( xvii )
The miserable story cannot be better told than in the unbiassed, sympathetic words of Robert Chambers:—
"Unluckily, Burns's collection of these facetiæ (including his own essays in the same walk) fell, after his death, into the hands of one of those publishers who would sacrifice the highest interests of humanity to put an additional penny into their own purses; and, to the lasting grief of all the friends of our Poet, they were allowed the honours of the press. The mean-looking volume which resulted should be a warning to all honourable men of letters against the slightest connection with clandestine literature, much more the degradation of contributing to it. It may also serve as a curious study to those who take a delight in estimating the possible varieties of intellectual mood and of moral sensation of which our nature is capable,"
To this Scott Douglas adds:—
"In Dumfries he carefully kept the book under lock and key; but, some years after his death, it fell into the hands of a person who caused it to be printed in a very coarse style, under the title of ‘The Merry Muses of Caledonia,’ post 8vo, pp. 128. The Poet's name, however, is not on the title page, nor indicated in any way except by the unmistakable power exhibited in some of the pieces."
The MS. appears to have been broken up by the "person" referred to, for what appear to be stray leaves of it still find their way occasionally into the manuscript market.
From the character of the type employed, this “mean-looking volume” must have been published circa 1800, but in the absence of any date on the title page the exact year can only be guessed at. Perfect copies of it are now so rare that, although fragments have repeatedly come under our observation, we have only succeeded, after years of hunting, in obtaining a sight of one complete copy. It does not appear that
- It was obtained on loan from Mrs. Burns on false pretences, and never returned.
- Paterson's Ed., Vol. ii. p. 47. See also Kilmarnock Ed. Preface, p. xlviii.
- The copy referred to is the only complete copy of the original edition known to exist, and was at one time the property of Mr. W. Scott Douglas, as the manuscript notes in his hand testify.