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Faustus is gone?-regard his hellish fall,
But these, and many other smooth and fanciful verses in this curious old drama, prove nothing, we think, against the originality of Manfred; for there is nothing to be found there of the pride, the abstraction, and the heart-rooted misery in which that originality consists. Faustus is a vulgar sorcerer, tempted to sell his soul to the Devil for the ordinary price of sensual pleasure, and earthly power and glory-and who shrinks and shudders in agony when the forfeit comes to be exacted. The style, too, of Marlowe, though elegant and scholarlike, is weak and childish compared with the depth and force of much of what we have quoted from Lord Byron; and the disgusting buffoonery and low farce of which his piece is principally made up,
place it much more in contrast, than in any terms of comparison, with that of his noble successor. In the tone and pitch of the composition, as well as in the character of the diction in the more solemn parts, the piece before us reminds us much more of the Prometheus of Eschylus, than of any more modern performance. The tremendous solitude of the principal person-the supernatural beings with whom alone he holds communion
the guilt-the firmness-the misery-are all points of resemblance, to which the grandeur of the poetic imagery only gives a more striking effect. The chief differences are, that the subject of the Greek poet was sanctified and exalted by the established belief of his country; and that his terrors are nowhere tempered with the sweetness which breathes from so many passages of his English rival.
Reliques of ROBERT BURNS, consisting chiefly of Original Letters, Poems, and Critical Observations on Scottish Songs. Collected and published by R. H. CROMEK. 8vo. pp. 450.
BURNS is certainly by far the greatest of our poetical prodigies from Stephen Duck down to Thomas Dermody. They are forgotten already; or only remembered for derision. But the name of Burns, if we are not mistaken, has not yet "gathered all its fame;" and will endure long after those circumstances are forgotten which contributed to its first notoriety. So much indeed are we impressed with a sense of his merits, that we cannot help thinking it a derogation from them to consider him as a prodigy at all; and are convinced that he will never be rightly estimated as a poet, till that vulgar wonder be entirely repressed which was raised on his having been a ploughman. It is true, no doubt, that he was born in an humble station; and that much of his early life was devoted to severe labour, and to the society of his fellow-labourers. But he was not himself either uneducated or illiterate; and was placed in a situation more favourable, perhaps, to the develop ment of great poetical talents, than any other which could have been assigned him. He was taught, at a very early age, to read and write; and soon after acquired a competent knowledge of French, together with the elements of Latin and Geometry. His taste for reading was encouraged by his parents and many of his associates; and, before he had ever composed a single stanza, he was not only familiar with many prose writers, but far more intimately acquainted with Pope, Shakespeare, and Thomson, than nine tenths. of the youth that now leave our schools for the university. Those authors, indeed, with some old collections of songs, and the lives of Hannibal and of Sir William Wallace, were his habitual study from the first days of his
childhood; and, co-operating with the solitude of his rural occupations, were sufficient to rouse his ardent and ambitious mind to the love and the practice of poetry. He had about as much scholarship, in short, we imagine, as Shakespeare; and far better models to form his ear to harmony, and train his fancy to graceful invention.
We ventured, on a former occasion, to say something of the effects of regular education, and of the general diffusion of literature, in repressing the vigour and originality of all kinds of mental exertion. That speculation was perhaps carried somewhat too far; but if the paradox have proof any where, it is in its application to poetry. Among well educated people, the standard writers of this description are at once so venerated and so familiar, that it is thought equally impossible to rival them, as to write verses without attempting it. If there be one degree of fame which excites emulation, there is another which leads to despair: Nor can we conceive any one less likely to be added to the short list of original poets, than a young man of fine fancy and delicate taste, who has acquired a high relish poetry, by perusing the most celebrated writers, and conversing with the most intelligent judges. The head of such a person is filled, of course, with all the splendid passages of ancient and modern authors, and with the fine and fastidious remarks which have been made even on those passages. When he turns his eyes, therefore, on his own conceptions or designs, they can scarcely fail to appear rude and contemptible. He is perpetually haunted and depressed by the ideal presence of those great masters, and their exacting critics. He is aware to what
comparisons his productions will be subjected among his own friends and associates; and recollects the derision with which so many rash adventurers have been chased back to their obscurity. Thus, the merit of his great predecessors chills, instead of encouraging his ardour; and the illustrious names which have already reached to the summit of excellence, act like the tall and spreading trees of the forest, which overshadow and strangle the saplings which may have struck root in the soil below-and afford efficient shelter to nothing but creepers and parasites.
