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AULD LANG SYNE.
This welcome lecture came opportunely. Lord Neaves will observe that we agree in our appreciation of the merits of the two great poets whom he has so skilfully, and with such beauty of style and sentiment, compared, and his allusion to the letter from Mr. Gray will be prized by every admirer of Burns. "I regard,” says Lord Neaves, “the testimony of Mr. James Gray, “an old friend of my own, and a most pure-minded and
trust-worthy man, as quite conclusive.” “I owe it as “a debt of gratitude to Mr. Gray, who was my High
Schoolmaster, that he taught me to love and reverence “both Burns and Wordsworth at a time when the
Edinburgh Review tried to lower the character of the “one and the poetry of the other.”
The following sentiments will receive a warm response from many hearts :-"No piece of poetry is so popular, “or has exerted so magical a power as the song of “Auld lang syne. At home and abroad it has melted “and delighted the hearts of Scotchmen in all ranks "and places-and no wonder. It contains, indeed, no “fine writing, no elaborate thinking; but its very sim“plicity and its shortness are part of its power, and its “natural tone has the effect of high art. The sentiment “that pervades it is universal, and as strong as it is “ general—the happiness of early friends meeting after a long and eventful separation.'
We twa ha'e run about the braes,
And pu'd the gowans* fine;
Sin auld lang syne.
We twa ha'e paideltf in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
Sin auld lang syne.
Here is an appropriate illustration. In the year 1822, there passed Advocates, or as would be said in England, were called to the Bar, nineteen young men. In the month of July, 1873, only five of them survived, of whom one had long ceased to attend the Court of Session. Two were the eminent Judges already named ; the third was the learned antiquarian lawyer, a Principal Clerk of Session, also Professor of History in Edinburgh University, Cosmo Innes; the fourth was a veteran renegade, the writer of this narrative.
Lord Cowan kindly arranged that we four should meet at the Judge's private room, and he sent his carriage to take my youngest daughter and myself to Holyrood, thence to the Queen's Drive, around Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags-a favourite resort of Burns during his Edinburgh visit, and since made classic by Scott's “Waverley” and “Heart of Mid-Lothian, ” scenery long ago very familiar to me.
Within so short a circuit there are no views in the United Kingdom more pleasing and picturesque than those seen from the Queen's Drive :-Edinburgh, Scott's own romantic town, the Firth of Forth, its islands, the Bass Rock, the coast of Fife, and, in the far north-west, the blue Grampians, of which Ben Ledi and Ben Lomond are conspicuous, suggesting visions of sequestered vallies and their streams and lakes, and tales of ancient chivalry and feudal warfare. When our party, including two members of Lord Cowan's family, arrived at the Parliament House, there happened to be a meeting of the Faculty of Advocates, and as we were about to enter one of the rooms of their very valuable and extensive library, we were suddenly stopped by the porter.
Mr. Cowan said, “This gentleman is an Advocate.” The man stared, astonished. “I beg “your pardon, Sir, for really I did na ken ye were ane “othe Faculty.” “Nae wonder, my man, for I havena “been here in Session time for near fifty years.” “And “I was just a wee bit callant then ; but noo that I “ do ken ye are an Advocate, I hope ye will gang into “the meeting, and astonish them.' * Their astonish
ment would not be so great as yours; besides, I have
an appointment immediately to meet two of the “Judges.” “But, just to think o' my ill manners to "you, Sir.” And so I had the happiness to meet the two Judges, and also Mr. Innes, whom we visited the next day at Inverleith House, his beautiful place, near Edinburgh. After our walk in his grounds, he accompanied us some way into the city, and we parted in the hope to meet again at Druid Stoke, the residence of his niece and her husband, Mr. Sykes, in Gloucestershire, my friends and neighbours, and also under my own roof; a conditional promise never to be fulfilled, for before the end of another Autumn, I heard with sorrow of the lamented death of the learned and accomplished Professor; a true gentleman, amiable, kind, courteous, of polished manners and noble mien. *Thus to meet, and so to part, was a bright and pleasant but sadly transient revival of “Auld lang syne.”
