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and beautifully indeed has he blended his own. No conqueror had overrun its his sweetest dreams of love and affec- fertile provinces, and it was for him to tion with such simple sounds as these; be crowned supreme over all the but generally speaking, Nature had no charms for him, unless when she at “ Lyrical singers of that high-souled land." once recalled to his memory, the image The crown that he has won can of some human being whom he loved, never be removed from his head. and the visions of departed happiness. Much is yet left for other poets, even Then indeed, insensate things became among that life where the spirit of instinct with spirit, and spoke the pas- Burns delighted to work ;-but he has sion of the poet's soul; of which there built monuments on all the high places, cannot beafinerinstance than in the lines and they who follow can only hope to to“ Mary in Heaven," when the trees, leave behind them some far humbler the banks, the streams, the channel of memorials. the Ayr, seem all parts of his own We have said that there is necessabeing, and the whole of that sylvan rily less enthusiasm, and therefore scenery is enveloped in an atmosphere less superstition in an agricultural of mournful passion.
than a pastoral country. AccordingWe have frequently thought that it ly, in the poetry of Burns, there is was fortunate for Burns, that he lived not much of that wild spirit of fear before this age of descriptive poetry; and mystery which is to be found in No doubt his original mind would the traditions of the south of Scotland. have preserved him from servile imi- The " Hallowe'en” is a poem of intitation ; but his admiration of the ge- nite spirit and vivacity, that brings nius of his great contemporaries might vividly before us all the merriment of have seduced the train of his emotions the scene. But there is little or nofrom the fireside to the valley, and he thing very poetical in the character of might have wasted on the forms of its superstitions,—and the poet himexternal nature, much of that fervid self, whose imagination seems never passion which he has bestowed on the to have been subjected beneath the dearer and nearer objects of human sway of any creatures but those of love. Had he done so, he would have flesh and blood, treats the whole suboffered violence to his own soul ; for ject with a sarcastic good-humour, it is plain that he never could have and sees in it only the exhibition of been a truly great poet, except as the mere human feelings, and passions, low-born poet of lowly life, and that and characters. Even in
« Tam o' had he resigned any part of his empire Shanter” the principal power lies in over the passions of the human breast, the character and situation of that he would have been but an inferior “ drowthy” hero; the Devil himself, prince in the dominions of pure fancy. playing on his bag-pipes in the win
He was, in many respects, born at a dow- neuk, is little more than a happy time; happy for a man of genius human piper, rather more burly than like him, but fatal and hopeless to the common ; and while the witches and mere coinmon mind. Much poetry warlocks are mere old men and woexisted in Scotland, but no poet. men, who continue to dance after There was no lavish and prodigal ap jigging-time is o’er," the young plause of great public favourites, no witch, " with the sark of se’enteen despotical criticism stretching the hunder linnen,” is a buxom country leaden sceptre of command over the lass to all intents and purposes, and free thoughts of genius. There were considered by “ Tam” in a very allurin our popular poetry many exqui- ing but very simple and human light. site fragments struck off as it were
“ Weel done, cutty sark!" from the great mass of domestic life; many pictures of unfinished, but touch
The description of the horrors of the ing beauty. There was every thing to scene has always seemed to us overstimulate, awaken, and excite, little or charged, and caricatured so as to benothing to depress or discourage. A come shocking rather than terrible. whole world of life lay before Burns, One touch of Shakspeare's imaginawhose inmost recesses, and darkest tion is worth all that laborious and nooks, and sunniest eminence he had heavy accumulation of affrightinents. familiarly trodden from his childhood. But we are not now seeking to paint • All that world, he felt, could be made a picture of Burns' genius--we aim
only at a general and characteristic Christianity, to the endless and grosketch. A few words more, then, on tesque varieties of professional vice the moral and religious spirit of his and folly exhibited in the hypocritical poetry, and we have done.
