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THE

GENIUS AND CHARACTER OF BURNS.

PREFATORY NOTE.

The principal Essay in this volume originally appeared in a work entitled “The Land of Burns, a Series of Landscapes and Portraits illustrative of the Life and Writings of THE SCOTTISH POET, with descriptive letterpress, by Professor Wilson and Robert Chambers, Esq.—Blackie & Sons, Glasgow, 1841.” For the convenience of the general reader, the following short chronicle of the more prominent dates in the career of the illustrious Poet has been subjoined.

Robert Burns was born at Alloway, near Ayr, on the 25th of January 1759 His father and family removed to the neighbouring farm of Mount Oliphant

1766 They removed to the farm of Lochlea, parish of Tarbolton, Ayrshire 1777 Burns and his brother Gilbert took the farm of Mossgiel, parish of Mauchline, Ayrshire

1784 The father of Burns died.

1784 Burns's first publication

1786 He entertained the intention of emigrating to the West Indies 1786 He visited Edinburgh

1786 The second edition of his Poems

1787 He made a tour of the south of Scotland and the Highlands

1787 He returned to Edinburgh

1787 He obtained an appointment in the Excise

1788 He left Edinburgh-married Jean Armour

1788 He took the farm of Ellisland, Dumfriesshire

1788 He removed with his family to Dumfries

1791 He contributed songs to Johnson's Museum

1792 He contributed songs to Thomson's Scottish Melodies

1792-96 His health was very much impaired

1795 He died 21st July

1796

ESSAYS

CRITICAL AND IMAGINATIVE.

THE GENIUS AND CHARACTER OF BURNS.

Burns is by far the greatest poet that ever sprung from the bosom of the people, and lived and died in a humble condition. Indeed, no country in the world but Scotland could have produced such a man; and he will be for ever regarded as the glorious representative of the genius of his country. He was born a poet, if ever man was, and to his native genius alone is owing the perpetuity of his fame. For he manifestly had never very deeply studied poetry as an art, nor reasoned much about its principles, nor looked abroad with the wide ken of intellect for objects and subjects on which to pour out his inspiration. The condition of the peasantry of Scotland, the happiest, perhaps, that Providence ever allowed to the children of labour, was not surveyed and speculated on by him as the field of poetry, but as the field of his own existence; and he chronicled the events that passed there, not merely as food for his imagination as a poet, but as food for his heart as a man. Hence, when inspired to compose poetry, poetry came gushing up from the well of his human affections, and he had nothing more to do than to pour it, like streams irrigating a meadow, in many a cheerful tide over the drooping flowers and fading verdure of life. Iubued with vivid perceptions, warm feelings, and strong

VOL. VII.

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passions, he sent his own existence into that of all things, animate and inanimate, around him; and not an occurrence in hamlet, village, or town, affecting in any way the happiness of the human heart, but roused as keen an interest in the soul of Burns, and as genial a sympathy, as if it had immediately concerned himself and his own individual wel. fare. Most other poets of rural life have looked on it through the aerial veil of imagination—often beautified, no doubt, by such partial concealment, and beaming with a misty softness more delicate than the truth. But Burns would not thus indulge his fancy where he had felt--felt so poignantly, all the agonies and all the transports of life. He looked around him, and when he saw the smoke of the cottage rising up quietly and unbroken to heaven, he knew, for he had seen and blessed it, the quiet joy and unbroken contentment that slept below; and when he saw it driven and dispersed by the winds, he knew also but too well, for too sorely had he felt them, those agitations and disturbances which had shook him till he wept on his chaff bed. In reading his poetry, therefore, we know what unsubstantial dreams are all those of the golden age. But bliss beams upon us with a more subduing brightness through the dim melancholy that shrouds lowly life; and when the peasant Burns rises up in his might as Burns the poet, and is seen to derive all that might from the life which at this hour the peasantry of Scotland are leading, our hearts leap within us, because that such is our country, and such the nobility of her children. There is no delusion, no affectation, no exaggeration, no falsehood in the spirit of Burns's poetry. He rejoices like an untamed enthusiast, and he weeps like a postrate penitent. In joy and in grief the whole man app-ars: som; of his finest effusions were poured out before he left the fields of his childhood, and when he scarcely loped for other auditors than his own heart, and the simple dwellers of the bamlet. He wrote not to please or surprise otliers—we speak of those first effusions—but in his own creative delight; and even after he had discovered his power to kindle the sparks of nature wherever they slumbered, the effect to be produced seldom seems to have been considered by him, assured that his poetry could not fail to produce the same passion in the hearts of other men from which it boiled over in his own. Out of himself, and beyond his own nearest

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