Guest blog by Professor Patrick Scott (Hon. Fellow, CRBS)
The lockdown these past few months has altered the pace of Burns research, but not stopped it. Most research has become even more reliant than before on digital resources, but some questions need access to the manuscripts themselves, and at present this often means relying on help from friendly librarians. Earlier this year, a puzzle came up about a manuscript of Burns’s song, ‘O, my Luve’s like a red, red rose’. The manuscript had been reported in the 1930s, but the only information on its more recent whereabouts, from the 1980s, listed it as privately owned in 1968 by someone who had died in the 1930s. The last time it was in the auction records had been in 1932. It seemed a dead end.
The most comprehensive guide to Burns manuscripts is still the Index to English <sic> Literary Manuscripts, III.1 (1986), p. 158, which records four manuscripts, of which only three had been included in James Kinsley’s collation (Kinsley, Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, 3 vols, Oxford: Clarendon, 1968, II: 734-735). Two of the three are well known. BuR 800, the Hastie manuscript, in the British Library, is an undated fair copy that Burns sent to James Johnson, the Edinburgh printer of the Scots Musical Museum, where it provided the text that Johnson eventually published, in vol. 5 (1796), shortly after Burns’s death; the Museum gives it to two tunes (as songs 402 and 403), with the first requiring omission of Burns’s last verse. It was Kinsley’s primary copy-text, and has been used by other editors also (e.g. Duncan Wu, Romanticism: An Anthology, 1994, 133). Because Burns wrote it for Johnson, it is also the manuscript behind the published text used by Murray Pittock, in OERB II: 488-489. A digitization is available on the BL site at: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/my-luve-is-like-a-red-red-rose-by-robert-burns.
The second manuscript, BuR 797, the Cunningham manuscript, in the Berg Collection at New York Public Library, comes in a fairly short letter that Burns wrote to his friend Alexander Cunningham, which seems to have first been published in 1927 (Illustrated London News, 24 December 1927, 1161; Burns Chronicle, 2nd ser, 3, for 1928, 6-7), following its auction at Sotheby’s on 15 December that year. It had been bought for £2000 (nearly $10,000) by a London dealer, Walter T. Spencer, who was reportedly bidding for an American collector. In reporting this record price, the Illustrated London News published a photograph of the letter, which is available to subscribers through Gale Primary Sources. In their Clarendon editions, both Ferguson and Roy, against their usual practice, included a full transcription of the song, Ferguson in 1931 having a Miss Sarah Dickson cross-check the Burns Chronicle text for him against the manuscript, then owned by a Mr. Owen D. Young of New York, and Roy for the 1985 edition doing his own collation in the Berg. Mr. Young rang a bell. Owen D. Young (1872-1962), president and chairman of General Electric, and founder and first chairman of Radio Corporation of America, had owned one of the very best Kilmarnock editions, untrimmed in its original wrappers, and after he retired in 1939 donated his collection to the Berg, including, presumably, the Cunningham letter (Young and Scott, Kilmarnock Census, 32). The Cunningham letter is undated; Ferguson, as Kinsley and IELM would do, accepted Ewing’s date, placing it in the summer of 1794 (Ferguson, II: 262, letter 642), while Roy, arguing that Burns was replying to Cunningham’s letter of 30 October 1793 (Ewing 1938, letter 243), re-dated it [November 1793] (Roy, II: 258-259, letter 593A). Recently Pittock has noted other letters that “lend credence” to the 1794 date (Pittock, OERB, III: 159).
However, for the third manuscript in Kinsley’s collation, BuR 799, the Index had found no up-to-date location, noting merely ‘Owned (1968) by Frank B. Bemis’. This note derives from a misreading of Kinsley, who records ‘a MS owned by Mr. Frank B. Bemis, Boston’ (Poems, 1968, II: 734), leaving ambiguous whether Mr. Bemis still owned it when Kinsley was writing or had owned it earlier. Like the Cunningham letter, the Bemis manuscript had been unknown in pre-twentieth-century Burns scholarship. Almost equally puzzling is a fourth entry for the song in Index to English Literary Manuscripts Index, BuR 796 (‘Autograph, with a certificate in the hand of Hugh Dunlop, 16 May 1877’), a manuscript that Kinsley had not apparently used or known about, which IELM located as at ‘Indiana University’. Absent from the record is a fifth manuscript that must have existed sometime in the past, either in Burns’s hand or Pietro Urbani’s, that was used in producing Urbani’s setting of the song for his Selection of Scots Songs, published in April 1794 (Egerer, Bibliography of Robert Burns, 1964, p. 43).