pretenders to sanctity, and the strongStrong charges have been brought lunged bellowers who laid claim to the against the general character of his gifts of grace. writings, and by men who, being mi In all this mad and mirthful wit, nisters of the Christian religion, may Burns could hardly fail of sometimes be supposed well imbued with its spi- unintentionally hurting the best of rit. They have decreed the poetry of the pious, while he was in fact seekBurns to be hostile to morality and ing to lash only the worst of the proreligion. Now, if this be indeed the fane; and as it is at all times dangercase, it is most unaccountable that ous to speak lightly about holy things, such compositions should have become it is not to be denied, that there are universally popular among a grave, in his poems many most reprehensible thoughtful, affectionate, and pious passages, and that the ridicule of peasantry-and that the memory of the human sometimes trespasses with Burns, faulty and frail as his human seeming irreverence on the divine. character was, should be cherished by An enemy of Burns might doubtless them with an enthusiastic fondness select from his writings a pretty forand admiration, as if they were all midable list of delinquencies of this bound to him by ties strong as those of kind--and by shutting his heart blood itself. The poems of Burns do in against all the touching and sublime fact form a part of the existence of the poetry that has made Burns the idol of Scottish peasantry-the purest hearts his countrymen, and brooding with a and the most intelligent minds are the gloomy malignity on all his infirmities best acquainted with them-and they thus brought into one mass, he might are universally considered as a subject enjoy a poor and pitiable triumph over of rejoicing pride, as a glory belonging the object of his unchristian scorn. to men in low estate, and which the l'his has been more than once atpeasant feels to confer on him the tempted---but without much effect; privilege of equality with the highest and nothing can more decidedly
prove in the land. It would be a gross and that the general spirit of Burns? irrational libel on the national charac- poetry is worthy of the people among ter of our people to charge Robert whom he was born, than the forBurns with being an immoral and ir- giveness which men of austerest prin religious poet.
ciples have been willing to extend to It is, however, perfectly true, that the manifold errors both of his genius Burns was led, by accidental and lo- and his life. cal circumstances, perhaps too fre But, while we hold ourselves justiquently to look, in a ludicrous point of fied in thus speaking of some of his stern view, on the absurdities, both of doc- and rancorous accusers, we must not trines and forms, that degraded the shut our eyes to the truth-nor deny, most awful rites of religion--and like that though Burns has left to us much wise on the follies and hypocrisies that poetry which sinks, with healing and disgraced the character of some of its cheering influence, into the poor
man's most celebrated ministers. His quick heart-much that breathes a pure and keen sense of the ludicrous could spirit of piety and devotion,
he might not resist the constant temptations have done far more good than he has which assailed it in the public exhibi- done-had he delighted less in painting tions of these mountebanks ; and the corruptions of religion, than in de hence, instead of confining himself to lineating her native and indestructible the happier and nobler task of describe beauty. “ The Cottar's Saturday ing religious Observances and Institu- Night” shews what he could have tions as they might be, he rioted in done-had he surveyed, with a calm the luxury of an almost licentious ri- and untroubled eye, all the influences dicule of the abject, impious, and hu- of our religion, carried as they are inmiliating fooleries which, in too many to the inmost heart of society by our cases, characterized them as they were simple and beautiful forms of worship --while his imagination was thus with- -had marriage-baptism-that other drawn from the virtues and piety of more awful sacrament death-and the truly enlightened ministers of funeral-had these and the innumera
ble themes allied to them, sunk into litary life in which seasons of spiritthe depths of his heart, and images of stirring activity are followed by seathem reascended thence into living sons of contemplative repose,
how and imperishable light.
many years passed over him rich in There is a pathetic moral in the impressions of sense and in dreams imperfect character of Burns, both as of fancy. His haunts were among a poet and a man; nor ought they scenes who delight both in him and his works, “ The most remote, and inaccessible and rightly hold the anniversary of By shepherds trod ;" his birth to be a day sacred in the
And living for years in the solitude, calendar of genius-to forget, that it, was often the consciousness of his own
he unconsciously formed friendships frailties that made him so true a paint
with the springs--the brooks—the
caves—the hills and with all the more er of human passions—that he often looked with melancholy eyes to that fleeting and faithless pageantry of the pure and serene life from which he sky, that to him came in the place of was, by his own imprudence, debarred those human affections from whose in--that innocence, purity, and virtue, cessities that kept him aloof from the
dulgence he was debarred by the new were to him, in the happiest hours of his inspiration, the fair images of be- cottage fire, and up among the mists on ings whose living presence he had too
the mountain-top. His mind, there, often shunned and that the sanctis fore, is stored with images of nature
dear to him for the recollections which ties of religion itself seem still more they bring—for the restoration of his sanctified, when they rise before us in earlier life. These images he has, at the poetry of a man who was not al. all times, a delight in pouring outways withheld from approaching with levity, if not with irreverence, her very seldom, it is true, with much semost holy and mysterious altars.
