall be in today till one o’clock.-If you have a leisure-hour, &c.

You will think it romantic when I tell you that I find the idea of your friendship almost necessary to my existence.-You assume a proper length of face in my bitter hours of blue-devilism, and you laugh fully up to my highest wishes at my good things.-I don’t know upon the whole if you are one of the first fellows in God’s world, but you are so to me.-I tell you this just now in the conviction that some inequalities in my temper and manner may perhaps sometimes make you suspect that I am not so warmly as I ought to be 

your friend

Robt Burns

Published in: on November 25, 2008 at 2:59 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Letter to Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop of Dunlop , November 24 1787


I will bear the reproaches of my conscience respecting this letter no longer.

– I was indebted to you some time ago for a kind, long letter; (your letters, the longer the better) and again the other day I heard from you, enclosing a very friendly letter from Dr Moore.

– I thought with myself in the height of my gratitude and pride of my remark that I would sit down some hour of inspiration, and write you a letter, at least worth twa groats; consequently you would have been a gainer, as you are so benevolent as bestow your epistolary correspondence on me, I am sure without the least idea of being paid in kind.

– When you talk of correspondence and friendship to me, Madam, you do me too much honor; but, as I shall soon be at my wonted leisure and rural occupation, if my remark on what I have read or seen, or any new rhyme I may twist, that is worth while, if such a letter, Madam, can give a person of your rank, information and abilities any entertainment, you shall have it with all my heart and soul. 

It requires no common exertion of good sense and Philosophy in persons of elevated rank, to keep a friendship properly alive with one much their inferior.

– Externals, things totally extraneous of the man, steal upon the heart and judgments of almost, if not altogether, all mankind; nor do I know any more than one instance of a Man who fully and truly regards “all the world as a stage, and all the men and women merely Players”, and who, the dancing-school bow excepted only values these Players, the Dramatis Personae, who build Cities, or who rear hedges; who govern provinces, or superintend flocks, merely as they act their parts.

– For the honor of Ayrshire,. this Man is Professor Dugald Stewart of Catrine.-

To him I might perhaps add another instance, a Popish Bishop [Geddes]; but I have outraged that gloomy’ Fury, Presbytereanism, enough already, though I don’t spit in her lugubrious face by telling her that the first Cleric character I ever saw was a Roman Catholick.- 

I ever could ill endure those surly cubs of “Chaos and old Night;”-these ghostly beasts of prey, who foul the hallow’d ground of Religion with their nocturnal prowlings; but if the prosecution which I hear the Erebean Fanatics are projecting against my learned and truly worthy friend, Dr McGill, goes on, I shall keep no measure with the savages, but fly at them with the faulcons of Ridicule, or run them down with the bloodhounds of Satire, as lawful game, wherever I start them.- 

I expect to leave Edinburgh in eight or ten days, and shall certainly do myself the honor of calling at Dunlop house as I return to Ayrshire.

– I have the honor to be, Madam, your oblidged humble servant, Robt Burns

Published in: on November 24, 2008 at 2:57 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Letter to Margaret Chalmers, November 21, 1787

I have one vexatious fault to the kindly-welcome, well-filled sheet which l owe to your and Charlotte’s goodness – it contains too much sense, sentiment, and good-spelling. It is impossible that even you two, whom I declare to my God, I will give credit for any degree of excellence the sex are capable of attaining, it is impossible you can go on to correspond at that rate; so like those who, Shenstone says, retire because they have made a good speech, I shall after a few letters hear no more of you.

I insist that you shall write whatever comes first: what you see, what you read, what you hear, what you admire, what you dislike, trifles, bagatelles, nonsense; or to fill up a corner, e’en put down a laugh at full length. Now none of your polite hints about flattery: I leave that to your lovers, if you have or shall have any; though thank heaven I have found at last two girls who can be luxuriantly happy in their own minds and with one another, without that commonly necessary appendage to female bliss, a lover. 

