Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by
DAVID HILL RADCLIFFE

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities


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Literary Chronicle
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Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
Front-matter
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Front-matter
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson
Index
Corrections

Part  I:
ROBERT BURNS
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.157
ROBERT BURNS.

1

Scotland owns no name of which it has greater reason to be proud than that of Robert Burns. [note] He had no pretensions, by birth, beyond that of being the son of a poor, but honest, man. His father, William Burns, or rather Burnes, was a native of the north of Scotland, and the son of a farmer; but was thrown, by early misfortunes, on the world at large. He shaped his course to Edinburgh, where he sought occupation as a gardener, wrought hard when he could get work, and passed through many difficulties. From Edinburgh, he wandered into the county of Ayr, where he engaged himself as a gardener to the laird of Fairly, and afterwards to Crawford of Doonside. Being, at length, desirous of settling in life, he took a perpetual lease of seven acres of land, situated about two miles from the town of Ayr, from Dr. Campbell, physician in Ayr, with the view of commencing nurseryman and public gardener; and having built a cottage of clay upon the spot with his own hands, married, in December, 1757, Agnes Brown. The first fruit of this marriage was the poet, Robert Burns, who was born on the 25th of January, 1759.

2

Before William Burns had made much progress in his nursery, his attention was withdrawn from it by an invitation from a Mr. Ferguson, who had recently become proprietor of the neighbouring estate of
158LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Doonholm, to engage as his gardener and overseer. Although he entered into the service of Mr. Ferguson, he continued to live in his own house, and on the acres, once intended for the nursery ground, kept two or three milch cows, the produce of which his wife managed. In this state of unambitious content, the industrious pair continued for six or seven years; and had no change taken place, young Robert must probably have marched off to be one of the little underlings about a farm house; but it was William Burns's dearest wish and prayer to have it in his power to keep his children under his own eye, until they could discern between good and evil; and, with the assistance of Mr. Ferguson, who behaved to him with generosity, he ventured, in the hope of increasing his means, to take a lease of a small farm on that gentleman's estate, called Mount Oliphant.

3

In his early years, young Robert was by no means a favorite with any body. He was noted for a retentive memory, a stubborn sturdy something in his disposition, and a contemplative, thoughtful, turn of mind. His ear was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable; it was long, indeed, before he could be got to distinguish one tune from another. The latent seeds of poetry, however, were taking deep root in his infant mind, and were, in no small degree, cherished by the fireside recitations of an old woman who resided in the family, remarkable for her credulity and superstition, and who was supposed to have the largest collection in the country of tales and songs, concerning fairies, witches, warlocks, apparitions, giants, dragons, and other agents of romantic fiction.

POETS — ROBERT BURNS.159
4

When in his sixth year, Robert was sent, with a younger brother, Gilbert, [note] to school, and soon became an excellent English scholar; and by the time he was ten or eleven years of age, was a critic in substantives, verbs, and particles. The teacher to whom be owed the chief part of his education was a very worthy and acute man, of the name of Murdoch, [note] who took a degree of pains not very common with even the best of this invaluable class of men, to make his pupil acquainted with the meaning of every word he read; as the surest means of which, he was in the practice of making him turn verse into its natural prose order, to substitute synonymous expressions for poetical words, and to supply all the ellipses. From this excellent system of tuition, Robert became early remarkable for the fluency and correctness of his expression, and for the profit with which he read every book which came in his way. All, indeed, that may be called the machinery of thinking he had acquired; and this was ten times more than our self-taught countryman, Edmund Stone, [note] the mathematician, used to think was necessary for the purpose, as may be recollected from his well-known answer to the Duke of Argyle, [note] when asked, “How he had come by the knowledge of so many things?” “A servant taught me to read ten years since; does any one need to know more than the twenty-four letters, in order to learn every thing else that one wishes.”

5

The passages of his school books, in which Burns took the greatest pleasure, shewed, at once, the bent of his mind. The Vision of Mirza, and Addison's [note] hymn, beginning, How are thy Servants blest, O Lord! were his earliest favorites. One half stanza of the
160LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
latter was, in particular, music to his boyish ear, and will be instantly recognized by many, as having made a similar impression on them at school.

“For though on dreadful whirls we hung
High on the broken wave.”
6

The first two books which he read in private, and which he used to say gave him more pleasure than any two books he ever read after, were The Life of Hannibal, and The History of Sir William Wallace.

7

In consequence of the distance of Mount Oliphant from school, William Burns found it necessary, soon after removing thither, to take his boys home, and became himself their future preceptor. A more zealous one they could not have had; nor, in as far as concerns the culture of the understanding, could they have probably had a better. He was both an intelligent and a well informed man, and was extremely studious to give his boys the benefit of all he knew. He used to converse familiarly with them on all subjects as if they had been men, and was at great pains, while they accompanied him in the labours of the farm, to lead the conversation to such subjects as might enlarge their stock of ideas, and confirm them in virtuous habits.

8

As soon as Robert had strength to work, he was employed laboriously on the farm. At twelve, he could hold the plough; at thirteen, he assisted in threshing the crop of corn; and at fifteen, he was his father's principal labourer, for the family had no hired servant, male or female.

9

The only exceptions to this course of early toil consisted of a few weeks in the summer of 1772, when
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.161
he was sent to the parish-school of Dalrymple, to improve in writing; and three weeks in the ensuing year which he spent at Ayr, with his old teacher, Mr. Murdoch,
[note] who, by that time, had been appointed master of the English school of that town, and with whose assistance he not only revised his English grammar, but acquired as much knowledge of the French, as to be able to read and understand any prose author in that language.

10

It was between his fifteenth and sixteenth year when Robert Burns first committed the sin of rhyme. It is a custom of the country to class the male and female reapers into pairs in the labours of the harvest. In his fifteenth autumn, his partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than himself, who altogether unwittingly initiated him in that delicious passion which formed ever after the ruling influence of his life. Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favorite reel to which Burns attempted to give an embodied vehicle in rhyme. He was not so presumptuous as to imagine, that he could make verses like printed ones, composed by men who had learned Greek and Latin; but his girl sung a song which was said to have been composed by a small country laird's son, on one of his father's maids, with whom he was in love; and he saw no reason why he might not rhyme as well as he, for, excepting that the laird's son could smear sheep, and cast peats, his father living in the moorland, he had no more scholar-craft than Burns himself. It was thus, that with Burns love and poetry began together; and then rhyme and song became, in a manner, the spontaneous language of his heart.

162LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
11

The farm of Mount Oliphant proved to William Burns a ruinous speculation. He struggled on with it, however, till he reached a breach in the lease, availing himself of which, he gave it up, and entered on another farm, called Lochlee, in the parish of Tarbolton, to which he removed at Whitsunday, 1777. For four years, the family lived comfortably here, but a difference, at length, arose with the landlord as to the terms of occupation, and, after three years' litigation, William Burns was only saved from the horrors of a jail, by a consumption which humanely stepped in and carried him away to “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”

12

The seven years of Burns' residence with his father at Lochlee, were marked by little literary improvement, but the foundation was during this time laid of certain habits, which strongly marked his future character through life. He had early felt some stirrings of ambition, but they were the blind gropings of Homer's [note] Cyclops round the walls of his cave. He loathed the situation in which fortune had placed him; but was without any other direct aim or view in life; a situation more ruinous, perhaps, than any other that can possibly happen to a young man of towering genius and susceptible heart. Meanwhile, a strong appetite for society; a constitutional melancholy, which made him fly solitude; a fondness for observation and remark; a certain wild logical talent, and some reputation for bookish knowledge; all combined to make Burns a welcome guest wherever he visited, and to make it rare for two or three to meet together, without his being of the number. But far beyond all other impulses of his heart was a fondness
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.163
for the softer and fairer objects of nature's creation; he was never at ease, without being the victim of some fair enslaver. “If any thing on earth,” says he in a MS. of observations written about this period, “deserves the name of rapture or transport, it is the feelings of green eighteen in the company of the mistress of his heart, when she repays him with an equal turn of affection.” And yet, with all this desire to please, Burns was, for some time, the most ungainly, aukward lad in the parish; nor, until he had, in his seventeenth year, taken some lessons at a country dancing school, and mixed a good deal in social parties, did this aukwardness wear away.

13

In his nineteenth summer, a new circumstance occurred, to give some alteration to his mind and manners. He was sent by his father to the parish-school of Kirkoswald, a good distance from home, to learn mensuration, surveying, dialing, &c. The trade of smuggling was, at this time, carried on to a great extent along this part of the western coast, and it sometimes happened to Burns to fall in with those who carried it on. Scenes of swaggering riot and roaring dissipation were, till this time, new to Burns; but being no enemy to social life, and it being the joy of his heart “to study men, their manners, and their ways,” he was not deterred from mixing in them. Here he first learnt to fill his glass, and to mix, without fear, in bacchanalian orgies. It was mixing, however, without participating; for it was long after ere his habits could be said to have deviated at all from the line of strict sobriety. He went into these scenes not to give loose to his own passions, but to see and observe the workings of the passions of others; he had early
164LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
conceived an idea, that he was as one sent into the world for no other purpose but to mark the characters of others; and it was enough to recommend any man to his society, that there was something original about him, which exhibited human nature in a different light from any thing he had met with before. To this darling habit of observation, Burns, indeed, sacrificed almost every other consideration. Long before he quitted Lochlee, or was at all known to the world, he tells us that he made no scruple of even courting the acquaintance of that part of mankind, commonly called blackguards; those who by thoughtless prodigality or headstrong passions have been driven to ruin. Though disgraced by follies, nay sometimes stained with guilt, he yet found among them, in not a few instances, some of the noblest virtues,—magnanimity, generosity, disinterested friendship, and even modesty.”*

14

While making this progress in the knowledge of mankind, Burns did not neglect the more immediate objects for which he had been sent to Kirkoswald; but pursued his geometrical studies with great vigor till the sun entered Virgo, a month which was always a carnival in his bosom; when a charming girl, who lived close by the school, overset his trigonometry, and set him off at a tangent from the sphere of his studies. It was in vain to think of doing any more good at school. One week more which he staid, he did nothing but rave about her, or steal out to meet her; and, during the two last nights of his stay at


* Burns, of himself—written March, 1784.
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.165
Kirkoswald, had sleep been a mortal sin, the image of his fair charmer would have kept him guiltless.

15

Burns returned home somewhat wiser, and perhaps not worse, than when he left it; but he was still without any definite plan for his future guidance. While all his school-fellows and youthful compeers were striking off, with eager hope and earnest intent, in some one or other of the many paths of busy life, he alone was “standing idle in the market-place,” or only left the chace of the butterfly from flower to flower, to hunt fancy from whim to whim. Vive l'amour et vive lo bagatelle! were, for the moment, his sole principles of action. Poetry was still an exercise in which his mind delighted, but it was only indulged in according to the humour of the hour. He had usually half a dozen or more pieces on hand at a time, and took up one or other as it suited the tune of his mind, dismissing it again as the work bordered on fatigue. His passions, when once lighted up, raged with violence till they got vent in rhyme, and then the conning over his verses, like a spell, soothed all into quiet.

16

About the end of the year 1780, Burns and his brother Gilbert [note] having heard that a debating society had been established in Ayr, resolved to try how such an institution would succeed in the village of Tarbolton. Joining themselves to five other young peasants of the neighbourhood, they formed what they chose to call the Bachelor's Club of Tarbolton; the declared objects of which were to relax themselves after toil, to promote sociality and friendship, and to improve the mind. The laws and regulations were furnished by Burns; and, in the last of them, we have the fol-
166LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
lowing happy designation of the qualifications necessary for becoming a member.

17

“Every man proper for a member of this society insist have a frank, honest, open heart, above any thing dirty or mean, and must be a professed lover of one or more of the female sex. No haughty self-conceited person, who looks upon himself as superior to the rest of the club, and especially no mean-spirited worldly mortal, whose only will is to heap up money, shall upon any pretence whatever be admitted. In short, the proper person for this society is a cheerful, honest-hearted lad; who, if he has a friend that is true, and a mistress that is kind, and as much wealth as genteelly to make both ends meet, is just as happy as the world can make him.”

18

This society never exceeded the number of twelve, but continued its meetings regularly for some years. Burns took a leading part in its discussions, for which he did not disdain to make considerable preparation; and thus improved greatly in that fluency of expression, for which he had been remarkable from his earliest years.

19

In his twenty-third year, partly through whim and partly from a wish to set about doing something in life, he thought of turning flax-dresser, and engaged for a time in that employment at Irvine; but, after a trial of six months, abandoned it as agreeing neither with his health nor inclination.

20

The melancholy to which Burns was constitutionally subject now increased upon him to such a degree, that he began to grow sick of life. Writing to his father before he left Irvine, he thus despondingly expressed himself: “I am quite transported at the
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.167
thought, that ere long, perhaps very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all the pains and uneasiness, and disquietudes, of this weary life; for I assure you I am heartily tired of it, and if I do not very much deceive myself, I could contentedly and gladly resign it.

