1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

Peter L. Courtier, in Lyre of Love (1806) 2:86-87.



The life of this unfortunate bard commenced on the 29th of January 1759, at a place situated about two miles from the town of Ayr, in Scotland. Descended from peasants, his first years were consigned to the labours of agriculture, in the midst of which, like some of the greatest men of antiquity, he was visited by his inspiring genius. Burns was the Bloomfield of Scotland: Bloomfield is the Burns of England. Both were found, by the Muse, at the plough; both have delighted to sing the loves and joys of their native plains; and both have obtained the reputation and dignity of poets.

Love, however, first tuned the "wild harp" of Burns. With this passion he was deeply impressed even in his sixteenth year; when, says Dr. Currie, "his attachments, though humble, were of a pure and interesting kind." This observation probably refers to the MARY whose worth he has affectingly commemorated; and with whom he was early accustomed to wander by the delightful banks of Ayr, the spot where finally they met — "to live one day of parting-love!" She was undoubtedly the object of his fervent and purest affection. "There should I," says her lover, writing to Mrs. Dunlop, December 13, 1789, and speaking of a Future State, "with speechless agony of rapture, again recognise my lost, my ever dear MARY! whose bosom was fraught with truth, honour, constancy, and love." How sincerely is to be lamented, that such sentiments could not uniformly influence the character of Burns! He afterwards became unhappily married; being compelled to invest her with the control of his life, whom he seems at first to have selected only for the gratification of a temporary inclination; and to this circumstance much of his misconduct is perhaps ascribable.

Genius, it must be confessed, did not contribute to the happiness of Burns. His expectation of preferment was paltry but dangerous attempted to be appeased by the post of an exciseman, which, as it facilitated the practice of intoxication, must have accelerated his dissolution. This event took place July 21, 1796, in the thirty-eighth year of his age.

The poor Inhabitant below—
Was quick to learn, and wise to know;
And keenly felt the friendly glow,
And softer flame:
But thoughtless follies laid him low,
And stain'd his name!
BURNS on himself.