Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine
The following is from Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine:
The Burns' Festival
Scotland has of late years been exposed to perilous influences. Unused, from its older form of representation, to popular excitement, and stimulated by example from without, the nation threw itself headlong into the revolutionary current which swept the whole empire at the period of Parliamentary Reform, and, with characteristic fervour, seemed inclined to riot in the novel element. Whenever symptoms of such a disposition appear in the body politic, there is manifest danger that, in the new accession of power, the old and sacred landmarks may be disregarded, and little heed be given to the mutual dependence and common interests of every class of society. Thus agitated and disturbed, the Scottish people, once jealously national, and so proud of that nationality that it had passed into a byword throughout Europe, might have lost their cohesive power, loosened the cord which bound the social rods together, and formed themselves into separate sections with apparently hostile interests. Fortunately, however, there was a strong counteracting influence. Even when the storm was wildest, and the clash of conflicting opinions most discordant, it was impossible to eradicate from the minds of any order the vast and stirring memories of the past. New rights might, indeed, be claimed; but it was not alleged that there had been any abuse of the old. Nothing had occurred to weaken the esteem with which the lower ranks were accustomed to regard the ancient aristocracy of the country; and accordingly, throughout the whole of that protracted contest, fervid and determined as it was, there was less rancour shown than might have been expected in the course of so great a political change. As the excitement subsided, the kindly feeling, which never had been extinguished, began more palpably to revive. Before the epoch of agitation approached, we were a peaceful and a happy people. The peerage, the gentry, the yeomen, and the peasantry--all classes were bound together with the links of respect and of affection. The old hereditary attachment between the orders had not been broken. The poor man was proud of the noble, because the noble bore a name conspicuous in the annals of his country; because he was the descendant of those who had fought and died for Scotland, and who had identified their honourable renown with hers; because he was a man every way worthy to bear the titles so gloriously achieved; and, more than all perhaps, because he loved and venerated the poor. And for that love and veneration the noble had ample grounds. Ancient as his race might be, the yeomanry and peasantry of Scotland were yet as ancient in theirs. Not one step of honour could his fathers have gained without the help of the fathers of those who were now living upon his hereditary soil; and the old spell-words of the land were common to them both. Nor was there to be found in wide Europe a better or a braver race. They were industrious, faithful, loyal; they were attached without servility, independent without rudeness, and intelligent to a degree that excited the admiration and the wonder of the stranger. No wonder that the mere thought of estrangement, in such a society as this, should have stricken the bravest bosom with terror, and woe, and dismay! Yet so troublous was the aspect of Europe then, that such fear was not utterly unfelt; and it was the apprehension of that calamity, more than any other worldly cause, that dimmed the soul and darkened the spirit of that great and good man, Sir Walter Scott, in his declining years; for all his large affections were bound up and entwined with the interests of Scotland, and, had the sacrifice been required of him, he would gladly have laid down his life to avert from her the perils which he then foresaw.
These few remarks we cannot consider as inappropriate to our present subject. We have once more been joyful spectators of a truly national gathering. Once more we have seen Scotsmen, of every grade and degree, assemble together without a tinge of party purpose, to do honour to the memory of a poet who sprang from the ranks of the people, and who was heart and soul a Scotsman in his feelings, his inspiration, and, it may be, in his errors and his prejudices also. It was a stirring and exciting spectacle, such as no other country could have exhibited--to behold peer and senator, poet and historian and peasant--the great and the small, the lettered and the simple of the land--unite, after fifty years of silence, in deep and sincere homage to the genius of one humble man. Nor did they assemble there because his genius was greater than God, in his bounty, had bestowed upon others, but because he had used it for the glory and exaltation of his country; because he loved her with an ardour the most vivid and extreme; because he had shed the light entrusted to his charge both on the lofty dwelling and on the lowly hearth, but most brightly and cheeringly upon the latter, for that was his peculiar charge. We feel assured that the events of that day, and the sentiments which were then inspired and uttered, will produce a marked effect upon the disposition of the country at large. It seemed as if all classes had spontaneously assembled to join hands above the grave of Robert Burns, and then and there to renew the vow of enduring reconciliation and love.
