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with too fierce a tone of defiance; and indicates rather the pride of a sturdy peasant, than the calm and natural elevation of a generous mind.
The last of the symptoms of rusticity which we think it necessary to notice in the works of this extraordinary man, is that frequent mistake of mere exaggeration and violence, for force and sublimity, which has defaced so much of his prose composition, and given an air of heaviness and labour to a good deal of his serious poetry. The truth is, that his forte was in humour and in pathos—or rather in tenderness of feeling; and that he has very seldom succeeded, either where mere wit and sprightliness, or where great energy and weight of sentiment were requisite. He had evidently a very false and crude notion of what constituted strength of writing; and instead of that simple and brief directness which stamps the character of vigour upon every syllable, has generally had recourse to a mere accumulation of hyperbolical expressions, which encumber the diction instead of exalting it, and show the determination to be impressive, without the power of executing it. This error also we are inclined to ascribe entirely to the defects of his education. The value of simplicity in the expression of passion, is a lesson, we believe, of nature and of genius ;—but its importance in mere grave and impressive writing, is one of the latest discoveries of rhetorical experience.
With the allowances and exceptions we 'lave now stated, we think Bums entitled to the rank of a great and original genius. He has in all his compositions great force of conception; and great spirit and animation in its expression. He has taken a large range through the region of Fancy, and naturalized himself in almost all her climates. He has great humour—great powers of description— great pathos—and great discrimination of character. Almost every thing that he says has spirit and originality ; and every thing that he says well, is characterized by a charming facility, which gives a grace even to occasional rudeness, and communicates to the reader a delightful sympathy with the spontaneous soaring and conscious inspiration of the poet.
Considering the reception which these works have met with from the public, and the long period during which the greater part of them have been in their possession, it may appear superflous to say any thing as to their characteristic or peculiar merit. Though the ultimate judgment of the public, however, be always sound, or at least decisive as to its general result, it is not always very apparent upen what grounds it has proceeded; nor in consequence of what, or in spite of what, it has been obtained. In Burns' works there is much to censure, as well as much to praise; and as time has not yet separated his ore from it» dross, it may be worth while to state, in a very general way, what we presume to anticipate as the xesult of this separation. Without pretending to enter at all into the comparative merit of particular passages we may venture
to lay it down as our opinion—that hispoetit is far superior to his prose; that his Scottoi compositions are greatly to be preferred to fcs English ones; and that his Songs will probably outlive all his other productions At--' few remarks on each of these subject? r.. comprehend almost all that we have to savcf the volumes now before us.
The prose works of Burns consist ahnest entirely of his letters. They bear, as vt'ù :• his poetry, the seal and the impres-s of to genius; but they contain much more :a: taste, and are written with far more apra:>; labour. His poetry was almost all wrinn primarily from feeling, and only secondarily from ambition. His letters seem to hare bera nearly all composed as exercises, and fcr ¿~ play. There are few of them written »И simplicity or plainness; and though narcral enough as to the sentiment, they are generally very strained and elaborate in the express«. A very great proportion of them. too. retat neither to facts nor feelings peculiarly connected with the author or his corresporJe: :— but are made up of general dedanatxE, moral reflections, and vague discuí*i<iri-—... evidently composed for the sake of etfer: г frequently introduced with long complaint« oí having nothing to say. and of the r.ec«i.vand difficulty of letter-writing.
By far the best of those composition«, гя such as we should consideras except ioi>: r, this general character—such as contain ? r specific information as to himself, or are suggested by events or observations directly applicable to his correspondent. One of the best, perhaps, is that addressed to Dr. Mooa containing an account of his early life, d which Dr. Currie has made such a jpdieioa use in his Biography. It is written \vith:~!clearness and characteristic effect, »nd cootains many touches of easy humour anderaral eloquence. We are struck, as we opn the book accidentally, with the followiM original application of a classical imacf i; this unlettered rustic. Talking of the En« vague aspirations of his own gigantic ruhe says—we think ven-finely—"I had :'f.¡ some early stirrings of ambition; bot li« were the blind gropings of Homer'? Сь••' round the walls of his cave!"' Of hi? c:.'.-' letters, those addressed to Mrs. Dnnlop «• in our opinion, by far the best. Heappew. from first to last, to have stood some» ha: awe of this excellent lady; and to h.No U. no less sensible of her sound judsmi'ti' '•': strict sense of propriety, than of her steady and generous partiality. The following p*sage we think is striking and characterise :
"I own myself so little a Presbyteritn, th»! I approve of set times and seasons of more tli»n °n nary acts of devotion, for breaking in on ihil habituated routine of life and thought which им Ч"10 reduce our existence to a kind of instineti or «**• fiomeiimes, and wiih some minds, to a sr»:f rt~l little superior to mere machinery.
