The Life of Burns

by John Gibson Lockhart

 

CHAPTER V

"Edina! Scotia's darling seat!

All hail thy palaces and tow'rs,

Where once, beneath a monarch's feet,

Sat legislation's sovereign powers.

From marking wildly-scatter'd flow'rs,

As on the banks of Ayr I stray'd,
And singing, lone, the lingering hours,

I shelter in thy honour'd shade."

THERE is an old Scottish ballad which begins thus:

"As I came in by Glenap,

I met an aged woman,

And she bade me cheer up my heart,

For the best of my days was coming."

This stanza was one of Burns's favourite quotations; and he told a friend,(49) many years afterwards, that he remembered humming it to himself, over and over, on his way from Mossgiel to Edinburgh. Perhaps the excellent Blacklock might not have been particularly flattered with the circumstance, had it reached his ears.

(49) David Macculloch, Esq., brother to Ardwell.

Although he repaired to the capital with such alertness, solely in consequence of Blacklock's letter to Laurie, it appears that he allowed some weeks to pass ere he presented himself to the doctor's personal notice.(50) He found several of his old Ayrshire acquaintances established in Edinburgh, and, I suppose, felt constrained to give himself up for a brief space to their society. He printed, however, without delay, a prospectus of a second edition of his poems; and being introduced by Mr. Dalrymple, of Orangefield, to the Earl of Glencairn, that amiable nobleman easily persuaded Creech, then the chief bookseller in Edinburgh (who had attended his son as travelling-tutor), to undertake the publication. The honourable Henry Erskine, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, the most agreeable of companions and the most benignant of wits, took him also, as the poet expresses it, " under his wing." The kind Blacklock received him with all the warmth of paternal affection, when he did wait on him, and introduced him to Dr. Blair and other eminent hterati. His subscription lists were soon filled. Lord Glencairn made interest with the Caledonian Hunt (an association of the most distinguished members of the Northern aristocracy) to accept the dedication of the forthcoming edition and to subscribe individually for copies. Several noblemen, especially of the west of Scotland, came forward with subscription moneys considerably beyond the usual rate. In so small a capital, where everybody knows everybody, that which becomes a favourite topic in one leading circle of society soon excites an universal interest ; and before Burns had been a fortnight in Edinburgh, we find him writing to his earliest patron, Gavin Hamilton, in these terms: " For my own affairs, I am in a fair way of becoming as eminent as Thomas a Kempis or John Bunyan; and you may expect, henceforth^ to see my birthday inscribed among the wonderful events in The Poor Robin and Aberdeen Almanacks, along with the Black Monday and the Battle of Bothwell Bridge."

(50) Burns reached Edinburgh before the end of November, and yet Dr. Laurie's letter (General Correspondence, p. 37), admonishing him to wait on Blacklock, is dated December 22nd.

It will ever be remembered, to the honour of the man who at that period held the highest place in the imaginative literature of Scotland, that he was the first who came forward to avow in print his admiration of the genius and his warm interest in the fortunes of the poet. Distinguished as his own writings are by the refinements of classical art, Mr. Henry Mackenzie was, fortunately for Burns, a man of liberal genius as well as polished taste; and he, in whose own pages some of the best models of elaborate elegance will ever be recognised, was among the first to feel and the first to stake his own reputation on the public avowal, that the Ayrshire Ploughman belonged to the order of beings whose privilege it is to snatch graces " beyond the reach of art." It is but a melancholy business to trace, among the records of literary history, the manner in which most great original geniuses have been greeted, on their first appeals to the world, by the contemporary arbiters of taste. Coldly and timidly, indeed, have the sympathies of professional criticism flowed on most such occasions, in past times and in the present ; but the reception of Burns was worthy of The Man of Feeling. After alluding to the provincial circulation and reputation of his poems, " I hope," said The Lounger (Saturday, December 9th), " I shall not be thought to assume too much if I endeavour to place him in a higher point of view, to call for a verdict of his country on the merits of his works, and to claim for him those honours which their excellence appears to deserve. In mentioning the circumstance of his humble station, I mean not to rest his pretensions solely on that title, or to urge the merits of his poetry, when considered in relation to the lowness of his birth and the little opportunity of improvement which his education could afford. These particulars, indeed, must excite our wonder at his productions 5 but his poetry, considered abstractedly, and without the apologies arising from his situation, seems to me fully entitled to command our feelings and to obtain our applause. . . ." After quoting various passages, in some of which his readers " must discover a high tone of feeling, and power, and energy of expression, particularly and strongly characteristic of the mind and the voice of the poet," and others as showing " the power of genius, not less admirable in tracing the manners than in painting the passions, or in drawing the scenery of nature," and "with what uncommon penetration and sagacity this heaven-taught ploughman, from his humble and unlettered condition, had looked on men and manners," the critic concluded with an eloquent appeal in behalf of the poet personally. "To repair," said he, "the wrongs of suffering or neglected merit ; to call forth genius from the obscurity in which it has pined indignant, and place it where it may profit or delight the world,—these are exertions which give to wealth an enviable superiority, to greatness and to patronage a laudable pride."

We all know how the serious part of this appeal was ultimately attended to ; but, in the meantime, whatever gratifications such a mind as his could derive from the blandishments of the fair, the condescension of the noble, and the flattery of the learned, were plentifully administered to " the Lion " of the season.

" I was, sir,"—thus wrote Burns to one of his Ayrshire patrons, a few days after The Lounger appeared,—" I was, when first honoured with your notice, too obscure : now I tremble lest I should be ruined by being dragged too suddenly into the glare of polite and learned observation ; " and he concludes the same letter with an ominous prayer for " better health and more spirits."

Two or three weeks later we find him writing as follows :

                                                                                            "January 14th, 1787.

" I went to a Mason Lodge yesternight, where the M.W. Grand Master Charteris and all the Grand Lodge of Scotland visited. The meeting was numerous and elegant : all the different lodges about town were present in all their pomp. The Grand Master, who presided with great solemnity, among other general toasts, gave ' Caledonia, and Caledonia's bard, Brother B ,'which rung through the whole assembly, with multiplied honours and repeated acclamations. As I had no idea such a thing would happen, I was downright thunderstruck, and, trembling in every nerve, made the best return in my power. Just as I had finished, one of the grand officers said, so loud that I could hear, with a most comforting accent, ' Very well indeed,' which set me something to rights again."

And a few weeks later he is thus addressed by one of his old associates who was meditating a visit to Edinburgh : " By all accounts, it will be a difficult matter to get a sight of you at all, unless your company is bespoke a week beforehand. There are great rumours here of your intimacy with the Duchess of Gordon and other ladies of distinction. I am really told that

 

'Cards to invite, fly by thousands each night;'

 

and if you had one, there would also, I suppose, be ' bribes for your old secretary.' I observe you are resolved to make hay while the sun shines, and avoid, if possible, the fate of poor Fergusson. Qumrenda pecunia primum est—Virtus post mummos, is a good maxim to thrive by. You seem to despise it while in this country; but probably some philosophers in Edinburgh have taught you better sense."

