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every scene that was dear and familiar to his
with spirits and fairies, witches and warlocks, giants and kelpies. It is evident, from almost all his pieces, that it was his delight, indeed it was his forte, to localise the personages of his poetry, — whether the offspring of his brain, like Coila, supernatural beings, like the dancers in Kirk Alloway, or national heroes, like Wallace and Bruce, — with the very woods, and hills, and streams which he frequented in his boyhood. And in his mind this assimilation was so lively and abiding, that there are few of his descriptions descriptions in number, diversity, and picturesque features seldom equalled on which he has not cast such sunshine of reality, that we cannot doubt that they had their prototypes in nature, and not in nature only, but in his native district; for neither his knowledge nor his affections were ever carried far beyond the province of his birth ; and beyond Scotland they scarcely extended at all. It is probable that the mind of every one of us lays the scenes of Scripture narrative, of history, of romance, of epic poetry, in fact of all that we hear or read of, in the places where we spent our childhood and youth ; as, for example, the garden of Eden in our father's orchard, where there were many fruit trees ; the battle of Cannæ on the wide common, intersected with trenches, where a conflict is said to have been fought between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians in the civil war; the enchanted castle of some stupendous giant to have stood on the hill where the ruins of a Saxon tower rise on a mount out of a thick wood; and the pursuit of Hector by Achilles round
Troy walls, as having taken place about the nearest market town that we knew when we first read Homer. Each individual, of course, will have a different series of mnemonics of this kind, which he will find himself continually associating with the scenes of great events in the world's records and traditions. It is of some advantage, then, to the poet, that the features of the landscapes amidst which he first dwelt, but more especially those of the neighbourhood where he long went to school, should afford rich and plastic materials, which imagination can diversify a million-fold, and so accommodate as to make them the perpetual theatre of all that he has been taught to remember concerning those who have lived before him, and all that he invents to increase the pleasures of memory, to those that shall come after him. For it is not from the real and visible presence of things that the poet copies and displays; wherever he is, whatever climes he sees, his “ heart” is “still untravelled ;” and it is from the cherished recollections of what early affected him, and could never afterwards be forgotten, (having grown up into ideal beauty, grandeur, and excellence in his own mind,) that he sings, and paints, and sculptures out imperishable forms of fancy, thought, and feeling. In this respect, all the compositions of Burns homogeneous. He is in every style, in every theme, not only the patriot, the Scotchman, but the Scotchman, the patriot of Ayrshire; so dear and indissoluble are the ties of locality to minds the most aspiring and independent.
Burns, according to his own account, was distin
guished in childhood by a very retentive memory. In the stores of that memory we discover the hidden treasures of his muse, which enabled her, with a prodigality like that of nature, to pour forth images and objects of every form, and colour, and kind, while, with an economy like that of the most practised art, she selected and combined the endless characteristics of pleasing or magnificent scenery, with such simplicity and effect, under every aspect of sky or season, that the bard himself seems rather to be a companion pointing out to the eye the loveliness or horror of a prospect within our own horizon, than the enchanter creating a fairy scene visible only to imagination. He appears to invent nothing, while in truth he exercises a much higher faculty than what is frequently called invention, but which is little more than an arbitrary collocation of things, harmonious only when arranged by the hand that built the universe, or faithfully copied from original models of that hand by an earthly one, which presumes not to add a lineament of its own. The genius of Burns, like his native stream, confined to his native district, reflects the scenery on
“ the Banks of Ayr" with as much more truth and transparency than factitious landscapes are painted in the opaque pages of more ostentatious poets, as the reflections of trees, cottages, and animals
more vivid and diversified in water than the shadows of the same objects are on land.
While yet a child, in addition to his school-learning, the Life of Hannibal, and afterwards the History of Wallace, fell into his hands. These were the first books that Burns had read alone, and in all the
luxury of solitary indulgence, he stole away from toil and from pastime to enjoy them without interruption. These were also the books best suited to his genius at that age: they awoke the boldest energies of his mind, and kindled an inextinguishable flame of heroic ardour and patriotic devotion in his bosom. The child became a soldier immediately, as every lad does in his turn :— the drum and the bagpipe spake a new language to his ear, and were answered in corresponding tones from the recesses of his heart. He left his boyish sports, and strutted after the recruiting sergeant in the spirit of Hannibal over: running Italy, or Wallace repelling the ravagers of his country, Thus, the character of grandeur was stamped upon his soul while it was soft in the mould: he became a hero before he was a man; and, which was of much greater consequence to his future glory, before he was a lover. His genius was hewn out of the quarry with the strength and proportions of a Hercules : love, indeed, afterwards touched it down into a gentler form, but love himself could not reduce it to an Adonis; the original majesty remained after the original ruggedness had been chisseled away. The graces may be added to the noblest character without degrading it, but when they precede the heroic virtues they preclude them. Two stanzas from “ The Cotter's Saturday Night” will exemplify the style of his patriot poetry: “ O Scotia! my dear, my native soil !
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent, Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content;
And O may heaven their simple lives prevent
From luxury's contagion, weak and vile; Then, howe'er crowns and coronets be rent, A virtuous populace may rise the while, And stand, a wall of fire, around their much-loved
O Thou, who pour'd the patriotic tide,
That stream'd through Wallace's undaunted heart, Who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride,
Or nobly die, the second glorious part ; The patriot's God peculiarly Thou art,
His friend, inspirer, guardian, and reward ;
But still the patriot and the patriot-bard,
Love at length found him, who was to be preeminently the poet of love. Then, as the morning mists, when they retire from the risen sun, leave the landscape more beautiful, diversified, and spacious than the traveller could have supposed it before,so, when the selfishness of the child and the obstinacy of the boy were dissolved in the growing ardour of youth, Burns discovered a new creation of social feelings and generous sentiments in his soul, all referring to one object, and that the dearest and the loveliest, both to his eye and his fancy, that he had ever yet beheld. Religion had already warmed his affections, and heroism exalted his imagination; love, therefore, found him a prompt disciple, and, unfortunately for his future peace and honour, love soon became lord of the ascendant in his horoscope, and thenceforward the load-star of his genius – the master-passion of his life.