« PreviousContinue »
LIONIZED IN EDINBURGH.
dairy and the eggs. Things became so bad on the farm that the poet resolved to sail for Jamaica, in the hope of obtaining a stewardship on some sugar-plantation. Desirous both to raise the needful funds and to leave behind some lasting memorial of himself, which might prevent his name from being utterly forgotten in the land of his birth, he had six hundred copies of his poems printed at Kilmarnock, and scattered among the 1786 shops of a few booksellers. The little volume went off rapidly; and nearly twenty guineas chinked in the poet's purse, after paying all expenses of the edition. His passage was taken in the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde; his chest was on the way to Greenock; a farewell to the bonnie banks of Ayr was breathed in his touching song, The gloomy night is gathering fast; when a letter changed the current of his life, and kept the poet in his native land. It was to a friend of Burns from Dr. Blacklock of Edinburgh, himself a poet, giving such praise as the modest rustic had not dared to hope for.
True to his impulsive soul, he turned his back at once on the Clyde, and in November 1786 arrived in Edinburgh with very few shillings, and not a letter of recommendation to win a friend. But his book, which was there before him, unlocked the doors of the first Edinburgh mansions to the peasant who had so sweet a note. Burns became the rage. Earls, grave historians, popular novelists, moral philosophers, listened with applause to his fresh and brilliant talk; asked select friends to meet him at dinner; subscribed for the second edition of his poems, by which he cleared nearly £500; and then, when the gloss had worn off their plaything, and some fresh novelty had sprung up among them, this man, of whom his country is now so proud, in whose honour, not two years ago, every Scottish bell pealed joyously all day long, and every Scottish heart grew kinder all the world over, was looked coldly on, neglected, and forgotten :--but not until the poison of a capricious flattery had sown deadly seeds in the poet's soul.
The rest of his life-story, except for the immortal works his later years produced, is a tale of deep sadness, and had best be briefly told. Having taken the farm of Ellisland, about a hun
THE LAST DAYS OF BURNS,
dred acres on the Nith not far from Dumfries, he married Jean Armour, to whom he had long been attached, and settled down to a country life once more. This phase of his career opened in June 1788. Some time afterwards, by the interest of a friend, he obtained the office of exciseman for the district in which he lived. The sum he derived from this employment-never above £70 a year—but ill repaid him for the time its duties cost, and the dangers of that unsettled, convivial life, to which his excitable nature was thus exposed. After struggling for more than three years with the stubbor soil of Ellisland, and vainly trying to raise good crops while he looked after the whisky stills, he gave up the farm, and in 1791 went to live at Dumfries, upon his slender income as a gauger.
A third edition of his poems, enriched with the inimitable Tam o' Shanter, which he had written at Ellisland, came out two years later. But there were then not many sands of his life-glass to
Sickness, debt, " the proud man's contumely," and the fell gripe or bitter dregs of those dissipated habits to which his ardent, passionate nature was but too prone, cast heavy clouds upon the closing scene of his short, pathetic life. He died at Dumfries on the 21st of July 1796.
It is chiefly for his Songs that the memory of Robert Burns is so dear to his countrymen. But the lines already noticed To a Daisy and a Mouse; the beautiful domestic picture of The Cottar's Saturday Night; the noble Elegy on Captain Matthew Henderson; the mad, low-life revelry of The Jolly Beggars; and, above all, the serio-comic tale of Tam o' Shanter, with its marketday carouse, its ride through the stormy midnight, its horrible witch-dance within the old Kirk of Alloway, and its thrilling escape of the rash farmer and his old grey mare;—these are works which fully display the versatile genius of Robert Burns, and raise him to the highest rank among our British bards. Most of his poems were written in Lowland Scotch; but in a mood more than commonly pathetic, he rises to an English style, so refined and beautiful, that we almost wonder where a Scottish peasant could have learned the pure and lofty strain.
SPECIMEN OF BURNS'S VERSE.
TO A MOUNTAIN DAISY.
Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flower,
Thy slender stem:
Thou bonnie gem.
Wi' spreckled breast,
The purpling east ! Cauld blew the bitter-biting north Upon thy early, humble birth; Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm,
Thy tender form.
O'clod or stane
In humble guise;
And low thou lies ! Such is the fate of artless maid, Sweet flow'ret of the rural shade! By love's simplicity betrayed,
And guileless trust,
Low i' the dust.
Of prudent lore,
And whelm him o'er,
SPECIMEN OF BURNS'S VERSE.
Such fate to suffering worth is given,
To misery's brink,
He, ruined, sink!
Full on thy bloom,
Shall be thy doom !
EDMUND BURKE, first of our political writers and among the greatest of our orators, was born in 1730, in a house on Arran Quay, Dublin. His father was an attorney, who enjoyed a large and thriving practice. Many of Edmund's early days were spent in the county of Cork, not far from the ruined walls of Kilcolman, where his namesake Spenser had lived and written, and whence the poet had fled a broken-hearted man.
In his twelfth year young Burke was sent to school at Ballitore in Kildare ; and there, under a skilful master, Abraham Shackelton the Quaker, he studied for about two years.
Trinity College, Dublin, where his picture holds an honourable place on the wall of the Examination Hall, received him as a student in 1743. To shine at the English bar was his young ambition; and so he was entered at the Middle Temple in 1747. But he never became a lawyer; his great genius soon found its fitting sphere in a statesman's life. In the meantime, however, he began to write his way to fame. An imitation of Lord Bolingbroke's style, The Vindication of Natural Society, was followed by his well-known Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful. Having married Miss Nugent of Bath, on the strength of an allowance of £200 a year from his father and what his pen could make, he formed additional literary engagements with the bookseller Dodsley. For a sketch of American History in two volumes he received fifty guineas; and was paid at the rate of $100 a volume for the Annual