« PreviousContinue »
cess at private theatricals, also proceeded from his pen. He occasionally contributed an article to the Quarterly Review,' and took a lively interest in all questions affecting literature and art. Of both he was a munificent patron. His lordship, by the death of his father, the first Duke of Sutherland, in 1833, succeeded to the great Bridgewater estates in Lancashire, and to his celebrated gallery of pictures, valued at £150,000. He was raised to the peerage as Earl of Ellesmere in 1846. The translations of this nobleman are characterised by elegance and dramatic spirit, but his ‘Faust is neither very vigorous nor very faithful. His original poetry is graceful, resembling, though inferior, that of Rogers. We subjoin one specimen, in which Campbell seems to have been selected as the model.
The Military Execution. His doom has been decreed,
Yes, in his mute despair, He has owned the fatal deed,
The faithful hound is there, And its sentence is here to abide.
He has reached his master's side with a No mercy now can save;
spring They have dug the yawning grave,
To the hand which reared and fed, And the hapless and the brave
Till its ebbing pulse hath fled,
Till that hand is cold and dead.
He will cling.
What art, or lure, or wile,
That one can now beguile His latest prayer has ceased,
From the side of his master and friend ? And the comrade and the priest,
He has gnawed his cord in twain;
To the arm which strives in vain
To repel him, he will strain
To the end.
The tear-drop who can blame? They can but weep when the deed 'tis Though it dim the veteran's aim done;
And each breast along the line heave the They would shriek, and wail, and pray: sigh. It is well for bim to-day
For 'twere cruel now to save;
And together in that grave,
The faithful and the brave,
Let them lie. In 1820–22, THOMAS MITCHELL (1783–1845) published translations in verse of Aristophanes, in which the sense and spirit of the • Old Comedian’ were admirably rendered. Mr. Mitchell also edited some of the plays of Sophocles, and superintended
the publication of some of the Greek works which issued from the Oxford Clarendon press.
VISCOUNT STRANGFORD (1780–1855), long the British Ambassador at Lisbon and other foreign courts, in 1803 published a version of 'Poems from the Portuguese of Camoens, with remarks on his Life and Writings. The translation was generally condemned for its loose and amatory character, but some of the lyrical pieces have much beauty. A sarcastic notice of Strangford will be found in Byron's * English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,' and Moore dedicated to him one of his finest epistles. To the last, the old nobleman delighted in literary and antiquarian pursuits, and was much esteemed,
After the publication of Fergusson's poems, in a collected shape, in 1773, there was an interval of about thirteen years, during which no writer of eminence arose in Scotland who attempted to excel in the native language of the country. The intellectual taste of the capital ran strongly in favour of metaphysical and critical studies; but the Doric muse was still heard in the rural districts linked to some popular air, some local occurrence or favourite spot, and was much cherished by the lower and middle classes of the people. In the summer of 1786, ROBERT BURNS, the Shakspeare of Scotland, issued his first volume from the obscure press of Kilmarnock, and its influence was immediately felt, and is still operating on the whole imaginative literature of the kingdom.* Burns was then in his twenty-seventh year, having been born in the parish of Alloway, near Ayr, on the 25th of January 1759.
His father was a poor farmer, a man of sterling worth and intelligence, who gave his son what education he could afford. The whole, however, was but a small foundation on which to erect the miracles of genius! Robert was taught English well, and by the time he was ten or eleven years of age, he was a critic in substantives, verbs, and particles.'
