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ority set up by privileged classes were seen to be baseless, and injustice and oppression in the state were discerned and denounced.
In England there was a noteworthy advance in popular intelligence. Remarkable inventions in the mechanic arts placed new power in the hands of the producing classes. The use of coal in smelting iron; the opening of canals throughout England; the invention of the spinning-jenny and power-loom; the perfecting of the steam-engine with its wide application to manufacturing purposes all this brought people together in large communities, greatly raised the average intelligence, and established the industrial supremacy of England.
Printing-presses were set up in every town; circulating libraries were opened; newspapers were multiplied; and monthly magazines and reviews fostered the general intelligence that called them into being. The proceedings of Parliament were regularly published, and naturally became the subject of discussion in every club-room, and at many a hearthstone.
The principles of political economy, especially after the publication of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," received increased and more intelligent attention.
The result of all this was inevitable; men came to a clearer recognition of their interests and their rights.
The moral and religious state of society showed marked improvement. Grossness gave way to decorum in life. Indecency was almost wholly banished from the stage and from literature. This happy change is illustrated in an incident told us by Sir Walter Scott. His grand-aunt assured him that, when led by curiosity to turn over the pages of a novel in which she had delighted in her youth,
she was astonished to find that, sitting alone at the age of eighty, she was unable to read without shame a book which sixty years before she had heard read out for amusement in large circles, consisting of the best society in London.
This improved moral tone was not restricted to sentiment. One of the noble features of this period was the active efforts to improve the condition of the unfortunate and the oppressed. The slave-trade, which Englishmen had long made a source of profitable commerce, was abolished. Hospitals were established. Howard, by his noble enthusiasm and incessant labors, secured a reform in prison discipline. Robert Raikes of Gloucester established the Sunday-school, which for England was the beginning of popular education.
These facts help us to understand one of the noteworthy literary features of the period. It is the relative predominance of prose. Poetry retires somewhat into the background. Fancy gives way to reason. It was a practical age, largely absorbed in material advancement and political and social reform. The task laid on the age was too serious to encourage merely the pleasures of the imagination. It was a time for thought and action.
Historical writing attained an excellence that has scarcely been surpassed. There arose three great historians, who brought to their narratives philosophical insight, and a finished excellence of style. Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon are imperishable names.
It was an age noted for its oratory. The world has never seen a group of greater orators than Chatham, Pitt, Burke, and Sheridan. Great questions of government presented themselves for consideration and action.
Through the activity of the press, eloquence was no longer confined within the walls of Parliament.
The principles of human liberty, of sound political economy, and of manly integrity have never had better utterance. The spirit of true patriotism never found nobler embodiment. "Sir," exclaimed Pitt, after the passage of the Stamp Act had aroused resistance, "I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest."
THE greatest poet of Scotland and the best song writer of the world such is but a moderate estimate of Burns. Scarcely any one will be found to claim less, and some to claim more. A careful study of his writings, in connection with the unfavor able circumstances of his life, impresses us with his extraordinary genius. He was the greatest poetic genius produced by Great Britain in the eighteenth century. A peculiar interest attaches to him. His great natural gifts were hampered by poverty and manual toil, and enslaved by evil habits, so that he accomplished only a small part of what was possible for him. That his genius was chained by untoward circumstances awakens our profound pity and regret; and that he weakly yielded to intemperance and immorality arouses our censure and indignation.
His life was a tragedy - a proud and powerful mind overcome at length in the hard struggle of life. The catastrophe was unspeakably sad; yet-let not our admiration of his gifts blind our judgment — Burns himself, and not an unkind destiny, was chiefly to blame. Genius has no exemption from the ordinary rules of morality. If he had abstained from drunken carousals and illicit amours, his life might have been crowned with beauty and honor. No doubt, as is often charitably said, he had strong passions and severe temptations; but these he ought to have resisted; for, as Carlyle says, "Nature fashions no creature without implanting in it the strength needful for its action and duration; least of all does she so neglect her masterpiece and darling, the poetic soul."
Robert Burns was born in a clay-built cottage two miles from the town of Ayr in 1759. His father was a man of strict in
tegrity and deep piety. We have an imperishable portrait of him in "The Cotter's Saturday Night." His early years were spent on a small, unfruitful farm in poverty and toil. His strength was overtaxed, his shoulders became stooped, and his nervous system was weakened. He afterwards spoke of this period as combining "the cheerless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing moil of a galley slave."
Yet this hardship was not without some relief. His humble home was sweetened with kindness and love; and the future poet was taught, first in school and afterwards by his father, the elements of learning. His mind was enlarged and his taste refined by works of the highest merit. His early reading included "The Spectator," Shakespeare, Pope, and Locke's "Human Understanding."
In his fifteenth year his genius was awakened under the sweet spell of love. "You know," he says, our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labors of harvest. In my fifteenth summer my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than myself. My scarcity of English denies me the power of doing her justice in that language; but you know the Scottish idiom. She was a bonnie, sweet, sonsie lass. In short, she, altogether unwittingly to herself, initiated me into that delicious passion which, in spite of acid disappointment, gin-horse prudence, and bookworm philosophy, I hold to be the first of human joys here below." The first offspring of his muse was entitled "Handsome Nell," which, though he afterwards spoke of it as puerile, still contains a touch of that charming simplicity of thought and expression which characterizes so much of his poetry. Is not this stanza delightful?
"She dresses aye sae clean and neat,
And then there's something in her gait
At the age of nineteen he went to Kirkoswald to study mensuration and surveying. It turned out to be a bad move.