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"His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish; a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its effect perhaps from one's knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His features are represented in Mr. Nasmyth's picture: but to me it conveys the idea that they are diminished, as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I should have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school, i. c. none of your modern agriculturists who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the douce gudeman who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large, and of a dark cast, which glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time. His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest presumption. Among the men who were the most learned of their time and country, he expressed himself with perfect firmness, but without the least intrusive forwardness; and when he differed in opinion, he did not hesitate to express it firmly, yet at the same time with modesty. I do not remember any part of his conversation distinctly enough to be quoted; nor did I ever see him again, except in the street, where he did not recognise me, as I could not expect he should. He was much caressed in Edinburgh: but (considering what literary emoluments have been since his day) the efforts made for his relief were extremely trifling.
fear of being thought affected, we could have pardoned in almost any man; but no such indication is to be traced here. In his unexampled situation the young peasant is not a moment perplexed; so many strange lights do not confuse him, do not lead him astray. Nevertheless, we cannot but perceive that this winter did him great and lasting injury. A somewhat clearer knowledge of men's affairs, scarcely of their characters, it did afford him: but a sharper feeling of Fortune's unequal arrangements in their social destiny it also left with him. He had seen the gay and gorgeous arena, in which the powerful are born to play their parts; nay, had himself stood in the midst of it; and he felt more bitterly than ever, that here he was but a looker-on, and had no part or lot in that splendid game. From this time a jealous indignant fear of social degradation takes possession of him; and perverts, so far as aught could pervert, his private contentment, and his feelings towards his richer fellows. It was clear enough to Burns that he had talent enough to make a fortune, or a hundred fortunes, could he but have rightly willed this; it was clear also that he willed something far different, and therefore could not make one. Unhappy it was that he had not power to choose the one, and reject the other; but must halt for ever between two opinions, two objects; making hampered advancement towards either. But so is it with many men: we "long for the merchandise, yet would fain keep the price;" and so stand chaffering with Fate in vexatious altercation, till the Night come, and our fair is over!
The Edinburgh learned of that period were in general more noted for clearness of head than for warmth of heart: with the excep"I remember, on this occasion I mention, I tion of the good old Blacklock, whose help thought Burns's acquaintance with English was too ineffectual, scarcely one among them poetry was rather limited; and also, that hav- seems to have looked at Burns with any ing twenty times the abilities of Allan Ramsay true sympathy, or indeed much otherwise than and of Ferguson, he talked of them with too as at a highly curious thing. By the great, much humility as his models: there was also, he is treated in the customary fashion: doubtless national predilection in his estimate. entertained at their tables, and dismissed: "This is all I can tell you about Burns. I certain modica of pudding and praise are, have only to add, that his dress corresponded from time to time, gladly exchanged for the with his manner. He was like a farmer fascination of his presence; which exchange dressed in his best to dine with the laird. I once effected, the bargain is finished, and each do not speak in malam partem, when I say, I party goes his several way. At the end of this never saw a man in company with his supe- strange season, Burns gloomily sums up his riors in station or information more perfectly gains and losses, and meditates on the chaotic free from either the reality or the affectation of future. In money he is somewhat richer; in embarrassment. I was told, but did not observe fame and the show of happiness, infinitely it, that his address to females was extremely richer; but in the substance of it, as poor as deferential, and always with a turn either to ever. Nay poorer, for his heart is now madthe pathetic or humorous, which engaged their dened still more with the fever of mere worldatention particularly. I have heard the lately Ambition; and through long years the disDuchess of Gordon remark this.-I do not ease will rack him with unprofitable sufferings know any thing I can add to these recollections and weaken his strength for all true and nobler of forty years since."-pp. 112-115. aims.
