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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

Glenriddell Manuscript

This most famous collection of Burns's manuscripts was made for his friend Captain Robert Riddell, Laird of Friar's Carse, near Dumfries, at Riddell's request. These were 2 calf bound volumes, 1 containing verse and 1 containing a selection of 27 of the poet's letters, though Burns and Riddell quarrelled and Riddell died soon afterwards without the letter volume ever having been presented. At the end of the volume of poems, Burns wrote: 'Let these be regarded as the genuine sentiments of a man who seldom flattered any, and never those he loved'. The copying seems to have been completed on 27th Apri 1791.

The book contained 53 unpublished poems, among them 'In Mauchline there dwells six proper young belles', the 'Epistle to John Goldie', the 'Elegy on the Death of Sir John Hunter Blair', 'Holy Willie's Prayer', 'Tam o' Shanter', and the 'Lament for James, Earl of Glencairn.'

Included also were some foot notes by Burns, and a transcript of the Autobiographical letter to Dr Moore; partly in Burns's own hand and partly in the hand of an amanuensis.

On Riddell's death, Burns showed considerable anxiety to get the volume back. In a letter from Dumfries, undated, though probably written in May 1794, beginning 'Madam' (though according to Ferguson, addressed to Miss Sophy or Elinor Riddell, Robert Riddell's sister), Burns wrote: 'I have a favor to request of you, Madam; and of your sister, Mrs Riddell, through your means. You know that at the wish of my late friend, I made a collection of all my trifles in verse which I had ever written. They are many of them local, some puerile and silly, and all of them unfit for the public eye. As I have some little fame at stake — a fame that I trust may live when the hate of those who "watch me for my halting", and the contumelious sneer of those whom accident among my superiors, will, with themselves, be gone to the regions of oblivion; I am uneasy now for the fate of those manuscripts. Will Mrs Riddell have the goodness to destroy them, or return with them to me?'

After Burns's own death, the two Riddell quarto volumes, along with the poet's other manuscripts — even down to the 'sweepings of his desk' — were sent to his biographer, Dr Currie. Currie retained them, as did his son, Wallace Currie. On his death in 1853, his widow presented them to the Liverpool Athenaeum, where they remained in a box, except during an exhibition, when they were brought out and put in a show case. After a somewhat sordid secret transaction, the Athenaeum sold them to Quaritch of London for £4,500. In spite of Scots protests, they were then sold to an American Collector, John Gribel of Philadelphia, who gifted them to the Scottish National Library under terms which ensure that they will remain in possession of 'the people of Scotland for ever'.

In 1914, before sending his purchase to its permanent home, Mr Gribbel caused to be published privately in Philadelphia a facsimile edition of the two famous volumes, whose history is traced in the introduction.

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Complete Burns Songs

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