Page images
PDF
EPUB

QUESTIONABLE REVELATIONS

- VALUABLE NOTICES,

171

being suffocated with smoke. I do not find my farm that pennyworth I was taught to expect; but I believe, in time, it may be a saving bargain. You will be pleased to hear that I have laid aside idle éclat, and bind every day after my reapers.

To save me from that horrid situation of at any time going down, in a losing bargain of a farm, to misery, I have taken my excise instructions, and have my commission in my pocket for any emergency of fortune! If I could set all before your view, whatever disrespect you, in common with the world, have for this business, I know you would approve

of
my

idea." vol. v. p. 74, 75. We may add the following for the sake of connection.

“I know not how the word exciseman, or still more opprobrious, gauger, will sound in your ears. I too have seen the day when my auditory nerves would have felt very delicately on this subject; but a wife and children are things which have a wonderful power in blunting these kind of sensations. Fifty pounds a year for life, and a provision for widows and orphans, you will allow is no bad settlement for a poet. For the ignominy of the profession, I have the encouragement which I once heard a recruiting sergeant give to a numerous, if not a respectable audience, in the streets of Kilmarnock — Gentlemen, for your further and better encouragement, I can assure you that our regiment is the most blackguard corps under the crown, and consequently with us an honest fellow has the surest chance of preferment. vol. v. p. 99, 100.

It would have been as well if Mr. Cromek had left out the history of Mr. Hamilton's dissensions with his parish minister, - Burns's apology to a gentleman with whom he had had a drunken squabble, — and the anecdote of his being used to ask for more liquor, when visiting in the country, under the pretext of fortifying himself against the terrors of a little wood he had to pass through in going home. The most interesting passages, indeed, in this part of the volume, are those for which we are indebted to Mr. Cromek himself. He informs

us, for instance, in a note, One of Burns's remarks, when he first came to Edinburgh, was, that between the Men of rustic life and the polite world he observed little difference — that in the former, though unpolished by fashion, and unenlightened by science, he had found much observation and much intelligence ; – but a refined and accomplished Woman was a being almost new to him, and of which he had formed but a very inadequate

idea."

vol. v.

p. 68, 69.

He adds also, in another place, that “the poet when questioned about his habits of composition, replied, 'All

my poetry is the effect of easy composition, but of

172 BURNS — BLOOMFIELD'S DISCLAMATION OF RIVALRY.

laborious correction.'It is pleasing to know those things — even if they were really as trifling as to a superficial observer they may probably appear. There is a very amiable letter from Mr. Murdoch, the poet's early preceptor, at p. 111.; and a very splendid one from Mr. Bloomfield, at p. 135. As nothing is more rare, among the minor poets, than a candid acknowledgement of their own inferiority, we think Mr. Bloomfield well entitled to have his magnanimity recorded.

“The illustrious soul that has left amongst us the name of Burns, has often been lowered down to a comparison with me; but the comparison exists more in circumstances than in essentials. That man stood up with the stamp of superior intellect on his brow; a visible greatness: and great and patriotic subjects would only have called into action the powers of his mind, which lay inactive while he played calmly and exquisitely the pastoral pipe.

The letters to which I have alluded in my preface to the • Rural Tales,' were friendly warnings, pointed with immediate reference to the fate of that extraordinary man. • Remember Burns,' has been the watchword of my friends. I do remember Burns; but I am not Burns! I have neither his fire to fan, or to quench ; nor his passions to control! Where then is my merit, if I make a peaceful voyage on a smooth sea, and with no mutiny on board ?" - vol. v. p. 135, 136.

The observations on Scottish songs, which fill nearly 150 pages, are, on the whole, minute and trifling; though the exquisite justness of the poet's taste, and his fine relish of simplicity in this species of composition, is no less remarkable here than in his correspondence with Mr. Thomson. Of all other kinds of poetry, he was so indulgent a judge, that he may almost be termed an indiscriminate admirer. We find, too, from these observations, that several songs and pieces of songs, which he printed as genuine antiques, were really of his own composition.

The commonplace book, from which Dr. Currie had formerly selected all that he thought worth publication, is next given entire by Mr. Cromek. We were quite as well, we think, with the extracts; — at all events, there was no need for reprinting what had been given by Dr. Currie; a remark which is equally applicable to the letters of which we had formerly extracts.

Of the additional poems which form the concluding

POETICAL GLEANINGS.

173

part of the volume, we have but little to say. We have little doubt of their authenticity; for, though the editor has omitted, in almost every instance, to specify the source from which they were derived, they certainly bear the stamp of the author's manner and genius. They are not, however, of his purest metal, nor marked with his finest die: several of them have appeared in print already; and the songs are, as usual, the best. This little lamentation of a desolate damsel, is tender

and pretty.