The conduct of Burns under this dazzling Ilaze of favour; the calm, unaffected, manly manner, in which he not only bore it, but estiinated its value, has justly been regarded as the best proof that could be given of his real vigour and integrity of mind. A little natural vanity, some touches of hypocritical modesty, some glimmerings of affectation, at least some
What Burns was next to do or avoid; how a man so circumstanced was now to guide himself towards his true advantage, might at this point of time have been a question for the wisest: and it was a question which he was left altogether to answer for himself: of his learned or rich patrons it had not struck any individual to turn a thought on this so trivial
matter. Without claiming for Burns the praise | ionable danglers after literature, and, far worse, of perfect sagacity, we must say, that his all manner of convivial Mecænases, hovered Excise and Farm scheme does not seem to us round him in his retreat; and his good as a very unreasonable one; and that we should well as his weak qualities secured them inbe at a loss, even now, to suggest one decided-fluence over him. He was flattered by their ly better. Some of his admirers, indeed, are notice; and his warm social nature made it scandalized at his ever resolving to gauge, and impossible for him to shake them off, and hold would have had him apparently lie still at the on his way apart from them. These men, as pool, till the spirit of Patronage should stir the we believe, were proximately the means of waters, and then heal with one plunge all his his ruin. Not that they meant him any ill; worldly sorrows! We fear such counsellors they only meant themselves a little good; if knew but little of Burns; and did not consider he suffered harm, let him look to it! But they that happiness might in all cases be cheaply wasted his precious time and his precious had by waiting for the fulfilment of golden talent; they disturbed his composure, broke dreams, were it not that in the interim the down his returning habits of temperance and dreamer must die of hunger. It reflects credit assiduous contented exertion. Their pamperon the manliness and sound sense of Burns, ing was baneful to him; their cruelty, which that he felt so early on what ground he was soon followed, was equally baneful. The old standing; and preferred self-help, on the hum- grudge against Fortune's inequality awoke blest scale, to dependence and inaction, though with new bitterness in their neighbourhood, with hope of far more splendid possibilities. and Burns had no retreat but to the "Rock of But even these possibilities were not rejected Independence," which is but an air-castle, after in his scheme: he might expect, if it chanced all, that looks well at a distance, but wil. that he had any friend, to rise, in no long screen no one from real wind and wet. period, into something even like opulence and Flushed with irregular excitement, exasperleisure; while again, if it chanced that he had ated alternately by contempt of others, and no friend, he could still live in security; and contempt of himself, Burns was no longer for the rest, he "did not intend to borrow regaining his peace of mind, but fast losing it honour from any profession." We think then for ever. There was a hollowness at the heart that his plan was honest and well-calculated of his life, for his conscience did not now ap all turned on the execution of it. Doubtless it prove what he was doing. failed; yet not, we believe, from any vice inherent in itself. Nay after all, it was no failure of external means, but of internal that overtook Burns. His was no bankruptcy of the purse, but of the soul; to his last day, he owed no man any thing.
Meanwhile he begins well: with two good and wise actions. His donation to his mother, munificent from a man whose income had lately been seven pounds a-year, was worthy of him, and not more than worthy. Generous also, and worthy of him, was his treatment of the woman whose life's welfare now depended on his pleasure. A friendly observer might have hoped serene days for him: his mind is on the true road to peace with itself: what clearness he still wants will be given as he proceeds; for the best teacher of duties, that still lie dim to us, is the Practice of those we see, and have at hand. Had the "patrons of genins," who could give him nothing, but taken nothing from him, at least nothing more !-the wounds of his heart would have healed, vulgar ambition would have died away. Toil and Frugality would have been welcome, since Virtue dwelt with them, and poetry would have shone through them as of old; and in her clear ethereal light, which was his own by birthright, he might have looked down on his earthly destiny, and all its obstructions, not with patience only, but with love.
