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fort to the friend I love ?” And in the spirit of the true largesouled prophet of social harmony, he sees that what is lacking is the vital principle of all pure religion. The transforming power of human sympathy and unselfish affection is that alone which could cure the evils he deplores. Hence he tells us that the religious truth which study of the material and moral worlds had most deeply impressed upon his mind is, that
" The heart benevolent and kind
The most resembles God."
It is this truth that inspires him with aversion for selfishness in all its forms, especially when it assumes the garb of religion, as well as with enthusiasm for that honour which was the divinest and surest restraint from evil. It is when he is dealing with such themes that his powers are seen at their best, as in his “Address to the Unco Guid,” and his “ Epistle to a Young Friend.” Himself the soul of honour, his words in its praise are doubly forceful as enjoining the underlying principle of true religious nobility.
“ The fear o'hell's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order;
be your border:
Debar a' side pretences ;
Uncaring consequences.” The injunction of the closing lines of that stanza are significant as showing that Burns's religion of love and humanity was in no sense or degree tinctured with that selfish other-worldliness which is so often the motive of much excellent religious profession and practice. The conviction never leaves him that the true comfort of religion is moral. This conviction is aptly illustrated by his frequent references to immortality. His conclusion on this question is, for wisdom and aptness, equal to any deliverance of religious thinkers of past or present times-"A man conscious of having acted an honest part among his fellowcreatures—even granting that he has been the sport, at times, of passions and instincts—he goes to a great Unknown Being who could have no other end in giving him existence but to make him happy, who gave him those passions and instincts, and well knows their force.” And again—“All my fears and cares are of this world : if there is another, an honest man has nothing to fear from it.” His faith in God's goodness, his unwavering trust in the divine desire for man's welfare, thus not only dictated to him the high-toned religious sentiments of which he is still our greatest exponent, but also imbued him with that courage that is distinctive of every lofty mind. Of this he was sure, that “sincere, though imperfect obedience” to the divine monitions of reason and conscience was the greatest gain, in the noblest sense, to man in this world, and, if there was another, in it spiritual life would be under the same beneficent law. Hence his conclusion of the whole matter is in complete harmony with the spirit of his religion, and the generous character of all his poetic teaching. It is expressed in words of simple Scriptural felicity. “Finally, brethren, farewell! Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are gentle, whatsoever things are charitable, think on these things, and think on."
HE parentage of genius is a subject which can never fail
to interest ordinary common-place humanity. It ex
cites within us an insatiable curiosity somewhat akin to that which impels us to investigate the origin of some brilliant luminary, or to trace to its source a mighty flowing river. Probably there is no instance in which this interest has become more pronounced, at least in Scotland, than in regard to the parentage of our National Poet, Robert Burns. Nor is this exceptional interest in his parentage at all difficult to account for. His characteristics, both as a man and as a poet, are in themselves so extremely phenomenal, considering the lowly and uncultured life in which his lot was cast, that we are compelled to look rather to the principle of heredity than to the mould of worldly circumstances for the raison d'etre of his striking and exceptional individuality.
There is apparently an assumption that mental gifts and graces are more generally transmitted through the mother than through the father, and in Burns's case it may be that he inherited from the gentle, practical, womanly nature of his mother, Agnes Brown, his impulsive generosity of heart and tender sympathy of feeling, his exquisite sense of humour, and his love for the romantic and poetic. There can scarcely be a doubt, however, that it was to his worthy old father, William Burness, that he was indebted for his sturdy integrity of soul, his sound practical common-sense, and his inherent conception of true propriety and fitness. Burns himself, in the autobiographical notes which he furnished to Dr Moore, recognises his father as the true source of that inherent principle of integrity which enabled him to weather storms, which, at the very outset, would otherwise have made shipwreck of his career. “My father," he says, " was of the North of Scotland, the son of a farmer, and was thrown by early misfortunes on the world at large, where, after many years' wanderings and sojournings, he picked up a fairly large quantity of observation and experience to which I am indebted for most of my little pretensions to wisdom. I
have met with few who understood men—their manners and their ways-equal to him; but stubborn ungainly integrity and headlong ungovernable irascibility are disqualifying circumstances, consequently I was born a very poor man's son.”
