Obrázky na stránke

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 awe. 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.




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


ruption, and he would not introduce an emendation without giving the reader warning of the change. Currie, moreover, went further than would be expected from what he says. frequently altered sentences and added or omitted words without any necessity; and sometimes he rewrote a whole paragraph. The modern admirer of Burns will hardly thank him for omitting from one letter what seemed to him to be a repetition of what the poet has written to another correspondent. There is more to be said for the suppression of "parts of great delicacy." Currie was in a difficult position. His work was published in order to raise money for Burns's family, and it was printed only four years after the poet's death. Many of the persons referred to in the correspondence were still alive, of whom some were Burns's friends, and others were persons whom it was not desirable to offend. There was, moreover, a duty toward Burns's own memory, which, unfortunately, made it impossible to print some passages in the letters; but even in this respect Currie made many suppressions which were hardly necessary at the time, and which may now with perfect propriety be restored. Every student of Burns feels grateful for the disinterested services of his first editor; but for a complete knowledge of the man we need to have before us, as far as may be, all that he wrote. Mr. Scott-Douglas gave a more correct version of many of the letters printed by Currie; the purpose of this paper is to give the exact text, from manuscripts that have come to light since 1879, of a few others, and to show, incidentally, the latitude that Currie and others allowed themselves.

We will take first the letter to Mrs. Dunlop of the 16th August, 1788 ("Works of Robert Burns," edited by Mr Scott Douglas, v. 147). The year is not mentioned in the original MS., and has been supplied from internal evidence. After the couplet,—“Why droops my heart," &c., come the following words, omitted by Currie :-" or, in the more homely poetry of the 'Psalms of David in Metre,'

Why art thou cast down, my soul?
What should discourage thee?

a physical potion to expel a slight indisposition, with my increasing cares," &c. Lower down, the MS. has-"I could indulge these [reflections], nay, they press for indulgence, till my

[ocr errors]

humour would ferment into the most acid vinegar of chagrin," &c. The words in italics, here and throughout these extracts, were omitted by Currie, who inserted "reflections," and changed "would" to "should." After a few more words, we read in the MS., "I always find that the most sovereign balm under Heaven for my wounded spirit. I was yesterday at Mr. Miller's to dinner, [for] the first time since I had been his tenant. My reception was quite to my mind; from the lady of the house quite flattering. I believe in my conscience that she respects me more on account of my marrying a woman in circumstances somewhat similar to her own, when she commenced Mrs. Miller. See what it is to be rich! I was going to add, and to be great, but to be rich is to be great." "Scottish," in "Scottish songs and "Scottish ballad," should be "Scots." Then we find "Mine, Madam'-they are indeed my very best verses; sacré Dieu; she took not the smallest notice of them! . . . The lady is actually a woman of sense and taste; a proof, if the subject needed, that these said two qualities, so useful and ornamental to human nature, are by no means inseparably of the family of Gules, Purpure, Argent, Or, &c." Instead of "whose days are sold to the minions of fashion," Burns wrote, "whose days, whose thoughts, whose independence, whose peace, nay, whose very gratification and enjoyments are sacrificed and sold to those few bloated minions of fortune." For "his most voluptuous enjoyment was to sit down and cry," Currie substituted "his highest enjoyment," &c.; and he omitted the conclusion of the letter: "I am really afraid you will wish me to return to my post-sheet again. I have the honour to be, most sincerely and gratefully, madam, your humble servt., ROBT. BURNS."

[ocr errors]

In another letter to Mrs. Dunlop, dated 4th March, 1789, (Scott-Douglas, v. 214), the MS. reads :— "When I must skulk into a corner, lest the rattling equipage of some gaping blockhead, contemptible puppy, or detestable scoundrel, should mangle me in the mire, I am tempted to exclaim-'What merits have these wretches1 had, or what demerits have I had, in some state of pre-existence, that they are ushered into this state of being with the sceptre of rule, and the key of riches in their puny fists, and I am kicked into the world, the sport of their folly, 3"His puny fist" (Currie.)

1 "Has he" (Currie.) 2" He is " (Currie.)

« PredošláPokračovať »