You appear more interested about this youth [John Keats] than about Burns, whom I have known you extoll to the skies.
I do not recollect what I wrote on Burns, for I seldom keep a copy of any thing, but I know that I wrote it many years after his decease, which was hardly less deplorable than Keats is. One would imagine that those who, for the honour of our country, ought to have guarded and watched over this prodigy of genius, had considered only how they could soonest despach him from the earth. They gave him a disreputable and sordid place, exactly of the kind in which he would indulge his only had propensity.
And I now remember that you allude to this propensity, not without an acknowledgement that you yourself would have joined him in its excess.
How so? If you can recollect it, the critics will thank you for it.
These, I think, are the verse.
Had we two met, blythe-hearted Burns.
Tho water is my daily drink,
May God forgive me but I think
We should have roared out toasts by turns.
Inquisitive low-whispering cares
Had found no room in either pate,
Until I asked thee, rather late,
Is there a hand-rail to the stairs?
My Bacchus is, I protest, as innocent as Cowley's Mistress: but, with a man like Burns, I do not know whether I should have cried out very anxiously
Quo me Bacche rapis?
His countrymen treated him, as is usual to men of genius, with more kindness after his death than while he was amongst them, and drawing away from those who had some pretentions, too large a portion, as they thought, of public notice. The Scotch do not appear to us, nor have they ever been considered, an inconstant people; yet none perhaps is less ashamed of committing the most open and scandalous inconstancy.