« PredošláPokračovať »
A PILGRIMAGE TO THE LAND OF BURNS, AND
POEMS, BY HEW AINSLIE :
(PAISLEY: ALEXANDER GARDNER.) the student of our native poetry few works have recently been issued from the Scottish press which
surpass in interest the handsome volume bearing the foregoing title which now comes under our notice. Apart from its intrinsic value as the product of an original and gifted mind, its contents challenged our attention because of their close chronological relation to the unrivalled works of the master-poet of Ayrshire, Robert Burns, and also because their inspiration has been derived, though with less copious and commanding results, from scenes and circumstances in many ways akin to those rendered sacred by the elder Bard. Hitherto Hew Ainslie has been known to his fellow-countrymen as the author of some tender and touching verses, which were only quoted by those who had made themselves acquainted with the less frequented paths hallowed by the Scottish muse, but until the publication of this volume the strong and clearly defined individuality of the man has never been revealed to us, nor has the evidence of his just claim to rank among the foremost Scottish singers been so fully made known.
As regards the personality and prolonged career of our poet, the work of portrayal has been ably and comprehensively performed in the Memoir at the commencement of the book, where Ainslie's chequered life is succinctly recorded by a sympathetic but judicious friend and fellow-poet, Mr. Thomas C. Latto of New York, and the subsequent pages thereby invested with the enhanced interest attached to the genial and manly character of their author. Here we are informed of the fact that Ainslie was born at Bargany in the valley of the Girvan, in April, 1792. At this date Burns had as yet been scarcely a twelvemonth in Dumfries and was reluctantly making official acquaintance with that smuggling fraternity which were in the future to figure so conspicuously in the Girvan poet's best efforts. The latter, whom we are disposed to regard as nearest to the Ayrshire bard in the reality and scope of his poetic gifts, was thus a boy of four years when the Dumfries Volunteers fired their farewell volley over the newly-closed grave of his ill-fated and illustrious predecessor. Like Burns, Ainslie was born of staid, industrious parents, owing to his mother his early initiation into and acquaintance with the songs of his country-side and of his native land, while his growing powers were fostered and strengthened by circumstances which led him into early contact with surrounding Nature, a contact to which his warm poetic heart did not fail to make response. His education proceeded first under a village dominie, from whose care he was transferred to the parish school at Ballantrae, and thence to the Ayr Academy, a course of instruction which does not appear to have been niggardly. He eagerly read Ramsay, Fergusson, and Burns, whose varied numbers allured him into the paths of rhyme. Being overgrown and delicate in health, his youth was not clouded with the incessant toil which came to Burns as a heritage, and which so early sowed the fatal seeds of disease in his undeveloped frame. The Ainslie family removed to Roslin, near Edinburgh, when Hew was seventeen, and he afterwards tried to study law with a relative in Glasgow. This did not suit him, however, and he became a clerk in the Register House in the Scottish Capital, and subsequently was appointed amanuensis to Professor Dugald Stewart. At that time his contemporaries were Sir Walter Scott, busy gathering material for his "Scottish Minstrelsy,” Christopher North, Hogg, Aytoun, and many more northern lights. Blackwood the full blaze of its hey-day and the Chaldee manuscript was puzzling and enraging the town. Ainslie, however, did not enter much into the literary society of Edinburgh. Having married early, he found himself with an income too slender to support, without undue hardship, his wife and family, and he resolved on going to America to better his fortunes. But before forming so important a resolution, he had made his first literary venture, by publishing in 1822, “A Pilgrimage to the Land of Burns." In committing himself to authorship he might be secretly influenced by the example of the Bard he so much admired, trusting perhaps by such an effort to "court Dame Fortune's golden smile." Unhappily his book, though it contained some of the best examples of his work, failed to provide for him an escape from the exile now forcing itself upon him, and he must needs take a step which, while it ultimately led to material prosperity, exerted likewise a powerful influence in casting the products of his muse in the mould of a wistful remembrance and pathetic love of country. At one point in his Memoir, Mr. Latto recounts an incident, which, to lovers of everything relating to Burns, is perhaps the most interesting event in the life of Ainslie. Before bidding farewell to Scotland,
. just as he was on a last visit to his native district, a desire seized him to turn aside to Dumfries and see Jean Armour who had now been living there in widowhood for twenty-six years. After having spent some hours with the worthy lady, who treated the ardent young worshipper of her late husband with dignified motherly regard, the time came for parting. Ainslie, with a chivalric and impulsive frankness, which well illustrates his character, said, as he grasped her hand in farewell, “I wad like weel ere I gae, if ye wad permit me, to kiss the cheek o' Burns's faithfu' Jean, to be a reminder to me o' this meetin' when I am far awa'.” With matronly indulgence she held up her face to him and said “Aye lad, an' welcome.” Such consent was as gracious on her part as the request was bold and gallant on his, and had he been a mere rhymer, hungry for notoriety, vanity would have bade him fill pages with such an exploit done into verse. But we know of no evidence that he ever made it known beyond the circle of his own intimate friends, or sought to commemorate it even in the briefest way; so that it is only now, long after his death, that the interview he held sacred has been made public in this country.
