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spirit and genius, and so forth, never, except in manifest jest and intended balderdash, found in him a defender or an example. And although he was apt to view with

. abundant toleration the frailties in others, from which no man can altogether claim an exemption, he is, in a striking degree, the adversary of false sentiment, of all kinds of slang, hypocrisy, and dissimulation in every possible shape when these pollute the realities of life; he has also painted in the most captivating aspect every amiable and manly virtue, and it is impossible to open a page of his works and not discover something which either delights the imagination or tends to the honour of pure and rational morality. To defend Burns's writings nowadays would, indeed, be as idle as, in the true spirit of knight-errantry, to fight with a windmill. His poems have triumphed over criticism—they need no defence; we only appeal to them. We do not, however, defend the publishers of all his writings.

But he is accused of another “lamentable trait of vulgarity”—“a perpetual boast of his own independence, which is obtruded upon the readers of Burns in almost every page of his writings." This is a form of expression which we recollect to have heard a reverend divine employ when apologising for a little looseness in his statements, it is “speaking wide.” We have read many pages of Burns's writings and do not recollect any instance in which he made his own independence a “spontaneous theme to those friends in whose estimation he felt that his honour stood clear," without being prompted to the utterance of his feelings by something in the circumstances or subject with which his expressions were connected. We very often, indeed, find him in his poetry and in his letters expressing an ardent admiration of an independent spirit; but it is uniformly, if we be not much mistaken, in consequence of the subject being thrown in his way. Should it, however, in any instance be found spontaneously brought forward, it is not a thing to be greatly wondered at if a feeling, which undoubtedly animated his whole heart and characterised his whole conduct, should, in his very peculiar


circumstances, escape from him on occasions when it was not strictly necessary. The reviewer says with great truth that a gentleman only talks of his independence when insulted or provoked; it was only on such occasions, or on occasions when his jealous eye saw a tendency to underrate him, that Burns did so; but without wasting words on this topic we take our leave of the Edinburgh Review with offering an advice to the critic (whoever he be), in all meekness and lowliness of spirit, that he will read the whole and not merely turn over some of the leaves of Burns's works, or glance at a few of the poet's lyrical compositions. There is in the works of Robert Burns an inexhaustible store of delight to every man who does not read for the exclusive purpose of finding fault, and displaying his own acumen and fine writing.

We are now under the necessity of treating, with as little ceremony as may be, an English critic who has audaciously crossed the Tweed, and, like the Borderers of old, committed depredations on our best treasures. A writer in the London Quarterly Review, with the caustic disposition evinced by our Edinburgh critics (for whom, after all, we have a clannish regard), and with its own peculiar heaviness, has gone the very greatest lengths in every

kind of misrepresentation with respect to Robert Burns. And if the spirit of chivalry, an emanation of which we have caught from their review of Cromek's Reliques, did not mingle itself with the gall necessarily in our pen, we should assuredly write down one hard word and apply it to the gentleman who has attempted, poorly attempted, to trample on the grave of our national poet. We must therefore adopt a circumlocution to express our meaningthe "few distinctions," as they are called, which we have copied from the Quarterly Review with respect to Burns are devoid of truth, in fact. Never, indeed, have we seen a more audacious and incredible fiction than the assertions that Burns was totally divested of the principle which cleaves to that which is good, and that though he never lost sight of the beacon which ought to have guided him, yet he never profited by its light; that is, in plain English,


that Burns was utterly destitute of every moral principle, and that his life was one unvaried scene of vices or crimes—that he never even did one good action in the whole course of it! Such is the plain and unequivocal import of the metaphorical prattle about wreck and torrents, and swimming and beacons, in which this abominable falsehood is clothed; it is quite impossible to give it another name so as to distinguish suitably its character. It were mere drivelling to soften our language. We do not desire to give a fine edge to satire; our sole object is to assert truth.

