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wanted all things for completeness: culture, leisure, true effort, nay, even length of life. His poems are, with scarcely any exception, mere occasional effusions, poured forth with little premeditation, expressing, by such means as offered, the passión, opinion, or humour of the hour. Never in one instance was it permitted him to grapple with any subject with the full collection of his strength, to fuse and mould it in the concentrated fire of his genius. To try by the strict rules of Art such imperfect fragments, would be at once unprofitable and unfair. Nevertheless, there is something in these poems, marred and defective as they are, which forbids the most fastidious student of poetry to pass them by. Some sort of enduring quality they must have; for, after fifty years of the wildest vicissitudes in poetic taste, they still continue to be read; nay, are read more and more eagerly, more and more extensively; and this not only by literary virtuosos, and that class upon whom transitory causes operate most strongly, but by all classes, down to the most hard, unlettered, and truly natural class, who read little, and especially no poetry, except because they find pleasure in it. The grounds of so singular and wide a popularity, which extends, in a literal sense, from the palace to the hut, and over all regions where the English tongue is spoken, are well worth inquiring into. After every just deduction, it seems to imply some rare excellence in these works. What is that excellence?
response within us; for in spite of all casual varieties in outward rank, or inward, as face answers to face, so does the heart of man to man.
This may appear a very simple principle, and one which Burns had little merit in discovering. True, the discovery is easy enough: but the practical appliance is not easy; is indeed the fundamental difficulty which all poets have to strive with, and which scarcely one in the hundred ever fairly surmounts. A head too dull to discriminate the true from the false; a heart too dull to love the one at all risks, and to hate the other in spite of all temptations, are alike fatal to a writer. With either, or, as more commonly happens, with both, of these deficiencies, combine a love of distinction, a wish to be original, which is seldom wanting, and we have Affectation, the bane of literature, as Cant, its elder brother, is of morals. How often does the one and the other front us, in poetry, as in life! Great poets themselves are not always free of this vice; nay, it is precisely on a certain sort and degree of greatness that it is most commonly ingrafted. A strong effort after excellence will sometimes solace itself with a mere shadow of success, and he who has much to unfold, will sometimes unfold it imperfectly. Byron, for instance, was no common man: yet if we examine his poetry with this view, we shall find it far enough from faultless. Generally speaking, we should say that it is not true. To answer this question will not lead us far. He refreshes us, not with the divine fountain, The excellence of Burns is, indeed, among the but too often with vulgar strong waters, stimurarest, whether in poetry or prose; but, at thelating indeed to the taste, but soon ending in dissame time, it is plain and easily recognised: like or even nausea. Are his Harolds and his Sincerity, his indisputable air of Truth. Giaours, we would ask, real men, we mean, Here are no fabulous woes or joys; no hollow poetically consistent and conceivable men? Do fantastic sentimentalities; no wiredrawn re-not these characters, does not the character of finings, either in thought or feeling: the pas- their author, which more or less shines through sion that is traced before us has glowed in a them all, rather appear a thing put on for the living heart; the opinion he utters has risen in occasion; no natural or possible mode of his own understanding, and been a light to his being, but something intended to look much own steps. He does not write from hearsay, grander than nature? Surely, all these stormbut from sight and experience; it is the scenes ful agonies, this volcanic heroism, superhuman he has lived and laboured amidst, that he contempt, and moody desperation, with so describes those scenes, rude and humble as much scowling, and teeth-gnashing, and other they are, have kindled beautiful emotions in sulphurous humours, is more like the brawling his soul, noble thoughts, and definite resolves; of a player in some paltry tragedy, which is to and he speaks forth what is in him, not from last three hours, than the bearing of a man in any outward call of vanity or interest, but the business of life, which is to last three-score because his heart is too full to be silent. He and ten years. To our minds, there is a taint speaks it, too, with such melody and modula- of this sort, something which we should cali tion as he can; "in homely rustic jingle;" but theatrical, false, and affected, in every one of it is his own, and genuine. This is the grand these otherwise powerful pieces. Perhaps Don secret for finding readers and retaining them: Juan, especially the latter parts of it, is the let him who would move and convince others, only thing approaching to a sincere work, he be first moved and convinced himself. Horace's ever wrote; the only work where he showed rule, Si vis me flere, is applicable in a wider himself, in any measure, as he was; and sense than the literal one. To every poet, to seemed so intent on his subject, as, for moevery writer, we might say: Be true, if you ments, to forget himself. Yet Byron hated would be believed. Let a man but speak forth this vice; we believe, heartily detested it: nay, with genuine earnestness the thought, the emo- he had declared formal war against it in words tion, the actual condition, of his own heart; So difficult is it even for the strongest to make and other men, so strangely are we all knit this primary attainment, which might seem together by the tie of sympathy, must and the simplest of all: to read its own consciousness , will give heed to him. In culture, in extent without mistakes, without errors involuntary or of view, we may stand above the speaker, or wilful! We recollect no poet of Burns's susbelow him; but in either case, his words, if ceptibility who comes before us from the first, they are earnest and sincere, will find some and abides with us to the last, with such a total
want of affectation. He is an honest man, and | an honest writer. In his successes and his failures, in his greatness and his littleness, he is ever clear, simple, true, and glitters with no lustre but his own. We reckon this to be a great virtue; to be, in fact, the root of most other virtues, literary as well as moral.