lection, or skill in the poet's art--so that We should be afraid of turning from somewhat confused—but in them all
his pictures in landscape are generally so great a national poet as Burns, to a living genius, also born like him in darkness, that at once take the imagia
there are lines of light, or strokes of the lower ranks of life, were we not nation, and convince us that before assured that there is a freshness and originality in the mind of the Ettrick
a poet's eye had travelled the sunshine Shepherd, well entitling him to take Burns--and then one of the Ettrick
or the shadow. Open a volume of his place immediately after
Shepherd—and we shall see how sel“ Him who walked in glory and in joy, dom the mind of the one was visited Following his plough upon the mountain by those images of external nature side."
which in that of the other find a conThe truth is, that the respective stant and chosen dwelling-place. characters of their poetry are altogether Secondly, We shall find, that in his. separate and distinct ; and there can delineations of human passions, Burns. be nothing more delightful than to drew from himself, or immediately see these two genuine children of Na-l from the living beings that were. ture following the pice of her in “ toiling and moiling” around him ; spiration into such different haunts, and hence, their vivid truth and irre each happy in his own native domi- sistible energy. But the Ettrick Shepnions, and powerful in his own legiti- herd is, clearly, a man rather of kind mate rule.
and gentle affections than of agitating And, in the first place, our admira- passions and his poetry, therefore, ble Shepherd is full of that wild en when it is a delineation of his own feelthusiasm towards external nature, ings, is remarkable for serenity and rewhich would seem to have formed so pose. When he goes out of himselfsmall a part of the poetical character and he does so much morethan Burnsof Burns-and he has been led by he does not paint from living agents in. that enthusiasm to acquire a far wider the transport of their passions-from and far deeper knowledge of her in the men who walk around him in this exhaustible wonders. He too passed our every-day world; but he rather a youth of poverty and hardship-but loves to bring before him, as a shepit was the youth of a lonely shepherd herd still in his solitude, the far-off among the most beautiful pastoral images of human life, dim and shavallies in the world, and in that so« dowy as dreams-and to lose himself VOL. IV.
in a world of his own creation, filled but a great poet-and nothing ens with all the visionary phantoms of tirely out of himself had power brightpoctical tradition.
ly tó kindle his imagination, unless, Accordingly, in his poetry, we have indeed, it were some mighty national but few complete pictures of which triumph or calamity, events that apthe intensity of mere human passions pealed rather to his patriotism than or feelings constitutes the merit and his poetry. But the Shepherd dreams the charm-as in so many of the com of the days of old, and of all their positions of Burns; and, therefore, he dim and wavering traditions. Objects never can become so popular a poet, dark in the past distance of time have nor does he deserve to be so. The over him a deeper power than the bright best poetry of Burns goes, sudden as presence of realities and his genius electricity, to the heart. Every nerve loves better to lift up the veil which in our frame is a conductor to the forgetfulness has been slowly drawing fuid. The best poetry of the Ettrick over the forms, the scenes, the actions, Shepherd rather steals into our souls and the characters of the dead, than like music; and, as many persons have to gaze on the motions of the living. no ear for music, so have many persons Accordingly, there are some images no soul for such kind of poetry. Burns some strains of feeling in his poetry, addressed himself almost exclusively more mournful and pathetic at least, to the simplest and most elementary full of a sadness more entrancing to the feelings of our nature, as they are ex- imagination than any thing we rehibited in social and domestic life ; collect in Burns—but, at the same he spoke of things familiar to all, in time, we are aware, that though a few language familiar to all and hence his wild airs, from an Eolian harp, perpoetry is like “ the casing air,” breath- haps more profoundly affect the soul, ed and enjoyed by all. No man dares at the time when they are swelling, to be sceptical on the power of his than any other inusic-yet have they poetry, for passages could be recited not so permanent a dwelling-place in against him that would drown the un the memory as the harmonious tunes heliever's voice in a tumult of acclama- of some perfect instrument. tion. But we doubt if, from the whole But, thirdly, we have to remind range of the Ettrick Shepherd's write such of our readers as are well acings, one such triumphant and irresis- quainted with the poetry of the Ettible passage could be produced--one trick Shepherd, that to feel the full strain appealing, without possibility of power of his genius we must go with failure, to the universal feelings of him men's hearts. But it is equally certain “ Beyond this visible diurnal sphere,” that many strains and those continued and walk through the shadowy world and sustained strains toom-might be of the imagination. It is here, where produced from the writings of this ex Burns was weakest, that he is most traordinary person, which in the hearts strong. The airy beings that to the and souls of all men of imagination impassioned soul of Burns seemed and fancy—of all men who under- cold-bloodless and unattractive stand the dim and shadowy associa- rise up in irresistible loveliness in tions of recollected feelings and who their own silent domains, before the can feel the charm of a poetical lan- dreamy fancy of the gentle-hearted guage, occasionally more delicate and Shepherd. The still green beauty of refined, than perhaps was ever before the pastoral hills and vales where he commanded by an uneducated mind passed his youth, inspired him with would awaken emotions, if not so ever-brooding visions of fairy-landstrong, certainly finer and more ethe- till, as he lay musing in his lonely real than any that are inspired by the sheiling, the world of phantasy seeme very happiest compositions of the ed, in the clear depths of his imaginaBard of Coila.