There is, no doubt, in some few individuals, "that strong divinity of soul"—that decided and irresistible vocation to glory, which, in spite of all these obstructions, calls out, perhaps once or twice in a century, a bold and original poet from the herd of scholars and academical literati. But the natural tendency of their studies, and by far their most common effect, is to repress originality, and discourage enterprise; and either to change those whom nature meant for poets, into mere readers of poetry, or to bring them out in the form of witty parodists, or ingenious imitators. Independent of the reasons which have been already suggested, it will perhaps be found, too, that necessity is the mother of invention, in this as well as in the more vulgar arts; or, at least, that inventive genius will frequently slumber in inaction, where the preceding ingenuity has in part supplied the wants of the owner. A solitary and uninstructed man, with lively feelings and an inflammable imagination, will often be irresistibly led to exercise those gifts, and to occupy and relieve his mind in poetical composition: But if his education, his reading, and his society supply him with an abundant store of images and emotions, he will probably think but little of those internal resources, and feed his mind contentedly with what has been provided by the industry of others.
To say nothing, therefore, of the distractions and the dissipation of mind that belong to the commerce of the world, nor of the cares of minute accuracy and high finishing which are imposed on the professed scholar, there seem to be deeper reasons for the separation of originality and accomplishment; and for the partiality which has led poetry to choose almost all her prime favourites among the recluse and uninstructed. A youth of quick parts, in short, and creative fancy-with just so much reading as to guide his ambition, and roughhew his notions of excellence-if his lot be thrown in humble retirement, where he has no reputation to lose, and where he can easily hope to excel all that he sees around him, is much more likely, we think, to give himself up to poetry, and to train himself to habits of invention, than if he had been encumbered by the pretended helps of extended study and literary society.
If these observations should fail to strike of themselves, they may perhaps derive additional weight from considering the very remarkable fact, that almost all the great poets of every country have appeared in an early
stage of their history, and in a period comparatively rude and unlettered. Homer weit forth, like the morning star, before the dawn of literature in Greece, and almost all the great and sublime poets of modern Europe are already between two and three hundred years old. Since that time, although Locks and readers, and opportunities of reading, are multiplied a thousand fold, we have improved chiefly in point and terseness of expression, in the art of raillery, and in clearness and simplicity of thought. Force, richness, and variety of invention, are now at least as rare as ever. But the literature and refinement of the age does not exist at all for a rustic and illiterate individual; and, consequently, the present time is to him what the rude times of old were to the vigorous writers which adorned them..
But though, for these and for other reasons, we can see no propriety in regarding the poetry of Burns chiefly as the wonderful work of a peasant, and thus admiring it much in the same way as if it had been written with his toes; yet there are peculiarities in his works which remind us of the lowness of his origin, and faults for which the defects of his education afford an obvious cause, if not a legitimate apology. In forming a correct estimate of these works, it is necessary to take into account those peculiarities.
The first is, the undiciplined harshness and acrimony of his invective. The great boast of polished life is the delicacy, and even the generosity of its hostility-that quality which is still the characteristic, as it furnishes the denomination, of a gentleman-that principle which forbids us to attack the defenceless, to strike the fallen, or to mangle the slain-and enjoins us, in forging the shafts of satire, to increase the polish exactly as we add to their keenness or their weight. For this, as well as for other things, we are indebted to chival ry; and of this Burns had none. His ingenious and amiable biographer has spoken repeatedly in praise of his talents for satirewe think, with a most unhappy partiality. His epigrams and lampoons appear to us, one and all, unworthy of him;-offensive from their extreme coarseness and violence-and contemptible from their want of wit or brilliancy. They seem to have been written, not out of playful malice or virtuous indignation. but out of fierce and ungovernable anger. His whole raillery consists in railing; and his satirical vein displays itself chiefly in calling names and in swearing. We say this mainly with a reference to his personalities. In many of his more general representations of life and manners, there is no doubt much that may be called satirical, mixed up with admirable humour, and description of inimitable vivacity.
