Robert Burns

J. De Lancey Ferguson and G. Ross Roy (eds), The Letters of Robert Burns, Vol. 1: 1780–1789 (Second Edition)

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299. (2) [Henry Erskine?]

  • Ellisland near Dumfries 22d Janry 1788
  • [for 1789]

Sir

there are two things which, I believe, the blow that terminates my existence alone can destroy; my attachment and propensity to Poesy, and my sense of what I owe to your goodness.—There is nothing in the different situations of a Great and a Little man that vexes me more, than the ease with pg 359which the one practises some virtues, that to the other are extremely difficult, or perhaps wholly impracticable.—A man of consequence and fashion shall richly repay a deed of kindness with a nod and a smile, or a hearty shake of the hand; while a poor fellow labors under a sense of gratitude, which like copper-coin, though it loads the bearer, is yet of small account in the currency and commerce of the World.—As I have the honor, Sir, to stand in the Poor fellow's predicament with respect to you, will you accept of a device I have thought on, to acknowledge these obligations I can never cancel?—Mankind in general agree in testifying their devotion, their gratitude, their friendship, or their love, by presenting whatever they hold dearest.—Every body who is in the least acquainted with the character of a Poet, knows that there is nothing in the world on which he sets so much [value as his verses.—I desire, from time] to time as she may bestow her favors, to present you with the productions of my humble Muse.—The inclosed are the principal of her Works on the banks of Nith.—The Poem inscribed to R——G——Esq. is some verses, accompanying a request, wh[ich] I sent to Mr Graham of Fintry; a gentleman who has given double value to some important favors he has bestowed on me, [by] his manner of doing them, and on whose future Patronage likewise I must depend for matters to me of the last conseq[uence.—]

I have no great faith in the boasted pretensions to intuitive propriety and unlaboured elegance.—The rough material of Fine Writing is certainly the gift of Genius; but I as firmly believe that the workmanship is the united effort of Pains, Attention & Repeated—trial.—The Piece addressed to Mr Graham is my first essay in that didactic, epistolary way; which circumstance I hope will bespeak your indulgence.—To your friend, Captn Erskine's strictures, I lay claim as a Relation; not, indeed, that I have the honor to be akin to the Peerage, but because he is a Son of Parnassus.—

I intend being in Edinr in four or five weeks when I shall certainly do mys[elf] the honor of waiting on you, to testify with what respect and gratitude I [remainder wanting]

[Chambers, 1851. Here collated with the original MS. in the Collection of the Rosenbach Museum & Library, Philadelphia. The signature has been cut off, and the words in brackets are conjectural.]

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