« 上一頁繼續 »
ness, as if the touch of an angel's hand were to awaken
Even then a wish–I mind its power-
Shall strongly heave my breast,
Or sing a sang at least !
With what strong and steady enthusiasm is the anniversary of Burns's birthday celebrated, not only all over his own native land, but in every country to which her adventurous spirit has carried her sons? On such occasions nationality is a virtue. For what else is the memory of Burns but the memory of all that dignifies and adorns the region that gave him birth? Not till that bright and beautiful region is shorn of all its beams—its honesty, its independence, its moral worth, its genius, and its pietywill the name of Burns
Die on her ear, a faint, unheeded sound. To him the Genius of Scotland points in triumph as the glorious representative of her people. And were he not, in all the power of his genius, truly so, how could his poetry have, as we know it has, an immortal life in the hearts of young and old, whether sitting at gloaming by the ingle-side, or on the stone seat in the open air as the sun is going down, or walking among the summer mists on the mountain or the blinding winter snows?
In the life of the poor there is an unchanging and a preserving spirit. The great elementary feelings of human nature there disdain fluctuating fashions; pain and pleasure are alike permanent in their outward shows as in
their inward emotions; there the language of passion never grows obsolete; and at the same passage you hear the child sobbing at the knee of her grandame, whose old eyes are somewhat dimmer than usual, with a haze that seems almost to be of tears. Therefore the poetry of Burns will continue to charm as long as Nith flows, Criffel is green, and the bonny blue of the sky of Scotland meets
, with that in the eyes of her maidens, as they walk up and down her many hundred hills, silent or singing, to kirk or market.
Of one so dear to Scotland—as a poet and a man—we, of course, have many biographies. There is not one of them without much merit, and some are almost all that could be desired. Yet, perhaps, one was wanted that should, in moderate bulk, contain not only a lucid narrative of the life of Burns, so full of most interesting incidents, but criticisms worthy of his poetry, and, above all, a fair, candid, impartial, and manly statement of his admitted frailties, which is all that is needed for the vindication of his character. Within these last ten years that character has been placed permanently in its true light. It has been regarded not only with a truly philosophical, but with a truly religious, spirit in connection with the causes that acted upon it, from the earliest to the latest years of this wonderful being causes inherent in his condition. Thus all idly babbling tongues have been put to silence. The many calumnies of the mean-spirited and malignant, who were under a natural incapacity of understanding the character of such a man as Burns, and almost under a natural necessity of hating or disliking him, are all sinking, or have already sunk, into oblivion ; blame falls now where blame was due, and even there it falls in pity rather than in anger; it is felt now to be no part of Christian charity to emblazon the errors of our brother, for no better reason than because that brother was one of the most highly gifted among the children of men. It will not now be endured that any man, however pure his own practice, shall unmercifully denounce the few vices of a character redeemed by so many virtues; it is universally acknowledged now that "if old judgments keep their sacred course,” the life and the death of each one among us, who has been as a light and a glory among the nations, will be regarded by the wise and good in the blended light of admiration and forgiveness, and Burns in his grave may well abide the sentence of such a solemn tribunal. Nor “breathes there the man with soul so dead” as to lift up an oftenhandled and sore-soiled Burns's Poems from the side of the " Big Ha' Bible, ance his father's pride,” from the small "window-sole” of the peasant's hut, without having upon his lips the spirit breathing through the beautiful lines of Wordsworth-high-souled champion of the character of his great dead com peer, and who, with a spirit different, but divine, has bound men's spirits in love to the beauty that is in the green earth and the blue sky, and the cottage homes, whose spiral smoke seems to blend them together in the charm of a kindred being.
Blessings be with them, and eternal praise,
Of truth, and pure delight, by heavenly lays. The clouds that too long obscured the personal character of Burns—for his genius has always burned bright-have been, after all, blown away chiefly by the breath of the people of Scotland. Their gratitude would not suffer such obscuration, nor would their justice. But the feelings of the whole people have been nobly expressed by many of the first men of the land. All her best poets have triumphantly spoken in his vindication, and his new biographer has well said—“Burns has been appreciated duly, and he has had the fortune to be praised eloquently by almost every poet who has come after him. To accumulate all that has been said of him, even by men like himself, of the first order, would fill a volume and a noble monument, no question, that volume would be the noblest, except what he has left us in his own immortal verses, which, were some dross removed and the rest arranged in a chronological order, would, I believe, form to the intelligent a more perfect and vivid history of his 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