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His story of Rasselas was written to defray the expenses of his mother's funeral.
His edition of Shakespeare did not contribute to his fame.
The literary works of Burke are A Vindication of Natural Society, An Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, Reflections on the French Revolution, and numerous speeches.
The Letters of Junius were written to the king and the ministry. Their authorship was unknown.
Sir Philip Francis was the probable author.
Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England was published in 1765.
THE NEW ERA-A RETURN TO NATURE.
THE AGE OF BURNS AND COWPER.
HE eighteenth century may be divided into three distinct
periods--that of Pope, of Johnson, and that of Burns. In the age just ended there was a perceptible dawning of natural vigor, but it was reserved for the next era to show the complete return to nature in the spontaneous outpouring of song. It was reserved for Robert Burns, the “Ayrshire plowman," to break through the hardened soil, impoverished with the sameness of successive crops. Dryden had sowed rhymed couplets and transplanted the classics into British soil. Pope had reaped Dryden's crops and sowed the seeds he had gathered, never varying the rotation, and the product was still rhymed couplets and classic imitations. In the next age Gray tried to engraft into poetry the withered classic branch that Pope bequeathed him, but it would not prosper. Collins, Thomson, and Goldsmith planted some fresh seeds and left the soil of English poesy greener; but the influence of Pope's roller was still keeping the perfect level of the smooth-shaven lawn, and nothing less than a plowshare could break up the hard, unyielding soil, and call back the daisy to the field, the wild birds to their long-deserted woodlands.
ROBERT BURNS. This singer had no need to go to ancient Grecce or Rome for inspiration. Close at hand he found it. Every flower, every
dumb animal around, furnished him a theme. Happy for this plowman, and for the world of poetry, if all of his inspirations had been as innocent as these. Like his great prototype, Chaucer, he was truest to himself and nature when alone with her in open fields, with the pure, fresh air of heaven around him.
Near the banks of “bonny Doon" stands the little claybuilt cottage in which ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796) was born. Close by are the ruins of "Alloway's auld haunted kirk,” and two miles to the north is the town of Ayr. Perhaps no better description of Burns's home could be given than that which he himself has left us in the Cotter's Saturday Night, when
" With joy unfeign'd brothers and sisters meet,
An' each for other's weelfare kindly spiers;'
Each tells the uncos ? that he sees or hears.
Anticipation forward points the view.
Gars: auld claes look amaist as weel's the new;
The father mixes a' wi' admonition due." William Burns, the poet's father, was a man of sterling qualities, ennobling poverty and hardship, and exemplifying his son's brave words,
“The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.” To educate his young family was his one ambition. His own education was superior to that of most farmers in his condition, and to him all the family turned for guidance and instruction. In that humble, clay-walled cottage were to be found, not only all the school-books common at that time, and the familiar traditions of Scotland's heroes, but the plays of Shakespeare, the sermons of Jeremy Taylor, Locke on the Human Understanding, Boyle's lectures, Pope's complete works, and last, but not least, the works of Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson.* On one
From the reading of these two Scotch poets Burns ascribed the waking of his own muse. "These," said he, "I pored over driving my cart or walking to labor, song by song, verse by verse, carefully noting the true, 'tender or sublime, from affectation and fustian." 1 inquires. a strange things.
occasion, “some one entering the house at meal-time found the whole family seated each with a spoon in one hand and a book in the other."
The thrifty mother had a mind stored with old songs and traditions, which she repeated by the “clean hearthstane," lending cheer to many a winter's night. Like her husband, she was of a deeply religious nature. Robert was the eldest of seven children. Of all these the second brother, Gilbert, seems to have been to the poet the most companionable. * Together they studied their early lessons; together they tilled the unyielding soil. From his eighteenth to his twenty-fifth year Robert Burns labored with his brother as a farm hand, receiving from his father seven pounds a year for his services. His days were full of drudgery; but as soon as the evening came and the farm work was ended, he bade farewell to toil and care, and gave himself up to pleasure-either to penning the verses he had composed while at his farm work, or to the social circle, not always the best.
Poetry was Burns's highest enjoyment; but it was not with him a sacred art. He loved it as he loved all things that added to his enjoyment. If he had known of his ultimate triumphs, he might possibly have resisted evil.
Finally, discouraged with repeated failures in farming, he was about starting for the West Indies, when a letter from Dr. Blacklock, of Edinburgh, changed the whole current of his existence. The poet had published a volume of poems for the purpose of defraying his expenses to the West Indies, and these meeting the appreciative eye of Dr. Blacklock convinced that gentleman of the rare genius of their author.
“ IIis opinion,” says Burns, “that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition of my poems, fired me so much that away I posted for that city without a single acquaintance or a single letter of introduction."
The whole winter of 1786–87 in Edinburgh was to Burns a
**Gilbert used to recall with delight the days when they had to go with one or two companions to cut peat for winter fuel, because Robert was sure to enliven their toil with a rattling fire of witty remarks on men and things, mingled with the expressions of a genial, glowing heart, perfectly free from the taint which he afterwards acquired by contact with the world.”
succession of brilliant pageantries, with himself the central figure. He was lionized and fêted by the élite, and substantial proof of genuine appreciation was given by liberal subscriptions for a new edition of his poems. The capital of Scotland was at that time the great seat of learning. Dr. Robertson, the historian, was the head of the university, Dugald Stewart was professor of moral philosophy, and Dr. Hugh Blair, who occupied the chair of belles-lettres, was then delivering his celebrated lectures on rhetoric. Adam Smith, though not connected with the university, was in the city at that time, so likewise was the novelist, Henry Mackenzie.
At this time Burns had composed The Cotter's Saturday Night, The Tha Dogs, Address to the Deil, The Mountain Daisy, To a Mouse, and many of his descriptive poems, while innumerable rhymed epistles flowed from his pen. His prose letters are as remarkable for their stiffness as his rhymed ones for their ease and fluency. In his prose his thoughts, even, seem constrained, and move as if in straight-jackets ! But he says:
"Leeze me on rhyme! it's aye a treasure,
The Muse, poor hizzie!
She's seldom lazy.” And it was only in his native Scotch dialect that his Muse could revel.
With his wife, Jean,* he removed to a new farm at Ellisland, and, for a time, was a happier, better man than he had been since he and his brother used to cut peat together in the bog. But the farm which he had bought was poor; his crops failed, as they always had failed, and, fearing the wolf at his door, he sought employment as an exciseman, and removed to Dumfries. This was the last step towards a downward career.
While at Ellisland he composed Tam o' Shanter, To Mary in Heaven, Bonny Doon, and a few short poems. "Autumn," he
After making love and writing songs to a score of lasses, he at length married Jean Armour. To posterity he has left one sacred image--that of "Highland Mary." Death sanctified her in the poet's memory and in ours.