The only other proposition in this precious criticism which bears the aspect of a fact really injurious to Burns's memory is denominated a "dreadful truth," that Burns, when a friend was offering him well-meant and warm expostulation, attempted to destroy that friend by plunging a sword into his breast; and in the next instant he was with difficulty withheld from suicide! What atonement can any man make for publishing so foul a calumny as this? What apology can a professed guardian of literature and morals, a self-constituted censor of immorality, offer to an insulted public for going out of the book under his review, for manufacturing to his own taste, and then gravely printing and publishing a story which he either knew, or ought to have known, is, by exaggeration, cruel untruth? What kind of a head must he possess who could hazard his credibility and the reputation of the work with which he was connected by asserting what he can never prove? What kind of heart must he have who could wring the hearts of the widow and the fatherless by such false, revolting pictures of a tender husband and an affectionate parent, whose fame and honour were all the earthly treasures which he left them ? Shame, shame! Is this criticism? It is a libel which deserves the pillory; and if the author of it were known, which, fortunately for him, is not the case, he would doubtless fill that space in public opinion which a good man would not desire to occupy.

We have ascertained by actual inquiry at the gentlemen alluded to in this story how much of it is fact and how


much embellishment. The charge is that Burns made an attempt to plunge a sword-cane into the body of his friend, and was with difficulty prevented afterwards from killing himself. To attempt, in the ordinary acceptation of our language, imports a full purpose in the agent of acconplishing some design, followed forth by an act which his own will alone does not check, but which, if baffled, is counteracted by some external force; and if this be a correct view of the expression, we are warranted to deny flatly that Burns attempted to plunge a sword into the body of his friend, or to destroy himself. That friend, Mr. John Syme, in a written statement now before us, gives an account of this murderous-looking story, which we shall transcribe verbatim, that the nature of this attempt may be precisely known. “In my parlour at Ryedale one afternoon Burns and I were very gracious and confidential. I did advise him to be temperate in all things. I might have spoken daggers, but I did not mean them. He shook to the inmost fibre of his frame, drew the sword-cane, when I exclaimed, What! wilt thou thus, and in my own house?' The poor fellow was so stung with remorse that he dashed himself down on the floor.” And this is gravely laid before the world at second-hand as an attempt by Burns to murder a friend and to commit suicide, from which "he was with difficulty withheld ! ” So much for the manner of telling a story. The whole amount of it, by Mr. Syme's account and none else can be correct seems to be that being “gracious" one afternoon (perhaps a little “glorious” too, according to Tam o' Shanter), he, in his own house, thought fit to give Burns a lecture on temperance in all things; in the course of which he acknowledges that he "might have spoken daggers”—and that Burns, in a moment of irritation, perhaps of justly offended pride, merely drew the sword (which, like every other Excise officer, he wore at all times professionally in a staff), in order, as a soldier would touch his sword, to repel indignity. But by Mr. Syme's own testimony, Burns only drew the sword from the cane; nothing is said of an attempt to stab; but on the contrary,





Mr. Syme declares expressly that a mock-solemn exclamation, pretty characteristic, we suspect, of the whole affair, wound up the catastrophe of this tragical scene. Really it is a foolish piece of business to magnify such an incident into a “dreadful truth,” illustrative of the “untamed and plebeian ” spirit of Burns. We cannot help regretting that Mr. Syme should unguardedly have communicated such an anecdote to any of his friends, considering that this ebullition of momentary irritation was followed, as he himself states, by a friendship more ardent than ever betwixt him and Burns. He should have been aware that the story, when told again and again by others, would be twisted and tortured into the scandalous form which it at last assumed in the Quarterly Review. The antics of a good man in the delirium of a fever might with equal propriety be narrated in blank verse, as a proof that he was a bad man when in perfect health. A momentary gust of passion, excited by acknowledged provocation, and followed by nothing but drawing or brandishing a weapon accidentally in his hand, and an immediate and strong conviction that even this was a great error, cannot, without the most outrageous violence of construction, be tortured into an attempt to commit murder and suicide. All the artifice of language, too, is used to give a horrible impression of Burns. The sword-cane is spoken of without explanation as a thing “which he usually wore," as if he had habitually carried the concealed stiletto of an assassin. The reviewer should have been much more on his guard. We think we could pierce him on an unguarded and vulnerable side, but we scorn the combat with a man in a mask. What has become of his chivalry?

The other “distinctions" of this redoubted review provoke only derision. It is really quite amusing to see the critic mistake the merely jocular rhapsodies of Burns for "absolute rant,” and give an example of professed bombast as a proof that he was desirous of "shining, and blazing, and thundering.” The critic's sagacity, too, is

, quite marvellous in discovering the poet's “ opinion of his own temperament," from certain rhetorical flourishes, and

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