1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

James Maxwell, "On the Ayr-shire Ploughman Poet, or Poetaster, R. B." Animadversions on some Poets and Poetasters (1788) 4-8.



Of all British poets that yet have appear'd,
None e'er at things sacred so daringly sneer'd,
As he in the west, who but lately is sprung
From behind the plough-tails, and from raking of dung.
A champion for Satan, none like him before,
And his equal, pray God, we may never see more;
For none have like him, been by Satan inspir'd,
Which makes his rank nonsense by fools so admir'd.
He is to this land and this age a disgrace,
And mostly to those who his poems embrace.
His jargon give rakes and vile harlots delight,
But all sober people abhor the vile sight.
He makes of the scriptures a ribaldry joke;
By him are the laws both of God and man broke.

But some say, "Do justice, give Satan his due,
For ROB hath his virtues, although they be few:
A jolly companion at bottle and pot,
Tho' he be a drunkard, a rake and a sot:
And tho' he be wicked, he hath a good heart."
Then why do his brains such vile jargon impart?
Such friendly assertions but very ill suit,
For surely the tree must be known by its fruit.
Ill fruit by a good tree was never brought forth,
And that of a bad one was never ought worth.
The fruit of this tree proves itself to be nought,
Or such evil fruit it could never have brought.
Of this let all mankind for ever beware,
Or certainly they will be caught in a snare:
As Eve by the serpent, where Satan was hid,
Gave her of that fruit which the Lord had forbid.
It pleased her eye and her taste, yet we find,
It proved the poison of all human kind.
Thus Satan deceiv'd her by flatt'ry and lies,
That man should not die, but like gods be made wise.
Tho' BOB can't say now that mankind shall not die,
Because all would know he was telling a lie.
But he can affirm they'll be turned to nought,
And therefore to judgment shall never be brought.
He says that at death they fall into a sleep
Eternal, and then final silence shall keep.
[Author's note: See his Verses on the 90th Psalm.]

This doctrine the infidels gladly receive,
And eagerly strive to make all men believe.
But this with the rational never will suit;
The thought they abhor to be ev'n with the brute:
For this hellish notion would mankind debase,
And make them like cattle on mountains that graze.
This notion tho' Satan would have us receive,
Yet is it what devils can never believe.
They know, and they tremble because 'tis not true;
But infidels take it their fears to subdue:
And if it were true, it would answer them well,
For it would preserve them from sinking to hell.

But if this false doctrine by men were believ'd,
No matter however in life they behav'd.
For robb'ry or murder they then might commit,
Or any foul crime which their fancies thought fit.
And tho' they were hang'd they had nothing to fear,
If they were for ever no more to appear.

To Satan this Infidel writes without dread,
Who hath been by wise-men so greatly admir'd.
The Jewish and Heathen, and Christians too,
Have thought that his language did all men outdo:
Yet this stupid blockhead upon him so falls,
That only wild raptures his diction he calls.
[Author's note: The Cotter's Saturday Night.]

The song of the captives at Babylon steams;
At their lamentation he only makes games;
Because on the willows their harps silent hung,
While they by the Heathen endured such such wrong;
This infidel mocks at the Psalmist so sly,
Like fiddles and baby-clouts hung up to dry.
[Author's note: His Poem called The Ordination.]

The most solemn ordinance Christ hath ordain'd,
Which hath in his church, since his passion, remain'd,
This infidel scoffer calls that but a Fair,
To which rakes and harlots together repair,
To make lewd appointments of carnal delight;
Thus it is described by this hellish wight.
'Tis true by too many 'tis grossly abus'd,
By whom, like a fair or a market 'tis us'd:
Too many, like him and his jilts there attend,
Which greatly the hearts of the faithful offend:
But surely no bus'ness such cattle have there,
To make it appear like a market or fair.
[Author's note: His poem which he calls The Holy Fair.]

This brings a reproach on the church and the nation;
But wo be to those who make such profanation!
Tho' now the Lord's supper they make like a fair,
The time will soon come when they'll howl in despair;
Except true repentance should alter their case,
And they be reclaim'd by the God of all grace.
This infidel Poet hath this in design,
To banter religion and all that's divine.
This specimen shews what a spirit he's of,
Who can at all scripture so wantonly scoff.

Nor is this the half that in truth may be said,
Tho' some take his part, who make preaching their trade.
For some of our clergy his Poems esteem,
And some of our elders think no man like him.
But let them esteem him, and value his lies,
By consequence then they the scriptures despise.
Tho' some of that function he favours indeed,
Who seem true adherents to his hellish creed.
But such as count scripture the fountain of truth,
He calls them old-fashion'd, and very uncouth.
And such as wage war with the princes of hell,
All such from the earth he seems bent to expel.

Let mankind beware how they favour that Bard,
Or surely with him they must have their reward.
'Twill not be a joke, nor a merriment jest,
If they on the Judge's left hand should be plac'd:
Which is the sure portion of all who rebel,
And wilfully run the broad-way to hell.
Tho' now admonition they seem to despise,
And count all the scriptures but flatt'ring lies;
At death they shall see, if they see not before,
Which was in the right, tho' we add here no more.