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and they possessed, on the whole, more literature and knowledge of the world. Burns became deeply interested in the theological warfare, and at once ranged himself on the liberal side. From his being a poet this was to have been expected, but various circumstances concurred in making his partisanship more than usually decided. The elder Burnes was, in his ways of thinking, a New Light, and his religious notions he impressed carefully on his children-his son consequently, in taking up the ground he did, was acting in accordance with received ideas and with early training. Besides, Burns's most important friends at this period, Mr. Gavin Hamilton, from whom he held his farm on a sub-lease, and Mr. Aitken, to whom the Cotter's Saturday Night was dedicated—were in the thick of the contest on the New Light side. Mr. Hamilton was engaged in personal dispute with the Rev. Mr. Auld—the clergyman who rebuked Burns--and Mr. Aitken had the management of the case of Dr. MacGill, who was cited before the local Church Courts on a charge of heterodoxy. Hamilton and Aitken held a certain position in the county-they were full of talent, they were hospitable, they were witty in themselves, and could appreciate wit in others. They were of higher social rank than Burns's associates had hitherto been, they had formed a warm friendship for him, and it was not unnatural that he should become their ally, and serve their cause with what weapons he had. Besides, wit has ever been a fue to the Puritan. Cavaliers fight with song and jest, as well as with sword and spear, and sometimes more effectively. Hudibras and Worcester are flung into opposite scales, and make the balance even. From training and temperament, Burns was an enemy of the Auld Light section ; conscious of his powers, and burning to distinguish himself, he searched for an opportunity as anxiously as ever did Irishman for a head at Donnybrook, and when he found it, he struck, without too curiously inquiring into the rights and wrongs of the matter. At Masonic Meetings, at the tables of his friends, at fairs, at gatherings round church-doors on Sundays, he argued, talked, joked, flung out sarcasms—to be gathered up, repeated and re-repeated—and maddened in every way the wild-boar of orthodoxy by the javelins of epigram. The satirical opportunity at length came, and Burns was not slow to take advantage of it. Two Auld Light divines, the Rev. John Russel and the Rev. Alex. Moodie, quarrelled about their respective parochial boundaries, and the question came before the Presbytery for settlement. In the court-when Burns was present—the reverend gentlemen indulged in coarse personal altercation, and the Twa Herds was the result. Copies of this satire were handed about, and for the first time Burns tasted how sweet a thing was applause. The circle of his acquaintances extended itself, and he could now call several clergymen of the moderate party his friends. The Twa Herds was followed by the tremendous satire of Holy Willie's Prayer, and by the Holy Fair—the last equally witty, equally familiar in its allusions to sacred things, but distinguished by short poetic touches, by descriptions of character and manners, unknown in Scottish poetry since the days of Dunbar.
These pieces caused great stir ; friends admired and applauded; foes hated and reviled. His brother Gilbert spoke words of caution which, had Burns hoeded, it would have been better for his fame. But to check such thunder in mid-volley was, perhaps, more than could have been expected of poetic flesh and blood.
Burns interested himself deeply in the theological disputes of his district, but he did not employ himself entirely in writing squibs against that section of the clergy which he disliked. He had already composed Mailie's Elegy and the Epistle to Davie - the first working in an element of humour ennobled by moral reflection, a peculiar manner in which he lived to produce finer specimens; the second almost purely didactic, and which he hardly ever surpassed-and as he was now in the full Aush of inspiration, every other day produced its poem. He did not go far a-field for his subjects ; he found sufficient inspiration in his daily life and the most familiar objects. The schoolmaster of Tarbolton had established a shop for groceries, and having a liking for the study of medicine, he took upon himself the airs of a physician, and advertised that “advice would be given in common disorders, at the shop, gratis.” On one occasion, at the Tarbolton Mason-lodge, when Burns was present, the schoolmaster made a somewhat ostentatious display of his medical acquirements. To a man so easily moved as Burns, this hint was sufficient. On his
way home from the Lodge the terrible grotesquerie of Death and Dr. Hornbook floated through his mind, and on the following afternoon the verses were repeated to Gilbert. Not long after, in a Sunday afternoon walk, he recited to Gilbert the Cotter's Saturday Night, who described himself as electrified by the recital—as indeed he might well be. To Gilbert also the Address to the Deil was repeated while the two brothers were engaged with their carts in bringing home coals for family use. At this time, too, his poetic Epistles to Lapraik and others were composed-pieces which for verve and hurry and gush of versification seem to have been written at a sitting, yet for curious felicities of expression might have been under the file for years. It was Burns's habit, Mr. Chambers tells us, to keep his MSS. in the drawer of a little deal table in the garret at Mossgiel; and his youngest sister was wont, when he went out to afternoon labour, to slip up quietly and hunt for the freshly-written verses. Indeed, during the winter of 1785-86 Burns wrote almost all the poems which were afterwards published in the Kilmarnock edition.
