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and when it is considered how many thoughts but those of despondency noble and elevating feelings are in- and despair? A religious people tread cluded within the virtue of Devo- constantly as it were on consecrated TION, -unfearing faith, submissive ground. It cannot be said, that there reverence, calm content, and unshaken is any death among them; for we love,—we acknowledge, that a people cannot forget those whom we know we who, emphatically speaking, fear God, shall meet in heaven. But unless a must possess within themselves the people carry on their hopes and affecelements of all human virtue, happi- tions into an eternal future, there must ness, and wisdom,-however much be a deplorable oblivion of objects of these may be occasionally weakened or affection vanished,-a still-increasing polluted by the mournful necessities
« dearth of life,-grief, ignorance, hard labour,
Of love upon
opeless earth.” penury, and disease.
It is the heart of the people, not Religion, then, has made the Scotmerely their external character, of tish people thoughtful and meditative which we speak, though that too is in their intellects--simple and pure in beyond all comparison the most inter their morals-tender and affectionate resting and impressive of any nation in their hearts. But when there is in the world. It would require a long profound thought and awakened senline of thought to fathom the depth of sibility, imagination will not fail to a gray-haired Scottish peasant's heart, reign; and if this be indeed the genewho may have buried in the church- ral character of a whole people, and yard of his native village the partner should they moreover be blessed with of a long life, and the children she a beautiful country, and a free gohad brought to bless it. Time wears vernment, then those higher and not out from his heart any impression purer feelings which, in less happy that love has once graven there ; it lands, are possessed only by the would seem, that the strength of af- higher ranks of society, are brought fections relying on heaven when earth into free play over all the bosom of has lost all it valued, preserved old society; and it may, without vioage from dotage and decay. If reli- lence, be said, that a spirit of poetry gion is most beautiful and lovely in breathes over all its valleys. the young, the happy, and the innocent, Of England, and of the character of we must yet look for the consummation her population, high and low, we of its sublimity in the old, the re- think with exultation and with pride. pentant, and the resigned, and both Some virtues they perhaps possess in may be seen
greater perfection than any other “ In some small kirk upon its sunny brae, philosophical Englishmen acknowledge
people. But we believe, that the most When Scotland lies asleep on the still that there is a depth of moral and reSabbath-day.”
ligious feeling in the peasantry of The Scottish peasantry are poetical, Scotland, not to be found among the therefore, because they are religious. best part of their own population, A heart that habitually cherishes reli- There cannot be said to be any poetry gious feelings, cannot abide the thought of the peasantry of England. We do of pure affections and pure delights not feel any consciousness of national passing utterly away. It would fain prejudice, when we say, that a great give a permanent existence to the fleet- poet could not be born among the ing shadows of earthly happiness. Its English peasantry-bred among them dreams are of heaven and eternity, and -and restricted in his poetry to subsuch dreams reflect back a hallowed jects belonging to themselves and their light on earth and on time. We are life. ourselves willing, when our hour is There doubtless are among the peacome, to perish from the earth ; but santry of every truly noble nation, we wish our thoughts and feelings to much to kindle the imagination and live behind us; and we cannot endure the fancy ; but we believe, that in no the imagined sadness and silence of country but Scotland does there exist their extinction. Had a people no a system of social and domestic life strong hope of the future, how could among that order of men, which com, they deeply care for the past ? or ra- bines within it almost all the finer and ther, how could the past awaken any higher emotions of cultivated minds,
with a simplicity and artlessness of cha- Fourthly, the constant and close interracter peculiar to persons of low estate course between the inhabitants, arising The fireside ofan English cottager is of- from the density of population, gives to ten a scene of happiness and virtue; but the people a tone of thought alien from unquestionably, in reading the “Cot- all enthusiasm, and consequently from tar's Saturday Night” of Burns, we all superstition. Any superstitious forms feel, that we are reading the records that may rise up among them will be of a purer, simpler, more pious race; but slight modifications of feelings exand there is in that immortal poem a cited by the objects of reality, and will depth of domestic joy-an intensity of possess but a feeble power among the the feeling of home a presiding spi- depressing and deadening influences rit of love--and a lofty enthusiasm of of a life on the whole so unimaginareligion, which are all peculiarly Scot- tive. tish, and beyond the pitch of mind of And, lastly, it may be asserted, that any other people.
if such be the character of an agri-. It is not our intention at present, to cultural life, the religion of the people pursue this interesting subject into its will rather be of a sedate and rational inmost recesses; we may have said kind, than characterized by that ferenough to awaken the meditations of vour, and even passion, without which our readers on the poetical character it is apt to degenerate into a cauof our peasantry. Yet, it may not be tionary system of morality, instead of amiss to say a few words on the dif- being a kindling, supporting, and eleference of poetical feeling and genius vating faith. in an agricultural and pastoral state of On the whole, therefore, it would life,-exemplified as that difference seem that it is not to an agricultural appears to be in the poetry of Burns, country that we are to look for a and his only worthy successor, the poetical character in its inhabitants, Ettrick Shepherd.
or for the appearance among them of And, in the first place, it is unde a great and prevailing poet. niable, that in an agricultural country, In a pastoral state of society, the the life of a peasant is a life of severe scene assumes a very different aspect. and incessant labour, leaving him ap- For, in the first place, shepherds and parently few opportunities for the cul- men, connected with a pastoral life, tivation and enjoyment either of his are not bowed down“ by bodily moral or intellectual nature. Each labour constant and severe,”-and hour has its task, --and when the body both the thoughts and the affections is enslaved, with difficulty may the have time for indulgence. They have soul be free.