Frank B. Bemis rang another bell. He had owned a copy of the Kilmarnock Burns, in early boards, that the famous Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach of Philadelphia sold to Mr. J.K. Lilly in 1937 (Young and Scott, Census, pp. 23-24). Bemis was a Boston banker, born in 1861, who left his wealth to Boston Children’s Hospital. When he died in 1935, his remarkable rare book collection was sold off to benefit the hospital; ‘Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach acquired the disposal rights’, and by 1941, some highpoints had ‘already passed into the possession of other collectors’ (Carl L. Cannon, American Book Collectors and Collecting, 1941, p. 238). In the 1950s, Josiah Kirby Lilly, Jr. (1893-1966) gave his huge collection, including Bemis’s Kilmarnock and an autograph manuscript of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, to Indiana University, founding the Lilly Library. Was the Bemis ‘Red, red, rose’ manuscript also among the treasures he gave? However, when I looked online, I didn’t find anything connecting the ‘Indiana University’ manuscript to Frank B. Bemis.
A preliminary query to the Lilly Library hit a temporary road block. The library is midway through major building renovations, and for a while after the lockdown, even library staff couldn’t get into the secure area, where the manuscript itself, and possibly information about the purchase in Mr. Lilly’s papers, would be stored. Nonetheless, I got a useful break when their reading room coordinator, Sarah McElroy Mitchell, in explaining the situation, emailed me an entry I had missed in their online MSS finding aid, which did not mention Bemis, but described ‘A red, red rose’ as ‘bound in brown morocco, in red protective case’.
In its entry on the Bemis manuscript, the Index of English Literary Manuscripts had guessed, with a query mark, that, just before Bemis bought it, the same manuscript had been auctioned at Sotheby’s, on 24 March, 1932, as lot 190, and had noted that the catalogue included a facsimile. Lot 190 had been bought by the London dealer Quaritch. Most auction catalogues from the thirties aren’t yet fully digitized, but both DeLancey Ferguson and Ross Roy tore out and squirreled away Burns-related pages, and these are now filed in the Roy Collection, at the University of South Carolina. Like the Lilly, Hollings Library, which houses the Roy Collection, was also shut to researchers, but it wasn’t undergoing renovation. Elizabeth Sudduth, the director, checked Ross Roy’s files, found the 1932 Sotheby catalogue illustration (docketed on the back in Ferguson’s hand), and scanned it for me. The scan matched the variants Kinsley had recorded for the Bemis manuscript, confirming that the manuscript bought in 1932 by Quaritch and the one owned by Bemis were one manuscript, not two. Kinsley only took over the Burns edition in the mid-1950s; since the manuscript was already in America, in Boston, by the mid-1930s, Kinsley’s collation must have come either from the catalogue illustration or had been made by his predecessor as editor, Robert Dewar, at the time of the sale. The scan gave a good image of the Bemis manuscript, which let Kirsteen McCue and the Glasgow team recheck Kinsley. Equally important, the Sotheby’s catalogue description for the 1932 sale showed it as in a morocco binding, and accompanied by the Dunlop provenance endorsement, so giving the first definite match to the description in the Lilly Library finding-aid.
Final confirmation came in this week, when Ms. Mitchell at the Lilly got access to the secure materials and took a photograph of the Lilly manuscript. It is indeed identical with the manuscript sold in London in 1932 and subsequently owned by Mr. Bemis:
The photograph above matches exactly with the illustration from 1932, and the identification is confirmed by the distinctive Bemis bookplate on the Lilly binding pastedown:
So, with the help of the lockdown librarians, and the pack-rat proclivities of earlier Burns editors, a loose end in Kinsley and in the Index to English Literary Manuscripts has been tied up, and a discontinuity in the manuscript record has been bridged. The manuscript was of course never really lost—the Lilly Library knew it was there all the time. What had been lost, or at least unknown to Burns editors for over eighty years, was where the manuscript once owned by Frank Bemis of Boston had gone after his death.
