Imágenes de páginas


[ocr errors]

of human joys, our dearest blessing here | Tull and Dickson on Agriculture, the Panbelow! How she caught the contagion, I theon, Locke's Essay on the Human Undera cannot tell; you medical people talk much standing, Stackhouse's History of the Bible, of infection from breathing the same air, the Justice's British Gardener's Directory, touch, &c., but I never expressly said I loved Bayle's Lectures, Allan Ramsay's Works, her. Indeed I did not know myself why I Taylor's Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin, liked so much to loiter behind with her A Select Collection of English Songs, and when returning in the evening from our | Hervey's Meditations, had formed the whole labours; why the tones of her voice made of my reading. The collection of songs was my heart-strings thrill like an Æolian harp; my vade mecum. I pored over them driving and particularly, why my pulse beat such a my cart, or walking to labour, song by song, furious ratan when I looked and fingered verse by versé carefully noting the true, over her little hand to pick out the cruel tender or sublime, from affectation and nettle-stings and thistles. Among her other fustian. I am convinced I owe to this love-inspiring qualities, she sang sweetly; practice much of my critic craft, such as it and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme. "In my seventeenth year, to give my (8) I was not so presumptuous as to imagine manners a brush, I went to a country that I could make verses like printed ones, dancing school. My father had an unaccomposed by men who had Greek and Latin; countable antipathy against these meetings, but my girl sang a song, which was said and my going was, what to this moment I to be composed by a small country laird's son, repent, in opposition to his wishes. My on one of his father's maids, with whom he father, as I said before, was subject to was in love, and I saw no reason why I might strong passions; from that instance of disa not rhyme as well as he; for, excepting that obedience in me he took a sort of dislike ta, he could smear sheep, and cast peats, his | me, which I believe was one cause of the. father living in the moor-lands, he had no dissipation which marked my succeeding mre scholar-craft than myself.”

years. I say dissipation, comparatively with “ Thus with me began love and poetry ; | the strictness, and sobriety, and regularity, which at times have been my only, and till of Presbyterian country hfe; for though within the last twelve months, have been my the Will o' Wisp meteors of thoughtless highest enjoyment. My father struggled on whim were almost the sole lights of my till he reached the freedom in his lease, path, yet early ingrained piety and virtue. when he entered on a larger farm, about ten kept me for several years afterwards within miles farther in the country. The nature of the line of innocence. The great misfortune the bargain he made was such as to throw of my life was to want an aim. I had felt a little ready money into his hands at the early some stirrings of ambition, but they commencement of his lease; otherwise the were the blind gropings of Homer's Cyclops affair would have been impracticable. For round the walls. of his cave. I saw my four years we lived comfortably here ; but a father's situation entailed on me perpetual difference commencing between bim and his labour. The only two openings by which landlord as to terms, after three years' tossing I could enter the temple of fortune, was and whirling in the vortex of litigation, my the gate of niggardly economy, or the path father was just saved from the horrors of of little, chicaning bargain-making. The first a jail by a consumption, which, after two is so contracted an aperture, I never could years' promises, kindly stepped in, and squeeze myself into it; the last I always carried him away, to where the wicked cease hated—there was contamination in the very from troubling, and the weary are at rest.entrance! Thus abandoned of aim or view

"It is during the time that we lived on in life, with a strong appetite for sociability, this farm that my little story is most as well from native hilarity as from a pride eventful. I was, at the beginning of this of observation and remark-a constitutional period, perhaps the most ungainly, awkward melancholy or hypochondriasm that made boy in the parish-no solitaire was less me fly to solitude; add to these incentives

cquainted with the ways of the world. to social life, my reputation for bookish What I knew of ancient story was gathered knowledge, a certain wild logical talent, from Salmon's and Guthrie's geographical and a strength of thought, something like grammars; and the ideas I had formed of the rudiments of good sense, and it will not modern manners, of literature and criticism, seem surprising that I was generally a I got from the Spectator. These, with welcome guest where I visited, or any great Pope's Works, some plays of Shakspeare, I wonder that, always where two or three met

