« AnteriorContinuar »
minds by nonsensical discussions, and con- | the like kind. His innate thirst for distinctemptuously asked what it was they disputed | tion and superiority was manifested in these about. Willie replied, that generally there as in more important affairs; but though he was a new subject every day; that he could was possessed of great strength, as well as not recollect all that had come under their skill, he could never match his young bedattention; but the question of to-day had fellow, John Niven. Obliged at last to been—"Whether is a great general or a re- acknowledge himself beat by this person in spectable merchant the most valuable mem bodily warfare, he had recourse for amends ber of society?" The dominie laughed to a spiritual mode of contention, and would outrageously at what he called the silliness engage young Niven in an argument about of such a question, seeing there could be no some speculative question, when, of course, doubt for a moment about it. “Well,” said he invariably floored his antagonist. His Burns, "if you think so, I will be glad if you satisfaction on these occasions is said to take any side you please, and allow me to have been extreme. One day, as he was take the other, and let us discuss it before walking slowly along the street of the village the school.” Rodger most unwisely assented, in a manner customary to him, with his eyes and commenced the argument by a flourish bent on the ground, he was met by the in favour of the general. Burns answered Misses Biggar, the daughters of the parish by a pointed advocacy of the pretensions of pastor. He would have passed without the merchant, and soon had an evident su- noticing them, if one of the young ladies periority over his preceptor. The latter had not called him by name. She then replied, but without success. His hand was rallied him on his inattention to the fair observed to shake; then his voice trembled; sex, in preferring to look towards the inani. and he dissolved the house in a state of mate ground, instead of seizing the opporvexation pitiable to behold. In this anecdote, | tunity afforded him of indulging in the wilo can fail to read a prognostication of most invaluable privilege of man, that of future eminence to the two disputants ? The beholding and conversing with the ladies. one became the most illustrious poet of his “Madam," said he, “it is a natural and country; and it is not unworthy of being right thing for man to contemplate the mentioned in the same sentence, that the 1 ground, from whence he was taken, and for Oher advanced, through a career of success- woman to look upon and obs ful industry in his native town, to the pos. | whom she was taken." This was a conceit, session of a large estate in its neighbourhood, but it was the conceit of “no vulgar boy." and some share of the honours usually There is a great fair at Kirkoswald in the reserved in this country for birth and aristo- beginning of August--on the same day, we cratic connection.
believe, with a like fair at Kirkoswald in The coast in the neighbourhood of Burns's Northumberland, both places having taken residence at Ballochneil presented a range of their rise from the piety of one person, rustic characters upon whom his genius was Oswald, a Saxon king of the heptarchy, destined to confer an extraordinary interest. whose memory is probably honoured in At the farm of Shanter, on a slope overlook- these observances. During the week preing the shore, not far from Turnberry Castle, ceding this fair in the year 1777, Burns lived Douglas Graham, a stout hearty specimade overtures to his Maybole friend, men of the Carrick farmer, a little addicted | Willie, for their getting up a dance, on the to smuggling, but withal a worthy and evening of the approaching festival, in one upright member of society, and a kind of the public-houses of the village, and innatured man. He had a wife named Helen | viting their sweethearts to it. Willie knew MTaggart, who was unusually addicted to little at that time of dances or sweethearts; superstitious beliefs and fears. The steading but he liked Burns, and was no enemy to where this good couple lived is now no more, amusement. He therefore consented, and it for the farm has been divided for the in- was agreed that some other young men crease of two others in its neighbourhood; should be requested to join in the underbut genius has given them a perennial ex- taking. The dance took place, as designed, istence in the tale of Tam oʻShanter, where the requisite music being supplied by a their characters are exactly delineated under hired band; and about a dozen couples parthe respective appellations of Tam and took of the fun. When it was proposed to Kate. * * * *
part, the reckoning was called, and found to At Ballochneil, Burns engaged heartily in amount to eighteen shillings and fourpence. the sports of leaping, dancing, wrestling, It was then discovered that almost every putting (throwing) the stone, and others of one present had looked to his neighbours for
BURNS IN LOVE WITH PEGGY THOMSON.
