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Though despair had wrung its core,
That would heal its anguish.
those rosy lips,
Lest I die with pleasure.
Here's a health to ane I lo'e dear,
Here's a health to ane I lo'e dear;
And soft as their parting tear, Jessy!
Although thou maun never be mine,
Although even hope is denied, ”T is sweeter for thee despairing
Than aught in the world beside, Jessy!
Ae 2 fond kiss, and then we sever ;
Had we never loved sae kindly,
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
In all, indeed, that he has written best, Burns may be said to have given us himself, — the passion or sentiment which swayed or possessed him at the moment, — almost as much as in his songs. In him the poet was the same as the man. He could describe
with admirable fidelity and force incidents, scenes, manners, characters, or whatever else, which had fallen within his experience or observation ; but he had little proper dramatic imagination, or power of going out of himself into other natures, and, as it were, losing his personality in the creations of his fancy. His blood was too hot, his pulse beat too tumultuously, for that; at least he was during his short life too much the sport both of his own passions and of many other stormy influences to acquire such power of intellectual self-command and self-suppression. What he might have attained to if a longer earthly existence had been granted to him or a less tempestuous one — who shall say ? Both when his genius first blazed out upon the world, and when its light was quenched by death, it seemed as if he had been born or designed to do much more than he had done. Having written what he wrote before his twenty-seventh year, he had doubtless much more additional poetry in him than he gave forth between that date and his death at the age of thirty-seven, — poetry which might now have been the world's forever if that age had been worthy of such a gift of heaven as its glorious poet — if it had not treated him rather like an untamable howling hyena, that required to be caged and chained, if not absolutely suffocated at once, than as a spirit of divinest song. Never surely did men so put a bushel upon the light, first to hide and at last to extinguish it. As it is, however, the influence of the poetry of Burns upon the popular mind of Scotland must have been immense. And we believe it has been all for good — enlarging, elevating, and refining the national heart, as well as awakening it. The tendency of some things, both in the character of the people and in their peculiar institutions, required such a check or counteraction as was supplied by this frank, generous, reckless poetry, springing so singularly out of the ironbound Calvinistic Presbyterianism of the country, like the flowing water from the rock in Horeb. What would not such a poet as Burns be worth to the people of the United States of America, if he were to arise among them at this moment? It would be as good as another Declaration of Independence. Nay, what would not such a popular poetry as his be worth in any country to any people? There is no people whom it would not help to sustain in whatever nobleness of character belonged to them, if it did not more ennoble them. For, whatever there may be to be disapproved of in the license or indecorum of some things that Burns
has written, there is at least nothing mean-souled in his poetry, any more than there was in the man. It is never for a moment even vulgar or low in expression or manner: it is wonderful how 'a native delicacy of taste and elevation of spirit in the poet have sustained him here, with a dialect so soiled by illiterate lips, and often the most perilous subject. Burns, the peasant, is perhaps the only modern writer of Scotch (not excepting even Sir Walter Scott) who has written it uniformly like a gentleman. Not that his language is not sometimes strong or bold enough, and even, on two or three occasions, coarse ; but these momentary outbreaks of a wild levity have never anything in them that can be called base or creeping. On the other hand, some of the most tremulously passionate of his pieces are models of refinement of style. And such as is the poetry of Burns was his life. Even his faults of character and errors of conduct were those of a high nature ; and on the whole were more really estimable, as well as more lovable, than the virtues of most other people. Misled he often was, as he has himself said in one of the pieces we have transcribed above :
“ Misled by fancy's meteor-ray,
By passion driven ;
Was light from heaven.”
REMAINING LITERATURE OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
The remaining literature of the closing portion of the eighteenth century may be very summarily dismissed. This was an age of popular song in England, as well as in Scotland: while Burns was in the last years of his life enriching Thomson's Collection of Orig. inal Scottish Airs, and Johnson's Musical Museum with words for the old melodies of his country that have become a part of the being of every Scotsman, Charles Dibdin, like another Tyrtaeus, was putting new patriotism into every English heart by his inspiriting strains — some of the best of which Tyrtaeus never matched. Dibdin, who, besides his songs, wrote many pieces for the stage, survived till 1814, when he died about the
In prose literature, although there was book-making enough, not much that has proved enduring was done in England during the last decade and a half of the eighteenth century, at least if we except a few works produced by one or two of the great writers of the preceding time who have been already noticed, — such, for instance, as the three last volumes of Gibbon's History, published in 1788, and Burke's Reflections and other writings, chiefly on the subject of the French Revolution, which appeared between 1790 and his death in 1797. We may also mention here the publication in 1798, in five volumes 4to, of the first collected edition of the Works of Horace Walpole, comprising, along with other novelties, a volume of his always lively and entertaining and often brilliant Letters, the portion of his writings upon which his fame is probably destined chiefly to rest. His Memoirs of the Last Ten Years of the Reign of George II., in two quarto volumes, were not given to the world till 1822; and their continuation, his Memoirs of the Reign of George III., only appeared in 1844–5.
In the Drama, with activity enough among a crowd of writers, very little was produced in this period that retains its place in our literature. Mrs. Inchbald, Thomas Holcroft, Thomas Morton, John O'Keefe, Charles Dibdin, and George Colman the Younger (already mentioned), Francis Reynolds, and Joseph George Holman were the principal writers who supplied the theatres with new pieces; and Holcroft's Road to Ruin (1792), Morton's Speed the Plough (1798), Mrs. Inchbald's Wives as they Were and Maids as they Are (1797), and Colman’s Sylvester Daggerwood, originally entitled New Hay at the Old Market (1795), are all of more or less merit, and retain some popularity. No great comedy, how ever, belongs to this time. The tragedies produced were such as Madame d'Arblay's Edwy and Elgiva, brought out at Drury Lane in 1795, but never printed; Arthur Murphy's Arminius (1798), &c.
In the department of fictitious narrative there was more to boast of. William Godwin, already distinguished by his Enquiry concerning Political Justice, made a great sensation in 1794 by his novel of Things as they Are, or the Adventures of Caleb Williams, a remarkable example, certainly, of what can be done to give verisimilitude to the improbable by mere earnestness and vehemence of narration; and in 1799 the same writer achieved perhaps a still greater triumph by a different application of the same kind of power, in his St. Leon, in which even the supernatural and impos