ROBERT BURNS, 1759-1796

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Island 4: Burns's Reading

John Moore, 1729-1802 
Zeluco, various views of human nature taken from life and manners, foreign and domestic 
Vol. I. London: Printed for A. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1789. 
Modern brown morocco bevelled boards; Robert Burns's copy, presented to him by the author, and inscribed by Burns to Mrs. Dunlop.

Dr. John Moore was introduced to Burns's poetry when Mrs. Frances Dunlop sent him a copy of the Kilmarnock edition. The two men opened a correspondence, and one of Burns's letters was the famous long autobiographical one of August 2, 1787, which supplies important details about the poet's early life and reading. In his letters to the poet, Moore comes across as a bit pompous; he suggested to Burns that he use English rather than Scots, but as deferential as Burns was to Moore he wisely ignored this advice. The doctor sent him a copy of his novel Zeluco, and on Christmas morning 1793, Burns wrote to Mrs. Dunlop exchanging copies of the work, with these words, "Tell me, how you like my marks & notes through the Book. I would not give a farthing for a book, unless I were at liberty to blot it with my criticisms." At this point Burns has written, "A glorious story!" The inscription to his friend reads: "My much esteemed Friend Mrs. Dunlop of Dunlop—Robert Burns."

"Adam Fitz-Adam" 
The world 
Volume II. New edition. Edinburgh: Alexander Donaldson, 1774. 
With Burns's autograph annotations and his signature on title-page, surrounded by inscription: "The property of the late Edmund Kean Bt. at the sale 17 June 1834 at Robin's Rooms."

An avid reader of contemporary newspapers and collections of essays, Burns wrote to Mrs. Dunlop, "I had often read & admired the Spectator, Adventurer, Rambler, & World . . . " although he regretted that they were "so thoroughly & entirely English." In this volume of The world, Burns has written in the names of the authors of various entries. The Roy Collection has only one volume of the set. In another volume Burns wrote an eight-line poem on Robert Fergusson, which opens: "Ill-fated genius! Heaven-taught Fergusson!" echoing, perhaps unconsciously, the lines Henry Mackenzie used to describe Burns in The lounger, when he called him "this Heaven-taught ploughman."

Allan Ramsay, 1685-1758 
The gentle shepherd, a pastoral comedy 
Glasgow: Printed by A. Foulis, 1788. 
Modern half calf, marbled boards.

Allan Ramsay's The gentle shepherd, although not frequently produced on stage during the eighteenth century because of church opposition to the theater, was a bestseller for a century. Burns was particularly taken with the Foulis edition of the play which he called a "noble edit[io]n of the noblest Pastoral in the world."

Burns Martin 216, Gaskell 688

Robert Blair, 1699-1746 
The grave, a poem 
London: Printed for M. Cooper, 1743. 
Modern gray-blue wrappers.

Burns was very fond of Robert Blair's poem "The grave," which he quoted several times in his letters. More than once he cited the lines beginning "Dark as was Chaos" and elsewhere used the expression.

Robert Fergusson, 1750-1774 
Edinburgh: Printed by Walter & Thomas Ruddimann, 1773. 
Part 1, original gray wrappers.

Burns read widely as we know from his correspondence and from the fragmentary list that was published when his library was sold after his death. Robert Fergusson played an important role in Burns's development as a poet. The elder poet's poem "Hallow-fair" no doubt influenced Burns's "The holy fair," as Fergusson's "The farmer's ingle" influenced "The cotter's Saturday night." In 1787 Burns gave Rebeccah Carmichael a copy of Fergusson's poems, inscribing the volume with an eight-line poem, two lines of which read: "O thou, my elder brother in misfortune, / By far my elder brother in the Muse."


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