the means of settling this claim. Burns, bewildering passion of the poet. Peggy the originator of the scheme, was in the was the theme of his " Song composed in poetical condition of not being master of a | August,” beginning, single penny. The rest were in the like “Now westlin winds and slaughtering guns condition, all except one, whose resources Brings Autumn's pleasant weather.” amounted to a groat, and Maybole Willie, who possessed about half-a-crown. The
She afterwards became Mrs. Neilson, and last individual, who alone boasted any
lived to a good age in the town of Ayr, worldly wisdom or experience, took it upon
where her children still reside. him to extricate the company from its diffi
At his departure from Kirkoswald, he culties. By virtue of a candid and sensible
candid and sensible engaged his Maybole friend and some other narration to the landlord, he induced that
lads to keep up a correspondence with him. individual to take what they had, and give
His object in doing so, as we may gather credit for the remainder. The payment of
from his own narrative, was to improve the debt is not the worst part of the story.
himself in composition. “I carried this Seeing no chance from begging or borrow
whim so far." says he, “that, though I had ing. Willie resolved to gain it, if possible. not three farthings' worth of business in the by merchandise. Observing that stationery i world, yet almost every post brought me as articles for the school were procured at
į many letters as if I had been a broad ploddKirkoswald with difficulty, he supplied him
ing son of day-book and ledger." To self with a stock from his father's warehouse
Willie, in particular, he wrote often, and in at Maypole, and for some weeks sold pens
the most friendly and confidential terms. and paper to his companions, with so much
When that individual was commencing advantage, that at length he realised a suffi.
business in his native town, the poet ad. cient amount of protit to liquidate the ex
dressed him a poetical epistle of appropriate pense of the dance. Burns and he then
advice, headed with the well-known lines went in triumph to the inn, and not only
from Blair's Grave, beginning settled the claim to the last penny, but "Friendship! mysterious cement of the soul, gave the kind-hearted host a bowl of thanks
Sweetener of life and solder of society." into the bargain. Willie, however, took This correspondence continued till the period care from that time forth to engage in no of the publication of the poems, when schemes for country dances without looking Burns wrote to request his friend's good carefully to the probable state of the pockets offices in increasing his list of subscribers. of his fellow adventurers.
The young man was then possessed of little Burns, according to his own account, con- influence; but what little he had, he excluded his residence at Kirkoswald in a erted with all the zeal of friendship, and blaze of passion for a fair filette who lived with considerable success. A considerable next door to the school. At this time, number of copies was accordingly transowing to the destruction of the proper mitted in proper time to his care, and soon school of Kirkoswald, a chamber at the end after the poet came to Maybole to receive of the old church, the business of parochial the money. His friend collected a few instruction was conducted in an apartment choice spirits to meet him at the King's on tlie ground floor of a house in the mainArms Inn, and they spent a happy night street of the village, opposite the church- together. Burns was on this occasion paryard. From behind this house, as from ticularly elated, for Willie, in the midst of behind each of its neighbours in the same their conviviality, handed over to him above row, a small stripe of kail-yard (Anglice, seven pounds, being the first considerable kitchen garden) runs back abort fifty yards, 1 sum of money the poor bard had ever posalong a rapidly ascending slope. When, sessed. In the pride of his heart, next Burns went into the particular patch behind morning, he determined that he should not the school to take the sun's altitude, he had | walk home, and accordingly he hired from only to look over a low enclosure to see the his host a certain poor hack mare, well similar patch connected with the next house. known along the whole road from Glasgow Here, it seems, Peggy Thomson, the to Portpatrick-in all probability the first daughter of the rustic occupant of that hired conveyance that Poet Burns had ever house, was walking at the time, though enjoyed, for even his subsequent journey to more probably engaged in the business of Edinburgh, aspicious as were the prospects cutting a cabbage for the family dinner, under which it was undertaken, was perthan imitating the flower-gathering Proser- formed on foot. Willie and a few other pine, or her prototype Eve. Hence the youths who had been in his company on the
preceding night, walked out of town before I to ascend some eminence during the agitahim, for the purpose of taking leave at a tions of nature; to stride along its summit, particular spot; and before he came up, while the lightning flashed around him ; and, they had prepared a few mock-heroic verses amidst the howlings of the tempest, to aposin which to express their farewell. When trophise the spirit of the storm. Such Burns rode up, accordingly, they saluted situations he declares most favourable to him in this formal manner, a little to his devotion :-"Rapt in enthusiasm, I seem
instantly added, “What need of all this wings of the winds !" If other proofs were fine parade of verse ? It would have been wanting of the character of his genius, this
might determine it. The heart of the poet Here comes Burns,
is peculiarly awake to every impression of On Rosinante;
beauty and sublimity; but with the higher She's d - poor,
order of poets, the beautiful is less attractive But he's d-canty."
