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See, up he's got the word o' God
An' meek an' mim has viewd it,
Fast, fast, that day. The Ordination is another ecclesiastical satire remarkable for its wit and humour. The following lines are pregnant with meaning :
There, try his mettle on the creed,
And bind him down wi' caution,
He takes but for the fashion. Holy Willie's Prayer, which is excluded from Dr. Currie's edition, and the Address to the Unco Guid, or the Rigidly Righteous, are wholesome satires on hypocrisy; but the former is reprehensible for the extreme indecency which it occasionally exhibits. The Twa Dogs, The Dream, and the Dedication to Gavin Hamilton, Esq., may also be classed among his happier efforts.
The tale entitled Tam o' Shanter displays a rich vein of humorous description, and even high powers of invention. “I have seldom in my life,” says Lord Woodhouselee in a letter to Burns,“ tasted of higher enjoyments from any work of genius than I have received from this composition; and I am much mistaken if this poem alone, had you never written another syllable, would not have been sufficient to have transmitted your name down to posterity with high reputation. In the introductory part where you paint the character of your hero, and exhibit him in the ale-house ingle, with tippling cronies, you have delineated nature with a humour and naïveté that would do honour to Mathew Prior; but when you describe the unfortunate orgies of the witches' Sabbath and the hellish scenery in which they are exhibited, you display a power of imagination that Shakespeare himself could not have exceeded." One of the most striking passages which the works of Burns contain is to be found in this production:
The swats sae ream'd in Tammie's noddle,
She ventur'd forward on the light;
The songs of Burns which are chiefly of the pastoral and rural kind are frequently distinguished by strokes of genuine poetry. The versification, indeed, is not always sufficiently smooth; but the arch simplicity, the delicacy, pathos, and even sublimity, which are so often displayed, leave the author nearly without a rival in this department of literature. The songs which I here select as specimens are written in the military spirit: the first is entitled Robert Bruce's Address to his Army:
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Or to glorious victorie.
Now's the day, and now's the hour;
Edward! chains and slaverie!
Wha will be a traitor knave ?
Traitor! coward! turn and flee!
Wha for Scotland's King and law
Caledonian! on wi' me!
By oppression's woes and pains !
But they shall—they shall be free!
Lay the proud usurpers low!
Forward! let us do, or die!
The following song is supposed to be sung by the wounded and dying of a victorious army. It was composed
a during the late war with France:
Farewell, thou fair day, thou green earth, and ye skies,
Now gay with the broad setting sun!
Our race of existence is run!
Thou grim King of Terrors, thou life's gloomy foe,
Go, frighten the coward and slave!
No terrors hast thou for the brave!
Thou strik'st the dull peasant-he sinks in the dark,
Nor saves e'en the wreck of a name:
He falls in the blaze of his fame!
In the field of proud honour-our swords in our hands,
Our King and our Country to save
0! who would not die with the brave!
The last of these specimens is sufficient to evince that Burns could employ the English language with considerable efficacy; but the advice which he received from Dr. Moore can hardly be considered as altogether judicious. “It is evident,” says his correspondent, “ that you already possess a great variety of expression and command of the English language; you ought therefore to deal more sparingly for the future in the provincial dialect: why should you, by using that, limit the number of your admirers to those who understand the Scottish, when you can extend it to all persons of taste who can understand the English language?” The situation and studies of Burns had prepared him for excelling in Scottish poetry; but it is far from being evident that he was qualified to contend with the mighty masters of the English lyre. It was therefore with sufficient prudence that he chiefly confined himself to a department in which he was without a rival. His superiority to Ramsay and Fergusson is manifest; he possesses in an infinitely higher degree the power of captivating the heart, and of arresting the understanding.
By LORD JEFFREY.
From “THE EDINBURGH Review," January, 1809.
A REVIEW OF “RELIQUES OF ROBERT BURNS.”
Burns is certainly by far the greatest of our poetical prodigies—from Stephen Duck down to Thomas Dermody. They are forgotten already; or only remembered for derision. But the name of Burns, if we are not mistaken, has not yet “gathered all its fame," and will endure long after those circumstances are forgotten which contributed to its first notoriety. So much, indeed, are we impressed with a sense of his merits, that we cannot help thinking it a derogation from them to consider him as a prodigy at all, and are convinced that he will never be rightly estimated as a poet till that vulgar wonder be entirely repressed which was raised on his having been a ploughman. It is true, no doubt, that he was born in a humble station, and that much of his early life was devoted to severe labour, and to the society of his fellowlabourers. But he was not himself either uneducated or illiterate, and was placed in a situation more favourable, perhaps, to the development of great poetical talents, than any other which could have been assigned him. taught at a very early age to read and write, and soon after acquired a competent knowledge of French, together with the elements of Latin and geometry.
His taste for reading was encouraged by his parents and many of his associates; and, before he had ever composed a single stanza, he was not only familiar with many prose writers, but far more intimately acquainted with Pope, Shakespeare, and Thomson than nine-tenths of the youth that