There is a similar want of polish, or at least of respectfulness, in the general tone of his gallantry. He has written with more passion, perhaps, and more variety of natural feeling, on the subject of love, than any other poet whatever-but with a fervour that is sometimes indelicate, and seldom accommodated to the timidity and "sweet austere com
posure" of women of refinement. He has expressed admirably the feelings of an enamoured peasant, who, however refined or eloquent he may be, always approaches his mistress on a footing of equality; but has never caught that tone of chivalrous gallantry which uniformly abases itself in the presence of the object of its devotion. Accordingly, instead of suing for a smile, or melting in a tear, his muse deals in nothing but locked embraces and midnight rencontres; and, even in his complimentary effusions to ladies of the highest rank, is for straining them to the bosom of her impetuous votary. It is easy, accordingly, to see from his correspondence, that many of his female patronesses shrunk from the vehement familiarity of his admiration; and there are even some traits in the volumes before us, from which we can gather, that he resented the shyness and estrangement to which those feelings gave rise, with at least as little chivalry as he had shown in producing them.
and that the excuse of impetuous feeling can hardly ever be justly pleaded for those who neglect the ordinary duties of life, must be apparent, we think, even to the least reflecting of those sons of fancy and song. It requires no habit of deep thinking, nor any thing more, indeed, than the information of an honest heart, to perceive that it is cruel and base to spend, in vain superfluities, that money which belongs of right to the pale industrious tradesman and his famishing infants; or that it is a vile prostitution of language, to talk of that man's generosity or goodness of heart, who sits raving about friendship and philanthropy in a tavern, while his wife's heart is breaking at her cheerless fireside, and his children pining in solitary poverty.
This pitiful cant of careless feeling and eccentric genius, accordingly, has never found much favour in the eyes of English sense and morality. The most signal effect which it ever produced, was on the muddy brains of some German youth, who are said to have left college in a body to rob on the highway! because Schiller had represented the captain
But the leading vice in Burns' character, and the cardinal deformity, indeed, of all his productions, was his contempt, or affectation of a gang as so very noble a creature.-But of contempt, for prudence, decency, and reg-in this country, we believe, a predilection for ularity; and his admiration of thoughtless- that honourable profession must have preness, oddity, and vehement sensibility;-his ceded this admiration of the character. The belief, in short, in the dispensing power of style we have been speaking of, accordingly, genius and social feeling, in all matters of is now the heroics only of the hulks and the morality and common sense. This is the house of correction; and has no chance, we very slang of the worst German plays, and suppose, of being greatly admired, except in the lowest of our town-made novels; nor can the farewell speech of a young gentleman any thing be more lamentable, than that it preparing for Botany Bay. should have found a patron in such a man as Burns, and communicated to many of his productions a character of immorality, at once contemptible and hateful. It is but too true, that men of the highest genius have frequently been hurried by their passions into a violation of prudence and duty; and there is something generous, at least, in the apology which their admirers may make for them, on the score of their keener feelings and habitual want of reflection. But this apology, which is quite unsatisfactory in the mouth of another, becomes an insult and an absurdity whenever it proceeds from their own. A man may say of his friend, that he is a noble-hearted fellow -too generous to be just, and with too much spirit to be always prudent and regular. But he cannot be allowed to say even this of himself; and still less to represent himself as a hairbrained sentimental soul, constantly carried away by fine fancies and visions of love and philanthropy, and horn to confound and despise the cold-blooded sons of prudence and sobriety. This apology, indeed, evidently destroys itself: For it shows that conduct to be the result of deliberate system, which it affects at the same time to justify as the fruit of mere thoughtlessness and casual impulse. Such protestations, therefore, will always be treated, as they deserve, not only with contempt, but with incredulity; and their magnanimous authors set down as determined insulted or provoked; and would never have profligates, who seek to disguise their selfish-made it a spontaneous theme to those friends ness under a name somewhat less revolting. in whose estimation he felt that his honour That profligacy is almost always selfishness, stood clear. It is mixed up, too, in Burns
It is humiliating to think how deeply Burns has fallen into this debasing error. He is perpetually making a parade of his thoughtlessness, inflammability, and imprudence, and talking with much complacency and exultation of the offence he has occasioned to the sober and correct part of mankind. This odious slang infects almost all his prose, and a very great proportion of his poetry; and is, we are persuaded, the chief, if not the only source of the disgust with which, in spite of his genius, we know that he is regarded by many very competent and liberal judges. His apology, too, we are willing to believe, is to be found in the original lowness of his situation, and the slightness of his acquaintance with the world. With his talents and powers of observation, he could not have seen much of the beings who echoed this raving, without feeling for them that distrust and contempt which would have made him blush to think he had ever stretched over them the protecting shield of his genius.
