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By PROF. JOHN WILSON.

From “BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE," May, 1829.

A REVIEW OF “LOCKHART'S LIFE OF BURNS."

THERE is probably not a human being come to the years of understanding in all Scotland who has not heard of the name of Robert Burns. It is indeed a household word. His poems are found lying in almost every cottage in the country on the "window-sole” of the kitchen, spence, or parlour; and even in the town-dwellings of the industrious poor, if books belong to the family at all, you are sure to see there the dear Ayrshire ploughman, the Bard of Coila. The father or mother, born and long bred, perhaps, among banks and braes, possesses in that small volume a talisman that awakens in a moment all the sweet visions of the past, and that can crowd the dim abode of hard-working poverty with a world of dear rural remembrances that awaken not repining but contentment. No poet ever lived more constantly and more intimately in the heart of a people. With their mirth, or with their melancholy, how often do his "native wood-notes wild" affect the sitters by the ingles of low-roofed homes, till their hearts overflow with feelings that place them on a level, as moral creatures, with the most enlightened in the land; and more than reconcile them with, make them proud of, the condition assigned them in life by Providence ! In his poetry, they see with pride the reflection of the character and condition of their own order, That pride is one of the best natural props of poverty; for, supported by it, the poor envy not the rich. They exult to know and to feel that they have had treasures

bequeathed to them by one of themselvestreasures of the intellect, the fancy, and the imagination, of which the possession and the enjoyment are one and the same, as long as they preserve their integrity and their independence. The poor man, as he speaks of Robert Burns, always holds up his head, and regards you with an elated look. A tender thought of The Cotter's Saturday, or a bold thought of Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled, may come across him; and he who, in such a spirit, loves home and country, by whose side may he not walk an equal in the broad eye of daylight as it shines over our Scottish hills?

This is true popularity. Thus interpreted, the word sounds well and recovers its ancient meaning. No need of puffing the poetry of Robert Burns. The land “blithe with plough and harrow”; the broomy or the heathery braes; the holms by the river's side; the forest where the woodman's ringing axe no more disturbs the cushat; the deep dell where all day long sits solitary plaided boy or girl, watching the kine or the sheep; the moorland hut, without any garden; the lowland cottage, whose garden glows a very orchard, even more crimsoned with pear-blossoms, most beautiful to behold; the sylvan homestead, sending its reek aloft over the huge sycamore that blackens on the hillside; the straw-roofed village, gathering with small bright crofts its many white gable-ends round and about the modest manse, and the kirk-spire covered with the pine-tree that shadows its horologe; the small, sweet, slated, rural town, low as Peebles, or high as Selkirk, by the clear flowings of Tweed or Ettrick, rivers whom Maga loves—there, there, and in such sacred scenes resides, and will for ever reside, the immortal genius of Burns ! This is in good truth “the consecration and the poet's dream.” Oh that he, the prevailing poet, could have seen this light breaking in upon the darkness that did too long and too deeply overshadow his living lot! Some glorious glimpses of it his prophetic soul did see: witness The Vision, or that somewhat humbler but yet high strain in which, bethinking him of the undefined aspirations of his boyish genius that had bestirred itself in the dark

ness, as if the touch of an angel's hand were to awaken a sleeper in his cell, he said to himself

Even then a wish–I mind its power-
A wish that to my latest hour

Shall strongly heave my breast,
That I, for poor auld Scotland's sake,
Some useful plan or book could make,

Or sing a sang at least! Such hopes were with him in his “bright and shining youth," surrounded as it was with toil and trouble, that could not bend down the brow of Burns from its natural upward inclination to the sky; and such hopes, let us doubt it not, were also with him in his dark and faded prime, when life's lamp burned low indeed, and he was willing at last, early as it was, to shut his eyes on this dearly beloved but sorely distracting world.