than the sublime. The company then allowed Burns to go on The gaiety of many of Burns's writings, his way rejoicing. (39.)
and the lively and even cheerful colouring Under the humble roof of his parents, it with which he has portrayed his own chaappears that our poet had great advantages;racter, may lead some persons to suppose, but his opportunities of information at that the melancholy which hung over him school were more limited as to time than towards the end of his days was not an orithey usually are among his countrymen in ginal part of his constitution. It is not to his condition of life; and the acquisitions be doubted, indeed, that this melancholy which he made, and the poetical talent acquired a darker hue in the progress of his which he exerted, under the pressure of early life; but, independent of his own and of his and incessant toil, and of inferior, and per- | brother's testimony, evidence is to be found haps scanty nutriment, testify at once the among his papers, that he was subject very extraordinary force and activity of his mind. early to those depressions of mind, which In his frame of body he rose nearly to five are perhaps not wholly separable from the feet ten inches, and assumed the proportions sensibility of genius, but which in him arose
the various labours of the farm he excelled letter, addressed to his father, will serve as a all his competitors. Gilbert Burns declares proof of this observation. It was written at that in mowing, the exercise that tries all the time when he was learning the business the muscles most severely, Robert was the of a flax dresser, and is dated only man that, at the end of a summer's day, he was ever obliged to acknowledge as
“Irvine, December 27, 1781. his master. But though our poet gave the "HONOURED SIR.--I have purposely depowers of his body to the labours of the layed writing, in the hope that I should have farm, he refused to bestow on them his the pleasure of seeing you on New-year'sthoughts or his care. While the plough-day; but work comes so hard upon us, that share under his guidance passed through the I do not choose to be abse sward, or the grass fell under the sweep of as well as for some other little reasons, which his scythe, he was humming the songs of I shall tell you at meeting. My health is his country, musing on the deeds of ancient nearly the same as when you were here, only vilour, or wrapt in the illusion of fancy, as my sleep is a little sounder; and, on the her enchantments rose on his view. Happily whole, I am rather better than otherwise, the Sunday is yet a sabbath, on which man though I mend by very slow degrees. The and beast rest from their labours. On this weakness of my nerves has so debilitated my day, therefore, Burns could indulge in a free mind, that I dare neither review past events, intercourse with the charms of nature. It nor look forward into futurity; for the least was his delight to wander alone on the anxiety or perturbation in my breast, probanks of the Ayr, whose stream is now im- duces most unhappy effects on my whole mortal, and to listen to the song of the frame. Sometimes, indeed, when for an hour blackbird at the close of the summer's day. or two my spirits are a little lightened, I But still greater was his pleasure, as he glimmer a little into futurity; but my prinhimself informs us, in walking on the cipal, and indeed my only pleasurable emsheltered side of a wood, in a cloudy winter ployment, is looking backwards and forwards day, and hearing the storm rave among the in a moral and religious way. I am quite trees; and more elevated still his delight, transported at the thought, that ere long,
BURNS'S DEBATING CLUB.
