« PredošláPokračovať »
general sobriety of his conduct need not be required than what I am about to give. During the whole of the time we lived in the farm of Lochlea with my father, he allowed my brother and me such wages for our labour as he gave to other labourers, as a part of which, every article of our clothing manufactured in the family was regularly accounted for. When my father's affairs drew near a crisis, Robert and I took the farm of Mossgiel, consisting of 118 acres, at the rent of ninety pounds per annum (the farm on which I live at present), from Mr. Gavin Hamilton, as an asylum for the family in case of the worst. It was stocked by the property and individual savings of the whole family, and was a joint concern among us. Every member of the family was allowed ordinary wages for the labour he performed on the farm. My brother's allowance and mine was seven pounds per annum each. And during the whole time this family concern lasted, which was four years, as well as during the preceding period at Lochlea, his expenses never in any one year exceeded his slender income. As I was intrusted with the keeping of the family accounts, it is not possible that there can be any fallacy in this statement in my brother's favour. His temperance and frugality were everything that could be
"The farm of Mossgiel lies very high, and mostly on a cold, wet bottom. The first four years that we were on the farm were very frosty, and the spring was very late. Our crops in consequence were very unprofitable; and notwithstanding our utmost diligence and economy, we found ourselves obliged to give up our bargain, with the loss of a considerable part of our original stock. It was during these four years that Robert formed his connexion with Jean Armour, afterwards Mrs. Burns. The connexion could no longer be concealed, about the time we came to a final determination to quit the farm. Robert durst not engaged with a family in his poor unsettled state, but was anxious to shield his partner by every means in his power from the consequences of their imprudence. It was agreed, therefore, betweeu them, that they should make a legal ackowledgement of an Irregular and private marriage; that he should go to Jamaica to push his fortune; and that she should remain with her father till it might please Providence to put the means of supporting a family in his power. "Mrs. Burns was a great favourite of her father's. The intimation of a private marriage was the first suggestion he received of her real situation. He was in the greatest distress, and fainted away. The marriage did not appear to him to make the matter any better. A husband in Jamaica appeared to him and his wife little better than none, and an effectual bar to any other prospects of a settlement in life that their daughter might have. They therefore expressed a wish to her, that the written papers which respected the marriage should be cancelled, and thus the marriage rendered void. In her melancholy state she felt the deepest remorse at having brought such heavy affliction on parents that loved her so tenderly, and submitted to their entreaties. Their wish was mentioned to Robert. He felt the deepest anguish of mind. He offered to stay at home and provide for his wife and family in the best manner that his daily labours could provide for them; that being the only means in his power. Even this offer they did not approve of; for humble as Miss Armour's station was, and great though her imprudence had been, she still, in the eyes of her partial parents, might look to a better connexion than that with my friendless and unhappy brother, at that time without house or bidingplace. Robert at length consented to their wishes; but his feelings on this occasion were
of the most distracting nature: and the impression of sorrow was not effaced, till by a regular marriage they were indissolubly united. In the state of mind which this separation produced, he wished to leave the country as soon as possible, and agreed with Dr. Douglas to go out to Jamaica as an assistant overseer, or, as I believe it is called, a book-keeper on his estate. As he had not sufficient money to pay his passage, and the vessel in which Dr. Douglas was to procure a passage for him was not expected to sail for some time, Mr. Hamilton advised him to publish his poems in the meantime by subscription, as a likely way of getting a little money to provide him more liberally in necessaries for Jamaica. Agreeably to this advice, subscription bills were printed immediately, and the printing was cominenced at Kilmarnock, his preparations going on at the same time for his voyage. The reception, however, which his poems met with in the world, and the friends they procured him, made him change his resolution of going to Jamaica, and he was advised to go to Edinburgh to publish a second edition. On his return, in happier and more prosperous circumstances, he renewed his connexion with Mrs. Burns, and rendered it permanent by a union for life.
Thus, Madam, have I endeavoured to give you a simple narrative of the leading circumstances in my brother's early life. The remaining part hespent in Edinburgh or Dumfries-shire, and its incidents are as well known to you as to me. His genius having procured him your patronage and friendship, this gave rise to the correspondence between you, in which, I believe, his sentiments were delivered with the most respectful, but most unreserved confidence, and which only terminated with the last days of his life."