Charlotte and you are just two favorite resting places for my soul in her wanderings through the weary, thorny wilderness of this world – God knows I am ill-fitted for the struggle: I glory in being a Poet, and I want to be thought a wise man- I would fondly be generous, and I wish to be rich. After all, I am afraid I am a lost subject. “Some folk hae a hantle 0′ fauts, an’ I’m but a ne’er-do-weel.” 

– To close the melancholy reflections at the end of last sheet, I shall just add a piece of devotion commonly known in Carrick, by the title of the “Wabster’s grace.” 

“Some say we’re thieves, and e’en sae are we,

“Some say we lie, and e’en sae do we! 

“Gude forgie us, and I hope sae will he!

–“Up and to your looms, lads.”

Published in: on November 21, 2008 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Letter to The Literary Magnet, November 14, 1787

Sir,- l have always held it a maxim in life, that in this bad world, those who truly wish us well, are entitled to a pretty large share at least of our gratitude; that you are so obliging as to interest yourself in my most important concerns, I can easily see by your rather extraordinary letter. 

When good will to a fellow creature leads us a little out of the ordinary line, it is not only excusable, but highly laudable. Accept my thanks Sir, as sincere as your advice, and believe me to be, 

Your obliged humble servant, R. Burns

Published in: on November 14, 2008 at 2:52 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

Letter to Margaret Chalmers, November 6 1787

My dear Madam,

I just now have read yours. The poetic compliments I pay cannot be misunderstood. They are neither of them so particular as to point you out to the world at large; and the circle of your acquaintances will allow all I have said. Besides I have complimented you chiefly, almost solely, on your mental charms. Shall I be plain with you? I will; so look to it. Personal attractions, madam, you have much above par; wit, understanding, and worth, you possess in the first class.

This is a cursed flat way of telling you these truths, but let me hear no more of your sheepish timidity. I know the world a little I know what they will say of my poems; by second sight I suppose; for I am seldom out in my conjectures; and you may believe me, my dear madam, I would not run any risk of hurting you by an ill-judged compliment. I wish to show to the world the odds between a poet’s friends and those of simple prosement. More for your information both the pieces go in.

One of them “Where braving all the winter’s harms,” is already set – the tune is Neil Gow’s lamentation for Abercairny; the other is to be set to an old Highland air in Daniel Dow’s “collection of antient Scots music;”  the name is Ha a Chaillich air mo Dheith. My treacherous memory has forgot eyery circumstance about Les Incas, only I think you mentioned them as being in Creech’s possession. I shall ask him about it. I am afraid the song of “Somebody” will come too late-as I shall, for certain, leave town in a week for Ayrshire, and from that to Dumfries, but there my hopes are slender. I leave my direction in town, so anything, wherever I am, will reach me. 

I saw your’s too – it is not too severe, nor did he take it amiss. On the contrary, like a whipt spaniel, he talks of being with you in the Christmas days. Mr.—has given him the invitation, and he is determined to accept of it. O selfishness! he owns in his sober moments, that from his own volatility of inclination, the circumstances in which he is situated and his knowledge of his father’s disposition, – the whole affair is chimerical – yet he will gratify an idle penchant at the enormous, cruel expense of perhaps ruining the peace of the very woman for whom he professes the generous passion of love! He is a gentleman in his mind and manners. tant pis!-He is a volatile school-boy: The heir of a man’s fortune who well knows the value of two times two! 

Perdition seize them and their fortunes, before they should make the amiable, the lovely – the derided object of their purse-proud contempt. 

I am doubly happy to hear of Mrs, –‘s recovery, because I really thought all was over with her. There are days of pleasure yet awaiting her. 

“As I cam in by Glenap 

“I met with an aged woman; 

“She bade me chear up my heart,

“For the best O’ my days was comin.” 

This day will decide my affairs with Creech. Things are, like myself, not what they ought to be; yet better than what they appear to be. 

“Heaven’s sovereign saves all beings but himself- 

That hideous sight-a naked human heart.”

Farewell! remember me to Charlotte. 


Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 2:40 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,