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Practicing "The Necessity of Purification": Cromek, Roscoe, and Reliques of Burns by Dennis M. Read
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Practicing "The Necessity of Purification": Cromek, Roscoe, and Reliques of Burns
Dennis M. Read

The importance of R. H. Cromek's edition of Reliques of Robert Burns; Consisting Chiefly of Original Letters, Poems, and Critical Observations on Scottish Songs (London: Cadell & Davies, 1808) has been noted by modern Burns scholars, among them J. DeLancey Ferguson, who describes the volume as "the fruit of diligent research" and J. W. Egerer, who calls it "one of the most important publications" in the Burns bibliography.[1] Cromek not only published, by Egerer's count, thirty-eight new poems and seventy-four new letters, but he also made possible the textual preservation of a number of them, for, as J. DeLancey Ferguson notes, many of the original manuscripts have since disappeared.[2] A comparison of surviving manuscripts with their published versions in Reliques shows that Cromek maintained textual fidelity, something unusual in an age when editors freely practiced silent emendation. Ferguson, speaking of the Burns letters Cromek published, states that Cromek "had some kind of text before him for everything he printed, and followed it carefully, his deviations from the wording of the original being such minor errors as may naturally occur through hasty transcription or careless proofreading."[3] This close correlation between the manuscript and the printed version both distinguishes Cromek's editing achievement in Reliques and strengthens the textual authority of those pieces for which no manuscript survives.

Bringing out the edition, however, turned out to be much more difficult than Cromek had anticipated and involved his sacrificing a number of Burns pieces in order to get permission to publish the rest. Cromek's difficulties with Robert Ainslie, Burns's travelling companion and correspondent, over publishing Burns's Journal of the Border Tour in the volume have been known for more than eighty years, since the publication of some of the letters in the Earnock Collection of the National Library of Scotland in 1899.[4] However, that selection of letters does not show the full extent of Cromek's difficulties. Nor does it disclose Cromek's more formidable antagonist, William Roscoe (1753-1831) of Liverpool. In fact Cromek was prevented from publishing many Burns materials in the volume by Roscoe, who had the power to veto


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anything he considered damaging to Burns's reputation, and who exercised that veto often—but not necessarily before Cromek had put the questionable selections to press. The entire story of how the volume was published—and how parts of it were not—shows the differences of the two men over notions of propriety and proprietorship.

William Roscoe was a close friend and associate of Dr. James Currie (1756-1805), the editor of the four-volume Works of Robert Burns, first published by Cadell and Davies in 1800.[5] According to Ferguson, Roscoe and Burns were correspondents,[6] and shortly after Burns's death in 1796 Roscoe mentioned in a letter to the Rev. John Edwards that Burns had been intending to meet him in Liverpool before his final illness prevented it (Liverpool City Libraries [hereafter LCL]; printed in TLS, October 2, 1937, p. 715). Roscoe advised Currie about his edition of Burns as well; Currie states in an undated letter to Cadell and Davies about preparing the edition, "I shall . . . have the consel and assistance of my excellent friend, Mr. Roscoe, whenever I require it" (National Library of Scotland [hereafter NLS]; printed in Burns Chronicle 8 [1899], 9). Cromek's problems have their source in another letter by Currie to Cadell and Davies in which he states that he and Roscoe "will not in any future edition add any of his [Burns's] works to those already selected by you for publication, except such as we think will do credit to his character, and which you, or such other friends of the family as may be appointed by them to decide in that behalf may approve" (NLS; printed in Burns Chronicle 8 [1899], 9). When Currie died in 1805, Roscoe was left to guard the four-volume monument to Burns that his close friend had erected against future desecration. In discharging this duty, Roscoe believed he was protecting the reputation not only of the poet Burns but also of the editor and biographer Currie.[7]

Currie's edition was a success, and three more editions followed in succeeding years. In 1803, Cromek first involved himself with Currie's Works of Burns when he entered into an agreement with Cadell and Davies to produce illustrations jointly with his friend Thomas Stothard for a subsequent edition. In his letter of March 25, 1803, Cromek wrote to Davies: "Mr. Stothard requested I would beg of you to send him the Edition of Burns in 4 Vols.— He will then be enabled to refer to ye. Books for Subjects as well as myself.


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. . . Mr. Stothard's Heart is so much with Burns that I hope, when he has once made a beginning, I shall be able to engage his Talent almost exclusively—" (NLS).

Cadell and Davies, however, decided not to include any illustrations in the subsequent editions of 1804 and 1806, and whatever illustrations Cromek and Stothard produced were left unused. Some four years later, Cromek's interest in Burns was revived when, in June 1807, while in Edinburgh to sell subscriptions to an engraving of Stothard's painting, The Procession of the Canterbury Pilgrims, he started noticing various previously unpublished Burns materials. Before long, he was planning an edition of these materials to add a fifth volume to Currie's edition.

