What is often forgotten about Robert Burns is that he was a prolific writer of letters and had the ability to correspond with people from every walk of life. Whereas his poems and songs were composed in the Scots dialect, his letters were written in perfect English prose.
Burns wrote like a man possessed. His quill could stab like a rapier or be used as a broadsword to cut down his enemies. It was a tool in his seduction of the fair sex and was also used to flatter his aristocratic friends. He revelled in his correspondence with Mrs Francis Anna Dunlop simply because she was a descendant of William Wallace. In this series of letters he describes in graphic detail the problems he encountered with the family of his wife, Jean Armour, and reveals his intention to flee to the West Indies.
Many of his letters to his platonic lover, Agnes McLehose, whom he called Clarinda, are to be found here along with many from Clarinda to Burns. The depth of feeling portrayed in this correspondence is compelling reading. His letters of advice to his young brother, William, are both serious and amusing and, as was often the case with Burns, end sadly. A letter of apology following a night of revelry at Friar's Carse is a masterpiece in its own right, as indeed are many more. He had to defend himself to his employers, the Excise, against accusations regarding his suitability for continued employment and repudiated claims that he supported the French Revolution. He railed against his publisher, William Creech and sought help from his patron, Graham of Fintry. This selection of letters offers a fascinating insight into his mindset, his life, his many romances, his fame and fortune and finally his slide back into poverty, ill health, physical exhaustion and untimely death. (pb)