But the patrons of genius would not have it so. Picturesque tourists,* all manner of fash
*There is one little sketch by certain "English gentlemen" of this class, which though adopted in Currie's Narrative, and since then repeated in most others, we have all along felt an invincible disposition to regard as imaginary: On a rock that projected into the stream they saw a man employed in angling, of a singular appearance. He had a cap made of fox-skin on his head, a loose great-coat fixed round him by a belt, from which
Amid the vapours of unwise enjoyment, of bootless remorse, and angry discontent with Fate, his true loadstar, a life of Poetry, with Poverty, nay, with Famine if it must be so, was too often altogether hidden from his eyes. And yet he sailed a sea, where, without some such guide, there was no right steering. Meteors of French Politics rise before him, but these were not his stars. An accident this, which hastened, but did not originate, his worst distresses. In the mad contentions of that time, he comes in collision with certain official Superiors; is wounded by them; cruelly lacerated, we should say, could a dead mechanical implement, in any case, be called cruel: and shrinks, in indignant pain, into deeper self-seclusion, into gloomier moodiness than ever. His life has now lost its unity: it is a life of fragments; led with little aim, beyond the melancholy one of securing its own continuance,-in fits of wild false joy, when such offered, and of black despondency when they passed away. His character before the world begins to suffer: calumny is busy with him; for a miserable man makes more enemies than friends. Some faults he has fallen into, and a thousand misfortunes; but deep criminality is what he stands accused of, and they that are not without sin, cast the first stone at him! For is he not a well-wisher of the French Revolution, a Jacobin, and there
depended an enormous Highland broad-sword. It was Burns." Now, we rather think, it was not Burns. For to say nothing of the fox-skin cap, loose and quite Hibernian watch-coat with the belt, what are we to make of this "enormous Highland broad-sword" depending from him? More especially, as there is no word of parish constables on the ou look to see whether, as Dennis phrases it, he had an eye to his own midriff, or that of the public! Burns, of all men, had the least tendency, to seek for distinction, either in his own eyes. or those of others, by such poor mummeries
fore in that one act guilty of all? These accusations, political and moral, it has since appeared, were false enough: but the world hesitated little to credit them. Nay, his convivial Mecænases themselves were not the last to do it. There is reason to believe that, in his later years, the Dumfries Aristocracy had partly withdrawn themselves from Burns, as from a tainted person, no longer worthy of their acquaintance. That painful class, stationed, in all provincial cities, behind the outmost breastwork of Gentility, there to stand siege and do battle against the intrusion of Grocerdom, and Grazierdom, had actually seen dishonour in the society of Burns, and branded him with their veto; had, as we vulgarly say, cut him! We find one passage in this work of Mr. Lockhart's, which will not out of our thoughts: "A gentleman of that country, whose name I have already more than once had occasion to refer to, has often told me that he was seldom more grieved, than when, riding into Dumfries one fine summer evening about this time to attend a country ball, he saw Burns walking alone, on the shady side of the principal street of the town, while the opposite side was gay with successive groups of gentlemen and ladies, all drawn together for the festivities of the night, not one of whom appeared willing to recognise him. The horseman dismounted, and joined Burns, who on his proposing to cross the street said: "Nay, nay, my young friend, that's all over now;" and quoted, after a pause, some verses of Lady Grizzel Baillie's pathetic ballad:
It was not now to be hoped that the genius of Burns would ever reach maturity, or accomplish ought worthy of itself. His spirit was jarred in its melody; not the soft breath of natural feeling, but the rude hand of Fate, was now sweeping over the strings. And yet what harmony was in him, what music even in his discords! How the wild tones had a
charm for the simplest and the wisest; and all men felt and knew that here also was one of the Gifted! "If he entered an inn at midnight, after all the inmates were in bed, the news of his arrival circulated from the cellar to the garret; and ere ten minutes had elapsed, the landlord and all his guests were assembled!" Some brief, pure moments of poetic life were yet appointed him, in the composition of his Songs. We can understand how he grasped at this employment; and how, too, he spurned at all other reward for it but what the labour itself brought him. For the soul of Burns, though scathed and marred, was yet living in its full moral strength, though sharply conscious of its errors and abasement: and here, in his destitution and degradation, was one act of seeming nobleness and self-devotedness left even for him to perform. He felt. too, that with all the "thoughtless follies" that had "laid him low," the world was unjust and cruel to him; and he silently appealed to another and calmer time. Not as a hired soldier, but as a patriot, would he strive for the glory of his country; so he cast from him the poor sixpence a-day, and served zealously as a volunteer. Let us not grudge him this last luxury of his existence; let him not have appealed to us in vain! The money was not necessary to him; he struggled through without it; long since, these guineas would have been gone, and now the high-mindedness of refusing them will plead for him in all hearts for ever.
