« PredošláPokračovať »
son into saying that the real heroine of that poem was the Poet's Highland Mary." He added :-"Dr. Currie is misinformed, but he must not be contradicted” (Chambers, iii. 246). This is the solitary instance in which he ever dropped a word about Mary, so far as I know. In 1820 he himself annotated an edition of Currie's “Life and Works of Burns." In this 1820 edition Gilbert reprints Currie's erroneous note to “Sweet Afton” without any correction or comment, and he does not throw a ray of light on any of the “Mary” poems.
He makes a remark (Douglas, i. 55) about “My Nannie O” which, in its general applicability, helps us in studying the episode of Mary. Burns enthusiastically describes his Nannie Fleming as "spotless,” concerning whom Gilbert says:-“What charms she had were sexual, which indeed was the characteristic of the greater part of his mistresses. He was no Platonic lover, whatever he might pretend or suppose of himself.” Beyond this general dictum, and the unwilling admission about “Sweet Afton,” Gilbert, brother and editor of Robert Burns, will have nothing to say about Mary. He was an upright, generous man, and his reticence on the subject of Highland Mary is perhaps the more suggestive on that very account. Mrs. Begg--Burns's sister, Isobel_used to steal up to the poet's room in 1785-86— and read on a slate the rough drafts of his poems. In all probability she knew much about Mary. Yet for many years
she her only recollection of Mary, a remembrance of hearing Burns say to his farm-help, “Mary will not meet me in the Castle
Gavin Hamilton's house] to-night.” But in 1851, when Chambers pressed her about the new theory regarding Mary's dying in 1786, she said “You are quite right : the facts have been all along known to the family.” It is manifest that Isobel, like Gilbert, wished to say as little as possible on the subject.
So much for what we can gather about Mary from Burns's side. From Mary's family, what do we learn ? Not a single fact that cannot be disputed. They did not put into the form
record or account, what they knew of Mary and Burns. The accounts they gave to enquirers were so loose, and so conflicting, that no dependence whatever can be placed upon them. The only facts we ascertain from them for certain, are that Burns's letters to Mary were destroyed (either by Mary's
father or by her brother), and that a brother pasted pieces of paper over the signatures of Burns in the volume of the Bible he gave to Mary.
Dr. Currie, the first biographer of Burns, went about his work with an assiduous intelligence that has won him the world's gratitude. His “Life” was brought forth for the benefit of Burns's family, and he was supposed to have all the information and every facility that the Burns family could give him. He would naturally desire to elucidate the history of Highland Mary, since he was publishing poems about her that many consider the high-water mark of Burns's song-gift. All he was empowered to say about Mary is contained in the following words, which are embodied in his note (“ Life,” second edition) to “The Lass of Ballochmyle" :—"The banks of the Ayr formed the scene of youthful passions of a still tenderer nature [than the flirtation with Miss Alexander] the history of which it would be improper to reveal, were it even in one's power, and the traces of which will soon be discoverable only in those strains of nature and sensibility to which they gave birth. The song entitled Highland Mary is known to relate to one of these attachments. 'It was written,' says our Bard, on one of the most interesting passages of my youthful days. The object of this passion died early in life.” Currie has no more to say of Mary than that. It is an “official” paragraph from the Burns family, possibly communicated by Gilbert, who reproduces it stolidly in his own edition of Currie.
