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the young student was obliged to leave school for the labours of the harvest. “ I did not, however," says Murdoch,“ lose sight of him, but was a frequent visitant at his father's house, when I had my half-holyday ; and very often went, accompanied by one or two persons more intelligent than myself, that good William Burns might enjoy a mental feast. Then the labouring oar was shifted to some other hand. The father and the son sat down with us, when we enjoyed a conversation, wherein solid reasoning, sensible remark, and a moderate seasoning of jocularity, were so nicely blended, as to render it palatable to all parties. Robert had a hundred questions to ask me about the French, &c. ; and the father, who had always rational information in view, had still some question to propose to my more learned friends upon moral or natural philosophy, or some such interesting subject.” It is delightful to contemplate such scenes of humble life as theseshewing us, as they do, what the desire of intellectual cultivation may accomplish in any circumstances, and with how much genuine happiness it will irradiate the gloom even of the severest poverty.
We shall not pursue farther the history of Robert Burns. All know his sudden blaze of popularitythe misfortunes and errors of his short life-and the immortality which he has won by his genius. It is plain, from the details that we have given, that, even had he never been a poet, he would have grown up to be no common man.
Whatever he owed to nature, it was to his admirable father, and his own zealous exertions, that he was indebted at least for that education of his powers, and that storing of his mind with knowledge, which, in so great a degree, contributed to make him what he afterwards became. It is an error to regard either Burns or Shakspeare as simply a poet of Nature's making.
If learning be taken to include knowledge in general, instead of being restricted merely to an acquaintance with the ancient languages, it may be rather said that they were both learned poets—as, indeed, every great poet must be. Their minds, that of Shakspeare especially, were full of multifarious knowledge, which was the fruit both of vigilant observation and extensive reading, and was perpetually entering into, and, in some degree regulating, the spirit or form of their poetry. The wonder in the case of each was, not that he produced poetical compositions of transcendant excellence without any acquaintance with literature, but that he acquired his literary knowledge in the face of difficulties which would have discouraged most men from making the attempt to gain it. Such minds, too learn a great deal from a few books, deriving both information and rules of taste from the writers they peruse, with a rapidity and felicity of apprehension which people of inferior endowments cannot comprehend.
Gilbert Burns, the younger brother of Robert, had no turn for poetry ; but he, too, derived infinite benefit from those studies which were intermixed, as we have seen, with the labours of his early days. To this excellent man, who died only a few years ago, literature was the solace of a life of hardships. He never became a scholar in the ordinary sense of the word; his situation, that of a small farmer, did not require that he should give himself to the study of Greek or Latin ; but he obtained an extensive acquaintance with the best books in his native language, and learr.ed to write English in a manner that would not have done discredit to a scholar. Some of his letters, indeed, which Dr Currie has printed, would be ornaments to any collection of epistolary compositions—especially a long one, dated October, 1800, which
appeared first in Dr Currie's second edition of the poet's works; and which contains a disquisition on the education of the humble classes, abounding in valuable remarks, and characterized by no ordinary powers, both of expression and thought.
Gifford; Holcroft. Conclusion.
Anong narratives which illustrate the power of the Love of Knowledge in overcoming the opposition of circumstances, there are few more interesting than that which has been given us of his early life by the late William GIFFORD. Mr Gifford was born in 1755 at Ashburton, in Devonshire. His father, although the descendant of a respectable and even wealthy family, had early ruined himself by his wildness and prodigality ; and even after he was married had run off to sea, where he remained serving on board a man-of-war for eight or nine years. On his return home, with about a hundred pounds of prize money, he attempted to obtain a subsistence as a glazier, having before apprenticed himself to that business; but in a few years he died of a broken-down constitution before he was forty, leaving his wife with two children, the youngest only about eight months old, and with no means of support except what she might make by continuing the business, of which she was quite ignorant. In about a twelvemonth, she followed her husband to the grave. “ I was not quite
is when this happened ; my little brother was hardly two ; and we had not a relation nor a friend in the world.”
His brother was now sent to the workhouse, and he was himself taken home to the house of a person named Carlile, who was his godfather, and had seized upon whatever his mother had left, under the pretence of repaying himself for money which he had
advanced to her. By this person, William, who had before learned reading, writing, and a little arithmetic, was sent again to school, and was beginning to make considerable progress in the last branch of study ; but in about in three months his patron grew tired of the expense, and took him home, with the view of employing him as ploughboy. An injury, however, which he had received some years before, on his breast, was found to unfit him for this species of labour ; and it was next resolved that he should be sent out to Newfoundland to assist in a storehouse. But upon being presented to the person who had agreed to fit him out, he was delared to be too small'—and this scheme also had to be abandoned.
My godfather,” says he, “ had now humbler views for me, and I had little heart to resist any thing. He proposed to send me on board one of the Torbay fishing-boats: I ventured, however, to remonstrate against this, and the matter was compromised by my consenting to go on board a coaster. A coaster was speedily found for me at Brixham, and thither I went when little more than thirteen."
In this vessel he remained for nearly a twelvemonth. “ It will be easily conceived," he remarks, “ that my life was a life of hardship. I was not only
a ship-boy on the high and giddy mast, but also in the cabin, where every menial office fell to my lot ; yet, if I was wrestless and discontented, I can safely say it was not so much on account of this, as of my being precluded from all possibility of reading ; as my master did not possess, nor do I recollect seeing during the whole time of my abode with him, a single book of any description except the Coasting
While in this humble situation, however, and seeming to himself almost an outcast from the world, he was not altogether forgotten. He had broken