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THE PRESENT EDITION.
In the Dedication of the Life of Burns by Dr. Currie to his friend Cap. tain Graham Moore, the learned Doctor thus expresses himself as to his Editorial office :—“ The task was beset with considerable difficulties, and “ men of established reputation naturally declined an undertaking, to the " performance of which it was scarcely to be hoped that general approba« tion could be obtained by any exertion of judgment or temper. To such " an office my place of residence, my accustomed studies, and my occu" pations, were certainly little sui' je... Put the partiality of Mr. Syme “ thought me, in other respects, nci unqualified; and his 'solicitations, “ joined to those of our excellent friend and reletion, Mrs. Dunlop, and of “ other friends of the family of the poet, I'rase ant been able to resist."
These sentences contain singular avowals. They are somehow apt to suggest, what we have all heard before, that some we born to honour, while others have honours thrust upon them. The Doctor's squeamishness in favour of persons of estublished reputation, who might be chary of a ticklish and impracticable, it not an odious task, is in ludicrous contrast with the facts as they have since fallen out. Have we not seen the master-spirits of the age, Scott, Byron, Campbell, honouring in Burns a kindred, if not a superior genius, and, like passionate devotees, doing him homage? They have all roluntarily written of him; and their recorded opinions evince no feelings of shyness, but the reverse : they not only honour, but write as if honoured by their theme. But let us leave the subject, by merely pointing attention to the Doctor's mode of treating it, as a decisive test of the evil days and evil tongues amidst which the poet had fallen, and of the existence of that deplorable party-spirit, during which the facts involving his character as a man, and his reputation as a poet, could neither be core rectly stated, nor fairly estimated.
It is true, Dr. Currie's Life contained invaluable materials. The poet's auto-biographical letter to Dr. Moore,---indeed the whole of his letters, the letters of his brother Gilbert,-of Professor Dugald Stewart,—of Mr. Murdoch and of Mr. Syme, and the other contributors, are invaluable materials. They form truly the very backbone of the poet's life, as edited by
(i) Dr. Currie. They must ever be regarded as precious relics ; and however largely they may be used as a part of a biographical work, they ought also to be presented in the separate form, entire ; for, taken in connection with the general correspondence, they will be found to be curiously illustrative of the then state of society in Scotland, and moreover to contain manifold and undoubted proofs of the diffusion and actual existence, amongst Scotsmen of all degrees, of that literary talent, which had only been inferred, hypothetically, from the nature of her elementary institutions.
We have no wish to detract from the high reputation of Dr. Currie. It will however be remarked, that the biographical part of his labours, as stated by himself
, involve little beyond the office of redacteur.—He was not upon the spot, but living in England, and he was engaged with professional avocations. If truth lies at the bottom of the well, he had neither the time nor the means to fish it up. Accordingly, it is not pretended that he proceeded upon his own views, formed, on any single occasion, after a painful or pains-taking scrutiny; or that, in giving a picture of the man and the poet, he did more than present to the public what had come to him entirely at second-hand, and upon the authority of others; however tainted or perverted the matter might have been, from the then generally diseased state of the public mind. The Life of the poet, compiled under such circumstances, was necessarily defective,-nay it did him positive injustice in various respects, particularly as to his personal habits and moral character. These were represented with exaggerated and hideous features, unwarranted by truth, and having their chief origin in the malignant virulence of party strife :
The want df a Life of Burns, •niore correctly drawn, was long felt. This is evident from the nature:df:the notices bestowed, in the periodicals of the time, upon the successive works of Walker and Irving, who each of them attempted the task of his biographer; and upon the publications of Cromek, who in his: 4. Rehques," and " Select Scottish Songs,” brought to light much interesting and original matter. But these attempts only whetted and kept alive the general feeling, which was not gratified in its full extent until nearly thirty years after the publication of Dr. Currie's work. It was not until 1827 that a historian, worthy of the poet, appeared in the person of Mr. John Lockhart, the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott, and (rather a discordant title), Editor of the London Quarterly Review. He in that year published a Life of Burns, both in the separate form, and as a part of that excellent repertory known by the title of Constable's Miscellany.
It is only necessary to read Mr. Lockhart's Life of Burns, to be satisfied of his qualifications for the task, and that he has succeeded in putting them, after an upright and conscientious manner, to the proper use. It certainly appears odd, that a high Tory functionary should stand out the champion of the Bard who sung,
“ A man's a man for a' that:" and who, because of his democratic tendencies, not only missed of public patronage, but moreover had long to sustain every humiliation and indirect persecution the local satellites of intolerance could fling upon him. But the lapse of time, and the spread of intelligence, have done much to remove prejudices and soften asperities; to say nothing of that independence of mind which always adheres to true genius, and which the circumstances in the poet's history naturally roused and excited in a kindred spirit. Mr
Lockhart, it will farther be observed, besides having compiled his work un der circumstances of a general nature much more favourable to accurate delineation, likewisc set about the task in a more philosophical manner than the preceding biographers. He judged for himself; he took neither facts nor opinions at second-hand; but inquired, studied, compared, and where doubtful, extricated the facts in the most judicious and careful man ner. It may be said, that that portion of the poet's mantle which invested his sturdiness of temper, has fallen upon the biographer, who, as the poet did, always thinks and speaks for himself.
These being our sentiments of Mr. Lockhart's Life of Burns, we have preferred it, as by far the most suitable biographical accompaniment of the prezent edition of his works. It has been our studly lo insert; in this edirion, every thing hitherto published, and fit to be published, of which Burns was the author. The reader will find here all that is contained in Dr. Currie's edition of 1800, with the pieces brought to light by all the respectable authors who have since written or published of Burns. The following general heads will show the nature and extent of the present work.
1. The Life by Lockhart. 2. The Poems, as published in the Kilmarnock and first Edinburgh edition,
with the poet's own prefaces to these editions, and also as published in Dr. Currie's edition of 1800; having superadded the pieces since
brought forward by Walker, Irving, Morison, Paul, and Cromek. 3. Essay (by Dr. Currie), on Scottish Poetry, including the Poetry of
Burns. 4. Select Scottish Songs not Burns's, upwards of 200 in number, and many
of them having his Annotations, Historical and Critical, prefixed. 5. Burns's Songs, collected from Johnson's Musical Museum, the larger
work of Thomson, and from the publications of Cromek, Cunningham,
and Chalmers, nearly 200 in number. 6. The Correspondence, including all the Letters published by Dr. Currie,
besides a number subsequently recovered, published by Cromek and
others. The whole forming the best picture of the man and the poet, and the only complete edition of his writings, in one work, hitherto offered to the public. Besides a portrait of the poet, executed by an able artist, long familiar with the original picture by Nasmyth, there is also here presented, an entire novelty), a fac-simile of the poet's handwriting. It was at one time matter of surprise that the Ploughman should have been a man of genius and a poet. if any such curious persons still exist, they will of course be likewise surprised to find that he was so good a penman.
New YORK, Sept. 11, 1832.