William Burness was undoubtedly a man of very exceptional worth, and of decided and marked superiority to the sphere of society in which he moved. His humble lot in life was one of unremitting ill-rewarded toil, and of constant mental anxiety and care; and when in his sixty-third year he felt himself after a lingering illness called upon to lay aside his earthly burden, it was amid the gloom and anguish of impending poverty. Of the many anxious thoughts and cares which darkened the close of his life, not the least depressing was the knowledge that he was leaving his widow and children not only unprovided for, but actually involved in a vexatious and expensive litigation with his landlord. Hard as his fate was, and sad as the closing days of his life must have been, William Burness never seems to have swerved or faltered. He went on the even tenor of his way in spite of obstacles and difficulties which would have crushed any man of less sturdy moral fibre, rigidly rendering unto Cæsar the things that were Cæsar's, and unto God the things that were God's; and he resigned his weary toilsome life as he had borne it throughout, in a spirit of unshrinking faith, and unmurmuring resignation and contentment. Upright and consistent in his character, rigidly strict in his principles, deeply devotional in his every thought, and acutely conscientious in the discharge of his every duty and responsibility, he presents to us a noble instance of genuine Scottish individuality of the truly good old stamp.
He was the third son of Robert Burness, tenant of the farm of Clochnahill, a farm of about sixty acres, situated in Kincardineshire, and belonging to the Keith-Marischals of Dunottar. By his wife, Isabella Keith, of the family of Keith of Craig, Robert Burness had four sons and six daughters. The family were in fair circumstances, but the disastrous winter of 1740 seems to have reduced them to considerable pecuniary straits, and the father was obliged to give up his farm and retire with his three unmarried daughters to a cottage in the Parish of Dunottar. In consequence of the family reverses, William (the Poet's father), along with his elder brother Robert, felt themselves compelled to leave their paternal home in search of a livelihood elsewhere, and they turned their faces southwards. The parting of the two brothers took place on a rising ground overlooking the home of their childhood—Robert setting out in one direction, and finding his way ultimately into England: while William, after varied wanderings and experiences, settled in Edinburgh, and found employment there for some years as an ordinary out-door labourer. He must have been in Edinburgh during the time of the young Chevalier's residence in Holyrood in 1745, and, considering the political leanings of the family, and that they had for generations been associated as tenants under the Earl Marischal who was attainted for his share in the Jacobite rising of 1715, it is not improbable that William Burness may have more or less identified himself with Prince Charlie's ill-fated attempt to regain the throne of his ancestors. Be that as it may, we lose all trace of William Burness for fully ten years, and when he at length settles in the quiet, law-abiding neighbourhood of Ayr, it is somewhat suggestive that he takes the precaution to provide himself with a parochial certificate testifying “that he had no concern in the late wicked rebellion.”
His occupation in Ayrshire seems to have been in the capacity of gardener, first to the Laird of Fairlie, and afterwards to Mr. Crawford of Doonside. Shortly thereafter he feued seven acres of land near to the town of Ayr, converting the land into a nursery, and erecting with his own hands the “auld clay biggin',” which has since become an object of such deep and powerful interest to every Scottish heart. Here, in the end of 1757, he brought his young bride, Agnes Brown, from her grandmother's house in Maybole; and here, on the ever-memorable 25th of January, 1759, was ushered into the world their illustrious first-born, Robert Burns.
William Burness continued to reside in his cottage on the banks of the Doon for fully seven years after the Poet's birth, and in the interval his family was increased by the birth of his second son, Gilbert, born in 1760; his eldest daughter, Agnes, born in 1762 ; and his second daughter, Annabella, born in 1764. At Whitsunday, 1766, he was induced to take on lease the farm of Mount Oliphant, extending to about 60 acres, and forming part of the estate of Doonholm, situated about a couple