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Why did not the universal Father give me too the brain of Plato or of Tully Why cannot I soar aloft as Milton, or glow with the fire of Byron, or thrill with the heart-melting tenderness of Burns Forbear, presumptuous blasphemer! Hushed be thy complaint, since thou may’st see Milton's sightless eyes and hear the anguish of his stricken soul ; since Byron’s life was but a long and weary heartdrawn sigh, as bitter to him as its echo in his moody verse is sweet to us; since Burns' pilgrimage from Ayrshire to Dumfries was but a funeral march, and its wild wailing music, “man was made to mourn.” Oh, envy not the sons of genius: their flight is higher and their rapture more intense than ours, but their fall is also lower and their agony more keen. Increase of sensibility means increase of torture, and he who craves the one must woo the other also. “Why should a living man complain o’ Let us not ungrateful curse our fate because we are unequal to the highest. Let us rather thank God for the blessings of our assigned position, and strive to acquitourselves manfully of its obligations. We have seen Burns leaving Ellisland with regret, and settling in Dumfries with almost despair. This unpleasant state of dissatisfaction with his position did not permit that mental calm which is almost as essential to virtue as to happiness. As a refuge from harassing care, the moody poet at times indulged in undue conviviality, and was not unfrequently intemperate in his use of alcoholic stimulants. Some unfortunate occurrences soon aster took place, affecting his standing with the superior officers of his department, and entirely precluding any reasonable hope of future promotion ; so that his prospect in life was narrowed to a long road of poverty, leading to an humble tomb, over which in fancy he could see the desolate and destitute sharer of his being, weeping in unsolaced woe among a starving troop of their orphan offspring. Such a fate, when its horror was almost equaled by its certainty, might almost excuse the aberration of an ardent soul, while their mournful cause will not cease to be as profoundly deplored as their ruinous effects. Mental anxiety, and the life of dissipation to which it led, made rapid inroads on a constitution already broken by premature and excessive toil, and under the accumulated weight of his oppressions Robert Burns sunk to an early grave, on the 21st day of July 1796, at the age of 37 years.
“Alas, ’t was ever, ever thus,
The necessary limit of these remarks does not permit a dissertation, however brief, on the poetry of Burns—we can only pause to consider in a word the most important moral of his life.
Lockhart, in his biography, with an excusable zeal for the poet’s reputation, has ingeniously attempted, if not to conceal, at least to color the indisputable fact, that during his later years he was more and more addicted to the vice of drunkenness. It is ever painful to state the whole truth in plain words, when the subject is some weakness of a cherished friend, and the old motto, “de mortuis nihil sed bonum,” is the natural language of a generous if a mistaken sentiment. But is it not better that a great good man’s faults should preach to after generations a sermon all the more impressive by their incongruity with his general virtue, than that a sickly tenderness should bury them beneath a heap of charitable misrepresentations ? Be it then confessed with pain, that Robert Burns, a heaven-anointed bard, one of the mental kings of earth, was weakened in
the sinews of his soul, by the seducing embrace of that purple harlot, the convivial wine-cup. Let the lovers of his verse and the admirers of his character take warning and avoid his error: let them beware lest they be overcome of evil, striving rather to overcome evil with good. Many and mighty are the abducent influences with which we have all daily to contend. The struggle must be laborious and life-long, but the victory to a determined soul is, with divine assistance, as certain as it is glorious. Let us then learn to meet the ills of life, not mournfully but with cheerfulness. Let us bear them with a patient heroism, never seeking refuge in a temporary insensibility nor in the cowardly intoxication of frivolity. Moral chloroform is a dastard’s refuge from discipline.
“Oh, fear not, in a world like this,
Know how sublime a thing it is
lN surveying the annals of time and reviewing the characters of those men who, by the peculiarity of their mental constitutions, have been distinguished from the dull herd of such as have no characters at all, (which is the case with by far the majority of mankind, as the sagacious Dr. Johnson has most pregnantly remarked,) we shall find no one, perhaps, who occupies a point of view so entirely unique as the old sage of Sinope, the cynic Diogenes. Of his personal history we can but regret that so very little has descended to us, since even that little is quite sufficient to present to our observation the most singulár development of a mind as gigantic in its powers as eccentric in its operations; as instructive by its lessons as attractive by its novelty. According to the most accurately settled systems of chronology, he was born in the year 428 B. C. Of his early life we have only the account that he began, even in boyhood, to think for himself and to despise the leadingstrings of popular prejudice. He recognized no intellectual authority but that of reason, which he was wise enough to perceive had been by nature given to man for his guide of life ; and by its dictates alone, so far as discoverable, he determined to be governed, rather than by those arbitrary customs which he found established in society around
him. Nay, being of an extremely radical turn of mind, he went so far as to question the obligation of human laws, at least such as are merely instituted for some temporary convenience rather than deduced from the eternal nature and unalterable rélations of things. Acting consistently with his notions of propriety in this respect, he proceeded to exercise a right which, as he considered, belonged to each individual member of the body politic, rather than to community in its aggregate capacity—i.e., that of coining money : being detected in which, he suffered the penalty of banishment from his native country, to which, judging from our knowledge of his character, he could not have been very ardently attached, narrow patriotism and all other similar weaknesses forming no part of his exalted nature, elevated as it was by the study of pure philosophy and the contemplation of the infinite. His punishment we may therefore fairly suppose not to have been severely felt by its subject. It was probably, in its result, advantageous to him, since it proved the means of introducing him into another and a much higher order of society than that to which he had previously been accustomed. From such circumstances, which are of daily occurrence, we should do well to learn that how great soever a misfortune may seem to be, or in how disgraceful soever a situation, deciding by common opinion, we may be placed, yet perhaps after all, the cirumstances may prove a real blessing in the end, and the dishonor a glory by the judgment of more liberal spectators. Not that I would be understood as justifying entirely the conduct of the philosopher in this particular, which, with the most favorable construction possible, must still be regarded as of problematical propriety, but that from every incident I would deduce some general truth