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ag been, in the familiar phrase of the country, Out in the forty-five," (1745,) especially when they had any stateliness or reserve about .hem, as was the case with William Burnes. It may easily be conceived, that our poet would cherish the belief of his father's having been engaged in the daring enterprise of Prince Charles Edward. The generous attachment, the heroic valour, and the final misfortunes of the adherents of the house of Stuart, touched with sympathy his youthful and ardent mind, and influenced his original political opinions. The father of our poet is described by one who knew him towards the latter end of his life, as above the common stature, thin, and bent with labour. His countenance was serious and expressive, and the scanty locks on his head were grey. He was of a religious turn of mind, and as is usual among the Scottish peasantry, a good deal conversant in speculative theology. There is in Gilbert's hands a little manual of religious belief, in the form of a dialogue between a father and his son, composed by him for the use of his children, in which the benevolence of his heart seems to have led him to soften the ́rigid Calvinism of the Scottish church, into something approaching to Arminianism.
He was a devout man, and in the practice of calling his family together to join in prayer. It is known that the following exquisite picture, in the Cotter's Saturday Night, represents Wil. liam Burnes and his family at their evening devotions.
The cheerful supper done, with serious face, They, round the ingle, + form a circle wide; The sire turns o'er, with patriarchal grace, The big hall-Bible, once his father's pride: His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,
His lyart haffets wearing thin and bare;
There is another observation of Gilbert Burns on his brother's narrative, in which some persons will be interested. It refers to page 12, where the poet speaks of his youthful friends. My brother," says Gilbert Burns," seems to set off his early companions in too consequential a manner. The principal acquaintance we had in Ayr, while boys, were four sons of Mr Andrew M'Culloch, a distant relation of my mother's, who kept a tea-shop, and had made a little money in the contraband trade, very common at that time. He died while the boys were young, and my father was nominated one of the tutors. The two eldest were bred shop-keepers, the third a surgeon, and the youngest, the only surviving one, was bred in a countinghouse in Glasgow, where he is now a respectable merchant. I believe all these boys went to the West Indies. Then there were two sons of Dr Malcolm, whom I have mentioned in my letter to Mrs Dunlop. The eldest, a very worthy young man, went to the East Indies, where he had a commission in the army; he is the person, whose heart my brother says the Munny Begum scenes could not corrupt. The other, by the interest of Lady Wallace, got an ensigncy in a regiment raised by the duke of Hamilton, during the American war.
I believe neither of them are now (1797) alive. We also knew the present Dr Paterson of Ayr, and a younger brother of his now in Jamaica, who were much younger than us. I had almost forgot to mention Dr Charles of Ayr, who was a little older than my brother, and with whom he had a longer and closer intimacy than with any of the others, which did not, however, continue in after life."
+ Fire. + Grey temples.
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,
He wales a portion with judicious care; And "Let us worship God!" he say with solemn
They chant their artless notes in simple guise; They tune their hearts, by far the noblest aim:
Perhaps Dundee's † wild warbling measures rise,
Or plaintive Martyrs worthy of the name; Or noble Elgint beets the heavenly flame, The sweetest far of Scotia's holy lays; Compared with these, Italian trills are tame; unison have they with our Creator's praise. The tickled ears no heartfelt raptures raise;
The priest-like father reads the sacred page, § How Abram was the friend of God on high; Or, Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek's ungracious progeny;
Or, Job's pathetic plaint, and wailing cry;
Perhaps the Christian volume is the theme,
How guiltless blood for guilty man was shed; How he who bore in heaven the second name, Had not on earth whereon to lay his head;" How his first followers and servants sped;
The precepts sage they wrote to many a land: How he who lone in Patmos banished, Saw in the sun a mighty angel stand: And heard great Babylon's doom pronounced, by Heaven's command!
Then kneeling down to Heaven's eternal King,
The saint, the father, and the husband prays; Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing, That thus they all shall meet in future days; There ever bask in uncreated rays,
No more to sigh, or shed the bitter tear, Together hymning their Creator's praise, In such society, yet still more dear; While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere.
Then homeward all take off their several way; The youngling cottagers retire to rest; The parent pair their secret homage pay, And offer up to Heaven the warm request, That he who stills the raven's clam'rous nest, And decks the lily fair in flowery pride, Would in the way his wisdom sees the best, For them and for their little ones provide; But chiefly in their hearts with grace divine preside!