In this proud career, however, the popular idol needed no slave to whisper whence he had risen, and whither he was to return in the ebb of the spring-tide of fortune. His " prophetic soul" was probably furnished with a sufficient memento every night, when, from the soft homage of glittering saloons or the tumultuous applause of convivial assemblies, he made his retreat to the humble garret of a writer's apprentice, a native of Mauchline, and as poor as himself, whose only bed " Caledonia's Bard" was fain to partake throughout this triumphant winter. The diligent Cromek says in his MS. Notebook: " Mr. Richmond of Mauchline told me that Burns spent the first winter of his residence in Edinburgh in his lodgings. They slept in the same bed, and had only one room, for which they paid three shillings a week. It was in the house of a Mrs. Carfrae, Baxter's Close, Lawnmarket, first scale-stair on the left hand in going down, first door in the stair."

He bore all his honours in a manner worthy of himself; and of this the testimonies are so numerous that the only difficulty is that of selection. " The attentions he received," says Mr. Dugald Stewart, " from all ranks and descriptions of persons, were such as would have turned any head but his own. I cannot say that I could perceive any unfavourable effect which they left on his mind. He retained the same simplicity of manners and appearance which had struck me so forcibly when I first saw him in the country : nor did he seem to feel any additional self-importance from the number and rank of his new acquaintance."

Professor Walker, who met him, for the first time, early in the same season, at breakfast in Dr. Blacklock's house, has thus recorded his impressions : " I was not much struck with his first appearance, as I had previously heard it described. His person, though strong and well knit, and much superior to what might be expected in a ploughman, was still rather coarse in its outline. His stature, from want of setting up, appeared to be only of the middle size, but was rather above it. His motions were firm and decided ; and though without any pretensions to grace, were at the same time so free from clownish constraint as to show that he had not always been confined to the society of his profession. His countenance was not of that elegant cast which is most frequent among the upper ranks, but it was manly and intelligent, and marked by a thoughtful gravity which shaded at times into sternness. In his large dark eye the most striking index of his genius resided. It was full of mind, and would have been singularly expressive under the management of one who could employ it with more art for the purpose of expression.

"He was plainly but properly dressed in a style mid-way between the holiday costume of a farmer, and that of the company with which he now associated. His black hair, without powder, at a time when it was very generally worn, was tied behind, and spread upon his forehead. Upon the whole, from his person, physiognomy, and dress, had I met him near a seaport, and been required to guess his condition, I should have probably conjectured him to be the master of a merchant vessel of the most respectable class.

" In no part of his manner was there the slightest degree of affectation, nor could a stranger have suspected, from anything in his behaviour or conversation, that he had been for some months the favourite of all the fashionable circles of a metropolis. ... In conversation he was powerful. His conceptions and expressions were of corresponding vigour, and on all subjects were as remote as possible from commonplace. Though somewhat authoritative, it was in a way which gave little offence, and was readily imputed to his inexperience in those modes of smoothing dissent and softening assertion, which are important characteristics of polished manners. After breakfast I requested him to communicate some of his unpublished pieces, and he recited his farewell song to the Banks of Ayr, introducing it with a description of the circumstances in which it was composed, more striking than the poem itself. ... I paid particular attention to his recitation, which was plain, slow, articulate, and forcible, but without any eloquence of art. He did not always lay the emphasis with propriety, nor did he humour the sentiment by the variations of his voice. He was standing, during the time, with his face towards the window, to which, and not to his auditors, he directed his eye—thus depriving himself of any additional effect which the language of his composition might have borrowed from the language of his countenance. In this he resembled the generality of singers in ordinary company, who, to shun any charge of affectation, withdraw all meaning from their features, and lose the advantage by which vocal performers on the stage augment the impression, and give energy to the sentiment of the song. . . . The day after my first introduction to Burns, I supped in company with him at Dr. Blair's. The other guests were very few ; and as each had been invited chiefly to have an opportunity of meeting with the poet, the doctor endeavoured to draw him out, and to-make him the central figure of the group. Though he therefore furnished the greatest proportion of the conversation, he did no-more than what he saw evidently was expected." (51)

 

(51) Morrison's Burns, vol. 1, pp. lxxi, lxii.

 

To these reminiscences I shall now add those of one who is, likely to be heard unwillingly on no subject; and—young as he was in 1786—on few subjects, I think, with greater interest than-the personal appearance and conversation of Robert Burns, The following is an extract from a letter of Sir Walter Scott :

" As for Burns, I may truly say, Virgilium vidi tantum. I was a lad of fifteen in 1786-7, when he came first to Edinburgh, but: had sense and feeling enough to be much interested in his poetry, and would have given the world to know him ; but I had very little acquaintance with any literary people, and less with the gentry of the west country, the two sets that he most frequented. Mr. Thomas Grierson was at that time a clerk of my father's. He knew Burns, and promised to ask him to his lodgings to dinner, but had no opportunity to keep his word, otherwise I might have seen more of this distinguished man. As it was, I saw him one day at the late venerable Professor Fergusson's, where there were several gentlemen of literary reputation, among whom I remember the celebrated Mr. Dugald Stewart. Of course, we youngsters sate silent, looked, and. listened. The only thing I remember which was remarkable in Burns's manner was the effect produced upon him by a.. print of Bunbury's, representing a soldier lying dead on the: snow, his dog sitting in misery on one side,—on the other,, his widow, with a child in her arms. These lines were written beneath :

'Cold on Canadian hills, or Minden's plain.

Perhaps that parent wept her soldier slain—

' Bent o'er her babe, her eye dissolved in dew,
The big drops mingling with the milk he drew,
Gave the sad presage of his future years,

The child of misery baptised in tears.'

"Burns seemed much affected by the print, or, rather, the ideas which it suggested to his mind. He actually shed tears. He asked whose the lines were, and it chanced that nobody but myself remembered that they occur in a half-forgotten poem of Langhorne's, called by the unpromising title of The Justice of Peace. I whispered my information to a friend present, who mentioned it to Burns, who rewarded me with a look and a word which, though of mere civility, I then received, and still recollect, with very great pleasure.

