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the morning, with a reluctance which probably proceeded less from being deprived of our company than from being confined to his own!” Really this is the very shabbiest business recorded in any of the biographical garrulities we have ever seen. We never could have dreamt that any man, accustomed to the courtesies of decent society, would have violated the rules of hospitality and friendship so egregiously as to invite a friend to his table, for it is the same thing whether that be in a private house or a tavern, and then publish to the world a narration of the quantities of food and drink of which he may choose to make use. If there be anything in the scene described obnoxious to real spirit, it is all on one side. Why brand as meanness the warmth and frank ingenuousness of Burns's kindness on meeting with an old acquaintance by insinuating that he drank freely, because he was not to pay a few paltry shillings, which he did not value? Why dare to say that he left the social board reluctantly, because he probably”
" less delighted with his companions than apprehensive of being confined to his own solitary reflections ? What grounds, what temptation can warrant a supposition so violent and so repugnant to all the probabilities of the case? And what motives can justify such pitiful gossiping? We gladly turn from this vile thingthis unmatched outrage on charity and friendship—and call to remembrance the writings of Burns, and the spirit by which they are characterised.
It is not our intention to say much on the subject of Burns's works, further than to affirm that they are eminently friendly to good morals. A proposition so decidedly in the face of numerous assertions to the contrary, requires a little explanation; and in giving it we shall not go over the beaten path by indulging in highflown panegyrics on his genius. The man that cannot discern the excellences of Burns's poetry is far beyond the reach of our poor abilities to point them out, and perhaps beyond the consciousness of anything except mere animal existence.
The writings of Burns may be considered in two points
of view—either as indicative of his real personal character, and therefore possessing an influence over society on the score of example, or as having a tendency in their intrinsic qualities to affect the morals of the community in which they circulate. If they are regarded in the first of these lights, we ought to consider strictly whether, even with all their blemishes as published since his death, they afford conclusive evidence with respect to his character. The writings of no man afford such evidence. It is quite a commonplace fact that authors, like other men, are very artificial animals
that they are not always what they seem in their writings; and that the force of any presumptions arising as to personal qualities from the mere complexion of their compositions, whether published or not, must be modified by the circumstances under which they exist. A man may divest himself of all sincerity, and write a book or paper in discordance with his real sentiments. Another may, in a moment of elevation, or thoughtlessness, or confidence, write a letter to an intimate friend, either in jest or under casual and passing emotions, not accordant with the ordinary tenor of his feelings and opinions; and therefore any inferences as to personal character deduced from writings of any description must be drawn with great limitations. Many of Burns's compositions were written in such circumstances as to render it impossible to learn anything very decisive from them concerning his moral feelings for opposite conclusions may easily be drawn from different parts of his works. To assume dogmatically any positions on the subject is absurd, and to assert that he was irreligious or vicious, or that he must afford a pernicious example, because he satirised some of the fanatical clergy and wrote private letters to his confidential friends, in which there are occasional deviations from the circumspection observed in the works that he published, is by no means a legitimate mode of induction. The indications of character disclosed
the public and private writings of Burns, to the effect of aperating as an example, are so equivocal, therefore, as to afford no satisfactory proof, without a collateral view of his life.
The obvious, the consolatory, and we think the irresistible conclusion to be deduced from the remarks and proof which we now take the liberty of submitting to the public, is that Burns has been cruelly wronged. It matters little whether this evil has arisen from credulity, misinformation, or malicious purpose. It is fit that the error should be corrected, not merely because it is fair that the dead as well as the living should have justice in every individual instance, but because the general interests of society and literature are outraged if calumny is permitted in such a case to circulate in triumphant dogmatism. By calumny we mean injurious accusation without proof. And if ever calumny of the most dastardly kind poisoned public opinion, it has been in the case of Burns. It is not enough to say that he frequently indulged in convivial propensities, and therefore was a habitual debauchee, and every way abominable as a man; it is absolute imbecility, savouring of the tabernacle, to say that because he satirised and painted hypocrisy truly he was a blasphemer, and a profligate as an author; and no man shall be permitted to assert, without evidence in support of his allegation, that Burns was a worthless wretch if there be one untrammelled press in Scotland. Some of the rigidly righteous tremble at the mere sound of praise to his genius, and seem to think that because he had the failings of humanity there should be no monument to his memory. It is not to his failings that a monument can be consecrated by any rational being, but to his transcendent genius as the Poet of Nature, for no one who can discover excellence and distinguish it from the dross of mortality in his own frame can overlook the high pre-eminence of Burns in all the faculties and feelings which raise man from the dust into the temple of fame. To the broad, the general and unqualified accusations which have been brought against him, we offer a valid defence that there is no proof; we also give exculpatory evidence of the most satisfying nature, and we retire from public notice with a perfect conviction that as Burns has been tried he will be acquitted by his country.
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 independ
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