Billeder på siden

the baser earth behind-to extract the pearl, and cast the coarse and worthless shell into the waters of oblivion (applause). Burns and Sir Walter Scott have made Englishmen and foreigners acquainted with their country. Even in Dr. Johnson's time Scotland was imagined to be a hilly region without trees, bleak and barren, inhabited by a race half barbarous and half clad, fed on oats like English dogs and horses, the clansmen and followers of lawless chieftains. Edinburgh was named "Auld Reekie," smoky like London, to which Dr. Johnson would not object, but there were no police, and the houses were very high, and lazy cooks and housemaids in the eighth or tenth story, discharged the office of board of health by summary methods of domestic purification, perilous to passengers, which made the Doctor complain to Boswell of the Canongate and High Street after nightfall-(laughter). Now Englishmen are aware that romantic Edinburgh, the modern Athens, has few equals among cities; that commercial Glasgow is the Liverpool of the North; and that the waters of the estuary of the Clyde are at least as clear as those of the Severn-(hear, hear). Highland chieftains and their clans are respected among their native hills and for many a well-fought field, and their merits are acknowledged south of the Tweed, with the exception, perhaps, of one chieftain, under whose plain uninviting exterior there is warmth of heart—a solid substantial worth which recommends him to his countrymen I mean that great chieftain of the pudding race-haggis (cheers and laughter). What Burns and Scott together have done for Scotland, Burns did for Ayr

"Wham ne'er a town surpasses

For honest men and bonnie lasses."

A town situated between the rivers Ayr and Doon, and on the shore of the broad blue sea of the Firth of Clyde. Those two beautiful rivers and the neighbouring scenery of Ayrshire, and Dumfriesshire, Burns has



made classic ground. And here you will pardon me for adverting to some facts incidentally relating to the family of him who has the honour to address you, as they are his apology for occupying this place, but especially as they are connected with the literary history of Burns, and therefore I am sure you will not regard them as egotistical. Indeed, I have no sympathy with that writer of a pamphlet who, when he sent to the printer for more proofs, received this reproof, "We "cannot set up more copy, for you have used up our "stock of capital I's"-(laughter). William Burns, the admirable father of the poet, was the gardener and bailiff of Mr. Fergusson, of Doonholm. A daughter of Mr. Fergusson married Mr. Hunter, of Bonnytown, also in Ayrshire, who became proprietor of Doonholm, of which the river Doon is the boundary for about a mile, flowing over its stony, rocky bed in streams and deep shady pools, where the trout and salmon love to play. The banks and braes, finely wooded, are of surpassing beauty. There is Alloway's "Auld Haunted Kirk," and the bridge over which the good mare fled pursued by witches, and Burns's cottage and his monument. The Rev. Dr. Hunter, Divinity Professor in Edinburgh University, a brother of Mr. Hunter, was proprietor of Barjarg, on the Nith, a few miles from Burns's farm of Ellisland, and their sister was the wife of Robert Aiken, to whom Burns dedicated the poem "The Cotter's Saturday Night," the original copy of which, in his handwriting, is here-(cheers). It is described by Professor Wilson as the noblest poem ever dedicated to domestic devotion, and by Mr. Lockhart, as that which of all his poems we could spare the least. Mr. Lockhart mentions that when Burns was about to embark for the West Indies in despair, his warm friends, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Aiken, encouraged the publication and sale of his poems, and Gilbert Burns wrote to Dr. Currie that "The Cotter's Saturday Night' is "inscribed to Mr. Aiken, a man of worth and taste, of warm affections, and connected with a most respectable circle of friends and relations. The poems of my