But no one really knew, either, where it might have been before Mr. Bemis owned it, before the sale in 1932. This is not just a question of antiquarian interest. No one, as far as I know, not even J.C. Ewing, questioned the manuscript’s authenticity when it was auctioned in 1932, and no one has questioned it since it came to the Lilly in the 1950s. But a huge number of forged Burns manuscripts came into the collector market in the late nineteenth century, and it would be slightly unsettling if two out of only three known manuscripts of one of Burns’s most famous songs, both Cunningham and Bemis, had no earlier provenance.
This was the bonus in the material Ms. Mitchell sent me. Bound into the Lilly copy are three and a bit pages of typescript with additional provenance information. The typed pages quote and summarize a certificate signed on May 16, 1877, by Hugh Dunlop, which I have not seen, and they provide important further leads that explain where Dunlop found the manuscript, and why he was confident it was genuine. However, when the typescript was made, the compiler found that “neither the standard biographies or Burns nor the collected edition of his letters by Mr. De Lancey Ferguson in 1931” made “any mention” of its previous long-time owner. The account below supplements the certificate and the typescript from genealogical and other sources, both print and digital. Together these lead back to Burns, fully justifying Dunlop’s confidence in the manuscript’s authenticity.
In May 1877, Hugh Dunlop of Dunlop (1811-1878) found himself sorting the family papers of an old friend, as trustee and residuary legatee to John Hamilton Craik (1803-1877), of Arbigland, Kirkcudbrightshire, who had died on 6 May, 1877, and is buried in Kirkbean kirkyard. John Craik was the youngest, but sole surviving, son of Douglas Hamilton Craik (1762-1844), also of Arbigland, and John was the last of the family to live in the family home. Douglas’s father was John Hamilton (1734-1813), so not in the direct line, but his mother, Anne Craik (b. c. 1737) was the daughter of William Craik (1703-1798), a notable improving landlord, who succeeded his father Adam Craik and grandfather William at Arbigland, became wealthy from seizures as Surveyor-General of the Excise in Dumfries (see Universal Scots Almanac for 1770, Edinburgh: Ruddiman, n.d., 100), and rebuilt the house at Arbigland in 1755. However, William Craik’s son and heir apparent, another Adam, drowned in a yachting accident off the Cumberland coast, in 1782, near the other family house at Flimby. Adam was childless, and in 1792 William, by then nearly 90, but holding on in his Excise position, decided to transfer the estate to his nephew Douglas Hamilton, who had been an officer in the British army in America. Some sources say Douglas Hamilton returned from America to take over, but the typescript at the Lilly, referencing the army lists, says he had returned, and gone on half-pay, in 1786. When he took over Arbigland, in 1792, Captain Hamilton took the Craik name, becoming Douglas Hamilton Craik. His eventual heir, John Hamilton Craik, was not living at Arbigland when he died; he had sold it in 1852, moving to live with his sister, Marianne, at Locharthur, parish of New Abbey, and presumably taking the accumulated family papers with him.
Hugh Dunlop’s certificate says that he found the autograph manuscript of ‘A red, red rose’ ‘amongst the Papers of Douglas Hamilton Craik Esqre of Arbigland’, and goes on ‘I have often, when a Boy heard Mr. Craik speak of his intimacy with Robert Burns during the Poet’s residence in Dumfries, and heard him state that the Poet often visited him at Arbigland’. Burns may first have been introduced to the Craiks through his neighbour at Ellisland, Robert Riddell, when they visited Riddell at Friar’s Carse. One early piece of documentary evidence on the connection involves the men of the family and suggests Burns recognized a common interest in Scottish music; Burns asked James Johnson, the Edinburgh music publisher, to send two copies of ‘Capn Riddel’s Strathspeys, by the Dumfries Carrier, directed to Captn Craik of Arbigland, care of Captn Hamilton, Dumfries’, for which Burns would pay (Letters, II: 92, damaged text supplied, letter undated, but assigned by Ferguson and Roy to May 1791).
