Obrázky na stránke

Away to-day with carping thought;
We will not think of any wrong;
We owe him much; he owes us naught,
For he he gave his country Song.

He sang of love—a softer light

Fell on the fields o'er which he trod ;
He sang the daisy, meek and white,
And flung a glory on the sod.

He sang of toil-the very cot

Grew brighter, and the toiler saw
A humble splendour crown his lot,
And point him to a nobler law.

Of country-till his name was hers,
Or both as one-his spirit knelt
Before the shrine, till worshippers
Felt all his throbbing bosom felt.

Of revel and the hours of mirth-
Nay, let us own it, for he wove
The band of Ariel round the earth,

In "Auld Lang Syne" with all its love.

He grasp'd the handle of the plough,
And made it sacred-standing there;
With inspirations, with their glow,

Made rainbows through the wintry air!

He passed, with all his hopes and fears,
From storm and cloud to perfect rest;
The lurid light of those few years

Has broadened to an endless West.

Within that glowing light he stands,

The voice of all-his passionate songs
Have burst the pale of narrower lands,
And he to all the world belongs.

The Rev. Dr. K. C. ANDERSON spoke on the subject, "Burns, a Failure; Burns, an Ideal." The title, which was suggested by Mr. A. C. Lamb, fitted Burns exactly, because no one could say that the life of Burns was a success, for success as they ordinarily used that term meant long life, a competency, and outward rank. Burns had none of these. Burns's life was a failure in every respect save one-that was in relation to his poetry, and that had become an ideal that had grown more luminous as his life receded into the distance. About the details, therefore, of Burns's life they might say


Burns as an ideal, Burns's poetry, the great thoughts he brought before them, should interest them and the members. of this Burns Society in the days and years that were to come. It seemed to him that the key to the life of Burns was to be found in the struggle of a shrinking will between two great extremes; and it was just that contradiction in the nature of Burns, the difficulty of bringing these two extremes together, that made up the tragedy of his career. Burns had interpreted Scotland to the Scottish people, and Scotland lived in the poems and the songs of Burns. Shakespeare was not loved in England, or Dante in Italy, or Goethe in Germany, as Burns was loved in Scotland. Scotsmen understood their country now as they never could have done if Burns had not lived. His songs were as immortal as love, as pure as the dewdrop, as fresh as morning, and as everlasting as the human heart of


Mr. ANDREW STEWART followed with a most excellent and scholarly address on "The Rhyming Epistles of Robert Burns," from which we give the following extract :

Burns's extraordinary command of rhyme was the source of both his strength and weakness. It caused him at times to pour the wealth of his genius on unworthy subjects and objects. The metrical channels through which he poured his. epistolary rhymes had much to do with their limpid clearness. and direct force. They admirably served the purpose of his. impetuous muse, and that in a way which the mechanical lines. of Pope and Gray could never have done. The measures he used had served the purpose of Dunbar and Semple, of Hamilton of Gilbertfield, of Ramsay, and of Fergusson, but he alone enabled us to realise to what splendid issues they could be turned. But I have done talking in generalities. Let me come now to particulars, and, for this purpose, take one of his. epistles as a comparison and sample of his high poetic power in this form of writing. Take the "Epistle to a Young Friend," and set it side by side with an equal number of lines. from Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." I select this poem for a comparison, because, so far as I can find, it is. fuller of pregnant and memorable lines that have passed into the current language as familiar quotations than any other poem of equal length. It must also be borne in mind that, while Gray's "Elegy" was carefully elaborated, the “Epistle

"aff loof." The "Epistle" Now, from Gray's "Elegy" I take

was written, as Burns terms it, contains eighty-eight lines.

a like number of lines, and here is what I find—

"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day."

"The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

"Let not ambition mock their useful toil.
"The short and simple annals of the poor.

"The path of glory leads but to the grave."

[ocr errors]

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid

Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire."

"Hands that the rod of Empire might have swayed."

"Chill penury repressed their noble rage,

And froze the genial current of the soul."

"Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
"Some mute, inglorious Milton here may rest."
"Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind."
"Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife."


They kept the noiseless tenor of their way."

"For who, to dumb forgetfulness a prey."