"This day; the first Sunday of Мят; » br«P' bluc-skyed noon, some time about the bfpcrr. and a hoary moraine and calm sunny day aboa-'" end of autumn ;—these, time out of mimi, Ь»« been with me a kind of holiday.
"I beliere I owe this to that glorious paper in the Spectator, 'The Vision of Mirza;' n piece thai struck my young fancy before I was capable of fixinjf an idea to a word of three syllables. 'On the V h (iav of the moon, which, according to the custom of myVorefathers, I always keep holy, after having washed myself, and offered up my morning devotions, 1 ascended the high hill of Bagdat, in order to pass the resl of the day in meditation and prayer.'
"We know nothing, or next to nothing, of the substance or structure of our souls, so cannot ac count for those seeming caprices in them, that one •book! br particularly pleased with this thing, or struck »nth that, which, on minds of a difierent casi, makes no extraordinary impression. I have some favourite flowers in spring; among which arc :hi mountain-daisy, the hare-bell, the fox-glove, the wnd brier-rose, the budding birch, and the hoary h:iwihorn. that I view and hang over with particular deligbt. I never hear the loud, solitary whistle of the curlew in a summer noon, or the wild mixing cadence of a troop of grey plover in an autumnal :;:firninjr, without feeling an elevation of soul, like the enthusiasm of devotion or poetry. Tell me, my dear friend, to what can this be owing Î Are we a piece of machinery, which, like the Bollan harp, passive, takes the impression of the passing acci>"п:? Or do these workings argue something ч:'шп us above the trodden clod?"—Vol. ii. pp. 19S—197.
To this we may add the following passage, is a part, indeed, of the same picture :—
• There is scarcely any earthly object gives me more—I do not know if I should call it pleasure— bat something which exalts me, something which tnr»pture« me—than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood, or high plantation, in a cloudy winterday, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees, and raving over the plain! It is my best snsMi for devotion: my mind is wrapt up in a kind I enthusiasm to Him, who, in the pompous lan¿-!**r of the Hebrew bard, " walks on the wings of the wind."—Vol. ii. p. 11.
The following is one of the best and most inking of a whole series of eloquent hypo
"Afier six weeks' confinement, I am beginning to walk across the room. -They have been six horrible weeks ;—anguish and low spirits made me unfit to read, write, or think.
"I have a hundred times wished that one could rtapi life as an officer resigns a commission: for I '* :!d not take in any poor, ignorant wretch, by trllrne out. Lately I was a sixpenny private; and, God knows, a miserable soldier enough: now I march to the campaign, a starving cadet—a little raore conspicuously wretched.
"I am ashamed of all this ; for though I do want
••nvfry tor the warfare of life, I could wish, like
«me other soldier«, to have as much fortitude or
arming аа to dissemble or conceal my cowardice."
Vol. ii. pp. 127, 128.
