ePub 版


something which enraptures me—than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood, or high plantation, in a cloudy winter day, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees and raving over the plain! It is my best season for devotion: my mind is wrapped up in a kind of enthusiasm to Him, who, in the pompous language of the Hebrew bard, walks on the wings of the wind."Vol. i., p. 11.

The following is one of the best and most striking of a whole series of eloquent hypochondriasm :

After six weeks' confinement, I am beginning to walk across the room. They have been six horrible weeks—anguish and low spirits made me unfit to read, write, or think.

I have a hundred times wished that one could resign life as an officer resigns a commission; for I would not take in any poor, ignorant wretch by selling out. Lately I was a sixpenny private; and, God knows, a miserable soldier enough: now I march to the campaign, a starving cadet—a little more conspicuously wretched.

I am ashamed of all this; for though I do want bravery for the warfare of life, I could wish, like some other soldiers, to have as much fortitude or cunning as to dissemble or conceal my cowardice.-Vol. ii., pp. 127, 128.

One of the most striking letters in the collection, and, to us, one of the most interesting, is the earliest of the whole series, being addressed to his father in 1781, six or seven years before his name had been heard of out of his own family.

The author was then a common flaxdresser, and his father a poor peasant; yet there is not one trait of vulgarity either in the thought or expression, but, on the contrary, a dignity and elevation of sentiment, which must have been considered as of good omen in a youth of much higher condition. The letter is as follows:

Honoured Sir, I have purposely delayed writing, in the hope that I should have the pleasure of seeing you on New Year's Day; but work comes so hard upon us, that I do not choose to be absent on that account, as well as for some other little reasons, which I shall tell you at meeting. My health is nearly the same as when you were here, only my sleep is a little sounder, and, on the whole, I am rather better than otherwise, though I mend by very slow degrees. The weakness of my nerves has so debilitated my mind, that I dare neither review past wants, nor look forward into futurity; for the least anxiety or perturbation in my breast produces most unhappy effects on my whole frame. Sometimes, indeed, when for an hour or two my spirits are a little lightened, I glimmer a little into futurity; but my principal, and indeed my only pleasurable employment, is looking backwards and forwards, in a moral and religious way. I am quite transported at the thought that ere long, perhaps very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all the pains, and uneasinesses, and disquietudes of this weary life ; for I assure you I am heartily tired of it; and, if I do not very much deceive myself, could contentedly and gladly resign it.

The soul, uneasy, and confin'd at home

Rests and expatiates in a life to come. It is for this reason I am more pleased with the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the 7th chapter of the Revelation, than with any ten times as many verses in the whole Bible, and would not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me for all that this world has to offer. As for this world, I despair of ever making a figure in it. I am not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the flutter of the gay. I shall never again be capable of entering into such scenes. Indeed, I am altogether unconcerned for the thoughts of this life. I foresee that poverty and obscurity probably await me; and I am in some measure prepared, and daily preparing, to meet them. I have but just time and paper to return to you my grateful thanks for the lessons of virtue and piety you have given me; which were too much neglected at the time of giving them, but which, I hope, have been remembered ere it is yet too late.—Vol. i., pp. 99-101.

Before proceeding to take any particular notice of his poetical compositions, we must take leave to apprise our Southern readers that all his best pieces are written in Scotch, and that it is impossible for them to form any adequate judgment of their merits, without a pretty long residence among those who still use that language. То be able to translate the words is but a small part of the knowledge that is necessary. The whole genius and idiom of the language must be familiar, and the characters, and habits, and associations of those who speak it. leave, too, in passing, to observe that the Scotch is not to be considered as a provincial dialect—the vehicle only of rustic vulgarity and rude local humour. It is the language of a whole country-long an independent kingdom, and still separate in laws, character, and manners. It is by no means peculiar to the vulgar, but is the common speech of the whole nation in early life, and, with many of its most exalted and accomplished individuals, through

We beg

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

out their whole existence; and, though it be true that in later times it has been, in some measure, laid aside by the more ambitious and aspiring of the present generation, it is still recollected, even by them, as the familiar language of their childhood, and of those who were the earliest objects of their love and veneration.