and copper-coloured Chiefs in wampum, and so many other truculent figures from the heroic times or the heroic climates, who on all hands swarm in our poetry. Peace be with them! But yet, as a great moralist proposed preaching to the men of this century, so would we fain preach to the poets, "a sermon on the duty of staying at home." Let them be sure that heroic ages and heroic climates can do little for them. That form of life has attraction for us, less because it is better or nobler than our own, than simply because it is different; and even this attraction must be of the most transient sort. For will not our own age, one day, be an ancient one; and have as quaint a costume as the rest; not contrasted with the rest, therefore, but ranked along with them, in respect of quaintness? Does Homer interest us now, because he wrote of what passed out of his native Greece, and two centuries before he was born; or because he wrote of what passed in God's world, and in the heart of man, which is the same after thirty centuries? Let our poets look to this is their feeling really finer, truer, and their vision deeper than that of other men, they have nothing to fear, even from the humblest subject; is it not so, they have nothing to hope, but an ephemeral favour, even from the highest.
It is necessary, however, to mention, that it is to the poetry of Burns that we now allude; to those writings which he had time to meditate, and where no special reason existed to warp his critical feeling, or obstruct his endeavour to fulfil it. Certain of his Letters, and other fractions of prose composition, by no means deserve this praise. Here, doubtless, there is not the same natural truth of style; but on the contrary, something not only stiff, but strained and twisted; a certain high-flown, inflated tone; the stilting emphasis of which contrasts ill with the firmness and rugged simplicity of even his poorest verses. Thus no man, it would appear, is altogether unaffected. Does not Shakspeare himself sometimes premeditate the sheerest bombast! But even with regard to these Letters of Burns, it is but fair to state that he had two excuses. The first was his comparative deficiency in language. Burns, though for most part he writes with singular force, and even gracefulness, is not master of English prose, as he is The poet, we cannot but think, can never of Scottish verse; not master of it, we mean, have far to seek for a subject: the elements in proportion to the depth and vehemence of of his art are in him, and around him on every his matter. These Letters strike us as the hand; for him the Ideal world is not remote effort of a man to express something which from the Actual, but under it and within it: he has no organ fit for expressing. But a nay, he is a poet, precisely because he can second and weightier excuse is to be found in discern it there. Wherever there is a sky the peculiarity of Burns's social rank. His above him, and a world around him, the poet correspondents are often men whose relation is in his place; for here too is man's exist to him he has never accurately ascertained; ence, with its infinite longings and small whom therefore he is either forearming him- acquirings; its ever-thwarted, ever-renewed self against, or else unconsciously flattering, endeavours; its unspeakable aspirations, its by adopting the style he thinks will please fears and hopes that wander through Eternity: them. At all events, we should remember that and all the mystery of brightness and of gloom these faults, even in his Letters, are not the that it was ever made of, in any age or clirule, but the exception. Whenever he writes, mate, since man first began to live. Is there as one would ever wish to do, to trusted friends not the fifth act of a Tragedy in every deathand on real interests, his style becomes simple, bed, though it were a peasant's and a bed of vigorous, expressive, sometimes even beauti-heath? And are wooings and weddings obful. His Letters to Mrs. Dunlop are uniform-solete, that there can be Comedy no longer? ly excellent. Or are men suddenly grown wise, that Laughter must no longer shake his sides, but be cheated of his Farce? Man's life and nature is, as it was, and as it will ever be. But the poet must have an eye to read these things, and a heart to understand them; or they come and pass away before him in vain. He is a vates, a seer; a gift of vision has been given him. Has life no meanings for him, which another cannot equally decipher? then he is no poet, and Delphi itself will not make him one. In this respect, Burns, though not perhaps absolutely a great poet, better manifests his capability, better proves the truth of his genius, than if he had, by his own strength, kept the whole Minerva Press going, to the end of his literary course. He shows himself at least a poet of Nature's own making; and Nature, after all, is still the grand agent in making poets. We often hear of this and the other external condition being requisite for the ex istence of a poet. Sometimes it is a certain
