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URING the last year several friends and
admirers of Burns being interested by subjects referred to in the Address which forms the first Chapter of this Book, suggested its republication from the newspaper report. That request induced me to read the late lamented Robert Chambers' edition, of the “Life and Works of Burns” in four volumes, which is unrivalled for extensive research, chronological arrangement, and for the accuracy and the amount of its information. From its perusal, from various communications addressed to me since the centenary in 1859, and from my own observation during subsequent visits to Scotland, I learned more fully how great and how general is the interest felt by Scotchmen at home and abroad in the poetry of Burns, and in the personal history of himself and his contemporaries.
While in the opinion of the best English writers
he holds a very high rank among British poets, there are comparatively few persons in England by whom his works are read and duly appreciated. It is hoped that this edition will supply what is still wanted by many families and individuals, by public and by private schools, as it contains a numerous selection of the best Poems and Songs of Burns.
The accompanying memorials of the great national poet of Scotland and of some of his contemporaries are not intended to be a complete biography, which Dr. Currie and other able and eminent writers have provided ; but to present a fair and characteristic portrait of that great original genius, sprung from the people and having nature's patent of true manliness and nobility.
Byron gave to Burns a place “in the first-class of his art," and the poet Rogers in his “Table Talk” is reported to have said that “The Cotter's Saturday Night was the finest pastoral in any language.” Other writers according to their view have marked with equal precision his position among the great poets of our country. It may be more satisfactory and agreeable to the reader to form his own estimate of the comparative merits of Burns, aided by a few critical notices of some of those Poets with extracts from their writings, and
these I have endeavoured briefly to give, more especially in the third chapter.
Prefixed to the volume, is a good engraving of Nasmyth's original painting of Burns, kindly lent to me for the purpose by Mr. M'Kie of Kilmarnock. It also contains by the kind permission of Gilbert Burns, Esq., Knockmaroon Lodge, county of Dublin, nephew of the poet, facsimiles of the family register of William Burnes, the father of the poet, and of his own manuscript of the address by King Robert Bruce to his soldiers before the battle of Bannockburn.
During a residence of twenty years of early life in Ayrshire and in Edinburgh, I became well acquainted with places and persons that were the subject of his verse, and from personal recollection and other sources have contributed some biographical notices and anecdotes respecting them.
In the fourth chapter, the loss of many valuable letters from Burns to Robert Aiken is explained ; and by the complete refutation of a grave error and mis-statement of Allan Cunningham, I have been enabled to perform a filial and a public duty.
In the life of the late Rev. Dr. Norman Macleod, just published, it is stated that when at Balmoral in 1866, he read to the Queen some of the
Preface. poems of Burns with which Her Majesty was much pleased. In a speech of Dr. Macleod quoted in the Life, he said that he would rejoice to see an edition of the Poems" from which everything “ should be excluded which a christian father “would not read aloud in his family circle," an opinion with which his friend Dr. Duncan, Professor of Hebrew in the University of Edinburgh, cordially agreed. The present edition of the Poems and Songs of Burns is of that character.
P. F. AIKEN. WALLCROFT HOUSE, DURDHAM Down,
BRISTOL, MAY, 1876.