Page images
[ocr errors]

I own myself so little a Presbyterian, that I approve of set times. and seasons of more than ordinary acts of devotion, for breaking in on that habituated routine of life and thought which is so apt to reduce our existence to a kind of instinct, or even sometimes, and with some minds, to a state very little superior to mere machinery.

This day; the first Sunday of May; a breezy, blue-skyed noon, some time about the beginning, and a hoary morning and calm sunny day about the end, of autumn ;-these, time out of mind, - have been with me a kind of holiday.

I believe I owe this to that glorious paper in the Spectator, “The Vision of Mirza ;” a piece that struck my young fancy before I was capable of fixing an idea to a word of three syllables. “On the 5th day of the moon, which, according to the custom of my forefathers, I always keep holy, 'after having washed myself, and offered up my morning devotions, I ascended the high hill of Bagdat, in order to pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer.”

"We know nothing, or next to nothing, of the substance or structure of our souls, so cannot account for those seeming caprices in them, that one should be particularly pleased with this thing, or struck with that, which, on minds of a different cast, makes no extraordinary impression. I have some favourite flowers in spring, among which are the mountain-daisy, the hare-bell, the fox-glove, the wild brier-rose, the budding birch, and the hoary hawthorn, that I view and hang over with particular delight. 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 morning, without feeling an elevation of soul like the enthusiasm of devotion or poetry. Tell me, my dear friend, to what can this be owing? Are we a piece of machinery, which, like the Eolian harp, passive, takes the impression of the passing accident? Or do these workings argue something within us above the trodden clod?' II. p. 195–197.

To this we may add the following passage, as a part, indeed, of the same picture. I

• There is scarcely any earthly object gives me more I do not know if I should call it pleasure-but something which exalts me, something which enraptures me—than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood, or high plantation, in a cloudy winter-day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees, and raving over the plain. It is my best season for devotion : my mind is wrapt up in a kind of enthusiasm to Him, who, in the pom pous language of the Hebrew bard, “ walks on the wings of the wind.II. p. 11.

The following is one of the best and most striking of a whole series of eloquent hypochondriasm.

• After 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 resign life as an



am in some measure prepared, and daily preparing to meet them. I have but just time and paper to return you my grateful thanks for the lessons of virtue and piețy 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.' I. p. 99—101.

Before proceeding to take any particular notice of his poetical compositions, we must apprise our Southern readers, that all his best pieces are written in Scotch ; and that it is impofsible 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 knowledge 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,—the 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 exalted and accomplished individuals throughout their whole existence'; and, if 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 language of their childhood, and of those who were the earliest objects of their love and veneration. 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 school-day 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 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 pine-tenths of those who are called well educated in that country. He wrote in Scotch,



Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,

Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward benda
• At length his lonely cot appears in view,

Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th' expectant wee-things, toddlin, stacher thro'

To meet their Dad, wi’ flichterin noise an' glee. · His wee bit ingle, blinkin bonnily,

His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie rifie’s smile, The lisping infant prattling on his knee,

Does a’ his weary carking cares beguile, An' makes him quite forget his labour an' his toil, • Belyve the elder bairns come drapping in,

At service out, amang the farmers roun';
Some ca' the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin

A canna errand to a neebor town :
Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown,

In youthfu' bloom, love sparkling in her e'e,
Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a braw new gown,

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 same, Tells how a neebor lad cam o'er the moor,

To do some errands, and convoy her hame. The wily mother sees the conscious flame

Sparkle in Jenny's e'e, and push her cheek ;
With heart-struck anxious care, inquires his name,

While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak;
Weel pleas'd, the mother hears its nae wild, worthless rake.
Wi' kindly welcome Jenny brings him ben ;

A strappan youth; he taks the mother's eye ;
Blythe Jenny sees the visit's no ill ta’en ;

The father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye. The youngster's artless heart o'erflows wi' joy.

But blate and laithfu', scarce can weel behave ; The mother, wi' a woman's wiles, can spy

What makes the youth sae bashfu' an’ sae grave; Weel pleas'd to think her bairn's respected like the lave. - The cheerfu' supper done, wiserious face,

They, round the ingle, form a circle wide; The sire turns o'er, wi' patriarchal grace,

The big ha'-Bible, ance his father's pride : His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,

His lyart haffets wearing thin an' bare ; Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,


« PreviousContinue »