Rare Burns letter found at castle


An unpublished letter by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns has been found at a castle.

The 222-year-old letter, which has been hailed as a “remarkable literary discovery” by Burns experts, was unearthed in Floors Castle in Kelso, in the Scottish Borders.

Dated May 13 1789, it is addressed to James Gregory, the then-professor of medicine at Edinburgh University and head of the city’s medical school.

Burns sent the letter from Ellisland, his farm in Lower Nithsdale, north of Dumfries, enclosing an early version of his poem On Seeing A Wounded Hare. He thanks Gregory for his support and invites his comments and criticism of the poem, asking him to “mark the faulty lines with your pencil”.

The letter was found in an autograph book belonging to the 6th Duke of Roxburghe and was initially spotted by a member of staff at the castle.

It was verified by Professor David Purdie, editor-in-chief of the Burns Encyclopaedia, Dr Iain Gordon Brown, principal curator of manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, and Dr Gerard Carruthers, director of the centre for Robert Burns Studies at Glasgow University.

Professor Purdie said the letter was “a remarkable discovery”.

“Unpublished letters of Robert Burns are extremely rare and this example is doubly interesting as it not only displays the evolution of one of his poems, The Wounded Hare, but, in Burns and Gregory, it brings together major figures of both the literary and scientific components of the Enlightenment,” he said.

The letter will go on display at the castle when it opens to the public later this year.

The current Duke of Roxburghe said: “This discovery is a delightful surprise. We do not know how the 6th Duke came into possession of the letter but we believe he was a keen collector of letters and autographs as Dickens’ autograph also features in the book. Like most Scots, we are huge admirers of Burns and Burns Night will have extra special meaning this year.”

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