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some of a philosophical nature, a few novels, the Spectator, Shakespere, Pope's Homer, and, above all, the Works of Allan Ramsay. These, with the Bible, a collection of English songs, and a collection of letters, were almost the only books he was acquainted with when he broke out in literature. No great library certainly, but he had a quick eye and ear, and all Ayrshire was an open page to him, filled with strange matter, which he only needed to read off into passionate love-song or blistering satire.

In his sixteenth year the family removed from Mount Oliphant to Lochlea. Here Robert and Gilbert were employed regularly on the farm, and received from their father 71. per annum of wages. Up till now, Burns had led a solitary self-contained life, with no companionship save his own thoughts and what books he could procure, with no acquaintances save his father, his brother, and Mr. Murdoch. This seclusion was now about to cease. In his seventeenth year, “to give his manners a finish” he went to a country dancing school,-an important step in life for any young fellow, a specially important step for a youth of his years, heart, brain, and passion. In the Tarbolton dancing school the outer world with its fascinations burst upon him. It was like attaining majority and freedom. It was like coming up to London from the provinces. Here he first felt the sweets of society, and could assure himself of the truthfulness of his innate sense of superiority. At the dancing school, he encountered other young rustics laudably ambitious of “ brushing up their manners," and, what was of more consequence, he encountered their partners also. This was his first season, and he was as gay as a young man of fortune who had entered on his first London one. His days were spent in hard work, but the evenings were his own, and these he seems to have spent almost entirely in sweethearting on his own account, or on that of others. His brother tells us that he was almost constantly in love. His inamoratas were the freckled beauties who milked cows and hoed potatoes; but his passionate imagination attired them with the most wonderful graces. He was Antony, and he found a Cleopatra--for whom the world were well lost-in every harvest field. For some years onward he did not read much ; indeed, his fruitful reading, with the exception of Fergusson's Poems, of which hereafter, was accomplished by the time he was seventeen; his leisure being occupied in making love to rustic maids, where his big black eyes could come into play. Perhaps on the whole, looking to poetic outcome, he could not have employed himself to better purpose.

He was now rapidly getting perilous cargo on board. The Tarbolton dancing school introduced him to unlimited sweethearting, and his nineteenth summer, which he spent in the study of mensuration, at the school at Kirkoswald, made him acquainted with the interior of taverns, and with “scenes of swaggering riot.” He also made the acquaintance of certain smugglers who frequented that bare and deeply-coved coast, and seems to have been attracted by their lawless ways and speeches. It is characteristic, that in the midst of his studies, he was upset by the


charms of a country girl who lived next door to the school. While taking the sun's altitude, he observed her walking in the adjoining garden, and Love put Trigonometry to fight. During his stay at Kirkoswald, he had read Shenstone and Thomson, and on his return home he maintained a literary correspondence with his schoolfellows, and pleased his vanity with the thought that he could turn a sentence with greater skill and neatness than any one of them.

For some time it had been Burns's habit to take a small portion of land from his father for the purpose of raising flax; and, as he had now some idea of settling in life, it struck him that if he could add to his farmer-craft the accomplishment of flaxdressing, it might not be unprofitable. He accordingly went to live with a relation of his mother's in Irvine— Peacock by name,

—who followed that business, and with him for some time he worked with diligence and success. But while welcoming the New Year morning after a bacchanalian fashion, the premises took fire, and his schemes were laid waste. Just at this time, too-to complete his discomfiture—he had been jilted by a sweetheart, “who had pledged her soul to meet him in the field of matrimony.” In almost all the foul weather which Burns encountered, a woman may be discovered flitting through it like a stormy petrel. His residence at Irvine was a loss, in a worldly point of view, but there he ripened rapidly, both spiritually and poetically. At Irvine, as at Kirkoswald, he made the acquaintance of persons engaged in contraband traffic, and he tells us that a chief friend of his “spoke of illicit love with the levity of a sailor--which, hitherto, I had regarded with horror. There his friendship did me a mischief.” About this time, too, John Rankine-to whom he afterwards addressed several of his epistles—introduced him to St. Mary's Lodge, in Tarbolton, and he became an enthusiastic Freemason. Of his mental states and intellectual progress, we are furnished with numerous hints. He was member of a debating club at Tarbolton, and the question for Hallowe'en still exists in his handwriting. It is as follows :- -“Suppose a young man, bred a farmer, but without any fortune, has it in his power to marry either of two women, the one a girl of large fortune, but neither handsome in person nor agreeable in conversation, but who can manage the household affairs of a farm well enough; the other of them a girl every way agreeable in person, conversation, and behaviour, but without any fortune; which of them shall he choose ?" Not a bad subject for a collection of clever rustics to sharpen their wits upon ! We may surmise that Burns found himself as much superior in debate to his companions at the Bachelors' Club as he had previously found himself superior to his Kirkoswald correspondents in letter-writting. The question for the Hallowe'en discussion is interesting mainly in so far as it indicates what kind of discussions were being at that time conducted in his own brain ; and also how habitually, then and afterwards, his thinking grew out of his personal condition and surroundings. A question of this kind interested him more than whether, for instance, Cromwell deserved well of his country. Neither now nor afterwards did he trouble himself much about far-removed things. He cared



