Prose & SongCorrespondence & Poetry

More on Thomson


I realise that a couple of weeks have passed since my last blog!

Work is moving ahead on the Thomson songs for our edition. As I mentioned in my first blog our RAs, Vivien Williams and new recruit Gerry McKeever are working hard for me on a variety of different elements of this part of our project. And Gerry has since blogged about the letters. He’s now working on getting together some transcriptions of Thomson’s correspondence with Burns’s family after the poet’s death. This is really exciting as not much work has been done on this, short of James Cuthbert Hadden’s 1898 study of Thomson’s project. Hadden, as we understand it, had access to the Thomson correspondence from Thomson’s great grand-daughter, Mrs Thomson-Sinclair and was the one to persuade her to gift them all to the British Library. Of course the Thomson letters to Burns had long since disappeared by then, as Gerry noted in his blog. We live in hope of finding them still! And the Burns letters to Thomson then found their way across the Atlantic and I’m looking forward very much to getting a chance to see them in the flesh this summer. Indeed I’ve been planning research trips this week.

Thomson after Raeburn - this is the portrait which appears in Hadden's 1898 book.

Thomson after Raeburn – this is the portrait which appears in Hadden’s 1898 book.

Those of you well versed in the Burns side of the story will be aware that Thomson has not always received good press on his ‘handling’ of the poet and his work so it’s vitally important that we revisit this territory, map it all out clearly and give as decisive a view of this relationship as we can. Thomson’s close involvement with James Currie and his first edition of the poet’s work – which included the fascinating correspondence between Thomson and Burns (with a few of Thomson’s emendations) that Gerry refers to in his last blog – is also not a story which we know in any great detail. So we’re working with our online edition of James Currie’s letters and tracking that relationship too. Remember to take a look at that resource which is another of our CRBS projects at

In the meantime I’m getting into the groove of research leave and working my way through a pile of books on several different aspects of Burns’s life, including some fascinating pieces on his songs as they appeared across the Burns Chronicle.

More soon!

Kirsteen McCue

Professor of Scottish Literature and Song Culture and Co-Director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow. Editor for the new Oxford University Press Works of Robert Burns (Vols. 4 & 5) Robert Burns's Songs for George Thomson.

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