This narrative of Gilbert Burns may serve as a commentary on the preceding sketch of our poet's life by himself. It will be seen that the distraction of mind which he mentions (p. viii) arose from the distress and sorrow in which he had involved his future wife. The whole circumstances attending this connexion are certainly of a very singular nature.
The reader will perceive, from the foregoing narrative, how much the children of William Barnes were indebted to their father, who was certainly a man of uncommon talents; though it does not appear that he possessed any portion of that vivid imagination for which the subject of these memoirs was distinguished. In p. vii it is observed by our poet, that his father had an unaccountable antipathy to dancing-schools, and that his attending one of these brought on him his displeasure, and even dislike. On this observation Gilbert has made the following remark, which seems entitled to implicit credit:-"I wonder how Robert could attribute to our father that lasting resentment of his going to a dancing-school against his will, of which he was incapable. I believe the truth was, that he, about this time, began to see the dangerous impetuosity of my brother's passions, as well as his not being amenable to counsel, which often irritated my father; and which he would naturally think a dancing-school was not likely to correct. But he was proud of Robert's genius, which he bestowed more expense in cultivating than on the rest of the family, in the instances of sending him to Ayr and Kirk-Oswald schools: and he was greatly delighted with his warmth of heart, and his conversational powers. He had indeed that dislike of dancing-schools which Robert mentions; but so far overcame it during Robert's first month of attendance, that he allowed all the rest of the family that were fit
"Historical Memoir of the Italian Tragedy,' lately published, thus expresses himself:
for it, to accompany him during the second month. Robert excelled in dancing, and was for some time distractedly fond of it.'"
In the original letter to Dr. Moore, our poet described his ancestors as "renting lands of the noble Keiths of Marischal, and as having had the honour of sharing their fate." "I do not," continues he, "use the word honour with any reference to political principles; loyal and disloyal I take to be merely relative terms, in that ancient and formidable court, known in this country by the name of Clublaw, where the right is always with the strongest. But those who dare welcome ruin and shake hands with infamy, for what they sincerely believe to be the cause of their God, or their king, are, as Mark Antony says in Shakspere, of Brutus and Cassius, honourable men. I mention this circumstance, because it threw my father on the world at large.
This paragraph has been omitted in printing the letter, at the desire of Gilbert Burns; and it would have been unnecessary to have noticed it on the present occasion, had not several manuscript copies of that letter been in circulation. "I do not know," observes Gilbert Barns, "how my brother could be misled in the account he has given of the Jacobitism of his ancestors,-I believe the Earl of Marischal forfeited his title and estate in 1715, before my father was born: and among a collection of parish-certificates in his possesion, I have read one, stating that the bearer had no concern in the late wicked rebelhon." On the information of one who knew William Burnes soon after he arrived in the county of Ayr, it may be mentioned, that a report did prevail, that he had taken the field with the young chevalier; a report which the certificate mentioned by his son was, perhaps, intended to counteract. Strangers from the North, settling in the low country of Scotland, were in those days liable to suspicions of having been, in the familiar phrase, of the country. "Out in the forty-five," (1745,) especially when they had any stateliness or reserve about them, as was the case with William Burnes. It may easily be conceived, that our poet would cherish the belief of his father's having been engaged in the daring enterprise of Prince Charles Edward. The generous attachment, the heroic valour, and the final misfortunes of the adherents of the house of Stuart, touching with sympathy his youthful and ardent mind, and influenced his original political opinions. The father of our poet is described by one who knew him towards the latter end of his life, as above the common stature, thin, and bent with labour. His countenance was serious and expressive, and the scanty locks on his head were grey. He was of a religious turn of mind, and as is usual among the Scottish peasantry, a good deal conversant in speculative theology. There is in Gilbert's hands a little manual of religious belief, in the form of a dialogue between a father and his son, composed by him for the use of his children, in which the benevolence of his heart seems to have led him to soften the rigid Calvinism of the Scottish church into something approaching to Arminianism. He was a devout man, and in the practice of calling his family together to join in prayer. It is known that the exquisite picture in the "Cotter's Saturday Night" (Stanzas 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 18) represents William Burnes and his family at their evening devotions.
