« PredošláPokračovať »
We ventured, on a former occa- There is, no doubt, in some few sion, to say something of the effects individuals, “that strong divinity of of regular education, and of the gene, soul,”-that decided and irresistible ral diffusion of literature, in repress- vocation to glory, which, in spite of ing the vigour and originality of all all these obstructions, calls out, perkinds of mental exertion. That spe- haps, once or twice in a century, a culation was, perhaps, carried some- bold and original poet from the herd what too far; but if the paradox have of scholars and academical literati. proof any where, it is in its applica. But the natural tendency of their tion to poetry. Among well educated studies, and by far the most common people, the standard writers of this operation, is to repress originality, description are al once so venerated and discourage enterprise; and either and so familiar, that it is thought to change those whom nature meant equally impossible to rival them, and for poets, into mere readers of poe. to write verses without attempting it. try, or to bring them out in the form If there be one degree of fame which of witty parodists, or ingenious imi: excites emulation, there is another tators. Independent of the reasons which leads to despair ; nor can we
which have been already suggested, conceive any one less likely to add it will, perhaps, be found too, that neone to the short list of original poets, cessity is the mother of invention in than a young man of fine fancy and this as well as in the more vulgar delicate taste, who has acquired a arts; or, at least, that inventive gehigh relish for poetry, by perusing nius will frequently slumber in inacthe most celebrated writers, and con- tion, where preceding ingenuity has versing with the most intelligent in part supplied the wants of the judges.
The head of such a person ownie!. A solitary and uninstructed is filled, of course, with all the splen- man, with lively feelings and an indid passages of ancient and modern fiammable imagination, will be easily authors, and with the fine and fasti. led to exercise those gifts, and to oca dious remarks which have been made cupy and relieve his mind in poetical even on these passages. When he
When he composition; but if his education, his turns his eyes, therefore, on his own reading, and his society supply him conceptions, they can scarcely fail to with an abundant store of images and appear rude and contemptible. He emotions, he will probably think but is perpetually haunted and depressed
little of these internal resources, and by the ideal presence of those great feed his mind contentedly with what masters and their exacting criticks. has been provided by the industry of He is aware to what comparisons his others. productions will be subjected among To say nothing, therefore, of the his own friends and associates ; and distractions and the dissipation of recollects the derision with which so mind that belong to the commerce of many rash adventurers have been the world, nor of the cares of minute chased back to their obscurity. Thus, accuracy and high finishing which the merit of his great predecessors are imposed on the professed scholar, chills, instead of encouraging his there seem to be deeper reasons for ardour; and the illustrious names the separation of originality and acwhich have already reached to the complishment; and for the partiality summit of excellence, act like the tall which has led poetry to choose aland spreading trees of the forest, most all her favourites among the rewhich overshadow and strangle the cluse and uninstructed. A youth of saplings which have struck root in quick parts, in short, and creative the soil below and afford shelter fancy, with just so much reading as, to nothing but creepers and para- to guide his ambition, and rough-hew siles.
his notions of excellence-if bis lot
be thrown in humble retirement, The first is, the undisciplined where he has no reputation to lose, harshness and acrimony of his invecand where he can easily hope to excel tive. The great boast of polished all that he sees around him, is much life is the delicacy, and even the gemore likely, we think, to give him- nerosity of its hostility,-that quality self up to poetry, and to train him- which is still the characteristick, as it self to habits of invention, than if he is the denomination, of a gentleman, had been encumbered by the pretend--that principle which forbids us to ed helps of extended study and lite- attack the defenceless, to strike the rary society.
fallen, or to mangle the slaii),—and If these observations should fail to enjoins us, in forging the shafts of strike of themselves, they may, per- satire, to increase the polish exactly haps, derive additional weight from as we add to their keenness or their considering the very remarkable fact, weight. For this, as well as for other that almost all the great poets of things, we are indebted to chivalry; every country have appeared in an and of this Burns had none. His in. early stage of their history, and in a genious and amiable biographer has period comparatively rude and unlet- spoken repeatedly in praise of his tatered. Homer went forth like the lents for satire,--we think, with a morning star before the dawn of lite- most unhappy partiality. His epirature in Greece; and almost all the grams and lampoons appear to us, great and sublime poets of modern one and all, unworthy of him;-offenEurope are already between two and sive from their extreme coarseness three hundred years old. Since that and violence,--and contemptible from time, although books, and readers, and their want of wit or brilliancy. They opportunities of reading are multi- seem to have been written, not out of plied a thousand fold, we have im- playful malice or virtuous indignaproved chiefly in point and terseness tion; but out of fierce and ungovernof expression, in the art of raillery, able anger. His whole raillery conand in clearness and simplicity of sists in railing; and his satirical vein thought. Force, richness, and variety displays itself chiefly in calling names of invention are now at least as rare and in swearing. We say this mainly as ever. But the literature and refine- with a reference to his personalities. ment of the age does not exist at all In many of his more general reprefor a rustick and illiterate individual; sentations of life and manners, there and, consequently, the present time is, no doubt, much that may be called is to him what the rude times of old satirical, mixed up with admirable were to the vigorous writers which humour, and description of inimitaadorned them.
