The first obituary of Burns was written by his friend Maria Riddell for the Dumfries Weekly Journal; unfortunately no copy of it is known. She revised her text for inclusion in Currie's edition of 1800, and again revised it for the second edition of 1801. It remains one of the most important assessments of the poet. In addition to his poetry, Mrs. Riddell says, Burns should be remembered for "the charm—the sorcery I would almost call it—of fascinating conversation; the spontaneous eloquence of social argument, or the unstudied poignancy of brilliant repartee." The edition displayed is no. 61 of 100 copies printed by Tom Rae.
To Robert Heron goes the distinction of having produced the first booklet about Burns; Maria Riddell's essay appeared in a newspaper. Heron knew Burns, so why he chose to write about the poet as he did is puzzling. In his memoir we find such statements as the "disgrace and wretchedness into which he saw himself rapidly sinking," or "poor Burns did not escape suffering by the general contamination"—even as his end approached, Heron says that Burns yielded "readily to any temptation that offered." Thus began the legend of Burns the debauchee. Defenders of the poet may perhaps take comfort in the knowledge that Heron spent the end of his life in Newgate Prison.
The works of Robert Burns
Seventh edition. 4 vols. London: Printed for T. Cadell and W. Davies, Strand; and W. Creech, at Edinburgh; by J. M'Creery, 1813.
Later green straight grain morocco, with lyre design and portrait of Burns in gold; autograph annotations by James Hogg.
When James Hogg and William Motherwell began work on an edition of Burns in five volumes (1834-1836), of which one volume is a biography of the poet by Hogg, a set of Currie's Works of Robert Burns was used as copy-text. Representative of the annotations is a page in Hogg's hand showing a long note to Burns's "Logan Water," most of which appeared in the Hogg and Motherwell edition. Although their edition was successful, and several times reissued, the work was overshadowed by Allan Cunningham's edition, which also appeared in 1834.
When J.G. Lockhart published his study of Burns for Constable's Miscellany, it was reviewed by Thomas Carlyle in theEdinburgh Review (1828). Because of the fame of both author and subject the essay was frequently reprinted. This example was the first separate printing of this work.
William Wallace's edition was considered very important in its day, containing as it did both the poetry and correspondence. This copy is one of 250 on large paper. The set belonged to James Barke, author of six novels based on the life of Burns, with extensive annotations in Barke's hand. The Roy Collection also includes first editions of Barke's novels, in original jackets.
Henley and Henderson's four-volume edition of the poems and songs of Burns remained the standard until James Kinsley's definitive edition of 1968. Even so, Thomas F. Henderson's meticulous and knowledgeable footnotes make this edition indispensable to the scholar. Henley's life, on the whole a judicious one, infuriated many Scots and even provoked a book-length reply from John D. Ross, Henley and Burns; or, The critic censured. There were a number of issues of the Henley and Henderson edition. This set, presented by the publishers and dated March 14, 1896, may be a pre-publication copy.
The single most important Burns manuscript collection is the two-volume Glenriddell manuscripts which were prepared by the poet for Robert Riddell. After Burns's death they were sent to Dr. Currie, who used them extensively in preparing his edition of 1800. After the death of Currie's son in 1853 the volumes were given to the Liverpool Athenaeum. In 1913 they were sold to John Gribbel, a great Burns collector. When this became known a question was raised in Scotland as to the legality of the Currie family's gift of the manuscript to the Athenaeum, the claim being made that the volumes had always been the property of the Burns family. In a gesture of unanticipated benevolence Gribbel gave the volumes to the Scottish nation, and they are now permanently housed in the National Library of Scotland. Before doing so he had 150 facsimiles privately printed, not to be sold, and all the known copies are presentations from this philanthropist. The present copy is inscribed to John Howell, the San Francisco book dealer.
Burns met John Geddes, Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunkeld, in 1787, and the two became fast friends. The bishop had a copy of the Edinburgh edition of Burns's poems bound with several blank leaves at the front and back of the volume before returning it to the poet. Burns carried it with him on his Highland tour (August-September 1787) and then took it with him to Ellisland, returning it only in February 1789. Burns wrote several poems on the blank leaves, making the volume one of the most desirable of Burns items. In 1908 the Bibliophile Society reproduced it in facsimile, including the poems and Burns's letter to Geddes returning the book. 473 copies were printed for members of the Society. To complete the American connection, the original is in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.