We shall now proceed to give a short account of the proceedings of the day. In our climate, the state of the weather on public occasions is always regarded with anxiety; for enthusiasm, however warm, is apt to expire beneath a deluge of northern rain. On the previous evening the sky promised well. A brilliant sunset and a warm wind seemed security for a placid morrow; and although the glare of the great furnaces in the neighbourhood of Glasgow glowed somewhat ominously large as the night wore on, we retired to rest rather in hope than resignation. But dismal, indeed, was the prospect when we awoke. A vaporous grey mist had entirely usurped the heavens, and the plash of weary rain resounded through the pluvious metropolis of the west. Fortunately, we were not ignorant of the fact, that Glasgow is under the peculiar tutelage of the Pleiades; and accordingly we proceeded to the railway, trusting that matters might mend so soon as we lost sight of the stupendous chimney-stalk of St Rollox. Notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, and the early hour, every town, as we passed along, seemed in a state of the greatest excitement. There were bands of music, deputations of mason lodges, and the rival brotherhood of Odd Fellows, with hundreds of men and women, all clad in holiday attire, awaiting the arrival of the train at every station. It is a marvel to us, how half of these expectants could have found their way to Ayr. Carriage after carriage was linked to the already exorbitant train, until the engine groaned audibly, and almost refused to proceed. Still the rain continued to fall, and it was not until after we had left Irvine, and were rounding the margin of the bay towards Ayr, that the sky brightened up and disclosed the great panorama of the sea, with Ailsa and Arran looming in the distance, and steamers from every direction ploughing their way into the port. The streets of Ayr were swarming with people, and sounding with the crash of music. There were arches on the bridge, flags streaming from windows, and bells tolling from the steeples--symptoms of a jubilee as great as if Royalty had descended unawares, and the whole district had arisen to pay honour to its Queen. The inns were thronged to excess, and the waiters in absolute despair. What a multitude of salmon must have died to furnish that morning's meal! Yet every face looked bright and happy, as became those who had engaged in such a pilgrimage. Then the burst of music became louder and more frequent, as band after band, preceding the trades and other public bodies, filed past towards the rendezvous of the great Procession. This was on what is called the Low Green; and the admirable arrangements made by the committee of management--of which Mr Ballantine of Castlehill was convener, and Messrs Bone and Gray secretaries--were manifest. Mr Thwaites undertook the marshaling of the whole. Here, first, the grandeur of the National Festival was displayed, while the immense multitudes that had come trooping in from all quarters stood congregated in orderly muster, a mighty host, bound in unity by one soul, stretching far and wide from the towers of Ayr to the sea. Suddenly, at signal given, the Procession began to deploy, in admirable order, with streaming banners and crashes of music, and shouts from the accompanying thousands that rent the sky; and we were warned that it was time to proceed, if we wished to obtain a place upon the Platform erected on the banks of Doon.
A unit in the stream of population, we skirted the noble race-course, and reached the Platform just before the head of the Procession had arrived. It was erected in a magnificent situation. Behind was themonument of Burns, and the sweet habitation of Mr Auld, with old Alloway Kirk a little further off. Before it was the immense Pavilion erected for the banquet, all gay with flags and streamers. To the right, were the woods that fringe the romantic Doon, at that point concealed from sight; but not so the Old Bridge, which spans it, with its arch of triumphal evergreen. Every slope beyond was studded with groups of people, content to view the spectacle from afar. The Carrick hills reached far away beyond; and, on the other side, were the town and broad bay of Ayr, and Arran with all its mountains. But we had little leisure then to look around us. On the Platform were collected many of the Ladies and Gentlemen of the county--Sir David Hunter Blair; James Campbell, Esq. of Craigie; W. A. Cunninghame, Esq. of Fairlie; A. Boyle, Esq. of Shewalton, &c.; Archibald Hastie, Esq. M.P.; A. Buchanan, Esq., Charles Neaves, Esq. Mr Sheriff Campbell, Mr Sheriff Bell, Mr Carruthers, &c. &c.; some of the most distinguished of those who had come from afar, and conspicuous in front the surviving Kindred of Burns. There stood, with his beautiful Countess, the noble and manly Eglinton, preux chevalier of his day, and fitting representative of that ancient house of Montgomery, so famous in the annals and peerage of Scotland, and of France. There was the venerable and venerated Lord Justice-General Boyle, the President of the Scottish Courts, and chief magistrate of the land, with the snows of more than seventy winters lying lightly and gracefully upon his head. There stood Wilson, never more fitly in his place than here; for of the many who have interposed to shield the memory of Burns from detraction, he had spoken with the most generous spirit and collected purpose, and came now to rejoice in the common triumph. There, too, were Alison, the sound and strong historian; Chambers, whose delicate generosity to the relatives of Burns, independently of the services he has rendered to our national literature, made him one of the fittest spectators of the scene; and a host of other distinguished men, well and aptly representing the aristocracy and the learning of the country. Many strangers, too, had come to grace the festival; amongst whom, it may be allowed us to specify the names of Mrs S. C. Hall, the charming authoress, and her accomplished husband. We looked in vain for some whose presence there would have given an additional interest to the scene. We would fain have seen the poets of the sister countries represented by Wordsworth and Moore. That might not be; but their sympathies were not withheld.