He was also taught to write, had a fortnight's French, and was one summer quarter at land-surveying. He had a few books, among
* The edition consisted of 600 copies. A second was published in Edinburgh in April 1787, as many as 2800 copies being subscribed for by 1500 individuals. After his unexampled popularity in Edinburgh, Burns took the farm of Ellisland, near Dumfries, married his . bonny Jean,' and entered upon his new occupation at Whitsunday 1788. He had obtained--what he anxiously desired as an addition to his means as a farmer--an appointment in the Excise; but the duties of this office, and his own convivial habits, interfered with his management of the farm; and le was glad to abandon it. In 1791 he removed to the town of Dumfries, subsisting entirely on his situation in the Excise, which yielded £70 per annum, with an occasional windfall from smuggling seizures. His great ambition was to become a supervisor, from which preferment it was said his political heresies excluded him; but it has lately been proved, that if any rebuke was administered to the poet, it must have been verbal, for no censure against him was recorded in the excise books. He was on the list for promotion, and had he lived six months longer he would, in the ordinary routine of the service, have been promoted. In 1793, Burns published a third edition of his poems, with the addition of 'Tam o' Shanter' and other pieces composed at Ellisland. A fourth edition, with some corrections, was published in 1794, and this seems to have been the last authorized edition in the poet's lifetime. He died at Dumfries on the 21st of July 1796, aged thirty-seven years and about six months. The story of the poet's life is so well known, that even this brief statement of dates seems unnecessary. The valuable edition of Dr. Currie appeared in 1800, and realized a sum of £1400 for Burns's widow and family. It contained the correspondence of the poet, and a number of songs, contributed to Johnson's 'Scotts Musical Museum,' and Thomson's - Select Scottish Melodies.' The editions of Burns since 1800 could with difficulty be ascertained; they were reckoned a few years ago at about a hundred. His poems circulate in every shape, and have not yet 'gathered all their fame.'
which were the 'Spectator,' Pope's works, Allan Ramsay, and a collection of ‘English Songs.' Subsequently—about his twenty-third year-his reading was enlarged with the important addition of . Thomson, Shenstone, Sterne, and Mackenzie. Other standard works soon followed. As the advantages of a liberal education were not within his reach, it is scarcely to be regretted that his library was at first so small. What books he had, he read and studied thoroughly -his attention was not distracted by a multitude of volumes and his mind grew up with original and robust vigour. It is impossible to contemplate the life of Burns at this time, without a strong feeling of affectionate admiration and respect. His manly integrity of character—which, as a peasant, he guarded with jealous dignity-and his warm and true heart, elevate him, in our conceptions, almost as much as the native force and beauty of his poetry. We see him in the veriest shades of obscurity, toiling, when a mere youth, like a galley-slave,' to support his virtuous parents and their household, yet grasping at every opportunity of acquiring knowledge from men and books-familiar with the history of his country, and loving its very soil-worshipping the memory of Scotland's ancient patriots and defenders, and exploring the scenes and memorials of departed greatness-loving also the simple peasantry around him, the sentiments and manners he felt and saw in himself and his rustic compeers.' Burning with a desire to do something for old Scotland's sake, with a heart beating with warm and generous emotions, a strong and clear understanding, and a spirit abhorring all meanness, insincerity, and oppression, Burns, in his early days, might have furnished the subject for a great and instructive moral poem. The true elements of poetry were in his life, as in his writings. The wild stirrings of his ambition-which he so nobly compared to the blind gropings of Homer's Cyclops round the walls of his cave'—the precocious maturity of his passions and his intellect, his manly frame, that led him to fear no competitor at the plough, and his exquisite sensibility and tenderness, that made him weep over even the destruction of a daisy's flower or a mouse's nest—these are all moral contrasts or blendings that seem to belong to the spirit of romantic poetry. His writings, as we now know, were but the fragments of a great mind—the hasty outpourings of a full heart and intellect. After he had become the fashionable wonder and idol of his day—soon to be cast into cold neglect and poverty!—some errors and frailties threw a shade on the noble and affecting image, but its higher lineaments were never destroyed. The column was defaced, not broken; and now that the mists of prejudice have cleared away, its just proportions and symmetry are recognized with pride and gratitude by his admiring countrymen.
Burns came as a potent auxiliary or fellow-worker with Cowper, in bringing poetry into the channels of truth and nature. There was only about a year between the 'Task' and the ‘Cotter's Saturday.