Akin to this most lamentable trait of vulgarity, and indeed in some measure arising out of it, is that perpetual boast of his own independence, which is obtruded upon the readers of Burns in almost every page of his writings. The sentiment itself is noble, and it is often finely expressed;-but a gentleman would only have expressed it when he was
with too fierce a tone of defiance; and indi- | to lay it down as our opinion-that his poetry
The last of the symptoms of rusticity which
With the allowances and exceptions we have now stated, we think Burns entitled to the rank of a great and original genius. He has in all his compositions great force of conception; and great spirit and animation in its expression. He has taken a large range through the region of Fancy, and naturalized himself in almost all her climates. He has great humour-great powers of description-tains many touches of easy humour and natugreat pathos and great discrimination of ral eloquence. We are struck, as we open character. Almost every thing that he says the book accidentally, with the following has spirit and originality; and every thing that original application of a classical image, by he says well, is characterized by a charming this unlettered rustic. Talking of the first facility, which gives a grace even to occa- vague aspirations of his own gigantic mind, sional rudeness, and communicates to the he says we think very finely-"I had felt reader a delightful sympathy with the sponta- some early stirrings of ambition; but they neous soaring and conscious inspiration of the were the blind gropings of Homer's Cyclop poet. Considering the reception which these letters, those addressed to Mrs. Dunlop are, round the walls of his cave!" Of his other works have met with from the public, and the in our opinion, by far the best. He appears, long period during which the greater part of from first to last, to have stood somewhat in them have been in their possession, it may awe of this excellent lady; and to have been appear superflous to say any thing as to their no less sensible of her sound judgment and characteristic or peculiar merit. Though the strict sense of propriety, than of her steady ultimate judgment of the public, however, be and generous partiality. The following pasalways sound, or at least decisive as to its sage we think is striking and characteristic:general result, it is not always very apparent upon what grounds it has proceeded; nor in consequence of what, or in spite of what, it has been obtained. In Burns' works there is much to censure, as well as much to praise; and as time has not yet separated his ore from its dross, it may be worth while to state, in a very general way, what we presume to anticipate as the result of this separation. Without pretending to enter at all into the comparative merit of particular passages we may venture
entirely of his letters. They bear, as well as The prose works of Burns consist almost his poetry, the seal and the impress of his genius; but they contain much more bad taste, and are written with far more apparent labour. His poetry was almost all written primarily from feeling, and only secondarily from ambition. His letters seem to have been nearly all composed as exercises, and for display. There are few of them written with simplicity or plainness; and though natural enough as to the sentiment, they are generally very strained and elaborate in the expression. A very great proportion of them, too, relate neither to facts nor feelings peculiarly connected with the author or his correspondentbut are made up of general declamation, moral reflections, and vague discussions-all evidently composed for the sake of effect, and frequently introduced with long complaints of having nothing to say, and of the necessity and difficulty of letter-writing.
such as we should consider as exceptions from By far the best of those compositions, are specific information as to himself, or are sugthis general character-such as contain some gested by events or observations directly applicable to his correspondent. One of the best, perhaps, is that addressed to Dr. Moore, containing an account of his early life, of which Dr. Currie has made such a judicious use in his Biography. It is written with great clearness and characteristic effect, and con
approve of set times and seasons of more than ordi-
blue-skyed noon, some time about the beginning,
"I believe I owe this to that glorious paper in the "Honoured Sir,-I have purposely delayed wriSpectator, The Vision of Mirza;' a piece that ting, in the hope that I should have the pleasure of struck my young fancy before I was capable of fix- seeing you on New-year's Day; but work comes ing an idea to a word of three syllables. On the so hard upon us, that I do not choose to be absent 5th day of the moon, which, according to the custom on that account, as well as for some other little of my forefathers, I always keep holy, after having reasons, which I shall tell you at meeting. My washed myself, and offered up my morning devo-health is nearly the same as when you were here, tions. I ascended the high hill of Bagdat, in order to only my sleep is a little sounder, and, on the whole, pass the rest of the day in meditation and prayer.' I am rather better than otherwise, though I mend "We know nothing, or next to nothing, of the by very slow degrees. The weakness of my nerves substance or structure of our souls, so cannot ac- has so debilitated my mind, that I dare neither recount for those seeming caprices in them, that one view past wants, nor look forward into futurity; for should be particularly pleased with this thing, or the least anxiety or perturbation in my breast prostruck with that, which, on minds of a different duces most unhappy effects on my whole frame. cast, makes no extraordinary impression. I have Sometimes, indeed, when for an hour or two my some favourite flowers in spring; among which are spirits are a little lightened, I glimmer a little into the mountain-daisy, the hare-bell, the fox-glove, the futurity; but my principal, and indeed my only wild brier-rose, the budding birch, and the hoary pleasurable employment, is looking back wards and hawthorn, that I view and hang over with particular forwards, in a moral and religious way. I am quite delight. I never hear the loud, solitary whistle of transported at the thought, that ere long, perhaps the curlew in a summer noon, or the wild mixing very soon, I shall bid an eternal adieu to all the cadence of a troop of grey plover in an autumnal pains, and uneasinesses, and disquietudes of this morning, without feeling an elevation of soul, like weary life; for I assure you I am heartily tired of the enthusiasm of devotion or poetry. Tell me, my it; and, if I do not very much deceive myself, I dear friend, to what can this be owing? Are we a could contentedly and gladly resign it. piece of machinery, which, like the Eolian harp, passive, takes the impression of the passing accident? Or do these workings argue something within us above the trodden clod?"--Vol. ii. pp.
