1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

John Wilson, in "An Hour's Talk about Poetry" 1831; Recreations of Christopher North (1852) 80.



Only look at the attempts in verse of the common run of clodhoppers. Buy a few ballads from the wall or stall — and you groan to think that you have been born — such is the mess of mire and filth which often, without the slightest intention of offence, those rural, or city, or suburban bards of the lower orders prepare for boys, virgins, and matrons, who all devour it greedily, without suspicion. Strange it is that even in that mural minstrelsy, occasionally occurs a phrase or line, and even stanza, sweet and simple, and to nature true; but consider it in the light of poetry read, recited, and sung by the people, and you might well be appalled by the revelation therein made of the tastes, feelings, and thoughts of the lower orders. And yet in the midst of all the popularity of such productions, the best of Burns' poems, his Cottar's Saturday Night, and most delicate of his songs, are still more popular, and read by the same classes with a still greater eagerness of delight. Into this mystery we shall not now inquire; but we mention it now merely to show how divine a thing true genius is, which, burning within the bosoms of a few favourite sons of nature, guards them from all such pollution, lifts them up above it all, purifies their whole being, and without consuming their family affections or friendships, or making them unhappy with their lot, and disgusted with all about them, reveals to them all that is fair and bright and beautiful in feeling and in imagination, makes them very poets indeed, and should fortune favour, and chance and accident, gains for them wide over the world, the glory of a poet's name.