“The soul, uneasy and confin'd at house,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
21

“It is for this reason I am more pleased with the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the 9th chapter of Revelations, than with any ten times as many verses in the whole bible, and would not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me, for all that this world has to offer.”

22

15.— Therefore as they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.

23

16.— They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat.

24

17.— For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.

25

A melancholy of this description, as those who have studied the affinities of mind must know, is apt, after a while, to seek relief in the endearments of society, and has no distant connection with the flow of cheerfulness, or even the extravagance of mirth.* A youth of so susceptible a disposition as


* Currie. [note]
168LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Burns had not to wander long after consolation. A new divinity rekindled the flame of love in his bosom, and a lover's hopes soon revived all nature around him.

How sweetly bloom'd the gay, green birk,
How rich the hawthorn's blossom!
As underneath their fragrant shade,
I clasp'd her to my bosom!
The golden hours on angel wings,
Flew o'er me and my dearie;
For dear to me as light and life,
Was my sweet Highland Mary.
26

The gleam of bliss, unhappily, was but transient. The object of this passion died early in life, and Burns was again thrown into the profoundest melancholy. None of all his early attachments equalled that to his Highland Mary, and years after, the remembrance of it was still so vivid, as to give birth to the beautiful lines which he has addressed to Mary in Heaven.

Thou lingering star with less'ning ray,
That lov'st to greet the early morn!
Again then usher'st in the day,
My Mary from my soul was torn.
O, Mary, dear, departed shade!
Where is thy place of blissful rest?
Seest thou thy lover lowly laid?
Hear'st then the groans that rend his breast?
27

The claims on Burns as a son and a brother happily broke in upon the indulgence of his personal sorrow. The embarrassments connected with the farm of
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.169
Lochlee were now drawing near to a crisis, and his father, the victim of a consumption, was fast hastening to his end. With a view of providing an asylum far the family in case of the worst, Robert and his brother Gilbert,
[note] the two eldest of seven children, took a lease of the farm of Mossgeil, in the vicinity, from Mr. Gavin Hamilton, [note] writer in Mauchline. The farm was stocked by the property and individual savings of the whole family; it was, in fact, a joint concern among them; and thither they all removed at Martinmas, 1783. William Burns survived this removal only a few months, and left Robert, then in his twenty-fifth year, at the head of the family.

28

Burns entered on his new undertaking with a full resolution to go to and be wise. He read farming books, calculated crops, attended markets; but, unfortunately, the first year from buying bad seed, the second from a late harvest, they lost half their crops. Disheartened by these failures, Burns gave up his part in the farm to his brother Gilbert; [note] and resolved to go to the West Indies to push his fortune. The idol of his heart was, at this time, Jean Armour, [note] afterwards Mrs. Burns; and as consequences existed from their connexion, which could no longer be concealed, it was agreed, in order to shield her from the consequences of their imprudence, that they should make a written acknowledgment of an irregular private marriage, and that she should remain with her father till it might please Providence to put the means of supporting a family in his power. Burns accordingly entered into an engagement to go out to Jamaica as an assistant overseer or book-keeper to an estate. Not
170LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
having money enough, however, to pay his passage he, at the suggestion of Mr. Hamilton, [note] the landlord of Mossgiel, who had always shewn a strung friendship for him, published a volume of his poems by subscription, as a likely way of supplying the deficiency. “My vanity,” says Burns, “was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the public, and besides, after all expences deducted, I pocketed nearly twenty pounds. This sum came very seasonably as I was thinking of indenting myself for want of money to procure my passage. As soon as I was master of nine guineas, the price of wafting me to the torrid zone, I took a steerage passage in the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde, for
Hungry ruin had me in the wind.
I had for some days been skulking from covert to covert, under all the terrors of a jail; as some ill-advised people had, (on account of his about-to-be paternal relation,) uncoupled all the merciless pack of the law at my heels. I had taken the last farewell of my few friends; my chest was on the road to Greenock; I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia. The gloomy night is gathering fast; when a letter from Dr. Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition. The doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared to hope. His opinion that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition, fired me so much, that away I posted for that city without a single acquaintance or a single letter of introduction. The baneful star that had so long shed its blasting influ-
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.171
ence in my zenith, for once made a revolution to the nadir; and a kind providence placed me under the patronage of one of the noblest of men, the Earl of Glencairn. [note] Oublie moi, grand Dieu!! si jamais je l'oublie.

29

At the time when Burns arrived in Edinburgh his poems had attracted the notice of the gentlemen who were then publishing the periodical paper called the Lounger. The 97th number was devoted to “an account of Robert Burns, the Ayrshire Ploughman, with extracts from his poems,” and was written by the elegant pen of Mr. Mackenzie, [note] author of the Man of Feeling, &c. The Lounger having an extensive circulation among persons of taste and literature, and being much regarded for the weight of its decisions, Burns could not have had a more favorable introduction to the notice of the world. His society was immediately sought after by persons of all ranks and classes; he was feasted, caressed, and flattered, as if it had been impossible to reward his merit too highly; and whether absent or present, the Ayrshire Ploughman and his genius were the objects which engrossed all attention and all consideration. Had Burns been merely a poet, the public curiosity having gratified itself might have soon left him to sink into comparative neglect; but his natural talents for conversation, and strong and various powers of mind, made on every circle so captivating an impression, that the more he was known he was only the more prized.

30

The best friends of Burns began to tremble for the consequences which so sudden and extraordinary a change in all his habits and hopes in life might have on his character; but his conduct ought quickly to have set their fears at rest. Burns, though but a
172LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
ploughman, had been too diligent an observer of human life, and knew too well where the strength of his own character lay, to be dazzled by the glitter of mere greatness, or overset by the caresses of multitudes. His manners continued as they were at first, and never ceased to be to the last hour of his life, simple, manly, and independent; strongly expressive of conscious genius and worth; but without any thing that indicated forwardness, arrogance, or vanity. He took his share in conversation, but not more than belonged to him; and listened with attention and deference on subjects where he was in want of information.* When asked about his future prospects he spoke with moderation, good sense, and firmness. “The appellation of a Scottish bard is by far my highest pride; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition. Scottish scenes and Scottish story are the themes I could wish to sing. I have no dearer aim than to have it in my power, unplagued with the routine of business, for which heaven knows I am unfit enough, to make leisurely pilgrimages through Caledonia; to sit on the fields of her battles; to wander on the romantic banks of her rivers; and to muse by the stately towers or venerable ruins, once the honored abodes of her heroes. But these are all Utopian thoughts: I have dallied long enough with life; 'tis time to be in earnest; I have a fond aged mother to care for, and some other bosom ties, perhaps, equally tender. Where the individual only suffers by the consequences of his own thoughtlessness, indolence, or folly, he may be excusable; nay, shining abilities and some of the


* Professor Stewart. [note]
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.173
nobler virtues may half sanctify a heedless character; but where God and nature have entrusted the welfare of others to his care; where the trust is sacred and the ties are dear; that man must be far gone in selfishness, or strangely lost to reflection, whom these connections will not rouse to exertion.”