In a short time after his visit to Dumfries, Ainslie sought in the New World those better fortunes which had evaded him at home. After much vicissitude and many struggles he at length succeeded in establishing himself in comparative comfort, and in 1855 he found leisure to publish a volume which made him known in his adopted home as a Scottish poet of rare ability. The book became so scarce, however, as to be practically beyond the reach of readers of the present generation on this side the Atlantic.
While yet a hale and hearty old man of threescore and ten, the poet made a prolonged stay in Scotland and greatly enjoyed a renewal of the acquaintance of his youth. After three years so spent he once more returned to America, there to pass the remaining years of his life, with his family grown up around him and become even more prosperous than himself, and at length ended his days in peace at the ripe age of 86.
All these salient facts of the poet's career, and many others naturally clustering around them, are set forth with a loving hand by Mr Latto, who enjoyed his friendship to the last.
The “Pilgrimage to the Land of Burns," which occupies the middle section of this volume, was, as already indicated, the first published production of its author. It purports to describe in a lively style the progress of three hilarious young fellows, who set out from Edinburgh in a one-horse chaise to journey through the localities, and halt at the spots, then become so memorable through their connection with Robert Burns. After various preliminary adventures in Lanarkshire, the pilgrims, named respectively Edie Ochiltree, Jinglin' Jock, and the Lang Linker, find their way into the shire of Ayr, through which their course follows the meandering of three well-known streams—the Irvine, the Ayr, and the Girvan. Soon they reach Burns Cottage, where they encounter Miller Goudie, who, in his muddled way did the honours of the house, and amply fulfilled what expectation they had formed as regards his bibulous and blethering propensities. Ainslie dubs him “an old drunken multure," and herein he agrees with the poet Keats, who had visited the same spot two years previously, and wrote afterwards of Goudie in the most contemptuous terms as "a mahogany-faced old jackass," who boasted of his familiarity with Burns, but who ought to have been kicked for having ever spoken to the bard. At Alloway Kirk the three enthusiasts are represented as holding high carnival on one of the gravestones, expressing themselves copiously in speech and song, as became worshippers who had arrived at “the very core of their pilgrimage.” Thence they travelled southward from point to point towards “Girvan's fairy haunted stream,” each incident or association on the way suggesting a subject for the exercise of the talents of the company, the road being beguiled by the liberation, from time to time, of the superabundance of animal spirits with which the young men were endowed.
Going and returning, they encountered various characters, whose different humours and foibles are recorded or rhymed as the impulse might dictate; and they ended their wanderings at Mauchline, where they thoroughly pried into every known nook and cranny where Burns had set his foot, lingering there with all the reverent curiosity of genuine devotees. In his Memoir of our author, Mr. Latto tells us that when the "Pilgrimage” was published it was noticed by the poet Campbell in the “New Monthly Magazine," of which he was editor, and there characterised as “a lively and entertaining volume with a mixture of the jocular, the serious, and the sentimental, which gives it considerable piquancy and renders it an agreeable companion for an idle hour.” The reviewer also quotes in full two poems contained in the work, “On wi' the Tartan,” and “The Ingleside," as “simple and beautiful” examples of its poetry. As regards its prose, the "Pilgrimage” may be chargeable with some of the faults and extravagances of a youthful production, but if there be such they virtuously lean to the side of generosity, and enthusiasm.
The idea of such an excursion as is here recorded was somewhat unique when we remember that it was conceived at a time when, although Boswell and Hamilton Paul had by themselves projected and so far realised a commemorative shrine, there was as yet no completed Monument of the Ayrshire Bard extant, and that it was not until twenty-four years later that the nation was fully awakened to the imperishable genius of Robert Burns. Doubtless Ainslie's main object in the publication of the “Pilgrimage” was to use it as a setting to the poems he had already written, and as an acceptable vehicle by which, as the most important and valuable part of the work, they might reach the public eye.
At all events the author's claim to be the first to give the title “ Land of Burns” to the districts now SO familiar to us under that designation, is acknowledged on all hands, and whatever the merits of its prose, the "Pilgrimage" contains many of the poetic gems which have established Ainslie's reputation, and which in his later years he never surpassed. To make this evident we have but to name the charming “Bourocks o' Bargeny,” the pathetic "It's dowie at the hint o' hairst,” the quaint “ Ballad to the Bat,” the bold “Rover o Lochryan” and the pawkie and powerful “Tam o' the Balloch.” These lyrics have a flavour and potency all their own, for although written by an intense admirer of Robert Burns --who, in the matter of form, is so readily seized for imitation by