« ZurückWeiter »
HE life of Robert Burns was not a model one. In some ways, and
those the most important, its story is more useful for the warnings it conveys than for the example it affords. But we shall not be able to understand his poems if we do not know the story of his life, and not to know and love the poetry of Robert Burns is to miss the rarest, most touching,' most thoroughly human note in
English verse. The son of a hard-working, unsuccessful peasant farmer, his early years were spent in the monotonous toil of a laborer on a sterile Scottish farm. He had little education except that which he acquired from his father, who, as is often the case among Scotch peasants, was a man of serious mind, somewhat cultivated, and of noble character.
Burns early began to rhyme and to make love, two occupations which seem to have gone on together all through his life. His poems were handed around in manuscript, and he acquired in this way considerable fame. The death of his father, in 1784, laid upon the young man of twenty-five the cares of the head of the family, a burden which he bravely assumed, but which was somehow always too heavy for him. Removing to a farm at Mossgiel, he fell in love with Jean Armour, the daughter of a mason. His difficulties on the farm, and the unpopularity into which his relations with Jean Armour brought him, thoroughly discouraged him. He determined to emigrate to the West Indies, and to procure the necessary funds, published, by subscription, a volume of his poems. This attracted the attention of literary people in Edinburgh, and on their invitation he gave up his proposed emigration and visited that city. His reception was most cordial. He, the uncultured peasant, captivated at once the refined and intelligent people among whom he was thrown. No poet was ever so quickly recognized. He published a new and enlarged edition of his poems, which yielded him nearly five hundred pounds; his new celebrity enabled him to secure the post of exciseman in Dumfriesshire, where he took a farm, having advanced nearly half of his returns from the poems to ease the burdens of his mother and brother, whom he left at Mossgiel.
He was married to Jean Armour, and built, largely with his own hands, the cottage in which they were to live at Ellisland, in Dumfries. Here, “to make a happy fireside chime to weans and wife," he labored with an energy which promised better things, and all the circumstances seemed to indicate that a happy and prosperous life lay before the young poet.
As poet, farmer, and exciseman, he led a busy life, but he was not a successful farmer, and his office of exciseman favored his indulgence in drink. He gave up the farm and removed to Dumfries; his infirmities grew upon him, and he became unpopular; his health failed, and he died in 1796, not yet thirty-eight
His poetry is not English, but Scottish. Its rollicking fun, as in “Tam O'Shanter's Ride,” its touching sentiment, as in “On Turning up a Mouse's Nest
with the Plough,” the truth and beauty of its descriptions of homely life, as in “ The Cotter's Saturday Night,” have rarely been equaled in the poems
Burns wrote for the people. He knew all their life, their every emotion ; he stirred their patriotism by such poems as “ Scots Wha ha wi' Wallace Bled," or their affection for Scotland by “Ye Banks and Braes," and moralized in “ The Twa Dogs," and many others, upon the circumstances of their life, and well deserves to be called "the greatest poet that ever sprung from the bosom of the people and lived and died in an humble condition."
MAN WAS MADE TO MOURN.
And every time has added proofs
That man was made to mourn.
Along the banks of Ayr,
O man ! while in thy early years, Seem'd weary'd, worn with care ;
How prodigal of time ! His face was furrow'd o'er with years,
Mis-spending all thy precious hours And hoary was his hair.
Thy glorious youthful prime !
Alternate follies take the sway ; Young stranger, whither wanderest thou ?
Licentious passions burn; (Began the reverend sage ;)
Which tenfold force give Nature's law, Does thirst of wealth thy step constrain,
That man was made to mourn.
TAM O'SHANTER. HEN chapman billies leave the street,
This truth fand honest Tam O'Shanter, And drouthy neebors, neebors meet,
As he frae Ayr ae night did canter And market days are wearing late,
(Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses, An' folks begin to tak’ the gate;
For honest men and bonnie lasses). While we sit bousing at the nappy,
O Tam ! hadst thou but been sae wise, An' gettin' fou and unco happy,
As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice ! We think na on the lang Scots miles,
She tauld thee well thou was a skellum, The mosses, waters, slaps and styles,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum ; That lie between us and our hame,
That frae November till October, Where sits our sulky sullen dame,
Ae market-day thou was nae sober; Gathering her brows like gathering storm,
That ilka melder, wi' the miller, Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;