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Then may he say, both night and day,
Thus have I shown you as I can,
but* either sturt or strife:
Dame Memorie doth take her leave,
she'll last no more, we see;
It appears from the first verse of this ballad, that it was written about the year 1653. It is not unreasonable to suppose, that it was the production of some pedantic country schoolmaster, who would naturally write in a stately, stilted style, different from the common people, his neighbours. Mrs. Burns says, that it was one of the many nursery songs of her mother; and that she first heard and learned it from her seventy years ago. Neither she nor her son Gilbert had ever seen a printed copy of it. It is no bad specimen of the quaint, moralizing manner that obtained soon after the Reformation. This
quaintness, however, is mixed up with a good deal of imagination. There is a vein of pensive melancholy too in it which could hardly fail to make a deep impression on the young mind of Burns; accordingly we find that this ballad has not only the same structure of versification with the Ode of Burns, and the repetition of the last line of the stanza; but it breathes a kindred pensive melancholy from beginning to end. Many of the imitations in the Ode are so close and so obvious, that it is impossible they could be accidental. For instance, the last line of the first stanza of the ballad, "Man is made to moan," evidently suggested "Man was made to mourn." The following imitations cannot fail to be acknowledged. The reader of himself will easily discover more.
"November air maketh fields bare
Ballad, st. xv.
"When chill November's surly blast
"Thou seest what things are gone before,
In what state ever that thou be,
Ballad, st. II.
"I've seen yon weary winter sun
"Therefore this lesson keep in mind,
"Thro' weary life this lesson learn,
Ballad, st. III.
In his other Poems are also to be found occasionally images and illustrations, obviously taken from this ballad. In the "Address to a Mouse," for instance, when he
"An' bleak December's winds ensuin
the following line must have been floating in his mind:
"December fell, baith sharp and snell."
It would be uncandid to suppose that the Editor has here been actuated by a wish to detract from the merit of Burns. He conceived that nothing which might serve to elucidate the progress of his gigantic mind could be useless or uninteresting. Burns wished not to shroud himself up in any mysterious obscurity. He felt no jealousy that the closest inspection would in the least diminish his reputation. We see him continually pointing to the productions with which his earliest years were most familiar ; thus affording us, in a great measure, the means of ascertaining how much of his excellence we owe to the efforts of those who had preceded him, and how much to the inspiration of his own vigorous mind. The path he trod was so unfrequented, and lay so much out of the common road, that without his assistance we should never have traced it. We saw with admiration a rich and unexpected harvest of original poetry; and we could not discover from whence he had collected the seeds that had shot up to such maturity. We find, however, that many of the thoughts which appear in him with such lustre were derived from others; and even that some of his most sublime and pathetic poems owe their origin to models of a similar description, however inferior. To the Farmer's Ingle we owe the Cottar's Saturday Night: to the rude and artless offspring of for
gotten bards we owe some of his most exquisite lyrical effusions. On a just and candid comparison, it must be evident that he has greatly excelled his models, and our admiration of his versatile talents will be considerably increased when we consider how happily he has reformed and polished the models themselves. By the force of his superior powers he has appropriated the works of his predecessors, in order to render them more perfect, by purifying their dross, illustrating their obscurities, suppressing their faults, and refining their beauties. The native genius of Michael Angelo was not degraded but exalted by his study of the Antique; and in Poetry as well as in the Sister Arts, true originality consists not so much in painting what has never been painted before, as in the production of those vivid pictures which eclipse all former attempts.
To this originality Burns has an undoubted claim. The proud pre-eminence he enjoys above all the Poets of his country will not soon be disputed with him. It is impossible to say what lies hid in the womb of futurity; but it may be almost pronounced with safety, that he will ever maintain his present superiority; and that each new successor will but add another wreath to his laurels.
London, Newman-street, May, 1810.
R. H. C.