« AnteriorContinuar »
Burns to be found; and at night in the Hostelry, in the reek of beef and greens and Scotch drink,” Apollo in the shape of a ploughman at the head of the fir-table that dances with all its glasses to the horny fists clenching with cordial thumpers the sallies of wit and humor volleying from his lips and eyes, unre. proved by the hale old minister who is happy to meet his parishioners out of the pulpit, and by his presence keeps the poet within bounds, if not of absolute decorum, of that decency becoming men in their most jovial mirth, and not to be violated without reproach by genius in its most wanton mood dallying even with forbidden things. Or at a Rockin' ? An evening meeting, as you know, “one of the objects of which," so says the glossary, “is spinning with the rock or distaff;" but which has many other objects, as the dullest may conjecture, when lads and lasses have come flocking from “ behind the hills where Stinchar flows, mang muirs and mosses many o’,” to one solitary homestead made roomy enough for them all; and if now and then felt to be too close and crowded for the elderly people and the old, not unprovided with secret spots near at hand in the broom and the brackens, where the sleeping lintwhites sit undis. turbed by lovers' whispers, and lovers may look, if they choose it, unashamed to the stars.
And what was he going to do with all this poetry—poetry accumulating fast as his hand, released at night from other implements, could put it on paper, in bold, round, upright characters, that tell of fingers more familiar with the plough than the pen? He himself sometimes must have wondered to find every receptacle in the spence crammed with manuscripts, to say nothing of the many others floating about all over the country, and setting the smiddies in a roar, and not a few, of which nothing was said, folded in the breast-kerchiefs of maidens, put therein by his own hand on the lea-rig, beneath the milk-white thorn. What brought him out into the face of day as a Poet?
Of all the women Burns ever loved, Mary Campbell not ex. cepted, the dearest to him by far, from first to last, was Jean Armour. During composition her image rises up from his heart before his eyes the instant he touches on any thought or feeling with which she could be in any way connected; and sometimes Others may
his allusions to her might even seem out of place, did they not please us, by letting us know that he could not altogether forget her, whatever the subject his muse had chosen. have inspired more poetical strains, but there is an earnestness in his fervors, at her name, that brings her breathing in warm flesh and blood to his breast. Highland Mary he would have made his wife, and perhaps broken her heart. He loved her living, as a creature in a dream, dead as a spirit in heaven. But Jean Armour possessed his heart in the stormiest season of his passions, and she possessed it in the lull that preceded their dissolution. She was well worthy of his affection, on account of her excellent qualities; and though never beautiful, had many personal attractions. But Burns felt himself bound to her by that inscrutable mystery in the soul of every man, by which one other being, and one only, is believed, and truly, to be essential to his happiness here,--without whom, life is not life. Her strict and stern father, enraged out of all religion, both natural and revealed, with his daughter for having sinned with a man of sin, tore from her hands her marriage lines as she besought forgiveness on her knees, and without pity for the life stirring within her, terrified her into the surrender and renunciation of the title of wife, branding her thereby with an ab. horred name. A father's power is sometimes very terrible, and it was so here ; for she submitted, with less outward show of agony than can be well understood, and Burns almost became a mad
His worldly circumstances were wholly desperate, for bad seasons had stricken dead the cold soil of Mossgiel ; but he was willing to work for his wife in ditches, or to support her for a while at home, by his wages as a negro-driver in the West Indies.
A more unintelligible passage than this never occurred in the life of any other man, certainly never a more trying one; and Burns must at this time have been tormented by as many violent passions, in instant succession or altogether, as the human heart could hold. In verse he had for years given vent to all his moods; and his brother tells us that the LAMENT was composed « after the first distraction of his feelings had a little subsided.” Had he lost her by death he would have been dumb, but his
grief was not mortal, and it grew eloquent, when relieved and sustained from prostration by other passions that lift up the head, if it be only to let it sink down again, rage, pride, indignation, jealousy, and scorn. “ Never man loved, or rather adored woman more than I did her; and to confess a truth between you and me, I do still love her to distraction after all. My or dear unfortunate Jean! It is not the losing her that makes me so 'unhappy; but for her sake I feel most severely; I grieve she is in the road to, I fear, eternal ruin. May Almighty God forgive her ingratitude and perjury to me, as I from my very soul forgive her; and may his grace be with her, and bless her in all her future life! I can have no nearer idea of the place of eternal punishment than what I have felt in my own breast on her account. I have tried often to forget her; I have run into all kinds of dissipation and riot, mason-meetings, drinking matches, and other mischiefs, to drive her out of my head, but all in vain. And now for the grand cure : the ship is on her way home, that is to take me out to Jamaica; and then fare. well, dear old Scotland! and farewell, dear ungrateful Jean! for never, never will I see you more.' In the LAMENT, there are the same passions, but genius has ennobled them by the tenderness and elevation of the finest poetry, guided their transi. tions by her solemnizing power, inspired their appeals to conscious night and nature, and subdued down to the beautiful and pathetic, the expression of what had else been agony and despair.