ble vivacity. But though, for these and for other There is a similar want of polish, reasons, we can see no propriety in or at least of respectfulness, in the regarding the poetry of Burns chiefly general tone of his gallantry. He has as the wonderful work of a peasant, written with more passion, perhaps, and thus admiring it much in the and more variety of natural feeling, same way as if it had been written on the subject of love, than any other with his toes; yet there are pecu- poet whatsoever,--but with a fervour liarities in his works which remind that is sometimes indelicate, and selus of the lowness of his origin, and dom accommodated to the timidity faults for which the defects of his and “sweet, austere composure” of education afford an obvious
if women of refinement. He has exnot a legitimate apology. In forming pressed admirably the feelings of an a correct estimate of these works, it enamoured peasant, who, however reis necessary to take into account those fined or eloquent he may be, always peculiarities.
approaches his mistress on a footing
of equality ; but has never caught ceeds from their own.
A man may that tone of chivalrous gallantry say of his friend, that he is a noblewhich uniformly abases itself in the hearted fellow,--too generous to be presence of the object of its devotion. just, and with too much spirit to be Accordingly, instead of suing for a always prudent and regular. But he smile, or melting in a tear, his muse cannot be allowed to say even this of deals in nothing but locked embraces himself; and still less to represent and midnight rencontres ; and, even himself as a hairbrained, sentimental in his complimentary effusions to la- soul, constantly carried away by fine dies of the highest rank, is for strain- fancies and visions of love and philaning them to the bosom of their impe- 'thropy, and born to confound and tuous votary. It is easy, accordingly, despise the cold blooded sons of pruto see from his correspondence, that dence and sobriety. This apology many of his female patronesses evidently destroys itself; for it shows shrunk from the vehement familiari. that conduct to be the result of delity of his admiration ; and there are berate system, which it affects at the even some traits in the volumes be- same time to justify as the fruit of fore us, from which we can gather, mere thoughtlessness and casual imthat he resented the shyness and es- pulse. Such protestations, therefore, trangement to which these feelings will always be treated, as they degave rise, with at least as little chi- serve, not only with contempt, but valry as he had shown in producing with incredulity; and their magnanithem.
mous authors set down as determined But the leading vice in Burns's profligates, who seek to disguise their character, and the cardinal deformity, selfishness under a name somewhat indeed, of all his productions, was his less revolting. That profligacy is contempt, or affectation of contempt, almost always selfishness, and that for prudence, decency, and regulari- the excuse of impetuous feeling can ty ; and his admiration of thought- hardly ever be justly pleaded for lessness, oddity, and vehement sensi- those who neglect the ordinary duties bility ;-his belief, in short, in the of life, must be apparent, we think, dispensing power of genius and social even to the least reflecting of those feeling, in all matters of morality and sons of fancy and song. It requires common sense. This is the very
no habit of deep thinking, nor any slang of the worst German plays, and thing more, indeed, than the inforthe lowest of our lown made novels; mation of an honest heart, to perceive nor can any thing be more lamenta- that it is cruel and base to spend, in ble, than that it should have found a vain superfluities, that money which patron in such a man as Burns, and belongs of right to the pale, induscommunicated to a great part of his trious tradesman and his famishing productions a character of immorali- infants ; or that it is a vile prostituty, at once contemptible and hateful. tion of language, to talk of that man's It is but too true, that men of the generosity or goodness of heart, who highest genius have frequently been sits raving about friendship and phihurried by their passions into a viola- lanthropy in a tavern, while his wife's tion of prudence and duty; and there heart is breaking at her cheerless fireis something generous, at least, in side, and his children pining in soli
, the apology which their admirers tary poverty. may make for them, on the score of This pitiful cant of careless feeling their keener feelings and habitual and eccentrick genius, accordingly, want of reflection. But this apology, has never found much favour in the which is quite unsatisfactory in the eyes of English sense and morality, mouth of another, becomes an insult The most signal effect which it ever and an absurdity whenever it pro- produced, was on the muddy brains
of some German youth, who left cole when he was insulted or provoked ; lege in a body to rob on the highway, and would never have made it a sponbecause Schiller had represented the taneous theme to those friends in captain of a gang as so very noble a whose estimation he felt that his ho. creature. But in this country, we nour stood clear. It is mixed up too, believe, à predilection for that ho- in Burns, with too fierce a tone of denourable profession must have pre- fiance; and indicates rather the pride ceded this admiration of the charac- of a sturdy peasant, than the calm ter.