very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all. ful and generous mind. In such a state of the pains and uneasinesses, and disquietudes reflection, and of suffering, the imagination of this weary life, for I assure you I am of Burns naturally passed the dark boundaheartily tired of it; and, if I do not very ries of our earthly horizon, and rested on much deceive myself, I could contentedly and those beautiful representations of a better gladly resign it.
world, where there is neither thirst, nor hun. . The soul, uneasy and confin'd at home, ger, nor sorrow; and where happiness shall
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.' be in proportion to the capacity of happiness. “It is for this reason I am more pleased Such a disposition is far from being at va. with the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the riance with social enjoyments. Those who 7th chapter of Revelations, than with any have studied the affinities of mind, know that ten times as many verses in the whole Bible, a melancholy of this description, after a while, and would not exchange the noble enthusiasm seeks relief in the endearments of society, and with which they inspire me, for all that this that it has no distant connection with the world has to offer. (40) As for this world, I flow of cheerfulness, or even the extravagance despair of ever making a figure in it. I am of mirth. It was a few days after the writing not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor of this letter that our poet, “in giving a wel. the flutter of the gay. I shall never again come carousal to the new year, with his gay be capable of entering into such scenes. In- companions," suffered his flax to catch fire, deed, I am altogether unconcerned at the and his shop to be consumed to ashes. (42) thoughts of this life. I foresee that poverty The energy of Burns's mind was not exand obscurity probably await me; I am in hausted by his daily labours, the effusion of some measure prepared, and daily preparing, his muse, his social pleasures, or his solitary to meet them. I have but just time and meditations. Some time previous to his enpaper to return you my grateful thanks for gagement as a flax-dresser, having heard that the lessons of virtue and piety you have given a debating club had been established in Ayr, me, which were too much neglected at the he resolved to try how such a meeting would time of giving them, but which, I hope, have siicceed in the village of Tarbolton. About been remembered ere it is yet too late. Pre- the end of the year 1780, our poet, his bro. sent my dutiful respects to my mother, and ther, and five other young peasants of the my compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Muir; and neighbourhood, formed themselves into a 30with wishing you a merry New-year's-day, I ciety of this sort, the declared objects of shall conclude. I am, honoured sir, your which were to re dutiful son,
"ROBERT BURNS. promote sociality and friendship, and to im"P.S.--My meal is nearly out; but I am
prove the mind. The laws and regulations
were furnished by Burns. The meinberg going to borrow, till I get more."
were to meet after the labours of the day This letter, written several years before were over, once a week, in a small public. the publication of his poems, when his name house in the village, where each should offer was as obscure as his condition was humble, his opinion on a given question or subject, displays the philosophic melancholy which so supporting it by such arguments as he generally forms the poetical temperament, thought proper. The debate was to be conand that buoyant and ambitious spirit which ducted with order and decorum; and after indicates a mind conscious of its strength. it was finished, the members were to choose At Irvine, Burns at this time possessed a a subject for discussion at the ensuing meetsingle room for his lodging, rented perhaps at ing. The sum expended by each was not to the rate of a shilling a-week. He passed his exceed threepence; and, with the humble days in constant labour as a flax-dresser, and potation that this could procure, they were his food consisted chiefly of oatmeal, sent to to toast their mistresses, and to cultivate him from his father's family. The store of friendship with each other. This society this humble, though wholesome nutriment, continued its meetings regularly for some it appears was nearly exhausted, and he was time; and in the autumn of 1782, wishing about to borrow till he should obtain a sup- to preserve some account of their proceedply. (41) Yet even in this situation, his ) ings, they purchased a book, into which their active imagination had formed to itself pic- | laws and regulations were copied, with a tures of eminence and distinction. His de- | preamble, containing a short history of their spair of making a figure in the world, shows transactions down to that period. This how ardently he wished for honourable fame; curious document, which is evidently the and his contempt of life, founded on this work of our poet, has been discovered, and it despair, is the genuine expression of a youth-, deserves a place in his memoirs.