Among that brilliant group, there stood an elderly female, dressed in deep black, and three men, all past the meridian of life, with quiet, thoughtful looks, and unpretending aspect. These were the sister and the sons of Burns. His sister!--and half a century has wellnigh gone past since the hot heart of the brother was stricken cold, and the manly music of his voice made dumb for ever! Was it too much to believe that, through these many long years of her earthly pilgrimage--sometimes, we fear, darkened by want and neglect--that sister had always clung to the memory of the departed dead, in the hope that the day would arrive when his genius should receive the homage of a new generation, to atone for the apathy and coldness of that which had passed away? What emotions must have thrilled the bosom of that venerable woman, as she gazed on the stirring spectacle before her, and saw her lingering hopes far more than thoroughly realized! What a glorious welcome, too, for the sons to their native land! They had left it--not quite as the poor man does--but with heavy difficulties before them. They had wrestled their way onwards through half the journey of life, and now, on their return, they were greeted with a welcome which it were almost worth the struggles of a life to obtain. All this they owed to their father; and honoured among the honourable that day were the lineage and kindred of Burns.
Beneath and around the Platform there were thousands already congregated. If any one had wished to paint the character of the Scottish peasantry in its loftiest and most endearing light, the subjects were there before him. Old patriarchal men, on whose venerable temples time had bleached the white locks of age to the softness of those of infancy, stood leaning upon their grandchildren, proud, and yet wondering at the honours which were that day paid to him, whom, long, long ago, reaching away through the vista of memory, they remembered to have seen in their youth. So familiarized were they with his image, and the glorious language he had uttered, that they had almost forgotten the greatness and universality of his fame; and now, when brought forth from their cottages in the far glens and muirlands of the south, they could scarcely believe that the great, and gifted, and beautiful of the land, had come together for no other purpose than to celebrate the genius of their old companion. But they were proud, as they well might be; for it was a privilege even to have beheld him, and in that homage they recognised and felt the tribute that was paid to their order. The instinctive decency of Scottish feeling had accorded to these men a fitting and conspicuous place. Around them were the women of their families of all ages--from the matron in her coif to the bashful maiden with the snood--and even children; for few were left at home on that day of general jubilee. These, and a vast concourse of strangers, already occupied the ground.
Meanwhile the Procession had wound its enormous length from Ayr along a road almost choked up with spectators. Every wall and gate had its burden, and numerous Flibbertigibbets sat perched upon the branches of the trees. The solitary constable of the burgh was not present to preserve order, or, if he was, his apparition was totally unrequired. The old bell of Alloway Kirk was set in motion as the head of the column appeared, and continued ringing until all were past. The whole land was alive. Each road and lane poured forth its separate concourse to swell the ranks of the great Procession. The weather, after one heavy final shower, cleared up; or, if not clear, resolved itself into that indescribable mixture of sunshine and cloud which sets off the beauties of the undulating landscape so well, light alternating with shadow, and, on the ridges of the distant hills, contending radiance and gloom.
