The College library has various works by Dr James Currie, a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh who was Robert Burn’s first editor and biographer.

Born in Dumfriesshire, James Currie emigrated to Virginia where he tried to make a living as a merchant.  Currie’s five year stay in the American colonies was not a total success and after many adventures during the colonial war he returned to Scotland where he studied medicine under William Cullen at Edinburgh University. 

Dr Currie became a very active physician to the Liverpool Dispensary where he promoted action on contagious diseases and the progressive treatment of the mentally ill. He was one of the first physicians in Britain to use cold water packs in the treatment of fever which he detailed in 1797 in Medical reports, on the effects of water, cold and warm, as a remedy in fever, and febrile diseases; whether applied to the surface of the body, or used as a drink: with observations on the nature of fever; and on the effects of opium, alcohol, and inanition. He also made some original observations on the clinical use of the thermometer.

Portrait of James Currie

Currie was one of the Liverpool literati and was an early admirer of the poems of Robert Burns. After Burns death in 1796, Currie was asked to edit the poet’s work and produce a biography. Currie’s primary aim when he took on a task for which he had little training was to raise money to provide for the poet’s family.

Although successful in this aim, some commentators feel Currie’s biography damaged Robert Burn’s reputation by over emphasising the poet’s alcohol consumption and its effect on his health.

Listen to Professor David Purdie on the cause of Robert Burns death online here.

You can see the full digitised memoir of Currie online here.

If you'd like to find out more, you can email us at library@rcpe.ac.uk

 

Author: Iain Milne, Sibbald Librarian, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.