31

The Earl of Glencairn, [note] of whose patronage Burns expressed himself in the fervent terms of gratitude before quoted, introduced the bard to the meetings of the Caledonian Hunt, an association of the principal nobility and gentry of Scotland. Burns repaid the generous attention which they bestowed upon him by dedicating to them an enlarged and improved edition of his poems. The consciousness of desert swelled higher now in his bosom than it had yet done; and in speaking of himself in this dedication he thus boldly claimed his station in renown.

32

“The poetic genius of my country found me, as the prophetic bard Elijah did Elisha, at the Plough; and threw her inspiring mantle over me. She bade me sing the loves, the joys, the rural scenes, and rural pleasures, of my native soil, in my native tongue: I tuned my wild artless notes as she inspired.”

33

By the first profits of this edition Burns was enabled to gratify a desire, which he had long entertained, of visiting those parts of his native country most attractive for their beauty or their grandeur, but more especially those chosen spots which the muses had consecrated. The pastoral scenes on the banks of the Tweed, the Ettrick, the Yarrow, and the Nith, first attracted his poetic footsteps; returning westward from which he revisited, with elated heart, his Coila's native haunts. On the 8th June, 1787, he arrived at Mossgiel, after
174LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
an absence of six busy and eventful months. It will easily be conceived with what delight he was received by his mother, his brothers, and sisters. He had left them poor; he returned to them easy in his circumstances and high in reputation. He returned to them unchanged in his ardent affections, and ready to share with them, to the last farthing, the pittance that fortune had bestowed.

34

After a few days spent at Mossgiel, Burns proceeded again to Edinburgh, and immediately set out on a tour to the west Highlands. From this journey he returned to his friends in Ayrshire, with whom he spent the month of July. In August he again visited Edinburgh, whence, in the course of the same month, he made an excursion to explore the banks of the Forth, and its romantic tributary the Devon.

35

In September he again set out from Edinburgh on a more extended tour to the north; passed through the heart of the Highlands; stretched northwards about ten miles beyond Inverness; then bent his course eastward across the island, and returned by the shore of the German sea to the capital.

36

Every step which Burns took in the course of these various peregrinations was directed by poetic enthusiasm. Not a spot which has become the subject of song was passed unsought after or unexplored. Burns used to say, indeed, when speaking of our Scottish songs, that as far as the locality either from the title, or the air, or the subject, could be ascertained, he had visited the individual spot from which every one of them had taken its rise, Lochaber and the Braes of Ballenden excepted.

37

It is almost unnecessary to say, that at every place
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.175
he visited he was treated with the same flattering attention which he had experienced at the capital, and received as a welcome guest by the noble, the learned, and the gay.

38

The winter of 1787 1788, he spent at Edinburgh, and in February, 1788, on settling with his publisher, found himself in possession of nearly five hundred pounds. With this sum he hastened to Ayrshire, and immediately advanced 200 l. to his brother Gilbert, who, with their mother and the rest of the family, was struggling with many difficulties in the farm of Mossgiel. His generous heart next turned to the object [note] of its still dearer attachment, whom he found, on account of her constancy to him, “literally and truly cast out,” by her parents, “to the mercy of the naked elements;” and listening to no considerations but those of honour and generosity, he repaired, by a public marriage, the momentary ills which he had caused her to endure.

39

With about 300 l., a wife, and a young family, Burns was now, in a domestic sense, to begin the world. He was not a little perplexed, however, about the course of life which it was best for him to pursue; his mind appears to have wavered between returning to the labours of the plough, and employing the interest of the friends he had acquired to procure him some situation under government; and in the end, instead of chusing between them, he stumbled on an unfortunate combination of both speculations. In a letter, written at this period, to Mr. Graham, of Fintry, [note] one of the Commissioners of Excise, soliciting his official patronage, he says: “I had intended to have closed my last appearance
176LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
on the stage of life in the character of a country farmer; but after discharging some filial and paternal claims, I find I could only fight for existence in that miserable manner which I have lived to see throw a venerable parent into the jaws of a jail; whence death, the poor man's last and often best friend, rescued him.” He wrote to the same effect to his early patron, the Earl of Glencairn. [note] While expatiating thus sensibly, however, on the folly of undertaking a farm without adequate capital, styling it most justly “a fight for existence;” Burns was, nevertheless, in treaty with Mr. Miller, of Dalswinton, for the lease of one of his farms in Nithsdale, and actually concluded an agreement for that of Ellisland about the time that he received a favorable answer to his application for an appointment in the excise.

40

The inconsistency of this conduct was, after all, more seeming than real. The letters of Burns to the Earl of Glencairn and Mr. Graham may be regarded (they will be so by posterity) as a significant intimation to the gentlemen of Scotland, that there was something yet remaining for them to do, to save the greatest poet their country had ever produced, from falling back into the sphere of humble and laborious life. They had extolled him, they had caressed him, but as yet they had taken no step to place him permanently above the necessity of daily toil, and thus to secure to the country the benefit of the full and free exercise of that matchless mind which he possessed. Driven at last to solicit, the proud nature of Burns disdained soliciting more than any person, without the slightest pretensions, might have asked; in irony rather than in good earnest he requested to be made an exciseman, an oc-
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.177
cupation not only the lowest which he could have sought, but actually odious in the eyes of the people, who had not yet accustomed themselves to bear with indulgence the system of inquisition of which it is a part. A proposal which ought to have filled with shame every breast sensible of his value as a poet, or alive to the honor of the country, instead of stirring up the leading men of the day to find some more honorable provision for the indignant supplicant, was complacently listened to, and to the everlasting disgrace of the age, a commission was sent to Coila's bard to be a gauger! Need we be surprised that Burns, on discovering the extent of what he had to hope from the patronage of the great, should, in spite of all that his prudence and experience told him of the difficulties to be encountered in any farming project, have resolved at all hazards to make the experiment, rather than voluntarily sink at once to the ignoble station to which his generous patrons had agreed to shove him down. In a letter written at this period,* he says, with a mixture of scorn and humility: “the commission lies by me, and at any future period on my simple petition can be resumed. I thought five and thirty pounds a year was no bad dernier resort for a poor poet, if fortune, in her jade tricks, should kick him down from the little eminence to which she has lately helped him up.”

