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said Molière, and what was ever the property of a poet more than those wild fragments which floated on every breeze, broken, incomplete, imperfect, like the fragrance from the hawthorn bushes, or the honey of the gorse, articulate only in a word or two, suggestions, recollections which formed the very atmosphere of the rural mind?
We wonder whether the first student who found Macbeth and a great deal more in Holinshed, felt himself in the same tremend ous position in which Mr Henley is now conscious of standing. Did he feel that the position of Shakespeare was likely to be painfully affected by his discovery? He had certainly a great deal more reason than our too sensitive critic and poet. But we doubt whether he was afflicted by this delicate sentiment. And we think we can assure Mr Henley that he has told us very little if anything that we did not know before. We know it probably as Burns himself knew it, which was not as Mr Henley knows it. For Burns was no student, and if ever any thing was certain in this world, it is (in our humble opinion) certain that the young Ayrshire farmer, who had indeed too much
time for "daffin'," and enough for poetry, had but few spare hours left to employ in the study of Herd's manuscripts in order to find material for his work. If he had done so determinedly and with conscious effort, as Mr Henley thinks, we do not know that our opinion would have been different. We hope he had as good a right to take possession of his biens, wherever he found them, as Molière or Shakespeare.
And with what beautiful unconscious art he put in those floating fragments, as pleased and
proud, who can doubt, to set the little jewel in a lovely place, and deck it with his own bright springing fancies, as ever man was! At the same time, it is curious and interesting to ponder the proof of his assertions which Mr Henley produces, and which he so frankly and loyally permits us to test in every instance. We feel disposed to adopt that double plea of law which permits a defendant to plead at the same time never indebted, and that the debt is paid. Burns himself tells us in the most genial manner that he does owe the debt; but Mr Henley's evidence tends to establish that both Burns and his critic were mistaken. The book opens upon a characteristic specimen of this disagreement.
"I remember,' Burns writes to Thomson, 'two ending lines of a verse in some of the old songs of Logan Water" (for I know a good many different ones) which I think pretty
'Now my dear lad maun face his faes, Far, far frae me and Logan braes.'
"It may be," says Mr Henley with exist in an old song; but in any case an implied doubt, "that these lines they were used as a refrain in the Logan Water' of John Mayne, author of the Siller Gun,' and joint
editor with Peter Stuart of The
London Star,' which was popular at wrote." Whitehall some years before Burns
Does Mr Henley mean to imply that Burns knew what was going on at Whitehall, and plagiarised wilfully from the recent play instead of simply adopting the o'erword of the old song? We do not object to his theory, but we think that his mode of proving it is very futile. Let us follow him through the history of some other individual songs. We may as well add that in the great majority of cases the most insignificant of
If that was modelled on anything, Mr Henley might as well have adduced a host of other songs as well as "Lewie Gordon," indeed the greater part of the songs of Scotland, in which there occur a multitude of lads who are far awa'. "Lewie Gordon,'" he adds, " is, however, itself borrowed from an older 'Song on the Birthday of King James the Eighth, 10th June 1709.'" He might have gone a great deal further, and quoted a whole page full of references. Is this a likely thing
We began by freely admitting, to a great measure, the point which Mr Henley fears he is the first to disclose: but as we go on to consider his evidence our mind changes. Burns indeed was the first to disclose the pseudo-fact, and did so cordially in almost every one of the letters which accompany these songs. The ancient songs inspired him, sang themselves in his ears,
drew forth his slumbering genius. It was his pride to save the verse, or half-verse, or poetical phrase, or lilting chorus. But to tell us that Burns's position among the poets is changed by this fact is a solemn piece of absurdity. Burns's greatest songs are not even affected at all. The editors are obliged to imagine that, in the case of "Mary Morison," he took his measure from a poem published by Allan Ramsay in the Evergreen,' though it is the commonest and most universal of stanzas. "Ye Banks and Braes" has not even so much as this to weigh it down, nor "O' a' the airts the wind can "She's fair and fause," blaw," nor nor many of the finest productions in this volume. And, by the way, where is "My Nannie, O"? We have hunted through the book
without being able to find any. where that delightful song.
"A country lad is my degree,
And few there be that ken me, O; But what care I how few they be,
I'm welcome aye to Nannie, O.”
Has this been proved to be not Burns's?-though he stands there looking at us through the cheerful honest verse—
"Our auld guidman delights to view
His sheep and kye thrive bonnie, O; But I'm as blythe that hauds his pleugh, And has nae care but Nannie, O."
We beg Mr Henley's pardon, we have mistaken. The third volume is confined to the Thomson's Museum' and Johnson's 'Scottish
Songs' series. "My Nannie, O" is in vol. i. of the Centenary Burns, but printed in exactly the same spirit as the other, showing that the editor's convictions were already formed.
"While some for pleasure pawn their health "Twixt Lais and the bagnio,
I'll save myself and without stealth
"Perhaps suggested by a poor thing of Ramsay's," says the note:
If there is but one man with a candid mind left in the world we would ask him, "Wherein lies the most distant possibility that this rubbish suggested the fine and free strains of Burns's song?" And he would answer "Fudge!"
like Mr Burchell.
No; it is no doubt Mr Henderson who is guilty. We have not the faintest objection to sacrifice Mr Henderson to the manes of our poet. A poet like Mr Henley never could have believed for a moment that Dodsley's "One Fond Kiss" diminished the originality of Burns's fine song. We would not believe him did he swear it. The words are not SO uncommon.