"brother no sooner came into his hands, than they were "quickly known and well received in the extensive circle of Mr. Aiken's friends, which gave them a sort of currency necessary in this wise world even for the good "reception of things valuable in themselves." But Mr. Aiken not only admired the poet as soon as he became acquainted with him, but he showed the warmest regard for the man, and did everything in his power to forward his interest. The "Epistle to a Young Friend" was addressed to this gentleman's son, Mr. Andrew Hunter Aiken, of Liverpool. Having been taken, when a boy, from an English home to my grandfather's to attend a celebrated school at Ayr, I remember that holiday when I first saw a cottage, over which was a sign better understood than expressed. "Stop, passenger, and read! "This is the humble cottage which gave birth to the "celebrated poet, Robert Burns." With relations at Ayr and at Doonholm, with other friends also on the banks of the Ayr, were spent the happy days of boyhood; and at a later period, while visiting at Barjarg, near Ellisland, I became familiar also with the banks of the Nith, and saw and conversed with Mrs. Burns, the widow of the poet, in her own house at Dumfries, his last residence and place of burial. If your patience and the capital I's be not exhausted—(laughter)—I will now mention a piece of history not generally known. My aunt, Miss Aiken, when a child, used to delight Burns by singing charmingly his own songs. She met him at Dumfries a short time before his death. He said, "the fire in me is almost extinguished; I am the shadow "of my former self." She invited him to dine with her relation, and in their agreeable society he still displayed those wonderful powers of conversation which, by her report, by the testimony of Dugald Stewart, and other learned men, impressed them more with an opinion of his pre-eminent ability, than even his poems. The vigour of his understanding, the genial flow of his fancy, the brilliancy of his wit, made him the chief attraction, or "lion," as we say of Edinburgh, during a whole season. The fascinating Duchess of Gordon said his




conversation carried her off her feet, and his friend, Mrs. Riddel, described it with fervent eloquence. The Ayrshire ploughman and poet went out from his garret to be the welcome and admired guest of professors, authors, advocates, judges, peers and peeresses, and took his place among them with manly simplicity and conscious dignity, wearing the coronet of genius. When Dr. Currie was about to publish the life and poems of Burns, Miss Aiken went to Liverpool, and was in that society of which Currie and Roscoe were the ornaments. At Dr. Currie's request she wrote to Scotland for the poems which Burns had sent to her father, and the letters that accompanied them, to be published. Many of these letters were written, to use again the words of Burns, "when his heart glowed "with honest warm simplicity, unacquainted and un'corrupted with the ways of a wicked world." In them he addressed his loved and honoured friend, led him to the Muses' fountain, and showed him the purest sources of his inspiration. What admirer of "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and "Tam O'Shanter," and "The Twa Brigs of Ayr," and "The Twa Dogs," and "The Mouse," and "The Mountain Daisy," and many more, would not wish to read the letters that accompanied them, containing the poet's own commentaries fresh from the heart. The poems were in a cabinet or secretary, in one parcel, the letters from Robert Burns to Robert Aiken in another. The poems were found and forwarded to Dr. Currie for publication. The letters had been removed by some one, who probably thought he had possessed himself of the whole literary treasure. Advertisements offering a reward for their restoration were unavailing, for to this hour they have never been recovered. If they still exist, I can only entreat in the name of Burns and of literature, that they may be sent to the grandson of him to whom they were addressed. I have just one short unpublished letter, which owes its preservation to its having been written on the flyleaf of a copy of "The Elegy of Sir James Hunter Blair "

"To ROBERT Aiken, Esq.,

"My honoured Friend,-The melancholy occasion of the foregoing poem affects not only individuals but a country. That I have lost a friend is but repeating after Caledonia. This copy, rather an incorrect one, I beg you will accept till I have an opportunity in person, which I expect to have on Thursday first, of assuring you how sincerely I ever am,

"Honoured and Dear Sir,
"Your oft obliged,

[blocks in formation]

Of the many most interesting letters sent by Burns to Robert Aiken, only one appears in Dr. Currie's edition, whence another editor has drawn an erroneous inference. The absence of that correspondence I have now explained—(hear, hear). It is characteristic of great painters and poets that they are never at a loss for a subject, and whatever they touch they adorn. Nature is their teacher and their subject; and Nature is everywhere. The master's hand is seen in the truthful delineation of home scenes and wayside beauties. To depict Nature correctly is a high achievement, and still higher to paint her with imaginative truth, with feeling, and passion. In all this Burns excels. Trivial incidents suggest to him genuine poetry. Guiding the plough, he overturns a mouse's nest. His sympathetic soul pours forth its strain of pity at the ruin he has made, and then rises to a loftier sentiment

"But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain!
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Gang aft a-gley,

And lea'e us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy.

« ForrigeFortsæt »