" His person was strong and robust; his manners rustic, not clownish ; a sort of dignified plainness and simplicity, which received part of its effect, perhaps, from one's knowledge of his extraordinary talents. His features are represented in Mr. Nasmyth's picture, but to me it conveys the idea that they are diminished, as if seen in perspective. I think his countenance was more massive than it looks in any of the portraits. I would have taken the poet, had I not known what he was, for a very sagacious country farmer of the old Scotch school— i.e. none of your modern agriculturists, who keep labourers for their drudgery, but the douce gudeman who held his own plough. There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments ; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical character and temperament. It was large and of a dark cast, which glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men of my time. His conversation expressed perfect self-confidence, without the slightest presumption. Among the men who were the most learned of their time and country, he expressed himself with perfect firmness, but without the least intrusive forwardness ; and when he differed in opinion, he did not hesitate to express it firmly, yet at the same time with modesty. I do not remember any part of his conversation distinctly enough to be quoted, nor did I ever see him again except in the street, where he did not recognise me, as I could not expect he should. He was much caressed in Edinburgh, but (considering what literary emoluments have been since his day) the efforts made for his relief were extremely trifling.

" I remember on this occasion I mention, I thought Burns's acquaintance with English poetry was rather limited, and also that having twenty times the abilities of Allan Ramsay and of Fergusson, he talked of them with too much humility, as his models ; there was, doubtless, national predilection in his estimate.

" This is all I can tell you about Burns. I have only to add that his dress corresponded with his manner. He was like a farmer dressed in his best to dine with the laird. I do not speak in malam partem when I say, I never saw a man in company with his superiors in station and information, more perfectly free from either the reality or the affectation of embarrassment. I was told, but did not observe it, that his address to females was extremely deferential, and always with a turn either to the pathetic or humorous, which engaged their attention particularly. I have heard the late Duchess of Gordon remark this. I do not know anything I can add to these recollections of forty years since."

Darkly as the career of Burns was destined to terminate, there can be no doubt that he made his first appearance at a period highly favourable for his reception as a British, and especially as a Scottish poet. Nearly forty years had elapsed since the death of Thomson : Collins, Gray, Goldsmith had successively disappeared : Dr. Johnson had belied the rich promise of his early appearance, and confined himself to prose ; and Cowper had hardly begun to be recognised as having any considerable pretensions to fill the long-vacant throne of England. At home—without derogation from the merits either of Douglas or the Minstrel, be it said—men must have gone back at least three centuries to find a Scottish poet at all entitled to be considered as of that high order to which the generous criticism of Mackenzie at once admitted " the Ayrshire Ploughman." Of the form and garb of his composition, much, unquestionably and avowedly, was derived from his more immediate predecessors, Ramsay and Ferguson; but there was a bold mastery of hand in his picturesque descriptions, to produce anything equal to which it was necessary to recall the days of Christ's Kirk on the Green, and Peeblis to the Play ; and in his more solemn pieces, a depth of inspiration and a massive energy of language to which the dialect of his country had been a stranger— at least, since Dunbar the Mackar. The Muses of Scotland have never indeed been silent; and the ancient minstrelsy of the land, of which a slender portion had as yet been committed to the safeguard of the press, was handed from generation to generation, and preserved in many a fragment faithful images of the peculiar tenderness and peculiar humour of the national fancy and character—precious representations which Burns himself never surpassed in his happiest efforts. But these were fragments; and, with a scanty handful of exceptions, the best of them, at least of the serious kind, were very ancient. Among the numberless effusions of the Jacobite Muse, valuable as we now consider them for the record of manners and events, it would be difficult to point out half a dozen strains worthy, for poetical excellence alone, of a place among the old chivalrous ballads of the Southern, or even of the Highland Border. Generations had passed away since any Scottish poet had appealed to the sympathies of his countrymen in a lofty Scottish strain.

The dialect itself had been hardly dealt with. "It is my opinion," said Dr. Geddes, " that those who, for almost a century past, have written in Scotch, Allan Ramsay not excepted, have not duly discriminated the genuine idiom from its vul¬garisms. They seem to have acted a similar part to certain pretended imitators of Spenser and Milton, who fondly imagine that they are copying from those great models, when they only mimic their antique mode of spelling, their obsolete terms, and their irregular constructions." And although I cannot well guess what the Doctor considered as the irregular constructions of Milton, there can be no doubt of the general justice of his observations. Ramsay and Fergusson were both men of humble condition, the latter of the meanest, the former of no very elegant habits; and the dialect which had once pleased the ears of kings, who themselves did not disdain to display its powers and elegancies in verse, did not come untarnished through their hands. Fergusson, who was entirely town-bred, smells more of the cow-gate than of the country; and pleasing as Ramsay's rustics are, he appears rather to have observed the surface of rural manners, in casual excursions to Penycuik and the Hunters' Tryste, than to have expressed the results of intimate knowledge and sympathy. His dialect was a somewhat incongruous mixture of the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire and the Luckenbooths; and he could neither write English verses, nor engraft English phraseology on his Scotch, without betraying a lamentable want of skill in the use of his instruments. It was reserved for Burns to interpret the inmost soul of the Scottish peasant in all its moods, and in verse exquisitely and intensely Scottish, without degrading either his sentiments or his language with one touch of vulgarity. Such is the delicacy of native taste, and the power of a truly masculine genius.

This is the more remarkable, when we consider that the dialect of Burns's native district is, in all mouths but his own, a peculiarly offensive one : far removed from that of the favoured districts in which the ancient minstrelsy appears, with rare exceptions, to have been produced. Even in the elder days it seems to have been proverbial for its coarseness ;(52) and the Covenanters were not likely to mend it. The few poets(53) whom the west of Scotland had produced in the old time were all men of high condition, and who, of course, used the language, not of their own villages, but of Holyrood. Their productions, moreover, in so far as they have been preserved, had nothing to do with the peculiar character and feelings of the men of the west. As Burns himself has said, "It is somewhat singular that in Lanark, Renfrew, Ayr, etc., there is scarcely an old song or tune which, from the title, etc., can be guessed to belong to. or be the production of, those counties."

(52) Dunbar, among other sarcasms on his antagonist Kennedy, says:

" I haif on me a pair of Lothiane hipps

Sail fairer Inglis male, and mair perfyte,

Than thou can blabber with thy Carrick lipps."

 

(53) Such as Kennedy, Shaw, Montgomery, and, more lately, Hamilton of Gilbertfield,

" Who bade the brakes of Airdrie long resound

The plaintive dirge that mourn'd his favourite hound."

The history of Scottish literature from the union of the crowns to that of the kingdoms has not yet been made the subject of any separate work at all worthy of its importance; nay, however much we are indebted to the learned labours of Pinkerton, Irving, and others, enough of the general obscurity of which Warton complained still continues, to the no small discredit of so accomplished a nation. But how miserably the literature of the country was affected by the loss of the Court under whose immediate patronage it had, in almost all preceding times, found a measure of protection that will ever do honour to the memory of the unfortunate house of Stuart, appears to be indicated with sufficient plainness in the single fact that no man can point out any Scottish author of the first rank in all the long period which intervened between Buchanan and Hume. The removal of the chief nobility and gentry consequent on the Legislative Union appeared to destroy our last hopes as a separate nation, possessing a separate literature of our own; nay, for a time to have all but extinguished the flame of intellectual exertion and ambition. Long torn and harassed by religious and political feuds, this people had at last heard, as many believed, the sentence of irremediable degradation pronounced by the lips of their own prince and parliament. The universal spirit of Scotland was humbled; the unhappy insurrections of 1715 and 1745 revealed the full extent of her internal disunion; and England took, in some respects, merciless advantage of the fallen.