Twenty pounds would enable him to leave Scotland, and take him to Jamaica ; and to raise them, it occurred to Robert Burns to publish his poems by subscription! "I was pretty confident my poems would meet with some applause ; but at the worst, the roar of the Atlantic would deafen the voice of censure, and the novelty of West Indian scenes make me forget neglect. I threw off six hundred copies, of which I got subscriptions for about three hundred and sixty. My vanity was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the public; and be. sides, I pocketed, all expenses deducted, near twenty pounds. This sum came very seasonably, as I was thinking of inden. turing 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 for the Clyde, “For hungry ruin had me in the wind."" The ship sailed; but Burns was still at Mossgiel, for his strong heart could not tear itself away from Scotland, and some of his friends encouraged him to hope that he might be made a gauger! In a few months he was about to be hailed, by the universal acclamation of his country, a great National Poet.
But the enjoyment of his fame all round his birth-place, “ the heart and the main region of his song,” intense as we know it was, though it assuaged, could not still the troubles of his heart; his life amidst it all was as hopeless as when it was obscure; “ his chest was on its road to Greenock, where he was to embark in a few days for America," and again he sung
“ Farewell old Coila's hills and dales,
Her heathy moors and winding vales,
when a few words from a blind old man to a country clergyman kindled within him a new hope, and set his heart on fire; and while
“ November winds blew loud wi' angry sugh,"
“I posted away to Edinburgh without a single acquaintance, or a single letter of introduction. The baneful star that had so long shed its blasting influence on my zenith, for once made a revolution to the Nadir."
At first, Burns was stared at with such eyes as people open wide who behold a prodigy; for though he looked the rustic, and his broad shoulders had the stoop that stalwart men acquire at the plough, his swarthy face was ever and anon illu. mined with the look that genius alone puts off and on, and that comes and goes with a new interpretation of imagination's winged words. For a week or two he had lived chiefly with some Ayrshire acquaintances, and was not personally known to any of the leading men. But as soon as he came forward, and was seen and heard, his name went through the city, and people asked one another, “ Have you met Burns ?” His demeanor among the Magnates, was not only unembarrassed but dignified, and it was at once discerned by the blindest that he belonged to the aristocracy of nature. “ The idea which his conversation conveyed of the power of his mind, exceeded, if possible, that which is suggested by his writings. Among the poets whom I have happened to know, I have been struck, in more than one instance, with the unaccountable disparity between their general talents, and the occasional aspirations of their more favored moments. But all the faculties of Burns's mind were, as far as I could judge, equally vigorous; and his predilections for poetry were rather the result of his own enthusiastic and impassioned temper, than of a genius exclusively adapted to that species of composition.” Who those poets were, of occasional inspiration and low general talents, and in conversation felt to be of the race of the feeble, Dugald Stewart had too much delicacy to tell us; but if Edinburgh had been their haunt, and theirs the model of the poetical character in the judgment of her sages, no wonder that a new light was thrown on the Philosophy of the Human Mind by that of Robert Burns. For his intellectual faculties were of the highest order, and though deferential to superior knowledge, he spoke on all subjects he understood, and they were many, with a voice of determination, and when need was, of command. It was not in the debating club in Tarbolton alone, about which so much nonsense has been prosed, that he had learned eloquence; he had been long giving chosen and deliberate utterance to all his bright ideas and strong emotions; they were all his own, or he had made them his own by transfusion ; and so, therefore, was his speech. Its fount was in geniøs, and therefore could not run dry—a flowing spring that needed neither to be fanged nor pumped. As he had the power of eloquence, so had he the will, the desire, the ambition to put it forth ; for he rejoiced to carry