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"The bands grew the tighter the more they were | under which I unhappily must rank as the
"Cynthia hinted she'd find them next morn." "Though Fate said a hero should perish in light, So up rose bright. Phoebus and down fell the knight."
In the next place, you are singularly happy in the discrimination of your heroes, and in giving each the sentiments and language suitable to his character. And, lastly, you have much merit in the delicacy of the panegyric which you have contrived to throw on each of the dramatis persona, perfectly appropriate to his character. The compliment to Sir Robert, the blunt soldier, is peculiarly fine. In short, this composition, in my opinion, does you great honour, and I see not a line or a word in it which I could wish to be altered.
As to The Lament, I suspect, from some expressions in your letter to me, that you are more doubtful with respect to the merits of this piece than of the other, and I own I think you have reason; for although it contains some beautiful stanzas, as the first, "The wind blew hollow," &c. the fifth, "Ye scatter'd birds;" the thirteenth, "Awake thy last sad voice," &c. Yet it appears to me faulty as a whole, and inferior to several of those you have already published in the same strain. My principal objection lies against the plan of the piece. I think it was unnecessary and improper to put the lamentation in the mouth of a fictitious character, an aged bard.-It had been much better to have lamented your patron in your own person, to have expressed your genuine feelings for his loss, and to have spoken the language of nature rather than that of fiction on the subject. Compare this with your poem of the same title in your printed volume, which begins, O thou pale Orb! and observe what it is that forms the charm of that composition. It is, that it speaks the language of truth and of nature. The change is, in my opinion, injudicious too in this respect, that an aged bard has much less need of a patron and protector than a young one. I have thus given you, with much freedom, my opinion of both the pieces. I should have made a very ill return to the compliment you paid me, if I had given you any other than my genuine senti
It will give me great pleasure to hear from you when you find leisure, and I beg you will believe me ever, dear Sir, yours, &c.
TO MISS DAVIES.
Ir is impossible, madam, that the generous warmth and angelic purity of your youthful mind, can have any idea of that moral disease
chief of sinners; I mean a torpitude of the moral powers that may be called, a lethargy of conscience. In vain remorse rears her horrent
crest, and rouses all her snakes; beneath the deadly fixed eye and leaden hand of indolence, their wildest ire is charmed into the torpor of the bat, slumbering out the rigours of winter in the chink of a ruined wall. Nothing less, madam, could have made me so long neglect your obliging commands. Indeed I had one apology-the bagatelle was not worth. presenting. Besides, so strongly am I interested in Miss D's fate and welfare in the serious business of life, amid its chances and changes; that to make her the subject of a silly ballad, is downright mockery of these ardent feelings; 'tis like an impertinent jest to a dying friend.
Gracious Heaven! why this disparity between our wishes and our powers? Why is the most generous wish to make others blest, impotent and ineffectual-as the idle breeze that crosses the pathless desert? In my walks of life I have met with a few people to whom how gladly would I have said" Go, be happy! I know that your hearts have been wounded by the scorn of the proud, whom accident has placed above you-or worse still, in whose hand are, perhaps, placed many of the comforts of your life. But there! ascend that rock, Independence, and look justly down on their littleness of soul. Make the worthless tremble under your indignation, and the foolish sink before your contempt; and largely impart that happiness to others, which, I am certain, will give yourselves so much pleasure to bestow!"
Why, dear madam, must I wake from this delightful reverie, and find it all a dream? Why, amid my generous enthusiasm, must I find myself poor and powerless, incapable of wiping one tear from the eye of pity, or of adding one comfort to the friend I love!-Out upon the world! say I, that its affairs are administered so ill? They talk of reform;good Heaven! what a reform would I make among the sons, and even the daughters of men!-Down, immediately, should go fools from the high places where misbegotten chance has perked them up, and through life should they skulk, ever haunted by their native insignificance, as the body marches accompanied by its shadow. As for a much more formidable class, the knaves, I am at a loss what to do with them: Had I a world, there should not be a knave in it.