together, there was I among them. But from the sphere of my studies. I, however, far beyond all other impulses of my heart, struggled on with my sines and co-sines for was un penchant à l'adorable moitié du genre į a few days mo

more; but, st

into the humain. My heart was tely tinder, i garden one charming noon to take the sun's and was eternally lighted up by some goddess altitude, there I met my angel, or other; and as in every other warfare in “Like Proserpine, gathering flowers, this world mv fortune was various sometimes I Herself a fairer flower I was received with favour, and sometimes It was in vain to think of doing any more I was mortified with a repulse. At the plough, good at school. scythe, or reaphook, I feared no competitor, staid I did nothing but craze the faculties of and thus I set absolute want at defiance; my soul about her, or steal out to meet and as I never cared farther for my labours her; and the two last nights of my stay in than while I was in actual exercise, I spent the country, had sleep been a mortal sin, the evenings in the way after my own heart. the image of this modest and innocent girl A country lad seldom carries on a love- had kept me guiltless." adventure without an assisting confidant. “I returned home very considerably im. I possessed a curiosity, zeal, and intrepid i proved. My reading was enlarged with the dexterity, that recommended me as a proper very important addition of Thomson's and second on these occasions; and, I dare say, Shenstone's Works. I had seen human

nature in a new phasis; and I engaged several of half the loves of the parish of Tarbolton, of my school-fellows to keep up a literary as ever did statesman in knowing the in- correspondence with me. This improved mne trigues of half the courts of Europe. (9) in composition. I had met with a collection The very goose-feather in my hand seems of letters by the wits of Queen Anne's reign, to know instinctively the well-worn path of and I pored over them most devoutly; I my imagination, the favourite theme of my kept copies of any of my own letters that song, and is with difficulty restrained from pleased me; and a comparison betwee giving you a couple of paragraphs on the them and the composition of most of my love-adventures of my compeers, the humble correspondents, flattered my vanity. I inmates of the farm-house and cottage ; but carried this whim so far, that though I had the grave sons of science, ambition, or avarice, not three farthings' worth of business in baptise these things by the name of follies. the world, yet almost every post brought me (10) To the sons and daughters of labour and as many letters as if I had been a broad poverty, they are matters of the most serious plodding son of day-book and ledyer." nature; to them, the ardent hope, the stolen "My life flowed on much in the same interview, the tender farewell, are the course till my twenty-third year. Vive greatest and most delicious parts of their l'amour, et vive la bagatelle, were my sole enjoyments."

principles of action. The addition of two Another circumstance in my life which more authors to my library gave me great made some alteration in my mind and man- pleasure; Sterne and M'Kenzie-Tristram ners was, that I spent my nineteenth sum- Shandy and The Man of Feeling——were mer on a smuggling coast, a good distance my bosom favourites. Poesy was still a from home, at a noted school, to learn darling walk for my mind, but it was only

which I made a pretty good progress. But hour." I made a greater progress in the knowledge "I had usually half a dozen or more pieces of mankind. The contraband trade was at on hand; I took up one or other, as it that time very successful, and it sometimes suited the momentary tone of the mind, and happened to me to fall in with those who dismissed the work as it bordered on fatigue. carried it on. Scenes of swaggering riot My passions, when once lighted up, raged and roaring dissipation were till this time like so many devils, till they got vent in new to me; but I was no enemy to social | rhyme; and then the conning over my life. Here, though I learnt to fill my glass, verses, like a spell, soothed all into quiet! and to mix without fear in a drunken None of the rhymes of those days are in squabble, yet I went on with a high hand print, except Winter, a Dirge, the eldest of with my geometry, till the sun entered my printed pieces; The Death of Poor Virgo, a month which is always a carnival Mailie, John Barleycorn, and songs first, in my bosom, when a charming filette, who second, and third. (11) Song second was lived next door to the school, overset my the ebullition of that passion which ended trigonometry, and set me off at & tangent, the fore-mentioned school-business.”