Cromek knew that Roscoe's endorsement was essential to the success of this venture. He had met Roscoe in Liverpool during the summer of 1806, when he was selling subscriptions to Blair's Grave, illustrated by Blake.[8] He later published an engraving of Currie on March 2, 1807 and inscribed the plate to Roscoe. This gesture no doubt enhanced Cromek's affairs with Roscoe. Roscoe not only was willing to support Cromek's idea to publish this collection of Burns materials but also offered to comb the Burns materials collected by Currie but left out of his Works for additional pieces. On October 5, 1807, Roscoe advanced Cromek's cause enormously by writing an effusively partisan letter of introduction to Cadell and Davies for him:

This will probably be delivered to you by Mr. Cromek, who having made an excursion this summer to Edinburgh, has devoted a considerable part of his time to the collecting further accounts of Robert Burns & discovering the scattered remains of his writings—For this purpose he has visted the different places where the poet resided & has seen & conversed with his Widow & many of his surviving Friends, by whose assistance he has got together a considerable number of Letters & other pieces many of which appear to possess a great show of Interest. These it is his intention to publish; & I have therefore ventured to recommend him to call upon you in preference to any others of the profession, assuring him that I am well convinced that if you should think his anecdotes & collections likely to prove of sufficient importance to lay before the public he would find you disposed to treat with him for the publication & editing of the work on fair & liberal terms.—For your further guidence on this subject it may be proper to add, that in the course of last autumn I looked over the papers relating to Burns which had been in the possession of my late ever lamented friend Dr. Currie for the purpose of advising Mr. Wallace Currie [the son of Dr. Currie] as to such Letters as ought to be returned to the owners &c, & that it appeared to me that altho' there was nothing amongst them that could with propriety be introduced into the Doctrs. Edn. of Burns' works yet at the same time there are, I think, some things that might be sufficiently interesting to make a part of a separate publication, & would unite very well with those which Mr. Cromek has collected, so as to go a good way towards forming an additional volume. If, after this explanation you should agree with Mr. Cromek, I will with great readiness examine


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again the papers in Liverpool & furnish you with any thing that appears to me likely to be favourably received by the public; keeping in view one precaution, so admirably & closely adhered to by our late excellent friend, & in which I am sure we shall all agree, viz. not to publish any thing contrary to decency & good manners, or that can in any point injure the reputation of that extraordinary but eccentric Son of Genius whom we so much admire, & so deeply lament (Roscoe's copy, LCL).

It would seem at this point that little was amiss about the project. Certainly Roscoe expressed much confidence in Cromek, and Roscoe added that he personally would select the pieces from those left by Currie, always adhering to the cardinal rule of "decency & good manners." Several weeks later, on October 22, 1807, Roscoe wrote again to Cadell and Davies that he expects Cromek's price for the edition will be reasonable: ". . . I only write now confidentially, to state to you that when I recommended him to call upon you & propose the work to you in preference to any others, he appeard moderate in his expectations, & thought that about 100gs. would pay him for the trouble he has had in collecting the papers & may have in writing the work, to which . . . I think some additional pieces might be added from the papers in Liverpool" (NLS).

Roscoe's notion of a fair price, however, was not Cromek's, as Cromek indicated in his letter of November 17, 1807, to Archibald Constable. In it he discloses that he has informed Cadell and Davies he has spent sixty guineas to obtain the Burns materials, which is "not far from ye. mark. . . . Certainly a Vol. of this interesting sort will be worth 250 Guineas[.]" Even after deducting Cromek's expenses from that amount, Cromek's total is nearly twice that of Roscoe's. But either figure at this point is conjectural; according to Cromek, Cadell and Davies has stated to him simply that "if you [would] like to leave ye. Price to us you shall not only receive a proper Price but a liberal one" (NLS).

Cromek soon received other forms of encouragement. He wrote to James Montgomery of Sheffield on December 30, 1807, that "very unexpectedly I have been engaged by Cadell & Davies (who have purchased Burns's Manuscripts) to make a Journey to Edinburgh & its vicinity to collect Papers not yet come to Hand [.]" Cromek states that he plans to leave for Edinburgh New Year's Eve and adds with characteristic assurance, "I am well informed that my veneration for his [Burns's] memory will induce me to suppress every thing hostile to his character" (Sheffield City Libraries Archives, Sheffield Literary & Philosophical Society [SLPS] 36/107).

Cromek spent January in Scotland looking for more Burns materials, and on February 8, 1808, William Wallace Currie wrote to Cadell and Davies, "We have Mr Cromek here [in Liverpool] now—he tells me he had [sic] been very successful in his last journey to Scotland—the few papers of Burns that remain in my possession, Mr. Roscoe & myself have looked over & he was to talk to Mr C[romek] about them yesterday at Allerton [Roscoe's home, located six miles from Liverpool]" (NLS). Meanwhile, a week earlier, in a letter dated February 1, Cadell and Davies wrote to Roscoe that Cromek, who "will be


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your Visitor about this Time," will be able to inform him about "what has been settled between us, respecting Burns's Reliques" (LCL). Since no figure is mentioned, it is not possible to know whether Cromek or Roscoe was closer to what Cadell and Davies finally agreed to pay.

Cromek's stay in Liverpool was a period of exultation for him. He wrote on February 12 to Cadell and Davies from Allerton in a burst of bonhomie that Roscoe has examined all the manuscripts he has brought back from Scotland while he has gone through "the Liverpool Collection" of Burns materials. "[I]t is almost incredible to think of the number of sterling, first rate productions of the Poet still remaining buried in the Pile," Cromek wrote. Furthermore, Roscoe has contributed to the volume in two other ways. First, he has begun writing "some Remarks on the Dignity and Independence of Genius, to be attached to my preface." Secondly, he has designed the title page for the volume over a glass of wine, playfully appending to Cromek's name the titular initials, P.P.E.T.M. and F.O.O.C., which, he explains to Cromek, stand for "Poet, Painter, Engraver, Traveller, Man" and "Father of One Child" (NLS).

It would seem at this point that Roscoe had approved everything Cromek intended to publish in the volume. Furthermore, when Gilbert Burns, the poet's brother, wrote to Roscoe asking whether Cromek's venture was one honorable to Burns's reputation, Roscoe replied in a letter of March 9, 1808 that "I most truly believe . . . he [Cromek] will not intentionally publish any thing which he does not think likely to do him honour." The underlined word suggests that Roscoe finds Cromek's enthusiasm sometimes overrides his judgment. If so, however, any errors in Cromek's judgment will be corrected by Cadell and Davies, who "from considerations of their own credit & their own interest will be cautious that no improper articles are admitted." In addition, Roscoe assures Burns's brother that while "I cannot take upon myself the responsibility for what it [the volume] may contain I have however freely given my opinion on the questions proposed to me by Mr. Cromek, & shall continue to give the best assistance I can to render the publication as respectable as possible" (Roscoe's copy, LCL).

Cromek meanwhile was in London sending copy to the printer James McCreery to be set into type, advancing the production of Reliques of Burns in a rapid manner. In short order he sent the first five sheets to Roscoe. In short order Roscoe responded with a jarring letter to Cromek, and on March 26, 1808, when Cromek received the letter, his cloud of serenity was suddenly dispelled. The letter, Cromek wrote to Roscoe, "has nearly driven me mad," for the printing of the volume is well advanced: "the first four sheets of the Work are printed off 3000 of each—"; "I would, most chearfully cancel the two sheets, though it would cost me nearly 40£ so to do—but I have not sufficient, indeed I have not any Letters to supply their place."

Roscoe has two objections. First, he finds the several poems that begin the collection to be of indifferent quality and therefore argues that they should not "be put in the front of the battle." Secondly, he thinks the note


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"relating to the alteration of Burns's Text" and another "respecting the feelings of the living members of the Poet's family" should be omitted. Cromek helplessly agrees to all of Roscoe's surgery, acquitting himself by writing, "The first Note was put by my friend McCreery, much against my Will—I suppressed the Letter to which the second Note alludes at the most anxious desire of Robt. Burns, the Son; and this Note was written by himself." Sensing that Roscoe's confidence in him might be shaken, Cromek labors to reassure him: "In the second Edition the Works shall certainly begin with Richmond's Letter as you wish—[In fact the first edition begins with Burns's letter to John Richmond of Edinburgh, dated February 17, 1786.] I trust & hope, my good Sir, you will Do me the justice to believe that I have not wantonly Departed from any one wish of yours respecting the arrangement of the Materials."

Anticipating possible objections by Roscoe over several pieces which appear later in the volume, Cromek suggests that "the Letter to McMath and Holy Willie's Prayer may be properly and sufficiently guarded by a judicious Notice inserted in the Volume so as to catch the Eye of the Reader before he begins the Letters." In any case, Cromek acquiesces to Roscoe over any changes he might call for: "I send two more Sheets. As you will be writing to Mr. McCreery, they shall not be printed off 'till your approbation is known" (LCL).

Instead of sending his approbation, however, Roscoe quickly wrote Cromek a censorious letter, and Cromek dispatched himself immediately to Allerton to work out the entire volume with Roscoe once more. The results of that meeting set Cromek back considerably. Roscoe detailed these results in a letter of April 9, 1808 to Cadell and Davies: "A short time after Mr. Cromek had begun to print his Vol[.] of Burns, the proofs of the first sheets was sent to me, when I was equally surprized & sorry to see that the work opened with some poems of the admission of which I very much doubt; but which in that situation wod. have given a most unfavourable idea of the work. . . . I am sorry to say that in my opinion the 7 [sic] sheets now printed must be cancelled & the work begun again altho' it will undoubtedly be attended with a very considerable expense."

The problem arose, Roscoe explains, out of the agreement between Cromek and himself to order the letters chronologically. This Cromek took to mean a chronological arrangement of all the materials, poems and letters alike, and when he found two poems whose composition antedated that of any letters, he placed them at the beginning of the volume. Roscoe, however, is worried that "Shod. any thing be admitted which may give just ground for censure it will immediately be laid hold of & the book will be condemned as containing only worthless indecent fragments, which both he [Burns] & Dr. Currie had rejected, & not only wod. this affect the sale of the work but it wod. also injure the character of Burns & perhaps depreciate in a considerable degree his other writings for the property of which you have so liberally paid —[.]"