Many people have uttered and many listened to them, without reference to any ballad. Burns himself must have said them oftener than was good for him, at moments when he was thinking of anything but Dodsley. If he had thought of Dodsley
many occasions instead of occupying himself with more melodious names, it might have been a good thing for him. These references are taken at hazard as the book opened: there are many more just as unconvincing. Where any real instance is given of what it would be absurd to call plagiarism, it is distinctly stated at first hand by Burns himself. Thus, in the song called "The Silver Tassie," "The first half-stanza," says Burns,
"Go fetch to me a pint o' wine,
And fill it in a silver tassie,
A service to my bonnie lassie,' is old; the rest is mine."
"Nevertheless," adds Mr Henley,
"on 17th December 1788 he wrote to Mrs Dunlop thus: 'Now I am on my hobby-horse, I cannot help inserting two other old stanzas which please me mightily.""
What does Mr Henley mean by that "nevertheless"? We confess that we are absolutely incapable of divining.
And we are much surprised, though with the comfortable conviction that it is Mr Henderson again, to find how vehemently the pretty episode of Highland Mary is assailed in this book. To show the very worst side of these commentaries, we quote the passage on this subject, which really is a subject concerning nobody but Burns, who himself has given a circumstantial account of certain passages in her career, to which our present editors give the lie direct as nearly as words allow ::
"The Highland Lassie was Mary Campbell, daughter of one Archibald Campbell, a Clyde sailor. The year of her birth is uncertain, its place is not beyond dispute; the date of her death is matter of debate; there is room for conjecture as to the place of her burial; little or no independent testimony exists as to her person and
character, unless she be identified with a certain Mary Campbell of indifferent repute; there is scarcely
material for the barest outline of her biography. But on the strength of sporadic allusions by Burns, meant, as it seems, to dissemble more than they reveal, and especially of certain ecstatic expressions in the song, Thou lingring Star, and in a letter to Mrs Dunlop, Mary Campbell has come to be regarded less as an average Scots peasant, to whom a merry-begot was then, if not a necessary of life, at all events the commonest effect of luck, than as a bare-legged Beatrice, a Spiritualised Ideal of Peasant Womanhood."
Could anything be more absolutely uncalled for, more vindictive (though what had poor Mary
done to those English gentlemen?), petty, and malignant, than this assault? If Burns chose to make a pretty story of his parting from his Highland lass, is that a reason for saying it was all a fable, and that there was no Mary at all, "unless she be identified with a certain Mary Campbell of indifferent repute"? Perhaps Burns told a lie; but Messrs Henley and Henderson have no knowledge that he did so, no proof against him, not the faintest indication of evidence
one way or other. Mr Henley is
no doubt aware that Beatrice is believed by superior persons in Italy to be no actual woman at all, but a mere abstraction, to whom Dante gave the name of a certain noble lady, his relations to whom were entirely imaginary, though related with much pathetic circumstance by the poet himself. But we conceive that no man, not even a poet, has a right to be accused of telling a circumstantial lie without evidence, and something to found the accusation upon. We know no cult, "for cult it is," these gentlemen say, of Mary Campbell. There is a cult of another Mary which has led
a good deal of absurdity. Could there be a con
fusion in the mind of the writer on this point?
We must also protest against the use of words which have had no place hitherto in English literature of a decent, not to say of the highest, kind. "Merry-begot" is not a pretty word, still less is another which is used on several occasions in this book, but never that we remember in any such book before. It is to be found in Shakespeare, no doubt, but many things are to be found in Shakespeare which do not suit the habits of this day. A master of vigorous English has less need
than most to seek to add to the strength of his phrases by foul words. The interposition of that which we have quoted in a simile which ends with Beatrice, is a downright offence both to the language and us, and nothing but the bitterest insinuated scorn for the subject could excuse it.
We are quite willing to allow that there is something in the uproarious "cult" of Burns carried on by the lower classes of Scots, to account for at least the often suppressed and sourd but always existent distaste for him in the minds of his latter-day critics. Mr Robert Louis Stevenson was not free from it, nor yet is Mr Andrew Lang, both Scotsmen, so that it cannot be entirely a point of national prejudice. It is curiously evident, however, through the most of the works which count, in a matter which has of late been so often handled. But the shouts of a hundred noisy parties of rough Scotsmen in town and vil lage, though they may irritate delicate nerves, have really nothing to do with the question; and it is very illogical, as well as undignified, to allow that roar to affect the mind of a man of letters. There is something like spite in the bitterness with which the poet is discussed - a feeling which we cannot but, though much against our will, suspect in the awed and expectant position held by the editors of the Centenary Burns, in the fear (is it perhaps the hope?) that their revelations will change his place in the estimation of the world. If they fear it, we entreat these gentlemen to take courage. They will not attain that object, nor is there any reason why they should, seeing that everything worth consideration which they have said has been familiar to the world
precisely since the moment when Burns himself said it over and over again. The Centenary Burns is a fine edition of the poet. It has, we have no doubt, been most carefully collated, and every means taken, as is said, to secure the purity of the text, though there are some occasional departures from tradition which are not agreeable to our own ears. But the editors in some cases, at least, have been led away by the impulse of opposition, and that rage to deduce everything they can from something that went before, no matter how faint the connection, which is the soul of the New Criticism. It has seldom, we think, been less successful than in this attempt to alter the position of a great lyric poet.
We are not sure that we are in a general way very fond of the literature produced by newspaper correspondents. To be sure, there have been admirable writers among them-Laurence Oliphant, for example, one of our own band. But the last new figure stepping out into the world from that busy crowd has many qualities to prepossess the critic. He has the delightful spontaneity and absence of any parti pris or deliberate intention, which give animation and sparkle to the style, and often the charm of the unexpected to the most hackneyed subject. America is not the freshest of themes, and no doubt the fortunate, and in this case very lucky, editor who sent out Mr George Steevens to report upon the Presidential election, probably expected, as did most people, a number of clever political letters to make that contest comprehensible. But nobody knew that we were to receive one of the most vivid, nay, brilliant, sketches of America that have been made in