“My twenty-third year was to me an im- | me a mischief; and the consequence was portant era. Partly through whim, and partly that, soon after I resumed the plough, I that I wished to set about doing some wrote the Poet's Welcome. (13) My readthing in life, I joined a flax-dresser in a ing only increased, while in this town, by neighbouring town (Irvine) to learn his two stray volumes of Pamela, and one of trade. This was an unlucky affair. My ***; Ferdinand Count Fathom, which gave me and, to finish the whole, as we were giving some idea of novels. Rhyme, except some a welcome carousal to the new-year, the shop religious pieces that are in print, I had given took fire, and burnt to ashes,and I was left, up; but meeting with Fergusson's Scottish like a true poet, not worth a sixpence." Poems, I strung anew my wildly-sounding

"I was obliged to give up this scheme: | lyre with emulating vigour. When my the clouds of misfortune were gathering father died, his all went among the hell. thick round my father's head; and, what hounds that prowl in the kennel of justice; was worst of all, he was visibly far gone in but we made a shift to collect a little money

consumption; and, to crown my distresses, in the family amongst us, with which to a belle fille whom I adored, and who had keep us together; my brother and I took a pledged her soul to meet me in the field of neighbouring farm. My brother wanted matrimony, jilted me, with peculiar circum- my hair-brained imagination, as well as my stances of mortification. The finishing evil social and amorous madness; but, in good that brought up the rear of this infernal file, sense, and every sober qualification, he was was my constitutional melancholy being in- far my superior." creased to such a degree, that for three “I entered on this farm with a full resomonths I was in a state of mind scarcely to lution, Come, go to, I will be wise! I read be envied by the hopeless wretches who have farming books I calculated crops-I atgot their mittimusDepart from me, ye ac-tended markets-and, in short, in spite of cursed!

the devil, and the world, and the flesh, I "From this adventure I learned something believe I should have been a wise man; of a town life; but the principal thing which | but the first year, from unfortunately gave my mind a turn, was a friendship I buying bad seed, the second, from a late formed with a young fellow, a very noble harvest, we lost half our crops. This overcharacter, but a hapless son of misfortune. set all my wisdom, and I returned, like the He was the son of a simple mechanic; but dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, a great man in the neighbourhood taking to her wallowing in the mire.him under his patronage, gave him a genteel “I now began to be known in the neigh. education, with a view of bettering his situa- | bourhood as a maker of rhymes. The first tion in life. The patron dying just as he of my poetic otispring that saw the light, was ready to launch out into the world, was a burlesque lamentation on a quarrel the poor fellow in despair went to sea, į between two reverend Calvinists, both of where, after a variety of good and ill for them dramatis persona in my Holy Fair. tune, a little before I was acquainted with I had a notion myself that the piece had him, he had been set on shore by an Ame- some merit; but to prevent the worst, I gave rican privateer, on the wild coast of Con- a copy of it to a friend who was very fond naught, stripped of everything. I cannot of such things, and told him that I could quit this poor fellow's story without adding, not guess who was the author of it, but that that he is at this time master of a large I thought it pretty clever. With a certain West-Indiaman belonging to the Thames.” description of the clergy, as well as laity, it