But the hand that could give, I would liberally fill; and I would pour delight on the heart that could kindly forgive, and generously love.
Still the inequalities of his life are, among men, comparatively tolerable-but there is a delicacy, a tenderness, accompanying every view in which we can place lovely Woman, that are grated and shocked at the rude, capri
Ellisland, 17th December, 1791. MANY thanks to you, madam, for your good news respecting the little floweret and the mother plant. I hope my poetic prayers have been heard, and will be answered up to the warmest sincerity of their fullest extent; and then Mrs Henri will find her little darling the representative of his late parent, in every thing but his abridged existence.
I have just finished the following song, which, to a lady the descendant of Wallace, and many heroes of his truly illustrious line, and herself the mother of several soldiers, needs neither preface nor apology.
SCENE,--A field of battle-time of the day, evening-the wounded and dying of the victorious army are supposed to join in the following
SONG OF DEATH
TO MRS DUNLOP.
5th January, 1792.
You see my hurried life, madam: I can only command starts of time; however, I am glad of one thing; since I finished the other sheet, the political blast that threatened my welfare is overblown. I have corresponded with Commissioner Graham, for the Board had made me the subject of their animadversions; and now I have the pleasure of informing you, that all is set to rights in that quarter. Now, as to these informers, may the devil be let loose to
but hold! I was praying most fervently in my last sheet, and I must not so soon fall a swearing in this.
Alas! how little do the wantonly or idly officious think what mischief they do by their malicious insinuations, indirect impertinence, or thoughtless blabbings. What a difference there is in intrinsic worth, candour, benevolence, generosity, kindness-in all the charities and all the virtues, between one class of human
FAREWELL, thou fair day, thou green earth, and beings and another. For instance, the amiable
Now gay with the broad setting sun; Farewell, loves and friendships; ye dear, tender ties,
Our race of existence is run!
Thou grim king of terrors, thou life's gloomy foe,
circle I so lately mixed with in the hospitable ball of D, their generous hearts-their uncontaminated dignified minds-their informed and polished understandings-what a contrast, when compared-if such comparing were miscreant who can deliberately plot the denot downright sacrilege-with the soul of the struction of an honest man that never offended him, and with a grin of satisfaction see the unfortunate being, his faithful wife, and prat
Thou strik'st the poor peasant-he sinks in the tling innocents, turned over to beggary and dark,
Nor saves e'en the wreck of a name: Thou strik'st the young hero-a glorious mark! He falls in the blaze of his fame!
Your cup, my dear madam, arrived safe. I had two worthy fellows dining with me the other day, when I, with great formality, produced my whigmeleerie cup, and told them
In the field of proud honour-our swords in our that it had been a family-piece among the de
Our king and our country to save-While victory shines on life's last ebbing sands O, who would not die with the brave!
The circumstance that gave rise to the foregoing verses was, looking over, with a musical friend, McDonald's collection of Highland airs; I was struck with one, an Isle of
scendants of Sir William Wallace. This roused such an enthusiasm, that they insisted on bumpering the punch round in it; and by and bye, never did your great ancestor lay a Southron more completely to rest than for a time did your cup my two friends. Apropos, this is the season of wishing. May God bless you, my dear friend, and bless me the humblest and sincerest of your friends, by granting you yet many returns of the season! May all good
things attend you and yours wherever they are scattered over the earth!
TO MR WILLIAM SMELLIE, PRINTER.
Dumfries, 22d January, 1792.