On they went, with banners flying and a perfect storm of music, across the new Bridge of Doon, deploying along the road on the opposite side of the river, and finally recrossing by the old bridge, from which they filed past in front of the Platform. The order of the Procession was as follows:--
The Party were on the Establishment of Messrs W. and A. Smith. The Thistle grew near to Mossgiel.
Caledonian Union Odd Fellows, Dunlop. (Deputations of the Magistracy joined in the Procession from Dumbarton, Dunlop, Maybole, and Irvine.)
The effect of the Procession as seen from the Platform almost baffles the power of description. The wailing of the bagpipes and the crash of the bands were heard from the bosom of deep wood-thicket behind, long before the ranks became visible. At length, among the trees that skirted the opposite banks, there was a glittering of lances, and a lifting of banners, and a dark-growing line of men, in closest order, marching as if to battle. Gradually it flowed on, in continuous stream, file succeeding to file without gap or intermission, until the head of the column appeared recrossing by the Old Bridge, and winding up the road towards the Platform; and still new banners rose up behind, and fresh strains of music burst forth amidst the leafy screen. And now they reached the platform: lance and flag were lowered in honour of those who stood bareheaded above, and deafening were the cheers that ushered in the arrival of the national pageant. The spectacle was most imposing, and must have conveyed to the minds of the strangers present a vivid impression of the energy and enthusiasm so deeply implanted in the Scottish character, and always so irresistibly manifested at the touching of a national chord. The most interesting part of the Procession by far was the array of Farmers and Shepherds, the flower of the west-country yeomanry, attired in the graceful plaid. Of that same breed of men, of tall and compact mould and hardy sinew, was Robert Burns; nor is it possible to imagine any thing more animated than the appearance of those stalwart sons of the soil, as they lingered for a moment before the platform, and looked with wistful eyes at the sons of the Poet, if haply they might trace in their lineaments some resemblance to the features of him whom, from their infancy, they had learned to love. Then came the Freemasons, and King Crispin with his train, and the Archers, and much more of old Scottish device, until there seemed no end to the flowing tide of population, all keen, and joyful, and exultant. But the full burst of enthusiasm was reserved for the close. In the rear of all appeared an enormous Thistle borne shoulder high; and no sooner was the national emblem in sight, than a universal and long-continued cheer burst forth from the many thousands who were now congregated in the plain beyond. Alas, for that thistle! Though Burns, as the inscription bore,
such was not the fate of the offspring plant. Scarcely had it reached the platform, when Christopher North violently possessed himself of one branch, the Lord Justice-General seized upon another, and in the twinkling of an eye it was torn into fragments, and its rough leaves and rougher flowers displayed upon manly bosoms, from which it would have been difficult to wrest them again. So closed the Procession--but not the gathering. Deafening were the cheers which followed for Burns--for his Sons--for Professor Wilson--for Lord Eglinton; until the last remnant of reserve gave way, and a torrent of people swept forward to obtain, if possible, a pressure of their hands that were gladly and gratefully held forth. Descending from the Platform, we entered the meadow-ground beyond, where the multitude were now assembled. One of the bands struck up the beautiful air--"Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon;" and immediately the People, as if actuated by one common impulse, took up the strain, and a loftier swell of music never rose beneath the cope of heaven. We thought of the fine lines of Elliott--
Few could abstain from tears as the last glorious note died solemnly away into the skies. We looked down from the top of the pavilion-stairs upon the vast multitude beneath. There could not have been less than 80,000 souls collected upon the ground. Of all that mighty mass, not one man had thrown discredit upon the harmony and order of the day. Every face glowed with happiness and congratulation, as if conscious that a good work had been done, and that the nation had at length discharged the duty which she owed to one of her most gifted sons.