But the more substantial documentation involves, not William or Douglas, but another family member, Helen Craik (1751-1825), William Craik’s daughter, and Douglas Hamilton-Craik’s aunt. Helen Craik wrote poetry, and her manuscript book of her poems includes her ‘Lines written on a blank Leaf of Mr Burns’s Poems’:
Here native Genius, gay, unique and strong,
Shines through each page, and marks the tuneful song,—
Rapt Admiration her warm tribute pays,
And Scotia proudly echoes all she says;
Bold Independence, too, illumes the theme
And claims a manly privilege to fame.—
—Vainly, O Burns! wou’d rank and riches shine,
Compar’d with inborn merit great as thine!
These Chance may take, as Chance has often giv’n,
But powrs like thine can only come from Heav’n
(Neilson, 1924, 66).
These are the unsigned lines written in as epigraph, with slightly different punctuation, on the title-leaf of Burns’s own book of manuscript poetry, volume one of the Glenriddell Manuscripts (Leask, OERB, I: 175). Indeed, Nigel Leask suggests, based on handwriting, that Helen Craik may have been one of the copyists who worked on other pages of the Glenriddell manuscripts, transcribing items that Burns did not write in the volume himself (OERB I, 379, n. 8). Certainly Burns and Helen Craik knew each other. His only known letters to any of the Craiks are addressed to her. She shared her poems with him, and both of his letters to her also enclosed poems.
Burns’s first letter to Helen Craik, dated 9 August 1790, when he was still at Ellisland, begins by apologizing that ‘unlooked for accidents have prevented’ him making ‘a second visit to Arbigland, as I was so hospitably invited, and so positively meant, to have done’, and concludes ‘Please present my most respectful Compliments to Mr Craik, & the Captain’ (Letters, II, 46-47). It also confirms the Riddell connection, because Burns says he is sending her ‘two of my late Pieces, as some kind of return for the pleasure I have had in perusing a certain manuscript volume of Poems, in the possession of Captn Riddell’; this kind of manuscript notebook was the form in which Helen Craik shared her poetry with friends, and she had at least three such notebooks, with overlapping contents, all in the 1920s in private ownership (Neilson, 64-65 and 68 n).
Chambers-Wallace says that Burns’s first landlord, at the Wee Vennel, when he moved his family to Dumfries in November 1791, was ‘Captain Hamilton, a connection of the Craiks of Arbigland’ (Chambers-Wallace III: 372); I had hoped this might be Captain Douglas Hamilton himself, as he then still was, but it was another connection, James Hamilton of Allershaw, who was Burns’s landlord when he moved up to the Mill Vennel house (Letters, II: 290, etc; cf. Letters, II: 92 and Mackay, RB: A Biography, p. 487). Nonetheless, so far, so good; yes, Burns did visit the Craiks at Arbigland, as Hugh Dunlop asserted, and he sent manuscript poems to one of the family living there.
Burns’s second letter to Helen Craik, dated 12 January 1792, just after his move, is more tantalizing. It follows two letters from the Craiks to him, letters now known only from the fragmentary summaries in James Currie’s inventory of Burns’s in-coming correspondence. The first of these, on 22 November 1791, was from William Craik (Ewing 1938, letter 203), saying he ‘must come often to Arbigland’, and enclosing a letter for Burns to take with him on his hurriedly-planned trip to Edinburgh the following week, which means old Mr. Craik had up-to-date knowledge of Burns’s movements. The second was from Helen Craik herself, dated by J.C. Ewing as 10 January 1792 (Ewing 1938, letter 298), enclosing a copy of her poem, ‘Helen’, and asking ‘permission for Miss…’ (which in the third-person précis style of Currie’s inventory is as likely to be Miss Craik as Miss somebody else).
Burns’s reply, two days later, explains what she was asking. It is a cover letter to send her another fair copy manuscript poem:
I have just a snatch of time at present to put pen to paper in, but in that moment, allow me, Dear Madam, to grant your obliging, flattering request… Setting my obligations to & respect for the Arbigland Family out of the question, any friend of a gentleman whom I value & respect as I do Mr Maxwell of Carruchen, may command me, nay would honor me with his or her commands, in a much more important matter than a copy of a Poetic bagatelle (Letters, II: 128).
