Page images
PDF
EPUB

BURNS TO MR THOMSON.

May 1794. MY DEAR SIR-I return you the plates, with which I am highly pleased; I would humbly propose, instead of the younker knitting stockings, to put a stock and horn into his hands. A friend of mine, who is positively the ablest judge on the subject I have ever met with, and though an unknown, is yet a superior artist with the burin, is quite charmed with Allan's manner. I got him a peep of the Gentle Shepherd; and he pronounces Allan a most original artist of great excellence.

For my part, I look on Mr Allan's choosing my favourite poem for his subject, to be one of the highest compliments I have ever received.

I am quite vexed at Pleyel's being cooped up in France, as it will put an entire stop to our work. Now, and for six or seven months, I shall be quite in song, as you shall see by and by. I know you value a composition because it is made by one of the great ones as little as I do. However, I got an air, pretty enough, composed by Lady Elizabeth Heron of Heron, which she calls The Banks of Cree. Cree is a beautiful romantic stream ; and as her ladyship is a particular friend of mine, I have written the following song to it :

THE BANKS OF CREE.

TUNE-The Banks of Cree.
Here is the glen, and here the bower,

All underneath the birchen shade;
The village-bell has tolled the hour,

O what can stay my lovely maid !

'Tis not Maria’s whispering call ;

'Tis but the balmy-breathing gale, Mixed with some warbler's dying fall,

The dewy star of eve to hail.

It is Maria's voice I hear!

So calls the woodlark in the grove,
His little faithful mate to cheer;

Ad once 'dis music and 'tis love.

And art thou come ?-and art thou true ?

O welcome, dear, to love and me!
And let us all our vows renew,

Along the flowery banks of Cree.

It is to the latter part of the half-year in question, that we must assign an affecting anecdote which Mr Lockhart derived

MEETING WITH DAVID MÍCULLOCH.

81

from Mr David M'Culloch of Ardwell—then a young man on intimate terms with our bard. According to Mr Lockhart :

Mr M‘Culloch was seldom more grieved than, when riding into Dumfries one fine summer evening to attend a county ball, he saw Burns walking alone on the shady side of the principal street of the town, while the opposite side was gay with successive groups of ladies and gentlemen, all drawn together for the festivities of the night, not one of whom appeared willing to recognise him. The horseman dismounted and joined Burns, who, on his proposing to him to cross the street, said: “ Nay, nay, my young friend—that's all over now;" and quoted after a pause some verses of Lady Grizel Baillie's pathetic ballad:

“ His bonnet stood ance fu' fair on his brow,

His auld ane looked better than mony ane's new;
But now he let's wear ony gate it will hing,
And casts himsel dowie upon the corn-bing.

Oh, were we young, as we ance hae been,
We sud hae been galloping down on yon green,
And linking it ower the lily-white lea-
And werena my heart light I wad die."

It was little in Burns's character to let his feelings on certain subjects escape in this fashion. He, immediately after citing these verses, assumed the sprightliness of his most pleasing manner; and taking his young friend home with him, entertained him very agreeably until the hour of the ball arrived, with a bowl of his usual potation, and bonnie Jean's singing of some verses which he had recently composed.'

Neither was it in Burns's character to remain permanently under the dejection which had beset him during the early part of this year. The summer came on, to tempt him into the country, and charm him into song. Time softened away the odium bestowed upon him by the superior circles in Dumfries. Even the political horizon began to clear a little, now that reaction for moderatiok was setting in at Paris, and Robespierre's downfall was approaching. Britain had stood the first shock of French propagandism; a great naval victory had cheered the ministry; and the propertied classes began to feel less nervous. After a few months had passed over, Burns recovered in a great measure from his depressed state, and once more thought that a supervisorship might be in store for him. It is to be feared, however, that some degree of permanent sourness towards “respectable people' from this time remained in his mind, accompanied by a greater tendency for society beneath even his own bumble grade. It also appear that the vigour of his constitution was now beginning, at five-and thirty, to give way under the effects of his generally imprudent course of life.

1 In the minute of the meeting of the Dumfries St Andrew's Lodge for May 6, 1794, D. M'Culloch is admitted a member. Burns is not mentioned in the list of those present.

2 The King's Birthday of 1794 was celebrated in Dumfries with unusual cordiality and variety of demonstrations. Two large dinner-parties met at the inns, and at six o'clock there was a grand réunion in the Town Hall, to drink the king's health. The Loyal Native Club wore ribbons embroidered by loyal ladies in their hats, and the multitude was regaled with bonfires. It is very likely that this was the occasion of Mr M'Culloch's rencontre with Burns,

It was very probably in consequence of an appointment made at their late rencontre, that Burns wrote as follows to Mr M'Culloch. The allusion to a visit to Mr Heron of Heron at Kerroughtree, is characteristic of the proud poet, and also valuable as shewing that at least a Whig country gentleman deemed him presentable at this time before good society.

TO DAVID M'CULLOCH, ESQ.

