MS: Letter from John Syme to Alexander Cunningham, dated August, 1793

John Syme, Author 
Object Number:


This seven page letter, written by John Syme and sent to their mutual friend Alexander Cunningham, gives an account of the tour he made with Robert Burns through Galloway in July 1793.

The letter contains many insights in to Burns’s character including, for example, his fiery temper after breaking his boots on a particularly wet day:

‘Mercy on me how he did fume & rage - Nothing could run state him in temper - I tried all I could think of at length I got a lucky hit. Across the bay of Wigton I showed him Lord Galloway's house. He expectorated his spleen against the aristocratic elf, and regained a most agreeable temper.’

The letter also includes insight in to the inspiration for his poems and songs:

‘In short I cannot conceive a scene more terribly romantic than the Castle of Kenmore. Burns thinks so much of it that he has long meditated on putting his thoughts in poetry descriptive of it. Indeed I take it he has begun the work, I should be very curious to see how his mind views it.’

John Syme (1755 - 1831) was a Collector of Stamps in the Excise and became a friend of Burns when the family moved to Dumfries in 1791. He visited Burns at Brow Well on 15 July 1796 and again a few days later in Dumfries, where he was horrified at his friend's deteriorated condition. After Burns's death a few days later, Syme and Dr Maxwell organised his funeral. Syme also worked with Cunningham in raising money to help support Burns's widow Jean and remaining children.

The Edinburgh lawyer Alexander Cunningham (1763 - 1812) met Burns when he travelled to the Scottish capital. The two became live-long friends with much correspondence travelling between them. Following Burns's death, Cunningham led the effort to raise funds to support the remaining Burns family.

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