Currie's second edition was published in 1801. Seven years later, Cromek came forward with his valuable “Reliques of Robert Burns." He had something new to tell us of Highland Mary. Part of his story was almost certainly extorted from Mrs. Burns (Jean Armour), and probably all of what he has to tell us came from that loyal and high-minded woman. Cromek says :
“ There are events in this transitory scene of existence, seasons of joy or of sorrow, of despair or of hope, which, as they powerfully affect us at the time, serve as epochs to the history of our lives. They may be termed the trials of the heart. We treasure them deeply in our memory, and as time glides silently away they help us to remember our days. Of this character was the parting of Burns with his Highland Mary, that interesting female, the first
object of the youthful Poet's love. This adieu was performed with all those simple and striking ceremonials, which rustic sentiment has devised to prolong tender emotions and to inspire
The lovers stood on each side of a small purling brook ; they laved their hands in its limpid stream, and, holding a Bible between them, pronounced their vows to be faithful to each other. They parted-never to meet again! The anniversary
! of Mary Campbell's death (for that was her name), awakening in the sensitive mind of Burns the most lively emotion, he retired from his family, then residing on the farm of Ellisland, and wandered, solitary, on the banks of the Nith, and about the farmyard, in the extremest agitation of mind, nearly the whole of the night. His agitation was so great that he threw himself on the side of a cornstack, and there conceived his sublime and tender elegy-his address 'To Mary in Heaven.'" Mary's full name here for the first time is given. Cromek, like biographers before and after him, writes of Mary as one of Burns's earliest loves—nay, his very earliest ! Biographer after biographer followed Currie and Cromek in assigning Mary Campbell a very early place in Burns's career, until the year 1850, when Mr. Scott-Douglas read a paper to the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, in which he pointed out the significant fact that the inscription written in Mary's Bible by Burns was dated from Mossgiel. He showed that Burns did not inhabit the farmhouse of Mossgiel till March of 1784, and that he was still in Mossgiel when he formed the only plan he ever broached of going to the West Indies. This plan was not formed till the spring of 1786. Robert Chambers supplemented this new view of things by proving that in the spring of 1786 Burns had no fewer than three love entanglements—namely, with Jean Armour, Mary Campbell, and Elizabeth Miller. In Greenock, furthermore, Chambers discovered traditions that Mary had died in the house of a cousin named M‘Pherson, and he succeeded in proving it probable that Mary was buried in a West Churchyard lair that M‘Pherson had purchased in October of 1786.
It is to be chronicled (Chambers, i. 247) that Gavin Hamilton's daughters, when questioned about Mary's being in their father's service at Mauchline, recollected that she was nurse to their brother, Alexander, who was born in July, 1785, and that she saw him through some of the early stages of infancy before leaving their house.
Such is a plain catalogue of all the undisputed facts about Mary Campbell revealed up till now. It is upon these facts that the expansive heart of the Burns-loving public has raised a romance, a cult, an idolatry, in which generous but infatuated inference has produced a miracle of faith. A few critics, who have gone fully into the history of Burns's Mossgiel period, are in possession of further information which it is not considered advisable to publish till the chain of evidence is reliable in every link. But with this question I end this paper of notes : Is it not time for the lovers of Burns to rescue noble Jean Armour from the obscurity into which she has been relegated by believers in an idealized "Highland Mary”? I believe that a biography of Jean, following the interesting lines of the short sketch by Mr. Burns Begg in last year's "Chronicle," would truthfully make her out to be one of the noblest women ever associated with a great Poet, and a much more human reality than the Highland “Vision of Delight” conjured up by Burns for succeeding generations of Mariolaters.
THE EDITING OF BURNS'S LETTERS.
HE first attempt to form a collection of Burns's letters
was made by Dr. Currie in 1800, and the following
passage from his preface shows clearly the principles which guided him in his task:—“Of the following letters, a considerable number were transmitted for publication by the individuals to whom they are addressed; but very few of them have been printed entire. It will easily be believed, that in a series of letters, written without the least view to publication, various passages were found unfit for the press, from different considerations. It will also be readily supposed that our poet, writing nearly at the same time, and under the same feelings to different individuals, would sometimes fall into the same train of sentiment and form of expression. To avoid, therefore, the tediousness of such repetitions, it has been found necessary to mutilate many of the individual letters, and sometimes to exscind parts of great delicacy. In printing this volume, the editor has found some corrections of grammar necessary; but these have been very few, and such as may be supposed to occur in the careless effusions, even of literary characters, who have not been in the habit of carrying their compositions to the press. Those corrections have never been extended to any habitual words of expression of the poet, even where his phraseology may seem to violate the delicacies of taste, or the idiom of our language, which he wrote in general with great accuracy.”
This frank statement illustrates the view generally held a century ago as to the duties and liberty of an editor. Bishop Hurd, who edited Addison's works, devoted most of his notes to the indication of how the great essayist might, in the view of a self-sufficient clergyman, have written with greater accuracy, and in so doing he of course deprived Addison's style of much that gives to it its peculiar charm. In a bolder manner Bentley, at an earlier date, freely altered the text of "Paradise Lost,” and gave notes to justify the “improvements” thus effected. To take such liberties nowadays would be impossible; the editor of a classical work would not now venture to alter a word, unless there were an obvious misprint, or what appeared to be a cor