Scope & Contents
The collection comprises 19 items in total: thirteen letters addressed either to or from Allan Cunningham form its bulk. The correspondence largley concerns matters connected with Cunningham's numerous publishing projects, including his Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, which appeared between 1829 and 1833. Also included in the collection are three Mss. poems--one perhaps by the Rev. J. Judkins and two by Cunningham.
This collection comprises 19 items in total: 13 letters either to or from Mr. Cunningham; 3 poems, one perhaps by the Rev. J. Judkins and two by Cunningham; a single printed item - a biographical sketch of Sir Walter Scott perhaps composed by Mr. Cunningham; finally, there are two reproductions of engravings of Mr. Cunningham both autographed by the subject.
Born on 7 December, 1784 at Keir, Dumfriesshire, Allan Cunningham was one of nine children. He attended a dame's school briefly, before being apprenticed to his brother James, a stonemason in Dalwinton, at age 11. Bookish from an early age, Cunningham read avidly in his spare time and soon began experimenting with his own poetry. Some poems signed 'Hidallan' were published in the 'Literary Recreations' (1807) edited by Eugenius Roche.
In 1809 R.H. Cromek met Cunningham while touring Scotland looking for indigenous songs and ballads. Cunningham showed him his work and the result was that Cromek persuaded Cunningham to move to London and try his hand at literature as a living. That was in April, 1810. A volume entitled Remains of Nithdale and Galloway Song was published under Cromek's aegis which featured some of Cunningham's work.
In London, following a period of intermittent employment as a journalist and newspaper poet, Cunningham made the acquaintance of the sculptor Sir Francis Chancery. Sir Francis agreed to employ the struggling writer as his superintendent of the works in 1814. From then on he resided at 27 Lower Belgrave Place, Pimlico - the address which appears on most of the letters in the following collection. Cunningham's position was that of Chancery's secretary; he conducted his correspondence, represented him during his absence, and perhaps advised him artistically.
In his spare time Cunningham continued to write. He contributed a series called 'Recollections of Mark Macrabin' to Blackwood's Magazine from 1819 - 1821, later giving up Blackwood's for the London Magazine. In 1822 there appeared his two volume Traditional Tales of the English and Scottish Peasantry, and in 1825 he produced a four volume collection entitled The Songs of Scotland, Ancient and Modern. In both 1829 and 1830 Mr. Cunningham edited a poetical 'Anniversary', references to which appear in some of the following letters, which contained contributions from such contemporaries as Southey, Lockhart, Hogg, Wilson, Croker, and Proctor. Between 1829 and 1833 Cunningham also produced his six volume work, Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects, which benefitted greatly from the author's personal connection and intimacy with many of his subjects. The last work to appear in his lifetime was a biography of Robert Burns, published in 1834. A biography of Sir David Wilkie, composed during the last years of Cunningham's life appeared posthumously.
Allan Cunningham was married to Jean Walker in Southwark on 1 July, 1811. His marriage remained stable and happy until his death in 1842. His widow succeeded him by 22 years. Their union produced five sons and a daughter, the two eldest sons being awarded cadetships in the Indian service as a result of the influence of Sir Walter Scott whom Cunningham had met via Sir Francis Chancery. In 1831 Cunningham received the freedom of Dumfries as well as the praise of Thomas Carlyle, by whom he was referred to as 'the solid Dumfries stonemason'. He was generally known as 'honest Allan Cunningham', a stalwart, hearty, prolific and kindly man with 'a tag of rusticity to the last'. He lies buried at Kensal Green.