Lot 80
Sold for £ 22,800 (US$ 30,109) inc. premium

Lot Details
Papers of the Dick of Prestonfield and Cunyngham of Caprington families (later conjoined as Dick-Cunyngham of Prestonfield), comprising over 300 letters, the great majority to Sir Alexander Dick, formerly Cunyngham (1703-1785), physician, propagator of rhubarb and close friend of James Boswell; among the letters to Sir Alexander being a series of some fifty letters by his kinsman Sir John Dick of Mount Clare, British Consul at Leghorn (1754-1786), afterwards Comptroller of Army Accounts, the earlier letters containing numerous references to their mutual friend Boswell ("...Our friend, Mr Boswell setts out tomorrow for Oxford, to meet his friend Mr Johnson, but will be back in a few days...You did me the Honour to write me the 4th Instant which our friend Mr Boswell had kept by him until the 20th, no doubt for want of time to write me, as I am well acquainted with his punctuality, and readiness to oblige his friends...Our friend Mr Boswell will trouble You with a Letter to night on the Subject of my Affair...I hope the Business which You mentioned will call both You and our friend Mr Boswell up to London...I wish that our friend Mr Bowell had been more moderate, he tells me that he is now going to be married. I am glad of it, he will now become more [?] Sober, and I am sure that he will make a usefull Member of Society. I make no doubt but that he is now much taken up with his Illustrious tho' unfortunate Friend [Paoli]...Pray say a thousand kind things for me to our friend Mr Boswell, if I have time, I shall write to him..."), with Sir John also referring to other illustrious contemporaries such as Catherine the Great (who conferred a gold medal on him and Tobias Smollett (whom he consults in Italy shortly before Smollett's death); other correspondents include his father, Sir William Cunyngham of Caprington, his elder brother, Sir John Cunyngham of Caprington, Lord Kames, the friend of Hume, Smith, and Franklin ("...In his late excursion he met a Gentleman who is cultivating Rhubarb; but in a measure groping in the dark..."), the printer and letter-writer William Strahan (fine letter, about rhubarb, the benefits of husbandry and recommending Arthur Young who "proposes to pay you a Visit, as soon as he hath traversed the rest of England"), the poet and patron of Burns, Thomas Blacklock, Sir Samuel Greig (written when serving as Catherine the Great's Admiral commanding Kronstadt), the Earl of Lauderdale ("...You are always doing good. Amongst other things I observe you have introduced into this Country and brought to perfection Indian Rhubarb...They have already seeded this Year – May I beg the favour to know at what time I should take them up, and when I have taken them up if I may not cut them in pieces..."), William Jordan, Assistant Secretary of the Society of Arts ("...the Secretary of our Society, who calld 2 days ago & left your Gold Medal with me to be transmitted to you & last night sent with the specimen of your Rhubrab trimmd...You have flatterd the Society exceedingly by your gift of the rest of the Rhubrab..."), Adolphus Oughton, Benjamin Franklin's friend John Sargent of Halstead, John Forbes-Leith of Whitehaugh ("...Pray do You correspond with Your old Friend Allan Ramsay...I'll be glad to hear of him, and if You write tell him so, with my Compliments to him and to his Pencil, which I hope still does Honour to his Country..."), and others; the series also includes a series by Sir John Campbell of Cawdor (Calder), including an extensive essay by him on the Casket Letters, a subject debated with David Hume, opening: "Mr Hume seems to wonder that I should think the authenticity of Queen Maries Letters to Bothwell still doubtfull, after reading Dr Robertsons Dissertation", Campbell's letters to Dick indicating that the latter was corresponding with both Hume and Robertson on the subject ("...The Rebellion in America is a very unfortunate thing. Great is the guilt of those at home who have excited, and encouraged it...The opinion Mr Hume entertains of me do's me great honor. He is certainly right in saying that Sydneys Book, even if publish'd, could not have made a second evidence of that Plot...I believe I have read Mr Sidneys Book since Mr Humes...I am much obliged to Dr Robertson for being so good to think of me. Pray present my respects to him..."), in another letter apparently returning the letter by Hume that Dick had sent to him ("...Inclosed is Mr Humes letter, I would not keep it longer, though a House full of Company does not allow me to trouble you with my thoughts upon the Matter. I shall only at present say, that I am so far from being satisfied there is no room for doubt about the Letters..."), minor dust-staining etc., generally in good condition, mostly 4to


  • Sir Alexander Dick, third Baronet (1703-1785) was a younger son of Sir William Cunyngham (or Cunynyghame) or Caprington, inheriting the Dick baronetcy through his mother, after which he changed his name and took up residence in the Dick family seat of Prestonfield , formerly Priestfield. Prestonfield House, at the foot of Arthur's Seat off the Royal Mile, had been built in 1678 by the King's architect Sir William Bruce (soon after modernizing nearby Holyroodhouse) for Sir James Dick, first Baronet (1643-1728), a successful merchant who had restored the family fortunes, and served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh. (The house survives as a hotel). The third Baronet, Sir Alexander, was a distinguished physician, serving as President of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh for seven successive years, helping to establish its library, and was a founding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He is possibly most widely known today as the man who pioneered the propagation of rhubarb in Britain. He was also a close friend of Boswell. Among those he entertained at Prestonfield were Boswell and Johnson (when on their famous tour of Scotland), David Hume, the painter Allan Ramsay (with whom he had been on the grand tour) and Benjamin Franklin. The present correspondence is evidence of his range of contacts and interests.

    Other family documents are included in the lot, three items being outstanding: a narrow folio merchant's account book for 1672-1691, kept by Sir James Dick, largely autograph but with entries by his clerk, recording imports of cloth, wine and other goods from France and elsewhere (partly disbound); a quarto gathering from Sir James's letterbook for 1678 (the year that Prestonfield was built), also largely autograph, many of the letters to his brother concerning their business; and a large quarto household account book for 1776-1782, evidently kept by Lady Dick at Prestonfield (whose hand is to be found docketing some of Sir Alexander's incoming letters). Also included is a file of over 40 discharges, obligations, accounts and similar bills, including two summonses to Alexander Dick from the Cromwellian Leith police ("the Committee of officers at Leith") in 1651 and 1652, many dating from the 1680s and 90s and recording payments by Sir James for household supplies; a set of late 17th century Accompts of Cropt; a pocket memorandum book, evidently kept by Sir James in 1684-1700; three school exercise books, two kept by the young Alexander, two by his brother John; a set of estate accounts prepared by Thomas Rattray for Sir Alexander for 1759-1762; a bundle of discharges and similar documents pertaining to Sir Alexander's estates; and an almanac evidently kept by Sir Alexander in 1783. The earliest item in the collection is a receipt, clearly autograph and written in an Italic hand, submitted by Margaret Murray for sweetmeats including "almond bred" and "shugr breskt", supplied for George Gordon's funeral on 13 March 1608.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that some of the Dick correspondence is published.
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879
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