Page images

social life, my reputation for bookish knowledge, a had thus been prevented from legitimatizing accordcertain wild logical talent, and a strength of thought ing to the Scottish law. semething like the rudiments of good sense; and it In a state of mind bordering closely on insanity, will not seem surprising that I was generally a Burns now resolved to fly the country ; and, after welcome guest where I visited, or any great wonder some trouble, he agreed with Dr. Douglas, who had that always, where two or three met together, there an estate in Jamaica, to go thither as overseer, was I among them.” In this state of mind he Before sailing, however, he was advised, by his entered recklessly upon a dissipated career, giving friends, to publish his poems by subscription, in loose to his passions, and indulging his taste for order to provide him with necessaries for the voyage, literature with as much irregularity and skill as he and he consented to this expedient, as an experiapplied himself to the plough, the scythe, and the ment which could not injure, and might essentially reaping-hook. To use his own expression, “ Vive benefit him. Subscribers' names were obtained for l'amour, et vive la bagatelle,” were his sole prin- about three hundred and fifty copies, and six hunciples of action. In his nineteenth year, he passed dred were printed. The collection was very favoursome time at a school, where he learnt mensuration, ably received by the public, and the author realized, surveying, &c., and also improved himself in other all expenses deducted, a profit of about twenty respects, particularly in composition ; which he pounds. “ This sum,” says he,“ came very seasonattributes chiefly to a perusalof a collection of letters, ably ; as I was thinking of indenting myself, for by the wits of Queen Anne's reign.

want of money to procure my passage. As soon as In his twenty-third year, partly, as he says, I was master of nine guineas, the price that was through whim, and partly that he wished to set to waft me to the torrid zone, I took a steerage pasabout doing something in life, he entered the service sage in the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde; of a flax-dresser, at Irvine, for the purpose of learn- for ing his trade; but an accidental fire, which burnt

“Hungry ruin had me in the wind.' down the shop, put an end to his speculations. After his father's death, which occurred in February, 1784, “I had been some days skulking from covert to he took the farm of Mossgiel, in conjunction with covert, under all the terrors of a jail ; as some illhis brother Gilbert. “I entered on it,” says Burns, advised people had uncoupled the merciless pack of * with a firm resolution, Come, go to, I will be the law at my heels. I had taken the last farewell wise!' I read farming books ; I calculated crops ; of my few friends ; my chest was on the road to 1 attended markets ; and, in short, in spite of the Greenock ; I had composed the last song I should devil, the world, and the flesh,' I believe I should ever measure in Caledonia—The Gloomy Night is have been a wise man ; but, the first year, from Gathering Fast ; when a letter from Dr. Blacklock unfortunately buying bad seed,—the second, from to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes, by a late harvest, we lost half our crops. This overset opening new prospects to my poetic ambition.” all my wisdom, and I returned • like the dog to his This was a recommendation to him to proceed to vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wal- Edinburgh, to superintend the publication of a selowing in the mire.'” In other words, he resigned cond edition of his poems; and he accordingly turned the share of the farm to his brother, and returned his course to the Scotch metropolis, which he reached to habits of intemperance and irregularity. It was in September, 1786. He had already been noticed during his occupation of the farm of Mossgiel, that with much kindness by the Earl of Glencairn, the Barns first became acquainted with Jane Armour, celebrated Professor Stewart and his lady, Dr. Hugh his future wife. This lady was the daughter of a re- Blair, and others ; and his personal appearance and spectable mason, in the village of Mouchline, where demeanour exceeding the expectation that had been she was at the time the reigning toast. The con- formed of them, he soon became an object of genesequence of this acquaintance, which quickly ri-ral curiosity and interest, and was an acceptable pened into mutual love, was soon such that the guest in the gayest and highest circles. He also connexion could no longer be concealed; and, though received, from the literati of the day, every tribute the details of this story are, perhaps, as yet but of praise which the most sanguine author could imperfectly known, it seems, at least, certain, that desire. Burns was anxious to shield the partner of his im Edinburgh, says Dr. Currie, contained, at this prudence to the utmost in his power. It was, there- period, many men of considerable talents, who were fore, agreed between them, that he should give her not the most conspicuous for temperance and regua written acknowledgment of marriage, and then larity. Burns entered into several parties of this immediately sail for Jamaica, and push his fortune description with the usual vehemence of his chathere, and that she should remain with her father racter. His generous affection, and brilliant imauntil her plighted husband had the means of support-gination, fitted him to be the idol of such associaing a family. This arrangement, however, did not tions; and, by indulging himself in these festive satisiy the lady's father; who, having but a very recreations, he gradually lost a great portion of indifferent opinion of Burns's general character, was his relish for the purer pleasures to be found in the not to be appeased, and prevailed on his daughter circles of taste, elegance, and literature. He saw to destroy the document, which was the only evi- his danger, and, at times, formed resolutions to guard dence of her marriage. Under these circumstances, against it; but he had embarked on the tide of disJane Armour became the mother of twins, and the sipation, and was borne along its stream. poet was summoned by the parish officers to find After having sojourned for nearly a year in the security for the maintenance of children which he | Scottish metropolis, and acquired a sum of money