Time, however, passed on, and Scotland, recovering at last from the blow which had stunned her energies, began to vindicate her pretensions, in the only departments which had been left open to her, with a zeal and a success which will ever distinguish one of the brightest pages of her history. Deprived of every national honour and distinction which it was possible to remove—all the high branches of external ambition lopped off—sunk at last, as men thought, effectually into a province, willing to take law with passive submission, in letters as well as polity, from her powerful sister—the old kingdom revived suddenly from her stupor, and once more asserted her name in reclamations, which England was compelled not only to hear, but to applaud, and " wherewith all Europe rung from side to side," at the moment when a national poet came forward to profit by the reflux of a thousand half-forgotten sympathies—amidst the full joy of a national pride, revived and re-established beyond the dream of hope.

It will always reflect honour on the galaxy of eminent men of letters who, in their various departments, shed lustre at that period on the name of Scotland, that they suffered no pedantic prejudices to interfere with their reception of Burns. Had he not appeared personally among them, it may be reasonably doubted whether this would have been so. They were men, generally speaking, of very social habits; living together in a small capital, nay, almost all of them, in or about one street; maintaining friendly intercourse continually; not a few of them considerably addicted to the pleasures which have been called, by way of excellence I presume, convivial. Burns's poetry might have procured him access to these circles ; but it was the extraordinary resources he displayed in conversation, the strong vigorous sagacity of his observations on life and manners, the splendour of his wit and the glowing energy of his eloquence when his feelings were stirred, that made him the object or serious admiration among those practised masters of the art of talk. There were several of them who probably adopted in their hearts the opinion of Newton, " that poetry is ingenious nonsense." Adam Smith, for one, could have had no very ready respect at the service of such an unproductive labourer as a maker of Scottish ballads; but the stateliest of these philosophers had enough to do to maintain the attitude of equality when brought into personal contact with Burns's gigantic understanding; and every one of them, whose impressions on the subject have been recorded, agrees in pronouncing his conversation to have been the most remarkable thing about him.

And yet it is amusing enough to trace the lingering reluctance of some of those polished scholars, about admitting, even to themselves, in his absence, what it is certain they all felt sufficiently when they were actually in his presence. It is difficult, for example, to read without a smile that letter of Mr. Dugald Stewart in which he describes himself and Mr. Alison as being surprised to discover that Burns, after reading the latter author's elegant Essay on Taste, had really been able to form some shrewd enough notion of " the general principles of the association of ideas !"

Burns would probably have been more satisfied with himself in these learned societies, had he been less addicted to giving free utterance in conversation to the very feelings which formed the noblest inspirations of his poetry. His sensibility was as tremblingly exquisite as his sense was masculine and solid ; and he seems to have, ere long, suspected that the professional metaphysicians who applauded his rapturous bursts, surveyed them in reality with something of the same feeling which may be supposed to attend a skilful surgeon's inspection of a curious specimen of morbid anatomy. Why should he lay his inmost heart thus open to dissectors, who took special care to keep the knife from their own breasts ? The secret blush that overspread his haughty countenance when such suggestions occurred to him in his solitary hours, may be traced in the opening lines of a diary which he began to keep ere he had been long in Edinburgh.

"April 9, 1787.—As I have seen a good deal of human life in Edinburgh, a great many characters which are new to one bred up in the shades of life as I have been, I am determined to take down my remarks on the spot. Gray observes, in a letter to Mr. Palgrave, that, ' half a word fixed upon, or near the spot, is worth a cartload of recollection." I don't know how it is with the world in general, but with me, making my remarks is by no means a solitary pleasure. I want some one to laugh with me, some one to be grave with me, some one to please me and help my discrimination, with his or her own remark, and at times, no doubt, to admire my acuteness and penetration. The world are so busied with selfish pursuits, ambition, vanity, interest, or pleasure, that very few think it worth their while to make any observation on what passes around them, except where that observation is a sucker or branch of the darling plant they are rearing in their fancy. Nor am I sure, notwithstanding all the sentimental flights of novel-writers, and the sage philosophy of moralists, whether we are capable of so intimate and cordial a coalition of friendship as that one man may pour out his bosom, his every thought and floating fancy, his very inmost soul, with unreserved confidence to another, without hazard of losing part of that respect which man deserves from man ; or, from the unavoidable imperfections attending a human nature, of one day repenting his confidence.

" For these reasons, I am determined to make these pages my confidant. I will sketch every character that any way strikes me, to the best of my power, with unshrinking justice. I will insert anecdotes and take down remarks in the old law phrase, without feud or favour.—Where I hit on anything clever, my own applause will, in some measure, feast my vanity ; and, begging Patroclus' and Achates' pardon, I think a lock and key a security, at least equal to the bosom of any friend whatever."

And the same lurking thorn of suspicion peeps out elsewhere in this complaint : " I know not how it is ; I find I can win liking—but not respect."

Mr. Wordsworth, in commenting on the free style in which Dr. Currie did not hesitate to expose some of the weaker parts of the poet's behaviour, very soon after the grave had closed on him, says : " Burns was a man of extraordinary genius, whose birth, education, and employments had placed and kept him in a situation far below ..that in which the writers and readers of expensive volumes are usually found. Critics upon works of fiction have laid it down as a rule that remoteness of place, in fixing the choice of a subject and in prescribing the mode of treating it, is equal in effect to distance of time ; restraints may be thrown off accordingly. Judge then of the delusions which artificial distinctions impose, when to a man like Doctor Currie, writing with views so honourable, the social condition of the individual of whom he was treating could seem to place him at such a distance from the exalted reader, that ceremony might discarded with him, and his memory sacrificed, as it were, be almost without compunction. This is indeed to be crushed beneath the furrow's weight"(54)

(54) Letter to a friend of Burns, p. 12.

 

It would be idle to suppose that the feelings here ascribed— and justly, no question—to the amiable and benevolent Currie, did not often find their way into the bosoms of those persons of superior condition and attainments, with whom Burns associated at the period when he first emerged into the blaze of reputation; and what found its way into their bosoms was not likely to avoid betraying itself to the perspicacious glance of the proud peasant. How perpetually he was alive to the dread of being looked down upon as a man, even by those who most zealously applauded the works of his genius might perhaps be traced through the whole sequence of his letters. When writing to men of high station, at least, he preserves, in every instance, the , attitude of self-defence. But it is only in his own secret tables ) that we have the fibres of his heart laid bare, and the cancer of this jealousy is seen distinctly at its painful work: babemus reum et confitentem.