One of the most striking letters in the coli-ction. and, to us, one of the most interest>"s. is the earliest of the whole series; being aHJressed to his father in 1781, six or seven Tears before hie name had been heard of out of his own family. The author was then a common flax-dresser, and his father a poor peasant ;—yet there is not one Irait of vularity. either in the thought or the expression; bu:. on the contrary, a dignity and elevation of sentiment, which must nave been con«idered as of good omen in a youth of much higher condition. The letter is as follows:—
"Honoured Sir,—I have purposely delayed writing, in the hope that I should have the pleasure of seeing you on New-year's Day; but work comes so hard upon us, that I do not choose to be absent on that account, as well as for some other little reasons, which I shall tell you at meeting. My health is nearly the same aa when you were here, only my sleep is a little sounder, and, on the whole, I am rather better than otherwise, though I mend by very slow degrees. The weakness of my nerves has so debilitated my mind, that I dare neither review past wants, nor look forward into futurity ; for the least anxiety or perturbation in my breast produces most unhappy edicts on my whole frame. Sometimes, indeed, when for an hour or two my spirits are a little lightened, I glimmer a little into futurity; but my principal, and indeed my only pleasurable employment, is looking backwards and forwards, in a moral and religious way. I am quite transported at the thought, that ere long, perhaps very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all the pnins, and uneasinesses, and disquietudes of this weary life; for I assure you I am heartily tired of it; and, if I do not very much deceive myself, Г could contentedly and gladly resign it.
•The sou!, uneasy, and confin'd at borne
"It is for this reason I am more pleased with the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the 7th chapter of the Revelations, than with any ten times as many verses in the whole Bible, ana would not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me for all lhat this word has to offer. As for this world, I despair of ever making a figure in it. I am not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the flutter of the gay. I shall never again be capable of entering into such scenes. Indeed I am altogether unconcerned for the thoughts of this life. I foresee that poverty and obscurity probably await me; and I am in some measure prepared, and daily preparing to meet them. I have but just time and paper to return to you my grateful thanks for the lessons of virtue and piety you have given me; which were too much neglected at the time of giving them, but which, I hope, have been remembered ere it is yet too late."—Vol. i. pp. 99—101.
Before proceeding to take any particular notice of his poetical compositions, we must take leave to apprise our Southern readers, that all his best pieces are written in Scotch; and that it is impossible for them to form any adequate judgment of their merits, without a pretty long residence among those who still use that language. To be able to translate the words, is but a small part of the know-, ledge that is necessary. The whole genius and idiom of the language must be familiar; and the characters, and habits, and associations of those who speak it. We beg leave, too, in passing, to observe, that this Scotch is not to be considered as a provincial dialect— [he vehicle only of rustic vulgarity and rude local humour. It is the language of a whole, country—long an independent kingdom, and; still separate in laws, character, and manners. It is by no means peculiar to the vulgar; but is the common speech of the whole nation in early life—and, with many of its most ез.-. altea and accomplished individuals, throughout their whole existence; and, though it be true that, in later times, it has been, in some measure, laid aside by the more ambitious and aspiring of the present generation, it is still recollected, even by them, as the familiar anguage of their childhood, and of those who were the earliest objects of their love and rensration. It is connected, in their imagination, not only with that olden time which is uniformly conceived as more pure, lofty and simple than the present, but also with all the soft and bright colours of remembered childhood and domestic affection. All its phrases conjure up images of schoolday innocence, and sports, and friendships which have no pattern in succeeding years. Add to all this, that it is the language of a great body of poetry, with which almost all Scotchmen are familiar; and, in particular, of a great multitude of songs, written with more tenderness, nature, and feeling, than any other lyric compositions that are extant—and we may perhaps be allowed to say, that the Scotch is, in reality, a highly poetical language; and that it is an ignorant, as well as an illiberal prejudice, which would seek to confound it with the barbarous dialects of Yorkshire or Devon. In composing his Scottish poems, therefore, Burns did not merely make an instinctive and necessary use of the only dialect he could employ. The last letter which we have quoted, proves, that before he had penned a single couplet, he could write in the dialect of England with far greater purity and propriety than nine tenths of those who are called well educated in that country. He wrote in Scotch, because the writings which he most aspired to imitate were composed in that language; and it is evident, from the variations preserved by Dr. Currie, that he took much greater pains with the beauty and purity of his expressions in Scotch than in English; and, every one who understands both, must admit, with infinitely better success.
But though we have ventured to say thus much ¡n praise of the Scottish poetry of Burns, we cannot presume to lay many specimens of it before our readers; and, in the few extracts we may be tempted to make from the volumes before us, shall be guided more by a desire to exhibit what may be intelligible to all our readers, than by a feeling of what is in itself of the highest excellence.