But we return to his poetry. In addition to its sincerity, it has another peculiar merit, which indeed is but a mode, or perhaps a means, of the foregoing. It displays itself in his choice of subjects, or rather in his indifference as to subjects, and the power he has of making all subjects interesting. The ordinary poet, like the ordinary man, is for ever seeking, in external circumstances, the help which can be found only in himself. In what is familiar and near at hand, he discerns no form or comeliness: home is not poetical but prosaic; it is in some past, distant, conventional world, that poetry sides for him; were he there and not here, were he thus and not so, it would be well with him. Hence our innumerable host of rose-coloured novels and iron-mailed epics, with their locality not on the Earth, but somewhere nearer to the Moon. Hence our Virgins of the Sun, and our Knights of the Cross, malicious Saracens in turbans.
sort of training; he must have studied certain his poetry; it is redolent of natural life, and things, studied for instance "the elder dra-hardy, natural men. There is a decisive matists," and so learned a poetic language; strength in him; and yet a sweet native as if poetry lay in the tongue, not in the heart. gracefulness: he is tender, and he is veheAt other times we are told, he must be bred in ment, yet without constraint or too visible efa certain rank, and must be on a confidential fort; he melts the heart, or inflames it, with a footing with the higher classes; because, power which. seems habitual and familiar to above all other things, he must see the world. him. We see in him the gentleness, the tremAs to seeing the world, we apprehend this bling pity of a woman, with the deep earnest will cause him little difficulty, if he have but ness, the force and passionate ardour of a an eye to see it with. Without eyes, indeed, hero. Tears lie in him, and consuming fire; the task might be hard. But happily every as lightning lurks in the drops of the summer poet is born in the world, and sees it, with or cloud. He has a resonance in his bosom for against his will, every day and every hour he every note of human feeling: the high and the lives. The mysterious workmanship of man's low, the sad, the ludicrous, the joyful, are wel heart, the true light and the inscrutable dark- come in their turns to his "lightly-moved and ness of man's destiny, reveal themselves not all-conceiving spirit." And observe with what only in capital cities, and crowded saloons, a prompt and eager force he grasps his subject, but in every hut and hamlet where men have be it what it may! How he fixes, as it were, their abode. Nay, do not the elements of all the full image of the matter in his eye; full human virtues, and all human vices; the and clear in every lineament; and catches the passions at once of a Borgia and of a Luther, real type and essence of it, amid a thousand lie written, in stronger or fainter lines, in the accidents and superficial circumstances, no consciousness of every individual bosom, that one of which misleads him! Is it of reason; has practised honest self-examination? Truly, some truth to be discovered? No sophistry, no this same world may be seen in Mossgiel and vain surface-logic detains him; quick, resoTarbolton, if we look well, as clearly as it lute, unerring, he pierces through into the ever came to light in Crockford's, or the marrow of the question; and speaks his verTuileries itself. dict with an emphasis that cannot be forgotten. Is it of description; some visual object to be represented? No poet of any age or nation is more graphic than Burns: the characteristic features disclose themselves to him at a glance; three lines from his hand, and we have a likeness. And, in that rough dialect, in that rude, often awkward, metre, so clear, and definite a likeness! It seems a draughtsman working with a burnt stick ; and yet the burin of a Retzsch is not more expressive or exact.