" There are few," he writes, " of the sore evils under the sun give me more uneasiness and chagrin than the comparison how a man of genius, nay, of avowed worth, is received everywhere, with the reception which a mere ordinary character, decorated with the trappings and futile distinctions of fortune, meets. I imagine a man of abilities, his breast glowing with honest pride, conscious that men are born equal, still giving honour to whom honour is due; he meets at a great man's table a Squire something or a Sir somebody; he knows the noble landlord, at heart, gives the bard, or whatever he is, a share of his good wishes, beyond, perhaps, any one at table; yet how will it mortify him to see a fellow whose abilities would scarcely have made an eightpenny tailor, and whose heart is not worth three farthings, meet with attention and notice, that are withheld from the son of genius and poverty ?

"The noble Glencairn has wounded me to the soul here, because I dearly esteem, respect, and love him. He showed so much attention—engrossing attention—one day to the only blockhead at table (the whole company consisted of his lordship, dunderpate, and myself) that I was within half a point of throwing down my gage of contemptuous defiance; but he shook my hand, and looked so benevolently good at parting—God bless him ! though I should never see him more, I shall love him until my dying day ! I am pleased to think I am so capable of the throes of gratitude, as I am miserably deficient in some other virtues.

" With Dr. Blair I am more at my ease. I never respect him with humble veneration; but when he kindly interests himself in my welfare, or, still more, when he descends from his pinnacle, and meets me on equal ground in conversation, my heart overflows with what is called liking. When he neglects me for the mere carcass of greatness, or when his eye measures the difference of our points of elevation, I say to myself, with scarcely any emotion, what do I care for him, or his pomp either?"

" It is not easy," says Burns, attempting to be more philosophical,—"it is not easy forming an exact judgment of anyone; but, in my opinion, Dr. Blair is merely an astonishing proof of what industry and application can do. Natural parts like his are frequently to be met with: his vanity is proverbially known among his own acquaintances; but he is justly at the head of what may be called fine writing, and a critic of the first, the very first rank, in prose; even in poetry, a bard of Nature's making can alone take the pas of him. He has a heart, not of the very finest water, but far from being an ordinary one. In short, he is a truly worthy and most respectable character."

" Once," says a nice speculator on the " follies of the wise,"(55)

" once we were nearly receiving from the hand of genius the most curious sketches of the temper, the irascible humours, the delicacy of soul, even to its shadowiness, from the warm sbozzos of Burns, when he began a diary of his heart—a narrative of characters and events, and a chronology of his emotions. It was natural for such a creature of sensation and passion to project such a regular task, but quite impossible to get through it." This most curious document, it is to be observed, has not yet been printed entire. Another generation will, no doubt, see the whole of the confession: however, what has already been given, it may be surmised, indicates sufficiently the complexion of Burns's prevailing moods, during his moments of retirement, at this interesting period of his history. It was in such a mood (they recurred often enough) that he thus reproached " Nature —partial Nature :"

"Thou givest the ass his hide, the snail his shell;
The envenom'd wasp victorious guards his cell;
But, oh ! thou bitter stepmother, and hard,

To thy poor fenceless naked child, the bard. . . .

In naked feeling and in aching pride,

He bears the unbroken blast from every side."

There was probably no blast that pierced this haughty soul • so sharply as the contumely of condescension.

 

(55) D'Israeli on the Literary Character, vol. i., p. 136.

 

" One of the poet's remarks," as Cromek tells us, " when he first came to Edinburgh, was, that between the men of rustic life and the polite world he observed little difference—that in the former, though unpolished by fashion and unenlightened by science, he had found much observation and much intelligence ; but a refined and accomplished woman was a thing almost new to him, and of which he had formed but a very inadequate idea." To be pleased is the old and the best receipt how to please : and there is abundant evidence that Burns's success, among the high-born ladies of Edinburgh, was much greater than among the " stately patricians," as he calls them, of his own sex. The vivid expression of one of them has almost become proverbial—that she never met with a man " whose conversation so completely carried her off her feet;" and Sir Walter Scott, in his reference to the testimony of the late Duchess of Gordon, has no doubt indicated the twofold source of the fascination. But even here he was destined to feel ere long something of the fickleness of fashion. He confessed to one of his old friends, before the season was over, that some who had caressed him the most zealously, no longer seemed to know him when he bowed in passing their carriages, and many more acknowledged his salute but coldly.

It is but too true, that ere this season was over, Burns had formed connexions in Edinburgh which could not have been regarded with much approbation by the eminent literati, in whose society his début had made so powerful an impression. But how much of the blame, if serious blame, indeed, there was in the matter, ought to attach to his own fastidious jealousy—how much
to the mere caprice of human favour, we have scanty means of ascertaining : no doubt, both had their share ; and it is also sufficiently apparent that there were many points in Burns's conversational habits which men, accustomed to the delicate observances of refined society, might be more willing to tolerate under the first excitement of personal curiosity than from any very deliberate estimate of the claims of such a genius, under such circumstances developed. He by no means restricted his sarcastic observations on those whom he encountered in the world to the confidence of his note-book ; but startled polite ears with the utterance of audacious epigrams, far too witty not to obtain general circulation in so small a society as that of the Northern capital, far too bitter not to produce deep resentment, far too numerous not to spread fear almost as widely as admiration. Even when nothing was farther from his thoughts than to inflict pain, his ardour often carried him headlong into sad scrapes. Witness, for example, the anecdote given by Professor Walker of his entering into a long discussion of the merits of the popular preachers of the day, at the table of Dr. Blair, and enthusiastically avowing his low opinion of all the rest in comparison with Dr. Blair's own colleague and most formidable rival (56)—a man certainly endowed with extraordinary graces of voice and manner, a generous and amiable strain of feeling, and a copious flow of language ; but having no pretensions either to the general accomplishments for which Blair was honoured in a most accomplished society, or to the polished elegance which he first introduced into the eloquence of the Scottish pulpit. Professor Walker well describes the unpleasing effects of such an escapade, the conversation during the rest of the evening " labouring under that compulsory effort which was unavoidable, while the thoughts of all were full of the only subject on which it was improper to speak." Burns showed his good sense by making no effort to repair this blunder ; but years afterwards he confessed that he could never recall it without exquisite pain. Mr. Walker properly says, it did honour to Dr. Blair that his kindness remained totally unaltered by this occurrence ; but the professor would have found nothing to admire in that circumstance, had he not been well aware of the rarity of such good-nature among the genus irritabile of author:, orators, and wits.

