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English reader: beside, they abound with allusions to the modes of life, opinions, and ideas of the people in a remote corner of the country, which would render many passages obscure, and consequently uninteresting, to those who perceive not the forcible accuracy of the picture of the objects to which they allude. This work, therefore, can only be fully relished by the natives of that part of the country where it was produced; but by such of them as have a taste sufficiently refined to be able to relish the beauties of nature, it cannot fail to be highly prized.
By what we can collect from the poems themselves, and the short preface to them, the author seems to be struggling with poverty, though cheerfully supporting the fatigues of a laborious employment. He thus speaks of himself in one of the
The star that rules my luckless lot,
But, in requite,
Of country wit.
He afterwards adds
This life, sae far's I understand,
That, wielded right,
Dance by fu' light.
The magic wand then let us wield;
With wrinkled face,
With creeping pace.
When ance life's day draws near the gloamin',
And social noise ;
The joy of joys!
Fired with the subject, he then bursts into a natural, warm, and glowing description of youth
O life! how pleasant in thy morning,
We frisk away,
To joy and play.
We wander there, we wander here,
Among the leaves ;
Short time it grieves.
“None of the following works” (we are told in the preface) were ever composed with a view to the press. To amuse himself with the little creations of his own fancy, among the toil and fatigues of a laborious life; to transcribe the various feelings, the loves, the griefs, the hopes, the fears in his own breast; to find some kind of counterpoise to the struggles of a world, always an alien scene, a task uncouth to the poetical mind—these were his motives for courting the muses, and in these he found poetry its own reward."
These poems are chiefly in the comic strain. Some are of the descriptive cast, particularly “Hallowe'en,” which contains a lively picture of the magical tricks that still are practised in the country at that season. It is a valuable relic which, like Virgil's eighth Eclogue, will preserve the memory of these simple incantations long after they would otherwise have been lost. It is very properly accompanied with notes explaining the circumstances to which the poem alludes. Sometimes the poems are in the elegiac strain, among which class the reader will find much of nature in the lines “To a Mouse," on turning up her nest with the plough, in November, 1785, and those “ To a Mountain Daisy,” on turning one down with the plough in April, 1786. In these we meet with a strain of that delicate tenderness which renders the Idylls of
Madame Deshouliers so peculiarly interesting. Some of the poems are in a more serious strain ; and as these contain fewer words that are not pure English than the others, we shall select one as a specimen of our author's manner.
The poem we have selected exhibits a beautiful picture of that simplicity of manners which still, we are -assured on the best authority, prevails in those parts of the country where the author dwells. That it may be understood by our readers, it is accompanied by a Glossary and Notes, with which we have been favoured by a friend who thoroughly understands the language, and has often, he says, witnessed with his own eyes that pure simplicity of manners which are delineated with the most faithful accuracy in this little performance. We have used the freedom to modernise the orthography a little, wherever the measure would permit, to render it less disgusting to our readers south of the Tweed.*
These stanzas are serious. But our author seems to be most in his own element when in the sportive, humorous strain. The poems of this cast, as hath been already hinted, so much abound with provincial phrases and allusions to local circumstances, that no extract from them would be sufficiently intelligible to our English readers.
The modern ear will be somewhat disgusted with the measure of many of these pieces, which is faithfully copied from that which was most in fashion among the ancient Scottish bards, but hath been, we think with good reason, laid aside by later poets. The versification is, in general, easy, and it seems to have been a matter of indifference to our author in what measure he wrote. But, if ever he should think of offering anything more to the public, we are of opinion his performances would be more highly valued were they written in measures less antiquated. The few Songs, Odes, Dirges, &c., in this collection are very poor in comparison with the other pieces. The
Here follows an Anglified version of the Cottar's Saturday Night.-EDITOR.
author's mind is not sufficiently stored with brilliant ideas to succeed in that line.
In justice to the reader, however, as well as the author, we must observe that this collection may be compared to a heap of wheat carelessly winnowed. Some grain of a most excellent quality is mixed with a little chaff and half-ripened corn. How many splendid volumes of poems come under our review, in which, though the mere chaff be carefully separated, not a single atom of perfect grain can be found, all being light and insipid ! We never reckon our task fatiguing when we can find, even among a great heap, a single pearl of price; but how pitiable is our lot when we must toil and toil and can find nothing but tiresome uniformity, with neither fault to rouse nor beauty to animate the jaded spirits !
By DR. JAMES OURRIE.
From “THE WORKS OF ROBERT BURNS,” 1800.
As the reader becomes better acquainted with the poet, the effects of his peculiarities lessen. He perceives in his poems, even on the lowest subjects, expressions of sentiment and delineations of manners which are highly interesting. The scenery he describes is evidently taken from real life; the characters he introduces and the incidents he relates have the impression of nature and truth. His humour, though wild and unbridled, is irresistibly amusing, and is sometimes heightened in its effects by the introduction of emotions of tenderness, with which genuine humour so happily unites. Nor is this the extent of his power. The reader, as he examines further, discovers that the poet is not confined to the descriptive, the humorous, or the pathetic; he is found, · as occasion offers, to rise with ease into the terrible and the sublime. Everywhere he appears devoid of artifice, performing what he attempts with little apparent effort, and impressing on the offsprings of his fancy the stamp of his understanding. The reader capable of forming a just estimate of poetical talents discovers in these circumstances marks of uncommon genius, and is willing to investigate more minutely its nature and its claims to originality. This last point we shall examine first.
That Burns had not the advantages of a classical education or of any degree of acquaintance with the Greek or Roman writers in their original dress has appeared in the history of his life. He acquired, indeed,