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AFFECTING LETTER TO MR CUNNINGHAM.
to swallow the scalding morsel, amused Mr Bushby exceedingly; but our poet was far from relishing the joke. Tantaene animis. So commenced a dislike on Burns's part towards Mr Bushby, which probably other circumstances increased, and of which we have hereafter various symptoms. The person, however, more particularly alluded to in Esopus's Lines, was Mr Bushby Maitland, son of John Bushby, then a young advocate, and supposed to be by no means the equal of his father in point of intellect.
The only excuse which can be presented for Burns with respect to his pasquinades on Mrs Riddel, lies in the excessive bitterness of his own feelings during this winter. His misery is expressed in a letter which shews that he had better resources than satire for the soothing of his vexed spirit, so far as soothing was possible:
TO MR ALEXANDER CUNNINGHAM.
25th February 1794. CANST thou minister to a mind diseased? Canst thou speak peace and rest to a soul tost on a sea of troubles, without one friendly star to guide her course, and dreading that the next surge may overwhelm her? Canst thou give to a frame, tremblingly alive as the tortures of suspense, the stability and hardihood of the rock that braves the blast? If thou canst not do the least of these, why wouldst thou disturb me in my miseries with thy inquiries after me?
For these two months, I have not been able to lift a pen. My constitution and frame were, ab origine, blasted with a deep, incurable taint of hypochondria, which poisons my existence. Of late, a number of domestic vexations, and some pecuniary share in the ruin of these cursed times—losses which, though trifling, were yet what I could ill bear— have so irritated me, that my feelings at times could only be envied by a reprobate spirit listening to the sentence that dooms it to perdition.
Are you deep in the language of consolation? I have exhausted in reflection every topic of comfort. A heart at ease would have been charmed with my sentiments and reasonings; but as to myself, I was like Judas Iscariot preaching the gospel : he might melt and mould the hearts of those around him, but his own kept its native incorrigibility
Still, there are two great pillars that bear us up amid the wreck of misfortune and misery. The one is composed of the different modifications of a certain noble, stubborn something in man, known by the names of courage, fortitude, magnanimity. The other is made up of those feelings and sentiments which, however the sceptic may deny them, or the enthusiast disfigure them, are yet, I
am convinced, original and component parts of the human soul those senses of the mind—if I may be allowed the expression—which connect us with, and link us to those awful obscure realities - an all - powerful and equally beneficent God, and a world to come, beyond death and the grave. The first gives the nerve of combat, while a ray of hope beams on the field: the last pours the balm of comfort into the wounds which time can never cure.
I do not remember, my dear Cunningham, that you and I ever talked on the subject of religion at all. I know some who laugh at it, as the trick of the crafty Few to lead the undiscerning MANY; or, at most, as an uncertain obscurity, which mankind can never know anything of, and with which they are fools if they give themselves much to do. Nor would I quarrel with a man for his irreligion, any more than I would for his want of a musical ear. I would regret that he was shut out from what, to me and to others, were such superlative sources of enjoyment. It is in this point of view, and for this reason, that I will deeply imbue the mind of every child of mine with religion. If my son should happen to be a man of feeling, sentiment, and taste, I shall thus add largely to his enjoyments. Let me flatter myself, that this sweet little fellow, who is just now running about my desk, will be a man of a melting, ardent, glowing heart; and an imagination delighted with the painter, and rapt with the poet. Let me figure him wandering out in a sweet evening, to inhale the balmy gales, and enjoy the growing luxuriance of the spring; himself the while in the blooming youth of life. He looks abroad on all nature, and through nature up to nature's God. His soul, by swift, delighting degrees, is rapt above this sublunary sphere, until he can be silent no longer, and bursts out into the glorious enthusiasm of Thomson
These, as they change, Almighty Father, these
Is full of thee ;and so on, in all the spirit and ardour of that charming hymn. These are no ideal pleasures—they are real delights; and I ask, what of the delights among the sons of men are superior, not to say equal, to them? And they have this precious, vast addition, that conscious virtue stamps them for her own, and lays hold on them to bring herself into the presence of a witnessing, judging, and approving God.