 

(56) The Rev. Robert Walker.

 

A specimen (which some will think worse, some better) is thus recorded by Cromek : "At a private breakfast, in a literary circle of Edinburgh, the conversation turned on the poetical merit and pathos of Gray's Elegy, a poem of which he was enthusiastically fond. A clergyman present, remarkable for his love of paradox, and for his eccentric notions upon every subject, distinguished himself by an injudicious and ill-timed attack on this exquisite poem, which Burns, with generous warmth for the reputation of Gray, manfully defended. As the gentleman's remarks were rather general than specific, Burns \urged him to bring forward the passages which he thought exceptionable. He made several attempts to quote the poem, but always in a blundering, inaccurate manner. Burns bore all this for a good while with his usual good-natured forbearance, till at length, goaded by the fastidious criticisms and wretched quibblings of his opponent, he roused himself, and with an eye flashing contempt and indignation, and with great vehemence of gesticulation, he thus addressed the cold critic: ' Sir, I now perceive a man may be an excellent judge of poetry by square and rule, and after all be a d—d blockhead.'" So far Mr. Cromek ; and all this was to a clergyman, and at breakfast. Even to the ladies, when he suspected them of wishing to make a show of him, he could not help administering a little of his village discipline. A certain stately peeress sent to invite him, without, as he fancied, having sufficiently cultivated his acquaintance beforehand, to her assembly. " Mr. Burns," answered the bard, " will do himself the honour of waiting on the of , provided her ladyship will invite also the learned pig." Such an animal was then exhibiting in the Grass Market.

While the second edition of his poems was passing through the press, Burns was favoured with many critical suggestions and amendments ; to one of which only he attended. Blair, reading over with him, or hearing him recite (which he delighted at all times in doing) his Holy Fair, stopped him at the stanza :

" Now a' the congregation o'er -
Is silent expectation,

For Moodie speels the holy door

Wi' tidings o' Salvation."

Nay, said the doctor, read damnation. Burns improved the wit of this verse, undoubtedly, by adopting the emendation ; but he gave another strange specimen of want of tact when he insisted that Dr. Blair, one of the most scrupulous observers of clerical propriety, should permit him to acknowledge the obligation in a note.

But to pass from these trifles—it needs no effort of imagination to conceive what the sensations of an isolated set of scholars (almost all either clergymen or professors) must have been in the presence of this big-boned, black-browed, brawny stranger, with his great flashing eyes, who, having forced his way among them from the plough tail, at a single stride, manifested, in the whole strain of his bearing and conversation, a most thorough conviction that, in the society of the most eminent men of his nation, he was exactly where he was entitled to be ; hardly deigned to flatter them by exhibiting even an occasional symptom of being flattered by their notice ; by turns calmly measured himself against the most cultivated understandings of his time in discussion; overpowered the bon mots of the most celebrated convivialists by broad floods of merriment, impregnated with all the burning life of genius ; astounded bosoms habitually enveloped in the thrice-piled folds of social reserve, by compelling them to tremble—nay, to tremble visibly—beneath the fearless touch of natural pathos ; and all this without indicating the smallest willingness to be ranked among those professional ministers of excitement, who are content to be paid in money and smiles for doing what the spectators and auditors would be ashamed of doing in their own persons, even if they had the power of doing it; and—last, and probably worst of all—who was known to be in the habit of enlivening societies, which they would have scorned to approach, still more frequently than their own, with eloquence no less magnificent ; with wit, in all likelihood, still more daring ; often enough, as the superiors whom he fronted without alarm might have guessed from the beginning, and had, ere long, no occasion to guess, with wit pointed at themselves.

The lawyers of Edinburgh, in whose wider circle Burns figured at his outset, with at least as much success as among the professional literati, were a very different race of men from these ; they would neither, I take it, have pardoned rudeness, nor been alarmed by wit. But being, in those days, with scarcely an exception, members of the landed aristocracy of the country, and forming by far the most influential body (as, indeed, they still do) in the society of Scotland, they were, perhaps, as proud a set of men as ever enjoyed the tranquil pleasures of unquestioned superiority. What their haughtiness, as a body, was, may be guessed, when we know that inferior birth was reckoned a fair and legitimate ground for excluding any man from the bar. In one remarkable instance, about this very time, a man of very extraordinary talents and accomplishments was chiefly opposed in a long and painful struggle for admission, and, in reality, for no reasons but those I have been alluding to, by gentlemen who, in the sequel, stood at the very head of the Whig party in Edinburgh; and the same aristocratical prejudice has, within the memory of the present generation, kept more persons of eminent qualifications in the background, for a season, than any English reader would easily believe. To this body belonged nineteen out of twenty of those " patricians," whose stateliness Burns so long remembered and so bitterly resented. It might, perhaps, have been well for him had stateliness been the worst fault of their manners. Wine-bibbing appears to be in most regions a favourite indulgence with those whose brains and lungs are subjected to the severe exercises of legal study and forensic practice. To this day more traces of these old habits linger about the Inns of Court than in any other section of London. In Dublin and Edinburgh, the barristers are even now eminently convivial bodies of men; but among the Scotch lawyers of the time of Burns, the principle of jollity was indeed in its "high and palmy state." He partook largely in those tavern scenes of audacious hilarity, which then soothed, as a matter of course, the arid labours of the Northern noblesse de la robe (so they are
well called in Redgauntlet), and of which we are favoured with a specimen in the " High Jinks " chapter of Guy Mannering.

The tavern life is nowadays nearly extinct everywhere; but it was then in full vigour in Edinburgh, and there can be no doubt that Burns rapidly familiarised himself with it during his residence. He had, after all, tasted but rarely of such excesses while in Ayrshire. So little are we to consider his Scotch Drink, and other jovial strains of the early period, as conveying anything like a fair notion of his actual course of life, that " Auld Nanse Tinnock" or " Poosie Nancie," the Mauchline landlady, is known to have expressed, amusingly enough, her surprise at the style in which she found her name celebrated in the Kilmarnock edition, saying " that Robert Burns might be a very clever lad, but he certainly was regardless, as, to the best of her belief, he had never taken three half mutchkins in her house in all his life." (57) And, in addition to Gilbert's testimony to the same purpose, we have on record that of Mr. Archibald Bruce (qualified by Heron " a gentleman of great worth and discernment"), that he had observed Burns closely during that period of life, and seen him " steadily resist such solicitations and allurements to excessive convivial enjoyment, as hardly any other person could have withstood."

 

(57) Mr. R. Chambers" s MS. notes, taken during a tour in Ayrshire.