+ Names of tunes in Scottish psalmody. The tunes mentioned in this poem are the three which were used by William Burnes, who had no greater variety. 1 Adds fuel to.
The course of family devotion among the Scots is, first to sing a psalm, then to read a portion of scripture, and lastly to kneel down in prayer."
Of a family so interesting as that which inhabited the cottage of William Burnes, and particularly of the father of the family, the reader will perhaps be willing to listen to some farther account. What follows is given by one already mentioned with so much honour, in the narrative of Gilbert Burns, Mr Murdoch, the preceptor of our poet, who, in a letter to Joseph Cooper Walker, Esq. of Dublin, author of the Historical Memoir of the Italian Tragedy, lately published, thus expresses himself:
engaged by Mr Burnes, and four of his neighbours to teach, and accordingly began to teach the little school at Alloway, which was situated a few yards from the argillaceous fabric above mentioned. My five employers undertook to board me by turns, and to make up a certain salary, at the end of the year, provided my quarterly payments from the different pu. pils did not amount to that sum.
"My pupil, Robert Burns, was then between six and seven years of age; his preceptor about eighteen. Robert and his younger brother Gilbert, had been grounded a little in English before they were put under my care. They both made a rapid progress in reading, and a tolerable progress in writing. In read
"I was lately favoured with a letter from our worthy friend, the Rev. Wm. Adair, in which he requested me to communicate to you what-ing, dividing words into syllables by rule, spellever particulars I could recollect concerning Robert Burns, the Ayrshire poet. My business being at present multifarious and harassing, my attention is consequently so much divided, and I am so little in the habit of expressing my thoughts on paper, that at this distance of time I can give but a very imperfect sketch of the early part of the life of that extraordinary genius with which alone I am acquainted.
"William Burnes, the father of the poet, was born in the shire of Kincardine, and bred a gardener. He had been settled in Ayrshire ten or twelve years before I knew him, and had been in the service of Mr Crawford of Doonside. He was afterwards employed as a gardener and overseer by Provost Ferguson of Doonholm, in the parish of Alloway, which is now united with that of Ayr. In this parish, on the road side, a Scotch mile and a half from the town of Ayr, and half a mile from the bridge of Doon, William Burnes took a piece of land consisting of about seven acres, part of which he laid out in garden ground, and part of which he kept to graze a cow, &c. still continuing in the employ of Provost Ferguson. Upon this little farm was erected an humble dwelling, of which William Burnes was the architect. It was, with the exception of a little straw, literally a tabernacle of clay. In this mean cottage, of which I myself was at times an inhabitant, I really believe, there dwelt a larger portion of content than in any palace in Europe. The Cotter's Saturday Night, will give some idea of the temper and manners that prevailed there.
"In 1765, about the middle of March, Mr W. Burnes came to Ayr, and sent to the school where I was improving in writing under my good friend Mr Robison, desiring that I would come and speak to him at a certain inn, and bring my writing book with me. This was immediately complied with. Having examined my writing, he was pleased with it(you will readily allow he was not difficult), and told me that he had received very satisfac. tory information of Mr Tennant, the master of the English school, concerning my improve ment in English, and in his method of teaching. In the month of May following, I was
ing without book, parsing sentences, &c. Ro. bert and Gilbert were generally at the upper end of the class, even when ranged with boys by far their seniors. The books most commonly used in the schools were the Spelling Book, the New Testament, the Bible, Mason's Collection of Prose und Verse, and Fisher's English Grammar. They committed to memory the hymns, and other poems of that collection, with uncommon facility. This facility was partly owing to the method pursued by their father and me in instructing them, which was, to make them thoroughly acquainted with the meaning of every word in each sentence that was to be committed to memory. By the bye, this may be easier done, and at an earlier period, than is generally thought. As soon as they were capable of it, I taught them to turn verse into its natural prose order; sometimes to substitute synonymous expressions for poetical words, and to supply all the ellipses. These, you know, are the means of knowing that the pupil understands his author. These are excellent helps to the arrangement of words in sentences, as well as to a variety of expression.
"Gilbert always appeared to me to possess a more lively imagination, and to be more of the wit, than Robert. I attempted to teach them a little church-music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear, in particular, was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to distinguish one tune from another. Robert's countenance was generally grave, and expressive of a serious, contemplative, and thoughtful mind. Gilbert's face said, Mirth, with thee I mean to live; and certainly, if any person who knew the two boys, had been asked which of them was the most likely to court the muses, he would surely never have guessed that Robert had a propensity of that kind.
