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life than will ever be composed out of all the materials in the world besides."
Among the men of power who have written worthily of our great national poet, Mr. Lockhart himself will now be numbered, and his Life of Burns will occupy a high place in our biographical literature. His own achievements in many departments of literature give him a right to speak on such a theme. He has himself illustrated with great power in several works the national character of his countrymen. His Roman story, Valerius, SO full of classical grace and elegance, has stamped him the accomplished scholar no less than a writer of rare genius; and though not a professed poet, his Spanish ballads have given the world assurance that his soul is full of poetry, and poetry, too, of a very high kind, such as breathes and burns in that of his illustrious father-in-law, the great poet of chivalry.
The volume now before us is written—we were about to say with great skill, but we must use a better wordwith perfect understanding and feeling of Burns's genius and character. The narrative binds together, closely and naturally, all the chief incidents in his life, giving to each its appropriate place and prominence. The critical remarks on the several kinds of poetry are distinguished by the finest tact; the summing up of his genius is eloquent and characteristic; and his picture of the man himself true to the life, in all its lights and shadows. There is no commonplace declamation, none of the exaggeration of weak enthusiasm ; but every sentence tells, because head and heart are always at work together, and the biographer trusts to the consciousness of his own powers and to the grandeur of his subject. Many of Burns's noblest strains of thought and emotion, as he loved to pour himself out to the friends he honoured, are intermingled with the narrative; and with the free admiration of kindred intellectual power and moral feeling, Mr. Lockhart has given us, along with his own vigorous and original reflections, many of the finest passages about Burns from the panegyrics bestowed on him by such men as Scott, Wordsworth, Gray, and Cunningham.
Indeed, this biography is animated throughout with a benignant spirit. During the controversy that was carried on for some years respecting the general character of Burns, it was natural to expect that men, anxious but to speak the truth, would occasionally in a case of some difficulty and darkness give utterance to opinions formed on uncertain and untenable grounds; that those opinions should be often found contradictory and conflicting; that praise and blame should sometimes be bestowed unduly, according as the brighter or darker side of Burns's character met the view-according to the mood in which it was contemplated, and according, too, to the writer's habitual judgments of human life. So that the opinions of many men, all wishing to speak truth and to do justice, might be set in array against each other and no unfrequent occasions given even for mutual recrimination. All unnecessary allusions to any such unpleasant differences of opinion or feeling, Mr. Lockhart has wisely avoided, and he has, in a spirit of humanity that cannot be too much commended, given the credit of good intention to all who meant well towards Robert Burns. We verily believe that many erroneous and mistaken things have been said by men of genius and virtue about the fortunate and unfortunate bard, but no man of genius and virtue has ever written about him without also having given vent to much generous and enthusiastic admiration of his character. That will be remembered for ever ; let all else be, as far as possible, forgotten; nor is there any fear now that Burns's failings will be remembered, except as a warning to other gifted beings, and as a heartfelt lesson, too, to those who, without being gifted, as he was, with transcendent genius, may have shared in the temptations and troubles of his passions, and been saved from the public blame which they brought on his head by the comparative obscurity of their own lot which, though in one sense higher than his, had been less eminent, and not conspicuous from afar in the light of genius.
It will not be expected of us that we should, at this time of day, launch out into any very long discussion
either of the genius or the character of this extraordinary man. We have done so on many former and fitting occasions, and we trust that we too have always spoken of Burns in the right spirit, as indeed, we boldly say it, we have ever done of all true men. Yet a few words will be allowed us, if merely to bring before our readers some of the very fine things contained in this most interesting and instructive volume.
The life of Burns divides itself into five eras-that passed beneath his father's roof at Mount Oliphant and Lochlea; the years he lived with his brother Gilbert at Mossgiel; his visit to Edinburgh; his residence at Ellisland; and, finally, his closing years in Dumfries.
