Page images

strongly fortified, and laborious exercise at the first possible age also assisted to perfect an athletic frame, worthy its animating soul. Early labor, so far from being unprofitable and oppressive, is in a temperate degree the greatest blessing of young years. Happy is that boy or girl, whose parents' necessities compel him or her, during a considerable portion of the time, to work. Hard work is, I know, unpopular, and for two most obvious reasons: First, because all men are naturally sloth-loving: Secondly, because we have inherited a silly feudal prejudice against the pursuits of mechanism and agriculture; a prejudice which, the sooner we attack and dig out from our hearts, the sooner shall we be free from a pestilential and consuming rot which threatens to gangrene and result in the death of all true republicanism. I do not mean to assert that Burns' poverty was an unmingled benefit. On the contrary, it is probable that it was the first exciting cause of that morbid melancholy that rendered gloomy his whole after life, and tinged with a sombre hue the fierce fire of his genius. Precocious in his intellect and sympa. thetic in his disposition, Robert felt deeply for his father laboring under crushing disadvantages; and doubtless his excess of sensibility, operating upon an immature strength of endurance, prompted to improper toil and produced habitual despondency. His father, notwithstanding his numerous thought-demanding embarrassments, discharged conscientiously the duty of a faithful parent, in the careful education of his children. He was not forgetful, as many seem to be, that a decent education is indispensably necessary to the maintenance of a respectable social position, even for a poor man's offspring. Accordingly, at the age of six years, Robert was sent to a small school at Alloway Miln; and when soon after it was broken up, Mr. Burns,


the first possible

rame, worthy is eing unprofitable greatest blessing

, whose parents

onsiderable por

is, I know,

asons: First, :Secondly,

judice against

; a prejudice our hearts


and result

ot mean to enefit. On

t exciting

loomy his

the fierce


's father

1g his




with four of his neighbors, engaged a private tutor, whom
they supported from their not very abundant means.
ert Burns and his younger brother Gilbert, were noted as
the most intelligent and studious of this little class. But
what may excite surprise, Robert was never considered,
when compared with his brother, the genius of his father's

It is difficult, indeed, if not quite impossible, to foretell from the first indications of childhood, what is to be the future character of the man. Often have the most promising boys ripened into an idiotic maturity, while as frequently, reputed dunces have grown up to a gigantic intellectual stature. The poet himself, retrospecting in after life this early portion of his history, remarks: "At those years I was by no means a favorite with any body. I was a good deal noted for a retentive memory, a stubborn, sturdy something in my disposition, and an enthusiastic idiot piety. I say idiot piety, because I was then but a child."

Let us pause to remark, that predominence of the relitless his gious temperament is ever characteristic of high poetic trength genius. I shall be pointed to examples of unbelieving oduced poets, as proof of my mistake in this assertion. Unconvinced, I reply that even these are not exceptions to the general truth of my observation. Even they will, by an analysis of their character, be found, if I mistake not, to manifest an extraordinary development of the religious sentiment. "God is love," and before his nature-pervading spirit, every poet-soul bows with an intensity of devotion unknown to common men. I can conceive of nothing like genius unattended by an humble prostration. before the great soul of Universal Being, uninspired by the God-essential fire of life. Opinions, the children of in

many essa.


age Tay


tellect, may differ in their features, and if the legitimate children of independent minds, will differ. I acknowledge no Procrustean creed decapitating non-conformity. But the heart beats alike in all bosoms where it lives and is hot, and its out-gushings from a deep fountain are ever Heavenward. That man who has no religious feeling, no matter ⚫ how orthodox his speculative opinions may be, is a moral iceberg. We shiver in his chilling presence. He whose glowing heart-altar sends up an instinctive incense, it matters not towards what star the perfume rises, is a true bard of Nature's own anointing; and though words may not have bodied forth his yearnings for the infinite, they have none the less thrilled one bosom with the divine poetry of worship. Burns was a genuine bird of paradise, and his early childhood was, as he says, remarkable for an enthusiastic idiot piety. I would, that such an idiocy characterized a few of the brilliant boys, and even some of the marvelously gifted young men, of our highly-favored cities. We might perhaps occasionally hear a really rational, remark without a single ornamental oath. As it is, were the language of profanity banished, many most popular loafers would become quiet as ghosts, only replying when spoken to, in the shortest monosyllables.

