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Burns went to hear a sermon, and saw a lady, who wore not “a precious jewel in her head,” but a bonnet very large and very lofty, fashionable then, but not now (laughter). By some untoward accident there had strayed upon that towering structure of millinery something that has not a local habitation nor a name in civilized society. Burns, with comic humour, traced its impudently ambitious career, and then finding good in everything, he exclaims
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us !
And foolish notion.
And ev'n Devotion!”
Shakspere has well described an ancient fop, and Burns has sketched a modern one
“A little, upright, pert, tart, tripping wight,
And still his precious self his dear delight;
We may have seen such a specimen of frail humanity on a sunny day when butterflies are out, contemplating his fair proportions on the pavement like another Narcissus, and deeming it too much honour for the vulgar crowd of passers by to tread on his illustrious shadow
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”
Burns describes the natural according to nature. When he attempts the supernatural it is at least in an original way. The witches in “Tam O'Shanter" are unlike the awful weird sisters of Macbeth. They are a jovial crew of dancers, who, notwithstanding their horrible accom16
ONE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY
paniments, inspire more of mirth than of dread. And so, in the “ Dialogue of Death and Dr. Hornbook," and in the " Address to the Devil,” solemnity of feeling yields to a jocund familiarity. In “Dr. Hornbook," Burns satirized a schoolmaster who presumed to administer medicines. Shakspere's Apothecary had “a “ beggarly account of empty boxes,” but not so the village doctor, whose catalogue of drugs is irresistibly comical
“ And then a doctor's saws and whittles,
Of a' dimensions, shapes, and mettles,
He's sure to hae;
As A B C.”
Calces o' fossils, earths, and trees;
He has't in plenty;
He can content ye.
Forbye some new, uncommon weapons,
Distilled per se;
And mony mae.”
-(much laughter). Burns did not attempt to follow Milton in the great sublime, but in his “ Address to Satan,” after expostulating with the author of evil for the mischief he had wrought, he takes the reader by surprise with a touch of compassion, not only for the victims but for the Tempter
The Vision in which, while he vowed to abandon poetry that found him poor and made him so, the Scottish Muse appeared to claim him as her own, and to bind him to her service, is poetry of the highest order
“I saw thee seek the sounding shore,
Delighted with the dashing roar;
Drove through the sky,
Struck thy young eye.
Or when the deep-green mantled earth
In ev'ry grove,
With boundless love.
When youthful love, warm, blushing, strong,
Th' adored name,
To soothe thy flame.
To give my counsels all in one,
With soul erect;
Will all protect.
ONE HUNDRETH BIRTHDAY.
And wear thou this—she solemn said,
Did rustling play ;
In light away.”
The gravest moralist could not show more impressively the evanescence of pleasure than Burns does in his famous poem of “Tam O'Shanter," by a profusion of imagery
“ But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed !
In “Bruce's Address at Bannockburn” this highly figurative style is exchanged for the simplest, but full of fire and fervour
“By oppression's woes and pains !
By your sons in servile chains !
But they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurper low!
Let us do or die !”
Never was sorrowing gratitude more feelingly expressed than in the “Lament for the Earl of Glencairn”
“The bridegroom may forget the bride
And how exquisite is his description of the pure and tender love of woman
“As in the bosom o' the stream
The moonbeam dwells at dewy e'en,
He had solemnly exchanged lovers' vows with his Highland Mary Campbell, who died early, before they met again. As he lay on some sheaves of corn at Ellisland, gazing on the planet Venus, he composed this exquisitely beautiful and pathetic ode to “ Mary in Heaven” —
“Thou ling’ring star, with less'ning ray,
That lov'st to greet the early morn,
My Mary from my soul was torn.
Where is thy place of blissful rest?
Hear'st thou the groans that rend his breast ?
Can I forget the hallow'd grove,
To live one day of parting love ?
Those records dear of transports past ;
Ah! little thought we 'twas our last !