for no other land than Caledonia. He did not sing of Helen's beauty, but of the beauty of the country girl he loved. His poems were as much the product of his own farm and its immediate neighbourhood, as were the clothes and shoes he wore, the oats and turnips he grew. Another aspect of him may be found in the letter addressed to his father three days before the Irvine flax-shop went on fire. It is infected with a magnificent hypochondriasis. It is written as by a Bolingbrokeby a man who had played for a mighty stake, and who, when defeated, could smile gloomily and turn fortune's slipperiness into parables. And all the while the dark philosophy and the rolling periods flowed from the pen of a country lad, whose lodgings are understood to have cost a shilling per week, and “whose meal was nearly out, but who was going to borrow till he got more.” One other circumstance attending his Irvine life deserves notice—his falling in with a copy of Fergusson's Poems. For some time previously he had not written much, but Fergusson stirred him with emulation ; and on his removal to Mossgiel, shortly afterwards, he in a single winter poured forth more immortal verse—measured by mere quantity—than almost any poet in the same space of time, either before his day or after.

Three months before the death of the elder Burnes, Robert and Gilbert rented the farm of Mossgiel in the parish of Mauchline. The farm consisted of 119 acres, and its rent was gol. After the father's death the whole family removed thither. Burns was now twenty-four years of age, and come to his full strength of limb, brain, and passion. As a young farmer on his own account, he mixed more freely than hitherto in the society of the country-side, and in a more independent fashion. He had the black eyes which Sir Walter saw afterwards in Edinburgh and remembered to have “glowed.” He had wit, which convulsed the Masonic Meetings, and a rough-and-ready sarcasm with which he flayed his foes. Besides all this, his companionship at Irvine had borne its fruits. He had become the father of an illegitimate child, had been rebuked for his transgression before the congregation, and had, in revenge, written witty and wicked verses on the reprimand and its occasion, to his correspondent Rankine. And when we note here that he came into fierce collision with at least one section of the clergy of his country, all the conditions have been indicated which went to make up Burns the man, and Burns the poet.