We are here arrived at the crisis of Burns's life; for matters had now taken such a shape with him as could not long continue. If improvement was not to be looked for, Nature could only for a limited time maintain this dark and maddening warfare against the world and itself. We are not medically informed whether any continuance of years was, at this period, probable for Burns; whether his death is to be looked on as in some sense an accidental event, or only as the natural consequence of the long series of events that had preceded. The latter seems to be the likelier opinion; and yet it is by no means a certain one. At all events, as we have said, some change could not be very distant. Three gates of deliverance, it seems to us, were open for Burns: clear poetical activity; madness; or death. The first, with longer life, was still possible, though not probable; for physical causes were beginning to be concerned in it: and yet Burns had an iron resolution; could he but have seen and felt, that not only his highest glory, but his first duty, and the true medicine for all his woes, lay here. The second was still less probable; for his mind was ever among the clearest and firmest. So the milder third gate was opened for him: and he passed, not softly, yet speedily, into that still country, where the hail-storms and fireshowers do not reach, and the heaviest-laden way-farer at length lays down his load!
Contemplating this sad end of Burns, and how he sank unaided by any real help, un* Ubi sæva indignatio cor ulterius lacerare nequit.minds have sometimes figured to themselves. cheered by any wise sympathy, generous SWIFT's Epitaph.
with a reproachful sorrow, that much might have been done for him; that by counsel, true affection, and friendly ministrations, he might have been saved to himself and the world. We question whether there is not more tenderness of heart than soundness of judgment in these suggestions. It seems dubious to us whether the richest, wisest, most benevolent individual, could have lent Burns any effectual help. Counsel, which seldom profits any one, he did not need; in his understanding, he knew the right from the wrong, as well perhaps as any man ever did; but the persuasion, which would have availed him, lies not so much in the head, as in the heart, where no argument or expostulation could have assisted much to implant it. As to money again, we do not really believe that this was his essential want; or well see how any private man could, even presupposing Burns's consent, have bestowed on him an independent fortune, with much prospect of decisive advantage. It is a mortifying truth, that two men in any rank of society could hardly be found virtuous enough to give money, and to take it, as a necessary gift, without injury to the moral entireness of one or both. But so stands the fact: Friendship, in the old heroic sense of that term, no longer exists; except in the cases of kindred or other legal affinity; it is in reality no longer expected, or recognised as a virtue among men. A close observer of manners has pronounced "Patronage," that is, pecuniary or other economic furtherance, to be "twice cursed;" cursing him that gives, and him that takes! And thus, in regard to outward matters also, it has become the rule, as in regard to inward it always was and must be the rule, that no one shall look for effectual help to another; but that each shall rest contented with what help he can afford himself. Such, we say, is the principle of modern Honour; naturally enough growing out of that sentiment of Pride, which we inculcate and encourage as the basis of our whole social morality. Many a poet has been poorer than Burns; but no one was ever prouder: we may question, whether, without great precautions, even a pension from Royalty would not have galled and encumbered, more than actually assisted him.
