MS: Letter from Robert Burns to Agnes McLehose, dated 20 and 21 January 1788

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.

This letter was begun on the evening of 20th January and was completed the next day on the 21st. The portion of the letter written during the night shows Burns in a depressive state: he has sat before a blank sheet of paper to write to Clarinda all evening but he was too distracted by his gloomy thoughts to finish.

In the second portion Robert displays his usual ardour toward Agnes and fills his letter with quotations regarding friendship from various literary sources. Robert writes that he hopes Agnes will be his friend for life, then begins a lengthy discussion of the meaning of friendship and the power of the imagination.

Robert also alludes to their upcoming meeting on Wednesday and hopes that their frequent meetings will not cause too much gossip amongst Edinburgh society.

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