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The Burns Encyclopedia
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Burness, James (1750-1837)

Although a number of letters from the poet to his first cousin, James Burness have survived, Burness, a Montrose lawyer, remains a shadowy figure in the background of the Burns story. In Edinburgh City Museum there is a letter written in 1781, in which William Burnes, Burns's father, tells James in Montrose the family news in a manner which suggest the two families had been long out of touch. On 21st June 1783, Burns wrote on his father's behalf because old William Burnes was too ill to write himself and indeed, was : ' in his own opinion, and indeed in almost everybody else's, in a dying condition'. On 17th February 1784 he wrote again to tell his cousin of William Burnes's death, 'that melancholy event which for some time past we have from day to day expected'.

On 3rd August, writing from Mossgiel, Burns devotes most of his letter to telling Cousin James about the arrival in the district of 'the Presbytry Relief', or Buchanites. On 4th September 1787, Burns writes from Inverness asking James to meet him at the Inn, 'Stonehive'. They duly meet on 10th September in Stonehaven.

Burns does not seem to have written to his cousin again until 9th February 1789, when he writes from Ellisland giving James news of his farm and announcing his marriage to Jean. There is then a long gap in the surviving correspondence, until 12th July 1796, when Burns in the agony of anxiety over debts, real and imaginary, which troubled him in his last days, wrote begging his cousin to send him £10: 'O, James! Did you know the pride of my heart, you would feel doubly for m! Alas I am not used to beg!... Forgive me for once more mentioning by return of post. Save me from the horrors of a jail!' James sent the money and after Burns's death a further £5 to Jean with an offer to take young Robert and educate the boy with his own children, a generous offer since James does not seem to have been a rich man. Jean, however, did not want to part with any of her children.

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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

Burns Chess SetsUnique collectors' pieces based on Burns' life and works. (The ideal gift for your Burns Supper guests!) Click here...

Scotweb Store

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