We have said that Burns is almost equally distinguished for his tenderness and his humour :—we might have added, for a faculty of combining them both in the same subject, not altogether without parallel in the older poets and ballad-makers, but altogether singular, we think, among modern writers. The passages of pure humour are entirely Scottish—and untranslateable. They consist in the most picturesque representations of life and manners, enlivened, and even exalted by traits of exquisite sagacity, and unexpected reflection. His tenderness is of two sorts; that which is combined with circumstances and characters of humble, and sometimes ludicrous simplicity; and that which is produced by gloomy and distressSul impressions acting on a mind of keen sensibility. The passages which belong to the former description are, we think, the most exquisite and original, and, in our estimation, indicate the greatest and most amiable turn of genius; Doth as being accompanied by fine and feeling pictures of humble life, and as requiring that
delicacy, as well as justness of conception b which alone the fastidiousness of an опЬглreader can be reconciled to such representlions. The exquisite description of "Tht Cotter's Saturday Night " affords, perh%. i finest example of this sort of pathetic, lu whole beauty cannot, indeed, be discerned but by those whom experience has enab;-. to judge of the admirable fidelity and completeness of the picture. But, independent altogether of national peculiarities, and ev~: in spite of the obscurity of the language, tre think it impossible to peruse the following stanzas without feeling the force of tenderness and truth :—
"November chill blaws loud wi' angry ra?h; The short'ning winter-day is near a do«; The miry beasts retreating frae the pl«u>h;
The black'ning trains о craws to their rep:* The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes. Tins nifjht bis weekly moil is at an end. Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his ho-i
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to sperdAnd weary, o'er the moor, hi« course does hin-ward bend.
"At length his lonely cot appears in view,
Beneath the shelter of an aged tree; Th' expectant wee-tkingt. toddling, stacht:'tTomeet their Dad, wi* flic herin noise an' г!« His wee bit ingle, blinkin bonmly,
His clean hearth-stane, his thrifiie trijCr'i œ it The lisping infant prattling on his knee,
Does a' Jiis weary carking cares be jroil«. An' makes him quite forget his labour «n* h» Ml.
"Belyve the elder bairns come dropping in,
At service out, amang the farmers roon': Some ca' the pleugh, some herd, «omeloMn
A canna errand to a neebor town: Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown In yonthfu' bloom, love sparkling m here'e Comes hame,perhaps, to shew a braw ne» gc«r
Or deposite her sair-won penny fee, To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be
"But hark! a rap comes gently to the door;
Jenny, wha kens the meaning o' the samt. Tells how a neebor lad came o'er the moor.
To do some errands, and convoy her him*. The wily mother sees the conscious flame
Sparkle in Jenny'* e'e, and flush her ch«R: With heart-struck anxious care.inquires hunair
While Jenny haffiins is afraid to speak; Wecl pleas'd, the mother hears it* пае wild, worklea» rake.
Wi' kindly welcome Jenny brings him ben:
A srappan youth; he taka the mother's ere. Blvtho Jenny sees the visit's no ill u'en;
The father cracks of horses, pleoghs. and krr The youngster's artlera heart o'erflows wi' *»
But blate and laithfu', scarce can weel bib«: The mother, wi' a woman's wiles, can epy
What makes the youth sae baabiu' an' я*
Weel pleas'd to think her bain«'» respected U«
"The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face.
They, round the ingle, form a circle wide; The sire turns o'er, wi1 patriarchal me?.
The big ha1-Bible, anee his father s pnde: His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside.
His lyart haflets wearing thin an' bare; Those strains that once did sweet in Zioogude. He wales a portion with judicious care; !«rAnd ' f^et ив worship God!' he says, with fol*ffl>
"They chaunt their artless notes in simple gawt: They tune their hearts, by far the ne'Die* aim," tc.
ТЬеп homeward all lake off their sev'ral way;
The youngling cottagers retire to rest: The parent pair their tecrel homage pay,
And profler up to Heaven the warm request That He who etille the raven's clam'rous neet,
And decks the lily fair in flow'ry pride, Would, in the way his wisdom sees the best,
For them and for their little one« provide; but ehienV, in their hearts, with grace divine preside." Vol. iii. pp. 174—181.