The company began to enter the Pavilion almost immediately after the close of the Procession, and the chair was taken about two o'clock. The Pavilion was erected in a field of twenty-two acres, adjoining to the Monument, and was a magnificent building. It measured not less than 120 feet by 110, forming nearly a perfect square. The roof, supported by two rows of pillars, was covered with waterproof felt, and the building inside was lined with white cloth, festooned with crimson. In the centre of the roof was a radiation of the same colours. The tables and seats were arranged in parallel lines from the head to the foot of the apartment, rising with a gentle inclination from the middle on both sides. At each end there was an elevated table for the Chairman, Croupier, and their respective supporters; and on the two remaining sides of the square there were vis-a-vis galleries for the instrumental band and glee-singers, a pianoforte for the accompaniment to Mr Templeton being placed in front of the latter, at which Mr Blewitt took his station. Mr Templeton, between the speeches, sang, with great power and sweetness, appropriate songs from Burns; and Mr Blewitt's performance was admirable. Mr Wilson came from Paris to the Festival; but unfortunately was prevented by severe illness from delighting the assembly with his exquisite strains. The hall was lighted by twenty-two glass windows, shaded with white cloth. The chairman and croupier's seats were of oak, made of the rafters of Alloway Kirk; and several splendid silver vases decorated their tables. The hall was seated to accommodate 2000 persons, and was entirely filled, although not inconveniently crowded.
The distinguishing feature of the pavilion was the number of ladies who were present. A great room exclusively filled with men, is at best a dull and sombre spectacle; and so far from social, that it always conveys to us a gross idea of selfishness. The mere scenic effect on this occasion was immensely heightened by the adoption of the polite rule; nor can it be doubted that the tone of the meeting underwent a similar improvement.
The Chairman, the Right Hon. the Earl of Eglinton, was supported on the right by Robert Burns, Esq., late of the Stamps and Taxes, Somerset House, London, eldest son of the poet; Major Burns, youngest son of the poet; Miss Begg, niece of the poet; Henry Glassford Bell, Esq., Sheriff-Substitute of Lanarkshire; Rev. Mr Cuthill, Ayr; Mr Robert Burns Begg, teacher, Kinross, nephew of the poet; Miss Begg, the younger niece of the poet; Mr and Mrs Thomson of Dumfries, (the latter the Jessie Lewars of the bard, who tended his deathbed;)--on the left, by Colonel Burns, second son of the poet; Mrs Begg, sister of the poet; Sir John M'Neill, Bart., late Plenipotentiary to the Court of Persia; the Right Hon. Lord Justice-General; the Countess of Eglinton; Sir D. H. Blair, Bart., of Blairquhan. The Croupier, Professor Wilson, was supported on the right by Archibald Alison, Esq., Sheriff of Lanarkshire, and author of the History of Europe; Colonel Mure of Caldwell, author of Travels in Greece; William E. Aytoun, Esq., Advocate; A. Hastie, Esq., M.P. for Paisley; Jas. Oswald, Esq., M.P. for Glasgow;--on the left by Sir James Campbell, Glasgow; Provost Miller, Ayr; James Ballantine, Esq. of Castlehill; Charles Mackay, Esq., London; James Campbell, Esq. of Craigie.
The Rev. Mr CUTHILL of Ayr asked the blessing.
