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expansion of thought, no building up of many ideas into a great and magnificent structure : whether from peculiarities of constitution, early education, harrassing labours, and distracting cares, we know not, but probably from all these causes combined, Burns Aung off his fine inspirations, just when the spirit of poetry breathed upon him, and never sat down with calm and resolute determination to produce a studied work. We know that Burns thought about writing a drama founded on Scottish history; yet that was never carried into effect; the want of definite aim which weakened his character as a man, also crippled the efforts of the poet: and still further, when we consider that Burns rode two hundred miles a-week in the performance of his excise duties, and that all those duties were scrupulously fulfilled, there would he little time left him for literary labours. Burns' productions were thus fragmentary, minute and beautiful specimens, not magnificent and many-sided works." Burns has not the profundity, the comprebensiveness, the universality of Shakspere.
In reading the works of Burns, we are never, as We often are by Shakspere, startled into a strange sphere of thought, brought into the near neighbourhood of ideas, which our intellects cannot grasp, far less our tongues may utter; but which we somehow feel that at some point in our endless career we shall be able fully to comprehend and unravel. In reading Burns we are not, as we are in reading Shakspere, astonished at that vast comprehensive power of mind which swept along the horizon of human thought, and round the circuit of human experience. In reading Burns we are not, as we are in reading Shakspere, amazed at that universality of genius, which depicts natural and supernatural beings with such marvellous power and apparent truthfulness. In fine, the works of Barns are as islets rising out of the sea of Scottish thought-clear, distinct, and glorions; studded with many a proud peak, and threaded with many a rip
pling rill; tenanted with creatures of rare power and beauty, and filled with sounds of sweetest melody; yet restricted in variety of life, and limited in extent of boundary; and thus can be easily and speedily circumnavigated and explored. The works of Shakspere are as the great globe itself, including all continents, islands, broad rivers, and many-sounding seas; exhibiting innumerable varieties of life and scenery; filled with melodious voices, and floating amid the harmonies of the spheres: and as we wander along the margin of those far-stretching shores, we look out upon an unmeasured and untraversed ocean; we move along the outmost verge of the planet of human thought, and look upwards and downwardson a vast and unfathomed abyss. Although the genius of Burns has not the depth, the breadth, the richness of Shakspere; and though his works be limited in variety of life, and circumscribed in extent of territory; within the area of Scottish life, manners, and scenery, Burns is unapproached, inimitable. Burns has so caught the floating notes of Scottish melody, and wedded them to such matchless verse ; has so seized the peculiar aspects of Scottish scenes, and the characteristic traits of Scottish character; has so laid hold of the most prominent points of the Scottish land, and the most glorious and most pregnant fact in Scottish history; that now Scotland is not so much the land of Ramsay, or Scott, or Knox, or Chalmers, far less the land of coroneted peer, or belted knight, as it is the land of Burns. And now and for evermore Robert Bruce and Robert Burns stand forth side by side the patriot prince and the patriot poet; the one having done the greatest deed recorded in Scottish annals, when on Bannockburn's gory and glorious field the liberties of Scotland were secured for ever; and the other in that spirit-stirring and matchless war-ode giving that proud deed worthy and immortal celebration.
"Wha will be a traitor knave,
Wha can fill a coward's grave,
Let him turn and flee :
Let him follow me.
Robert Burns is at once the greatest Scottish poet, and the poet of our Scottish nationality. It has rarely happened in any country that the greatest has also been the national poet. In England it is not Shakspere, but mere song writers of inferior powers who directly touch and stir the people. To get a hold of a nation's heart it often needs, especially from feeble men, an exaggerated expression of the nation's peculiar thought or passion. In Shakspere we have many gleams of patriotic fire, unsurpassed in power and fervour; but there is in him such an admirable balance of faculty and feeling, that there is no promiDent projection of any thought or sentiment; each and all are symmetrical segments of a complete circle, the proportionate rays of the perfect light; and further, his powers are so great and his culture so rich, that his sympathies are not merely national, but world-wide and universal.
Burns ranks very high over what may be called the national poets of England, and far beneath their greatest poet. Burns seems to me to have the very highest kind of genius compatible with the intensest national spirit. I know of no poet with mental calibre so great, with nationality so fervid. If Burns had possessed greater powers, and received a liberal training, he wonld still have been the greatest Scottish poet, but he might not have been the national poet of Scotland. The highest degree of faculty awanting, repressed by straitened circumstances, compressed by a narrow culture, his great powers were concentrated on his native Scotland, thus lifting the segment of Scottish characteristics out of the
circle of humanity, and surrounding them with the glowing ray of patriotic feeling. Burns takes his place midway between the greatest and the national poets, partaking of the greatness of the one and the popularity of the other, and hence the secret of his present, and the certainty of his future fame. It was with truth, as well as patriotic pride, that Burns addresses a brother poet in words applicable not only to his native Kyle, but also to his native Scotland:
“Auld Coila now may fidge fu fain,
But tune their lays
Her weel-sung praise.
Beside New Holland :
An' cock your crest,
Up wi' the rest. Having thus stated what qualities of mind were apparently awanting in the genius of Burns as contrasted with Shakspere, the greatest poet of the highest order, and also shewn that Burns possessed in the strongest degree the spirit of nationality, exceeding the nationality of Shakspere, we shall now consider what qualities they had in common, as those are made known to us by their contemporaries, and manifested through their works. The most striking characteristics in the genius of Burns are, his activity of movement, his deep intense feeling, his genial humour, his power of insight and description, and his mastery over his native tongue. Those qualities Burns possessed in the highest
degree, and within their ample range was the equal of the greatest poets. Let us touch on these points in their order. First, his activity of mental operation, as manifested in rapidity of conception and production. Those qualities were remarkably exhibited by both Shakspere and Burns, whether we consider the facility with which they flung off their written works, or the no less striking quickness and power of conversation. Ben Jonson tells of Shakspere that his thoughts, and imagery, and burning words, poured from him with such gushing fluency, that it was necessary he should be stopped. Burns we know excelled all his contemporaries in this intellectual exercise; when working in the fields, or going to the coals in a wintry morning along with his comrade peasants, when he stepped from the plough-tail into the saloons of modern Athens, thronged with refined and highly educated philosophers and divines, and women of fashion and high accomplishment, -when he entered an inn at midnight during his gauging rounds, attracting round him rude ostlers and stablemen,--the power of speech was wielded with equal effect upon all, astonishing and delighting the peasants and stablemen with his rough humour and pith of sense, startling the philosopher with the vigour and acuteness of his intellect, overpowering the wits of the day with the flashes of a brighter wit and the splendours of a richer fancy, and sweeping duchesses, dames, and damsels off their feet with the streams of a witching and impassioned eloquence; and all this without studied effort, or trick, or pre-arrangment,—by which many conduct conversation, prepare good sayings, and manufacture jokes,—but spontaneous, natural, free, revelling in the enjoyment of conscious strength quickened into activity by the glow of his ebullient nature. It was a rare and a royal sight to see a poor and obscure man stepping into the society of those high in learning, rank, and office, not only acquitting himself well in the brilliant throng, but