Robert Burns

1759 (Alloway, Scotland) – 1796 (Dumfries)

A pioneer of romanticism, and Scotland’s best-known poet, Burns stayed his own man. Blacklock’s timely letter helped stop him emigrating to Jamaica (they only met later, writing fondly to one another in verse). Burns used to correct his proofs on a stool in Smellie’s messy office, their relationship such that their racily indiscreet letters were destroyed as unfit for publication. Burns was a regular at Monboddo’s, composing an elegy for his daughter when she died. He met the young Scott (Burns’s plain manners impressing) at Ferguson’s; Adam Smith, a Burns fan with several friends in common, just failed to meet him.

Pierre Mac Orlan

Pierre Dumarchey

1882 (Péronne, France) – 1970 (Saint-Cyr-sur-Morin)

Couté introduced the teenager Mac Orlan (who had many other pseudonyms) to Villon’s poetry. Carco wrote about him dressed cowboy-style. Vlaminck (a close friend), Modigliani, Picasso, Jacob, Apollinaire, Salmon and Carco were all met around the legendary Bateau Lavoir building in low-rent Montmartre; he would eat with Salmon, Apollinaire and Jacob on Saturday nights. Among other friends, he wrote a preface for Cahun, was photographed by Doisneau, and had his erotic writing reframed by Pia. Gréco (who recorded his songs) and Brassens both visited him in old age, Brassens saying that he gave memories to those who had none.