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The Meeting

It would be exciting to report that Boswell and Burns met, perhaps during the pleasant month of August 1787 when Boswell, whose primary residence was then in London, returned to Auchinleck for a month (in part to collect rents). They might have sat together and heard "Black" Russel preach to the crowd from a "tent" in the open air or met at the Auchinleck Lamb Fair, "which drew farmers from the whole west of Scotland." But the evidence suggests that there was no meeting.

Boswell did receive a letter. Burns evidently knew Bruce Campbell, Boswell's second cousin and the overseer of Auchinleck. In 1788, while Boswell was in London, Burns wrote the following letter to Campbell who forwarded it to Boswell.

[Robert Burns to Bruce Campbell]

Mauchline, 13 November 1788

Sir,--I enclose you, for Mr. Boswell, the ballad you mentioned, and as I hate sending wastepaper or mutilating a sheet, I have filled it up with one or two of my fugitive pieces that occurred. Should they procure me the honour of being introduced to Mr. Boswell, I shall think they have great merit. There are few pleasures my late will-o'-wisp character has given me equal to that of having seen many of the extraordinary men, the heroes of wit and literature, in my country; and as I had the honour of drawing my first breath almost in the same parish with Mr. Boswell, my pride plumes itself on the connection. To crouch in the train of mere stupid wealth and greatness, except where the commercial interests of wordly prudence find their account in it, I hold to be prostitution in anyone that is not born a slave; but to have been acquainted with such a man as Mr. Boswell I would hand down to my posterity as one of the honours of their ancestor. I am, Sir, your most obedient and very humble servant,


Boswell read the letter, for he has endorsed it "13 November 1788. Mr. Robert Burns, the Poet, expressing very high sentiments of me." But there is no record that a meeting ever occurred.

The End