tion, a lovelier reflection of that of naIndeed we should scarcely hesitate ture like the hills and heavens more to say that the Ettrick Shepherd had softly shining in the water of his namore of pure fancy than Burns. When tive lake. Whenever he treats of the latter relinquished his strong fairy-land, his language insensibly begrasp of men's passions—or suffered comes, as it were, soft, wild, and the vivid innages of his own experience aerial—we could almost think that of life to fade away, he was any thing we heard the voice of one of the fairy
folk-still and serene images seem to there ; he ought, rather, to bring berise up with the wild music of the fore us shadowy beings moving across versification--and the poet deludes us, a shadowy distance, and rising up for the time, into an unquestioning from that world with whose objects he and satisfied belief in the existence of is so familiar, but of which ordinary those green realms of bliss" of minds know only enough to regard, which he himself seems to be a native with a delightful feeling of surprise minstrel.
and novelty, every indistinct and fairy In this department of pure poetry, image that is brought from its invisible the Ettrick Shepherd has, among his
There indeed seems to be a own countrymen at least, no compe- field spread out for him, that is altitor. He is the poet laureate of the most all his own. The pastoral valCourt of Faëry--and we have only to lies of the south of Scotland look to hope he will at least sing an annual him as their best-beloved poet ;-all song as the tenure by which he holds their mild and gentle superstitions his deserved honours.
have blended with his being ;-he is The few very general observations familiar too with all the historical trawhich we have now made on the ge- ditions that people them with the nius of this truly original Poet are in “ living dead," and surely, with all tended only as an introduction to our the inestimable advantages of his early criticisms on his works. It is not un- shepherd-life, and with a genius so common to hear intelligent persons admirably framed to receive and give very thoughtlessly and ignorantly say, out the breath of all its manifold inthat the Ettrick Shepherd no doubt spirations, he may yet make pastoral writes very good verses-
-but that Burns poetry something more wild and beauhas preoccupied the ground, and is tiful than it has ever been-and leave our only great poet of the people. We behind him a work in which the feelhave perhaps said enough to shew that ings and habits--the very heart and this is far from being the case that soul of a shepherd-life, are given to the genius of the two poets is as dif us all breathed over and coloured by ferent as their life and that they the aerial tints of a fairy fancy. have, generally speaking, delighted in The love of poetry is never bigotted the delineation of very different ob- and exclusive, and we should be jects.
strongly inclined to suspect its sinceIf we have rightly distinguished rity, if it did not comprehend within and estimated the peculiar genius of the range of its enthusiasm many of the "author of the Queen's Wake,” the fine productions of the Ettrick we think that he may benefit by, at- Shepherd. We believe that his countending to some conclusions which trymen are becoming every day more seem to flow from our remarks. He and more alive to his manifold merits is certainly strongest in description of and it would be indeed strange if nature in the imitation of the an- they who hold annual 'or triennial cient ballad--and in that wild poetry festivals in commemoration of their which deals with imaginary beings. great dead poet should be cold to the He has not great knowledge of hu- claims of the gifted living. It cannot man nature-nor has he any profound but be deeply interesting to all lovers insight into its passions. Neither does of genius and more especially to all he
possess much ingenuity in the con- proud lovers of the genius of their own trivance of incidents, or much plastic Scotland, to see this true poet assistpower in the formation of a story ing at the honours paid to the memory emblematic of any portion of human of his illustrious predecessor. He life. He ought, therefore, in our opi- must ever be, on such high occasions, a nion, not to attempt any long poem conspicuous and honoured guest ; and in which a variety of characters are to we all know, that it is impossible better be displayed acting on the theatre of to prove our admiration and love of the the world, and of which the essential character and genius of Burns, than by merit must lie in the exhibition of the generous exhibition of sizailar senthose passions that play their parts timents towards the Ettrick Shepherd,