1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Robert Burns

L. L., in "English Poets" Southern Literary Messenger [Richmond] 2 (January 1836) 106.



The great misfortune of our poet's life was to want an aim. Without this, with a strong appetite for sociability, as well from native hilarity as from a pride of observation and remark, a constitutional melancholy or hypochondriasm made him shun solitude. Add to these incentives to social life, a reputation for bookish knowledge, (comparatively) a certain wild logical talent, and a strength of thought something like the rudiments of good sense, and it will seem no great wonder that "he was ever one to each companie where jollity and pleasaunce were held in esteeme."

Burns was full of a seeming independence of spirit. He breaks out into the most fiery expressions of contempt for the rich and the great. But we recognize in these rather the man of genius than the man of real independence. If in his real feelings he had been independent of the rich, and the great, they might have gone their way and he would have gone his, we should have heard nothing of his scorn and disdain. These were dictated, not as they professed to be, by a spirit of independence, but by that which, wherever it exists, comes in abatement of independence — by pride.

Scotland has had an Allan Ramsay to revive the pastoral visions of Colin Clout — an earlier Drummond to transmit to posterity the fresh philosophy of the olden time — a Leyden to haunt the "far east countries" with the pleasant traditions of Teviotdale — an Allan Cunningham to embody the spirit of the ancient Scottish romaunt in the sturdiest language of our own day — a Hogg to fill the Ettrick valleys with the echoes of his "trueful song" — a Scott to restore to the hills of Moffat and to the banks of the Annan the lance and the eye-haunting plume — a Scott to restore knight and monk, to castle and abbey, from the Skye to Melrose — a Scott to tell of old-time woes by Gallawater and by Yarrow — but Robert Burns has no master among these. The "Robin of Ayr had the richest song of them all."