 

The unfortunate Heron knew Burns well ; and himself mingled largely (58) in some of the scenes to which he adverts in the following strong language: "The enticements of pleasure too often unman our virtuous resolution, even while we wear the air of rejecting them with a stern brow. We resist, and resist, and resist; but at last suddenly turn and passionately embrace the enchantress. The bucks of Edinburgh accomplished, in regard to Burns, that in which the boors of Ayrshire had failed. After residing some months in Edinburgh, he began to estrange himself, not altogether, but in some measure, from graver friends. Too many of his hours were now spent at the tables of persons who delighted to urge conviviality to drunkenness—in the tavern—and in the brothel." (59)

(58) See Burns's allusions to Heron's own habits in The Poetical Epistle to Blacklock.

(59) Heron, p. 27.

It would be idle now to attempt passing over these things in silence; but it could serve no good purpose to dwell on them.

During this winter Burns continued, as has been mentioned, to lodge with John Richmond; and we have the authority of this early friend of the poet for the statement that while he did so " he kept good hours."(60) He removed afterwards to the house of Mr. William Nicoll (one of the teachers of the High School of Edinburgh), on the Buccleuch road; and this change is, I suppose, to be considered as a symptom that the keeping of good hours was beginning to be irksome. Nicoll was a man of quick parts and considerable learning, who had risen from a rank as humble as Burns's—from the beginning an enthusiastic admirer and, ere long, a constant associate of the poet and a most dangerous associate; for with a warm heart the man united a fierce irascible temper, a scorn of many of the decencies of life, a noisy contempt of religion (at least, of the religious institutions of his country), and a violent propensity for the bottle. He was one of those who would fain believe themselves to be men of genius, and that genius is a sufficient apology for trampling under foot all the old vulgar rules of prudence and sobriety, being on both points equally mistaken. Of Nicoll's letters to Burns and about him I have seen many that have never been, and probably never will be, printed—cumbrous and pedantic effusions, exhibiting nothing that one can imagine to have been pleasing to the poet, except what was probably enough to redeem all imperfections—namely, a rapturous admiration of his genius. This man, nevertheless, was, I suspect, very far from being an unfavourable specimen of the society to which Heron thus alludes: " He (the poet) suffered himself to be surrounded by a race of miserable beings who were proud to tell that they had been in company with BURNS, and had seen Burns as loose and as foolish as themselves. He was not yet irrecoverably lost to temperance and moderation; but he was already almost too much captivated with these wanton revels, to be ever more won back to a faithful attachment to their more sober charms." Heron adds : " He now also began to contract something of a new arrogance in conversation. Accustomed, to be, among his favourite associates, what is vulgarly, but expressively, called the cock of the company, he could scarcely refrain from indulging in similar freedom and dictatorial decision of talk even in the presence of persons who could less patiently endure his presumption : "(61)—an account ex facie probable, and which sufficiently tallies with some hints in Mr. Dugald Stewart's description of the poet's manners, as he first observed him at Catrine, and with one or two anecdotes already cited from Walker and Cromek.

 

(60) Notes by Mr. R. Chambers.

(61) Heron, p. 28.

 

Of these failings, and, indeed, of all Burns's failings, it may be safely asserted that there was more in his history to account and apologise for them than can be alleged in regard to almost any other great man's imperfections. We have seen how, even in his earliest days, the strong thirst of distinction glowed within him—how, in his first and rudest rhymes, he sung :

 

                            " to be great is charming; "

 

and we have also seen that the display of talent in conversation was the first means of distinction that occurred to him. It was by that talent that he first attracted notice among his fellow peasants; and after he mingled with the first Scotchmen of his time, this talent was still that which appeared the most astonishing of all he possessed. What wonder that he should delight in exerting it where he could exert it the most freely; where there was no check upon a tongue that had been accustomed to revel in the licence of village mastery; where every sally, however bold, was sure to be received with triumphant applause; where there were no claims to rival his, no proud brows to convey rebuke—above all, perhaps, no grave eyes to convey regret ? " Nonsense," says Cumberland, " talked by men of wit and understanding in the hours of relaxation is of the very finest essence of conviviality; but it implies a trust in the company not always to be risked." It was little in Burns's character to submit to nice and scrupulous rules when he knew that, by crossing the street, he could find society who would applaud him the more, the more heroically all such rules were disregarded; and he who had passed from the company of the jolly bachelors of Tarbolton and Mauchline, to that of the eminent Scotchmen whose names were honoured all over the civilised world, without discovering any difference that appeared worthy of much consideration, was well prepared to say, with the prince of all free-speakers and free-livers, " I will take mine ease in mine inn !"

But these, assuredly, were not the only feelings that influenced Burns : in his own letters, written during his stay in Edinburgh, we have the best evidence to the contrary. He shrewdly suspected, from the very beginning, that the personal notice of the great and the illustrious was not to be as lasting as it was eager : he foresaw, that sooner or later he was destined to revert to societies less elevated above the pretensions of his birth j and, though his jealous pride might induce him to record his suspicions in language rather too strong than too weak, it is quite impossible to read what he wrote without believing that a sincere distrust lay rankling at the roots of his heart, all the while that he appeared to be surrounded with an atmosphere of joy and hope.

On January 15th, 1787, we find him thus addressing his kind patroness, Mrs. Dunlop :

" You are afraid I shall grow intoxicated with my prosperity as a poet. Alas, madam ! I know myself and the world too well. I do not mean any airs of affected modesty ; I am willing to believe that my abilities deserved some notice ; but in a most enlightened, informed age and nation, when poetry is and has been the study of men of the first natural genius, aided with all the powers of polite learning, polite books, and polite company—to be dragged forth to the full glare of learned and polite observation, with all my imperfections of awkward rusticity, and crude and unpolished ideas, on my head,—I assure you, madam, I do not dissemble when I tell you I tremble for the consequences. The novelty of a poet in my obscure situation, without any of those advantages which are reckoned necessary for that character, at least at this time of day, has raised a partial tide of public notice, which has borne me to a height where I am absolutely, feelingly certain, my abilities
are inadequate to support me ; and too surely do I see that time when the same tide will leave me and recede, perhaps, as far below the mark of truth. ... I mention this once for all to disburden my mind ; and I do not wish to hear or say any more about it. But, 'When proud fortune's ebbing tide recedes,' you will bear me witness that when my bubble of fame was at the highest, I stood unintoxicated with the inebriating cup in my hand, looking forward with rueful resolve."

And about the same time to Dr. Moore :

" The hope to be admired for ages is, in by far the greater part of those even who are authors of repute, an unsubstantial dream. For my part, my first ambition was, and still my strongest wish is, to please my compeers, the rustic inmates of the hamlet, while ever-changing language and manners shall allow me to be relished and understood. I am very willing to admit that I have some poetical abilities ; and as few, if any, writers, either moral or poetical, are intimately acquainted with the classes of mankind among whom I have chiefly mingled, I may have seen men and manners in a different phasis from what is common, which may assist originality of thought. ... I scorn the affectation of seeming modesty to cover self-conceit. That I have some merit I do not deny ; but I see, with frequent wringings of heart, that the novelty of my character and the honest national prejudice of my countrymen have borne me to a height altogether untenable to my abilities."