Could the ‘Poetic bagatelle’ be the Craik/Bemis/Lilly manuscript of ‘A red, red rose’? Sadly, this seems unlikely. The song was first published in April 1794, in Peter Urbani’s Selection of Scots Songs. Burns had met the Italian singer and composer Urbani unexpectedly at dinner at Lord Selkirk’s house, at St Mary’s Isle, during his Galloway tour with John Syme, in July-August 1793, met up with him again after they both got back to Dumfries, and, as he explained to Alexander Cunningham, had incautiously shared with him ‘a simple old Scots song which I had picked up in this country’, that is, ‘A red, red, rose’, which Urbani then published without Burns’s agreement (Letters II: 258-259; cf. also Kinsley, Poems, III: 1454-1456; Pittock, OERB, III: 149-151; McCue, in SSL, 37: 68-82; McCue, OERB IV, forthcoming). Textual variants suggest that the Lilly manuscript comes after the Hastie MS, but before the Cunningham letter. A composition date before January 1792 is also less likely because of the song’s non-inclusion in the Scots Musical Museum, IV (1794), though that might perhaps be explained away as James Johnson finessing his conflicted role as Urbani’s printer and as Burns’s publisher in the Museum. It is not impossible that Burns had already ‘picked up’ the song before the Galloway tour, even before January 1792, but if so, the connection of this manuscript to the Craiks, and the unspecific reference in the Burns letter of 12 January, would be the only evidence of him doing so.
Burns’s letter of 12 January also promises that ‘Now I have, by my removal to town, got time and opportunity, I shall often intrude on you’, and that he will soon send her ‘hints’ on improving the poem she had sent to him. He seems never to have sent them. The next month, Helen Craik shook the dust of Arbigland off her feet and left her birthplace and nephew’s home for good. What is probably the poem she had sent to Burns, variously titled in difference MSS ‘Helen, An Epistle to a Friend’ (Wood MS), ‘Lines Written in the Summerhouse at Arbigland in 1791’ (Neilson MS), and finally ‘Helen, Written in the Summerhouse at Arbigland, Feb. 25, 1792’ (Henderson MS), suggests why:
Deprived of peace—to calumny a prey,
Here Helen wept her lonely hours away;
Though guiltless, forc’d imputed guilt to bear,
No justice destin’d and no pity near.
Forlorn! Neglected! Happier prospects flown,
And doom’d to expiate errors not her own….
Scotia! From thee my streaming eyes I turn,
Now doom’d to rest in SOME far distant urn!
Exil’d from all I valu’d!—country, home!
Near Solway’s banks no more, alas!, to roam…
I go!—sad Nature’s final pang is o’er.
Scotia, farewell! Now fate can wound no more!
(Arnott, 1924, 81, from the Neilson text).
Helen Craik had fallen in love with a groom on the estate; her family had discovered it; the groom, sent to Dumfries on an errand, and failing to return, was found shot dead by the roadside, with the local authorities ruling it suicide, rather than murder, though local rumour muttered otherwise; and her apparently innocent romance was treated at Arbigland as a shameful affair (see Arnott, 1924). She moved across the Firth to Flimby, publishing five novels, outliving her Hamilton relatives and even her nephew Hamilton-Craik, inheriting a half-interest in the Flimby estate, and dying there in 1825 (see Adrianna Craciun, on ODNB). If Ewing’s dating is correct, her only known follow-up letter to Burns was written on 26 March 1792, from Carlisle, sending him another poem, offering a ‘view of the society in Carlisle,’ and referencing (in what connection is unclear) something ‘by Q. Mary in her confinement’ (Ewing 1938, letter 286).
This is not however the end of the story. We don’t know if Burns continued to visit Arbigland. Helen Craik was not his only connection there, and old William Craik’s network included a lot of Burns’s other friends and patrons, as well as being relevant to his Excise ambitions. More important, despite her dramatic departure from Arbigland in February 1792, we don’t know that Helen Craik never revisited Arbigland and her 90-year old father. In 1834, annoyed by biographers’ allegations that Burns was a drunkard, another visitor, Ann Dorothea Benson, of York (later Mrs. Basil Montagu), wrote an account of having ‘dined with Burns at Arbigland’, on an occasion when all the men were drunk, and of him talking with her and even threading a needle to show his relative sobriety (Cunningham, 1834, I: 363-364). Miss Benson’s account doesn’t specify the date of this dinner. Burns’s only letter to her, confirming he had met her, and sending her a poem, is dated 21 March 1793 (Letters, II: 186-187), and her letter back, referring to ‘the Capt.’s hospitality’ is dated 27 March 1793 (Ewing 1938, letter 235). But Dorothea Benson’s second anecdote about Burns might be dateable. She describes, during a visit to Arbigland, she says, being in Dumfries at a ball of the Caledonian Hunt, standing up to dance with a young officer, and catching the eye of a deeply unhappy Burns, and then meeting him again in the street the following day, and him not wanting to walk with her in case he had to share her company with any of the ‘epauletted puppies’ (Cunningham, 1834, I: 309). The Caledonian Hunt’s annual week-long junket in Dumfries was in October. If Mrs. Montagu remembered correctly, and was quoted correctly (significant ‘if’s in light of her subsequent letter to Jane Welsh Carlyle: Burns Chronicle, 2nd ser. 2, 1927, 122-123), this second encounter was around the time Burns wrote his letter to Alexander Cunningham, enclosing a copy of ‘Red, red, rose’, and denouncing Urbani’s plan to publish it. But it sounds equally likely to be during hunt week in October 1792, when Burns had been cornered at the theatre between the pit singing ‘Ca Ira’ and the boxes ‘God save the King’. James Mackay, though without giving a citation on the point, introduces this anecdote by saying it occurred when Dorothea Benson was visiting Helen Craik in 1793 (Mackay, RB, 552).
As this account makes clear, while many details are cloudy, there is abundant evidence for Burns’s connections with the Arbigland family, over a minimum period of a year and a half (summer 1790-January 1792). If we put together, as the Glasgow edition is doing, both sides of Burns’s correspondence, the letters he wrote, and those written to him, we see a relationship that certainly involved the exchange of manuscripts. Even without straining to redate Burns’s collection of the song significantly before the usual date, Burns could still have sent or given the Craik/Bemis/Lilly manuscript directly to Helen Craik, during one of her visits, and it stayed stranded at Arbigland after she left. Even in her absence, if Burns maintained a connection with the family, it would be reasonable for him to have presented a fair copy of the ‘old song’ to old Mr. Craik, or another family member. Dunlop’s certificate seems credible, not only on authenticity, but on provenance, that the manuscript came to Arbigland from Burns himself.
It is quite unusual to get this strong and this early a provenance for a Burns manuscript that had been unknown to any 19th century Burns editor, and it is also satisfying, through the cooperation of the Lilly Library, to settle a question lingering in Burns scholarship, ever since Frank Bemis died, about what had happened to his manuscript of ‘A red, red rose’.
Sources and acknowledgements: A useful general account of the Craiks of Arbigland (though not my sole source) is by A.E. Truckell, in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 67 (1992), 81-83; a range of sources on Helen Craik’s life, including local legend on why she left Arbigland, is given by Adriana Craciun, in ODNB, 2004, and revised 2011, which led me to two useful articles, by George Neilson and Samuel Arnott, in Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 3rd ser., 11 (1923-24 ): 63-76, 77-83. Background on Burns in Dumfries is in R.D. Thornton’s William Maxwell to Robert Burns (John Donald, 1979). On the authorship evidence, see Murray Pittock in OERB, III: 149-151. On successive tunes, see Kirsteen McCue, ‘“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose”: does Burns’s melody really matter?’, Studies in Scottish Literature, 37 (2012): 68-82. I was spurred to research the Bemis manuscript by inquiries from Andrew Calhoun and Kirsteen McCue; Gerard Lee McKeever responded to a query for sources on the Craiks; Duncan Wu to one about the text in his anthology; Gerard Carruthers and Bill Dawson egged me on; and, as I hope is clear in the text, I am especially indebted for help during lockdown to Sarah McElroy Mitchell, at the Lilly Library, Indiana University, for responding to my inquiries; to Joel Silver, Director of the Lilly, for expediting permission to use photos from the Lilly manuscript; and to Elizabeth Sudduth, at Hollings Library, University of South Carolina, for checking the Ross Roy files.