It is connected, in their imagination, not only with that olden time which is uniformly conceived as more pure, lofty, and simple than the present, but also with all the soft and bright colours of remembered childhood and domestic affection. All its phrases conjure up images of school-day innocence, and sports, and friendships which have no pattern in succeeding years. Add to all this that it is the language of a great body of poetry, with which almost all Scotchmen are familiar, and, in particular, of a great multitude of songs, written with more tenderness, nature, and feeling than any other lyric compositions that are extant-and we may perhaps be allowed to say that the Scotch is, in reality, a highly poetical language; and that it is an ignorant as well as an illiberal prejudice which would seek to confound it with the barbarous dialects of Yorkshire or Devon. In composing his Scottish poems, therefore, Burns did not merely make an instinctive and necessary use of the only dialect he could employ. The last letter which we have quoted proves that before he had penned a single couplet he could write in the dialect of England with far greater purity and propriety than nine-tenths of those who are called well educated in that country. He wrote in Scotch, because the writings which he most aspired to imitate were composed in that language; and it is evident, from the variations preserved by Dr. Currie, that he took much greater pains with the beauty and purity of his expressions in Scotch than in English, and every one who understands both must admit with infinitely better success.

But though we have ventured to say thus much in praise of the Scottish poetry of Burns, we cannot presume to lay many specimens of it before our readers; and in the few extracts we may be tempted to make from the volumes before us shall be guided more by a desire to

exhibit what may be intelligible to all our readers than by a feeling of what is in itself of the highest excellence.

We have said that Burns is almost equally distinguished for his tenderness and his humour: we might have added for a faculty of combining them both in the same subject, not altogether without parallel in the older poets and ballad-makers, but altogether singular, we think, among modern writers. The passages of pure humour are entirely

. Scottish-and untranslatable. They consist in the most picturesque representations of life and manners, enlivened and even exalted by traits of exquisite sagacity and unexpected reflection. His tenderness is of two sorts that which is combined with circumstances and characters of humble and sometimes ludicrous simplicity, and that which is produced by gloomy and distressful impressions acting on a mind of keen sensibility. The passages which belong to the former description are, we think, the most exquisite and original, and, in our estimation, indicate the greatest and most amiable turn of genius; both as being accompanied by fine and feeling pictures of humble life, and as requiring that delicacy, as well as justness of conception, by which alone the fastidiousness of an ordinary reader can be reconciled to such representations. The exquisite description of The Cotter's Saturday Night affords, perhaps, the finest example of this sort of pathetic. Its whole beauty cannot, indeed, be discerned but by those whom experience has enabled to judge of the admirable fidelity and completeness of the picture. But, independent altogether of national peculiarities, and even in spite of the obscurity of the language, we think it impossible to peruse the following stanzas without feeling the force of tenderness and truth:

November chill blaws loud wi' angry sough;

The short'ning winter-day is near a close;
The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh ;

The black’ning trains o' craws to their repose :
The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes,

This night his weekly moil is at an end,
Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,

Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward bend.

At length his lonely cot appears in view,

Beneath the shelter of an aged tree;
Th' expectant wee-things, toddling, stacher thro'

To meet their Dad, wi' flicherin' noise an' glee.
His wee bit ingle, blinkin' bonnily,

His clean hearth-stane, his thriftie wifie's smile,
The lisping infant prattling on his knee,

Does a' his weary carking cares beguile,
An' makes him quite forget his labour an' his toil.

Belyve the elder bairns come drapping in,

At service out, amang the farmers roun';
Some ca' the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin

A canna errand to a neebor town:
Their eldest hope, their Jenny, woman grown,

In youthfu' bloom, love sparkling in her e'e,
Comes hame, perhaps, to shew a braw new gown,

Or deposite her sair-won penny fee,
To help her parents dear, if they in hardship be.

But hark! a rap comes gently to the door;

Jenny, wha kens the meaning o' the same, Tells how a neebor lad came o'er the moor,

To do some errands, and convoy her hame.
The wily mother sees the conscious flame

Sparkle in Jenny's e'e, and flush her cheek;
With heart-struck anxious care, inquires his name,

While Jenny hafflins is afraid to speak;
Weel pleased, the mother hears its nae wild, worthless rake.

Wi' kindly welcome Jenny brings him ben:

A strappin' youth; he tak's the mother's eye; Blythe Jenny sees the visit's no ill ta'en ;

The father cracks of horses, pleughs, and kye, The youngsters artless heart o'erflows wi' joy.

But blate and laithfu', scarce can weel behave, The mother, wi' a woman's wiles, can spy

What makes the youth sae bashfu' an' sae grave; Weel pleas'd to think her bairn's respected like the lave.

The cheerfu' supper done, wi' serious face,

They, round the ingle, form a circle wide ; The sire turns o’er, wi' patriarchal grace,

The big ha'-Bible, ance his father's pride :
His bonnet rev'rently is laid aside,

His lyart haffets wearing thin an' bare;
Those strains that once did sweet in Zion glide,

He wales a portion with judicious care;
And " Let us worship God!” he says, with solemn air,

« 上一頁繼續 »