Sull less, therefore, are we disposed to join with another class of Burns's admirers, who accuse the higher ranks among us of having ruined Burns by their selfish neglect of him. We have already stated our doubts whether direct pecuniary help, had it been offered, would have been accepted, or could have proved very effectual. We shall readily admit, however, that much was to be done for Burns; that many a poisoned arrow might have been warded from his bosom; many an entanglement in his path cut asunder by the hand of the powerful; and light and heat shed on him from high places, would have made his humble atmosphere more genial; and the softest heart then breathing might have lived and died with some fewer pangs. Nay, we shall grant further, and for Burns it is granting much, that with all his pride, he would have thanked, even with exaggerated gratitude, any one who had cordially
befriended him: patronage, unless once cursed, needed not to have been twice so. At all events, the poor promotion he desired in his calling might have been granted: it was his own scheme, therefore, likelier than any other to be of service. All this it might have been a luxury, nay, it was a duty, for our nobility to have done. No part of all this, however, did any of them do; or apparently attempt, or wish to do; so much is granted against them. But what then is the amount of their blame? Simply that they were men of the world, and walked by the principles of such men; that they treated Burns, as other nobles and other commoners had done other poets; as the English did Shakspeare; as King Charles and his cavaliers did Butler, as King Philip and his Grandees did Cervantes. Do men gather grapes of thorns? or shall we cut down our thorns for yielding only a fence, and haws? How, indeed, could the "nobility and gentry of his native land" hold out any help to this "Scottish Bard, proud of his name and country?" Were the nobility and gentry so much as able rightly to help themselves? Had they not their game to preserve; their borough interests to strengthen; dinners, therefore, of various kinds to eat and give? Were their means more than adequate to all this business, or less than adequate? Less than adequate in general: few of them in reality were richer than Burns; many of them were poorer; for sometimes they had to wring their supplies, as with thumbscrews, from the hard hand; and, in their need of guineas, to forget their duty of mercy; which Burns was never reduced to do. Let us pity and forgive them. The game they preserved and shot, the dinners they ate and gave, the borough interests they strengthened, the little Babylons they severally builded by the glory of their might, are all melted, or melting back into the primeval Chaos, as man's merely selfish endeavours are fated to do: and here was an action extending, in virtue of its worldly influence, we may say, through all time; in virtue of its moral nature, beyond all time, being immortal as the Spirit of Goodness itself; this action was offered them to do, and light was not given them to do it. Let us pity and forgive them. But, better than pity, let us go and do otherwise. Human suffering did not end with the life of Burns; neither was the solemn mandate, "Love one another, bear one another's bur dens," given to the rich only, but to all men. True, we shall find no Burns to relieve, to assuage by our aid or our pity: but celestial natures, groaning under the fardels of a weary life, we shall still find; and that wretchedness which Fate has rendered voiceless and tuncless, is not the least wretched, but the most.
Still we do not think that the blame of Burns'. failure lies chiefly with the world. The worid. it seems to us, treated him with more, rather than with less kindness, than it usually shows to such men. It has ever, we fear, shown but small favour to its Teachers; hunger and na kedness, perils and reviling, the prison, the cross, the poison-chalice, have, in most times and countries, been the market-place it has offered for Wisdom, the welcome with which it has greeted those who have come to es
lighten and purify it. Homer and Socrates, and the Christian Apostles, belong to old days; but the world's Martyrology was not completed with these. Roger Bacon and Galileo languish in priestly dungeons, Tasso pines in the cell of a mad-house, Camoens dies begging on the streets of Lisbon. So neglected, so "persecuted they the Prophets," not in Judea only, but in all places where men have been. We reckon that every poet of Burns's order is, or should be, a prophet and teacher to his age; that he has no right therefore to expect great kindness from it, but rather is bound to do it great kindness; that Burns, in particular, experienced fully the usual proportion of the world's goodness; and that the blame of his failure, as we have said, lies not chiefly with the world.
in him ever sternly demanded its rights, its supremacy; he spent his life in endeavouring to reconcile these two; and lost it, as he must have lost it, without reconciling them here.
