Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

crowding to hear this man speak! Waiters and ostlers :—they too were men, and here was a man! I have heard much about his speech; but one of the best things I ever heard of it was, last year, from a venerable gentleman long familiar with him. That it was speech distinguished by always having something in it. “He spoke rather little than much," this old man told me; sat rather silent in those early days, as in the company of persons above him; and always when he did speak, it was to throw new light on the matter.” I know not why any one should ever speak otherwise !—But if we look at his general force of soul, his healthy robustness every way, the rugged downrightness, penetration, generous valour, and manfulness that was in him,--where shall we readily find a better-gifted man?

Among the great men of the Eighteenth Century, I sometimes feel as if Burns might be found to resemble Mirabeau more than any other. They differ widely in vesture; yet look at them intrinsically. There is the same burly thick-necked strength of body as of soul;—built, in both cases, on what the old Marquis calls a fond gaillard. By nature, by course of breeding, indeed by nation, Mirabeau has much more of bluster; a noisy, forward, unresting man. But the characteristic of Mirabeau too is veracity and sense, power of true insight, superiority of vision. The thing that he

and Genius of Burns.

7

[ocr errors]

says is worth remembering. It is a flash of insight into some object or other : so do both these men speak. The same raging passions; capable too in both of manifesting themselves as the tenderest noble affections. Wit, wild laughter, energy, directness, sincerity: these were in both. The types of the two men are not dissimilar.

Burns too could have governed, debated in National Assemblies; politicized, as few could. Alas, the courage which had to exhibit itself in capture of smuggling schooners in the Solway Frith; in keeping silence over so much, where no good speech, but only inarticulate rage was possible: this might have bellowed forth Ushers de Brézé and the like; and made itself visible to all men, in managing of kingdoms, in ruling of great ever-memorable epochs! But they said to him reprovingly, his Official Superiors said, and wrote: “You are to work, not think.” Of your thinking-faculty, the greatest in this land, we have no need; you are to gauge beer there; for that only are you wanted. Very notable;—and worth mentioning, though we know what is to be said and answered ! As if Thought, Power of Thinking, were not, at all times, in all places and situations of the world, precisely the thing that was wanted. The fatal man, is he not always the unthinking man, the man who cannot think and see; but only grope, and hallucinate, and missee the nature of the thing he works with ? He missees it, mistakes it as we say; takes it for one thing, and it is another thing,—and leaves him standing like a Futility there! He is the fatal man; unutterably fatal, put in the high places of nen.—“Why complain of this?” say some: “Strength is mournfully denied its arena; that was true from of old.” Doubtless; and the worse for the arena, answer I! Complaining profits little; stating of the truth may profit. That a Europe, with its French Revolution just breaking out, finds no need of a Burns except for gauging beer,-is a thing I, for one, cannot rejoice at !

Once more we have to say here that the chief quality of Burns is the sincerity of him. So in his Poetry, so in his Life. The Song he sings is not of fantasticalities; it is of a thing felt, really there; the prime merit of this, as of all in him, and of his Life generally, is truth. The Life of Burns is what we may call a great tragic sincerity. A sort of savage sincerity,—not cruel, far from that; but wild, wrestling naked with the truth of things. In that sense, there is something of the savage in all great men.

Hero-worship, Odin, Burns? Well; these Men of Letters too were not without a kind of Heroworship: but what a strange condition has that got into now! The waiters and ostlers of Scotch inns, prying about the door, eager to catch any word that fell from Burns, were doing unconscious reverand Genius of Burns.

9

ence to the Heroic. Johnson had his Boswell for worshipper. Rousseau had worshippers enough; princes calling on him in his mean garret; the great, the beautiful doing reverence to the poor moonstruck man. For himself a most portentous contradiction; the two ends of his life not to be brought into harmony. He sits at the tables of grandees; and has to copy music for his own living. He cannot even get his music copied: “ By dint of dining out,” says he, “I run the risk of dying by starvation at home.” For his worshippers too a most questionable thing! If doing Hero-worship well or badly be the test of vital wellbeing or illbeing to a generation, can we say that these generations are very first-rate ?—And yet our heroic Men of Letters do teach, govern, are kings, priests, or what you like to call them; intrinsically there is no preventing it by any means whatever. The world has to obey him who thinks and sees in the world. The world can alter the manner of that; can either have it as blessed continuous summer-sunshine, or as unblessed black thunder and tornado,—with unspeakable difference of profit for the world! The manner of it is very alterable; the matter and fact of it is not alterable by any power under the sky. Light; or, failing that, lightning: the world can take its choice. Not whether we call an Odin god, prophet, priest, or what we call him; but whether we believe the word he tells us: there it all lies. If it be a true word, we shall have to believe it; believing it, we shall have to do it. What name or welcome we give him or it, is a point that concerns ourselves mainly. It, the new Truth, new deeper revealing of the Secret of this Universe, is verily of the nature of a message from on high; and must and will have itself obeyed.

My last remark is on that notablest phasis of Burns's history,--his visit to Edinburgh. Often it seems to me as if his demeanour there were the highest proof he gave of what a fund of worth and genuine manhood was in him. If we think of it, few heavier burdens could be laid on the strength of a man. So sudden; all common Lionism, which ruins innumerable men, was as nothing to this. It is as if Napoleon had been made a King of, not gradually, but at once from the Artillery Lieutenancy in the Regiment La Fère. Burns, still only in his twenty-seventh year, is no longer even a ploughman; he is flying to the West Indies to escape disgrace and a Jail. This month he is a ruined peasant, his wages seven pounds a-year, and these gone from him: next month he is in the blaze of rank and beauty, handing down jewelled Duchesses to dinner; the cynosure of all eyes! Adversity is sometimes hard upon a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity. I admire much

:

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »