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OPINIONS OF BYRON, CRABBE, PITT.
shore between the Ayr and Doon rivers, and the surrounding country. Wordsworth offers this explanation of the fact : “ It is as a human being eminently " sensitive and intelligent, and not as a poet clad in his “priestly robes, and carrying the ensigns of sacerdotal “ office that he interests and affects us. Whether he “speaks of rivers, hills and woods, it is not so much on
account of the properties with which they are abso“lutely endowed as relatively to local patriotic remem“ brances and associations, or as they are ministerial
to personal feelings, especially those of love, whether
happy or otherwise; yet it is not always so.” Byron said that “ undoubtedly he was in the first class “in his art,” and the son and biographer of Crabbe, that his father was ever as enthusiastic an admirer “ of Burns as the warmest of his own countrymen,” and Mr. Lockhart states that Mr. Pitt at Lord Liverpool's table, said that he could think of no verse since Shakspere's that had so much the appearance of coming sweetly from nature as his. Burns also resembled Shakespere in his various knowledge of mankind. Born and bred among the people, he learned to know human nature in that condition, familiar with their thoughts, feelings, habits and manners. But his eminent gifts, improved by observation and study, gave him access to other conditions of life; as the chosen companion of the most distinguished men of his country, and of ladies of rank and beauty, intelligent and accomplished, to whom his conversation was an attraction and a delight. Withal, he was a noble, generous, and independent man, scorning flattery and the fulsome dedications of former poets. “No mercenary bard his homage pays," was with him a fixed principle, carried perhaps to an extreme, considering his small and hardly earned income. For while he purified the old songs of Scotland from their dross and defilement, and gratuitously supplied Mr. George Thomson's collection of Scottish airs, accompanied by words—with about sixty of his own matchless songs, he often distributed among his friends in manuscript
TAM O'SHANTER-COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT. 31
those poems which have as much of immortality as belongs to earthly things; so that his friend Dr. Moore warned him against the practice, some of them having appeared in print before they were published by himself.
* Tam O' Shanter," his favourite work, to which other literary men and the public have given their approval for original humour and graphic power of the highest order, he presented to Captain Grose to be published in his “Antiquities," modestly asking a few copies of the proof sheets for himself and his friends, and that the poem should be accompanied with an engraving of "Alloway's auld haunted Kirk:”'
Mr. Lockhart wrote that the “Cotter's Saturday Night” could least of all be spared from the poems of Burns, and it may be said that the scenes it describes could least be spared from his life. A hard but noble struggle with adversity was the venerable father's lot, and his children shared it. Robert, when a boy of fifteen, worked like a man, and so injured his strong constitution as to cause palpitation of the heart, sleeplessness, and deep melancholy. The wages of the sons were only seven pounds a year, and as they never spent more, strict frugality and temperance and virtuous self denial were invariably practised by the poet till his twenty-third year. It was during their seven year's residence at Tarbolton, after leaving the cottage at Alloway, that Gilbert most admired his gifted brother. Unspotted by the world, he was more cheerful and animated, and his conversation, abounding in good sense and shrewd observation, enlivened by wit and humour, made him a charming companion and beguiled the toilsome hours.
In the summer of 1784, the state of his health was alarming to others and to himself. He had fainting fits at night, caused by irregular action of the heart, and his severe remedy was to rise from bed and plunge into a barrel of cold water. At that time he wrote the following:
STANZAS IN THE PROSPECT OF DEATH.
STANZAS IN THE PROSPECT OF DEATH.* “Why am I loth to leave this earthly scene!
Have I so found it full of pleasing charms ? Some drops of joy with draughts of ill between;
Some gleams of sunshine 'mid renewing storms; Is it departing pangs my soul alarms ?
Or death's unlovely, dreary, dark abode ?
I tremble to approach an angry God,
Fain promise never more to disobey;
Again I might desert fair virtue's way;
Again exalt the brute, and sink the man; Then how should I for Heav'nly mercy pray,
Who act so counter Heav'nly mercy's plan? Who sin so oft have mourn’d, yet to temptation ran ?
O Thou, great Governor of all below!
If I may dare a lifted eye to Thee,
And still the tumult of the raging sea :
Those headlong furious passions to confine, For all unfit I feel my powers to be,
To rule their torrent in th' allowed line; 0, aid me with thy help, Omnipotence Divine!”
At this anxious time he was kindly and hospitably entertained at the manse of the Rev. George Laurie, Minister of the Parish of Loudon, a few miles from Mossgiel. Mr. Laurie, a man of cultivated taste, the friend of the blind poet, Dr. Blacklock, and of Dr.
August, 1784. Misgivings in the hour of Despondency and Prospect of Death.
VERSES LEFT AT ST. MARGARET'S WELL
Blair, having read the newly-published poems of Burns with admiration, sent the volume, with a recommendatory letter, to Dr. Blacklock, by whom they were shown to Dr. Blair. Burns having spent a happy day at the finely-situated manse at St. Margaret's Well, on the river Irvine, wrote and left these lines in his bedroom
“O Thou dread Pow'r, who reign'st above!
I know Thou wilt me hear;
I make my pray'r sincere.
The hoary sire—the mortal stroke,
Long, long, be pleas'd to spare ;
And show what good men are.
She, who her lovely offspring eyes
With tender hopes and fears,
But spare a mother's tears !
Their hope, their stay, their darling youth,
In manhood's dawning blush ;
Up to a parent's wish.
With earnest tears I pray,
Guide Thou their steps alway.
When soon or late they reach that coast,
O'er life's rough ocean driv'n,
A family in Heav'n !”
An encouraging letter from Dr. Blacklock advising the publication of another edition of his poems, led Burns to go to Edinburgh, and to abandon the project
COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT.
of exile to the West Indies. To him, about three years afterwards, when married and settled at Ellisland, Burns wrote cheerfully and wisely
• To make a happy fireside clime
To weans and wife,
Of human life.”
In 1786, while at the farm of Mossgiel, he wrote the “Cotter's Saturday Night,” and, in the inscription to “his loved, his honoured, much respected friend," are these lines
"To you I sing, in simple Scottish lays,
The lowly train in life's sequestered scene; The native feelings strong, the guileless ways;
What Aiken in a cottage would have been; Ah ! though his worth unknown, far happier there, I
Why so ? His friend needed not to live in a cottage in order to be happy. Surely it was the under current of the Poet's own feelings, the vivid remembrance of his own early life, which suggested that sentiment; under that thatched paternal roof, hallowed by religion, have I not enjoyed the greatest purity, peace, and contentment?—“far happier there I ween.”
While in Edinburgh, in 1787, he used to walk out early in the fine spring days, and often climbed to the top of Arthur's Seat, and roamed among the Braid Hills with Nasmyth, the artist, painter of his wellknown portrait, watching the sunrise, and the lights and shadows of early morning on sea and land, the ancient city, the shores of the Firth of Forth, and the distant mountains of the Scottish Highlands. And sometimes his companion was Professor Dugald Stewart, whom he "charmed still more by his private conversation than he “had ever done in company. He was passionately “ fond of the beauties of nature; and I recollect once