The style we have been speak- and natural elevation of a generous ing of, accordingly, is now the hero- mind. icks only of the hulks and the house The last of the symptoms of rusof correction ; and has no chance, ticity which we think it necessary to 'We suppose, of being greatly admired, notice in the works of this extraordiexcept in the farewell speech of a nary man, is that frequent mistake of young gentle.nan preparing for Bo- mere exaggeration and violence for tany Bay.
force and sublimity, which has defaIt is humiliating to think how ced so much of his prose composi. deeply Burns has fallen into this de- tion, and given an air of heaviness basing errour. He is perpetually and labour to a good deal of his semaking a parade of his thoughtless. rious poetry. The truth is, that his a ,
, ness, inflammability, and imprudence, forte was in humour and in pathosand talking, with much complacency or rather in tenderness of feeling ; and exultation, of the offence he has and that he has very seldom succeedoccasioned to the sober and corrected, either where mere wit and part of mankind. This odious slang sprightliness, or where great energy infects almost all his prose, and a and weight of sentiment were requi. very great proportion of his poetry; site. He had evidently a very false and is, we are persuaded, the chief, and crude notion of what constitutes if not the only source of the disgust strength of writing; and instead of with which, in spite of his genius, we that simple and brief directness know that he is regarded by many which stamps the character of vigour very competent and liberal judges. upon every syllable, has generally His apology, too, we are willing to had recourse to a mere accumulation believe, is to be found in the original of hyperbolical expressions, which lowness of bis situation, and the encumber the diction instead of exaltslightness of his acquaintance with ing it, and show the determination to the world. With his talents and be impressive, without the power of powers of observation, he could not executing it. This errour also we have seen much of the beings who are inclined to ascribe entirely to the echoed this raving, without feeling defects of his education. The value for them that distrust and contempt of simplicity in the expression of paswhich would have made him blush sion is a lesson, we believe, of nature to think he had ever stretched over and of genius ;-but its importance them the protecting shield of his in mere grave and impressive wrigenius.
ting is one of the latest discoveries Akin to this most lamentable trait of of rhetorical experience. vulgarity, and, indeed, in some mea
With the allowances and excepsure arising out of it, is that perpetual tions we have now stated, we think boast of his own independence, which Burns entitled to the rank of a great is obtruded upon the readers of Burns and original genius. He has, in all in almost every page of his writings. his compositions, great force of conThe sentiment itself is noble, and it ception; and great spirit and animais often finely expressed ;-but a gen- tion in its expression. He has taken teman would only have expressed it a large range through the region of
fancy, and naturalized himself in al- apparent labour. His poetry was almost all her climates. He has great most all written primarily from feel. humour; great powers of descrip- ing, and only secondarily from ambition ; great pathos; and great dis- tion. His letters seem to have been crimination of character. Almost nearly all composed as exercises, and every thing that he says has spirit for display. There are few of them and originality; and every thing that written with simplicity or plainness ; he says well, is characterized by a and though natural enough as to the charming facility, which gives a sentiment, they are generally very grace even to occasional rudeness, strained and elaborate in the expresand communicates to the reader a sion. A very great proportion of delightful sympathy with the spon- them, too, relate neither to facts nor taneous soaring and conscious inspi- feelings peculiarly connected with ration of the poet.
the author or his correspondent; but Considering the reception which are made up of general declamation, these works have met with from the moral reflections, and vague discuspublick, and the long period during sions--all evidently composed for which the greater part of them have the sake of effect, and frequently in. been in their possession, it may ap- troduced with long complaints of pear superfluous to say any thing as having nothing to say, and of the to their characteristick or peculiar necessity and difficulty of letter-wrimerit. Though the ultimate judge ting. ment of the publick, however, be al- By far the best of these composiways sound, or at least decisive, as to tions are such as we should consider its general result, it is not always as exceptions from this general chavery apparent upon what grounds it racter, such as contain some speci. has proceeded ; nor in consequence fick information as to himself, or are of what, or in spite of what, it has suggested by events or observations been obtained. In Burns's works directly applicable to his corresponthere is much to censure, as well as dent. One of the best, perhaps, is much to praise; and as time has not that addressed to Dr. Moore, containyet separated his ore from its dross, ing an account of his early life, of it may be worth while to state, in a which Dr. Currie has made such a very general way, what we presume judicious use in his biography. It to anticipate as the result of this se- is written with great clearness and paration. Without pretending to en- characteristick effect, and contains ter at all into the comparative merit many touches of easy humour and of particular passages, we may ven- natural eloquence. We are struck, ture to lay it down as our opinion, as we open the book accidentally, that his poetry is far superiour to his with the following original applicaprose; that his Scottish compositions tion of a classical image, by this unare greatly to be preferred to his lettered rustick. Talking of the first English ones; and that his songs vague aspirations of his own giganwill probably outlive all his other tick mind, he says we think ver; productions. A very few remarks on finely : “I had felt some early stireach of these subjects will compre- rings of ambition ; but they were the hend almost all that we have to say blind gropings of Homer's Cyclop of the volumes now before us. round the walls of his cave.” Of his
The prose works of Burns con- other letters, those addressed to Mrs. sist, almost entirely, of his letters. Dunlop are, in our opinion, by far the They bear, as well as his poetry, the best. He appears, from first to last, seal and the impress of his genius; to have stood somewhat in awe of this but they contain much more bad excellent lady, and to have been no taste, and are written with far more less sensible of her sound judgment