"They,' says Mr Lockhart, 'who have been told that Burns was ever a degraded being—who have permitted themselves to believe that his only consolations were those of “the opiate guilt applies to grief,” will do well to pause over this noble letter, and judge for themselves.'
JOHNSON'S FIFTH VOLUME.
[TO MR JAMES JOHNSON.]
DUMFRIES, (February?] 1794. MY DEAR SIR-I send you by my friend, Mr Wallace, forty-one songs for your fifth volume. Mr Clarke has also a good many, if he have not, with his usual indolence, cast them at the cocks. I have still a good parcel amongst my hands in scraps and fragments; so that I hope we will make shift with our last volume.
You should have heard from me long ago; but over and above some vexatious share in the pecuniary losses of these accursed times, I have all this winter been plagued with low spirits and blue devils; so that I have almost hung my harp on the willow-trees.
In the meantime, at your leisure, give a copy of the Museum to my worthy friend, Mr Peter Hill, bookseller, to bind for me, interleaved with blank leaves, exactly as he did the Laird of Glenriddel's, that I may insert every anecdote I can learn, together with my own criticisms and remarks on the songs. A copy of this kind I shall leave with you, the editor, to publish at some after-period, by way of making the Museum a book famous to the end of time, and you renowned for ever.
I have got a Highland dirk, for which I have great veneration, as it once was the dirk of Lord Balmerino. It fell into bađ hands, who stripped it of the silver-mounting, as well as the knife and fork. I have some thoughts of sending it to your care, to get it mounted
Our friend Clarke owes me an account, somewhere about one pound, which would go a good way in paying the expense. I remember you once settled an account in this way before, and as you still have money-matters to settle with him, you might accommodate us both. .... My best compliments to your worthy old father and your better-half.—Yours,
The songs undoubtedly and wholly, or almost wholly, by Burns, furnished for Johnson's fifth volume, were as follow:
THE LOVELY LASS OF INVERNESS.
TUNE-Lass of Inverness.
The lovely lass o’ Inverness,
Nae joy nor pleasure can she see;
And aye the saut tear blin's her ee;
1 Mr Wallace was a young writer'in Dumfries. He deserves honourable mention in the Life of Burns, on account of the kind zeal he displayed, two or three years after this date, in behalf of the bereaved family of the poet.
A waefu' day it was to me!
My father dear, and brethren three.
Their graves are growing green to see;
That ever blest a woman's ee !
A bluidy man I trow thou be ;
That ne'er did wrong to thine or thee. [The first half stanza of this song is from an older composition, which Burts here improved upon.]
A RED, RED ROS E
That's newly sprung in June:
That's sweetly played in tune.
So deep in luve am I:
Till a' the seas gang dry.
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
While the sands o' life shall run.
And fare thee weel awhile!
Though it were ten thousand mile. [This song was written by Burns as an improvement upon a street ditty, which Mr Peter Buchan says was composed by a Lieutenant Hinches, as a farewell to his sweetheart, when on the eve of parting. Various versions of the original song are given in Hogg and Motherwell's edition of Burns, including one from a stall sheet containing six excellent new songs, which Mr Motherwell conjectures to have been printed about 1770, and of which his copy bore these words on its title, in a childish scrawl believed to be that of the Ayrshire bard, 'Robine Burns aught this buik and no other.' A version more elegant than any of these was communicated to me by the late Mr Robert Hogg in 1823 :
O fare thee well, my own true love,
O fare thee well awhile;
Though I go ten thousand mile.
It is worth while thus to preserve one or two of the original songs on which Burns improved, if only to mark the vastness of the improvement.]
As I stood by yon roofless tower,
Where the wa’-flower scents the dewy air,
And tells the midnight moon her care;
The winds were laid, the air was still,
The stars they shot alang the sky;
And the distant echoing glens reply.
Was rushing by the ruined wa's,
Whose distant roaring swells and fa’s.
Her lights, wi' hissing eerie din;
Like fortune's favours, tint as win.
1 Var.-To join yon river on the Strath.