Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Burt, Edward

BURT, EDWARD (d. 1755), author of the ‘Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland,’ largely quoted by Walter Scott and Macaulay, has been variously described as an engineer officer who served with General Wade in Scotland in 1724–8, as an army contractor, and an illiterate hack-writer, who ended his days in dire distress (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 496). Of his early history nothing is known. There is nothing in the military entry books and other war office records to show that Mr., or, as he is often styled, 'Captain,' Burt ever held military rank. He appears to have been with General Wade in Scotland, at the period stated, in some civil capacity, and by virtue of actingwarrants to have then and also afterwards (ib. 2nd ser. vii. 128-9) discharged sundry duties which in later times would have been performed by officers of the commissariat and other army departments. This is indicated in one of General Wade's order-books, which is preserved in the British Museum (Add. MS. 23671). An order therein, dated Inverness, 28 Sept. 1726, directs all commanding officers and others in the northern highlands, on due application from Mr. Edmund Burt or his subordinates, to send with him such parties of soldiers as shall be thought necessary to collect the rents of the estates formerly the Seaforth's. Another order of the same date directs Mr. Burt to state and adjust all accompts relating, to the 'highland galley,' and to report on all matters connected with the said galley as he shall think necessary until further orders.

Evidence in the 'Letters' shows that they were written in 1725-6, although not published until long afterwards. The period of General Wade's command in Scotland is a blank in the records of the regiments employed under him; but some details of his movements, collected from various sources, will be found in the 'Ordnance Gazetteer for Scotland' (under 'Glasgow,' &c), and in 'Colburn's United Service Magazine,' August 1869. Of the later circumstances of the author of the ' Letters' there is no authentic information. His death is thus announced in the 'Scots Magazine' for 1755: 'On 4 Jan. 1755, in London, Edward Burt, esq., late agent with General Wade, chief surveyor during the making of the roads through the highlands, and author of the "Letters from the North of Scotland."'

The first edition of the 'Letters' appeared in London in 1754. Subsequent editions appeared in Dublin in 1755, in London in 1/59 and 1815, and at Haarlem and Hanover. The last edition, which was edited by R. Jamieson, and to which Sir Walter Scott contributed some matter, appeared in London, in two volumes, octavo, in 1818.

[Brit. Mus. Gen. Cat.; Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 23671; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. xii. 496, 2nd ser. vii. 128–9, 174; Scots Mag. xvi. 359–529, xvii. 52.]

H. M. C.