The Earl of EGLINTON, after the usual loyal toasts, rose and spoke as follows:--Ladies and gentlemen, The subject of the toast which I have now the honour to bring before your notice, is one of such paramount importance on this occasion, and is so deeply interesting, not only to those whom I am addressing, but to all to whom genius is dear, that I could have wished that it had been committed to more worthy hands; more especially when I see the great assemblage collected here--the distinguished persons who grace our board to-day. It is only because I conceive that my official position renders me the most formal and fitting, though most inefficient, mouthpiece of the inhabitants of this county, that I have ventured to present myself before you on this occasion, and to undertake the onerous, though most gratifying, duty of proposing, in such an assemblage, the thrilling toast--"The Memory of Burns." This is not a meeting for the purpose of recreation and amusement--it is not a banquet at which a certain number of toasts are placed on paper, which must be received with due marks of approbation--it is the enthusiastic desire of a whole people to pay honour to their greatest countryman. It is the spontaneous outpouring of a nation's feeling towards the illustrious dead, and the wish to extend the hand of welcome and of friendship to those whom he has left behind. Here on the very spot where the Poet first drew breath, on the very ground which his genius has hallowed, beside the Old Kirk which his verse has immortalized, beneath the monument which an admiring and repentant people have raised to his memory, we meet after the lapse of years, to pay our homage at the shrine of genius. The master mind who has sung the "Isle of Palms"--who has revelled in the immortal "Noctes"--and who has already done that justice to the memory of Burns which a brother poet alone can do--Christopher himself is here, anxious to pay his tribute of admiration to a kindred spirit. The historian who has depicted, with a Gibbon's hand, the eventful period of the French empire, and the glorious victories of Wellington, is here--a Clio, as it were, offering a garland to Erato. The distinguished head of the Scottish bench is here. In short, every town and every district, every class and every age, has come forward to pay homage to their poet. The honest lads whom he so praised, and whose greatest boast it is that they belong to the land of Burns, are here. The fair lasses whom he so loved and sung, have flocked hither to justify, by their loveliness, their poet's words. While the descendant of those who dwelt in the "Castle o' Montgomerie," feels himself only too highly honoured by being permitted to propose the memory of him who wandered then unknown along the banks of Fail. How little could the pious old man who dwelt in yon humble cottage, when he read the "big ha' bible"--"his lyart haffets wearing thin and bare"--have guessed that the infant prattling on his knee was to be the pride and admiration of his country; that that infant was to be enrolled a chief among the poetic band; that he was to take his place as one of the brightest planets that glitter round the mighty sun of the Bard of Avon! In originality second to none, in the fervent expression of deep feeling, and in the keen perception of the beauties of nature, equal to any who ever reveled in the bright fairyland of poesy, well may we rejoice that Burns is our own--well may we rejoice that no other land can claim to be the birthplace of our Homer except the hallowed spot on which we stand! Oh! that he could have foreseen the futurity of fame he has created to himself--oh! that he could have foreseen this day, when the poet and the historian, the manly and the fair, the peer and the peasant, vie with each other in paying their tribute of admiration to the untaught but mighty genius whom we hail as the first of Scottish poets! It might have alleviated the dreary days of his sojourn at Mossgiel--it might have lightened the last hours of his pilgrimage upon earth. And well does he deserve such homage. He who portrayed the "Cottar's Saturday Night" in strains that are unrivaled in simplicity, and yet fervour--in solemnity, and in truth--He who breathed forth the patriotic words which tell of the glories of Wallace, and immortalize alike the poet and the hero--He who culled inspiration from the modest daisy, and yet thundered forth the heroic strains of "The Song of Death"--He who murmured words which appear the very incarnation of poetry and of love, and yet hurled forth the bitterest shafts of satire--a Poet by the hand of nature, despising, as it were, the rules of art, and yet triumphing over those very rules which he set at nought--at whose name every Scottish heart beats high--whose name has become a household word in the cottage as in the palace--to whom shall we pay our homage, of whom shall we be proud, if it is not our own immortal Burns? But I feel that I am detaining you too long. I feel that, in the presence of a Wilson and an Alison, I am not a fit person to dilate upon the genius of Burns. I am but an admirer of the poet like yourselves. There are those present who are brother poets and kindred geniuses--men who, like Burns, have gained for themselves a glorious immortality. To them will I commit the grateful task of more fully displaying before you, decked out by their eloquence, the excellences of the poet, the genius of the man, and to welcome his sons to the land of their father: and I will only ask you, in their presence--on the ground which his genius has rendered sacred--on the "banks and braes o' bonny Doon"--to join with me in drinking an overflowing bumper, and giving it every expression of enthusiasm which you can, to "The Memory of Burns!"
Mr ROBERT BURNS rose along with his brothers, and was received with enthusiastic cheering. He said--My lord, ladies, and gentlemen, Of course it cannot be expected, at a meeting such as the present, that the sons of Burns should expatiate on the merits and genius of their deceased father. Around them are an immense number of admirers, who, by their presence here this day, bear a sufficient testimony to the opinion in which they hold his memory, and the high esteem in which they hold his genius. In the language of the late Sir Christopher Wren, though very differently applied, the sons of Burns can say, that to obtain a living testimony to their father's genius they have only to look around them. I beg, in name of my aunt, brothers, and myself, to return our heartfelt and grateful thanks for the honour that has this day been paid to my father's memory.
