MS: Letter from Robert Burns to Agnes McLehose, dated 20 December 1787

Robert Burns, Author 
Object Number:


Robert met one of the greatest loves of his life, Mrs Agnes McLehose, during his extended trip to Edinburgh. Although they were both involved with other people, the two began an epistolatory affair which has been immortalized through their surviving correspondence. Addressing each other as ‘Sylvander’ and ‘Clarinda’ to protect their identities in case of exposure, Robert and Agnes continued to write to each other for years, even after Robert married Jean Armour and moved to Ellisland near Dumfries.

Burns composed this letter at the beginning of their relationship. He had hoped to privately visit Agnes for the first time several days before, but he fell from a carriage and injured his knee. Unable to leave his bed, Burns began writing to his new love interest on a regular basis as his impatience grew.

Here, Burns responds to Agnes' previous correspondence, which included a chastisement to Burns for being too romantically forward with a married woman. He acknowledges that he may have been too ardent, but that his feelings are warranted as she is attractively vulnerable:
’To meet with an unfortunate woman, amiable and young; deserted and widowed by those who were bound by every tie of Duty, Nature and Gratitude, to protect, comfort and cherish her...’

He closes by reviewing the letter and declaring it 'a chaos of nonesense', and adds that his injury is steadily improving.

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