But at this time he had other matters on hand than the writing of verses. The farm at Mossgiel was turning out badly; the soil was sour and wet, and, from mistakes in the matter of seed, the crops were failures. His prospects were made still darker by his relation with Jean Armour. He had made the acquaintance of this young woman at a penny wedding in Mauchline, shortly after he went to reside at Mossgiel, and the acquaintanceship, on his part at least, soon ripened into passion. In the spring of 1786, when baited with farming difficulties, he learned that Jean was about to become a mother, and the intelligence came on
him like a thunder-clap. Urged by a very proper feeling, he resolved to make the unhappy young woman all the reparation in his power, and accordingly he placed in her hands a written acknowledgment of marriage-a document sufficient by the law of Scotland to legalize their connexion, though after a somewhat irregular fashion. When Mr. Armour heard of Jean's intimacy with Burns and its miserable result, he was moved with indignation, and he finally persuaded her to deliver into his hands Burns's written paper, and this document he destroyed, although, for anything he knew, he destroyed along with it his daughter's good fame. Burns's feelings at this crisis may be imagined. Pride, love, anger, despair, strove for mastery in his breast. Weary of his country, almost of his existence, and seeing ruin staring him in the face at Mossgiel, he resolved to seek better fortune 'and solace for a lacerated heart, in exile. He accordingly arranged with Dr. Douglas to act as book-keeper on his estate in Jamaica. In order to earn the passage money, he was advised to publish the wonderful verses then lying in the drawer of the deal table at Mossgiel. This advice jumped pleasantly enough with his own wishes, and without loss of time he issued his subscription papers and began to prepare for the press. He knew that his poems possessed merit; he felt that applause would sweeten his "good night.” It is curious to think of Burns's wretched state—in a spiritual as well as a pecuniary sense--at this time, and of the centenary the other year which girdled the planet as with a blaze of festal fire and a roll of triumphal drums! Curious to think that the volume which Scotland regards as the most precious in her possession should have been published to raise nine pounds to carry its author into exile !
All the world has heard of Highland Mary-in life a maid-servant in the family of Mr. Hamilton, after death to be remembered with Dante's Beatrice and Petrarch's Laura How Burns and Mary became acquainted we have little means of knowing-indeed the whole relationship is somewhat obscure—but Burns loved her as he loved no other woman, and her memory is preserved in the finest expression of his love and grief. Strangely enough, it seems to have been in the fierce rupture between himself and Jean that this white flower of love sprang up, sudden in its growth, brief in its passion and beauty. It was arranged that the lovers should become man and wife, and that Mary should return to her friends to prepare for her wedding. Before her departure there was a farewell scene.
“On the second Sunday of May,” Burns writes to Mr. Thomson, after an historical fashion which has something touching in it, “in a sequestered spot on the banks of the Ayr the interview took place.” The lovers met and plighted solemn troth. According to popular statement, they stood on either side of a brook, they dipped their hands in the water, exchanged Bibles—and parted. Mary died at Greenock, and was buried in a dingy churchyard hemmed by narrow streets—beclanged now by innumerable hammers, and within a stone's throw of passing steamers. Information of her death was brought to Burns at Mossgiel ; he went to the window to
read the letter, and the family noticed that on a sudden his face changed. He went out without speaking; they respected his grief and were silent. On the whole matter Burns remained singularly reticent; but years after, from a sudden geysir of impassioned song, we learn that through all that time she had never been forgotten.