Here are 14 familiar quotations in all. "Epistle to a Young Friend" I select

[blocks in formation]

Now, from the

"And a' your views may come to naught
When every nerve is strained."

"Aye free, aff haun' your story tell
When wi' a bosom crony ;

"But still keep something to yersel'

Ye scarcely tell to ony."

"The sacred lowe o' well-placed love
Luxuriantly indulge it."

"But, och! it hardens a' within
And petrifies the feelin'."

"And gather gear by every wile

That's justified by honour."

"Not for to hide it in a hedge,
Nor for a train attendant,
But for the glorious privilege
Of being independent."

"The fear o' hell's a hangman's whip
To haud the wretch in order."

"Where you feel your honour grip
Let that aye be your border."

"And resolutely keep its laws,
Uncaring consequences."

"An atheist's laugh's a poor exchange
For Deity offended."

"A correspondence fixed wi' heaven
Is sure a noble anchor!"

"May prudence, fortitude, and truth
Erect your brow undaunting!"

"May you better reck the rede
Than ever did the adviser."

Here we have in 88 lines, then, an equal number of famous, quotations, every one of them stamped in the mint of genius, and accepted as sterling poetic gold by the reading and thinking people of the English-speaking world. Now, I think that is a fair contrast, and that everyone here will admit that in vigour, truth, and poetic insight the Scottish poet stands head and shoulders over the refined English poet. Gray's lines smell of the lamp; they bear all the signs of having come from the workshop of the literary lapidary; while those of Burns are gems dug from the mine. It is, perhaps, in the measure in, which the "Epistle to Davie" is written that Burns shines at his best, and displays his greatest freedom and power of expression, as well as his mastery over the intricacies of rhyme. The form of verse Burns borrowed from Ramsay, though it was used long before Ramsay's day in Montgomerie's "Cherrie and the Slae" and other ballads written previous to 1600; but he far outshines Ramsay in the flowing felicity of his rhymes. and the opulence of the imagery and poetic fire he throws into it. It was Francis Semple who first popularised this verse, and Ramsay and Fergusson adopted it. Burns took it up, and we know the use he made of it. He made it his own, and,

if we wish to get a clear conception of the man Robert Burns,

from his own writings, that conception could nowhere be better got than from his epistles.

Mrs. R. A. WATSON (Deas Cromarty) delivered a graceful and vigorous address on the Poet. She said—I beg you to believe that I am not here of my own conceit. Like the old woman in the story, when asked to give her opinion of the minister, I would not have had the presumption. You know all about Burns, and there is nothing more absurd than telling Scots people what they know already. But you have paid me a great compliment, and what you want from me, I believe, is just a few words of personal testimony. Some may say—will say, no doubt-But what testimony have you to give about Burns, except to condemn his errors and deplore his influence? That was said to Gilfillan years ago, and might be said with 'more force to a woman. And then, again, the English man of letters, hearing of Burns festivals and Burns enthusiasm and all the rest, puts up his eye-glass and says, with a look of great astonishment, "Why do these good people make such a fuss about Burns? Scott was greater as an artist and more estimable as a man. He was one of the three mighties of the world. Why Burns and not Sir Walter?" Well, the answer to that question is also the answer to the other: it is my apology and yours, and, in essence, the whole case of literary judgment, the question of what makes the great man of a people. There is one quality that does this finally, and if we find it in Burns, why, all our wonder at the genius of Scott, all our pleasure in his wizardry, will not prevent us from astonishing the Southron again, and forcing from him once. more the half-indignant, half-puzzled inquiry, "But why Burns?" I am thinking of that admirable writer, Mr. Quiller Couch, whose article last year in The Speaker set one thinking about the secret of the Burns cult. The secret lies, for me, in two words—the freedom and the religiousness of Burns. I can speak of one young reader who, at about sixteen years of age, found in Burns a freedom, a force, a mental courage that made him a real influence in life. One read Scott-in poetry and prose—and felt romance beat at the heart of things; one read Wordsworth and felt the stern dignity of the soul communing with God and duty in the temple of Nature. Coleridge made one feel awe and a weird spell in his "Ancient Mariner;" and Keats, in shimmering light and mystical shadow, revealed

« PredošláPokračovať »