The charm of the fine linee written on turning up a mouse's nest with a plough, will also bo fouud to consist in the simple tenderness of the delineation.
"Thy wee bit hontie. too, in ruin!
O' foggage green!
Baith sntll and keen!
"Thon saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
Thou thought to dwell,
Out thro' thy cell.
"That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
But house or hald,
An cranreuch cauld!"
Vol. iii. pp. 147.
The Terses to a Mountain Daisy, though sore elegant and picturesque, веет to derive ;heir chief beauty from the same tone of sentimeot.
"Wee. modeet, crimson-tipped flow'r,
Thy slender stem;
Thou bonme gem!
"Ahe! it's no thy neebor sweet,
vVi' spreckl'd breast,
"CmU blew the bitter-biting north Vpon thy early, humbje birlh; Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Scarce rear'd abore the parent earth,
"There, in thy scanty mantle clad,
In bumble guise;
And low thou lies!"
There are many touches of the same kind in moet of the popular and beautiful poems in this collection, especially in the Winter Night —th? aiMress to his old Mare—the address to ;.v IV'vil. &c. ;—in all which, though the Plater part of the piece be merely ludicrous ••'-' pi' luresque. there are traits of a delicate '•••' I I'-niler feelin<r, indicating that unaffected «Лпем of heart which is always so enchant""•?• In the humorous address to the Devil, which we have just mentioned, every Scottish
reader must have felt the effect of this relenting nature in the following stanzas :—
"Lang syne, in Eden's bonie yard,
The raptur'd hour,
In shady bower:
"Then you, ye auld, snic-drawing dog!
"But, fare you weel, auld Nickie-ben!
Still hae a itake—
Ev'n for your sake!"
The finest examples, however, of this simple and unpretending tenderness is to be found in those songs which are likely to transmit the name of Burns to all future generations. He found this delightful trait in the old Scottish ballads which he took for his model, and upon which he has improved with a felicity and delicacy of imitation altogether unrivalled in the history of literature. Sometimes it is the brief and simple pathos of the genuine old ballad ; as,
"But I look to the West when I lie down to rest. That happy my dreams and my slumbers may be;
For far in the West lives he I love best,
Or, as in this other specimen—
"Drumossie moor. Drumossie day!
A waefu' day it was to me;
"Their winding sheet the bluidy clay,
Their graves are growing green to see;
That ever blest a woman's e'e!
A bluidy man I trow thou be;
Sometimes it is animated with airy narrative, and adorned with images of the utmost elegance and beauty. As a specimen taken at random, we insert the following stanzas :—
"And ay she wrought her mamime's wark:
And ay she sang sae merrilie:
"But hawks will rob the tender joys
That bless the little lintwhite's nest;
"Young Robie was the brawest lad,
The flower and pride of a' the glen;
"He gaed wi' Jeanie to the tryste,
He danc'd wi' Jeanie on the down;
"|landed when she was seized with a malignant fever,
which hurried my dear girl to the grave in a few days!—before I could even hear of her illness.” Vol. v. pp. 237,238.
Mr. Cromek has added, in a note, the following interesting particulars; though without #.ying the authority upon which he details them :—
“This adieu was performed with all those simple and striking ceremonials which rustic sentiment has devised to prolong tender emotions and to inspire awe. The lovers stood on each side of a small purling brook; they laved their hands in its limpid stream, and holding a Bible between them, pronounced their vows to be faithful to each other. They parted-never to meet again
“The anniversary of Mary Campbell's death (for that was her name) awakening in the sensitive mind of Burns the most lively emotion, he retired from his family, then residing on the farm of Ellisland, and wandered, solitary, on the banks of the Nith, and about the farm yard. - 'he extremest agitation of mind, nearly the woule of the night: His agitation was so great, that he threw himself on the side of a corn stack, and there conceived his sublime and tender elegy—his address To Mary in Heaven."
Wol. v. p. 238.