more than sufficient for his present demands, he de- to gather a wreath of henbane-nettles and nighttermined to gratify a desire he had long entertained shade,” of visiting some of the most interesting districts of

To twine his native country. For this purpose he left Edin

The illustrious brow of Scoich nobility," burgh on the 6th of May, 1787; and after visiting poor Burns was necessarily brought into contact various places celebrated in the rural songs of Scot- with low associates, and intemperance soon became land, he returned to his family in Mossgiel, where his tyrant. Unable to reconcile the two occupations, he arrived about thc 8th of July. The reception his farm was in a great measure abandoned to his he met with at home was enthusiastic; and among servants, and agriculture but seldom occupied his those who were now willing to renew his acquaint- thoughts. Meantime, there were seldom wanting ance, was the family of Jane Armour, with whom persons to lead him to a tavern ; to applaud the Burns was speedily reconciled. After remaining sallies of his wit; and to witness at once the strength for a few days only at Mossgiel, he made a short and degradation of his genius. The consequences tour to Inverary, and afterward to the highlands, may be easily imagined : at the expiration of about whence he returned to Edinburgh, and remained three years, he was compelled to relinquish his lease, there during the greater part of the winter of 1787-8, and to rely upon his income of 701. per annum, as again entering freely into society and dissipation. / an exciseman, till he should obtain promotion. With Having settled with his publisher, in February, 1788, this intention, he removed to a small house in Dumhe was delighted to find there was a balance due fries, about the end of the year 1791. In 1792, he to him, as the actual profit of his poems, of nearly contributed to Thomson's collection of Scottish 5001. At this juncture, he was confined to the house songs; and, about the same time, formed a sort of “ with a bruised limb, extended on a cushion ;” but book society in his neighbourhood. In the mean as soon as he was able to bear the journey, he rode time, he appears to have given offence to the board to Mossgiel, advanced his brother Gilbert (who was of excise, by some intemperate conduct and expres. struggling with many difficulties) the sum of 2001., sions relative to the French revolution, particularly married Jane Armour, and, with the remainder of in attempting to send a captured smuggler as a his capital, took the farm of Ellies land, on the banks present to the French convention; and an inquiry of the Nith, six miles above Dumfries.

