Discovered ... now you can read the lost Rabbie Burns letter to his beloved friend Scotland’s famed ‘blind poet’
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The letter is part of a previously unseen collection of historical documents associated with key figures in British and French political and literary history which will be revealed at an event in St Andrews on October 24.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