網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

not in vain, and idle, and pompous funeral rites alone though these were paid him, and the volleying thunders pealed over his grave--not in unavailing attempts to lament his doom by touching to elegiac strains the strings of that harp which now lay mute by its master's side, did Scotland show her remorse, her penitence, her gratitude. The widow and the fatherless became the objects of general tender concern. An ample subscription was soon raised for their behoof-a new edition of his Poems, by the enlightened and benevolent Currie, while it spread wider and established more firmly his fame, added to the fund of charity—and this surely, and more than this, done at the time when there was a blessing on it, and every year

since his death a most earnest and universal delight in his genius, even to passion, well entitles Scotland almost to forgive and forget her offence, to sink the past in the present, and even to pride herself on being, after all, not an ungrateful mother of such a son. To have failed in any duty she ever owed to such a son when he was alive to rejoice and benefit, along with all he loved most dearly, from the bestowal of her regard, must always be set down to the discredit and disgrace of the country. Yet thus much we will say, and only thus much, that we ought to remember that the Dead Burns is more glorious than ever was the Living. He has now gathered all his fame. Nations have honoured his genius. He sits among the Immortals. This has rarely been the lot of any living man: not of Milton-not yet of Wordsworth. Can it be that man hates to honour man, till the power in which he may have wrought miracles be extinguished or withdrawn from earth, and then, when we fear, and hate, and pine, and envy about it no more, we confess its grandeur, bow down to it, and worship it? Then it was, like ourselves, human -now it is divine !

Up to the day on which Burns left his farm of Ellisland (and had such rural occupation, entire and undivided, and under ordinary happy circumstances, been always his, how different might have been the whole colour and complexion of his life !) we showed, that after fairly balancing

the accounts of conscience, he was so far from being bankrupt in character that no man was better entitled than he to hold up his head among the best of his fellow-beings at church or market. How stands he at his last earthly audit? With many more sins to be judged and forgiven by God at the great day—with not many more, although some, to be judged, may we dare to use the word forgiven ?-even by man during his earthly sojourn ! He had often erredsometimes grossly and grievously—and “rueful had the expiation been." But were the sins of poor Robert Burns so much worse than those of most other men, that it became a moral and religious duty to emblazon them for an eternal warning to human nature? Alas! his sins bore no proportion to his sorrows! Long, long before the light of heaven had ever been darkened, obscured, or eclipsed in his conscience, even for a moment, by evil thoughts or evil deeds, when the bold, bright boy, with his thick black curling hair ennobling his noble forehead, was slaving for his parents' sake—and if the blessing of God ever falls on mortal man, it must be on toils like these Robert Burns used often to lie by his brother's side all night long without ever closing an eye in sleep, for that large heart of his that loved all his eyes looked upon of nature's works, living or dead, divine as was its mechanism for the play of all lofty passions, would often get suddenly disarranged as if approached the very hour of death. Who so skilled in nature's mysteries to dare to say that many more years could have fallen to the lot of one so framed had he all life-long drank, as in youth, but of the wellwater, lain down with the dove, and risen with the lark? If excesses, in which there was much blame, did in any degree injure his health and constitution--and most probably they did so—how much more did those other excesses certainly do so, in which there was both praise and virtue -over-anxious, over-worked hours beneath the midday sun when his hot beams shot downwards like arrows, yet were faithful in that beautiful pagan poetry for a moment restored for the sake of our great pastoral, well might we

believe that Apollo would not have hurt the Muse's son. But let us not fear to confess all his faults, failings, errors, vices, sins in all their magnitude and in all their darkest colours. They are known to the whole world. Yet still the whole world loves, admires, respects, venerates the memory of Burns.

Not under the power of his genius alone does the world thus feel and judge. For how much is there of good and great in the character of the man ! What lessons of patience, endurance, contentment, resignation, magnanimity, devotion, does his earlier life teach! Was not his manhood, in all its better days, nay, on to the week of the final struggle, dignified, amidst all its stains, by independence, by patriotism, by integrity, by generosity —for he was generous as poor—and by the discharge of nature's primal duties under sorest difficulty and distress, for hard had he worked for that wife and those children, whom at last he piously delivered up to the care of their God on the bed of death. Who ever laid one mean, jealous, envious, unkind, or cruel thought or deed to the charge of Robert Burns? Ill-used as he had been by the world—by the great and the rich, and the learned and the wise, in short, by the powerful—who were proud to take him by the hand and lift him up for a little while on a towering and conspicuous eminence, and then did let him wander away off into what might have been utter obscurity for them, into sufferings by them unmitigated; this, we say, was to use him ill indeed, and even this might have broken many a noble heart, as we know that for a time it shook his to its very core.

But in spite of all this, in spite of the “hope deferred that maketh the heart sick,” Burns never became a misanthrope. A few indignant flashes his genius occasionally gave forth against the littleness of the great, but nothing so paltry as personal pique at the bad and base usage of a few, or even many, who ought not thus to have dishonoured their birth, ever inspired Burns with feelings of hostility towards the highest orders. His was an imagination that clothed high rank with that dignity and splendour which some of the degenerate descendants of old and illustrious houses had

seemed to have forgotten; and when an Athole, a Daer, or a Glencairn "reverenced the lyre” and grasped the hand of the peasant who had received it as his patrimony from nature, Burns felt it to be nowise inconsistent with the stubbornest independence that ever supported a son of the soil in his struggles with necessity, reverently to doff his bonnet and bow his head in their presence, proud in his humility.

The bridegroom may forget the bride

Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
The monarch may forget the crown,

That on his head an hour hath been;

The mother may forget the child

That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,

And a' that thou hast done for me!

Even this perfect freedom from uneasy, dissatisfied, and angry thoughts and feelings towards the rich and great, when we consider all things, proves the native magnanimity of Burns. After all, that is the highest eulogy which uses only the most common but the most holy words. Burns, then, was a good son, a good brother, a good friend, a good husband, and a good father.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Nor draw his frailties from their dread abode ;
There they alike in trembling hope repose,
The bosom of his Father and his God.

By THOMAS CARLYLE.

From "THE EDINBURGH Review," December, 1829.

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

In the modern arrangements of society, it is no uncommon thing that a man of genius must, like Butler, "ask for bread and receive a stone”; for, in spite of our grand maxim of supply and demand, it is by no means the highest excellence that men are most forward to recognise. The inventor of a spinning-jenny is pretty sure of his reward in his own day; but the writer of a true poem, like the apostle of true religion, is nearly as sure of the contrary. We do not know whether it is not an aggravation of the injustice that there is generally a posthumous retribution. Robert Burns, in the course of nature, might yet have been living; but his short life was spent in toil and penury, and he died in the pride of his manhood, miserable and neglected; and yet already a brave mausoleum shines over his dust, and more than one splendid monument has been reared in other places to his fame; the street where he languished in poverty is called by his name; the highest personages in our literature have been proud to appear as his commentators and admirers, and here is the sixth narrative of his Life that has been given to the world!

Mr. Lockhart thinks it necessary to apologise for this new attempt on such a subject; but his readers, we believe, will readily acquit him, or at worst will censure only the performance of his task, not the choice of it. The character of Burns, indeed, is a theme that cannot easily become

« 上一頁繼續 »