"In the year 1767, Mr Burnes quitted his mud edifice, and took possession of a farm (Mount Oliphant) of his own improving, while in the service of Provost Ferguson. This farm being at a considerable distance from the school, the boys could not attend regularly; and some changes had taken place among the other sup
porters of the school, I left it, having continued to conduct it for nearly two years and a half. "In the year 1772, I was appointed (being one of five candidates who were examined) to teach the English school at Ayr; and in 1773, Robert Burns came to board and lodge with me, for the purpose of revising English gram&c. that he might be better qualified to instruct his brothers and sisters at home. He was now with me day and night, in school, at all meals, and in all my walks. At the end of one week, I told him, that, as he was now pretty much master of the parts of speech, &c. I should like to teach him something of French pronunciation, that when he should meet with the name of a French town, ship, officer, or the like, in the newspapers, he might be able to pronounce it something like a French word. Robert was glad to hear this proposal, and immediately we attacked the French with great courage.
"Now there was little else to be heard but the declension of nouns, the conjugation of verbs, &c. When walking together, and even at meals, I was constantly telling him the names of different objects, as they presented themselves, in French; so that he was hourly laying in a stock of words, and sometimes little phrases. In short, he took such pleasure in learning, and I in teaching, that it was difficult to say which of the two was most zealous in the business; and about the end of the second week of our study of the French, we began to read a little of the Adventures of Telemachus, in Feneion's own words.
"But now the plains of Mount Oliphant began to whiten, and Robert was summoned to relinquish the pleasing scenes that surrounded the grotto of Calypso, and, armed with a sickle, to seek glory by signalizing himself in the fields of Ceres-and so he did; for although but about fifteen, I was told that he performed the work of a man.
Thus was I deprived of my very apt pupil, and consequently agreeable companion, at the end of three weeks, one of which was spent entirely in the study of English, and the other two chiefly in that of French. I did not, however, lose sight of him; but was a frequent visitant at his father's house, when I had my half-holiday, and very often went accompanied with one or two persons more intelligent than myself, that good William Burnes might enjoy a mental feast.-Then the labouring oar was shifted to some other hand. The father and the son sat down with us, when we enjoyed a conversation, wherein solid reasoning, sensible remark, and a moderate seasoning of jocularity, were so nicely blended as to render it palatable to all parties. Robert had a hundred questions to ask me about the French, &c.; and the father, who had always rational information in view, had still some question to propose to my more learned friends, upon moral or natural philosophy, or some such interesting subject. Mrs Burnes too was of the party as much as possible;
But still the house affairs would draw her thence, Which ever as she could with haste despatch, She'd come again, and, with a greedy ear, Devour up their discourse
and particularly that of her husband. At all times, and in all companies, she listened to him with a more marked attention than to any body else. When under the necessity of being absent while he was speaking, she seemed to regret, as a real loss, that she had missed what the good-man had said. This worthy woman, Agnes Brown, had the most thorough esteem for her husband of any woman I ever knew. I can by no means wonder that she highly esteemed him; for I myself have always considered William Burnes as by far the best of the human race that ever I had the pleasure of being acquainted with-and many a worthy character I have known. I can cheerfully join with Robert in the last line of his epitaph (borrowed from Goldsmith),
'And ev❜n his failings lean'd to virtue's side.'
"He was an excellent husband, if I may judge from his assiduous attention to the ease and comfort of his worthy partner, and from her affectionate behaviour to him, as well as her unwearied attention to the duties of a mother.
"He was a tender and affectionate father; he took pleasure in leading his children in the path of virtue; not in driving them, as some parents do, to the performance of duties to He took which they themselves are averse. care to find fault but very seldom; and therefore, when he did rebuke, he was listened to A look of with a kind of reverential awe. disapprobation was felt; a reproof was severely so; and a stripe with the taws, even on the skirt of the coat, gave heart-felt pain, produced a loud lamentation, and brought forth a flood of tears.
