• Full title:   Letter from Robert Burns about debt and farming
  • Created:   unknown
  • Formats:  Manuscript, Letter, Ephemera
  • Creator:   Robert Burns
  • Usage terms

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  • Held by  British Library
  • Shelfmark:   Add MS 22307


This letter was written by Robert Burns from the Scottish town of Mauchline in Ayrshire, where he lived from 1784. He is writing to James Johnston, an engraver in Edinburgh to whom he mentions having married ‘a certain girl’ who has a ‘prolific twin-bearing merit’. This was Jean Armour, who had given birth to twins in 1786, and who married the poet in 1788.

The first part of the letter indicates the financial difficulties that troubled Burns through his career as a farmer – he asks for money, which he would have needed for fertiliser to improve the soil of the farm he worked on with his brother.

In the second part Burns mocks the language of the Scottish legal system, at a time when he had been threatened with a suit for damages by Jean Armour’s father, because of their premarital relationship. Burns was eventually forced to do penance in church for the affair. Having been threatened with the father’s legal action that would have put him in prison, before Jean gave birth, Burns fled to Kilmarnock, where the first edition of his Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect was published.