With what strong and steady enthusiasm is the anniversary of Burns's birthday celebrated, not only all over his own native land, but in every country to which her adventurous spirit has carried her sons ? On such occasions nationality is a virtue. For what else is the memory of Burns but the memory of all that dignifies and adorns the region that gave him birth ? Not till that bright and beautiful region is shorn of all its beams—its honesty, its independence, its moral worth, its genius, and its pietywill the name of Burns

Die on her ear, a faint, unheeded sound. To him the Genius of Scotland points in triumph as the glorious representative of her people. And were he not, in all the power of his genius, truly so, how could his poetry have, as we know it has, an immortal life in the hearts of young and old, whether sitting at gloaming by the ingle-side, or on the stone seat in the open air as the sun is going down, or walking among the summer mists on the mountain or the blinding winter snows?

In the life of the poor there is an unchanging and a preserving spirit. The great elementary feelings of human nature there disdain fluctuating fashions; pain and pleasure are alike permanent in their outward shows as in

their inward emotions; there the language of passion never grows obsolete; and at the same passage you hear the child sobbing at the knee of her grandame, whose old eyes are somewhat dimmer than usual, with a haze that seems almost to be of tears. Therefore the poetry of Burns will continue to charm as long as Nith flows, Criffel is green, and the bonny blue of the sky of Scotland meets with that in the eyes of her maidens, as they walk up and down her many hundred hills, silent or singing, to kirk or market.

Of one so dear to Scotland—as a poet and a man—we, of course, have many biographies. There is not one of them without much merit, and some are almost all that could be desired. Yet, perhaps, one was wanted that should, in moderate bulk, contain not only a lucid narrative of the life of Burns, so full of most interesting incidents, but criticisms worthy of his poetry, and, above all, a fair, candid, impartial, and manly statement of his admitted frailties, which is all that is needed for the vindication of his character. Within these last ten years that character has been placed permanently in its true light. It has been regarded not only with a truly philosophical, but with a truly religious, spirit in connection with the causes that acted upon it, from the earliest to the latest years of this wonderful being—causes inherent in his condition. Thus all idly babbling tongues have been put to silence. The many calumnies of the mean-spirited and malignant, who were under a natural incapacity of understanding the character of such a man as Burns, and almost under a natural necessity of hating or disliking him, are all sinking, or have already sunk, into oblivion; blame falls now where blame was due, and even there it falls in pity rather than in anger; it is felt now to be no part of Christian charity to emblazon the errors of our brother, for no better reason than because that brother was one of the most highly gifted among the children of men. It will not now be endured that any man, however pure his own practice, shall unmercifully denounce the few vices of a character redeemed by so

many virtues; it is universally acknowledged now that “if old judgments keep their sacred course," the life and the death of each one among us, who has been as a light and a glory among the nations, will be regarded by the wise and good in the blended light of admiration and forgiveness, and Burns in his grave may well abide the sentence of such a solemn tribunal. Nor “breathes there the man with soul so dead” as to lift up an oftenhandled and sore-soiled Burns's Poems from the side of the “Big Ha’ Bible, ance his father's pride,” from the small "window-sole" of the peasant's hut, without having upon his lips the spirit breathing through the beautiful lines of Wordsworth-high-souled champion of the character of his great dead com peer, and who, with a spirit different, but divine, has bound men's spirits in love to the beauty that is in the green earth and the blue sky, and the cottage homes, whose spiral smoke seems to blend them together in the charm of a kindred being.

Blessings be with them, and eternal praise,
The poets, who on earth have made us heirs

Of truth, and pure delight, by heavenly lays. The clouds that too long obscured the personal character of Burns--for his genius has always burned bright-have been, after all, blown away chiefly by the breath of the people of Scotland. Their gratitude would not suffer such obscuration, nor would their justice. But the feelings of the whole people have been nobly expressed by many of the first men of the land. All her best poets have triumphantly spoken in his vindication, and his new biographer has well said—“Burns has been appreciated duly, and he has had the fortune to be praised eloquently by almost every poet who has come after him. To accumulate all that has been said of him, even by men like himself, of the first order, would fill a volume—and a noble monument, no question, that volume would be the noblest, except what he has left us in his own immortal verses, which, were some dross removed and the rest arranged in a chronological order, would, I believe, form to the intelligent a more perfect and vivid history of his

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