Ayrshire was at this period a sort of theological bear-garden. The more important clergymen of the district were divided into New Lights and Auld Lights ; they wrangled in Church Courts, they wrote and harangued against each other ; and, as the adherents of the one party or the other made up almost the entire population, and as in such disputes Scotchmen take an extraordinary interest, the county was set very prettily by the ears. The Auld Light divines were strict Calvinists, laying great stress on the doctrine of Justification by Faith, and inclined generally to exercise spiritual authority after a somewhat despotic fashion. The New Light divines were less dogmatic, less inclined to religious gloom and acerbity, and they possessed, on the whole, more literature and knowledge of the world. Burns became deeply interested in the theological warfare, and at once ranged himself on the liberal side. From his being a poet this was to have been expected, but various circumstances concurred in making his partisanship more than usually decided. The elder Burnes was, in his ways of thinking, a New Light, and his religious notions he impressed carefully on his children—his son consequently, in taking up the ground he did, was acting in accordance with received ideas and with early training. Besides, Burns's most important friends at this period, Mr. Gavin Hamilton, from whom he held his farm on a sub-lease, and Mr. Aitken, to whom the Cotter's Saturday Night was dedicated—were in the thick of the contest on the New Light side. Mr. Hamilton was engaged in personal dispute with the Rev. Mr. Auld—the clergyman who rebuked Burns-and Mr. Aitken had the management of the case of Dr. MacGill, who was cited before the local Church Courts on a charge of heterodoxy. Hamilton and Aitken held a certain position in the county-they were full of talent, they were hospitable, they were witty in themselves, and could appreciate wit in others. They were of higher social rank than Burns's associates had hitherto been, they had formed a warm friendship for him, and it was not unnatural that he should become their ally, and serve their cause with what weapons he had. Besides, wit has ever been a foe to the Puritan. Cavaliers fight with song and jest, as well as with sword and spear, and sometimes more effectively. Hudibras and Worcester are flung into opposite scales, and make the balance even. From training and temperament, Burns was an enemy of the Auld Light section ; conscious of his powers, and burning to distinguish himself, he searched for an opportunity as anxiously as ever did Irishman for a head at Donnybrook, and when he found it, he struck, without too curiously inquiring into the rights and wrongs of the matter. At Masonic Meetings, at the tables of his friends, at fairs, at gatherings round church-doors on Sundays, he argued, talked, joked, Aung out sarcasms—to be gathered up, repeated and re-repeated—and maddened in every way the wild-boar of orthodoxy by the javelins of epigram. The satirical opportunity at length came, and Burns was not slow to take advantage of it. Two Auld Light divines, the Rev. John Russel and the Rev. Alex. Moodie, quarrelled about their respective parochial boundaries, and the question came before the Presbytery for settlement. In the court—when Burns was present the reverend gentlemen indulged in coarse personal altercation, and the Twa Herds was the result. Copies of this satire were handed about, and for the first time Burns tasted how sweet a thing was applause. The circle of his acquaintances extended itself, and he could now call several clergymen of the moderate party his friends. The Twa Herds was followed by the tremendous satire of Holy Willie's Prayer, and by the Holy Fair.—the last equally witty, equally familiar in its allusions to sacred things, but distinguished by short poetic touches, by descriptions of character and manners, unknown in Scottish poetry since the days of Dunbar.


These pieces caused great stir ; friends admired and applauded ; foes hated and reviled. His brother Gilbert spoke words of caution which, had Burns heeded, it would have been better for his fame. But to check such thunder in mid-volley was, perhaps, more than could have been expected of poetic flesh and blood.

Burns interested himself deeply in the theological disputes of his district, but he did not employ himself entirely in writing squibs against that section of the clergy which he disliked. He had already composed Mailie's Elegy and the Epistle to Davie -the first working in an element of humour ennobled by moral reflection, a peculiar manner in which he lived to produce finer specimens; the second almost purely didactic, and which he hardly ever surpassed-and as he was now in the full flush of inspiration, every other day produced its poem. He did not go far a-field for his subjects; he found sufficient inspiration in his daily life and the most familiar objects. The schoolmaster of Tarbolton had established a shop for groceries, and having a liking for the study of medicine, he took upon himself the airs of a physician, and advertised that “advice would be given in common disorders, at the shop, gratis." On one occasion, at the Tarbolton Mason-lodge, when Burns was present, the schoolmaster made a somewhat ostentatious display of his medical acquirements. To a man so easily moved as Burns, this hint was sufficient. On his way home from the Lodge the terrible grotesquerie of Death and Dr. Hornbook floated through his mind, and on the following afternoon the verses were repeated to Gilbert. Not long after, in a Sunday afternoon walk, he recited to Gilbert the Cotter's Saturday Night, who described himself as electrified by the recital-as indeed he might well be. To Gilbert also the Auldress to the Deil was repeated while the two brothers were engaged with their carts in bringing home coals for family use. At this time, too, his poetic Epistles to Lapraik and others were composed-pieces which for verve and hurry and gush of versification seem to have been written at a sitting, yet for curious felicities of expression might have been under the file for years. It was Burns's habit, Mr. Chambers tells us, to keep his MSS. in the drawer of a little deal table in the garret at Mossgiel; and bis youngest sister was wont, when he went out to afternoon labour, to slip up quietly and hunt for the freshly-written verses. Indeed, during the winter of 1785-86 Burns wrote almost all the poems which were afterwards published in the Kilmarnock edition.

But at this time he had other matters on hand than the writing of verses. The farm at Mossgiel was turning out badly; the soil was sour and wet, and, from* mistakes in the matter of seed, the crops were failures.

His prospects were made still darker by his relation with Jean Armour. He had made the acquaintance of this young woman at a penny wedding in Mauchline, shortly after he went to reside at Mossgiel, and the acquaintanceship, on his part at least, soon ripened into passion. In the spring of 1786, when baited with farming difficulties, he learned that Jean was about to become a mother, and the intelligence came on

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