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From Mr. CUNNINGHAM.
28th January, 1790. In some instances it is reckoned unpardonable to quote any one's own words, but the value I have for your friendship, nothing can more truly or more elegantly express than
“ 'Time but the impression stronger makes, As streams their channels deeper wear."
Having written to you twice without having heard from you, I am apt to think my letters have miscarried. My conjecture is only framed upon the chapter of accidents turning up against me, as it too often does, in the trivial, and I may with truth add, the more important affairs of life; but I shall continue occasionally to inform you what is going on among the circle of your friends in these parts.
In these days of merriment, I have frequently heard your name proclaimed at the jovial board--under the roof of our hospitable friend at Stenhouse-mills, there were no
“Lingering moments number'd with care."
I saw your Address to the New-Year, in the Dumfries Journal of your productions I shall say nothing ; but my acquaintances allege, that when your name is mentioned, which every man of celebrity must know often happens, I am the champion, the Mendoza, against all snarling critics, and narrow-minded reptiles, of whom a few on this planet do crawl.
With best compliments to your wife, and her black-eyed sister, I remain, yours, &c.
To Mr. CUNNINGHAM.
Ellisland, 13th February, 1790. I beg your pardon, my dear and much valued friend, for writing to you on this very unfashionable, unsightly sheet
But to make amends, since of modish post I have none, except one poor widowed half-sheet of gilt, which lies in my drawer among my plebeian fool's-cap pages, like the widow of a man of fashion, whom that unpolite scoundrel, Necessity, has driven from burgundy and pine-apple, to a dish of bohea with the scandal-bearing help-mate of a village priest; or a glass of whisky toddy, with the ruby-nosed yoke-fellow of a foot-padding exciseman-I make a vow to inclose this sheet-full of epistolary fragments in that 'my only scrap of gilt-paper.
I am, indeed, your unworthy debtor for three friendly letters. I ought to have written to you long ere now, but it is a literal fact, I have scarcely a spare moment. It is not that I will not write to you ; miss Burnet is not more dear to her guardian angel, nor his grace the duke of ********* to the powers of *******
*****, than my friend Cun. ningham to me. It is not that I cannot write to you ; should you doubt it, take the following fragment, which was intended for you some time ago, and be convinced that I can antithesize sentiment, and circumvolute periods, as well as any coiner of phrase in the regions of philology.
December, 1789. My dear Cunningham,
Where are you? And what are you doing? Can you be that son of levity, who takes up a friendship as he takes up a fashion ; or are you, like some other of the worthiest fellows in the world, the victim of indolence, laden with fetters of everincreasing weight?
What strange beings we are ! Since we have a portion of conscious existence, equally capable of enjoying pleasure, happiness, and rapture, or of suffering pain, wretchedness, and misery it is surely worthy of an inquiry, whether there be not such a thing as a science of life ; whether method, economy, and fertility of expedients be not applicable to enjoyment; and whether there be not a want of dexterity in pleasure, which renders our little scantling of happiness still less; and a profuseness, an intoxication in bliss, which leads to satiety, disgust, and self-abhorrence. There is not a doubt but that health, talents, character, decent competency, respectable friends, are real substantial blessings ; and yet do we not daily see those, who enjoy many or all of these good things, contrive, notwithstanding, to be as unhappy as others to whose lot few of them have fallen ? I believe one great source of this mistake or misconduct is owing to a certain stimulus, with us called ambition, which goads us up the hill of life, not as we ascend other eminences, for the laudable curiosity of viewing an extended landscape, but rather for the dishonest pride of looking down on others of our fellow creatures, seemingly diminutive in humbler stations, &c. &c.
Sunday, 14th February, 1790. God help me! I am now obliged to join
“ Night to day, and Sunday to the week.” If there be any truth in the orthodox faith of the se
churches, I am ****** past redemption, and what is worse,
****** to all eternity. I am deeply read in Boston's Four-fold State, Marshal on Sanctification, Guthrie's Trial of a Saving Interest, &c. but “ There is no balm in Gilead, there is no physician there," for me; so I shall e'en turn Arminian, and trust to “ Sincere, though imperfect obedience."
Tuesday, 16th. Luckily for me, I was prevented from the discussion of the knotty point at which I had just made a full stop. All my fears and cares are of this world ; if there is another, an honest man has nothing to fear from it. I hate a man that wishes to be a deist; but I fear, every fair, unprejudiced inquirer, must in some degree be a sceptic. It is not that there are any very staggering arguments against the immortality of man; but like electricity, phlogiston, &c. the subject is so involved in darkness, that we want data to go upon. One thing frightens me much: that we are to live for ever, seems too good news to be true. That we are to enter into a new scene of existence, where, exempt from want and pain, we shall enjoy ourselves and our friends without satiety or separation-how much should I be indebted to any one who could fully assure me that this was certain !
My time is once more expired. I will write to Mr. Cleghorn soon. God bless him and all his concerns! And may all the powers that preside over conviviality and friendship, be present with all their kindest influence, when the bearer of this, Mr. Syme, and you meet! I wish I could also make one-I think we should be
Finally, brethren, farewell! Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are gentle, whatso
ever things are charitable, whatsoever things are kind, think on these things, and think on
Ellisland, 2d March, 1790. At a late meeting of the Monkland Friendly Society, it was resolved to augment their library by the following books, which you are to send us as soon as possible :-The Mirror, The Lounger, Man of Feeling, Man of the World (these for my own sake I wish to have by the first carrier), Knox's History of the Reformation ; Rae's History of the Rebellion in 1715 ; any good History of the Rebellion in 1745; A Display of the Secession Act and Testimony, by Mr. Gib; Hervey's Meditations ; Beveridge's Thoughts ; and another copy of Watson's Budy of Divinity.
I wrote to Mr. A. Masterton three or four months ago, to pay some money he owed me, into your hands, and lately I wrote to you to the same purpose, but I have heard from neither the one nor other of you.
In addition to the books I commissioned in my last, I want very much, An Index to the Excise Laws, or an Abridgment of all the Statutes now in force, relative to the Excise, by Jellinger Symons ; I want three copies of this book : if it is now to be had, cheap or dear, get it for me. An honest country neighbour of mine wants too, 4 Family Bible, the larger the better, but second-handed, for he does not choose to give above ten shillings for the book. I want likewise for myself, as you can pick them up, second-handed or cheap, copies of Otway's Dramatic Works, Ben Jonson's, Dryden's, Congreve's, Wycherly's, Vanbrugh's, Cibber's,