also a more intimate acquaintance with In the second place, the knowledge the great and simple forms of nature, which men thus situated are likely to and with them are necessarily associawish to attain, is of a narrow and ted many of their best daily emotions. worldly kind, immediately connected They hold converse with nature, and with the means of subsistence, and not become even in the painful proseculinked with objects fitted to awaken tion of their necessary labours, unmuch enthusiastic or imaginative feel- consciously familiar with her lanings. The knowledge absolutely es- guage. Their own language then besential to a cottar in an agricultural comes poetical, and doubtless incountry is small indeed, and small ac- fluences their characters. Their afcordingly it will be found to be in al- fections become spiritualized along most all cases. Sobriety and prudence with their imagination,-and there are his chief virtues ; but his duties is a fine and delicate breath and shaand his cares make no demand on qua- dow of superstition over all the chalities or feelings of a higher kind. racter of their best emotions. Their
Thirdly, the face of an agricultural very religion partakes somewhat of country cannot be very kindling to the wildness of superstitious fear : the senses or imagination. It is all the lonely edifice built for the service subordinated to separate and distinct of God in the mountain solitude is uses ; one great end, namely, produc- surrounded by spots haunted by the tion, is constantly obtruded on the beings of a fairy creed. mind among all the shews of scenery, It is certain that it has been in the and that alone must be fatal to all play pastoral vallies of the south of Scotof imagination.
land that the poetical genius of our
country has been most beautifully dis- dinary spirits to the earth, elevated played; and though the peculiar and sublimed the genius and charachistory of those districts, as well as ter of our immortal poet.
It was the circumstances under which their thus that nothing seemed worthy to language grew, were especially favoura- engross his attention, but the feelings ble to the formation and display of and the passions of the heart of man. poetical feeling, yet we are not to He felt within him visitings of thoughts look to such narrow and limited that wafted him into Elysium,-he causes as these for the acknowledged su- recognised in those thoughts the awperiority of the genius of the shepherds ful power of human passion,-and of the south, but rather, as we con- saw that, circumscribed as the sphere ceive, to such as have been hinted at was in which he, a poor peasant, was above, and are necessarily, in a great placed, he might yet walk in it with degree, common to all pastoral states power and glory,--and that he might of society, in all times and in all coun- waken up into strength, freshness, and tries.
beauty, those feelings of his lowly breWhen we consider the genius of thren that destiny had enfeebled and Burns, we see it manifestly moulded obscured, and give them an existence and coloured by his agricultural life. in poetry, essentially true to human We see in all his earliest poems—and life, but tinged with that adorning they are by far his finest-a noble radiance, which emanates only from soul struggling-labouring with a hard the poet's soul in the hour of his inand oppressive fate. He was, from spiration. very boy-hood," a toil-worn cottar," It is here that we must seek for the -and it was the aim of his noble true cause of Burns' very limited powheart to preserve that dignity which er of description of external Nature. nature gave it, unshaken and unhum- Certainly, of all poets of the first order, bled by the “ weary weight” of his he is the one that has left us the fewlot. His genius was winged by in- est fine pictures of landscape. His dependence and in the proud dis- senses were gratified with the forms, dain with which he spurned at the the blooms, and the odours of nature, fortune that in vain strove to enslave and often in the fulness of his convivial him, it seemed as if his soul rose to a delight, he pours out vivid expressions nobler pitch of enthusiasm, and that of that rapture and enjoyment. Butexhe more passionately enjoyed his free- ternal nature seems never to have elevadom when feeling circled, not bound ted his imagination, or for any length of by unavailing chains.
time to have won him from the domiThe hardships and privations that nion of the living world. Where his Burns early felt himself born to en- eye reposed, or his
ear listened, there too dure,—the constant presence before his soul was satisfied. When he has him of the image of poverty—the con- attempted to generalize, to delineate viction of the necessary evils of the associations by which nature is conpoor man's lot-made his whole heart nected with the universal feelings of to leap within him when joy, and our kind, he sinks to the level of an pleasure, and happiness, opened their ordinary versifier. All that vivid and arms to receive him. Bliss bursts up- burning vigour, with which he deon him like a rush of waters—and his scribes his own feelings and passions as soul is at once swept down the flood. a human being in union with human Every one must have felt that there beings, is gone at once ; and we witness is a melancholy air spread over his the unavailing labour of a mind enpoetry-as if his creed truly were deavouring to describe what it but im
that man was made to mourn;" perfectly understands, and but feebly but sudden flashings and illumina- exjoys.' There is scarcely a line in tions of delight are for ever breaking his poems written in, or of the Highout;-and in the vehemence, and lands, that would startle us with surenergy, and triumphant exultation of prise in the verses of the merest poethis language in those moments of in- aster. His mind had never delivered spiration, we feel how dear a thing itself up to such trains of thought. In free and unmingled happiness is to his evening walks, after a day of toil, the children of poverty and sorrow. the murmur of the stream, the whisper
It was thus that the calamities of a ing of the breeze, or the song of the life of hardship, that bows down or- blackbird, touched his heart with joy, 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 necessa being, 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 infitation ; 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 common 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 erinence he had heavy accumulation of affrightments. 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 This 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 ire giveness which men of austerest prinreligious 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 soine 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 dehence, instead of confining himself to lineating her native and indestructible the happier and nobler task of describ- 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