“ His mind was fraught with irdepen- met with a roar of applause. (14) Holy dence, magnanimity, and every manly virtue. | Willie's Prayer next made its appearance, I loved and admired him to a degree of and alarmed the kirk-session so much, that enthusiasm, and of course strove to initate they held several meetings to look over their him. In some measure I succeeded I had spiritual artillery, if haply any of it might pride before, but he taught it to flow in be pointed against profane writers. Un. proper channels. His knowledge of the luckily for me, my wanderings led me on world was vastly superior to mine, and I another side, within point-blankshot of was all attention to learn. He was the only their heaviest metal. This is the unfor. man I ever saw who was a greater fool than tunate story that gave rise to my printed myself, where woman was the presiding star; poem-The Lament. This was a most me but he spoke of illicit love with the levity lancholy affair, which I cannot yet bear to of a sailor, which hitherto I had regarded reflect on, and had very nearly given me with horror. (12) Here his friendship did | one or two of the principal qualifications for a place among those who have lost the mine overthrew all my schemes, by opening chart, and mistaken the reckoning, of new prospects to my poetic ambition. The rationality. I gave up my part of the farm doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose to my brother-in truth it was only nomi- applause I had not dared to hope. His nally mine--and made what little prepara- opinion, that I would meet with encourage. tion was in my power for Jamaica. But, ment in Edinburgh for a second edition, before leaving my native country for ever, I / fired me so much, that away I posted for resolved to publish my poems. I weighed that city, without a single acquaintance, or my productions as impartially as was in ny a single letter of introduction. The baneful power: I thought they liad merit, and it star that had so long shed its blasting influ. was a delicious idea that I should be calledence in my zenith, for once made a revolu. a clever fellow even though it should never tion to the nadir; and a kind Providence reach my ears-a poor negro-driver; or per- placed me under the patronage of one of haps a victim to that inhospitable clime, the noblest of men, the Earl of Glencairn. and gone to the world of spirits! I can Oublie moi, Grand Dieu, si jamais je truly say, that pauvre inconnu as I then was, I l'oublie!I had pretty nearly as high an idea of myself “I need relate no farther. At Edinburgh and of my works as I have at this moment, I was in a new world; I mingled among when the public has decided in their favour. | many classes of men, but all of them new to It ever was my opinion, that the mistakes me, and I was all attention to catch the and blunders, both in a rational and religious characters and the manners living as they point of view, of which we see thousands rise. Whether I have profited, time will daily guilty, are owing to their ignorance of show. * * *» themselves. To know myself had been all “My most respectful compliments to along my constant study. I weighed myself Miss W. (16) Her very elegant and friendly alone-I balanced myself with others—I letter I cannot answer at present, as my watched every means of information, to see presence is requisite in Edinburgh, and I how much ground I occupied as a man and set out to-morrow.” (17) as a poet;-I studied assiduously Nature's design in my formation where the lights At the period of our poet's death, his and shades in my character were intended. brother, Gilbert Burns, vas ignorant that I was pretty confident my poems would he had himself written the forgoiny narrameet with some applause (15); but, at the tive of his life while in Ayrshire; and worst, the roar of the Atlantic would deafen having been applied to by Mrs. Dunlop for the voice of censure, and the novelty of some memoirs of his brother, he complied West-Indian scenes make me forget neg- / with her request in a letter, from which the lect. I threw off six hundred copies, of following narrative is chiefly extracted. which I had got subscriptions for about | When Gilbert Burns afterwards saw the three hundred and fifty. My vanity was letter of our poet to Dr. Moore, he made highly gratified by the reception I met with some annotations upon it, which shall be from the public; and, besides, I pocketed, noticed as we proceed. all expenses deducted, nearly twenty pounds. Robert Burns was born on the 25th day This sum came very seasonably, as I was of January 1759, in a small house about thinking of indenting myself, for want of two miles from the town of Ayr, and within money to procure my passage. As soon a few hundred yards of Alloway church, as I was master of nine guineas, the price which his poem of Tam o' Shanter has of wafting me to the torrid zone, I took a rendered inimortal. (18) The name, which steerage-passage in the first ship that was the poet and his brother modernised into to sail from the Clyde ; for

Burns, was originally Burnes or Burness. Hungry ruin had me in the wind. Their father, William Burnes, was the son “I had been for some days skulking of a farmer in Kincardineshire, and had from covert to covert, under all the terrors received the education common in Scotland of a jail; as some ill-advised people had un- to persons in his condition of life; he could coupled the merciless pack of the law at my read and write, and had some knowledge of heels. I had taken the last farewell of my arithmetic. His family having fallen into few friends; my chest was on the road to reduced circumstances, he was compelled to Greenock; I had composed the last song I leave his home in his nineteenth year, and should ever measure in Caledonia—The turned his steps towards the south, in quest Gloomy Night is Gathering Fast-when a of a livelihood. The same necessity attended letter from Dr. Blacklock to a friend of his elder brother Robert. “I have often