41

Burns entered on possession of the farm of Ellisland, in June, 1788. In this situation he did not and could not prosper. A small tenant with a trifling


* To Mrs. Dunlop. [note]
178LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
capital, he could only purchase success by constant personal labour and a frugality approaching to extreme penury; but both were alike in opposition to the temperament and to the habits of Burns. “The heart of the man and the fancy of the poet,” says he, in a letter written from Ellisland, in December, 1788, “are the two grand considerations for which I live; if miry ridges and dirty dunghills are to engross the best part of the functions of my soul immortal, I had better been a rook or a magpie at once.” Both “the heart of the man and the fancy of the poet” had soon ample scope for indulgence. His fame naturally drew upon him the attention of his neighbours, and he speedily formed a general acquaintance in the district in which he lived. Far and near he was a welcome guest, and on every occasion of festivity among the gentlemen of Nithsdale, the company of the bard was eagerly solicited. The farm in the meanwhile, for want of that attention which he could not or would not pay to it, and which he was unable to purchase from others, proved a thriftless concern, and ere long he began to view it with despondency and disgust. His mind now turned to the “dernier resort” which the memorable generosity of his country had secured to him, and applying to the Commissioners of Excise to be employed, he was appointed to be gauger of the district in which Ellisland was situated. His farm was after this, in a great measure, abandoned to servants, while he betook himself to the duties of his new office; and, at last, prudence, if not necessity, compelled him to relinquish it altogether, after having occupied it three years and a half.

42

It was while residing at Ellisland, that Burns
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.179
wrote his
“Tam o' Shanter,” one of the best of all his productions. The circumstances which gave rise to it are worthy of a place in literary history. The celebrated Captain Grose [note] having, on his tour through Scotland, stopped some time at Carse House, in the neighbourhood of Ellisland, with Captain Riddel, of Glen Riddel, [note] a particular friend of Burns, the antiquarian and the poet became “unco pack and thick thegither.” Burns requested that Captain Grose, when he should visit Ayrshire, would make a drawing of Alloway Kirk, as it was the burial place of his father, and where he himself had some claim to lay down his bones; adding, by way of encouragement, that it was the scene of many a good story of witches and apparitions of which he knew the captain was fond. The captain agreed to the request, provided the poet would furnish a witch story to be printed along with it. Tam o' Shanter was accordingly produced, and was first printed in Grose's Antiquities of Scotland.

43

The first appointment which Burns had in the excise produced about fifty pounds per annum; but having acquitted himself to the satisfaction of the Board of Commissioners, he had, about the time of his leaving Ellisland, been appointed to a new district, the emoluments of which rose to about seventy pounds per annum. This humble income was now all that he had to trust to for the support of himself and his family, with whom he removed to Dumfries, about the end of the year 1791.

44

During the ensuing year, Burns was solicited by a letter from Mr. George Thomson [note] of Edinburgh, to lend him his aid in perfecting a select collection of
180LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Scottish airs and songs, of which that gentleman had projected the publication. Mr. T. after lamenting that “some charming melodies were united to mere nonsense and doggrel, while others were accommodated with rhymes, so loose and indelicate, that they could not be sung in decent company,” was pleased to say, “To remove this reproach would be an easy task to the author of the Cotter's Saturday-night, and for the honour of Caledonia I would fain hope he may be induced to take up the pen.” An offer was at the same time added, of “paying any reasonable price” he might demand for his contributions. Burns acceded to the proposal with enthusiasm; but, on the subject of pay, thus generously expressed himself: “As to any remuneration, you may think my songs either above or below price; for they shall absolutely either be the one or the other. In the honest enthusiasm with which I embark in your undertaking, to talk of money, wages, hire, &c. would be downright prostitution of soul. A proof of each of the songs that I compose or amend, I shall receive as a favor.”

45

For the four succeeding years, the muse of Burns may be said to have been almost wholly devoted to the success of this undertaking; and that success, as every one must know, has been unbounded. The songs which he furnished to this collection include nearly all he wrote during the period, and many of his happiest efforts in this species of composition. With the correspondence connected with them, they occupy two thirds of one of the volumes of the fa-


* See some explanation of this in preceding Life of Ramsay. A. S.
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.181
mily edition of Burns' works. The correspondence closed with the following affecting and memorable letters:

(Mr. Burns to Mr. Thomson.) [note]

Brow on the Solway Firth, 12 th July, 1796.
46

After all my boasted independence, curst necessity compels me to implore you for five pounds. A cruel ***** of a haberdasher, to whom I owe an account, taking it into his head that I am dying, has commenced a process, and will infallibly put me into jail. Do, for God's sake, send me that sum, and that by return of post. Forgive me this earnestness, but the horrors of a jail have made me half distracted. I do not ask all this gratuitously; for, upon returning health, I hereby promise and engage to furnish you with five pounds worth of the neatest song genius you have seen. I tried my hand on Rothiemurche this morning. The measure is so difficult, that it is impossible to infuse much genius into the lines; they are on the other side. Forgive, forgive me!

(Answer.)
14 th July, 1796.
My dear Sir,
47

Ever since I received your melancholy letter by Mrs. Hislop, * I have been ruminating


* Dated three months before. A letter not containing any request for money, but a most moving picture of suffering. “I close my eyes,” he says, “in misery, and open them without hope. I look on the vernal day, and say, with poor Ferguson,
Say, wherefore has an all-indulgent heaven
Light to the comfortless and wretched given?”
A. S.

182LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
in what manner I could endeavour to alleviate your sufferings. Again and again I thought of a pecuniary offer, but the recollection of one of your letters on this subject, and the fear of offending your independent spirit, checked my resolution. I thank you heartily therefore for the frankness of your letter of the 12th, and with great pleasure inclose a draft for the very sum I proposed sending. Would I were Chancellor of the Exchequer but for one day, for your sake!
*     *     *     *     *
The verses to Rothemurche will answer finely. I am happy to see you can still tune your lyre.

