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distress and confusion, Burns died at home, attended by a girl, Miss Lewars, who had nursed him in his months of decline (July 21, 1796). During his burial, which was conducted with military pomp, his posthumous son was born.
Montaigne, in a well-known phrase, has defined man as ondoyant et divers. In Burns, who was so essentially human, these qualities, fluctuating and changeful, were carried, like all the elements of his nature, to a power almost without precedent. He was, on different occasions, excessive in passion, in remorse; oblivious of his regret, he erred, repented, boasted: again he could be tender with the tenderness of Shakespeare, or hard, till the mood was over; he was proud, and would humble himself, till his letters, in the vehemence and the instability of their emotions remind us of the letters of Coleridge. Through all the vicissitudes of humours, the sorrow, the remorseful or the self-willed despairs, his guiding stars were courage and faith. His creed was not orthodox, indeed, but it was sincere : he never lost sight and touch of the spiritual. When Bloomfield, the rustic English poet, was told to "remember Burns," he said that he did remember him, but that the warning was needless, he had neither Burns's power nor Burns's passions. That mysterious thing which we call genius, has very seldom been associated in modern men at once with force and with balance. Coleridge, Shelley, Musset, Byron, were all partakers with Burns in a rapidity, variety, and intensity of emotion which were incompatible with a "douce," comfortable, tranquil existence. his case the accident of social position emphasised, in a constant series of contrasts, much that was not peculiar to him, but the ordinary modern attendant of a genius without equilibrium. It is hardly conceivable that, in any rank, with any education, Burns could have preserved his balance as Wordsworth, Scott, Goethe, Shakespeare, and the majority of their classical peers, succeeded in doing. He never could have been happy, no more than Cowper, no more than Byron, no more than Shelley and Coleridge. He was born to beat his wings against the bars of his prison, even if they were no more closely confining than the flammantia moenia mundi. The world of all these great men, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Burns, was not a secure society, like that of Aeschylus and
Sophocles, but was rent with earthquake, and darkened with eclipse. Hence, perhaps, came their restlessness and revolt. Yet, had Burns been the contemporary of Sophocles, fancy can hardly picture him as tranquil; stirring he would have been: a reveller, a leader of the Demos, a friend of the new heretical ideas, in society an Alcibiades, in politics a Cleon, in religion and literature an Euripides, never a man who, like Sophocles, saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”
These reflections may be fantastic; they are only meant to indicate the writer's belief that birth and wealth could not have made Burns happy, or cured his inconsolable discontent. His spleen, no doubt, was inflamed by poverty, by the uneasiness of a man whose genius has taken him into a sphere where he was not born, and where, for want of money, he could not always and easily move. This made part of his misery, but, in any other rank than his own, he could not, of course, have become the immortal voice of labour, the immortal proof that poverty cannot destroy or depress genius. Burns was born to revive and reassert the Scotch spirit as it would have been but for puritanism. In him lives all the mirth, the sensuousness, the joy in mundane existence, which the Reformers did their best to stamp out. The merry
Scotland that had been jolly at Christ's Kirk on the Green, or in Peebles at the play, awakes in him, but awakes in wrath as well as in mirth. In him Folk Song and Folk Romance, never wholly extinct, became consciously artistic. He is not, in poetry, an innovator, but a "continuator.” always has a model in the music and the lyrics of the people, in the humour and the measures of Lindsay and Dunbar, in the passion of the ballad singers. It is into the dry bones of tradition, and the stifled consciousness of a people that he breathes new life. As this revival coincided with the general European Revolution, it had all the more influence on literature, especially on Wordsworth, on Scott, and on a poet so unlike Burns in style and quality as Keats.
"A' contributors are, in a manner, fierce," says the Ettrick Shepherd, and most writers on Burns are fierce too, in a manner. Mr Carlyle was fierce, of course, and, in his essay on Burns he says that the whole poetry of Keats "consists in a weak-eyed maudlin sensibility, and a certain vague random
tunefulness of nature," echoing in less odious terms the old brutalities of Blackwood's Magazine. Keats, in fact, in his Letters, displays a sympathy with Burns, and a lucidity of judgment, worth much more than all the frothy rhetoric of Christopher North, for example. "We can see horribly clearly in the works of such a man his whole life, as if we were God's spies," says Keats. That is the precise truth; no life of Burns is needed, much less any moralising on his life, by a reader of his poems. He has drawn his own portrait, and drawn it without relenting. If he is drunk, or has the spleen, if he is tender, or fatuous, indignant or grateful, kind or unkind, repentant, resolute, maudlin, or in revolt, even so he writes, and the verse is alive to testify to it.
I have not made much lament for the poverty of Burns. Mr Carlyle thinks that, had his father been richer, had he gone to an University, he might have "come forth a regular well-trained intellectual workman and changed the whole course of British literature." We might as well wish that Jeanne d'Arc had been educated at Sandhurst, or Saint-Cyr! Trained by Blair and Dugald Stewart, Burns might have emerged as a moderate divine, or a follower of Young, or Akenside. He had, probably, about as much schooling as Shakespeare; he had the best education for his genius. Better Scots poetry he could not have written had he been an Ireland Scholar, and his business was to write Scots poetry. The people of whom he came he could not have represented as he did, if a long classical education and many academic years had come between him and the clay bigging of his birth. It is awful to think of, but he might have died a Professor of Moral Philosophy, like Christopher North. Burns, one cannot say it too strongly, is quite good enough as he is! He was a careful and conscientious artist: he gave the needful attention to his work, altering and improving, but not more. He could not have bettered Tam o' Shanter, or Hallow Een, or The Jolly Beggars, if he had been steeped in Longinus and Quintilian, Dr Blair his rhetoric, and the writings of Boileau. A man's work, after all, is what he could do, and had to do. One fails to see how any change of worldly circumstance could have bettered the true work of Burns.
Tune-"I am a man unmarried."
O ONCE I lov'd a bonie lass,
And whilst that virtue warms my breast,
But Nelly's looks are blythe and sweet,
And what is best of a',
Her reputation is complete,
She dresses aye sae clean and neat,
And then there's something in her gait
A gaudy dress and gentle air
"Tis this in Nelly pleases me,
Song O Tibbie, I hae seen the day."1
Tune-"Invercauld's Reel, or Strathspey."
Chor.--O Tibbie, I hae seen the day,