« PreviousContinue »
labours. The office, moreover, was one which exposed him to many temptations, and left little of that leisure which he had been able to snatch from the laborious, but more congenial agricultural labours, to devote to the muses. It is sad, indeed, to reflect, that for one in every way so gifted, and who had already given such striking evidence of his powerful genius, no fitter provision could be found by his country than the post of an exiseman, with a salary of £70 a-year. Such an addition to his income as a farmer, small as it was, would have been a valuable assistance to him; but the demands on his time which the requisite duties involved, led to his farm being almost entirely neglected, and at the expiration of three years and a half, Ellisland was finally relinquished.
The remaining incidents of Burns's life are altogether sad and cheerless. Amid many privations, and the difficulties of so uncongenial an occupation, he still found time, both while he held the farm of Ellisland, and after his removal to Dumfries, to write some vigorous poems, as well as many of the beautiful songs which form an enduring national treasure. To this period belongs his inimitable poem of “Tam O'Shanter,” as well as the many contributions to George Thomson's Scottish Melodies, all produced without the slightest thought of reward, and contributed, from pure patriotic feelings, to a collection of the national songs and tunes, then preparing by a stranger. It is a noble trait in the poet's history, that, while in such straitened circumstances that the sufferings
incident to a severe attack of illness were greatly aggravated by pecuniary difficulties, he scornfully rejected the
offer of money for his beautiful lyrical contributions to his country's melodies.
On the 21st of July 1796, in a mean and obscure alley
in the little town of Dumfries, the great Scottish poet, Robert Burns, breathed his last. Poverty had, with only one brief and transient interval, attended him from the cradle to the grave; and though it cannot be overlooked that much of the blame for the failure of one so greatly gifted must lie with himself, yet it must ever be a source of painful reflection, that after having given to his country such marvellous evidences of genius and power, no fitter reward could be found for him than the mean employment of a gauger. Since his death, at the too early age of thirty-eight, tardy justice has been done to him by a liberal provision for his family, as well as by statues, monuments, and other posthumous memorials, by which a nation's penitence for the unwise neglect of its gifted sons is too equently shown. But his works are his true monuments, and his songs have taken a hold on the hearts of his countrymen, such as can scarcely be matched in the enduring influence of any other lyrical poet. Had we nothing to look back to with sadness but the poet's honest struggles with poverty, this were a sufficient recompense.
“ The glory dies not, and the grief is past."
To the influence of the two great, though greatly differing poets here named, may be ascribed much of the Uliar character and tone of feeling which has marked the poetry of the nineteenth century. There are some, however, which were contemporary with them, but whose style was already formed, and their chief works published, before the influence of their commanding genius had been felt; and of whom some notice is requisite here.
JAMES BEATTIE, LL.D.
BORN, 1735; DIED, 1803.
The birth-place of the author of “ The Minstrel," was the Scottish village of Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire, where his father was a small trader and farmer. He was left an orphan at the age of seven, but with the assistance of his elder brother David, he became a student of Marischal College, Aberdeen, at the age of fourteen, and in 1793 took his Master of Arts degree there. While occupying the humble situation of parish-clerk at Fordoun, in the vicinity of his native village, his early poetical effusions attracted the attention of Lord Monboddo, Lord Gardenstown, and other patrons, with whose aid he successively passed through the gradations of Usher in the Grammar School at Aberdeen, Professor of Natural Philosophy in Marischal College, and finally of Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic in the Aberdeen University. In 1770, he published his “Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth," a work which gained him, in addition to the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Oxford, the substantial reward of a pension of £200 a-year from the King, George III. He died in 1803, at the age of sixty-eight.
BORN, 1752; DIED, 1770.
The remarkable boy, who palmed on the world the productions of his own poetical genius as the poems of Rowley, a priest of the 15th century, was born at Bristol, where his father was sexton of Redcliff Church. Having vainly endeavoured to interest Horace Walpole, and other wealthy scholars, in his favour, he proceeded to London, with the hope of obtaining subsistence for himself as a party writer; and there, in a state of despondency, produced by absolute want, he destroyed himself by poison, in 1770, at the early age of eighteen.
REV. GEORGE CRABBE.
BORN, 1754; DIED, 1832.
CRABBE was the son of a collector of salt-duties at Aldboro ugh, Suffolk, by whose aid he received an education, which, though imperfect, enabled him to attempt practising as a surgeon in his native place. Failing in this, he proceeded to London, in a state of extreme poverty, and vainly sought a publisher for his poems. Fortunately he introduced himself to the notice of the celebrated Edmund Burke;
and under his kind and generous aid, he was enabled to enter into holy orders, and to spend the remainder of his life in comparative affluence and comfort. He died at his rectory of Troubridge, Wiltshire, in the 78th year of his age.
BORN, 1770; DIED, 1850. WORDSWORTH, though left an orphan in early life, enjoyed the full advantages of an English University education, and had he chosen to enter the Church, as his friends