« AnteriorContinuar »
these pieces many had from various causes never occurred to the notice of Dr. Currie; whilst others have been given by him in a more imperfect state than that in which they will now appear. These productions of the Scottish Bard extend from his earliest to his latest years;
be considered as the wild-flowers of his muse, which, in the luxuriant vigour of his fancy, he scattered as he passed along. They are the result of a most diligent search, in which I have used the utmost exertions; often walking to considerable distances, and to obscure cottages in search of a single letter. Many of them have been obtained from the generous confidence and liberality of their possessors; some from the hands of careless indifference, insensible to their value; others were fast falling to decay, their very existence almost forgotten, though glowing with the vital warmth which is diffused through every line that the hand of the immortal bard has ever traced. -In this pursuit I have followed the steps of the poet, from the humble Cottage in Ayrshire in which he was born, to the House in which he died at Dumfries.-I. have visited the farm of Mossgiel where he resided at the period of his first publication; I have traversed the scenes by the Ayr, the Lugar, and the Doon. Sacred haunts! " Where first grim nature's visage hoar
Struck his young eye;" -And have finally shared in the reverential feelings of his distinguished biographer,* over the hallowed spot where the ashes of the bard are deposited.t
* The above passage has a reference to a letter from Dr. Currie to Messrs. Cadell and Davies, which has been communicated to the Editor, and of which the following is an extract.
June 13, 1804. On
my late excursion I visited Mrs. Burns at Dumfries. “She continues to live in the house in which the poet died, * and every thing about her bespoke decent competence, and
It must not however be supposed that the present volume contains the whole, or nearly the whole of the writings of Burns, which have come under my eye, or fallen into my hands; much less have I thought it justifiable to reprint those exceptionable pieces, in prose and verse, which have been surreptitiously published, or erroneously attributed to him, and which in every point of view ought to have been consigned to oblivion. Notwithstanding the vigour which characterises all his productions, perhaps there is no au- thor whose writings are so difficult to select with a view to publication as Burns; and the very strength and exuberance by which they are marked, are in no small degree the cause of this difficulty. Whatever was the object, or the idea, of the moment, he has delineated, or expressed it, with a force and a vivacity that brings it before us in all its beauty, or all its deformity. But the subjects of his pen were almost as vari
“even comfort. She shewed me the study and small library
of her husband nearly as he left them. By every thing I hear “she conducts herself irreproachably.
"From Mrs. Burns's house my Son and I went to the “ Church-yard at no great distance, to visit the grave of the
poet. As it is still uninscribed, we could not have found it, “had not a person we met with in the Church-yard pointed “ it out. He told us he knew Burns well, and that he (Burns) "himself chose the spot in which he is buried. His grave is
on the north-east corner of the Church-yard, which it fills up; and at the side of the grave of his two sons, Wallace
and Maxwell, the first of whom, a lad of great promise, died “last year of a consumption, the last immediately after his “ father. The spot is well situated for a monument, for which “there is money collected, but the subscribers, I understand, “cannot agree as to the design.”
On this little pilgrimage I was accompanied by Mr. James M*Clure, a man who by his punctuality, his integrity, his benevolence, and the uniform uprightness of his character, confers respectability on the humble situation of a letter-carrier. He was the constant and faithful friend of the poet, and since his death has been most active and successful in his deavours to promote the interests of the family.
ous as nature herself; and hence it follows, that some of his compositions must be discarded, as inconsistent with that decorum which is due to the public at large. In his early years, Burns had imbibed a strong attachment to the unfortunate House of Stuart which he seems to have cherished as a patriotic feeling; and as whatever he felt, he felt strongly, his prejudices occasionally burst forth in his writings; and some compositions of his yet remain, the publication of which, although in these days perfectly harmless, might render the Editor obnoxious to the letter, though not to the spirit of the law. If the affections of Burns were ardent, his animosities were scarcely less so; and hence some of his pieces display a spirit of resentment, the result of the moment, which it would be unjust to his memory, as well as to the objects of his satire, to revive. These and various other causes, on which it would be tedious to dwell, have imposed difficulties upon me from which I have endeavoured to extricate myself according to the best of my judgment. If on the one hand, with the example of the foi mer Editor before my eyes, I have rejected whatever I conceived might in any point of view be improper for the public eye, I have on the other hand, been anxious not to deprive the author, through too fastidious an apprehension of indecorum, of those peculiar marks, and that masculine freedom of thought and . expression, which so strongly characterise his works. Nor have I in this respect trusted wholly to my own judgment and feelings. Several persons, some of them most nearly connected by the ties of relationship with the poet, others distinguished by their literary attainments, and their well known admiration of his works, have also been consulted. But though I have availed myself of this assistance to the utmost of my power, and “ though I love the man, and do honor his memo“ ry on this side idolatry as much as any,” yet as on many occasions I must exercise my own judgment and discretion, I know not whether the warmth of my attachment to the poet and his productions, may
'not have led me to publish sentiments and pieces which would have been better withheld, and even letters and poems, to which an ardent admiration of their author may have induced me to attach a fancied value and interest. I can however assure the reader, that whatever may be thought of the following collection, I have neither forgotten, nor been indifferent to the apprehensions so strongly expressed by Burns, in nearly his last moments; "that every scrap of his writing * would be revived against him to the injury of his “ future reputation; that letters and papers written “ with unguarded and improper freedom, and which " he earnestly wished to have buried in oblivion, would o be handed about by idle vanity or malevolence, when 66 no dread of his resentment would restrain them, or "prevent the censures of shrill-tongued malice, or the r insidious sarcasms of envy, from pouring forth all " their venom to blast his fame."* On the contrary, I must be allowed to say, that if I am at alt accurate in my estimate of the character and feelings of this extraordinary but eccentric genius, I have printed no one piece of his composition that he would have been ashamed to acknowledge, and that in this publication, I have been actuated only by an earnest desire of preserving such of the writings of Burns, and such only, as do honour to the poet's head, or to his heart; or that are immediately or remotely connected with the circumstances of his life, or the developement of his character.
To one whose admiration of the bard was less ardent than mine, it might have occurred that some of his pieces, containing passages of great beauty, were rendered inadmissible merely by a single indelicate sentiment, or unguarded expression, which it might be easy to alter, so as to preserve the whole. But from such a presumption as the substituting a word of my own in the place of that of the poet, (except in a very
* Burns's works-Dr. Currie's Ed. v. i, p. 222.
few instances of evident error) I have most religiously abstained; and have in such cases rather chosen to omit the passage, or even to sacrifice the piece altogether, than attempt to remove its blemishes. If indeed I could ever have entertained any doubts as to the sacred duty of fidelity to my author, the warning voice which yet seems to issue from the warm ashes of the poet himself, would effectually have deterred me. " To mangle « the works of the poor bard, whose tuneful voice is 6 now mute for ever in the dark and narrow house " by Heaven, 'twould be sacrilege !"**
My readers will however best judge how far my exertions are intitled to their approbation. As an apology for any defects of my own that may appear in this publication, I beg to observe that I am by profession an artist, and not an author. An earnest wish to possess a scrap of the hand-writing of Burns, originally led to the discovery of most of the papers that com. pose this volume. In the manner of laying them before the public I honestly declare that I have done my best; and I trust I may fairly presume to hope that the man who has contributed to extend the bounds of literature by adding another genuine volume to the writings of Robert Burns, has some claim on the gratitude of his countrymen. On this occasion, I certainly feel something of that sublime and heart-swelling gratification, which he experiences, who casts another stone on the CAIRN of a great and lamented chief.
R. H. C.
18t Nov. 1808.
* Burns's Works, vol. iv, p. 63.