Cunningham, Allan (1784 1842)
A Scottish poet and man of letters who was born at Keir, Dumfriesshire. His father was a neighbour of Burns at Ellisland. In later life, Allan claimed to remember hearing Burns recite 'Tam o' Shanter' to his father in 1790, a feat of memory surely unparalleled in one so young.
Cunningham began life as a stone mason's apprentice. He and his brother James became friendly with James Hogg, from whom doubtless Allan gained some interest in balladry. In 1807, Cunningham contributed some songs to Roche's Literary Recreations, and in 1809, collected old ballads for Robert Hartley Cromek's Remains of Nithsdald and Galloway Song. Many of these were, however, Cunningham's own work, a fact of which Cromek has been accused of being perfectly aware.
Cunningham went to London in 1810, and in 1814 became clerk of works to the sculptor Francis Chantry, retaining this position until Chantrey's death in 1841. Cunningham's two best original songs are 'My Ain Countree', popular with the Scots, and 'A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea', which has become one of the best known among British sea songs. Cunningham had 5 sons all of whom wrote books or edited the works of others, though none were full time authors and 1 daughter.
In 1834, Cunningham, by then a well established editor, poet and journalist in London, brought out, with Lockhart's blessing, The Works of Robert Burns, with his life, in eight volumes. The Life abounds in falsifications, many of them so fantastic as to raise doubts even as one reads. Snyder's verdict was: 'This biography certainly pictures Burns more or less as he actually was, but is absolutely unreliable as regards specific facts. Anything that Cunningham says may be true: nothing that he says should be believed without contributary testimony.'