I sIT down, my dear sir, to introduce a young lady to you, and a lady in the first ranks of fashion too. What a task! to you-who care no more for the herd of animals called young ladies, than you do for the herd of animals called young gentlemen. To you-who despise and detest the groupings and combinations of fashion, as an idiot painter that seems industrious to place staring fools and unprincipled knaves in the foreground of his picture, while men of sense and honesty are too often thrown in the dimmest shades. Mrs Riddel, who will take this letter to town with her and send it to you, is a character that, even in your own way, as a naturalist and a philosopher, would be an acquisition to your acquaintance. The lady too is a votary of the muses; and as I think myself somewhat of a judge in my own trade, I assure you that her verses, always correct, and often elegant, are much beyond the common run of the lady-poetesses of the day. She is a great admirer of your book, and hearing me say that I was acquainted with you, she begged to be known to you, as she is just going to pay her first visit to our Caledonian capital. I told her that her best way was to desire her near relation, and your intimate friend, Craigdarroch, to have you at his house while she was there; and lest you might think of a lively West Indian girl of eighteen, as girls of eighteen too often deserve to be thought of, I should take care to remove that prejudice. To be impartial, however, in appreciating the lady's merits, she has one unlucky failing, a failing which you will easily discover, as she seems rather pleased with indulging in it; and a failing that you will as easily pardon, as it is a sin which very much besets yourself;-where she dislikes or despises, she is apt to make no more a secret of it, than where she esteems and respects.
I will not present you with the unmeaning compliments of the season, but I will send you my warmest wishes and most ardent prayers, that FORTUNE may never throw your SUBSISTENCE to the mercy of a KNAVE, or set your CHARACTER on the judgment of a FOOL, but that, upright and erect, you may walk to an honest grave, where men of letters shall say, here lies a man who did honour to science; and men of worth shall say, here lies a man who did honour to human nature'
TO MR W. NICOL.
20th February, 1792.
O THOU, wisest among the wise, meridian blaze of prudence, full moon of discretion, and chief of many counsellors! How infinitely is thy puddle-headed, rattle-headed, wrong-headed, round-headed slave indebted to thy supereminent goodness, that from the luminous path of thy own right lined rectitude, thou lookest benignly down on an ering wretch, of whom the zig-zag wanderings defy all the powers of calculation, from the simple copulation of units, up to the hidden mysteries of fluxions! May one feeble ray of that light of wisdom which darts from thy sensorium, straight as the arrow of heaven, and bright as the meteor of inspiration, may it be my portion, so that I may be less unworthy of the face and favour of that father of proverbs and master of maxims, that antipode of folly, and magnet among the sages, the wise and witty Willie Nicol! Amen! Amen! Yea, so be it!
For me! I am a beast, a reptile, and know nothing! From the cave of my ignorance, amid the fogs of my dulness, and pestilential fumes of my political heresies, I look up to thee, as doth a toad through the iron-barred lucerne of a pestiferous dungeon, to the cloudless glory of a summer sun! Sorely sighing in bitterness of soul, I say, when shall my name be the quotation of the wise, and my countenance be the delight of the godly, like the illustrious lord of Laggan's many hills?" As for him, his works are perfect; never did the pen of calumny blur the fair page of his reputation, nor the bolt of hatred fly at his dwelling.
Thou mirror of purity, when shall the elfine lamp of my glimmerous understanding, purged from sensual appetites and gross desires, shine like the constellation of thy intellectual powers.
As for thee, thy thoughts are pure, and thy lips are holy. Never did the unhallowed breath of the powers of darkness, and the pleasures of darkness, pollute the sacred flame of thy sky-descended and heaven-bound desires; never did the vapours of impurity stain the unclouded serene of thy cerulean imagination. O that like thine were the tenor of my life, like thine the tenor of my conversation! then should no friend fear for my strength, no enemy rejoice in my weakness! Then should I lie down and rise up, and none to make me afraid.-May thy pity and thy prayer be exercised for, O thou lamp of wisdom and mirror of morality! thy devoted slave.†
* Mr Nicol.
+ This strain of irony was excited by a etter of Mr Nicol's containing good advice.
TO MR CUNNINGHAM.
3d March, 1792.
SINCE I wrote to you the last lugubrious sheet, I have not had time to write you farther. When I say that I had not time, that, as usual, means, that the three demons, indolence, business, and ennui, have so completely shared my hours among them, as not to leave me a five minutes fragment to take up a pen in.
