Dis­cov­ered ... now you can read the lost Rab­bie Burns let­ter to his beloved friend Scot­land’s famed ‘blind poet’

Sunday Herald - - CULTURE - BY PETER SWIN­DON

ALOST let­ter writ­ten by Robert Burns to the “blind poet” Thomas Black­lock has been re­dis­cov­ered and will be put on public dis­play for the first time at the Univer­sity of St An­drews this month. The lost cor­re­spon­dence, writ­ten in 1788, also in­cludes two orig­i­nal manuscripts of Burns po­ems and gives a rare in­sight into his strong bond with close friend Black­lock, who had a rep­u­ta­tion for vis­ually vivid po­etry de­spite los­ing his sight as an in­fant when he con­tracted small­pox.

The let­ter is part of a pre­vi­ously un­seen col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments as­so­ci­ated with key fig­ures in Bri­tish and French po­lit­i­cal and lit­er­ary his­tory which will be re­vealed at an event in St An­drews on Oc­to­ber 24.

The let­ters were col­lected in the 19th cen­tury by Mar­seille Mid­dle­ton Hol­loway, one of the lead­ing London book deal­ers, un­til his death in 1897. They in­clude writ­ings by Burns, Wal­ter Scott, James VI, El­iz­a­beth I, Voltaire, Ho­ra­tio Nel­son, Ben­jamin Franklin, Lord Byron, and prison re­former El­iz­a­beth Fry.

Burns’s re­dis­cov­ered let­ter la­ments Black­lock’s fail­ure to re­spond to a pre­vi­ous let­ter and sets out his fears for the blind poet’s health. Giv­ing an in­sight into the es­teem in which he held Black­lock, Burns stated: “Can I be in­dif­fer­ent to the fate of a man to whom I owe so much? a man whom I not only es­teem but ven­er­ate?”.

Re­spected Burns bi­og­ra­pher Robert Craw­ford, who is Pro­fes­sor of Mod­ern Scot­tish Lit­er­a­ture at the Univer­sity of St An­drews, said: “This re­dis­cov­ery brings back into the public do­main manuscripts which are listed as lo­ca­tion un­known in the stan­dard mod­ern edi­tion of Burns’s Let­ters. Writ­ten from Mauch­line in Novem­ber 1788 to the re­mark­able blind poet, mu­si­cian, and Scots song en­thu­si­ast, the Rev­erend Dr Thomas Black­lock, the let­ter pays warm trib­ute to Black­lock as one of Burns’s most im­por­tant Ed­in­burgh sup­port­ers.”

The let­ter in­cludes the po­ems A Mother’s Lament For The Death Of Her Son and The Lazy Mist which are de­scribed by Burns in the let­ter as “two melan­choly things, which I trem­ble lest they should too well suit the tone of your present feel­ings”. The let­ters are con­tained in two bound al­bums, one with 37 let­ters writ­ten by his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and one with 37 let­ters writ­ten by lit­er­ary names. In a 1796 let­ter writ­ten by Scots nov­el­ist, play­wright and poet Sir Wal­ter Scott to his friend Ge­orge Chalmers he refers to the The Min­strelsy Of The Scot­tish Bor­der, Scott’s col­lec­tion of bal­lads, later pub­lished in three vol­umes in 1802 and 1803.

One let­ter in the col­lec­tion is from English writer Lord Byron to his old friend Canon Hodg­son, his for­mer tu­tor at Eton, with a pre­vi­ously redacted line, un­known for 187 years: “Drury I hope you left well, he is sadly spoiled by mar­riage, but what will it not spoil?”

The let­ters will go on dis­play at an event on Oc­to­ber 24 at the Univer­sity of St An­drews Mar­tyrs Kirk Re­search Library.

The Univer­sity of St An­drews will dis­play the lost Burns let­ter later this month

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