Of a family so interesting as that which inhabited the cottage of Williain Burnes and particularly of the father of the family, the reader will perhaps be willing to listen to some farther account. What follows is given by one already mentioned with so much honour, in the narrative of Gilbert Burns, Mr. Murdoch, the preceptor of our poet, who, in a letter to Joseph Cooper Walker, Esq., of Dublin, author of the
"I was lately favoured with a letter from our worthy friend, the Rev. Wm. Adair, in which he requested me to communicate to you whatever particulars I could recollect concerning Robert Burns, the Ayrshire poet. My business being at present multifarious and harassing, my attention is consequently so much divided, and I am so little in the habit of expressing my thoughts on paper, that at this distance of time I can give but a very imperfect sketch of the early part of the life of that extraordinary genius with which alone I am acquainted.
"William Burnes, the father of the poet, was born in the shire of Kincardine, and bred a gardener. He had been settled in Ayrshire ten or twelve years before I knew him, and had been in the service of Mr. Crawford of Doonside. He was afterwards employed as a gardener and overseer by Provost Ferguson of Doonholm, in the parish of Alloway, which is now united with that of Ayr. In this parish, on the road-side, a Scotch mile and a half from the town of Ayr, and half a mile from the bridge of Doon, William Burnes took a piece of land, consisting of about seven acres, part of which he laid out in garden ground, and part of which he kept to graze a cow, &c., still continuing in the employ of Provost Ferguson. Upon this little farm was erected an humble dwelling, of which William Burnes was the architect. It was, with the exception of a little straw, literally a tabernacle of clay. In this mean cottage, of which I myself was at times an inhabitant, I really believe, there dwelt a larger portion of content than in any palace in Europe. The "Cotter's Saturday Night" will give some idea of the temper and manners that prevailed there.
"In 1705, about the middle of March, Mr. W. Burnes came to Ayr, and sent to the school where I was improving in writing under my good friend Mr. Robinson, desiring that I would come and speak to him at a certain inn, and bring my writing-book with me. This was inmediately complied with. Having examined my writing, he was pleased with it-(you will readily allow he was not difficult), and told me that he had received very satisfactory information of Mr. Tennant, the master of the English school, concerning my improvement in English and in his method of teaching. In the month of May following, I was engaged by Mr. Burnes, and four of his neighbours, to teach the little school at Alloway, which was situated a few yards from the argillaceous fabric above mentioned. My five employers undertook to board me by turns, and to make up a certain salary, at the end of the year, provided my quarterly payments from the different pupils did not amount to that sum.
"My pupil, Robert Burns, was then between six and seven years of age: his preceptor about eighteen. Robert and his younger brother Gilbert had been grounded a little in English before they were put under my care. They both made a rapid progress in reading, and a tolerable progress in writing. In reading, dividing words into syllables by rule, spelling without book, parsing sentences, &c. Robert and Gilbert were generally at the upper end of the class, even when ranged with boys by far their seniors. The books most commonly used were the "Spelling Book," the New Testament," the "Bible. "Mason's Collection of Prose and Verse," and "Fisher's English Grammar.' They committed to memory the hymns, and other poems of that collection, with uncommon facility. This facility was partly owing to the method pursued by their father and me in instructing them, which was, to make them thoroughly acquainted with the meaning of every word in each sentence that
was to be committed to memory. By the bye, this may be easier done, and at an earlier time, than is generally thought. As soon as they were capable of it, I taught them to turn verse into its natural prose order: sometimes to substitute synonymous expressions for poetical words, and to supply all the ellipses. These, you know, are the means of knowing that the pupil understands his author. These are excellent helps to the arrangement of words in sentences, as well as to a variety of expression.
"Gilbert always appeared to me to possess a more lively imagination, and to be more of the wit, than Robert. I attempted to teach them a little church-music. Here they were left far behind by all the rest of the school. Robert's ear, in particular, was remarkably dull, and his voice untunable. It was long before I could get them to distinguish one tune from another. Robert's countenance was generally grave, and expressive of a serious, contemplative, and thoughtful mind. Gilbert's face said, Mirth, with thee I mean to live; and certainly, if any person who knew the two boys had been asked which of them was the most likely to court the muses, he would surely never have guessed that Robert had a propensity of that kind.
In the year 1767, Mr. Burns quitted his mud edifice, and took possession of a farm (Mount Oliphant) of his own improving, while in the service of Provost Ferguson. This farm being at a considerable distance from the school, the boys could not attend regularly; and some changes had taken place among the other supporters of the school, I left it, having continued to conduct it for nearly two vears and a half.
