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temporary Darwin. Our great poets of this era cannot be accused of hurrying into print at an immature age. Dr. Erasmus Darwin, born in 1721, after having risen to distinguished reputation as a physician, published the Second Part of his Botanic Garden, under the title of The Loves of the Plants, in 1789: and the First Part, entitled The Economy of Vegetation, two years after. He died in 1802. The Botanic Garden, hard, brilliant, sonorous, may be called a poem cast in metal—a sort of Pandemonium palace of rhyme, not unlike that raised long ago in another region,—
where pilasters round
The poem, however, did not rise exactly "like an exhalation."
faculty of writing as could be acquired by serving an apprentice ship to the trade of poetry. Vicious as it is in manner, it is even there of an imposing and original character; and a true poetic firo lives under all its affectations, and often blazes up through them. There is not much, indeed, of pure soul or high imagination in Darwin; he seldom rises above the visible and material; but he has at least a poet's eye for the perception of that, and a poet's fancy for its embellishment and exaltation. No writer has surpassed him in the luminous representation of visible objects in verse; his descriptions have the distinctness of drawings by the pencil, with the advantage of conveying, by their harmonious words, many things that no pencil can paint. His images, though they are for the most part tricks of language rather than transformations or new embodiments of impassioned thought, have often at least an Ovidian glitter and prettiness, or are striking from their mere ingenuity and novelty —as, for example, when ho addresses the stars as "flowers of the sky." or apostrophizes tho glowworm as " Star of the earth, and diamond of the night." These two instances, indeed, thus brought into juxtaposition, may serve to exemplify the principle upon which he constructs such decorations: it is, we see, an economical principle; for, in truth, the one of those figures is little moro than the other reversed, or inverted. Still both are happy and effective enough conceits—and one of them is applied and carried out so as to make it moro than a mere momentary light flashing from the verse. The passage is not without a tone of grandeur and meditative pathos:—
Roll on, yc stars! exult in youthful prime,
Mark with bright curves the printless steps of time;
Near and more near your beamy cars approach,
And lessening orbs on lessening orbs encroach ;—
Flowers of the Sky! ye too to age must yield,
Frail as your silken sisters of the field!
Star after star from heaven's high arch shall rush,
Suns sink on suns, and systems systems crush,
Headlong, extinct, to one dark centre fall,
And death and night and chaos mingle all!
—Till o'er the wreck, emerging from the storm.
Immortal Nature lifts her changeful form,
Mounts from her funeral pyre on wings of flame,
And soars and shines, another and the same.
There is also a fino moral inspiration, as well as the usual rhetorical brilliancy, in the following lines :—
Hail, adamantine Steel! magnetic Lord!
King of the prow, the ploughshare, and the sword 1
True to the pole, by thee the pilot guides
It was in October or November of the year 1786 that the press of the obscure country town of Kilmarnock gave to the world, in an octavo volume, the first edition of the Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, of Robert Burns. A second edition was printed at Edinburgh early in the following year. Burns, born on the 25th of January, 1759, had composed most of the pieces contained in this publication iD the two years preceding its appearance: his life—an April day of sunshine and storm—closed on the 21st of July, 1796; and in his last nine or ten years he may have about doubled the original quantity of his printed poetry. He was not quite thirty-seven and a half years old when he died—about a year and three months older than Byron. Burns is the greatest peasant-poet that has ever appeared; but his poetry is so remarkable in itself that the circumstances in which it was produced hardly add anything to our admiration. It is a poetry of very limited compass—not ascending towards any "highest heaven of invention," nor even having much variety of modulation, but yet in its few notes as true and melodious a voice of passion as was ever heard. It is all light and fire. Considering how little the dialect in which he wrote had been trained to the purposes of literature, what Burns has done with it is miraculous. Nothing in Horace, in the way of curious felicity of phrase, excels what we find in tho compositions of this Ayrshire ploughman. The words are almost always so apt and full of life, at once so natural and expressive, and so graceful and musical in their animated simplicity, that, were the matter ever so trivial, they would of themselves turn it into poetry. And the same native artistic feeling manifests itself in everything else. One characteristic that belongs to whatever Burns has written is that, of its kind or in its own way, it is a perfect production. It is perfect in the same sense in which every production of nature is perfect, the humblest weed as well as the prondest flower; and in which, indeed, every true thing whatever is perfect, viewed in reference to its species and purpose. His pootry is, throughout, real emotion melodiously uttered. As •
such, it is as genuine poetry as was ever written or sung. Not, however, although its chief and best inspiration is passion rather than imagination, that any poetry ever was farther from being a mere ^Eolian warble addressing itself principally to the nerves. Burns's head was as strong as his heart; his natural sagacity, logical faculty, and judgment were of the first order; no man, of poetical or prosaic temperament, ever had a more substantial intellectual character. And the character of his poetry is like that of the mind and the nature out of which it sprung—instinct with passion, but not less so with power of thought—full of light, as we have said, as well as of fire. More of matter and meaning, in short, in any sense in which the terms may be understood, will be found in no verses than there is in his. Hence the popularity of the poetry of Burns with all classes of his countrymen—a popularity more universal, probably, than any other writer ever gained, at least so immediately; for his name, we apprehend, had become a household word among all classes in every part of Scotland even in his own lifetime. Certainly at the present day, that would be a rare Lowland Scotchman, or Scotchwoman either, who should be found never to have heard of the name and fame of Robert Burns, or even to be altogether ignorant of his works. It has happened, however, from this cause, that he is not perhaps, in general, estimated by the best of his productions. Nobody, of course, capable of appreciating any of the characteristic qualities of Burns's poetry will ever think of quoting even the best of the few verses he has written in English, as evidence of his poetic genius. In these he is Samson shorn of his hair, and become as any other man. But even such poems as his Cotter's Saturday Night, and his tale of Tarn o' Shanter, convey no adequate conception of what is brightest and highest in his poetry. The former is a true and touching description in a quiet and subdued manner, suitable to the subject, but not adapted to bring out much of his illuminat ing fancy and fusing power of passion: the other is a rapid, animated, and most effective piece of narrative, with some vigorous comedy, and also some scene-painting in a broad, dashing style, but exhibiting hardly more of the peculiar humour of Burns than of his pathos. Of a far rarer merit, much richer in true poetic light and colour, and of a much more original and distinctive inspiration, are many of his poems which are much less frequently referred to, at least out of his own country. Take, for instance, that entitled To a Mouse, on turning her up in her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785 :—
Wee,1 sleekit,2 cow'rin,3 timorous beaslie,*
O what a panic's in thy breast ie!'
Wi' bickerin' brattle V
1 wad be laith * to rin 9 an' chase thee,
Wi' murderin' pattle.10
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Which makes thee startle
Air1 fellow mortal.
I doubt na, whiles," but thou may thieve;
'S a sma'15 request:
An' never miss't.
Thy wee bit housic,17 too, in ruin!
0' fog.gage 20 green!
Baith snell21 and keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
Thou thought to dwell;
Out through thy cell.
That wee bit heap o' loaves an' stibblc 23
But house or ha Id,26
An' cranreuch cald.28
1 Little. 2 Sleek. » Cowering.
* Diminutives of " boast." and " breast." s Not.
a Away. 7 With scudding fury. 8 Would (should) bo loth.
8 Bun. 10 With murderous ploughstnff. "Sometimes.
12 Must. a An occasional ear of com.
"A double shock. 15 Is a small. 16 Remainder.
17 Triplo diminutive of house—untranslatable into English.
13 Its weak walls th» winds are strewing.
B Nothing now to build a new one. 50 Moss. 21 Biting.
22 Snug. 22 Very small quantity of leaves and stubble. 24 Many. 25 Thou is ''art). 26 Without house or hold. 27 Endure.
a Hoar-frost cold.