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TO THE READER
best of the early critical
THIS volume contains the Reviews on Robert Burns. Many of these reviews are difficult to obtain at this date, and I feel confident that the student, as well as the lover of Burns, will appreciate the bringing of them together in this handy and accessible form.
The first notice accorded to the poet is not included in the collection, as it contained little of a strictly critical character. It was printed in the Edinburgh Magazine for October, 1786, and opens with the query
"Who are you, Mr. Burns? Will some surly critic say: at what university have you been educated? What languages do you understand? What authors have you particularly studied? Whether has Aristotle or Horace directed your taste? Who has praised your poems, and under whose patronage are they published? In short, what qualifications entitle you to instruct or entertain us?"
To the questions of such a catechism, perhaps, honest Robert Burns would make no satisfactory answer. "My good man," he might say, "I am a poor countryman. I was bred up at the school of Kilmarnock; I understand no language but my own. I have studied Allan Ramsay and Fergusson. My poems have been praised at many a fireside, and I ask no patronage for them if they deserve none. I have not looked at mankind through the spectacles of books. 'An ounce of mother wit,' you know, 'is worth a pound of clergy.'' The author is, indeed, a
striking example of native genius, bursting through the obscurity of poverty and the obstructions of laborious life.
This notice is supposed to have been written by James Sibbald, the proprietor of the Magazine and the author of a work in four volumes, entitled The Chronicle of Scottish Poetry.
Like nearly all other works on Burns, this volume could easily have been enlarged to twice its present proportions; but my object has been simply to bring a few of the most prominent reviews together instead of compiling a volume of all kinds of criticisms on the subject. I have spent
many happy and profitable hours over the Reviews here reproduced, and they will certainly prove a source of delight to anyone who has not already had the pleasure of perusing them. JOHN D. Ross.
NEW YORK, January, 1900.