To this we may add the following passage, as a part, indeed, of the same picture :
"There is scarcely any earthly object gives me more-I do not know if I should call it pleasure but something which exalts me, something which enraptures me than to walk in the sheltered side of a wood, or high plantation, in a cloudy winterday, and hear the stormy wind howling among the trees, and raving over the plain! It is my best season for devotion: my mind is wrapt up in a kind of enthusiasm to Him, who, in the pompous language of the Hebrew bard, "walks on the wings of the wind."-Vol. ii. p. 11.
The following is one of the best and most striking of a whole series of eloquent hypochondriasm.
“After six weeks' confinement, I am beginning to walk across the room. They have been six horrible weeks; anguish and low spirits made me unfit to read, write, or think.
"I have a hundred times wished that one could resign life as an officer resigns a commission: for I would not take in any poor, ignorant wretch, by selling out. Lately I was a sixpenny private; and, God knows, a miserable soldier enough: now march to the campaign, a starving cadet-a little more conspicuously wretched.
"I am ashamed of all this; for though I do want bravery for the warfare of life, I could wish, like some other soldiers, to have as much fortitude or cunning as to dissenible or conceal my cowardice." Vol. ii. pp. 127, 128.
The soul, uneasy, and confin'd at home
the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the 7th chapter "It is for this reason I am more pleased with
of the Revelations, than with any ten times as
many verses in the whole Bible, and would not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me for all that this word has to offer. As for this world, I despair of ever making a figure in it. flutter of the gay. I shall never again be capable I am not formed for the bustle of the busy, nor the of entering into such scenes. Indeed I am altogether unconcerned for the thoughts of this life. I foresee that poverty and obscurity probably await me; and I am in some measure prepared, and daily preparing to meet them. I have but just time and paper to return to you my grateful thanks for the lessons of virtue and piety you have given me ; which were too much neglected at the time of giving them, but which, I hope, have been remembered ere it is yet too late."-Vol. i. pp. 99–101.
Before proceeding to take any particular notice of his poetical compositions, we must take leave to apprise our Southern readers, that all his best pieces are written in Scotch; and that it is impossible for them to form any adequate judgment of their merits, without a pretty long residence among those who still use that language. To be able to translate the words, is but a small part of the knowThe whole genius ledge that is necessary. and idiom of the language must be familiar; and the characters, and habits, and associations of those who speak it. We beg leave too, in passing, to observe, that this Scotch is not to be considered as a provincial dialectthe vehicle only of rustic vulgarity and rude local humour. It is the language of a whole
One of the most striking letters in the col-country-long an independent kingdom, and lection, and, to us, one of the most interest- still separate in laws, character, and manners. ing, is the earliest of the whole series; being It is by no means peculiar to the vulgar; but addressed to his father in 1781, six or seven is the common speech of the whole nation in years before his name had been heard of out early life-and, with many of its most exof his own family. The author was then a alted and accomplished individuals, throughflax-dresser, and his father a poor out their whole existence; and, though it be peasant-yet there is not one trait of vul- true that, in later times, it has been, in some garity, either in the thought or the expression; measure, laid aside by the more ambitious but, on the contrary, a dignity and elevation and aspiring of the present generation, it is of sentiment, which must have been con- still recollected, even by them, as the familiar sidered as of good omen in a youth of much language of their childhood, and of those who higher condition. The letter is as follows:- were the earliest objects of their love and