48


Poor Burns! How liberally for others, how narrowly for himself, was his generous disdain of pecuniary considerations interpreted! Year after year had he been contributing, by the noblest efforts of genius, to establish a valuable property for another; and yet that property had never yielded a single shilling to assist him in the severe struggle which he must have gone through to support a young and numerous family on the small income which his situation in the excise afforded! When, at last, compelled by “the horrors of a jail” to “implore” five pounds, not on account of all he had done, but of something more to which he was still willing to task his fading strength, how must every feeling mind be pained to learn, that the paltry sum was transmitted with an assurance from his generous correspondent, that he had been three long months “ruminating” about something of the kind, and that the sum now “implored” was “the very sum he proposed sending!” Mr. Thomson may be a very respectable man; his correspon-
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.183
dence with Burns shews him to be a sound critic and a man of taste; and his country is indebted to him for the best collection existing of the Scottish airs and songs of past and modern times; but* .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

49

When Burns wrote this last letter to Mr. Thomson [note] from “Brow on the Solway Firth,” he had retired thither to try the effects of sea-bathing in renovating a constitution never strong by nature, and much reduced by a course of life, marked, since his residence in Dumfries, by irregularities to which his constitution was unequal; but which his most unsuitable situation rendered almost unavoidable. Though of an athletic form, he had in his constitutions all the peculiarities and the delicacies that belong to the temperament of genius. He was liable, from a very early period of life to that interruption in the process of digestion, which arises from deep and anxious thought. Connected with this disorder of the stomach, there was a disposition to headache, frequently accompanied by violent and irregular movements of the heart. Possessed of great sensibility of nerves, Burns was in his corporeal, as well as in his mental, system, liable to inordinate impressions, to fever of body as well as of mind. This predisposition to disease, which strict temperance in diet, regular exercise, and sound sleep, might have subdued, habits of a different nature strengthened and inflamed. The inordinate actions of the circulating system became, at lengths, habitual; the process of nutrition


* The author will excuse the suppression here of some comments which verge on undue severity; the fact besides is one which requires none. A. S.
184LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
was unable to supply the waste, and the powers of life began to fail.*

50

For more than a year before his death, there was an evident decline in his personal appearance, and though his appetite continued unimpaired, he was himself sensible that his constitution was sinking. At first, he imagined that the sea bathing had been of benefit to him, but a new attack of fever speedily brought him to a full sense of his hopeless condition. He spoke of his death without any of the ostentation of philosophy, but with firmness as well as feeling—as an event likely to happen very soon, and which gave him concern, chiefly on account of the young and unprotected family which he must leave behind him. He expressed, at the same time, no small degree of concern about his literary fame, and particularly the publication of his posthumous works. He said, he was well aware that his death would occasion some noise, and that every scrap of his writing would be revived against him to the injury of his future reputation; that letters and verses, written with unguarded and improper freedom, and which he earnestly wished to have buried in oblivion, would be handed about by idle vanity and malevolence, when no dread of his resentment would restrain them, or prevent the censures of shrill-tongued malice, or the invidious sarcasms of envy, from pouring forth all their venom to blast his fame.

51

He returned to his own house, at Dumfries, on the 18th of July, 1796, no longer able to stand upright,


* Currie. [note]
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.185
and on the fourth day thereafter expired, in the thirty-eighth year of his age.

52

The death of Robert Burns made a deep impression on the town and county in which he had spent the latter years of his life, and, indeed, throughout the whole of Scotland. His countrymen, now that they had lost him, seemed, for the first time, to have a sense of his inestimable worth.

53

The remains of the ill-fated bard were honored by a splendid public burial; subscriptions were opened for the relief of his family, and liberally filled up; new editions of his works were called for; and the press groaned with tributes to his memory.

54

He died in great poverty, but he died “owing no man.” The independence of his spirit, and the exemplary prudence of his wife, had preserved him from debt, and from every sort of pecuniary meanness. From his first entrance into life to his dying moments, he had been a strict economist; not as he says in a letter written to his old schoolmaster, Mr. Murdoch, [note] as early as January, 1783, “for the sake of money; but one of the principal parts in my composition is a kind of pride of stomach; and I scorn to fear the face of any man living.” In another letter, written to a gentleman ten years afterwards,* enclosing payment of a debt, which he says had been owing longer than he owed money to any man, he adds, with honest pride, “And now I don't owe a shilling to man or woman either.”

55

It is true, that “the horrors of a gaol” haunted him at last; that they drove him to make the humble


* To John M'Murdo, Esq. Dec. 1793.
186LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
appeal which he did to the generosity of Mr. Thomson.
[note] But what were the circumstances which brought on this sad reverse? It has only recently come to the light, that small as the salary was which Burns derived from the excise, that little all was unexpectedly diminished one half, in consequence of a regulation of the board of commissioners, that all salaries shall suffer a diminution to this extent, when officers are incapacitated by illness from attending to their duties. Heartless, unfeeling regulation! With one half of his usual resources thus cut off; with less than the hire of the meanest labourer, to supply the wants of a wife and four children, to supply his own wants while in the last stage of mortal anguish and suffering; is it surprising that Burns should have incurred some few obligations, which filled his proudly sensitive mind with alarms? Is it not rather astonishing, that such a trifle, as that which he implored and received from Mr. Thomson, should have sufficed to discharge the only demand which pressed upon him in his dying moments?

56

If there could be any doubt as to the disgrace which attaches to the gentlemen of Scotland, for suffering a man of Burns's talents to descend at all to the station of an ordinary exciseman, to toil for his daily bread, there can be none whatever as to the everlasting shame which they incurred by allowing him to remain for years in that degraded rank. When Burns at first applied for a contingent appointment in this service, intending to hold it as something in reserve against the worst that might befal him, he suppressed the feelings with which it was impossible for a man of his noble and aspiring soul not to regard
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.187
it; but when necessity had, at last, thrust the situation upon him, and when he had seen years pass away without any generous offer to raise him above it, he scrupled not to avow how much he felt it had degraded him. In a letter, written to Mr. Grahame of Fintry,
[note] to vindicate himself from some injurious representations which had been made to the board of excise, respecting his conduct, he has the following eloquent passage:

57

“Often, in blasting anticipation, have I listened to some future hackney scribbler, with the heavy malice of savage stupidity, exultingly asserting that Burns, notwithstanding the fanfaronade of independence to be found in his works, and after having been held up to public view, and to public estimation, as a man of some genius, yet quite destitute of resources within himself to support his borrowed dignity, dwindled into a paltry exciseman, and slunk out the rest of his insignificant existence in the meanest of pursuits, and among the lowest of mankind.

58

“In your illustrious hands, sir, permit me to lodge my strong disavowal and defiance of such slanderous falsehoods. Burns was a poor man from his birth, and an exciseman by necessity: but I will say it, the sterling of his honest worth poverty could not debase, and his independent British spirit oppression might bend but could not subdue.”

