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FESTIVAL AT BRISTOL
that memorable day, and which are perpetually revived by the works of the poet commemorated.
The one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns was celebrated in Bristol on the 25th of January, 1859, by two public dinners. In the large lecture hall of the Athenæum, about 126 gentlemen were present, under the presidency of P. F. Aiken, Esq. Immediately after dinner a number of ladies entered the tribune, and were received with loud applause. After the preliminary toasts had been proposed by the Chairman, and acknowledged by other speakers
The Chairman rose and said--Ladies and Gentlemen -Poets have their day-dreams, but the brightest anticipations of Robert Burns could not have imagined the events of this day, of which the animating scene before me is only one example of what is passing in many places. He did not anticipate that not only his own countrymen, but that also Englishmen, and not only Englishmen, but such a bright assemblage of that part of the creation which is the fairest and the best, would meet to do him honour-(cheers). Gentlemen, we have had a banquet such as is not to be found on Parnassus, but we are now come to the feast of reason and the flow of soul, and as you have appointed me a task of some difficulty, and one which you desire I should perform to the best of my humble ability, I claim at your hands that kind indulgence and that time which are absolutely necessary to enable me to do common justice to the theme (hear, hear, and cheers). All nations have celebrated the public services of eminent men by triumphs, festivals, statues, monuments. Our poets, whose characters are various and their works of unequal merit, have their monuments in our churches and cathedrals. At Westminster Abbey, they cluster like stars in the Milky Way, and their dust mingles with that of heroes, statesmen, and kings. It is a sad thought that posthumous honours come too often after
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a life of comparative neglect and adversity. Milton complained that his lot fell on evil days; but little disappointed, not at all dejected, he looked forward with confident hope to the verdict of posterity. And so those best thoughts and words, that bear the stamp of immortality, come down to us in books, which Bacon finely calls 'the ships of Time." As your cargoes, merchants of Bristol, increase in value when they come from afar, so the rich freights of genius that have safely crossed the waves of time are all the more precious. The greatest fame speaks no flattery to the "dull cold "ear of death," but animates the living to confer benefits on their country and mankind (cheers). In speaking of the illustrious dead, we incline to panegyric. Yet mere panegyric is fulsome and untrue, for a faultless man never yet lived. But we do not strictly scan the private characters of public benefactors, in all of whom good and evil are variously blended. It is for public services that national honours are conferred, and our experience of human nature is best applied in selfscrutiny, and self-knowledge; for our fellow man, his temperament, frailties, trials, temptations, we can but imperfectly know, and only Omniscience can judge— (hear, hear). Burns as a man is not the subject before us, but Burns as a poet. His biography has been ably and impartially written, and his autobiography is given in his works with excessive openness and candour. More than sixty years have sufficed to form an estimate of what he was; but to review the story of his life is not our present purpose. Like other authors, he is subject to fair criticism, and as an honest and true man he scorned flattery and expected that praise and that blame which, with characteristic warmth, he bestowed on others. But our judgment of his writings will be incorrect unless we allow for his peculiar position and the seductions of his time. Till his 23rd year, by his brother's testimony, and to use his own words, "my "heart glowed with honest warm simplicity, un"acquainted and uncorrupted with the ways of a "wicked world. The great misfortune of my life was
CELEBRATED AT BRISTOL.