was in consequence instituted into his conduct. A short time previously to this, it should be men The result was, upon the whole, favourable; but tioned, that Burns had obtained, through a friend, an impression, injurious to Burns, was still left upon an appointment in the excise ; but with no inten- the minds of the commissioners, and he was told tion of making use his commission except on that his promotion, which was deferred, must depend some reverse of fortune. He now took possession on his future behaviour. This seems to have morof his farm ; bụt as the house required rebuilding, tified him keenly, and to have made him feel his Mrs. Burns could not, for some time, remove thither, dependent situation as a degradation to his future a circumstance peculiarly unfortunate, as it caused fame. “ Often,” he says, in a letter to a gentleman, him to lead a very irregular and unsettled life. giving an account of the above circumstances, " in The determination, which he had formed, of aban- blasting anticipation, have I listened to some future doning his dissipated pursuits was broken in upon, hackney scribbler, with heavy malice of savage and his industry was frequently interrupted by vi- stupidity, exultingly asserting that Burns, notwithsiting his family in Ayrshire. As the distance was standing the fanfaronade of independence to be found too great for a single day's journey, he generally in his works, and after having been held up to public spent a night at an inn on the road, and on such occa- view and to public estimation as a man of some sions, falling into company, all his resolutions were genius, yet quite destitute of resources within himforgotten. Temptation also awaited him nearer self to support his borrowed dignity, dwindled into home : he was received at the tables of the neigh- a paltry exciseman; and slunk out the rest of his bouring gentry with kindness and respect, and these insignificant existence in the meanest of pursuits, social parties too often seduced him from the labours and among the lowest of mankind.” of his farm, and his domestic duties, in which the It seems, however, that the board of excise did happiness and welfare of his family were now in- not altogether neglect Burns, who was, the year volved. Mrs. Burns joined her husband at Ellies- previous to his death, permitted to act as a superland, in November, 1788; and as she had, during visor. From October, 1795, to the January followthe autumn, lain-in of twins, they had now five ing, illness confined him to his house ; but, going children-four boys and a girl. On this occasion, out a few days after, he imprudently dined at a Burns resumed, at times, the occupation of a labour- tavern, and returned home about three o'clock in er, and found neither his strength nor his skill im- a very cold morning, benumbed and intoxicated. paired. Sentiments of independence cheered his This occasioned a severe relapse, and he soon himmind, -pictures of domestic content and peace rose self became sensible that his constitution was sinkon his imagination,-and few “golden days” ing, and his death approaching. He, however, repassed away,--the happiest, perhaps, which he had paired to Brow, in Annandale, to try the effects of erer experienced. But these were not long to last: sea-bathing; which, though it relieved his rheumathe farming speculation was soon looked on with tic pains, was succeeded by a fresh accession of despondence, and neglected; and the excise became fever, and he was brought back to his own house the only resource. In this capacity, in reference in Dumfries, on the 18th of July, 1796. He remained to which beggarly provision for their bard, Mr. for three days in a state of feebleness, accompanied Coleridye indignantly calls upon his friend Lamb, / by occasional delirium, and expired on the 21st of

July, in the thirty-eighth year of his age. He was A nod, accompanied by a significant movement of interred, with military honours, by the Dumfries the forefinger, brought Kate to the doorway or trance, volunteers, to which body he belonged, and his re- and I was near enough to hear the following words mains were followed to the grave by nearly ten distinctly uttered :- Kate, are ye mad? D'ye no thousand spectators. He left a widow and four sons, ken that the supervisor and me will be in upon you for whom the inhabitants of Dumfries opened a in the course of forty minutes ? Guid-by to ye at subscription, which, in itself considerable, was aug- present.' Burns was in the street, and in the midst mented by the profits of the edition of his works, of the crowd in an instant; and I had reason to in four volumes, octavo, published in 1800, by Dr. know that his friendly hint was not neglected. It Currie, with a life of the poet.

saved a poor widow woman from a fine of several Burns was within two inches of six feet in height, pounds.”—Though totally free from presumption, with a robust, yet agile frame; a finely formed face, in the presence of the superior circles of society to and an uncommonly interesting countenance. His which he was admitted, he did not hesitate to exwell-raised forehead indicated great intellect, and press his opinions strongly and boldly. A certain his eyes are described as having been large, dark, well-known provincial bore, as Mr. Lockhart deand full of ardour and animation. His conversation scribes him, having left a tavern-party, of which was rich in wit and humour, and occasionally dis- Burns was one, he, the bard, immediately demanded played profound thought, and reflections equally a bumper, and, addressing himself to the chair, said, serious and sensible ; for no one possessed a finer, “I give you the health, gentlemen all, of the waiter diserimination between right and wrong. Though that called my Lord - out of the room.” He his moral aberrations, for which he felt the keenest was no mean extemporizer; and the following verse remorse, have been exaggerated, the latter years of is said to have been introduced by him, in a song, his life were undoubtedly disgraceful, both to the in allusion to one of the company who had been man and to the poet; yet, amid his career of intem- boasting, somewhat preposterously, of his aristoperance, he preserved a warmth and generosity of cratic acquaintances : heart, and an independence of mind not less surprising or peculiar than his genius.