59

It has been said, and too often repeated, that Burns, during his latter years—nay, from the very moment of entering into society—gave himself up to habits of intemperance, and died its victim. How little to be envied are the feelings of those who can take pleasure in drawing aside the veil from the social follies
188LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
or weaknesses of such a man as Burns! Were the fact even as represented, does it become that country which so cruelly neglected him, to speak with severity of any alleviation which his wounded spirit may have sought from the state of humiliation and misery to which he was ungenerously consigned? Does it become those who imposed upon him one of “the meanest of pursuits,” and an association with “the lowest of mankind,” to talk of the excesses to which he may have fled to lull, for the moment, the revolting sense of his degradation? But the fact has been mistated. Burns was never the dissolute man that he has been represented. He mingled much in society, because it was the only sphere in which he could gratify that strong, and certainly not injurious, passion which he possessed for observing the ways and manners of men; and because the active indulgence of this passion was the only chance which he had of escape from that constitutional melancholy, which never ceased to pursue him. He was fond too, most enthusiastically fond, of the social hour which was spent in communion with men of souls congenial to his own; and, when seated with such over the flowing bowl, it is not to be wondered, that he was sometimes slow to rise. Yet, whatever might be the social pleasures of Burns, he was never the man to sacrifice to them either his business, his independence, or his self respect. The supervisors of his conduct, as an officer, testify, that he performed all the duties of his situation with exemplary regularity; the state of his affairs, at his death, shew, that small as his income was, he kept rigidly within it; and his most intimate associates allow, that however freely he may have
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.189
partaken in company, he never sunk into habits of solitary indulgence. It is not possible, either morally or physically, that the man who was thus regular, thus economical, thus privately abstinent, could have been the habitual slave of intemperance which some writers would have us to believe. That his constitution, naturally delicate, may have been unequal to even the limited indulgences which he permitted himself, and that his death may have been hastened by them, is but too likely. But how much does it not add to his country's shame, that possessing a man of genius, whose loss they could never repair, who could only have lived long, by living with exceeding temperance, that he was not placed in a situation where the comforts of life, the refinements of elegant society, and pursuits of a literary nature, might have removed every temptation to live otherwise than the good of his health demanded. Burns, as he tells us, lived only “for the heart of the man and the fancy of the poet;” he could not exist without a plenitude of emotions; and it was not his fault, that he was forced to seek them where alone he could find them.

60

It is deeply to be regretted, that his amiable biographer, Dr. Currie, [note] should, by lending too open an ear to idle rumours, have contributed more than even the most professed enemy could have done, to give currency to the prejudices which have prevailed with respect to Burns's private habits. Dr. C. appears evidently to have been much fortified in his erroneous impression, by the extravagant warmth with which Burns, in the course of his works, frequently breaks out in praise of our Scottish vin du pays; as, for example, when he exclaims:
190LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
O whisky! soul o' plays an' pranks!
Accept a bardie's humble thanks!
When wanting thee, what timeless cranks
Are my poor verses.
Or, when he speaks of drinking a health
———in auld Nanse Tinnock's
Nine times a week!

61

It seems, unfortunately, not to have occurred to Dr. C. that nothing is more common with poets, than to support an ideal character in their writings, very opposite to what they possess in real life; and that as Thomson has sung an Amanda whom he never saw, it was as possible the Nanse Tinnock of Burns might be a hostess who never knew him as a guest. Nor would the supposition have led him far from the real fact. When the first edition of Burns's poems issued from the Kilmarnock press, Nanse Tinnock, to whom he alluded, and who kept a public house in the village of Mauchline, being congratulated on the conspicuous figure which she made in the poet's recollections, the good woman shook her head and said, that “the chiel had scarcely ever spent a shilling in her house.”

62

The external appearance of Burns was most strikingly indicative of the character of his mind. His form was tall and manly; his action energy itself. His features bore the hardy character of independence, with a strong expression of conscious though not arrogant pre-eminence. “Strangers who supposed themselves approaching an Ayrshire peasant, who could make rhymes, and to whom their notice was an honor, found themselves overawed by the presence of a man
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.191
who bore himself with dignity, and who possessed a singular power of correcting forwardness and of repelling intrusion. He was open, at the same time, to every advance of kindness or benevolence. His dark and haughty countenance easily relaxed into a look of good will, of pity, or of tenderness; and as the various emotions succeeded each other in his mind, assumed, with equal ease, the expression of the broadest humour, of the most extravagant mirth, of the deepest melancholy, or of the most sublime emotion.”* The rapid lightnings of his eye were always the harbingers of some flash of genius, to which his happy command of language never failed to give irresistible potency. “Many others,” says a lady, with whom he had been connected in friendship by the sympathies of kindred genius, “may have ascended prouder heights in the region of Parnassus, but none certainly ever outshone Burns in the charms, the sorcery, I would almost call it, of fascinating conversation, the spontaneous eloquence of social argument, or the unstudied poignancy of brilliant repartee.”† So, also, Professor Stewart:
[note] “The idea,” he says, “which his conversation conveyed of the powers of his mind, exceeded, if possible, that which is suggested by his writings.” In the company of women, the witchery of his conversational powers was more especially apparent. “Their presence charmed the fiend of melancholy in his bosom, and awoke his happiest feelings; it excited the powers of his fancy as well as


* Currie.
† Character of Burns, by this lady, inserted in the Dumfries Journal shortly after his death.
192LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
the tenderness of his heart; and, by restraining the vehemence and the exuberance of his language, at times, gave to his manners the impression of taste and even of elegance, which in the company of men they seldom possessed. This influence was, doubtless, reciprocal. A Scottish lady, accustomed to the best society, declared, with characteristic naiveté, that no man's conversation ever carried her so completely off her feet as that of Burns. ”*

63

The splendour with which he shone in conversation has even dazzled some into an idea that poetry was actually not his forte; but though so much can scarcely be conceded, there seems, at least, reason to agree with Professor Stewart, [note] that “his predilection for poetry was rather the result of an enthusiastic and impassioned temper, than of a genius exclusively adapted to that species of composition.” The late Dr. Robertson, [note] the historian, used to say that his prose compositions seemed to him even more extraordinary than his poetical ones. Among his most elaborated productions in the former class—elaborated at least when compared with his familiar correspondence—is a letter on the celebration of the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution, which he addressed in November, 1778, to the publisher of the London Evening Star. As it presents not only a favorable example of his prose style, but contains a most satisfactory declaration of his political principles, which, during his life, were the object of much foul misrepresentation, a few extracts from it may not be out of place.


* Currie. [note]
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.193
64

After an introductory paragraph, not altogether happy, he proceeds:

65

“I went last Wednesday to my parish church, most cordially to join in grateful acknowledgment to the Author of All Good, for the consequent blessings of the glorious revolution. To that auspicious event we owe no less than our liberties, civil and religious; to it we are likewise indebted for the present royal family, the ruling features of whose administration have ever been mildness to the subject and tenderness of his rights.