"to want an aim. I had felt some strivings of ambition, "but they were the blind gropings of Homer's Cyclop "around his cave." Yes, gentlemen, the cave of penury and toil. Seven pounds a-year to mow with the mowers, to reap with the reapers, to thrash with the flail, and to guide the plough, his soul conscious the while of a nobler destiny-the chained eagle striving to soar and gaze on the sun-the imprisoned lark carolling sweetly in its dull cage, yet longing to mount and fill the air with its rich melody-(cheers). Nature and the muse were his solace, and the deep-felt sympathies of friendship and of love. The prospect grew darker. The dearest ties were rent asunder. He expected an exile's lot,
"From thee, Eliza, I must go,
But at that crisis two warm friends encouraged the publication and sale of his poems, and he soon rose from the depths of woe to the pinnacle of fame-from frugal poverty to the luxurious entertainments of the rich and the gay in Edinburgh and elsewhere-with a keen relish for social converse and convivial enjoyment. And what did he find there? "Edinburgh," says Dr. Currie, "contained an immense proportion of men, of con"siderable talents, devoted to social excesses, in which "their talents were wasted and debased." I have seen a desolate mansion in Ayrshire, where a large fortune was dissipated. The proprietor and his sons were contemporaries of Burns. They kept open house, made whiskey-punch in tubs, and their daily hospitality ended in nightly intoxication. Sir Walter Scott has described the progress of the wine-flagon round the table of the Baron of Bradwardine, and Burns, in his "Song of the Whistle," has celebrated a bacchanalian contest between three country gentlemen. The prize was an ebony whistle, and he who was able to blow it after his two competitors were too drunk to do so was the conqueror, just as a cock, whose two rivals are dead
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beat and silenced, crows over them, lord of the dunghill (laughter). Who does not regret that the muse should stoop to celebrate such orgies? The conversation and morals of the time were in keeping with them. And if in the metropolis and the provinces such vicious customs prevailed, what wonder that the peasantry should copy the example and often better the instruction—(hear, hear, hear)! Fashion may regulate dress and other social habits; but when she presumes to alter what is written on the eternal tablets of conscience and revelation, by substituting vice for virtue, fashion ought to be cast out as a profane intruder from the living temple which she dares to defile. Nor let it be forgotten that evil customs descend from the higher to the lower classes, like mists from the mountain, and may continue to spread darkness and pestilence, and misery, down in the valleys long after a brighter light and a purer atmosphere reign on the heights above. Burns mingled freely in all ranks of society, and described their manners. This may account for, though it cannot justify, much that he has written. But had he lived now he would have had no such orgies to celebrate-no such society in which to mingle. Happily, in the present. day, to be a gentleman, yet a man addicted to intemperance, to loose, ribald, profane talk, are things irreconcilable-contradictions in terms. Burns, had he lived among the gentlemen of town and country now, would have found them not wasting their time and talents in debauchery, but improving agriculture, encouraging art and science, and literature, reforming abuses in mines and factories, as the noble Lord Shaftesbury and his associates have done, promoting temperance, cleanliness, health, comfort, diffusing Christianity at home and abroad, sheltering the homeless and relieving the miserable-(cheers). The warm sympathetic soul of Burns would not have been insensible to such influences, and a better employment would have been bestowed on him by his rich and generous and liberal friends, than to guage whiskey and to chronicle beer at every wayside inn for the pitiful
CELEBRATED AT BRISTOL.
salary of £70 a year! Much of our classic literature bears foul traces of the age when it was produced, and by which it was deteriorated. Milton is as pure as he is beautiful and sublime. But it is not always so with his glorious compeer, Shakspere. The strains of the gentle Cowper flowed in unsullied purity, but it is far otherwise with Dryden-(hear). But whatever is contrary to good morals is offensive to good taste. The false, the polluting, the bad, will perish. The good, the beautiful, the true, shall live. Inglorious trifles, originating in transient and baneful fashions, will vanish along with them-(hear). Those universal truths that come home to men's hearts and bosoms, shall endure to the end of time-(cheers). James Montgomery, the Christian poet, who lived at Sheffield, was born at Irvine, in Ayrshire, where Burns once lived. Montgomery, while regretting his inability to attend the commemoration of Burns, on the banks of the Doon, in 1844, wrote, "I have often and unreservedly expressed both in prose and rhyme, my admiration of the genius and best "writings of Robert Burns, though I could not in some "instances do otherwise than acknowledge that accord"ing to my sincere judgment his talents had not been "always worthily employed. What is good in his poems "is excellently so, and that which is best in them puts competition out of the field." "I have not," said Montgomery on another occasion, "been niggardly of "my praise, nor yet of my censure, for there are portions "of Burns's works over which we must lament that they "ever were written." During the last thoughtful and melancholy days of Burns, he told his most accomplished friend, Mrs. Riddel, that he feared that letters and verses written with improper freedom, and epigrams against those to whom he had borne no enmity, and many indifferent pieces with all their imperfections, which he would gladly destroy, would be thrust upon the world. It would have been well had greater regard been paid to his dying wish—(hear, hear). It is for us to fulfil it in what we read, and prize, and commemorate -to keep the gold, the ruby, and the diamond, leaving