Roscoe does not explain, however, why omitting these poems requires


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scrapping all seven sheets printed so far. Whatever the reason, Cromek has agreed to the judgment. In his letter Roscoe then pours oil on the waters he has so considerably troubled: ". . . I am truly happy to say that in my judgment there is no danger . . . if prudent precautions be taken which Mr. Cromek is not only willing but anxious to do. The materials are in fact excellent; & the more I examine them, the more I am convinced they will make a most interesting volume. Every thing is now arranged for its being immediately put to press. . . . [Cromek] will bear the loss himself rather than suffer the present sheets to appear. At the same time he hopes that the exertions he has made will induce you to consider this matter in as favourable a light to him as you can, & that if the work shod. succeed you will not suffer this unexpected loss to fall entirely on himself."

In order to soften the blow on Cromek, Roscoe has agreed "to arrange the materials for the preface"; furthermore, he is quite willing to assist in "the progress of the printing as far as my distance will allow, or rendering any other services which you or Mr. Cromek may wish" (NLS; Roscoe's copy is in the LCL. Quoted in Life of Roscoe, I, 457-459).

In spite of Roscoe's assertion that the entire contents of the volume had been agreed upon, the fate of "Holy Willie's Prayer" had not yet been determined. Cromek and Roscoe apparently decided at Allerton to submit the poem to a third party, and, accordingly, on April 16, 1808, Cromek wrote to William Creech in Edinburgh[9] asking "if you think 'Holy Willie's Prayer' is admissible," adding, "I confess, that though it bears the impress of genius, yet it does not suit the tone of my feelings from the so frequent recurrence of the Name of the Deity in it."[10] Creech's response was a resounding no to the inclusion of the poem: "Professor Dugald Stewart[11] was with me when I received your Letter. I read it to him, & he was much pleased with yr. Sentiment you express respecting 'Holy Willie's Prayer.' [¶] He knows the Man, & knows the Poem. [12] I asked his opinion about inserting it—his Words were—'Certainly inadmissible.' He said it had found its way into a paltry collection of unedited or posthumous Poems, said to be by Burns, printed at Glasgow, but it gave universal offence, & the Collection never sold.[13] Soon after Mr. Stewart, Mr.MacKenzie[14] came in—I also read to him your Letter


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which he much approved of, and agreed in opinion with Mr. Stewart. On this point therefore you have strong judgment" (quoted by Cromek in his letter of May 4, 1808 to Roscoe; LCL). Cromek accepted the judgment without demur, stating in his letter of May 2, 1808 to Creech, "The opinion of these Gentleman is Gospel with me—of course the Prayer will not appear."[15]

Because "Holy Willie's Prayer" had been previously published, it has fortunately become a part of the Burns canon, in spite of the wishes of Creech, Stewart, and MacKenzie. Indeed, it is one of Burns's most lively and accomplished poems. Its vitality, however, is in its scurrility, a quality which Creech and his associates clearly deplored, along with its blasphemy and bawdry. Since "Holy Willie's Prayer" is the only identifiable work which was banished from Reliques, it is impossible to know the literary worth of other works Cromek intended to include in the volume which met the same fate. Yet the question remains whether other fine Burns poems were lost because they did not meet certain criteria of propriety.

While Roscoe was working on the introduction to Reliques, the writer Ralph Rylance wrote to him on April 21, 1808, that he had been hired by Cromek to work on the volume. "My principal occupation with him," he wrote, "was to embody his thoughts into notes to be annexed here and there as illustrations. . . . I shall punctually observe his injunction to disclaim having had any hand in the work, and to keep my coöperation a secret. The merit of the notes is all his—editor loquitur" (LCL). The letter strongly suggests that Rylance ghost-wrote a good number of the notes to Reliques from Cromek. Although it is impossible to know how much Rylance contributed, Rylance's letter raises an important ethical question about Cromek, who in the course of his career was accused of stealing from both William Blake and Allan Cunningham. Was he stealing from Rylance? Or was he merely delegating to Rylance what he considered to be a trifling task? Because Cromek paid Rylance for his labors, he cannot be accused of out-and-out larceny. Yet the force of Rylance's statement about disclaiming his own work and keeping his participation a secret suggests that Cromek wished to claim Rylance's expertise as his own.

Roscoe's letter of March 9 to Gilbert Burns apparently did not assuage his fears, since later that spring Burns delegated Robert Ainslie to examine the pieces Cromek had selected. Cromek and Ainslie were hardly companionable, as Cromek's letter of May 4 to Roscoe indicates: "Mr. Ainslie who will call on you very soon in his way to Edinburgh is the gentleman (so called by the courtesy of the word) to whom Burns addresses 7 fine letters in the forthcoming Volume. [In fact eight Burns letters to Ainslie are in Reliques.] He has a rage for seeing celebrated Men. He looks on them as he looks on the Lions in the Tower, or on the Wooden Effigies of Gog and Magog in Guildhall. To gratify this craving he is determined to see you, & he has requested me to introduce him. He is a man of some consequence in Edinburgh as a


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Writer, and moreover—he is perfectly harmless. [¶] Mr Ainslie is the particular friend of Gilbert Burns, who commissioned him to call on me and look over my Papers, which commission he has executed with the inquisitional authority of a Spaniard, and with the usual delicacy of a Scotsman" (LCL).

