Papers of Allan Cunningham (1784-1842)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-186
  • Dates of Creation
      19th century
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      circa 80 letters.
  • Location
      Gen. 1730 Cunningham; Dc.4.101-102; Gen.1733/50; La.IV.6; La.II.215

Scope and Content

The collection consists largely of correspondence, some of it undated, and also of poems and songs. Letters include those to Sir Walter Scott, 1825, David Laing 1822-1841, and to his mother. Content of the correspondence is varied, and includes letters about Chantrey's bust of Louisa Russell, invitations to tea, the printing of a novel, a brother, the purchase of a block of stone, ballads, his satisafaction over a son's progress, and recommendations. Poetry and songs include Address to Nithsdale, I'd rather be fast than free and I'd rather be free than fast, lines from The maid of Elvar, holograph manuscript for the Juvenile forget me not, and Paul Jones.

Administrative / Biographical History

Allan Cunningham was born in Keir, Dumfriesshire, on 7 December 1784. He was taught in a dame's school and then was apprenticed to his stonemason brother at Dalswinton. At this time he read as many books as he could find and had begun reading and writing poetry. In his early twenties some poems were published in Literary recreations (1807) edited by Eugenius Roche (1786-1829). In 1809, Cunningham met Robert Hartley Cromek (1770-1812) who persuaded him to go to London. There, he contributed to the publication of Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway song (1810). Other activities in London included writing poetry for Day also edited by Roche, and parliamentary reporting. Other publications included Songs, chiefly in the rural dialect of Scotland (1813), Traditional tales of the English and Scottish peasantry (1822), and the six-volume work Lives of the most eminent British painters, sculptors, and architects (1829-1833). In his lifetime, and putting that life and work into a context, Cunningham had seen Robert Burns lying dead and had walked in the poet's funeral procession; had visited Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd; had built a connection with Sir Francis Legatt Chantrey (1781-1841) who sculpted the celebrated bust of Sir Walter Scott; and had corresponded with Scott. Allan Cunningham died on 30 October 1842 and was buried at Kensal Green, London.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 5. Craik-Drake. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various other references to Cunningham (check the Indexes for more details, some in Laing Collection): an address given in a letter of J. Cochrane, 1840; mention in a letter of T. Roscoe to J. Martin, 1842; mention in letters of J. Scholey to T. H. Cromek; and, mention in a letter of son F. Cunningham to D. Laing, 1874. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes many resources, of which those in Scotland are: letters, 1822-1840, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MSS.9814, 10279, 10306 passim, see Location Register of English Literary MSS 18-19th cent 1995, also letters, 1819-1840 and some nd, to William Blackwood & Sons, Ref. MSS.4004-4051, 4716, letters, 1810-1838, from Eliza Fletcher, Ref. MS 2617, letters 1828-1840, to Charles Gray and MS poem, Ref. MS 10279, letters to James Hogg, 1826-1838, Ref. MS 2245, correspondence with JG Lockhart, 1822-1841, Ref. MSS 820, 931, 1552-58, letters (87) 1823-1836 and nd, mostly to John McCrone, relating to Cunningham's edition of Burns, Ref. MS.621, letters to Messrs Oliver & Boyd, 1822-1834, and nd, Ref. Acc.5000/140, 143, 190-7 passim, letters to Robert Southey, 1819-1837, Ref. MS 2257, lives of British painters and related correspondence, 1830-1832, Ref. MSS 826-32, correspondence with Sir Walter Scott, 1813-1839, Ref. MSS 851, 1552-58, 3884-3915, letters, 1822-1835, Ref. MS 1808, and letters (11), see Annual report 1983-84; and also, letters (3), 1821-1827 and nd, and The Mariners Song, City of Glasgow, Mitchell Library, NRA 35994 Mitchell.