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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Stuart, Peter (fl. 1788-1805)

The second son of three brothers, descendants from the Stuarts of Loch Rannoch, Perthshire, who claimed to have stemmed from the Royal House of Stuart. They all went from Edinburgh to London early in the seventies to take up journalism. Charles, the eldest, who had been a schoolfellow of Robert Fergusson, became a playwright. Daniel, the youngest, joined the other two in 1778, and Peter and Daniel took over the printing of the Morning Post. They acquired, first, The Oracle, and, in 1788, the Post itself. Daniel, then twenty-nine, became its editor, and built it up into one of the great newspapers of the day, attracting writers like Lamb, Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge, and increasing its circulation from 350 to 4,500 copies.

In 1788, Peter Stuart, who edited The Oracle, resigned from the Morning Post to undertake the issuing of the first regular London evening paper, The Star. He had seen in the improved mail coach facilities of Palmer a new means of circulation. For editor, he chose a brother Scot, Andrew Macdonald. Under the title The Star and Evening Advertiser, the first issue of what was to become the leading Whig evening paper appeared on 3rd May 1788, and appeared regularly until 1831, when it was incorporated in The Albion. But on 13th February 1789, Peter Stuart quarrelled with the other proprietors, the reason he gave being his refusal to 'support Mr Pitt through thick and thin'.

Peter Stuart seems to have become an admirer of Burns's poems, through the Kilmarnock Edition. With this new 'evening' on his hands, he was eager to find contributors, so he wrote to Burns, offering him 'for communications to the paper, a small salary quite as large as his Excise office emoluments'. Burns, however, did not wish to become a regular contributor to any paper, though he agreed to make occasional contributions; in return for which, Stuart put him on the free list of the paper. Burns wrote to thank him in May 1789. He told Stuart: 'Any alterations you think necessary in my trifles, make them and welcome. In political principles, I promise you I shall be seldom out of the way; as I could lay down my life for that amiable, gallant, generous fellow, our heir-apparent. Allow me to correct the address you give me: I am not R.B. Esq. No Poet, by statute of Parnassus, has a right, as an author, to assume Esquire, except he has had the honor to dedicate, "by permission", to a Prince, if not to a King; so I am as yet simply Mr. ROBERT BURNS, at your service.... I must beg of you never to put my name to any thing I send, except where I myself set it down at the head or foot of the piece. 1 am charmed with your paper. I wish it was more in my power to contribute to it; but over and above a comfortable stock of laziness of which, or rather by which, I am possessed, the regions of my fancy are dreadfully subject to baleful east-winds, which, at times, for months together, wither every bud and blossom, and turn the whole into an avid [sic] waste.'

Enclosed on this occasion was the 'Ode Sacred to the Memory of Mrs Oswald of Auchencruive', ostensibly submitted by one, Tim Nettle.

The offer of Peter Stuart was repeated a year later, and again declined, But among the other pieces of Burns published in The Star, were the lines 'Kind Sir, I've read your paper through', the 'Address of the Scottish Distillers', the 'Ode to the Departed Regency Bill', and, cleverest of all of them the burlesque, 'A New Psalm'. When the gratuitous paper failed to arrive as regularly as it might have done, Burns remonstrated in verse:

"Dear Peter, dear Peter,
We poor sons of metre
Are often negIeckit, ye ken.
For instance, your sheet, man,
(Though glad I'm to see't man)
I get it no ae day in ten.-R.B."

When The Star published some uncomplimentary verses about the Duchess of Gordon, allegedly by 'Burns, the ploughing poet', and The Gazatteer reprinted them, Burns, who saw them first in the latter publication, remonstrated to its editor, and then to the editor of The Star, on 13th April 1789.

After disowning the two sets of spurious verses Burns went on: 'I beg of you, Sir, that in your very first paper, you will do justice to my injured character with respect to those verses, falsely said to be mine; and please mention farther that in The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser of March 28th, another forgery of the like nature was committed on me in publishing a disrespectful stanza on the Duchess of Gordon. I have written to the Conductor of that Paper, remonstrating on the injury he has done me; but lest from some motive or other, he should decline giving me that redress I crave, if you will undeceive the Public, by letting them know through the channel of your universally known paper, that I am guiltless of either the one or the other miserable pieces of rhyme, you will much oblige....'

'Mr Printer' printed the letter with some flattering editorial observation on the 'very ingenious Poet' from whose pen it came. The letter is, of course, mainly of interest for what it reveals of Burns's attitude to his reputation, and his loyalty to his patrons.

Stuart and Burns also corresponded over the stone on the grave of the poet Robert Fergusson, the cost of which Burns paid. See Fergusson, Robert.

The last trace of Stuart's career was his appearance before the bar of the House of Commons in 1805, when he was reprimanded for the remarks he had made in The Oracle in defence of the recently impeached Henry Dundas, Lord Melville.

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