PROFESSOR WILSON then rose and said--Were this Festival but to commemorate the genius of Burns, and it were asked, what need now for such commemoration, since his fame is coextensive with the literature of the land, and enshrined in every household? I might answer, thatalthough admiration of the poet be wide as the world, yet we, his compatriots, to whom he is especially dear, rejoice to see the universal sentiment concentered in one great assemblage of his own people: that we meet in thousands and tens of thousands to honour him, who delights each single one of us at his own hearth. But this commemoration expresses, too, if not a profounder, a more tender sentiment; for it is to welcome his sons to the land he has illustrated, so that we may at once indulge our national pride in a great name, and gratify in filial hearts the most pious of affections. There was, in former times, a custom of crowning great poets. No such ovation honoured our bard, though he too tasted of human applause, felt its delights, and knew the trials that attend it. Which would Burns himself have preferred, a celebration like this in his lifetime, or fifty years after his death? I venture to say, he would have preferred the posthumous as the finer incense. The honour and its object are then seen in juster proportion; for death confers an elevation which the candid soul of the poet would have considered, and such honour he would rather have reserved for his manes, than have encountered it with his living infirmities. And could he have foreseen the day, when they for whom at times he was sorely troubled, should, after many years of separation, return to the hut where himself was born, and near it, within the shadow of his monument, be welcomed for his sake by the lords and ladies of the land; and--dearer thought still to his manly breast--by the children and the children's children of people of his own degree, whose hearts he sought to thrill by his first voice of inspiration; surely had the Vision been sweeter to his soul than even that immortal one, in which the Genius of the Land bound the holly round his head, the lyric crown that it will wear for ever.
Of his three Sons sitting here, one only can remember their father's face--those large lustrous eyes of his, so full of many meanings, as they darkened in thought, melted in melancholy, or kindled in mirth, but never turned on his children, or on their excellent mother, but with one of tender or intense affection. That son may even on this day have remembrance of his father's head, with its dark clusters not unmixed with gray, and those eyes closed, lying upon the bed of death. Nor, should it for a moment placidly appear, is such image unsuitable to this festival. For in bidding welcome to his sons to their father's land, I feel that, while you have conferred on me a high honour, you have likewise imposed on me a solemn duty; and, however inadequately I may discharge it, I trust that in nought shall I do any violence to the spirit either of humanity or of truth.
I shall speak reverently of Burns's character in hearing of his sons; but not even in their hearing must I forget what is due always to established judgment of the everlasting right. Like all other mortal beings; he had his faults--great even in the eyes of men--grievous in the eyes of Heaven. Never are they to be thought of without sorrow, were it but for the misery with which he himself repented them. But as there is a moral in every man's life, even in its outward condition imperfectly understood, how much more affecting when we read it in confessions wrung out by remorse from the greatly gifted, the gloriously endowed! But it is not his faults that are remembered here--assuredly not these we meet to honour. To deny error to be error, or to extenuate its blame, that makes the outrage upon sacred truth; but to forget that it exists, or if not wholly so, to think of it along with that under-current of melancholy emotion at all times accompanying our meditations on the mixed characters of men--that is not only allowable, but it is ordered--it is a privilege dear to humanity--and well indeed might he tremble for himself who should in this be deaf to the voice of nature crying from the tomb.
And mark how graciously in this does time aid the inclinations of charity! Its shadows soften what they may not hide. In the distance, discordances that once jarred painfully on our ears are now undistinguishable--lost in the music sweet and solemn, that comes from afar with the sound of a great man's name. It is consolatory to see, that the faults of them whom their people honour grow fainter and fainter in the national memory, while their virtues wax brighter and more bright; and if injustice have been done to them in life, (and who now shall dare to deny that cruelest injustice was done to Burns?) each succeeding generation becomes more and more dutiful to the dead--desirous to repair the wrong by profounder homage. As it is by his virtues that man may best hope to live in the memory of man, is there not something unnatural, something monstrous, in seeking to eternize here below, that of which the proper doom is obscurity and oblivion? How beneficent thus becomes the power of example! The good that men do then indeed "lives after them"--all that was ethereal in their being alone survives--and thus ought our cherished memories of our best men--and Burns was among our best--to be invested with all consistent excellences; for far better may their virtues instruct us by the love which they inspire, than ever could their vices by aversion.