“ HISTORY OF THE RISE, PROCEEDINGS, AND | them a girl every way agreeable in person REGULATIONS OF THE BACHELORS' CLUB. conversation, and behaviour, but without any Of birth or blood we do not boast,
fortune: which of them shall he choose ? Nor gentry does our club afford; Finding ourselves very happy in our society, But ploughman and mechanics we
we resolved to continue to meet once a In Nature's simple dress record.'
month in the same house, in the way and "As the great end of human society is to manner proposed, and shortly thereafter we become wiser and better, this ought there chose Robert Ritchie for another member. fore to be the principal view of every man in In May, 1781, we brought in David Sillar, every station of life. But as experience has (43) and in June, Adam Jamaison, as memtaught us, that such studies as inform the bers. About the beginning of the year 1782, head and mend the heart, when long con- we admitted Matthew Patterson and John tinued, are apt to exhaust the faculties of the Orr, and in June following we choose James mind, it has been found proper to relieve Patterson as a proper brother for such a society. and unbend the mind by some employment | The club being thus increased, we resolved to or another, that may be agreeable enough to meet at Tarbolton on the race night, the July keep its powers in exercise, but at the same following, and have a dance in honour of our time not so serious as to exhaust them. But society. Accordingly, we did meet, each one superadded to this, by far the greater part of with a partner, and spent the evening in such mankind are under the necessity of earning innocence and merriment, such cheerfulness the sustenance of human life by the labour of and good humour, that every brother will their boilies, whereby, not only the faculties long remember it with pleasure and delight.” of mind, but the nerves and sinews of the To this preamble are subjoined the rules and body, are so fatigued, that it is absolutely regulations. necessary to have recourse to some ainuse. The philosophical mind will dwell with ment or diversion, to relieve the wearied man, interest and pleasure on an institution that worn down with the necessary labours of combined so skilfully the means of instruc. life.
tion and of happiness; and if grandeur look3 "As the best of things, however, have been down with a smile on these simple annals,
ted to the worst of purposes, so, under let us trust that it will be a smile of benevothe pretence of amusement and diversion, i lence and approbation. It is with regret men have plunged into all the madness of that the sequel of the history of the Bacheriot and dissipation; and, instead of attend. | lors' Club of Tarbolton must be told. It ing to the grand design of human life, they | survived several years after our poet removed have begun with extravagance and folly, and from Ayrshire, but no longer sustained by ended with guilt and wretchedness. Im- his talents, or cemented by his social affecpressed with these considerations, we, the tions, its meetings lost much of their attracfollowing lads in the parish of Tarbolton, tion; and at length, in an evil hour, dissenviz. Hugh Reid, Robert Burns, Gilbert Burns, sion arising amongst its members, the insti. Alexander Brown, Walter Mitchell, Thomas tution was given up, and the records comWright, and William M.Gavin, resolved, for mitted to the flames. Happily, the preamble
to unite ourselves , and the regulations were spared; and, as into a club, or society, under such rules and i matter of instruction and of example, they regulations, that while we should forget our are transmitted to posterity. cares and labours in mirth and diversion, we After the family of our bard removed from might not transgress the bounds of inno- Tarbolton to the neighbourhood of Mauchcence and decorum; and after agreeing on line, he and his brother were requested to these, and some other regulations, we held assist in forming a similar institution there. our first meeting at Tarbolton, in the house The regulations of the club at Mauchline of John Richard, upon the evening of the were nearly the same as those of the club at llth November, 1780, commonly called Tarbolton; but one laudable alteration was Hallowe'en, and after choosing Robert Burns made. The fines for non-attendance had at president forthe night, we proceeded to debate Tarbolton been spent in enlarging their on this question : Suppose a young man, scanty potations : at Mauchline it was fixed, bred a farmer, but without any fortune, has that the money so arising should be set it in his power to marry either of two women,, apart for the purchase of books, and the first the one a girl of large fortune, but neither work procured in this manner was the Mirhandsome in person nor agreeable in conver- ror, the separate numbers of which were at sation, but who can manage the household that time recently collected and published in affairs of a farm well enough; the other of volumes. After it, followed a number of