"He had the art of gaining the esteem and good-will of those that were labourers under him. I think I never saw him angry but twice: the one time it was with the foreman of the band, for not reaping the field as he was desired; and the other time, it was with an old man, for using smutty inuendoes and double entendres. Were every foul-mouthed old man to receive a seasonable check in this way, it would be to the advantage of the rising generation. As he was at no time overbearing to inferiors, he was equally incapable of that passive, pitiful, paltry spirit, that induces some people to keep booing and booing in the presence of a great man. He always treated superiors with a becoming respect; but he never gave the smallest encouragement to aristocratical arrogance. But I must not pretend to give you a description of all the manly qualities, the rational and Christian virtues of the venerable William Burnes. Time would fail me. I shall only add, that he carefully
practised every known duty, and avoided every thing that was criminal; or, in the apostle's words, Herein did he exercise himself, in living a life void of offence towards God and towards men. O for a world of men of such dispositions! We should then have no wars. I have often wished, for the good of mankind, that it were as customary to honour and perpetuate the memory of those who excel in moral rectitude, as it is to extol what are called heroic actions: then would the mausoleum of the friend of my youth overtop and surpass most of the monuments I see in Westminster Abbey.
"Although I cannot do justice to the character of this worthy man, yet you will perceive, from these few particulars, what kind of person had the principal hand in the education of our poet. He spoke the English language with more propriety (both with respect to diction and pronunciation), than any man I ever knew with no greater advantages. This had a very good effect on the boys, who began to talk, and reason like men, much sooner than their neighbours. I do not recollect any of their cotemporaries, at my little seminary, who afterwards made any great figure as literary characters, except Dr Tennant, who was chaplain to Colonel Fullarton's regiment, and who is now in the East Indies. He is a man of genius and learning; yet affable, and free from pedantry.
"Mr Burnes, in a short time, found that he had overrated Mount Oliphant, and that he could not rear his numerous family upon it. After being there some years, he removed to Lochlea, in the parish of Tarbolton, where, I believe, Robert wrote most of his poems.
"But here, sir, you will permit me to pause. I can tell you but little more relative to our poet. I shall, however, in my next, send you a copy of one of his letters to me, about the year 1783. I received one since, but it is mislaid. Please remember me, in the best manner, to my worthy friend Mr Adair, when you see him or write to him.
"Hart Street, Bloomsbury Square,
London, Feb. 22, 1799."
As the narrative of Gilbert Burns was written at a time when he was ignorant of the existence of the preceding narrative of his brother, so this letter of Mr Murdoch was written without his having any knowledge that either of his pupils had been employed on the same subject. The three relations serve, therefore, not merely to illustrate, but to authenticate each other. Though the information they convey might have been presented within a shorter compass, by reducing the whole into one unbroken narrative, it is scarcely to be doubted, that the intelligent reader will be far more gratified by a sight of these original documents themselves.
* See p. 3.
Under the humble roof of his parents, it appears indeed that our poet had great advantages; but his opportunities of information at school were more limited as to time than they usually are among his countrymen, in his condition of life; and the acquisitions which he made, and the poetical talent which he exerted, under the pressure of early and incessant toil, and of inferior, and perhaps scanty nutriment, testify at once the extraordinary force and activity of his mind. In his frame of body he rose nearly to five feet ten inches, and assumed the proportions that indicate agility as well as strength. In the various labours of the farm he excelled all his competitors. Gilbert Burns declares, that, in mowing, the exercise that tries all the muscles most severely, Robert was the only man that, at the end of a summer's day, he was ever obliged to acknowledge as his master. But though our poet gave the powers of his body to the labours of the farm, he refused to bestow on them his thoughts or his cares. While the ploughshare under his guidance passed through the sward, or the grass fell under the sweep of his scythe, he was humming the songs of his country, musing on the deeds of ancient valour, or rapt in the illusions of Fancy, as her enchantments rose on his view. Happily the Sunday is yet a sabbath, on which man and beast rest from their labours. On this day, therefore, Burns could indulge in a freer intercourse with the charms of nature. It was his delight to wander alone on the banks of the Ayr, whose stream is now immortal, and to listen to the song of the blackbird at the close of the summer's day. But still greater was his pleasure, as he himself informs us, in walking on the sheltered side of a wood, in a cloudy winter day, and hearing the storm rave among the trees; and more elevated still his delight, to ascend some eminence during the agitations of nature, to stride along its summit, while the lightning flashed around him, and amidst the howlings of the tempest, to apostrophize the spirit of the storm. Such situations he declares most favourable to devotion-" Rapt in enthusiasm, I seem to ascend towards Him who walks on the wings of the wind!" If other proofs were wanting of the character of his genius, this might determine it. The heart of the poet is peculiarly awake to every impression of beauty and sublimity; but with the higher order of poets, the beautiful is less attractive than the sublime.
