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gorous and easily susceptible of knowledge, we shall not now inquire. Conjecture has been but idly employed in calculating what Shakspeare might have produced, had he earned the honours of academic education. Of this we are certain, that men of ardent imaginations, and whose works bear the undoubted stamp of genius, have frequently been found to neglect, if not to despise the opportunities by which general knowledge is diffused throughout a nation, and by which studies are regulated and forms prescribed.
In the case of Burns, however, it does not appear necessary to put our imaginations to the stretch. His works claim no charitable allowance on account of the obscurity of his birth, or the smallness of his acquisitions; they are such as few scholars could have produced, and such as learning could not have materially improved. It has been necessary to relate his personal history, as an object of that curiosity which the admirers of an author cannot repress, and in order to account for his personal failings: but as a poet, he may await the verdict of criticism, without the least necessity of putting in the plea of poverty, or want of literature. In all his works, he discovers his feelings, without betraying his situation. Had they been sent into the world without a name, conjecture would have found no pretence to fix them on a ploughman, or to suppose that they were published merely to raise pity and relief.
By some it has been regretted, that the best performances of our poet are in a language now accounted barbarous, which is never used in serious writing, and which is gradually falling
into disuse, because every man gets rid of it as soon as he can. It has been asked, why he should write only for a part of the island, when he could command the admiration of the whole? In answer, it has been urged, that he wrote for the peasantry of his coun
try, in a language which was to them familiar, and rich in expression. It was likewise for many years the only language he knew so well as to be able to express himself fuently in it; his early thoughts were conveyed in it, and it was endeared to him by the pleasures of memory and association. He wrote it when he had no very extensive ambition, and when he had no suspicion that it would obscure his sentiments, or narrow his fame. Nor, it must be confessed, has he been disappointed in his expectations, if we suppose that they were more enlarged. In England, Ireland, and America, his poems have been read and studied with pleasure and avidity, amidst all the interruptions of glossarial reference. These remarks, however, do not apply to many of his graver poems, which are written in English, and in English which proves that he had cultivated that language with attention and success ; although he did not conceive it to be adapted to such pieces as he intended, perhaps, exclusively for the use of his humble neighbours, and to give classic dignity to his native scenery.
It has already been mentioned, that Burns bad received a religious education, such as is common to the lower classes in Scotland; and it may be ob. served, that many of his sentiments run in a devotional strain, while he frequently, but not always with equal judgment, introduces the language and imagery of the Holy Scriptures in his writings. It is to be lamented, however, that the religious impressions of his youth were neither so strong nor so durable as to afford him consolation amidst the un. toward events of his life. He appears to have been much affected by the bigotry of his neighbours, and has saurized it with peculiar humour; but in this discharge of what he might think. was his duty, he overlooked the mean betwixt superstition and unbelief. In his latter days he felt severely the folly of thus removing from one extrume to another;
and probably lamented the loss of that happier frame of mind in which he wrote the concluding verses of the Cotter's Saturday night. Let us hope, however, that his many and frank acknowledgments of error finally ended in that “repentance which is not to be repented of.” It is but justice to add, that he corrected certain improprieties introduced into his early poems; and it was bis intention to have revised all his works, and made reparation to the individuals he had been supposed to irritate, or to the subjects he had treated with unbecoming levity. “When we reflect,” Mackenzie, “ on his rank in life, the habits to which he must have been subject, and the society in which he must have mixed, we regret, perhaps, more than wunder, that delicacy should be so often offended in perusing a volume in which there is so much to interest and please us."
The character of Burns will still be incomplete, without some notice of his abilities as a prose-writer; for of these we have ample proofs in his familiar correspondence. That his letters were never intended for the public eye, that many of them are mutilated, and that some, perhaps, might have been suppressed, are deductions which do not affect their merit as the effusions of a very uncommon mind, enriched with knowledge far beyond what could have been reasonably expected in his situation. He appears to have cultivated English prose with care, and certainly wrote it with a sprightly fluency. His turns of expression are various and surprising, and, when treating the most common topics, his sentiments are singular and animated. His letters, however, would have attained a higher portion of graceful expression, and would have been more generally pleasing, had they not been too frequently the faithful transcripts of a disappointed mind, gloomily bent on one set of indig: nant and querulous reflections. But with this and VOL XXXVIII.
another exception, which might be made to these letters, from a frequent imitation of the discursive manner of Sterne, they must ever be considered as decided proofs of genius. They contain many admirable specimens of critical acumen, and many flights of humour, and observations on life and manners, which fully justify our belief that, had he cultivated his prose talents only, he might have risen to very high distinction in epistolary or essay writing. In them, likewise, we find many moral sentiments and resolutions, many struggles with his passions, fair hopes of amendment, and philosophic intrepidity, expressed in a style peculiarly original and energetic. Upon the whole, Burns was a man who undoubtedly possessed great abilities with great failings. The former he received from nature, he prized them highly, and he improved them; the latter were exaggerated by circumstances less within his control, and by disappointments which, trusting to the most liberal encouragement ever offered to genius, he could not have foreseen. They have been detailed in this sketch of his life, from motives for which no apology is necessary; to guard ambitious and ardent minds from similar irregularities and wanderings, and to explain why such a man, after the first burst of popular applause was past, lived and died more unhappily than would probably have been the case had he never known what it was to be caressed and admired.
ON THE DEATH OF BURNS,
BY MR. ROSCOE.
Rean high thy bleak majestic hills,
Thy shelter'd valleys proudly spread, And, Scotia, pour thy thousand rills,
And wave thy heaths with blossoms red; But, ah! what poet now shall tread
Thy airy heights, thy woodland reign, Since he the sweetest bard is dead
That ever breath'd the soothing strain ?
As green thy towering pines may grow,
As clear thy streams may speed along, As bright thy summer suns may glow,
And wake again thy feathery throng ; But now, unheeded is the song,
And dull and lifeless all around, For his wild harp lies all unstrung,
And cold the hand that wak'd its sound.
What tho' thy vigorous offspring rise ;
In arts and arms thy sons excel ; Tho' beauty in thy daughters' eyes,
And health in every feature dwell ; Yet who shall now their praises tell,
In strains impassion'd, fond and free, Since he no more the song shall swell
To love, and liberty, and thee !