But sometimes still harder requisitions are laid on the poor aspirant to poetry; for it is hinted that he should have been born two centuries ago; inasmuch as poetry, soon after that date, vanished from the earth, and became no longer attainable by men ! Such cobweb speculations have, now and then, overhung the field of literature; but they obstruct not the growth of any plant there: the Shakspeare or the Burns, unconsciously, and merely as he walks onward, silently brushes them away. Is not every genius an impossibility till he ap- This clearness of sight we may call the pear? Why do we call him new and original, foundation of all talent; for in fact, unless we if we saw where his marble was lying, and see our object, how shall we know how to place what fabric he could rear from it? It is not or prize it, in our understanding, our imagi the material but the workman that is wanting. nation, our affections? Yet it is not in itself It is not the dark place that hinders, but the perhaps a very high excellence; but capable dim eye. A Scottish peasant's life was the of being united indifferently with the strongmeanest and rudest of all lives, till Burns be- est, or with ordinary powers. Homer surcame a poet in it, and a poet of it; found it passes all men in this quality: but strangely a man's life, and therefore significant to men. enough, at no great distance below him are A thousand battle-fields remain unsung; but Richardson and Defoe. It belongs, in truth, the Wounded Hare has not perished without its to what is called a lively mind: and gives no memorial; a balm of mercy yet breathes on sure indication of the higher endowments that us from its dumb agonies, because a poet was may exist along with it. In all the three cases there. Our Halloween had passed and repassed, we have mentioned, it is combined with great in rude awe and laughter, since the era of the garrulity; their descriptions are detailed, amDruids; but no Theocritus, till Burns, dis-ple, and lovingly exact; Homer's fire bursts cerned in it the materials of a Scottish Idyl: through, from time to time, as if by accident; neither was the Holy Fair any Council of Trent, but Defoe and Richardson have no fire. or Roman Jubilee; but nevertheless, Supersti- Burns, again, is not more distinguished by tion, and Hypocrisy, and Fun having been pro- the clearness than by the impetuous force of pitious to him, in this man's hand it became a his conceptions. Of the strength, the piercing poem, instinct with satire, and genuine comic emphasis with which he thought, his emphalife. Let but the true poet be given us, we sis of expression may give an humble but the repeat it, place him where and how you will, readiest proof. Who ever uttered sharper and true poetry will not be wanting. sayings than his; words more memorable, now by their burning vehemence, now by their cool vigour and laconic pith? A single phrase depicts a whole subject, a whole scene. Our Scottish forefathers in the battle-field struggled forward, he says, "red-wat shod:" giving, in
Independently of the essential gift of poetic feeling, as we have now attempted to describe it, a certain rugged sterling worth pervades whatever Burns has written: a virtue, as of green fields and mountain breezes, dwells in
this one word, a full vision of horror and carnage, perhaps too frightfully accurate for Art!
In fact, one of the leading features in the mind of Burns is this vigour of his strictly intellectual perceptions. A resolute force is ever visible in his judgments, as in his feelings and volitions. Professor Stewart says of him, with some surprise: "All the faculties of Burns's mind were, as far as I could judge, equally vigorous; and his predilection for poetry was rather the result of his own enthusiastic and impassioned temper, than of a genius exclusively adapted to that species of composition. From his conversation I should have pronounced him to be fitted to excel in whatever walk of ambition he had chosen to exert his abilities." But this, if we mistake not, is at all times the very essence of a truly poetical endowment. Poetry, except in such cases as that of Keats, where the whole consists in extreme sensibility, and a certain vague pervading tunefulness of nature, is no separate faculty, no organ which can be superadded to the rest, or disjoined from them; but rather the result of their general harmony and completion. The feelings, the gifts, that exist in the Poet, are those that exist, with more or less development, in every human soul: the imagination, which shudders at the Hell of Dante, is the same faculty, weaker in degree, which called that picture into being. How does the poet speak to all men, with power, but by being still more a man than they? Shakspeare, it has been well observed, in the planning and completing of his tragedies, has shown an Understanding, were it nothing more, which might have governed states, or indited a Novum Organum. What Burns's force of understanding may have been, we have less means of judging: for it dwelt among the humblest objects, never saw philosophy, and never rose, except for short intervals, into the region of great ideas. Nevertheless, sufficient indication remains for us in his works: we discern the brawny movements of a gigantic though untutored strength, and can understand how, in conversation, his quick, sure insight into men and things may, as much as aught else about him, have amazed the best thinkers of his time and country.