“Of lordly acquaintance you boast, Mr. Lockhart, in his life of Burns, gives several

And the dukes that you dined wi' yestreen,

Yet an insect's an insect at most, instances, which show that" he shrunk with horror

Though it crawl on the curl of a queen.” and loathing from all sense of pecuniary obligation, no matter to whom.” In answer to a letter from The poetry of Burns, who has acquired almost equal Mr. Thomson, enclosing him 51. for some of his songs, fame by his prose, is now too universally acknowhe says, “ I assure you, my dear sir, that you truly ledged and appreciated, to require further analysis hurt me with your pecuniary parcel. It degrades or criticism. “ Fight, who will, about words and me in my own eyes. However, to return it would forms,” says Byron, “ Burns's rank is in the first savour of affectation ; but, as to any more traffic of class of his art;” but, as Mr. Lockhart observes, that debtor and creditor kind, I swear, by that honour “ to accumulate all that has been said of Burns, which crowns the upright statue of Robert Burns's even by men like himself, of the first order, would integrity on the least motion of it, I will indig- fill a volume.” We shall conclude, therefore, with D3ntly spurn the by-past transaction, and from that an observation of Mr. Campbell, that “ viewing moment commence entire stranger to you.”—The him merely as a poet, there is scarcely another following anecdote is told of him in his character of regret connected with his name, than that his proexciseman, by a writer in the Edinburgh Literary ductions, with all their merit, fall short of the talents Journal, who saw him at Thornhill fair. “ An in- which he possessed.” formation,” he says, “had been lodged against a poor

Burns's character is, upon the whole, honestly wilow woman, of the name of Kate Wilson, who drawn by his own pen, in the serio-comic epitaph, bad ventured to serve a few of her old country friends written on himself, concluding with the following with a draught of unlicensed ale, and a lacing of verse :whisky, on this village jubilee. I saw him enter " Reader, attend-whether thy soul her door, and anticipated nothing short of an imme

Svars fancy's flights beyond the pole, dinte seizure of a certain gray beard and barrel,

Or darkling grubs this earthly hole,

In low pursuit ; vhich, to my personal knowledge, contained the

Know, prudent, cautious self-conirol, contraband commodities our bard was in quest of.

Is wisdom's rool."

[ocr errors]




'Twas in that place o' Scotland's isle,
That bears the name o' Auld King coil,
Upon a bonnie day in June,
When wearing through the afternoon,
Twa dogs that were na thrang at hame,
Forgather'd ance upon a time.

He rises when he likes himsel;
His flunkies answer at the bell;
He ca's his coach, he ca's his horse ;
He draws a bonnie silken purse
As lang's my tail, whare, through the steeks,
| The yellow letter'd Geordie keeks.

Frae morn to e’en it's naught but toiling,
At baking, roasting, frying, boiling;
An' though the gentry first are stechin,
Yet e'en the ha' folk fill their pechan
Wi’ sauce, ragouts, and sicklike trashtrie,
That's little short o' downright wastrie.
Our whipper-in, wee blastit wonner,
Poor worthless elf, it eats a dinner,
Better than ony tenant man
His honour has in a' the land:
An' what poor cot-folk pit their painch in,
I own it's past my comprehension.

[merged small][ocr errors]


His locked, letter'd, braw brass collar, Show'd him the gentleman and scholar But though he was o' high degree, The fient a pride, na pride had he ; But wad hae spent an bour caressin, E’en wi' a tinkler-gypsey's messin. At kirk or market, mill or smiddie, Nae tawted tyke, though e'er sae duddie, But he wad stawn't, as glad to see him, And stroan't on stanes an’ hillocks wi' him.

Trowth, Cæsar, whyles they're fash't eneugh ; A cottar howkin in a sheugh, Wi’ dirty stanes biggin a dyke, Baring a quarry, and sic like, Himself, a wife, he thus sustains, A smytrie o' wee duddie weans, An' naught but his han' darg, to keep Them right and tight in thack an' rape.

The tither was a ploughman's collie, A rhyming, ranting, raving billie, Wha for his friend an' comrade had him, And in his freaks had Luath ca’d him, After some dog in Highland sang,* Was made lang syne-Lord knows how lang.

An' when they meet wi' sair disasters, Like loss o' health, or want o'masters, Ye maist wad think, a wee touch langer, An' they maun starve o' cauld an' hunger; But, how it comes, I never kennd yet, They're maistly wonderfu' contented; An'buirdly chiels, an'clever hizzies, Are bred in sic a way as this is.


He was a gash an' faithfu’tyke, As ever lap a sheugh or dyke. His honest, sonsie, baws'nt face, Aye gat him friends in ilka place. His breast was white, his tow zie back Weel clad wi' coat o' glossy black ; His gawcie tail, wi’ upward curl, Hung o'er his hurdies wi' a swurl.