The gaiety of many of Burns's writings, and the lively, and even cheerful colouring with which he has pourtrayed his own character, may lead some persons to suppose, that the melancholy which hung over him towards the end of his days, was not an original part of his constitution. It is not to be doubted, indeed, that this melancholy acquired a darker hue in the progress of his life; but, independent of his own and of his brother's testimony, evidence is to be found among his papers, that he was
LIFE OF ROBERT BURNS.
subject very early to those depressions of mind, I prepared, and daily preparing to meet them. which are perhaps not wholly separable from I have but just time and paper to return you the sensibility of genius, but which in him my grateful thanks for the lessons of virtue rose to an uncommon degree. The following and piety you have given me, which were too letter, addressed to his father, will serve as a much neglected at the time of giving them, proof of this observation. It was written at but which, I hope, have been remembered ere the time when he was learning the business of it is yet too late. Present my dutiful respects to a flax dresser, and is dated my mother, and my compliments to Mr and Mrs Muir; and, with wishing you a merry New-year's-day, I shall conclude. "I am, honoured sir, "Your dutiful son,
"HONOURED SIR, Irvine, Dec. 27, 1781. "I HAVE purposely delayed writing, in the hope that I should have the pleasure of seeing you on New-year's day; but work comes so hard upon us, that I do not choose to be absent on that account, as well as for some other little reasons, which I shall tell you at meeting. My health is nearly the same as when you were here, only my sleep is a little sounder, and, on the whole, I am rather better than otherwise, though I mend by very slow degrees. The weakness of my nerves has so debilitated my mind, that I dare neither review past wants, nor look forward into futurity; for the least anxiety or perturbation in my breast, produces most unhappy effects on my whole frame. Sometimes, indeed, when for an hour or two my spirits are a little lightened, I glimmer a little into futurity; but my principal, and indeed my only pleasurable employment, is looking backwards and forwards in a moral and religious way. I am quite transported at the thought, that ere long, perhaps very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all the pains and uneasinesses, and disquietudes of this weary life; for I assure you I am heartily tired of it; and, if I do not very much deceive myself, I could contentedly and gladly resign it.
The soul, uneasy, and confined at home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.'
"It is for this reason I am more pleased with the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the 7th chapter of Revelations, than with any ten times as many verses in the whole Bible, and would not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me for all that this world has to offer. As for this world, I despair of ever making a figure in it. I am not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the flutter of the gay. I shall never again be capable of entering into such scenes. Indeed I am altogether unconcerned at the thoughts of this life. I foresee that poverty and obscurity probably await me, and I am in some measure
"P.S. My meal is nearly out; but I am going to borrow, till I get more.
This letter written several years before the publication of his poems, when his name was as obscure as his condition was humble, displays the philosophic melancholy which so generally forms the poetical temperament, and that buoyant and ambitious spirit which indicates a mind conscious of its strength. At Irvine, Burns at this time possessed a single room for his lodgings, rented perhaps at the rate of a shilling a week. He passed his days in constant labour as a flax-dresser, and his food consisted chiefly of oatmeal sent to him from his father's family. The store of this humble, though wholesome nutriment, it appears was nearly exhausted, and he was about to borrow till he should obtain a supply. Yet even in this situation, his active imagination had form. ed to itself pictures of eminence and distinction. His despair of making a figure in the world, shows how ardently he wished for honourable fame; and his contempt of life, founded on this despair, is the genuine expression of a youthful generous mind. In such a state of reflection, and of suffering, the imagination of Burns naturally passed the dark boundaries of our earthly horizon, and rested on those beautiful representations of a better world, where there is neither thirst, nor hunger, nor sorrow, and where happiness shall be in proportion to the capacity of happiness.
Such a disposition is far from being at variance with social enjoyments. Those who have studied the affinities of mind, know that a melancholy of this description, after a while, seeks relief in the endearments of society, and that it has no distant connection with the flow of cheerfulness, or even the extravagance of mirth. It was a few days after the writing of this letter that our poet, "in giving a welcoming carousal to the new year, with his gay companions," suffered his flax to catch fire, and his shop to be consumed to ashes.
The energy of Burns' mind was not exhausted by his daily labours, the effusions of his muse, his social pleasures, or his solitary meditations. Some time previous to his engage. ment as a flax-dresser, having heard that a debating club had been established in Ayr, he resolved to try how such a meeting would suc