"We know nothing," thus writes he, "or next to nothing, of the structure of our souls, so we cannot account for those seeming caprices in them, that one should be particularly pleased with this thing, or struck with that, which, on minds of a different cast, makes no extraordinary impression. I have some favourite flowers in spring, among which are the mountain-daisy, the hare-bell, the fox-glove, the wild-brier rose, the budding birch, and the hoary hawthorn, that I view and hang over with particular delight. I never hear the loud solitary whistle of the curlew in a summer noon, or the wild mixing cadence of a troop of gray plover in an autumnal morning, without feeling an elevation of soul like the enthusiasm of devotion or poetry. Tell me, my dear friend, to what can this be owing? Are we a piece of machinery, which, like the Eolian harp, passive, takes the impression of the passing accident; or do these workings argue something within us above the trodden clod? I own myself partial to such proofs of those awful and important realities: a God that made all things, man's immaterial and immortal nature, and a world of weal or wo beyond death and the grave."
Force and fineness of understanding are often spoken of as something different from general force and fineness of nature, as something partly independent of them. The necessities of language probably require this; but in truth these qualities are not distinct and independent: except in special cases, and from special causes, they ever go together. A man of strong understanding is generally a man of strong character; neither is delicacy in the one kind often divided from delicacy in the other. No one, at all events, is ignorant that in the poetry of Burns, keenness of insight keeps pace with keenness of feeling; that his light is not more pervading than his warmth. He is a man of the most impassioned temper; with passions not strong only, but noble, and of the sort in which great virtues and great poems take their rise. It is reverence, it is Love towards all Nature that inspires him, that opens his eyes to its beauty, and makes heart and voice eloquent in its praise. There is a true old saying, that "love furthers knowledge:" but above all, it is the living essence of that knowledge which makes poets; the first principle of its existence, increase, activity. Of Burns's fervid affection, his generous, allembracing Love, we have spoken already, as of the grand distinction of his nature, seen equally in word and deed, in his Life and in his Writings. It were easy to multiply examples. Not man only, but all that environs man in the material and moral universe, is lovely in his sight: "the hoary hawthorn," the "troop of gray plover," the "solitary curlew." are all dear to him; all live in this Earth along with him, and to all he is knit as in mysterious brotherhood. How touching is it, for instance, that, amidst the gloom of personal misery, brooding over the wintry desolation without him and within him, he thinks of the "ourie cattle" and "silly sheep," and their sufferings in the pitiless storm!
But, unless we mistake, the intellectual gift of Burns is fine as well as strong. The more delicate relations of things could not well have escaped his eye, for they were intimately present to his heart. The logic of the senate and the forum is indispensable, but not all-sufficient; nay, perhaps the highest Truth is that which will the most certainly elude it. For this logic works by words, and "the highest," it has been said, "cannot be expressed in words." We are not without tokens of an openness for this higher truth also, of a keen though uncultivated sense for it, having existed in Burns. Mr. Stewart, it will be remembered, "wonders," in the passage above quoted, that Burns had formed some distinct conception of the "doctrine of association." We rather think that far subtiler things than the doctrine of association had from of old been familiar to him. Here for instance:
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
Ilk happing bird, wee helpless thing,
The tenant of the mean hut, with its "ragged roof and chinky wall," has a heart to pity even these! This is worth several homilies on Mercy for it is the voice of Mercy herself. Burns, indeed, lives in sympathy; his soul rushes forth into all realms of being; nothing that has existence can be indifferent to him. The very Devil he cannot hate with right thodoxy!