66

“Bred and educated in revolution principles, the principles of reason and common-sense, it could not be any silly political prejudice which made my heart revolt at the harsh abusive manner in which the reverend gentleman mentioned the House of Stuart, and which I am afraid was too much the language of the day. We may rejoice sufficiently in our deliverance from past evils, without cruelly raking up the ashes of those whose misfortune it was, perhaps, as much as their crime, to be the authors of those evils; and we may bless God for all his goodness to us as a nation, without, at the same time, cursing a few ruined powerless exiles, who only harboured ideas and made attempts that most of us would have done had we been in their situation.

*    *    *    *    *

67

“The simple state of the case, sir, seems to be this:—At that period the science of government, the knowledge of the true relation between king and subject, was, like other sciences and other knowledge, just in its infancy, emerging from dark ages of ignorance and barbarity.

68

“The Stuarts only contended for prerogatives
194LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
which they knew their predecessors enjoyed, and which they saw their (royal) contemporaries enjoying; but these prerogatives were inimical to the happiness of a nation and the rights of subjects.

*    *   *    *   *

69

“To conclude, sir, let every man who has a tear for the many miseries incident to humanity, feel for a family illustrious as any in Europe, and unfortunate beyond historic precedent; and let every Briton, (and particularly every Scotsman) who ever looked with reverential pity on the dotage of a parent, cast a veil over the fatal mistakes of the kings of his forefathers.”

70

This, it must be allowed, is vigorous writing for a man just from the plough; it is such, indeed, as all the learning of colleges could not have materially improved.

71

Professor Stuart [note] informs us, that Burns used to speak with indifference of the simplicity of style observed by Franklin [note] and Addison, [note] when compared with the point, antithesis, and quaintness, of Junius. [note] The letter we have now quoted certainly partakes a good deal of this taste; and it may not improbably have been owing to this, that his prose style was thought so much of by Dr. Robertson, [note] to whom, if we may judge from his own compositions, Junius [note] must have been as great a favorite as he was with Burns.

72

On the poems of Burns it is almost superfluous to offer a single observation. They are in the hands of all the world, and in spite of the Doric dialect, in which they are expressed, have found general circulation in England, and been studied wherever the English language is known. His elegant biographer, Dr. Currie, [note] justly pronounces him to be one of the few poets who have at once excelled in humour, in tenderness, and in
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.195
sublimity; a praise unknown to the ancients, and which, in modern times, is only due to Aristotle, [note] to Shakespeare, [note] and, perhaps, to Voltaire. [note] Whether he strings his lyre to a moral and devotional theme, as in that sublimest of pastorals, The Cotter's Saturday Night, or to one humourous and fantastic, as in Tam o' Shanter, we see him running with the same ease from the lowest to the highest keys; and from the rare option which he possessed of using either the Scottish dialect or the purer English, as best suited his purpose, he may be said to have extended his scale by, at least, two additional notes beyond any poet that ever wrote.

73

We have seen that, in his dying moments, Burns was tremblingly apprehensive that much that he had unguardedly written and wished buried in oblivion would be revived to the injury of his future reputation. His fears have proved but too well founded; though in candour it must be allowed, that a veneration for every thing which can be traced to the pen of Burns has had as great a share in such revivals as any enmity that can be supposed to exist to his reputation. It will not, it is hoped, be regarded as erring in either sense, to present you with a small copy of verses by Burns, which have not, it is believed, yet found their way into any of the collections of his works. They were transmitted by Burns himself to the same newspaper which contained his letter on the commemoration of the revolution, in a letter, of which the following is a copy.

Mr. Printer,
74

If the productions of a simple ploughman can merit a place in the same paper with
196LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Sylvester Otway, * and the other favorites of the Muses who illuminate The Star with the lustre of genius, your insertion of the enclosed trifle will he succeeded by future communications from

Yours, &c.
R. BURNS.
Ellisland, near Dumfries, May 18, 1789.
75

The following were the lines enclosed.

Fair the face of orient day,
Fair the tints of op'ning rose;
But fairer still my Delia dawns,
More lovely far her beauty shews.
Sweet the lark's wild warbled lay,
Sweet the tinkling rill to hear;
But Delia, more delightful still,
Steal thine accents on mine ear.
The flower-enamour'd busy bee,
The rosy banquet loves to sip;
Sweet the streamlet's limpid lapse
To the sun-brown'd Arab's lip.
But Delia, on thy balmy lips
Let me, no vagrant insect, rove;
O, let me steal one liquid kiss,
For oh! my soul is parch'd with love.
W. G.


* A name now lost to the lists of fame. Among the Memoirs of Ancient Scots, however, there is one of Sylvester Otway, which will be given in Part II. of this work. A. S.
POETS — ROBERT BURNS.197
76

*** As it may be interesting to the reader to know something of the fortunes of the family of Burns, the following information is transcribed from a note appended by Mr. Gilbert Burns, [note] the brother of the poet, to the last edition of Dr. Currie's [note] “Works of Burns.”

77

“The profits of these volumes, so judiciously selected, and advantageously introduced to the world, by Dr. Currie, together with an additional subscription by some gentlemen in India, transmitted to Sir James Shaw, of London, (the indefatigable friend of Burns' family) increased by a very handsome addition from himself and some friends, in London, and vested in the funds, in the name of the magistrates of Ayr, as Trustees for the family, afforded the means of maintaining and educating the boys, and fitting them out for their several destinations, and leaving as much as produced a moderate annuity for the support of Mrs. Burns.

78

“Of the sons of the poet, Francis Wallace, the second, died in 1803; Robert, the eldest, was, in 1804, placed as a clerk in the Stamp Office, London, where he still continues.

79

William Nicol, the third son, and James Glencairn, the youngest, went out in 1811 and 1812 as cadets in the India Company's service, where they still remain, William on the Madras, and James on the Bengal, Establishments. The conduct of all those young men has, hitherto, been creditable to themselves, and pleasing to those who take an interest in them. By the kindness of the Marquis of Hastings, James, three years ago, got a good appointment in the commercial department; and the first use he made of his good fortune, was to settle on his mo-
198LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
ther an annuity, perhaps, more commensurate to his feelings of maternal regard, than to the selfish maxims of worldly prudence.”

80

Let it be added, to the honor of a gentleman, who is a native of the town of Dumfries, and whose liberality to its institutions, and kindness to every one connected with it, are but incidental features of a generosity of disposition, never restrained by local limits where real good is to be done, that the cadetships, thus well bestowed on the two younger sons of Burns, were the unsolicited and spontaneous gift of Thomas Reid, Esq. present Chairman of the Honorable the Board of Directors of the East India Company.

A. S.