heard my father” (says Gilbert Burns, intolerably well (20), and to write a little. his letter to Mrs. Dunlop) “describe the He taught, us, too, the English grammar, anguish of mind he felt when they parted I was too young to profit much from his on the top of a hill on the confines of their lessons in grammar, but Robert made some native place, each going off his several way proficiency in it-a circumstance of conin search of new adventures, and scarcely sisiderable weight in the unfolding of his knowing whither he went. My father un genius and character; as he soon became dertook to act as a gardener, and shaped | remarkal

remarkable for the fluency and correctness his course to Edinburgh, where he wrought of his expression, and read the few books hard when he could get work, passing that came in his way with much pleasure through a variety of difficulties. Still, how and improvement: for even then he was a ever, he endeavoured to spare something reader when he could get a book. Murdoch, for the support of his aged parent; and I whose library at that time had no great recollect hearing him mention his having variety in it, lent him The Life of Hannibal, sent a bank-note for this purpose, when which was the first book he read the school

cardineshire, that they scarcely knew how he had an opportunity of reading while he to employ it when it arrived." From Edin- was at school; for The Life of Wallace, burgh, William Burnes passed westward which he classes with it in one of his letters into the county of Ayr, where he engaged to you, he did not see for some years after himself as a gardener to the laird of l'airly, wards, when he borrowed it from the blackwith whom he lived two years; then chang- | smith who shod our horses." ing his service for that of Crawford of It appears that William Burnes approved Doonside. At length, being desirous of himself greatly in the service of Mr. Fersettling in life, he took a perpetual lease of guson, by his intelligence, industry, and seven acres of land from Dr. Campbell, integrity. In consequence of tliis, with a

In cor physician in Ayr, with the view of com- view of promoting his interest, Mr. Ferguson inencing nurseryman and public gardener; | leased him a farın, of which we have the and, having built a house upon it with his following account: own hands, married, in December, 1757, “The farm was upwards of seventy Agnes Brown, the mother of our poet, who acres (21) (between eighty and ninety, Enstill survives. (19) The first fruit of this glish statute measulrej, the rent of which marriage was Robert, the subject of these was to be forty pounds annually for the memoirs, born on the 25th of January, 1759, I first six years, and afterwards forty-five as has already been mentioned. Before pounds. My father endeavoured to sell his William Burnes had made much progress leasehold property, for the purpose of stockin preparing his nursery, he was withdrawn ing this farm, but at that time was unable,

m that undertaking by Mr. Ferguson, and air. Ferguson lent him a hundred pounds who purchased the estate of Doonholm, in for that purpose. He removed to his new the immediate neighbourhood, and engaged situation at Whitsuntide, 1766. It was, I him as his gardener and overseer; and this think, not above two years after this, that was his situation when our poet was born. Nurdoch, our tutor and friend, left this part Though in the service of Mr. Ferguson, he of the country; and there being no school lived in his own house, his wife managing near us, and our little services being useful her family and her little dairy, which con on the farm, my father undertook to teach sisted sometimes of two, sometimes of three us arithmetic in the winter evenings, by milch-cows; and this state of unambitious candle-light; and in this way my two eldest content continued till the year 1766. His sisters got all the education they received. son Robert was sent by him in his sixth year I remember a circumstance that happened to a school at Alloway Miln, about a mile at this time, which, though trifling in distant, taught by a person of the name of itself, is fresh in my memory, and may Campbell; but this teacher being in a few serve to illustrate the early character of my months appointed master of the workhouse brother. Murdoch came to spend a night at Ayr, William Burnes, in conjunction with with us, and to take his leave when he some other heads of families, engaged John was about to go into Carrick. He brought Murdoch in his stead. The education of our us, as a present and memorial of him, a poet, and of his brother Gilbert, was in com- small compendium of English Grammar, and mon; and of their proficiency under Mr. Mur- the tragedy of Titus Andronicus, and, by doch, we have the following account:- way of passing the evening, he began to “With him we learnt to read English | read the play aloud. We were all attention

« AnteriorContinuar »