The early years of Burns' life, like those of most, were undistinguished by many striking incidents. At the age of sixteen he commenced attending a dancing-school, in opposition, as he confessed, to his father's wishes. Rigid religionists were then, as now, violently opposed to many innocent and healthful amusements-entertaining the ascetic notion that true piety demands an entire abstinence from any thing like physical gratification; a notion finding no support in Nature or Revelation, originating in constitutional morosity of disposition or a hypocritical


and if the legitim

fer. I acknowled n-conformity. Bu -e it lives and is ba are ever Heaver

feeling, no matte y be, is a mon ence. He whos incense, it ma S, is a true bar

vords may no le, they have Line poetry of dise, and his r an enthu

character me of the red cities.

onal, rewere the loafers


[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

pharisaism, and readily iml ibed from others by those whose weak brains shrink from independent reflection. That. any one ever reasoned himself into a belief of the sinfulness of dancing, without a previous prejudice against it, I do not believe that any man or woman can present a single objection to the amusement, deduced from its necessary effects, physical, intellectual or moral, I unhesitatingly deny.

About the same age, our poet first experienced the intoxicating influence of love; a passion which he continued to feel through life; which, to a great extent, controled all his subsequent conduct, and to which is attributable no small portion of his most rapturous inspiration. Burns and Byron are, par excellence, the poets of love; the former presenting its common, the latter its sentimental phases. Byron loved and sang with the fiery aestro of an amorous fiend; Burns glowed with a more human though perhaps not less ardent flame. He says of himself, that his strongest impulse was "un penchant pour l'adorable moitre du geure humain." No instinct is so potent as that impelling together two kindred hearts, inhabiting respectively a manly and a tender bosom. Humanity knows no such adoration as of the beloved one:

"Earthly life has nought

Matched with that burst of Nature, even in thought;
And all our dreams of better life above

But close in one eternal gush of love."

It is not uncommon to speak lightly, and to smile with ridicule, at the mention of changeless, sentimental love. I doubt not it is a rare emotion, entirely above and beyond the capacity of the vulgar beaux and beauties of either country or city. But that it does somewhere exist in its

purity and perfection, I would not willingly disbelieve, for I must then detest humanity. The painted belle and the perfumed fop of fashionable society are doubtless as incapable of real affection as the coarse romp and the shallow rustic of more plebian circles. But that a woman's heart may not cling with a faithful grasp to the man on whom its choice is fixed, and that a man may not ever cherish, with undiminished tenderness, the object of his first deep passion; a thousand instances of freezing hearts and broken vows will not convince one who so ardently desires as I do, to think well of human nature. "Truth and fervor and devotedness" too often find no worthy altar in this frigid world. Yet are they glorious proof that man has not quite lost the image of his Sire. Love is a holy passion and near akin to piety; its disinterestedness is characteristic of that holiness that so sublimes the soul. Its existence makes so far heroic. Instead of smiling on the poet-lover, I would bid him by all means cultivate his sentiment, so far as governing reason will permit.

Three months after their father's death, which occurred in 1784, Robert and his brother Gilbert leased a farm in company, upon which they remained four years, during which he composed the greater number of his best poems, -conceiving and completing while behind his plow in the field. His example would prove, if we had no other reason to suspect, that open air and muscular exercise are highly favorable to mental activity. Doubtless every one's experience has convinced him of this truth. We are never able to exert our intellect to its utmost power, except in a healthful state of the physical system; and to perfect health abundant exercise is absolutely indispensable. Burns was from necessity accustomed to daily toil, and he did not fail to reap the health and strength which Provi

« PreviousContinue »