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his reach: and he laid hold of it. But that ne should not have found a patron generous or wise enough to place him in a situation at least free from allurements to "the sin that so easily beset him;" is a circumstance on which the admirers of Burns have found it painful to dwell.
and we'd probably have attained it, if he bad not for cited the favour of the Board of Excise, by some conversations on the state of public affairs, which were deemed highly improper, and were probably reported to the Board in a way not calculated to lessen their effect. That he should have been deceived by the affairs in France during the early periods of the revolution, is not surprising; he only Mr. Mackenzie, in the 97th number of the caught a portion of an enthusiasm which was Lounger, after mentioning the poet's design then very general; but that he should have of going to the West Indies, concludes that raised his imagination to a warmth beyond paper in words to which sufficient attention his fellows, will appear very singular, when appears not to have been paid: “I trust we consider that he had hitherto distinguish- means may be found to prevent this resolued himself as a Jacobite, an adherent to the tion from taking place; and that I do my house of Stewart. Yet he had uttered opi- country no more than justice, when I suppose nions which were thought dangerous; and in-her ready to stretch out the hand to cherish formation being given to the Board, an in- and retain this native poet, whose "wood quiry was instituted into his conduct, the re-notes wild" possess so much excellence. To sult of which, although rather favourable, was not so much as to re-instate him in the good opinion of the commissioners. Interest was necessary to enable him to retain his office; and he was informed that his promotion was deferred, and must depend on his future behaviour.
He is said to have defended himself, on this occasion, in a letter addressed to one of the Board, with much spirit and skill. He wrote another letter to a gentleman, who, hearing that he had been dismissed from his situation, proposed a subscription for him. In this last, he gives an account of the whole transaction, and endeavours to vindicate his loyalty; he also contends for an independence of spirit, which he certainly possessed, but which yet appears to have partaken of that extravagance of sentiment which are fitter to point a stanza than to conduct a life.
repair the wrongs of suffering or neglected merit; to call forth genius from the obscurity in which it had pined indignant, and place it where it may profit or delight the world :—these are exertions which give to wealth an enviable superiority, to greatness and to patronage a laudable pride."
Although Burns deprecated the reflections which might be made on his occupation of exciseman, it may be necessary to add, that from this humble step, he foresaw all the contingencies and gradations of promotion up to a rank on which it is not usual to look with contempt. In a letter dated 1794, he states that he is on the list of supervisors; that in two or three years he should be at the head of that list, and be appointed, as a matter of course; but that then a friend might be of service in getting him into a part of the kingdom which he would like. A supervisor's income varies from about 120l. to 2001. a year: but the business is "an incessant drudgery, and would be nearly a complete bar to every species of literary pursuit." He proceeds, however, to observe, that the moment he is appointed supervisor he might be nominated on the Collector's list," and this is always a business purely of political patronage. A collectorship varies from much better than two hundred a year to near a thousand. Collectors also come forward by precedency on the in-list, and have besides a handsome income, a life of complete leisure. A life of literary leisure with a decent competence, is the summit of my wishes."
A passage in this letter is too characteristic to be omitted." Often," says our poet," in blasting anticipation have I listened to some future hackney scribbler, with heavy malice of savage stupidity, exultingly asserting that Burns, notwithstanding the fanfaronade of independence to be found in his works, and after having been held up to public view, and to public estimation, as a man of some genius, yet quite destitute of resources within himself to support his borrowed dignity, dwindled to a paltry exciseman; and slunk out the rest of his insignificant existence, in the meanest of pursuits, and among the lowest of mankind."
This passage has no doubt often been read with sympathy. That Burns should have embraced the only opportunity in his power to provide for his family, can be no topic of censure or ridicule, and however incompatible with the cultivation of genius the business of an exciseman may be, there is nothing of moral turpitude or disgrace attached to it. was not his choice, it was the only help within
He was doomed, however, to continue in his present employment for the remainder of his days, which were not many. His constitution was now rapidly decaying; yet, his resolutions of amendment were but feeble. His temper became irritable and gloomy, and he was even insensible to the kind forgiveness and soothing attentions of his affectionate wife. In the month of June, 1796, he removed to Brow, about ten miles from Dumfries, to try
the effect of sea-bathing; a remedy that at first, he imagined, relieved the rheumatic pains in his limbs, with which he had been afflicted for some months: but this was immediately followed by a new attack of fever. When brought back to his house at Dumfries, on the 18th of July, he was no longer able to stand upright. The fever increased, attended with delirium and debility, and on the 21st he expired, in the thirty-eighth year of his age.
which Dr. Currie, of Liverpool, prefixed a life, written with much elegance and taste.
As to the person of our poet, he is described as being nearly five feet ten inches in height, and of a form that indicated agility as well as strength. His well-raised forehead, shaded with black curling hair, expressed uncommon capacity. His eyes were large, dark, full of ardour and animation. His face was well formed, and his countenance uncommonly inallowed to have been uncommonly fascinating, teresting. His conversation is universally and rich in wit, humour, whim, and occasionally in serious and apposite reflection. This excellence, however, proved a lasting misfortune to him: for while it procured him the friendship of men of character and taste, in whose company his humour was guarded and chaste, it had also allurements for the lowest of mankind, who know no difference between freedom and licentiousness, and are never so completely gratified as when genius condeIn-scends to give a kind of sanction to their grossness. He died poor, but not in debt, and left behind him a name, the fame of which will not soon be eclipsed.
He left a widow and four sons, for whom the inhabitants of Dumfries opened a subscription, which being extended to England, produced a considerable sum for their immediate necessities.* This has since been augmented by the profits of the edition of his works, printed in four volumes, 8vo.; to
*Mrs. Burns continues to live in the house in which the Poet died: the eldest son, Robert, is at present in the Stamp Office: the other two are officers in the East dia Company's army, William is in Bengal, and James in Madras, (May, 1813.) Wallace, the second son, a lad of great promise died of a consumption.