SUMMARY OF THOMAS
OUR grand maxim of supply and
demand. Living misery and posthumous glory.
The character of Burns a
theme that cannot easily become exhausted.
in Biography. Burns one of the most considerable British men of the
eighteenth century: An age the most prosaic Britain had yet seen.
hard and most disadvantageous conditions.
Not merely as a Poet, but as
a Man, that he chiefly interests and affects us.
His life a deeper
tragedy than any brawling Napoleon's.
His heart, erring and at length
broken, full of inborn riches, of love to all living and lifeless
things. The Peasant Poet bears himself among the low, with whom his
lot is cast, like a King in exile.
His Writings but a poor mutilated
fraction of what was in him, yet of a quality enduring as the English
tongue. He wrote, not from hearsay, but from sight and actual
experience. This, easy as it looks, the fundamental difficulty which
all poets have to strive with.
Byron, heartily as he detested
insincerity, far enough from faultless.
No poet of Burns's
susceptibility from first to last so totally free from affectation.
Some of his Letters, however, by no means deserve this praise.
singular power of making all subjects, even the most homely,
interesting. Wherever there is a sky above him, and a world around
him, the poet is in his place. Every genius an impossibility till he
appears. Burns's rugged earnest truth, yet tenderness and sweet native
grace. His clear graphic "descriptive touches" and piercing emphasis
of thought. Professor Stewart's testimony to Burns's intellectual
vigour. A deeper insight than any "doctrine of association." In the
Poetry of Burns keenness of insight keeps pace with keenness of
feeling. Loving Indignation and good Hatred:
Scots wha hae:
Sunny buoyant floods of Humour.
Imperfections of Burns's poetry :
Tam o' Shanter, not a true poem so much as a
piece of sparkling rhetoric :
The Jolly Beggars, the most complete and
perfect as a poetical composition.
His Songs the most truly inspired
and most deeply felt of all his poems. His influence on the hearts and
literature of his country :
Burns's acted Works
even more interesting than his written ones;
and these too, alas, but
a fragment: His passionate youth never passed into clear and steadfast
manhood. The only true happiness of a man :
Often it is the greatest
minds that are latest in obtaining it : Burns and Byron.
hard-worked, yet happy boyhood :
His estimable parents.
dissipations. In Necessity and Obedience a man should find his highest
Freedom. Religious quarrels and scepticisms. Faithlessness: Exile and
blackest desperation. Invited to Edinburgh:
a Napoleon among the
crowned sovereigns of Literature.
Sir Walter Scott's reminiscence of
an interview with Burns.
Burns's calm manly bearing amongst the
His bitter feeling of his own indigence.
great he is treated in the customary fashion ; and each party goes his
several way. What Burns was next to do, or to avoid : His
Excise-and-Farm scheme not an unreasonable one : No failure of
external means, but of internal, that overtook Burns. Good beginnings.
Patrons of genius and picturesque tourists: Their moral rottenness, by
which he became infected, gradually eat out the heart of his life.
Meteors of French Politics rise before him, but they are not his
stars. Calumny is busy with him. The little great-folk of Dumfries :
Burns's desolation. In his destitution and degradation one act of
self-devotedness still open to him : Not as a hired soldier, but as a
patriot, would he strive for the glory of his country. The crisis of
his life : Death. Little effectual help could perhaps have been
rendered to Burns : Patronage twice cursed : Many a poet has been
poorer, none prouder. And yet much might have been done to have made
his humble atmosphere more genial. Little Babylons and Babylonians :
Let us go and do otherwise. The market-price of Wisdom. Not in the
power of any mere external circumstances to ruin the mind of a man.
The errors of Burns to be mourned over, rather than blamed. The great
want of his life was the great want of his age, a true faith in
Religion and a singleness and unselfishness of aim. Poetry, as Burns
could and ought to have followed it, is but another form of Wisdom, of
Religion. For his culture as a Poet, poverty and much suffering for a
season were absolutely advantageous. To divide his hours between
poetry and rich men's banquets an ill-starred attempt. Byron, rich in
worldly means and honours, no whit happier than Burns in his poverty
and worldly degradation : They had a message from on High to deliver,
which could leave them no rest while it remained unaccomplished. Death
and the rest of the grave : A stern moral, twice told us in our own
time. The world habitually unjust in its judgments of such men. With
men of right feeling anywhere, there will be no need to plead for
Burns : In pitying admiration he lies enshrined in all our hearts.