Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

THE
MONTHLY VISITOR.

MARCH, 1801.

Row. SKETCH
OF THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF

ROBERT BURNS.

Enriched with a capital Portrait in Colours. TROM the survey which we have lately taken

of an eloquent statesman and an eccentric nobleman, let us now turn to the contemplation of a poet, distinguished by his natural talents, and who has excited much of the public attention. His history is remarkable, and his end to be lamented. The story to be unfolded is, in many respects, of a melancholy cast, yet it holds out many lessons of improvement. But we must not raise the expecta. tions of the reader, lest those expectations should terminate in disappointment. Our province is to draw up the narrative with a sacred fidelity.

Robert Burns was born in the year 1759, near the town of Ayr, in the south part of Scotland. His father, William Burns, was originally a gardener, but afterwards rented a few acres of land for the support of his family. His farm did not succeed-though, on his part, were exercised the greatest industry and economy. After a series of nisfortunes the poor man died of a broken heart

in the year 1784-he was beloved by those who knew him, for a strict and undeviating integrity.

The point of light in which Robert Burns viewed the memory of his father, may be seen in the beautiful picture drawn in one of his poems of him and his family at their evening devotions it concludes with these soothing lines : Then kneeling down to heaven's eternal king,

The saint, the father, and the husband prays, Hope springs exulting on triumphant wing,

That thus they all shall meet in futurc days; There ever bask in uncreated rays,

No more to sigh or shed the bitter tear, Together hymning their creator's praise;

In such society, yet still more dear, While circling time moves round in an eternal sphere !

The education of our poet was very scanty—but the energy of his mind was discernible even in the earlier periods of his life. About the age of six or seven years he was cominitted to the care of a Mr. Murdoch, who paid his pupil every proper attention. His preceptor, lately, has given an account of this period, in a letter to a friend, out of which shall be taken the following paragraph.• Robert, and his younger brother Gilbert, had been grounded a little in English before they were put under my care. They both made a rapid progress in reading, and a tolerable progress in writing. In reading, dividing words into syllables by Tule, spelling without book, parsing sentences, &c. Robert and Gilbert were generally at the upper end of the class, even when ranged with boys by far their seniors. The book's most commonly used in the school were, the Spelling-Book, the New Testament, the Bible, Mason's Collection of Prose and Verse, and Fisher's English Grammar. They committed to memory the hymns and other poeins of that collection, with uncommon facility.”

Soon after, in the year 1772, Mr. Murdoch was appointed to teach the English school at Ayrhither Robert came to increase his knowledge, that he might have it in his power to teach his brothers and sisters at home. He applied, it seems, with intenseness to his learning, and was able to read a little of Telemachus in the French language. “ But,” says Mr. M. “ now the plains of Mount Oliphant (his father's farm), began to whiten, and Robert was summoned to relinquish the pleasing scenes that surrounded the grotto of Calypso, and, armed with a sickle, to seek glory by signalising himself in the fields of Ceres and so he did, for, although but about fifteen, I was told he performed the work of a man." · Thus Mr. M. lost his promising pupil, though he afterwards visited the house of the father, and was thus the means of conveying incidental in. struction. Of the old man, this respectable tutor speaks in terms of high respect-his words are too remarkable to be omitted." I must not pretend to give you a description of all the manly qualities, the rational and christiau virtues of the venerable William Burns. Time would fail me. I shall only add, that he carefully practised every known duty, and avoided every thing that was inimical, or, in the apostle's words-Herein did be exercise bimself, in living a life void of offence towards God and towards man. O for a world of men of such dispositions! We should then have no WARS. I have often wished, for the good of mankind, that it were as customary to honour and perpetuate the memory of those who excel in moral rectitude, as it is to extol what are called heroic actions then would the mausoleum of the friend of my youth overtop and surpass most of the monuments I see in Westminster Abbey." Mr. M. then alınost immediately adds," Mr. Burns, in a short time,

found that he had over-rated Mount Oliphant, and that he could not rear his numerous family upon it. After being there some years, he removed to Lochlea, in the parish of Tarbolton, where, I believe, Robert wrote most of his poems.”

So far, therefore, Mr. M. his early preceptor, leads us we must now look to another quarter for further information. Robert, henceforwards, for some time at least, laboured on the farm with un. common industry; but these employments engrossed not the whole of his attention. To use the elegant words of his biographer (Dr. Currie, of Liverpool), “ while the ploughshare, under his guidance, passed through the sward, or the grass fell under the sweep of his scythe, he was humming the songs of his country, musing on the deeds of ancient valour, or wrapt in the illusions of fancy, as her enchantments rose on his view. Happily, the Sunday is yet a sabbath, on which man and beast rest from their labours. On this day, therefore, Burns could indulge in a free intercourse with the charms of nature. It was his delight to wander alone on the banks of the Ayr, whose stream is now immortal, and to listen to the song of the blackbird at the close of the summer's day. But still greater was his pleasure, as he himself informs us, in walking on the sheltered side of a wood in a cloudy day, and hearing the storm rave among the trees, and more elevated still his delight, to ascend some eminence during the agitations of nature, to stride along its summit while the lightning flashed · around him, and amidst the howlings of the tempest to apostrophise the spirit of the storm. Such situations, he declares, most favourable to devotion-" rapt in enthusiasm, I seem to ascend towards him who walks on the wings of the wind!"

In the year 1781 we find the subject of our biography at Irvine-whence he writes an excellent letter to his father, in which the views of a future life are spoken of with an affecting sensibility, On this circumstance Dr. C. has this just para. graph :-“ This letter, written several years before the publication of his poems, when his name was as obscure as his condition was humble, displays the philosophic melancholy which so generally forms the poetical temperament, and that buoyant and ambitious spirit, which indicates a mind conscious of its strength. At Irvine, Burns, at this time, possessed a single room for a lodging, rented, perhaps, at the rate of a shilling a week. He passed his days in constant labour, as a flaxdresser; and his food consisted chiefly of oatmeal, sent to him from his father's family. The store of his humble, though wholesome nutriment, it appears was nearly exhausted, and he was about to borrow till he should obtain a supply, Yet even in this situation his active imagination had formed to itself pictures of eminence and distinction. His despair of making a figure in the world, shews how ardently he wished for honourable fame, and his contempt of life, founded on this despair, is the genuine expression of a youthful and generous mind. In such a state of reflection and of suffering, the imagination of Burns naturally passed the dark boundaries of our earthly horizon, and rested on those beautiful representations of a better world, where there is neither thirst, nor hunger, nor sorrow, and where happiness shall be in proportion to the capacity of happiness *.”

* In this letter Burns has these expressions :-" It is for this reason I am more pleased with the 35th, 16th, and 17th verses of the seventh chapter of the Revelations, than with any ten times as many verses in the whole Bible, and wonld not exchange the noble

« ПредишнаНапред »