Jean was approaching her confinement, and having heard that Mr. Armour was about to resort to legal measures to force him to maintain his expected progenyan impossibility in his present circumstances- Burns left Mauchline and went to reside in the neighbourhood of Kilmarnock, where, in gloomy mood enough, he corrected his proof sheets. The volume appeared about the end of July, and, thanks to the exertions of his friends, the impression was almost immediately exhausted. Its success was decided. All Ayrshire rang with its praise. His friends were of course anxious that he should remain in Scotland ; and as they possessed some influence, he lingered in Ayrshire, loth to depart, hoping that something would turn up, but quite undecided as to the complexion and nature of the desired something. Wronged as he considered himself to have been by the Armour family, he was still conscious of a lingering affection for Jean. The poems having made a conquest of Ayrshire, began to radiate out on every side. Professor Dugald Stewart, then resident at Catrine, had a copy of the poems, and Dr. Blair, who was on a visit to the professor, had his attention drawn to them, and expressed the warmest admiration. Mrs. Dunlop of Dunlop on opening the book had been electrified by the Cotter's Saturday Night, as Gilbert had been before her, and immediately sent an express to Burns at Mossgiel with a letter of praise and thanks. All this was pleasant enough, but it did not materially mend the situation. Burns could not live on praise alone, and accordingly, so soon as he could muster nine guineas from the sale of his book, he took a steerage passage in a vessel which was expected to sail from Greenock at the end of September. During the month of August he seems to have employed himself in collecting subscriptions, and taking farewell of his friends. Burns was an enthusiastic mason, and we can imagine that his last meeting with the Tarbolton Lodge would be a thing to remember. It was remembered, we learn from Mr. Chambers, by a surviving brother, John Lees. John said, “that Burns came in a pair of buckskins, out of which he would always pull the other shilling for the other bowl, till it was five in the morning. An awfu' night that." Care left outside the door, we can fancy how the wit would flash, and the big black eyes glow, on such an occasion !
The first edition of his poems being nearly exhausted, his friends encouraged him to produce a second forthwith ; but on application, it was found that the Kilmarnock printer declined to undertake the risk, unless the price of the paper was advanced beforehand. This outlay Burns was at this time unable to afford. On hearing of the circumstance, his friend Mr. Ballantyne offered to advance the money, but urged him to proceed to Edinburgh and publish the second edition there. This advice commended itself to Burns's ambition, but for a while he
remained irresolute. Jean, meanwhile, had been confined of twins, and from one of his letters we learn that the “ feelings of a father” kept him lingering in Ayrshire. News of the success of his poems came in upon him on every side. Dr. Lawrie, minister of Loudon, to whose family he had recently paid a visit, had forwarded a copy of the poems, with a sketch of the author's life, to Dr. Thomas Blacklock, and had received a letter from that gentleman, expressing the warmest admiration of the writer's genius, and urging that a second and larger edition should at once be proceeded with ; adding, that "its intrinsic merits, and the exertions of the author's friends, might give the volume a more universal circulation than anything of the kind which has been published in my time." This letter, so full of encouragement, Dr. Lawrie carried at once to Mr. Gavin Hamilton, and Mr. Hamilton lost no time in placing it in Burns's hands. The poems had been favourably reviewed in the Edinburgh Magazine for October, and this number of the periodical, so interesting to all its inmates, would, no doubt, find its way to Mossgiel. Burns seems to have made up his mind to proceed to Edinburgh about the 18th November, a step which was warmly approved by his brother Gilbert; and when his resolution was taken, he acted upon it with promptitude.
He reached Edinburgh on the 28th November, 1786, and took up his residence with John Richmond, a Mauchline acquaintance, who occupied a room in Baxter's Close, Lawnmarket, for which he paid three shillings a week. Burns for some time after his arrival seems to have had no special object; he wandered about the city, looking down from the Castle on Princes Street ; haunting Holyrood Palace and Chapel ; standing with cloudy eyelid and hands meditatively knit beside the grave of Fergusson ; and from the Canongate glancing up with interest on the quaint tenement in which Allan Ramsay kept his shop, wrote his poems, and curled the wigs of a departed generation of Scotsmen. At the time of Burns's arrival, the Old Town towered up from Holyrood to the Castle, picturesque, smoke-wreathed; and when the darkness came, its climbing tiers of lights and cressets were reflected in the yet existing Nor’ Loch; and the grey uniform streets and squares of the New Townfrom which the visitor to-day can look down on low wooded lands, the Forth, and Fise beyond-were only in course of erection. The literary society of the time was brilliant but exotic, like the French lily or the English rose. For a generation and more the Scottish philosophers, historians, and poets had brought their epigram from France as they brought their claret, and their humour from England as they br ght their parliamentary intell ce. Blair of the Grave was a Scottish Dr. Young; Home of Douglas a Scottish Otway ; Mackenzie a Scottish Addison ; and Dr. Blair--so far as his criticism was concerned-a sort of Scottish Dr. Johnson. The Scotch brain was genuine enough ; the faculty was native, but it poured itself into foreign moulds. The literary grandees wore decorations--honestly earned but no one could discover amongst them the Order of the Thistle. These men, too, had done their work, and the burly black-eyed, humorous, passionate