"In the year 1772, I was appointed (being one of five candidates who were examined) to teach the English school at Ayr; and in 1773, Robert Burns came to board and lodge with me, for the purpose of revising English grammar, &c., that he might be better qualified to instruct his brothers and sisters at home. He was now with me day and night, in school, at all meals, and in all my walks. At the end of one week, I told him, that as he was now pretty much master of the parts of speech, &c., I should like to teach him something of a French pronunciation, that when he should meet with the name of a French town, ship, officer, or the like, in the newspapers, he might be able to pronounce it something like a French word. Robert was glad to hear this proposal, and immediately we attacked the French with great courage.
"Now there was little else to be heard but the declension of nouns, the conjugation of verbs, &c. When walking together, and even at meals, I was constantly telling him the names of different objects, as they presented themselves, in French so that he was hourly laying in a stock of words, and sometimes little phrases. In short, he took such pleasure in learning, and I in teaching, that it was difficult to say which of the two was most zealous in the business; and about the end of the second week of our study of the French, we began to read a little of the 'Adventures of Telemachus,' in Fenelon's own words.
"But now the plains of Mount Oliphant began to whiten, and Robert was summoned to relinquish the pleasing scenes that surrounded the grotto of Calypso, and, armed with a sickle, to seek glory by signalizing himself in the fields of Ceres-and so he did: for although but about fifteen, I was told that he performed the work of a
"Thus was I deprived of my very apt pupil, and consequently agrreable companion, at the end of three weeks, one of which was spent entirely in the study of English, and the other two chiefly in that of French. I did not, however, lose sight of him; but was a frequent visitor at his father's house, when I had my half-holiday,
and very often went accompanied with one or two persons more intelligent than myself, that good William Burnes might enjoy a mental feast. Then the labouring oar was shifted to some other hand. The father and the son sat down with us, when we enjoyed a conversation, wherein solid reasoning, sensible remark, and moderate seasoning of jocularity, were so nicely blended as to render it palatable to all parties. Robert had a hundred questions to ask me about the French, &c.; and the father, who had always rational information in view, had still some question to propose to my more learned friends, upon moral or natural philosophy, or some such nteresting subject. Mrs. Burnes, too, was of the party as mush as possible; "But still the house affairs would draw her thence,
Which ever as she could with haste despatch, She'd come again, and, with a greedy ear, Devour up their discourse '-times, and in all companies, she listened to him aud particularly that of her husband. At all with a more marked attention than to anybody else. When under the necessity of being absent while he was speaking, she seemed to regret, as a real loss, that she had missed what the good man had said. This worthy woman, Agnes Brown, had the most thorough esteen for her husband of any woman I ever knew. I can by William Burnes as by far the best of the human no means wonder that she always considered race that ever I had the pleasure of being acquainted with--and many a worthy character I have known. I can cheerfully join with Robert, in the last line of his epitaph (borrowed from Goldsmith)
"And e'en his failings lean'd to virtues' side.'
"He was an excellent husband, if I may judge from his assiduous attention to the ease and comfort of his worthy partner, and from her affectionate behaviour to him, as well as from her unwearied attention to the duties of a other.
"He was a tender and affectionate father; he took pleasure in leading his children in the path of virtue; not in driving them, as some parents do, to the performance of duties to which they themselves are averse. He took care to find fault but very seldom; and therefore, when he did rebuke, he was listened to with a kind of reverential awe. A look of disapprobation was felt a reproof was severely so; and a stripe of the taws, even on the skirt of the coat, gave heart-felt pain, caused a loud lamentation, and brought forth a flood of tears.
"He had the art of gaining the esteem and good-will of those that were fellow-labourers under him. I think I never saw him angry but twice: the one time it was with the foreman of the band, for not reaping the field as he was desired; and the other time, it was with a very old man, for using some smutty inuendoes and double entendres. Were every foul-mouthed old man to receive a seasonable check in this way, it would be to the advantage of the rising generation. As he was at no time overbearing to inferiors, he was equally incapable of that paltry, pitiful, passive spirit, that induces some people to keep booing and booing in the presence of a great man. He always treated superiors with becoming respect; but he never gave the smallest encouragement to aristocratical arrogance. But I must not pretend to give you a description of all the manly qualities, the rational and Christian virtues, of the venerable William Burnes. Time would fail me. I shall only add, that he carefully practised every known duty, and avoided everything that was criminal; or, in the apostle's words, Herein did he exercise himself, in living a life void of offence towards God and towards man.