Thank heaven, I feel my spirits buoying upwards with the renovating year. Now I shall in good earnest take up Thomson's songs. I dare say he thinks I have used him unkindly, and I must own with too much appearance of truth. Apropos, do you know the much admired old Highland air called The Sutor's Dochter? It is a first-rate favourite of mine, and I have written what I reckon one of my best songs to it. I will send it to you as it was sung with great applause in some fashionable circles by Major Robertson, of Lude, who was here with his corps.
There is one commission that I must trouble you with. I lately lost a valuable seal, a present from a departed friend, which vexes me much. I have gotten one of your High. land pebbles, which I fancy would make a very decent one; and I want to cut my armorial bearing on it; will you be so obliging as inquire what will be the expense of such a business? I do not know that my name is matriculated, as the heralds call it, at all; but I have invented arms for myself, so you know I shall be chief of the name; and by courtesy of Scotland, will likewise be entitled to supporters. These, however, I do not intend having on my seal. I am a bit of a herald; and shall give you, secundum artem, my arms. On a field, azure, a holly bush, seeded, proper, in base; a shepherd's pipe and crook, saltierwise, also proper, in chief. On a wreath of the colours, a wood-lark perching on a sprig of bay-tree, proper: for crest, two mottoes, round the top of the crest, Wood-notes wild. At the bottom of the shield, in the usual place, Better a wee bush than nae bield. By the shepherd's pipe and crook I do not mean the nonsense of painters of Arcadia; but a Stock and Horn, and a Club, such as you see at the head of Allan Ramsay, in Allan's quarto edition of the Gentle Shepherd. By the bye, do you know Allan? He must be a man of very great genius.-Why is he not more known? -Has he no patrons? or do" Poverty's cold wind and crushing rain beat keen and heavy" on him? I once, and but once, got a glance of that noble edition of the noblest pastoral in the world, and dear as it was, I mean dear as to my pocket, I would have bought it; but I
was told that it was printed and engraved for subscribers only. He is the only artist who bas hit genuine pastoral costume. What, my dear Cunningham, is there in riches, that they narrow and harden the heart so? I think that were I as rich as the sun, I should be as generous as the day; but as I have no reason to imagine my soul a nobler one than any other man's, I must conclude that wealth imparts a bird-lime quality to the possessor, at which the man, in his native poverty, would have revolted. What has led me to this, is the idea of such merit as Mr Allan possesses, and such riches as a nabob or governor-contractor possesses, and why they do not form a mutual league. Let wealth shelter and cherish unprotected merit, and the gratitude and celebrity of that merit will richly repay it.
TO MRS DUNLOP.
Annan Water Foot, 22d August, 1792. Do not blame me for it, madam-my own conscience, hackneyed and weather-beaten as it is, in watching and reproving my vagaries, follies, indolence, &c. has continued to blame and punish me sufficiently.
Do you think it possible, my dear and honoured friend, that I could be so lost to gratitude for many favours; to esteem for much worth, and to the honest, kind, pleasurable tie of, now, old acquaintance, and I hope and am sure of progressive increasing friendship-as, for a single day, not to think of you to ask the Fates what they are doing and about to do with my much loved friend and her wide-scattered connexions, and to beg of them to be as kind to you and yours as they possibly can.
Apropos (though how it is apropos, I have not leisure to explain), do you know that I am almost in love with an acquaintance of yours?
Almost! said I-I am in love, souse! over head and ears, deep as the most unfathomable abyss of the boundless ocean; but the word, Love, owing to the intermingledoms of the good and the bad, the pure and the impure, in this world, being rather an equivocal term for expressing one's sentiments and sensations, I must do justice to the sacred purity of my attachment. Know then, that the heart-struck awe; the distant humble approach; the delight we should have in gazing upon and listening to a Messenger of Heaven, appearing in all the unspotted purity of his celestial home, among the coarse, polluted, far inferior sons of men, to deliver to them tidings that make their hearts swim in joy, and their imaginations soar
in transport-such, so delighting, and so pure, |
"My bonnie Lizzie Baillie
I'll row thee in my plaidie," &c.
