A LETTER penned by Robert Burns has been found tucked away in a 19th century autograph book at Floors Castle, the Kelso home of the Duke of Roxburghe.
Burns experts and enthusiasts have described the find as amazing, because unpublished letters of the bard are rarely found.
The autograph book belonged to avid collector the sixth Duke of Roxburghe (1816-1879) who inherited the title when his father died in 1823.
The letter was written by Burns on May 13, 1789, and sent from the family farm at Ellisland in lower Nithsdale to James Gregory, professor of medicine at Edinburgh University and head of the city’s renowned medical school.
Burns asked for Professor Gregory’s views on the draft of his poem, On Seeing a wounded Hare. Burns wrote the poem after spotting the hare which had been shot by a neighbouring farmer.
In the letter he asks the professor for his previous support and invites his comments and criticisms of the poem.
He invited Gregory to “mark faulty lines with your pencil”.
The poem was published in 1793 in the Edinburgh Editions of his poems.
The letter was authenticated by Professor David Purdie, editor-in-chief of the Burns Encyclopedia, Dr Iain Gordon Brown, principal curator of manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland, and Dr Gerard Carruthers, director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow.
A thrilled Professor Purdie enthused: “This is 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 Unpublished letters of Robert Burns are extremely rare and this example is doubly interesting as it not only displays the evolution of one of his poems but, in Burns and Gregory, it brings together major figures of both the literary and scientific components of the Enlightenment.”
The current duke – the 10th – commented: “This discovery is a delightful surprise. We do not know how the sixth 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 had an extra special meaning this year.
“The letter will go on public display at Floors when the castle opens to the public in the spring.
The letter was spotted by the castle’s visitor services manager. Other tucked in the pages of the book were a variety of literary and historical documents dating back to the time of King Charles I.