On the following Monday my daughter and I dined at Lord Cowan's, to meet Lord Neaves and a third eminent Judge, whose cordial recognition, anticipating our host's introduction, prevented me from immediately knowing whose friendly hand grasped mine; but I soon discovered him to be Lord Ardmillan, the Chairman of the Edinburgh Meeting at the Centenary, who takes his judicial title from his paternal estate in the Land of Burns. On former visits to Edinburgh, since leaving it after twelve year's residence, the Courts and the University having been in vacation, the city seemed deserted, so many of the inhabitants having left it for their country residences, or to keep holiday in various places at home or abroad. And at each successive visit it was more sadly desolate, from the numerous friends of youth that were added to the long roll of the departed. More cheerful, happy, and agreeable recollections are associated with that last visit, probably the
In the valuable lecture by Lord Neaves, LL.D., F.R.S.E., already mentioned, is the following passage :
Burns, as often happens in a country where the
LECTURE BY LORD NEAVES.
“prudence of the people tends rather to late than to
early marriages, had several attachments of the heart “before he was finally united to the excellent woman “who became his wife. To these passages in his life
we owe some of his most beautiful poems, and in particular, those which were prompted by his love for Mary Campbell, and his recollection of her sad fate. “ The feelings thus inspired were so pure and strong as “to have supported his Muse in the unwonted task of “composing in English phrase the verses to ‘Mary in * Heaven,' which are almost the only specimen of his. success when not using the vernacular dialect.”
'In concluding what I have to say as to Burns, I “must now notice a remarkable limitation by which his * powers were circumscribed. He was nearly incapable "of writing good poetry in English, and almost the 'only exceptions to that remark are the lines to High“land Mary, already referred to, and “The Song of "Death.' This is a singular proof of the influence of "language upon thought. As long as Burns employed “his native language or dialect he was all-powerful, and
could use it as the vehicle of humorous, satirical, 'pathetic, or even appalling ideas and sentiments. “But when he betook himself to English, the spell, "generally speaking, was broken ; the mantle of inspi‘ration seemed to drop from his shoulders, and he became nearly as powerless as Samson with his hair
cut. I need not say that this practically operated to “narrow greatly the sphere of his success ; for whatever “may have been the capabilities of the Scottish lan"guage in its palmy days, and however well it may still “be adapted to simple and homely trains of thought and 'feeling, it is certain that the dialect, as it now exists, “is incompetent to do justice to the higher forms of "emotion. A tragedy or an epic in the Scottish dialect “is an impossibility, or even any sustained poem of “ serious or sublime character. I am troubled to think
COULD BURNS WRITE ENGLISH POETRY?
*** how far the reputation of Burns is dependent on the
permanence of the dialect in which he wrote. The vernacular Scotch is daily becoming more of an anti
quarian than a popular form of speech, and the lapse “of less than a century might diminish the number of -“ those that thoroughly understood Burns; and although "" Chaucer is still more than ever admired, notwithstand
“ing his obsolete dialect, it is only by a limited set of "" students that his merits are fully felt. Burns has been “well translated into German, but I doubt if he could · be well transmuted into English.”
This opinion, coming from Lord Neaves, deserves to be carefully and respectfully examined, and it opens a very interesting question.
If Burns, as suggested by his friendly critic, Dr. Moore, had exchanged his native dialect for English the task and the constraint might have checked the flow of composition in which
“ The words come skelpin rank and file
Amaist before I ken."
For that vernacular dialect he had spoken in the cottage, at the plough, in the harvest field, at kirk, and at market, to the men and the maidens of his beloved country. But his genius also took a loftier and a wider range. His superior talent, and continual perusal of the best English authors, especially Shakspere and Milton, soon gave him such mastery of our language that he had a rich and abundant vocabulary for the utterance of noble, bright, and beautiful thoughts; so that he surprised and charmed, by his brilliant and sensible conversation, the learned and the fashionable circles in the Scottish metropolis, then and since famous for science and for literature.
If the der will turn to the poems referred to, it will be seen how far the theory of the inability of Burns to write good poetry in English can be maintained.
In the “Winter Night" the first twenty-four lines are