And lastly, April 23rd, 1787, we have the following passage in a letter also to Dr. Moore :

"I leave Edinburgh in the course of ten days or a fortnight. I shall return to my rural shades, in all likelihood never more to quit them. I have formed many intimacies and friendships here, but I am afraid they are all of too tender a construction to bear carriage a hundred and fifty miles"

One word more on the subject which introduced these quotations : Mr. Dugald Stewart, no doubt, hints at what was a common enough complaint among the elegant literati of Edinburgh when he alludes, in his letter to Currie, to the "not very select society" in which Burns indulged himself. But two points still remain somewhat doubtful; namely, whether, show and marvel of the season as he was, the " Ayrshire ploughman" really had it in his power to live always in society which Mr. Stewart would have considered as "very select;" and secondly, whether, in so doing, he could have failed to chill the affection of those humble Ayrshire friends who, having shared with him all that they possessed on his first arrival in the metropolis, faithfully and fondly adhered to him, after the springtime of fashionable favour did, as he foresaw it would do, " recede ;" and, moreover, perhaps to provoke, among the higher circles themselves, criticisms more distasteful to his proud stomach than any probable consequences of the course of conduct which he actually pursued.

The second edition of Burns's poems was published early in March by Creech ; there were no less than 1,500 subscribers, many of whom paid more than the shop price of the volume. Although, therefore, the final settlement with the bookseller did not take place till nearly a year after, Burns now found himself in possession of a considerable sum of ready money ; and the first impulse of his mind was to visit some of the classic scenes of Scottish history and romance. He had as yet seen but a small part of his own country, and this by no means among the most interesting of her districts—until, indeed, his own poetry made it equal, on that score, to any other.

He says to Mrs. Dunlop (March 22nd} : "The appellation ot a Scottish bard is far my highest pride ; to continue to deserve it is my most exalted ambition. Scottish scenes and Scottish story are the themes I could wish to sing. I have no dearer aim than to have it in my power, unplagued with the routine of business, for which, Heaven knows, I am unfit enough, to make leisurely pilgrimages through Caledonia ; to sit on the fields of her battles, to wander on the romantic banks of her rivers, and to muse by the stately towers or venerable ruins, once the honoured abodes of her heroes. But these are Utopian views."

The magnificent scenery of the capital itself had filled him with extraordinary delight. In the spring mornings he walked very often to the top of Arthur's Seat, and, lying prostrate on the turf, surveyed the rising of the sun out of the sea in silent admiration ; his chosen companion on such occasions being that ardent lover of nature and learned artist, Mr. Alexander Nasmyth.(62) The Braid Hills, to the south of Edinburgh, were also among his favourite morning walks ; and it was in some of these that Mr. Dugald Stewart tells us " he charmed him still more by his private conversation than he had ever done in company." " He was," adds the professor, " passionately fond of the beauties of Nature ; and I recollect once he told me, when I was admiring a distant prospect in one of our morning walks, that the sight of so many smoking cottages gave a pleasure to his mind which none could understand who had not witnessed, like himself, the happiness and the worth which they contained."

(62) It was to this venerable artist that Burns sat for the portrait engraved in Creech's edition, and since repeated so often that it must be familiar to all my readers.

Burns was far too busy with society and observation to find time for poetical composition during his first residence in Edinburgh. Creech's edition included some pieces of great merit which had not been previously printed ; but, with the exception of The Address to Edinburgh, which is chiefly remarkable for the grand stanzas on the Castle and Holyrood, with which it concludes, all of these appear to have been written before he left Ayrshire. Several of them, indeed, were very early productions ; the most important additions were, Death and Dr. Hornbook, The Brigs of Ayr, The Ordination, and the Address to the Unco Guid. In this edition, also, When Guildford guid our Pilot stood made its first appearance, on reading which Dr. Blair uttered his pithy criticism, " Burns's politics always smell of the smithy."

It ought not to be omitted that our poet bestowed some of the first fruits of this edition in the erection of a decent tombstone over the hitherto neglected remains of his unfortunate predecessor, Robert Fergusson, in the Canongate churchyard.

The evening before he quitted Edinburgh, the poet addressed a letter to Dr. Blair, in which, taking a most respectful farewell of him, and expressing, in lively terms, his sense of gratitude for the kindness he had shown him, he thus recurs to his own views of his own past and future condition : " I have often felt the embarrassment of my singular situation. However the meteor-like novelty of my appearance in the world might attract notice, I knew very well, that my utmost merit was far unequal to the task of preserving that character when once the novelty was over. I have made up my mind that abuse, or almost even neglect, will not surprise me in my quarters." To this touching letter the amiable Blair replied in a truly paternal strain of consolation and advice : " Your situation," says he, ( " was indeed very singular : you have had to stand a severe trial. I am happy that you have stood it so well. . . . You are now, I presume, to retire to a more private walk of life. . . . You have laid the foundation for just public esteem. In the midst of those employments which your situation will render proper you will not, I hope, neglect to promote that esteem by cultivating your genius and attending to such productions of it as may raise your character still higher. At the same time, be not in too great a haste to come forward. Take time and leisure to improve and mature your talents ; for, on any second production you give the world, your fate as a poet will very much depend. There is, no doubt, a gloss of novelty which time wears off. As you very properly hint yourself, you are not to be surprised if, in your rural retreat, you do not find yourself surrounded with that glare of notice and applause which here shone upon you. No man can be a good poet without being somewhat of a philosopher. He must lay his account, that any one who exposes himself to public observation will occasionally meet with the attacks of illiberal censure, which it is always best to overlook and despise. He will be inclined sometimes to court retreat and to disappear from public view. He will not affect to shine always, that he may at proper seasons come forth with more advantage and energy. He will not think himself neglected if he be not always praised." Such were Blair's admonitions.

"And part was heard, and part was lost in air."

On the same occasion, the poet addressed Lord Glencairn in these terms. The letter has not before been published.

 

"MY LORD,—I go away to-morrow morning early ; and allow me to vent the fulness of my heart in thanking your lordship for all that patronage, that benevolence, and that friendship with which you have honoured me. With brimful eyes I pray, that you may find in that Great Being, whose image you so nobly bear, that friend which I have found in you. My gratitude is not selfish design—that I disdain ; it is not dodging after the heels of greatness—that is an offering you disdain. It is a feeling of the same kind with my devotion.—R. B."

 

Burns had one object of worldly business in his journey— namely, to examine the estate of Dalswinton, near Dumfries, the proprietor of which had, on learning that the poet designed to return to his original calling, expressed a strong wish to have him for his tenant.

  


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