So I parodied it as follows, which is literally the first copy, "unanointed unannealed," as Hamlet says. See the poem.
So much for ballads. I regret that you are gone to the east country, as I am to be in Ayrshire in about a fortnight. This world of ours, notwithstanding it has many good things in it, yet it has ever had this curse, that two or three people who would be the happier the oftener they met together, are, almost without exception, always so placed as never to meet but once or twice a-year, which, considering the few years of a man's life, is a very great "evil under the sun," which I do not recollect that Solomon has mentioned in his catalogue of the miseries of man. I hope and believe that there is a state of existence beyond the grave, where the worthy of this life will renew their former intimacies, with this endearing addition, that "we meet to part no more."
A thousand times have I made this apostrophe to the departed sons of men, but not one of them has ever thought fit to answer the question. "O that some courteous ghost would blab it out!"-but it cannot be; you and I, my friend, must make the experiment by ourselves and for ourselves. However, I am so convinced that an unshaken faith in the doctrines of religion is not only necessary, by making us better men, but also by making us happier men, that I shall take every care that your little god-son, and every little creature that shall call me father, shall be taught them.
So ends this heterogeneous letter, written at this wild place of the world, in the intervals of my labour of discharging a vessel of rum from Antigua.
TO MR CUNNINGHAM.
Dumfries, 10th September, 1792. No! I will not attempt an apology.-Amid all my hurry of business, grinding the face of the publican and the sinner on the merciless wheels of the excise; making ballads, and then drinking, and singing them; and, over and above all, the correcting the press-work of two different publications; still, still I might have stolen five minutes to dedicate to one of the first of my friends and fellow-creatures. I might have done, as I do at present, snatched an hour near "witching time of night"-and scrawled a page or two. I might have congratulated my friend on his marriage; or I might have thanked the Caledonian archers for the honour they have done me (though to do myself justice, I intended to have done both in rhyme, else I had done both long ere now.) Well, then, here is to your good health! for you must know, I have set a nipperkin of toddy by me, just by way of spell, to keep away the meikle horned Deil, or any of his subaltern imps who may be on their nightly rounds.
But what shall I write to you?_" The voice said cry," and I said, "what shall I cry?" -O, thou spirit! whatever thou art, or wherever thou makest thyself visible! be thou a bogle by the eerie side of an auld thorn, in the dreary glen through which the herd callan maun bicker in his gloamin route frae the faulde! Be thou a brownie, set, at dead of night, to thy task by the blazing ingle, or in the solitary barn where the repercussions of thy iron flail half affright thyself, as thou performest the work of twenty of the sons of men, ere the cock-crowing summon thee to thy ample cog of substantial brose-Be thou a kelpie, haunting the ford or ferry, in the starless night, mixing thy laughing yell with the howling of the storm, and the roaring of the flood, as thou viewest the perils and miseries of man on the foundering horse, or in the tumbling boat!Or, lastly, be thou a ghost, paying thy noctur nal visits to the hoary ruins of decayed grandeur; or performing thy mystic rites in the shadow of thy time-worn church, while the moon looks, without a cloud, on the silent, ghastly dwellings of the dead around thee; or taking thy stand by the bedside of the villain, or the murderer, pourtraying on his dreaming fancy, pictures, dreadful as the horrors of unveiled hell, and terrible as the wrath of incensed Deity!-Come, thou spirit, but not in these horrid forms; come with the milder, gentle, easy inspirations, which thou breathest round the wig of a prating advocate, or the tete of a tea-sipping gossip, while their tongues run at the light-horse gallop of clishmaclaver for ever and ever-come and assist a poor devil who is quite jaded in the attempt to share half an idea