More than two weeks later, on May 20, Cromek still believed that Ainslie was perfectly harmless when he wrote to Cadell and Davies that "Ainslie (of Edinburgh) has forwarded a sensible well-disposed Letter from Gilbert Burns" which Cromek will deliver to them tomorrow (NLS). Then, early in June, the printer James McCreery wrote anxiously to Cadell and Davies that Ainslie had serious objection to much of Reliques and that Cromek had left town before the objection had been met: ". . . as far as I can remember his [Ainslie's] objections went to do away [with] the whole or nearly the whole of this part of the work [Burns's Journal of the Border Tour]. . . . Mr Ainslie went home by way of Liverpool and saw Mr Roscoe, & I supposed conversed with him on this affair. . . . Perhaps therefore the safest way for me to act would be to find [sic] Mr. Cromek instantly to Bristol at the Post Office.[16] . . . We are now at, or nearly at Press, with this part of the work, . . . I think that time is now nearly expired. I perceive a great deal of ill temper towards you in this letter from the poet[']s relations, and I think you to be very cautious not to let anything be done that might give them cause of uneasiness" (NLS).

Robert Ainslie presented his version of his meeting with Cromek in a letter to Cadell and Davies dated June 12, 1808. He went to London, he writes, empowered with written authority from Gilbert Burns, and there he examined the entire Reliques manuscript with Cromek, excising all passages of dubious taste or merit. He found Burns's Journal to be especially in need of excision: "In that Journal many private opinions of individuals are Expressed—which, I Struck Out in the revisal—but I have this moment learned from my friend Mr. Ja. Ballantyne[17] —who has come lately from London, that Mr Cromek means to publish This Work—which if he does, I assure you, while he hurts the feelings of many worthy people, he will also naturally injure the work. . . . I must Exceedingly disapprove of such an attempt—This is certainly very strange injudicious & highly improper in the part of Mr Cromek" (NLS).

The matter reached Cromek in Bristol, and on June 20 he responded in righteous anger to Cadell and Davies:

From the specimen of Mr. Ainsley's [sic] Inquisitorial Authority exercised over myself & my Papers when that Gentleman (by the courtesy of the World so called) was last


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in London, I was quite prepared to meet that imperious tone of Voice which he has assumed to you—

I have not deceived Mr. Ainslie with regard to the publication of the Journal— He has deceived himself. With a caution by no means uncommon among his countrymen, and a vulgarity of taste peculiarly his own, he ran his Pen through one of the finest and most exquisite parts of this valuable Remain, ordering, and requesting, they might be omitted. I then remarked to him, that in so doing, he had not only destroyed the harmony of the whole, but he had rendered the Journal as dull and stupid as if he or I had written it; and I left it for him to determine, whether our Journals would be fit objects of public attention, and curiosity.

This Journal has been attentively read by Mr. Roscoe; by him approved. It was prepared for the Press with an almost incredible anxiety: Nay, even many of Ainslie's observations are attended to; and except in cases of Persons praised, Initials only are printed—Not one is satirized to gratify splenetic Humour—Not one whipt, who (Ainslie himself acknowledged) did not really merit that kind of Discipline—

You must consider what it is that constitutes the value of this Journal, & you will find its leading feature to be Character delineated with a masterly and discriminating Pencil. You will perceive in it independence of Mind, elevation of sentiment, and, in one or two instances, sublimity of Devotion. . . . [Burns's] virtues, his weaknesses pass in review before the Reader; nay the very inmost recesses of his Heart are often exhibited; and is such a Work, so original in its plan, and so intersting in its execution, to be broken down & reduced to fragments by the worse than gothic barbarian of a Scotch Attorney; & to serve the basest of all purposes too,—the hope of bettering his interest with his paltry "south country friends?"—

I have been greatly surprized to find that you think the Journal "has many, very many passages likely to give extreme offence, & to discredit both Editor & publishers."—I really cannot tell where they are to be found—I dined yesterday with an eminent Physician here, & a very clever, gentlemanly Man, a Particular friend both of Burns and his Biographer, & who has the good of the work much at his heart.[18] I read the Journal to him: He is decidedly against cutting it into pieces. However I shall hasten to Town & shall very chearfully meet your wishes in every thing; only Let us be careful that in "plucking out Weeds, we do not destroy the Flowers also." . . . This should not occasion the least delay—McCreery can go on as usual; as whatever may be cut out can be supplied by Asterisks—(NLS).

Cromek's eloquent plea for Burns's Journal did not change the verdict, however, for on July 9 Roscoe wrote in his own long letter to Cromek that "as to the Journal & account of his excursion from Edinburgh it is absolutely & wholly inadmissable. . . . this precious relique . . . in my judgment ought for the sake of both the author & the persons mentioned in it to be committed to the flames" (Roscoe's copy, LCL). It would seem, in view of Roscoe's earlier assurances that the contents of Reliques were entirely settled, that Roscoe's mind had been changed by this "worse than gothic barbarian of a Scotch attorney." Whatever personal opinion Roscoe may have had about Ainslie, he apparently believed it better to honor Ainslie's objections than to risk damage to the reputation of Burns (and indirectly to Currie). No doubt Roscoe had received McCreery's warning that Burns's relatives had generated "a great deal of ill temper" as well, and in banishing Burns's Journal from Reliques he was also following McCreery's advice "not to let anything be done that might give them cause of uneasiness."


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Cromek replied to Roscoe on July 12 that "Your kind letter of the 9th. has really confounded me. Your opinion of the Journal is the heaviest blow I have received since I engaged in the Editorship of Burns's book." He rehearses what he had written earlier to Cadell and Davies about Burns's Journal: that other "learned men" have read it "with infinite delight" and agree that it certainly should be included in the volume; that innocent parties mentioned in the Journal have been protected by initials and dashes; that others are exposed to only the ridicule they deserve; that the Journal offers a candid portrait of Burns; that anything in it which could be considered offensive is still less offensive than portions of his letters and poems which Dr. Currie had included in his edition. Cromek adds ruefully, "Not having the remotest idea that the Journal would be objected to in its present pruned state, I did not order the Press to stop and two additional sheets are printed off." Dropping the Journal from Reliques thus involves yet another loss of seventy-five pounds, with an additional cost of twenty to thirty pounds for making the changes Roscoe has requested in Burns's letters and Common Place Book. At this point Cromek vows that "Nothing further will be done 'till I have the pleasure of receiving your sentiments on this subject, which I hope will be at your first leisure" (LCL).

Clearly Cromek knew it was hopeless to expect Roscoe to reverse his latest pronouncement on Burns's Journal. Indeed, Roscoe had resolved to side entirely with Ainslie. The day after Cromek wrote his letter to Roscoe, July 13, Roscoe wrote to Ainslie that Cromek had printed "a great part" of Reliques "without my having seen it till too late to suggest any alterations —I have however stated my objections not only to a few passages but to some pieces of great extent, which absolutely must not appear; at least if I have any influence—The more I examine this volume the more I see the necessity of purification, which as it cannot be done by alterations, can only be performed by excision. . . . In these sentiments I am sure you will agree with me; and if anything further shod. occur to you respecting a publication which the reputation of the Poet is in some degree involved, it will give me sincere pleasure to hear from you" (Roscoe's copy, LCL).

The next day, July 14, Roscoe wrote Cromek. The letter effectively puts in jeopardy everything in Reliques they had previously agreed upon: "I assure you that it is with very great reluctance that I intrude my opinion respecting the volume of Burns, & that it gives me infinite pain to be the cause of anxiety & expense to you; but you must be aware that if the work had been forwarded to me in the Proof sheets, as was, I thought, concluded on when you was here, it would have prevented the present embarrassment. . . . Had I been upon the spot it wod. have been easy for us to have settled matters to our satisfaction, but to debate matters of this kind at 200 miles distance is an inconceivable inconvenience. By the next post I shall return all the papers Poetry &c, & write you fully upon them—till then please to stop further proceedings" (Roscoe's copy, LCL).

Again, Cromek capitulated. On July 20, he answered Roscoe's letter in


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contrite terms: "I should think myself greatly wanting in Respect to your Judgment if I were not to comply with its determination respecting the Journal. It must be cancelled however painful to my feelings, or injurious to my Purse. I must cancel everything as far as Wm. Burns's 2d. Letter, making altogether 4½ sheets" (LCL).[19] Several weeks later, on August 12, Cromek sent to Roscoe "corrected Proofs of all the Poetry as you requested. . . . Among the Poetry you returned whatever you had written Doubtful against, I have not suffered to be printed" (LCL). Apparently the volume was sufficiently cleansed in this state, since no further disapproval was forthcoming from Roscoe or the party of Burns, and it became the final version which was published early in December 1808.

Roscoe's caution proved a difficulty to Cromek in one other way. Back on February 12, 1808, Roscoe promised Cromek that he would write "some Remarks on the Dignity and Independence of Genius" to accompany Cromek's Preface. By April 9, Roscoe had decided also "to arrange the materials for the preface." In the months following Roscoe did little if anything to carry out these commitments, in spite of Cromek's pleas for the prefatory material in many of his letters to Roscoe. Finally, on July 2, Cromek wrote to Roscoe's son, William Stanley Roscoe, "I did not like to write to your good father on the subject, but the truth is that we soon shall be almost at a stand still for my Preface to Burns[']s Book. He promised to look it over & revise it for me" (LCL). A week later, on July 9, Roscoe assured Cromek in his letter that "I shall now take the earliest opportunity of looking into the papers which you left with me respecting the preface, & acquainting you with the result." On July 14, Roscoe reported that "I have . . . sketched & arranged the preface, which (if I can get it legibly copied) shall be sent at the same time [i.e., "By the next post"] if not very shortly afterward." Nearly a week later, however, on July 20, Cromek was still waiting for the preface, writing to Roscoe, "I am most exceedingly impatient to see it." He had to wait until August 12 before he finally received the Preface as edited by Roscoe. Cromek had to do without Roscoe's "Remarks," as well as another "Appendage" to the Preface by "Mr. Brydge," both of which Roscoe requested he withhold from the edition. No doubt by this time Roscoe did not want his name to appear in the volume at all. The published Preface in fact is the same as a manuscript of the Preface in Roscoe's hand in the Liverpool City Libraries, with minor variations in wording. The single addition of consequence made by Cromek is in the form of an excuse: "As an apology for any defects of my own that may appear in the publication, I beg to observe that I am by profession an artist, and not an author. An earnest wish to possess a scrap of


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the handwriting of Burns, originally led me to the discovery of most of the papers that compose this volume. In the manner of laying them before the public, I honestly declare that I have done my best" (Reliques, p. xi).

The story actually is much more complicated than that, and Cromek's participation much more involved than his declaration of innocence would suggest. Well before the publication of Reliques, in fact, Cromek had revived his idea of an illustrated edition of Burns, and in a letter of April 21, 1808 to Cadell and Davies he presented his plan of illustrations. There would be five classes: "Views of the most striking Scenery, at once characteristic of the Poems, and of Scotland," Burns's residences, portraits of surviving members of the Burns family, portraits of people "connected with the history of Burns," among them "Mr. Roscoe, as having produced the first poem to the Poet's memory," and portraits of characters found in Burns's works (NLS). Less than a month later, on May 13, Cromek outlined in a letter to Cadell and Davies the terms for his editorship of an illustrated version of Burns's works. He designated Stothard as the artist for the illustrations, he specified that another trip to Scotland was necessary for the completion of these illustrations (the expense of this trip to be borne by Cadell and Davies), and, finally, he proposed that he receive "one third share of the profits of the publication & that one third share of the Property shall belong to me" (NLS). In August of 1809 Cromek and Stothard made the trip to Scotland, and for the next four weeks Stothard completed drawing after drawing while Cromek looked for new information about and materials by Burns. On September 5, 1809, Cromek happily reported to Cadell and Davies that Stothard had finished all his drawings and he had found much more about Burns, as well as six new letters by him (NLS). And on November 6, 1809, Cromek, back in London, wrote to Mr. Davies asking for the three hundred guineas, "the sum agreed upon to be paid for the transfer to your House of my plan of illustrating Burns" (NLS).

Cromek's edition of Burns never was completed, however, for Cromek's health began to fail in 1810. He was able to edit Select Scottish Songs, Ancient and Modern; with Critical Observations and Biographical Notices, by Robert Burns, published by Cadell and Davies in 1810, including in the edition three of the six letters by Burns he had found the previous summer in Scotland. But he did not have the strength to carry out his more ambitious intentions. He died on March 14, 1812, of consumption.

Cromek's Reliques remains his outstanding contribution to the Burns canon—in spite of Roscoe. Burns's Journal of the Border Tour was later published by Cromek's sometime protégé, Allan Cunningham, in 1834.[20] Cunningham's edition also marked the next published appearance of "Holy Willie's Prayer." The other poems and letters excised from the edition and the deleted portions from those included in the edition largely have disappeared.


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Cromek may well be called an opportunist, and certainly at times it is difficult to determine whether his zeal is more for the poet or for the profit he hoped to acquire as the editor succeeding Currie. Nevertheless, Cromek served the modern reader of Burns far better than the overcautious and equivocal Roscoe. And there can be no doubt, after reading these numerous letters by the major participants, that Roscoe seriously compromised Cromek's Reliques, however well intended his motives. From near the beginning, he worked only to preserve the literary reputation of Burns and to protect the integrity of Currie's edition. As the work moved closer to publication he found the necessity of its purification to be more urgent and more extensive. Shortly after Reliques was published, on December 20, 1808, Roscoe wrote Cromek a coldly ambiguous letter acknowledging the event: "I observe by the papers that the Reliques of Burns are published. I hope they will meet with that reception from the public which I am sure they deserve. Be so good as to mention when you write what Messrs C[adell] & D[avies] think of them & whether they are satisfied with the sale as far as they can yet judge" (Berg Coll., New York Public Library).

Of the two, however, Roscoe was closer to the tenor of his times, for certainly his notions of propriety were shared by most contemporary guardians of literary taste. Indeed, when reviews of Reliques of Burns appeared, they praised the very qualities of decency and decorum in it that Roscoe had worked to insure. Francis Jeffrey, for instance, wrote in the January 1809 Edinburgh Review that "the friends of the poet, we are sure, are indebted to [Cromek's] good taste, moderation and delicacy, for having confined it to the pieces which are now printed. Burns wrote many rash—many violent, and many indecent things; of which we have no doubt many specimens must have fallen into the hands of so diligent a collector. He has, however, carefully suppressed everything of this description, and shown that tenderness for his author's memory, which is the best proof of the veneration with which he regards his talents."[21]

This virtue belongs to Roscoe, not Cromek, whose primary concern was a sufficient quantity of Burns materials to fill a volume, not their quality Yet Cromek's more venal criterion, coupled with his fidelity to Burns's own words, produced a reliable and worthwhile volume. One can finally only speculate how much more worth while the volume would have been, if not for Roscoe's high-minded protectiveness.[22]



Letters of Robert Burns (1931), I, xli; A Bibliography of Robert Burns (1965), p. 115.