Where then does it lie? We are forced to answer: With himself; it is his inward, not his outward misfortunes, that bring him to the dust. Seldom, indeed, is it otherwise; seldom is a life morally wrecked, but the grand cause lies in some internal mal-arrangement, some want less of good fortune than of good guidance. Nature fashions no creature without implanting in it the strength needful for its action and duration; least of all does she so neglect her masterpiece and darling, the poetic soul. Neither can we believe that it is in the power of any external circumstances utterly to ruin the mind of a man; nay, if proper wisdom be given him, even so much as to affect its essential health and beauty. The sternest sum-total of all worldly misfortunes is Death; nothing more can lie in the cup of human wo: yet many men, in all ages, have triumphed over Death, and led it captive; converting its physical vic-snatched any moment from that wild warfare? tory into a moral victory for themselves, into a And what then had these men, which Burns seal, and immortal consecration for all that wanted? Two things; both which, it seems their past life had achieved. What has been to us, are indispensable for such men. They done, may be done again; nay, it is but the had a true, religious principle of morals; and degree and not the kind of such heroism that a single not a double aim in their activity. differs in different seasons; for without some They were not self-seekers and self-worshipportion of this spirit, not of boisterous daring, pers: but seekers and worshippers of some but of silent fearlessness, of Self-denial, in all thing far better than Self. Not personal its forms, no good man, in any scene or time, enjoyment was their object; but a high, heroic has ever attained to be good. idea of Religion, of Patriotism, of heavenly Wisdom in one or the other form, ever hovered before them; in which cause, they neither shrunk from suffering, nor called on the earth to witness it as something wonderful; but patiently endured, counting it blessedness enough so to spend and be spent. Thus the
Burns was born poor; and born also to continue poor, for he would not endeavour to be otherwise: this it had been well could he have once for all admitted, and considered as finally settled. He was poor, truly; but hundreds even of his own class and order of minds have been poorer, yet have suffered nothing deadly from it: nay, his own Father had a far sorer battle with ungrateful destiny than his was; and he did not yield to it, but died courageously warring, and to all moral intents prevailing, against it. True, Burns had little means, had even little time for poetry, his only real pursuit and vocation; but so much the more precious was what little he had. In all these external respects his case was hard; but very far from the hardest. Poverty, incessant drudgery, and much worse evils, it has often been the lot of Poets and wise men to strive with, and their glory to conquer. Locke was banished as a traitor; and wrote his Essay on the Human Understanding, sheltering himself in a Dutch garret. Was Milton rich or at his ease, when he composed Paradise Lost? Not only low, but fallen from a height; not only poor but impoverished; in darkness and with dangers compassed round, he sang his immortal song. and found fit audience, though few. Did not Cervantes finish his work, a maimed soldier, and in prison? Nay, was not the Araucana, which Spain acknowledges as its Epic, written without even the aid of paper; on scraps of leather, as the stout fighter and voyager
We have already stated the error of Burns; and mourned over it, rather than blamed it. It was the want of unity in his purposes, of consistency in his aims; the hapless attempt to mingle in friendly union the common spirit of the world with the spirit of poetry, which is of a far different and altogether irreconcilable"golden-calf of Self-love," however curiously nature. Burns was nothing wholly; and Burns carved, was not their Deity; but the Invisible could be nothing, no man formed as he was Goodness, which alone is man's reasonable can be any thing, by halves. The heart, not service. This feeling was as a celestial founof a mere hot-blooded, popular verse-monger, tain, whose streams refreshed into gladness or poetical Restaurateur, but of a true Poet and and beauty all the provinces of their otherwise Singer, worthy of the old religious heroic times, too desolate existence. In a word, they willed had been given him and he fell in an age, not one thing, to which all other things were subof heroism and religion, but of skepticism, sel- ordinated, and made subservient; and therefore fishness, and triviality when true Nobleness they accomplished it. The wedge will rend was little understood, and its place supplied by rocks; but its edge must be sharp and single: a hollow, dissocial, altogether barren and un- if it be double, the wedge is bruised in pieces fruitful principle of Pride. The influences of and will rend nothing. that age, his open, kind, susceptible nature, to say nothing of his highly untoward situation, made it more than usually difficult for him to repel or resist; the better spirit that was with
Part of this superiority these men owed to their age; in which heroism and devotedness were still practised, or at least not yet disbelieved in: but much of it likewise they