But fare you weel, auld Nickie-ben;
and the ethereal soul sunk not, even in its blindness, without a cry which has survived it. But who, except Burns, could have given words to such a soul; words that we never listen to without a strange half-barbarous, halfpoetic fellow-feeling?
Under a lighter and thinner disguise, the same principle of Love, which we have recognised as the great characteristic of Burns, and of all true poets, occasionally manifests itself in the shape of Humour. Everywhere, indeed, in his sunny moods, a full buoyant flood of mirth rolls through the mind of Burns; he rises to the high, and stoops to the low, and or-is brother and playmate to all Nature. We
speak not of his bold and often irresistible faculty of caricature; for this is Drollery rather than Humour: but a much tenderer sportfulness dwells in him; and comes forth here and there, in evanescent and beautiful touches; as in his Address to the Mouse, or the Farmer's Mare, or in his Elegy on Poor Mailie, which last may be reckoned his happiest effort of this kind. In these pieces, there are traits of a Humour as fine as that of Sterne; yet altogether different, original, peculiar,—the Humour of Burns.
Of the tenderness, the playful pathos, and many other kindred qualities of Burns's poetry, much more might be said; but now, with these poor outlines of a sketch, we must prepare to quit this part of our subject. To speak of his individual writings, adequately, and with any detail, would lead us far beyond our limits. As already hinted, we can look on but few of these pieces as, in strict critical language, deserving the name of Poems; they are rhymed eloquence, rhymed pathos, rhymed sense; yet seldom essentially melodious, aerial, poetical. Tam o' Shanter itself, which enjoys so high a favour, does not appear to us, at all decisively, to come under this last category. It is not so much a poem, as a piece of sparkling rhetoric; the heart and body of the story still lies hard and dead. He has not gone back, much less carried us back, into that dark, earnest wondering age, when the tradition was believed, and when it took its rise; he does not attempt, by any new modelling of his supernatural ware, to strike anew that deep mysterious chord of human nature, which once responded to such things; and which lives in us too, and will for ever live, though silent, or vibrating with far other notes, and to far different issues. Our German readers will understand us, when we say, that he is not the Tieck but the Musaus of this tale. Externally it is all green and living; yet look closer, it is no firm growth, but only ivy on a rock. The piece does not properly cohere; the strange chasm which yawns in our incredulous imaginations be tween the Ayr public-house and the gate of Tophet, is nowhere bridged over, nay, the idea of such a bridge is laughed at; and thus the Tragedy of the adventure becomes a mere drunken phantasmagoria, painted on ale. vaporus, and the farce alone has any reality
He did not know, probably, that Sterne had been beforehand with him. "He is the father of curses and lies,' said Dr. Slop; and is cursed and damned already. I am sorry for it,' quoth my uncle Toby!"-"A poet without Love, were a physical and metaphsyical impossibility."
Why should we speak of Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled; since all know it, from the king to the meanest of his subjects? This dithyrambic was composed on horseback; in riding in the middle of tempests, over the wildest Galloway moor, in company with a Mr. Syme, who, observing the poet's looks, forebore to speak, judiciously enough,—for a man composing Bruce's Address might be unsafe to trifle with Doubtless this stern hymn was singing itself, as he formed it, through the soul of Burns; but to the external ear, it should be sung with the throat of the whirlwind. So long as there is warm blood in the heart of Scotchman or man, it will move in fierce thrills under this war-ode, the best, we believe, that was ever written by any pen.
Another wild stormful song, that dwells in our ear and mind with a strange tenacity, is Macpherson's Farewell. Perhaps there is something in the tradition itself that co-operates. For was not this grim Celt, this shaggy Northland Cacus, that "lived a life of sturt and strife, and died by treacherie," was not he too one of the Nimrods and Napoleons of the earth, in the arena of his own remote misty glens, for want of a clearer and wider one? Nay, was there not a touch of grace given him? A fibre of love and softness, of poetry itself, must have lived in his savage heart; for he composed nat air the night before his execution; on the wings of that poor melody, his better soul would soar away above oblivion, pain, and all the ignominy and despair, which, like an avaanche, was hurling him to the abyss! Here also, as at Thebes, and in Pelops' line, was material Fate matched against man's Freewil!; matched in bitterest though obscure duel;
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a spring, and danced it round,