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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Hill, Peter (1754 — 1837)

Son of James Hill and his wife, Mary Russel, Peter Hill was born at Dysart, Fife. When Burns met him in 1787, he was still a clerk in Creech's bookshop, but in 1788, he set up his own bookselling business. His wife, Elizabeth Lindsay, whom he married in 1780, is said to have been socially his superior, and is supposed to have disapproved of her husband's friendship with Burns. Hill became Edinburgh's City Treasurer, and Treasurer of Heriot's Hospital. In 1814, he was appointed Collector of Cess.

Hill acted as a kind of Edinburgh banker for Burns, and a number of the poet's letters to him deal solely with business matters. Others deal in part with the ordering of books, either for Burns's own personal library, or for the Monkland Friendly Society, which Burns and Robert Riddell organised early in 1789. But there are many personal observations in Burns's side of the correspondence, and sometimes double entendres. Writing from Mauchline on 18th July 1788, when Hill had complained of Burns's neglect of him, the poet said: 'You injured me, my dear Sir, in your construction of the cause of my silence. From Ellisland in Nithsdale to Mauchline in Kyle, is forty and five miles; there, a house a-building, and farm enclosures and improvements to tend; here, a new — not so much indeed a new as a young wife — Good God, sir, could my dearest Brother expect a regular correspondence from me! I who am busied with the sacred Pen of Nature, in the mystic Volume of Creation, can I dishonour my hand with a dirty goose feather, on a parcel of washed old rags? I who am "called as was Aaron" to offer in the Sanctum Sanctorum, not indeed the mysterious bloody types of future MURDER but the thrice hallowed quintessence of future EXISTENCE; can I — but I have apologised enough...'

It was to Hill that Burns wrote on 5th February 1792, about the paying of the bill for the erection of the tombstone over the grave of Robert Fergusson: 'I send you by the bearer, Mr Clarke, a particular friend of mine, £6 1shilling, which you will dispose of as follows: £5 10s., per account I owe to Mr Robert Burn, Architect, for erecting the stone over poor Ferguson. He has been 2 years in erecting it, after I commissioned him for it; and I have been 2 years paying him, after he sent me his account; so he and I are quits. He had the hardiesse to ask me interest on the sum; but considering that the money was due by one Poet, for putting a tombstone over another, he may, with grateful surprise, thank Heaven that ever he saw a farthing of it.' The rest of the money was to buy more books.

Hill, in company with Cameron, a paper manufacturer, and Ramsey, printer of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, visited Burns at Dumfries. Their visit was referred to in a letter dealing with the 'annual kipper' or smoked salmon, which Burns apparently sent Hill. His last letter to the bookseller, dated 29th January 1796, when its writer had already entered his fatal decline, deals with the sending of the 'annual kipper'.

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