DUMFRIES, 21st June 1794. MY DEAR SIR–My long-projected journey through your country is at last fixed; and on Wednesday next, if you have nothing of more importance to do, take a saunter down to Gatehouse about two or three o'clock; I shall be happy to take a draught of M*Kune's best with you. Collector Syme will be at Glen's about that time, and will meet us about dish-of-tea hour. Syme goes also to Kerroughtree, and let me remind you of your kind promise to accompany me there : I will need all the friends I can muster, for I am indeed ill at ease whenever I approach your honourables and right honourables. Yours sincerely,

R. B.

TO MRS DUNLOP

CASTLE-DOUGLAS, 25th June 1794. HERE, in a solitary inn, in a solitary village, am I set by myself, to amuse my brooding fancy as I may. Solitary confinement, you know, is Howard's favourite idea of reclaiming sinners; so let me consider by what fatality it happens that I have so long been so exceeding sinful as to neglect the correspondence of the most valued friend I have on earth. To tell you that I have been in poor health will not be excuse enough, though it is true. I am afraid that I am about to suffer for the follies of my youth. My medical friends threaten me with a flying gout, but I trust they are mistaken.

I am just going to trouble your critical patience with the first sketch of a stanza I have been framing as I passed along the road. The subject is liberty: you know, my honoured friend, how dear the

1

LAST LETTER TO CLARINDA.

83

theme is to me. I design it as an irregular ode for General Washington's birthday. After having mentioned the degeneracy of other kingdoms, I come to Scotland thus :

Thee, Caledonia, thy wild heaths among,
Thee, famed for martial deed and sacred song,

To thee I turn with swimming eyes ;
Where is that soul of freedom fled ?
Immingled with the mighty dead,

Beneath the hallowed turf where Wallace lies !
Hear it not, Wallace, in thy bed of death,

Ye babbling winds, in silence sweep,

Disturb ye not the hero's sleep,
Nor give the coward secret breath.
Is this the power in freedom's war,

That wont to bid the battle rage ?

With the additions of

Behold that eye which shot immortal hate,

Braved usurpation's boldest daring;
That arm which, nerved with thundering fate,

Crushed the despot's proudest bearing:
One quenched in darkness like the sinking star,

And one the palsied arm of tottering, powerless age. You will probably have another scrawl from me in a stage or two.

R. B.

There has been preserved one more letter to Clarinda, and from several allusions contained in it, it seems not unlikely to have been penned at the same time with the preceding epistle to Mrs Dunlop.

TO CLARINDA.

BEFORE you ask me why I have not written you, first let me be informed by you, how I shall write you? 'In friendship,' you say; and I have many a time taken up my pen to try an epistle of 'friendship’ to you, but it will not do; ’tis like Jove grasping a popgun after having wielded his thunder. When I take up the pen, recollection ruins me. Ah, my ever-dearest Clarinda! Clarinda! What a host of memory's tenderest offspring crowd on my fancy at that sound! But I must not indulge that subject; you have forbid it.

I am extremely happy to learn that your precious health is reestablished, and that you are once more fit to enjoy that satisfaction in existence which health alone can give us. My old friend Ainslie has indeed been kind to you. Tell him, that I envy him the power

of serving you. I had a letter from him awhile ago, but it was so dry, so distant, so like a card to one of his clients, that I could scarce bear to read it, and have not yet answered it. He is a good, honest fellow, and can write a friendly letter, which would do equal honour to his head and his heart, as a whole sheaf of his letters which I have by me will witness; and though Fame does not blow her trumpet at my approach now as she did then, when he first honoured me with his friendship, yet I am as proud as ever; and when I am laid in my grave, I wish to be stretched at my full length, that I may occupy every inch of ground I have a right to.

You would laugh were you to see me where I am just now. Would to Heaven you were here to laugh with me, though I am afraid that crying would be our first employment! Here am I set, a solitary hermit, in the solitary room of a solitary inn, with a solitary bottle of wine by me, as grave and as stupid as an owl, but, like that owl, still faithful to my old song; in confirmation of which, my dear Mrs Mac, here is your good health! May the hand-waled benisons o' Heaven bless your bonnie face; and the wratch wha skellies at your welfare, may the auld tinkler deil get him to clout his rotten heart! Amen.

You must know, my dearest madam, that these now many years, wherever I am, in whatever company, when a married lady is called as a toast, I constantly give you; but as your name has never passed my lips, even to my most intimate friend, I give you by the name of Mrs Mac. This is so well known among my acquaintances, that when any married lady is called for, the toast-master will say: "Oh, we need not ask him who it is: here's Mrs Mac! I have also, among my convivial friends, set on foot a round of toasts, which I call a round of Arcadian Shepherdesses—that is, a round of favourite ladies, under female names celebrated in ancient song; and then you are my Clarinda. So, my lovely Clarinda, I devote this glass of wina to a most ardent wish for your happiness.

In vain would Prudence, with decorous sneer,
Point out a censuring world, and bid me fear:
Above that world on wings of love I rise,
I know its worst, and can that worst despise.
Wronged, injured, shunned, unpitied, unredrest;
The mocked quotation of the scorner's jest'-
Let Prudence' direst bodements on me fall,

Clarinda, rich reward! o'erpays them all. I have been rhyming a little of late, but I do not know if they are worth postage.

Tell me what you think of the following monody. * The subject of the foregoing is a woman of fashion in this country, with whom at one period I was well acquainted. By some scandalous conduct to me, and two or three other gentlemen here as well

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »