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The Latest Literary Discovery - Burns and the Paraphrases
An article from Tait's Edinburgh Magazine


An announcement, calculated to startle Presbyterian Scotland from one end of it to the other, has been somewhat boldly hazarded, that our national poet, Bums, had a hand in giving some of the last touches to our national Paraphrases, and left the mark of his genius deeply stamped on them. The statement is not given by way of conjecture or surmise merely, but as a positive and peremptory averment.

To the Witness newspaper belongs the extraordinary merit of being the first to proclaim this discovery, as remarkable in its way, if true, as any of the vestiges of pre- Adamite existences found filagreed into fossils, or intagliced on stones. But that paper, though the first to proclaim, was not the first to make the discovery. An article in the Free Church Magazine for April on the Paraphrases led, it seems, “one of the readers, a gentleman of Edinburgh, to bring to the shop of the publisher, Mr. Johnstone, a manuscript volume which he had found lying among some old hereditary papers, embrowned with the dust of half a century, in a waste corner of his library, and in which a considerable number of the Paraphrases was copied out in a small and neat, though somewhat common-place hand.” Of this volume every alternate page had been left blank, and on the blank pages were found corrections on the verse by three different hands. One of these, on being shown to the Rev. James Begg of Edinburgh, was straightway pronounced by him to be that of Burns; the “remarkable handwriting” of the poet having become familiar to him — so, and in none other strain, runs the tale — from his having seen it “in the big ha’ Bible of Jean Armour, the widow of Robert Bums,” while he was minister of Maxwelltown Chapel, Dumfries. - Mr. Begg, therefore, is the Columbus of this new discovery in the world of literature; to substantiate which, a facsimile of some of the alleged alterations by Bums, appears in the May number of the Free Church Magazine.

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