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cocious than himself. Fergusson's achievements in verse are the starting-points of Burns' triumphs. He who opens Fergusson's volume in the expectation of finding another Burns is destined to be disappointed. But he is likely to be consoled for this disap pointment by the discovery that not a few of the marked qualities of the poetry of the later singer characterise, as if in immature form, the verse of his predecessor. There are present in the poems of each the same easy artless versification, the same love of nature and of human nature, the same humour, the same philosophy of common sense applied to social life, the same lively imagination; only what is ripe incomparable genius in the one is no more than precocious and surprising talent in the other. In this light it is fair to Fergusson as well as to Burns, and not injurious to the reputation of the younger poet, to compare Braid Claith (p. 505) with The Epistle to a Young Friend, or the Ode to the Gowdspink with The Mouse or The Mountain Daisy. Between Burns and his predecessor too there is this link of connection—the English poems of the one are of as little account as those of the other.
Precocity, which is usually a disease accompanying other diseases and symptomatic of them, from the first marked Fergusson for its own. All through his school and university course he was sickly, gentle and amiable, surprisingly quick and clever, a prodigy destined to an early grave. At twenty-one he is the most famous Scotch poet of his day, and his poems, apart from some pastorals which had served the purpose of poetical exercises, are chiefly short pieces in which he celebrates the life which he knows best, that of an Edinburgh clerk, and the life which he loves best, that of country swains. It is with much of the grace and gaiety of Horace growing old and mellow, secure of fame and wine and friendship and mastery of his art, that the starved young Edinburgh clerk sings of scenes of gaiety and mild dissipation, in which his part was more fatal to his health than discreditable to his character, and from these noctes ambrosianae turns to the farmer's ingle, and the frolic and innocent and healthy life of the denizens of meadows and uplands remote from towns. As if he were old before his time, he is little inspired by the passion from which the Greek dramatist was happy to be delivered by age, and from which Burns had no wish ever to escape. Similarly he is a city spark and a satirist of the city magistrates and the city guard, rather in the genial, reflective, humorous mood of the decline of life than with
the passionateness of youth. His range of subjects is narrowed by the narrow space of a career which began at twenty-one and was finished at twenty-four. He had a keen enjoyment of city life, with its clubs for a little dissipation, and its bailies and its 'black banditti' for a constant occasion of laughter. Still more keen on his part was that enjoyment of the country, the pleasures of which he seldom tasted except in imagination, but which supplies the inspiration of some of his most touching verses, as well as of some of his admirable mock heroics. We alternate in his verse between these two sets of themes, and in his treatment of both we meet with the same vein of pure pathos, and its almost unfailing accompaniment of genuine humour.
THE DAFT DAYS.
[Corresponding in Scotland to Christmas holidays in England.]
Now mirk1 December's dowie 2 face
From naked groves nae birdie sings;
And dwyning Nature droops her wings,
Mankind but scanty pleasure glean
Baith warm and couth ;
9 wooden dish.
10 last year.
Ye browster' wives! now busk ye bra,
Mair precious than the Well of Spa,
'Then, tho' at odds wi' a' the warl',
From out your quorum,
For nought can cheer the heart sae weel
To skip and dance:
Let mirth abound; let social cheer
? Printed four years before Skinner's 'Tullochgorum' (p. 491). 3 ill-tempered.
Ye wha are fain to hae your name
He that some ells o' this may fa' 2,
Waesuck for him wha has nae fek' o't!
5 pre-eminence. toss the head.
On Sabbath-days the barber spark,
Weel might ye trow, to see them there,
Wud be right laith 12,
In gude Braid Claith.