My father put me frae his door,

My friends they hae disown'd me a';
But I hae ane will tak my part,

The bonnie lad that's far awa.
“A pair o'gloves he gave to me,

And silken snoods he gave me twa;
And I will wear them for his sake,

The bonnie lad that's far awa.
The weary winter soon will pass,

And spring will cleed the birken-shaw;
And my sweet babie will be born,
And he'll come hame that's far awa."

vol. v. p. 432, 433. We now reluctantly dismiss this subject. We scarcely hoped, when we began our critical labours, that an opportunity would ever occur of speaking of Burns as we wished to speak of him; and therefore, we feel grateful to Mr. Cromek for giving us this opportunity. As we have no means of knowing, with precision, to what extent his writings are known and admired in the southern part of the kingdom, we have perhaps fallen into the error of quoting passages that are familiar to most of our readers, and dealing out praise which every one of them had previously awarded. We felt it impossible, however, to resist the temptation of transcribing a few of the passages which struck us the most, on turning over the volumes; and reckon with confidence on the gratitude of those to whom they are new, — while we are not without hopes of being forgiven by those who have been used to admire them.

We shall conclude with two general remarks — the

174 A WITNESS TO THE ATTAINMENTS OF OUR PEASANTRY.

one national, the other critical. The first is, that it is impossible to read the productions of Burns, along with his history, without forming a higher idea of the intelligence, taste, and accomplishments of our peasantry, than most of those in the higher ranks are disposed to entertain. Without meaning to deny that he himself was endowed with rare and extraordinary gifts of genius and fancy, it is evident, from the whole details of his history, as well as from the letters of his brother, and the testimony of Mr. Murdoch and others, to the character of his father, that the whole family, and many of their associates, who never emerged from the native obscurity of their condition, possessed talents, and taste, and intelligence, which are little suspected to lurk in those humble retreats. His epistles to brother poets, in the rank of small farmers and shopkeepers in the adjoining villages, — the existence of a book-society and debating-club among persons of that description, and many other incidental traits in his sketches of his youthful companions, — all contribute to show, that not only good sense, and enlightened morality, but literature, and talents for speculation, are far more generally diffused in society than is commonly imagined ; and that the delights and the benefits of those generous and humanizing pursuits, are by no means confined to those whom leisure and affluence have courted to their enjoyment. That much of this is peculiar to Scotland, and may be properly referred to our excellent institutions for parochial education, and to the natural sobriety and prudence of our nation, may certainly be allowed: but we have no doubt that there is a good deal of the same principle in England, and that the actual intelligence of the lower orders will be found, there also, very far to exceed the ordinary estimates of their superiors. It is pleasing to know, that the sources of rational enjoyment are so widely disseminated; and in a free country, it is comfortable to think, that so great a proportion of the people is able to appreciate the advantages of its condition, and fit to be relied on, in all emergencies where steadiness and intelligence may be required.

A PATTERN TO OTHER POETS OF HUMBLE LIFE.

175

Our other remark is of a more limited application ; and is addressed chiefly to the followers and patrons of that new school of poetry, against which we have thought it our duty to neglect no opportunity of testifying. Those gentlemen are outrageous for simplicity; and we beg leave to recommend to them the simplicity of Burns. He has copied the spoken language of passion and affection, with infinitely more fidelity than they have ever done, on all occasions which properly admitted of such adaptation : But he has not rejected the helps of elevated language and habitual associations; nor debased his composition by an affectation of babyish interjections, and all the puling expletives of an old nursery-maid's vocabulary. They may look long enough among his nervous and manly lines, before they find any " Good lacks!” — “Dear hearts !” — or “ As a body may says," in them; or any stuff about dancing daffodils and sister Emmelines. Let them think, with what infinite contempt the powerful mind of Burns would have perused the story of Alice Fell and her duffle cloak, of Andrew Jones and the half-crown, — or of Little Dan without breeches, and his thievish grandfather. Let them contrast their own fantastical personages of hysterical schoolmasters and sententious leechgatherers, with the authentic rustics of Burns's Cotters Saturday Night, and his inimitable songs; and reflect on the different reception which those personifications have met with from the public. Though they will not be reclaimed from their puny affectations by the example of their learned predecessors, they may, perhaps, submit to be admonished by a self-taught and illiterate poet, who drew from Nature far more directly than they can do, and produced something so much liker the admired copies of the masters whom they have abjured.

« PreviousContinue »