But then to see how ye’re negleckit, How huff'd, and cutt'd, and disrespeckit! 1-d, man, our gentry care as little For delvers, ditchers, an' sic cattle ; They gang as saucy by poor fo'k, As I wad by a stinking brock.

Nae doubt but they were fain o'ither, An' unco pack an' thick thegither ; Wi' social nose whyles snuff'd and snowkit, Whyles mice an'moudieworts they howkit; Whyles scour'd awa’ in lang excursion, An' worry'd ither in diversion ; Until wi' daffin weary grown, Upon a knowe they sat them down, And there began a lang digression About the lords o' the creation.

I've noticed on our laird's court-day, An' mony a time my heart's been wae, Poor tenant bodies scant o'cash, How they maun thole a factor's snash: He'll stamp an' threaten, curse an’swear, He'll apprehend them, poind their gear ; While they maun staun', wi' aspect humble, An' hear it a', an' fear an' tremble.

I see how folk live that hae riches; But surely poor folk maun be wretches?


[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

That merry day the year begins, They bar the door on frosty winds ; The nappy reeks wi' mantling ream, An' sheds a heart-inspiring steam; The luntin pipe, an' sneeshin mill, Are handed round' wi' richt guid will; The cantie auld folks crackin crouse, The young anes rantin through the house,My heart has been sae fain to see them, That I for joy hae barkit wi' them.

1-d, man, were ye but whyles where I am, The gentles ye wad ne'er envy 'em.

Still it's owre true that ye hae said, Sie game is now owre aften play'd. There's monie a creditable stock, O'decent, honest, fawsont fo’k, Are riven out baith root and branch, Some rascal's pridefu' greed to quench, Wha thinks to knit himsel the faster In favour wi' some gentle master, Wha, aiblins, thrang a-parliamentin, For Britain's guid his saul indentin


Haith, lad, ye little ken about it; For Britain's guid! guid faith! I doubt it, Say rather, gaun as premiers Icad him, An' saying ay or no's they bid him, At operas an' plays parading, Mortgaging, gambling, masquerading; Or may be, in a frolic daft, To Hague or Calais takes a waft, To make a tour, an' tak a whirl, To learn bon ton, an’ see the warl.

It's true they need na starve or sweat, Through winter's cauld, or simmer's heat; They've nae sair wark to craze their banes, An' fill auld age wi' gripes an' granes: But human bodies are sic fools, For a’ their colleges and schools, That when nae real ills perplex them, They make enow themselves to vex them; An' aye the less they hae to sturt them, In like proportion less will hurt them, A country fellow at the pleugh, His acres tillid, he's right eneugh; A kintra lassie at her wheel, Her dizzens done, she's unco weel: But gentlemen, an' ladies warst, Wi' ev'ndown want o wark are curst. They loiter, lounging, lank, an' lazy ; Though deil haet ails them, yet uneasy i Their days, insipid, dull, an' tasteless ; Their nights unquiet, lang, an' restless ; An'e'en their sports, their balls an' races, Their galloping through public places. There's sic parade, sic pomp, an' art, The joy can scarcely reach the heart. The men cast out in party matches, Then sowther a’ in deep debauches ; Ae night they're mad wi' drink an' wh-ring, Niest day their life is past enduring. The ladies arm-in-arm in clusters, As great and gracious a'as sisters ; But hear their absent thoughts o'ither, They're a’run deils an' jads thegither. Whyles o’er the wee bit cup an' platie, They sip the scandal portion pretty ; Or lee-lang nights, wi'crabbit leuks Pore owre the devil's pictured beuks ; Stake on a chance a farmer's stackyard, An'cheat like onie unhang'd blackguard.

There's some exception, man an’ woman ; But this is gentry's life in common.

There, at Vienna or Versailles He rives his father's auld entails; Or by Madrid he takes the rout, To thrum guitars, and fecht wi' nowt; Or down Italian vista startles, Wh-re-hunting among groves o' myrtles ; Then bouses drumly German water, To mak himsel look fair and fatter, An' clear the consequential sorrows, Love-gifts of carnival signoras. For Britain's guid! for her destruction! Wi’ dissipation, feud, an' faction.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »