1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Michael Bruce

Anonymous, in Sketches of Obscure Poets, with Specimens of their Writings (1833) 118-28.



MICHAEL BRUCE is a name scarcely known on this side of the Tweed, and nearly forgotten in his native land. A volume of poems, published by his friends at Edinburgh, in the year 1807, and a paper written by Lord Craig, in the 36th Number of the Mirror, a Scottish periodical work in 1779, are the only records of the worth and talents of this amiable man, which have been preserved. — The following brief sketch cannot be better given than in the language of Mr. Logan, the eloquent author of two volumes of Sermons, and of several interesting Poems, who kindly superintended the publication which introduced Bruce to the literary world.

"He was born in a remote village in Kinrossshire, and descended from parents remarkable for nothing but the innocence and simplicity of their lives. They however had the penetration to discover in their young son a genius superior to the common, and had the merit to give him a liberal education. From his earliest years he manifested the most sanguine love of letters, and afterwards made eminent progress in many branches of literature: but poetry was his daily study — the poets his perpetual companions. He read their works with avidity; he caught their spirit as well as their manner; and though he sometimes imitated their style, he was a poet from inspiration: no less amiable as a man than valuable as a writer, endued with good-nature and good sense — humane,. friendly, benevolent — he loved his friends, and was beloved by them with a degree of ardour, which is only experienced in the era of youth and innocence. It was during the summer vacations of the college that he composed his various poems. If images of nature that are beautiful and new — if sentiments warm from the heart, interesting and pathetic — if a style chaste with ornament and elegant with simplicity — if these, and many other beauties of nature and art, are allowed to constitute true poetic merit, the poems of Michael Bruce will stand high in the judgment of men of taste. After the author had finished his course of philosophy at Edinburgh, he was seized with a consumption, of which he died about the twenty-first year of his age."

It must be confessed, that Mr. Logan is sufficiently laudatory in this brief memoir of his friend. We must allow, however, for the generous warmth of his affection, and his disinterested concern to benefit the aged mother of the deceased poet; yet another and no mean pen has written of Bruce in a similar strain.

After a few paragraphs which affectingly represent the empire of death over the persons of all mankind, and over the fame of many who, but for its unrelenting severity, might have lived to distinguish themselves, Lord Craig observes—

"Poverty in many, and untoward calamity in others, have 'chilled the genial current of the soul,' and numbers have been cut off by premature death, in the midst of projects and ambition. How many may there have been in the ages that are passed, how many may exist at this very moment, who, with all the talents fitted to shine in the world, to guide or instruct it, may by some secret misfortune have had their minds depressed, or the fire of their genius extinguished!"

His lordship then remarks, that he had been led into this train of reflection from the perusal of Bruce's poems; and, adverting to the simple facts in his life already recorded, thus proceeds:—

"Nothing, methinks, has more the power of awakening benevolence, than the consideration of genius thus depressed by situation — suffered to pine in obscurity, and sometimes, as in the case of this unfortunate young man, to perish, it may be for want of those comforts and conveniences which might have fostered a delicacy of frame, or of mind, ill calculated to bear the hardships which poverty lays on both. For my own part, I never pass the place, (a little hamlet skirted with a circle of old ash-trees, about two miles from Kinross,) where Michael Bruce resided — I never look on his dwelling, I never find myself in that spot, but I stop my horse involuntarily, and, looking on the window which the honeysuckle has now almost covered, in the dream of the moment I picture out a figure for the gentle tenant of the mansion — I wish that he were alive, and that I were a great man, to have the luxury of visiting him there, and of bidding him be happy. I cannot carry my readers thither; but that they may share some of my feelings, I will present them with an extract from the last poem in the little volume before me, which, from the subject, cannot fail of touching the heart of every man who reads it."

Mr. Logan thus introduces the subject:—

"A young man of genius, in a deep consumption, at the age of twenty-one, feeling himself every moment declining faster, is an object sufficiently interesting; but how much must every feeling on the occasion be heightened, when we know that this person possessed so much dignity and composure of mind, as not only to contemplate his approaching fate, but even to write a poem on the subject!" viz.

'Tis past — the iron North has spent his rage;
Stern Winter now resigns the length'ning day;
The stormy howlings of the winds assuage,
And warm o'er ether western breezes play.

Of genial heat and chearful light the source,
From southern climes, beneath another sky,
The sun, returning, wheels his golden course;
Before his beams all noxious vapours fly.

Far to the north grim Winter draws his train
To his own clime, to Zembla's frozen shore;
Where, thron'd on ice, he holds eternal reign;
Where whirlwinds madden, and where tempests roar.

Loosed from the bands of frost, the verdant ground
Again puts on her robe of chearful green,
Again puts forth her flow'rs; and all around,
Smiling, the chearful face of Spring is seen.

Behold! the trees new-deck their wither'd boughs;
Their ample leaves the hospitable plane,
The taper elm, and lofty ash disclose;
The blooming hawthorn variegates the scene.

The lily of the vale, of flow'rs the queen,
Puts on the robe she neither sew'd nor spun:
The birds on ground, or on the branches green,
Hop to and fro, and glitter in the sun.

Soon as o'er the eastern hills the morning peers,
From her low nest the tufted lark upsprings;
And, chearful singing, up the air she steers;
Still high she mounts, still loud and sweet she sings.

On the green furze, clothed o'er with golden blooms,
That fill the air with fragrance all around,
The linet flies, and tricks his glossy plumes,
While o'er the wild his broken notes resound.

While the sun journeys down the western sky,
Along the greensward, mark'd with Roman mound,
Beneath the blithesome shepherd's watchful eye,
The cheerful lambkins dance and frisk around.

Now is the time for those who wisdom love,
Who love to walk in Virtue's flow'ry road,
Along the lovely paths of Spring to rove,
And follow Nature up to Nature's God.

Thus have I walk'd along the dewy lawn;
My frequent foot the blooming wild hath worn;
Before the lark I've sung the beauteous dawn,
And gather'd health from all the gales of morn.

And, even when Winter chill'd the aged year,
I wander'd lonely o'er the hoary plain;
Tho' frosty Boreas warn'd me to forbear,
Boreas, with all his tempests, warn'd in vain.

Then, Sleep my nights, and Quiet bless'd my days;
I fear'd no loss — my mind was all my store;
No anxious wishes e'er disturb'd my ease;
Heav'n gave content and health — I ask'd no more.

Now Spring returns, but not to me returns
The vernal joy my better years have known;
Dim in my breast Life's dying taper burns,
And all the joys of life with health are flown.

Starting and shiv'ring in th' inconstant wind,
Meagre and pale, the ghost of what I was—
Beneath some blasted tree I lie reclin'd,
And count the silent moments as thy pass—

The winged moments, whose unstaying speed
No art can stop, or in their course arrest;
Whose flight shall shortly count me with the dead,
And lay me down in peace with them that rest.

Oft morning-dreams presage approaching fate;
And morning-dreams, as poets tell, are true;
Led by pale ghosts I enter Death's dark gate,
And bid the realms of light and life adieu!

I hear the helpless wail, the shriek of woe,
I see the muddy wave, the dreary shore—
The sluggish streams that slowly creep below,
Which mortals visit, and return no more.

Farewell, ye blooming fields! ye cheerful plains!
Enough for me the church-yard's lonely mound,
Where Melancholy with still Silence reigns,
And the rank grass waves o'er the cheerless ground.

There let me wander at the shut of eve,
When Sleep sits dewy on the lab'rer's eyes,
The world and all its busy follies leave,
And talk with Wisdom where my Daphnis lies.

There let me sleep forgotten in the clay,
When death shall shut these weary aching eyes;
Rest in the hopes of an eternal day,
Till the long night's gone, and the last morn arise!