"In Defense of R.H. Cromek," Philological Quarterly, 9 (1930), 239.


Letters of Burns, I, xlii.


Burns Chronicle, 8 (1899), 42-45.


Roscoe was best known in his day as the author of The Life of Lorenzo de'Medici (1796, with several subsequent editions). He also wrote The Life of Leo X (1805), made strong public opposition to the slave trade, and was a close friend and patron of Henry Fuseli. See Henry Roscoe, Life of William Roscoe, 2 vols. (1833) and DNB. Theodore Besterman summarizes the publication history of Currie's edition of Burns in The Publishing Firm of Cadell and Davies: Selected Correspondence and Accounts 1793-1836 (1938), pp. xxi-xxii.


"Aspects of the Burns Legend," PQ, 11 (1932), 273. Burns refers to "my friend Roscoe" in a letter to Mrs. Dunlop (Letters, II, 282).


For a full biography of Currie and the story of how he came to edit Burns's works, see R. D. Thornton, James Currie the Entire Stranger and Robert Burns (1963).


Fuseli's letter of introduction to Roscoe for Cromek, dated July 16, 1806, is in the Liverpool Public Library and printed in G. E. Bentley, Jr., Blake Records (1969), p. 179. Cromek's edition of The Grave was published in July 1808. Much has been written about Cromek's vicissitudes with Blake. See, inter alia, Blake Records, pp. 166-174 and passim and Bentley, "Blake and Cromek: The Wheat and the Tares," Modern Philology, 71 (1974), 366-379.


Creech (1745-1815) was Burns's publisher during his lifetime. Their relationship was not entirely congenial. See the entry for Creech in Maurice Lindsay, The Burns Encyclopaedia, 2nd ed. (1970). Two Burns letters to Creech are included in Reliques.


Quoted in Robert Burns: An Exhibition (February 1971), comp. G. Ross Roy (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University [1971]), p. 34.


Dugald Stewart (1753-1828), a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, was a staunch admirer of Burns's verse since August 1786, when he first read a volume of his poems.


Holy Willie was William Fisher (1737-1809), a farmer given, in Burn's words, "to liquorish devotion." See the entry for Fisher in Lindsay, Burns Encyclopaedia.


Poems Ascribed to Robert Burns, the Ayrshire Bard, Not Contained in any Edition of His Works Hitherto Published (1801). See Egerer, pp. 83-84.


Henry MacKenzie (1745-1831) was the author of The Man of Feeling (1771). He also had long admired Burns's poetry—as Burns had his fiction.


Quoted in Robert Burns: An Exhibition, p. 34.


Cromek went to Bristol to look for more subscribers to his edition of The Grave on the eve of its publication. He placed advertisements for subscriptions in the Bristol Gazette, and Public Advertiser of June 9 and June 30, 1808. See my "Cromek's Provincial Advertisements for Blake's Grave," Notes & Queries, N.S. 27 (February 1980), 75.


James Ballantyne (1772-1833) was a well established Edinburgh printer. In his letter of November 17, 1807 to Constable, Cromek mentions Ballantyne as his intended printer of The Grave. The printing actually was done by Thomas Bensley, however.


Probably Dr. Craufuid of Bristol Hot Springs, a friend of Currie. See Thornton, James Currie, passim. Craufuid was also a Grave subscriber.


Because it was too late to remove all of Burns's Journal from the press, Cromek made a vertical tear through the three leaves comprising the remaining printed pages of the Journal; these leaves were then removed before the volume was bound. Some copies, however, survived this fate; one of them is in the Wellesley College Library. See Hannah D. French, "Cromek's 'Reliques of Robert Burns', a Footnote to Egerer 112," The Bibliothek, 5 (1967), 33-35.


Cunningham took various liberties with the text, as specified by J. DeLancey Ferguson in "Burns's Journal of his Border Tour," PMLA, 49 (1931), 1107-1115. See also Robert T. Fitzhugh, Robert Burns: His Associates and Contemporaries (1943).


Robert Burns: The Critical Heritage, ed. Donald A. Low (1974), p. 193. For other contemporary reviews of Reliques see ibid., pp. 196-217.


I gratefully acknowledge the following for their kind permission to quote from previously unpublished letters: The National Library of Scotland (Miss E. D. Yeo, Assistant Keeper), the Liverpool City Libraries (Mr. Ralph Malbon, F.L.A., City Librarian), the Sheffield City Libraries (Mr. Robert F. Atkins, F.L.A., Director), and the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations (Mr. Richard M. Buck, Assistant to the Andrew W. Mellon Director of The Research Libraries). I wish also to acknowledge the generous attention and continuing encouragement this essay has received from Professor G. E. Bentley, Jr.