Of the first period, Mr. Lockhart gives such memorials both in prose and verse—it would be hard to say which the more beautiful—furnished by the bard himself and his brother, as best illustrate the nature of their life. But they need not be quoted here, for they are familiar to all who know anything about Burns. His youth was full of hidden poetry and passion, but as yet the one had but rarely burst forth into the forms of genius, the other had not overflowed his life with any disastrous influence. His love in those days was ardent, but it was pure.
Notwithstanding the luxurious tone of some of his pieces produced in those times, we are assured by himself that no positive “vice mingled in any of his loves.” “ His numerous connections,” says Gilbert,“ were governed by the strictest rules of virtue and modesty, from which he never deviated till his twenty-third year, when he became anxious to marry."
Long before the earliest of Burns's productions were known beyond the domestic circle, the strength of his understanding and the keenness of his wit, as displayed in his ordinary conversation, and more particularly at masonic meetings and debating clubs (of which he formed one in Mauchline, on the Tarbolton model, immediately on his removal to Mossgiel), has made his name known to some considerable extent in the country about Tarbolton,
Mauchline, and Irvine. He was known to be a genius. Every Scotch peasant who makes any pretensions to understanding is a theological critic—at least such was the case ---and Burns, no doubt, had long ere this time “distinguished himself considerably among those hard-headed groups that may be usually seen gathered together in the churchyard after the sermon is over.” It may be guessed, from the time of his residence in Irvine, his strictures were too often delivered in no reverent vein. The bard himself, in his famous letter to Dr. Moore, tells us that Polemical Divinity was about that time putting the country half-mad, and that he was ambitious of shining—and all who ever heard him speak know how he shone
in conversation parties on Sundays, at funerals, &c., puzzling Calvinism with so much heat and indiscretion, that he raised against himself a loud and lasting hue and cry of heresy. But, to understand Burns's situation at this time, at once patronised—which he was—by a number of clergymen, and attended with a hue and cry of heresy, we must remember these his own words, that "Polemical Divinity was putting the country half-mad."
No wonder that Burns under such causes of excitement overstepped the bounds of propriety and decency in his satirical pictures of what he considered superstition; that he was not sensible of the dangerous ground on which he was recklessly treading; and that with a deep sense of religion and a habitual reverence of its most sacred institutions, whether public or private, he should have written much that must shock the best and highest feelings of the religious mind.
In conversational powers, it is universally allowed that Burns, fresh from the plough-tail and the ingle-reek, far excelled all the most distinguished persons in Edinburgh, whether professors, ministers, or advocates, and that, too, in all kinds of company, mixed or unmixed, select or miscellaneous, principally male or principally female, sacred or profane. The reason is plain. He possessed ten times the genius of any one among them all; his reading of good prose and poetry had been extensive; his
heart and his soul, as well as his mind, were in all he had ever read; his feelings, impulses, passions—all were vivid, untamed, and triumphant. The worst miseries of his life were for a while suddenly flung by him into oblivion, and hope, joy, and glory claimed him for their
The power of poetry within him nothing had as yet cowed. That new world, whose false glitter he had not had time to see through and thoroughly to despise, was set before his eyes in dazzling and attractive beauty, and woman appeared before his senses and his imagination in more than the ideal loveliness that had ever haunted his dreams, while many a fairest idol smiled, delighted to receive his fervent and impassioned worship. 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 formed but a very inadequate idea." Hence, as the late beautiful and fascinating Duchess of Gordon said, “his conversation carried her off her feet!"
Tavern-life 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 in Ayrshire. His nocturnal revels, like those of our own Noctes Ambrosiance, were not wholly indeed of the imagination, but fancy poured out many an airy brimmer; and it has been long well known that "Auld Nanse Tinnock," or "Poosie Nancie," the Mauchline landlady, declared that “Robert Burns might be a very clever lad, but he certainly, to the best of her belief, had never taken three half-mutchkins in her house in all his life.” In addition, too, to Gilbert's testimony to the same purpose, we have on record that of Mr. Archibald Bruce (qualified by Heron as a gentleman of great worth and discernment), that he had observed Burns closely during that period of his life, and seen him