Night.' No poetry was ever more instantaneously or universally popular among a people than that of Burns in Scotland. А contemporary, Robert Heron, who then resided in Galloway, contiguous to Ayrshire, states that old and young, high and low, learned and ignorant, were alike transported with the poems, and that even ploughmen and maid-servants would gladly have bestowed the wages they earned, if they but might procure the works of Burns.' The volume, indeed, contained matter for all minds—for the lively and sarcastic, the wild and the thoughtful, the poetical enthusiast and the man of the world. So eagerly was the book sought after, that, where copies of it could not be obtained, many of the poems were transcribed and sent round in manuscript among admiring circles. The subsequent productions of the poet did not materially affect the estimate of his powers formed from his first volume. His life was at once too idle and too busy for continuous study; and, alas! it was too brief for the full maturity and development of his talents. Where the intellect predominates equally with the imagination-and this was the case with Burns--increase of years generally adds to the strength and variety of the poet's powers; and we have no doubt that, in ordinary circumstances, Burns, like Dryden, would have improved with age, and added greatly to his fame, had he not fallen at so early a period, before his imagination could be enriched with the riper fruits of knowledge and experience. He meditated a national drama; but we might have looked with more confidence for a series of tales like * Tam o' Shanter,' which—with the elegy on Captain Matthew Henderson, one of the most highly finished and most precious of his works—was produced in his happy residence at Ellisland. Above two hundred songs were, however, thrown off by Burns in his latter years, and they embraced poetry of all kinds.
Moore became a writer of lyrics, as he informs his readers, that he might express what music conveyed to himself. Burns had little or no technical knowledge of music. Whatever pleasure he derived from it, was the result of personal associations the words to which airs were adapted, or the locality with which they were connected. His whole soul, however, was full of the finest harmony.. So quick and genial were his sympathies, that he was easily stirred into lyrical melody by whatever was good and beautiful in nature. Not a bird sang in a bush, nor a burn glanced in the sun, but it was eloquence and music to his ear. He fell in love with every fine female face he saw;.and thus kindled up, his feelings took the shape of song, and the words fell as naturally into their
places as if prompted by the most perfect knowledge of music. The inward melody needed no artificial accompaniment. An attempt at a longer poem would have chilled his ardour; but a song embodying some one leading idea, some burst of passion, love, patriotism, or humour, was exactly suited to the impulsive nature of Burns's genius, and to his situation
and circumstances. His command of language and imagery, always the most appropriate, musical, and graceful, was a greater marvel than the creations of a Handel or Mozart. The Scottish poet, however, knew many old airs—still more old ballads; and a few bars of the music, or a line of the words, served as a key-note to his suggestive fancy. He improved nearly all he touched. The arch humour, gaiety, simplicity, and genuine feeling of his original songs, will be felt as long as 'rivers roll and woods are green. They breathe the natural character and spirit of the country, and must be coeval with it in existence. Wherever the words are chanted, a picture is presented to the mind; and whether the tone be plaintive and sad, or joyous and exciting, one overpowering feeling takes possession of the imagination. The susceptibility of the poet inspired him with real emotions and passion, and his genius reproduced them with the glowing warmth and truth of nature.
* Tam O'Shanter' is usually considered to be Burns's master-piece ; it was so considered by himself, and the judgment has been confirmed by Campbell, Wilson, Montgomery, and almost every critic. It displays more various powers than any of his other productions, beginning with low comic humour and Bacchanalian revelry-the dramatic scene at the commencement is unique, even in Burnsand ranging through the various styles of the descriptive, the terrible, the supernatural, and the ludicrous. Tne originality of some of the phrases and sentiments, as
Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious
O'er a' the ills of life victorious ! the felicity of some of the similes, and the elastic force and springiness of the versification, must also be considered as aiding in the effect. The poem reads as if it were composed in one transport of inspiration, before the bard had time to cool or to slacken in his fervour ; and such we know was actually the case. Next to this inimitable ' tale of truth' in originality, and in happy grouping of images, both familiar and awful, we should be disposed to rank the ‘Address to the Deil.' The poet adopted the common superstitions of the peasantry as to the attributes of Satan ; but though his
Address' is mainly ludicrous, he intersperses passages of the highest beauty, and blends a feeling of tenderness and compunction with his objurgation of the Evil One. The effect of contrast was never more liappily displayed than in the conception of such a being straying in lonely glens and rustling among trees-in the familiarity of sly humour with which the poet lectures so awful and mysterious a personage-who had, as he says, almost overturned the infant world, and ruined all; and in that strange and inimitable outbreak of sympathy in which a hope is expressed for the salvation, and pity for the fate, even of Satan himself
But fare-you-weel, auld Nickie-ben!