To dwell on the goodnesses of the great shows that we are at least lovers of virtue--that we may ourselves be aspiring to reach her serene abodes. But to dwell on their faults, and still more to ransack that we may record them, that is the low industry of envy, which, grown into a habit, becomes malice, at once hardening and embittering the heart. Such, beyond all doubt, in the case of our great poet, was the source of many "a malignant truth and lie," fondly penned, and carefully corrected for the press, by a class of calumniators that may never be extinct; for, by very antipathy of nature, the mean hate the magnanimous, the groveling them who soar. And thus, for many a year, we heard "souls ignoble born to be forgot" vehemently expostulating with some puny phantom of their own heated fancy, as if it were the majestic shade of Burns evoked from his Mausoleum for contumely and insult.
Often, too, have we been told by persons somewhat presumptuously assuming the office of our instructors, to beware how we suffer our admiration of genius to seduce us from our reverence of virtue. Never cease to remember--has been still their cry--how far superior is moral to intellectual worth. Nay, they have told us that they are not akin in nature. But akin they are; and grief and pity 'tis that ever they should be disunited. But mark in what a hateful, because hypocritical spirit, such advices as these have not seldom been proffered, till salutary truths were perverted by misapplication into pernicious falsehoods. For these malignant counsellors sought not to elevate virtue, but to degrade genius; and never in any other instance have they stood forth more glaringly self-convicted of the most wretched ignorance of the nature both of the one and the other, than in their wilful blindness to so many of the noblest attributes of humanity in the character of Burns. Both gifts are alike from heaven, and both alike tend heavenward. Therefore we lament to see genius soiled by earthly stain; therefore we lament to see virtue, where no genius is, fall before the tempter. But we, in our own clear natural perceptions, refuse the counsels of those who with the very breath of their warning would blight the wreath bound round the heads of the Muses' sons by a people's gratitude--who, in affected zeal for religion and morality, have so deeply violated the spirit of both, by vile misrepresentations, gross exaggerations, and merciless denunciations of the frailties of our common nature in illustrious men--men who, in spite of their aberrations, more or less deplorable, from the right path, were not only in their prevailing moods devout worshippers of virtue, but in the main tenor or their lives exemplary to their brethren. And such a man was Burns. In boyhood--youth--manhood--where such peasant as he? And if in trouble and in trial, from which his country may well turn in self-reproach, he stood not always fast, yet shame and sin it were, and indelible infamy, were she not now to judge his life as Christianity commands. Preyed upon, alas! by those anxieties that pierce deepest into the noblest hearts--anxieties for the sakes--even on account of the very means of subsistence--of his own household and his own hearth--yet was he in his declining, shall we call them disastrous years, on the whole faithful to the divine spirit with which it had pleased Heaven to endow him--on the whole obedient to its best inspirations; while he rejoiced to illumine the paths of poverty with light which indeed was light on heaven, and from an inexhaustible fancy, teeming to the genial warmth of the heart in midst of chill and gloom, continued to the very last to strew along the weary ways of this world flowers so beautiful in their freshness, that to eyes too familiar with tears they looked as if dropped from heaven.
These are sentiments with which I rejoice to hear the sympathy of this great assemblage thus unequivocally expressed--for my words but awaken thoughts lodged deep in all considerate hearts. For which of us is there in whom, known or unknown, alas! there is not much that needs to be forgiven? Which of us that is not more akin to Burns in his fleshly frailties then in his diviner spirit? That conviction regards not merely solemn and public celebrations of reverential memory--such as this; it pervades the tenor of our daily life, runs in our heart's-blood, sits at our hearths, wings our loftiest dreams of human exaltation. How, on this earth, could we love, or revere, or emulate, if, in our contemplation of the human being, we could not sunder the noble, the fair, the gracious, the august, from the dregs of mortality, from the dust that hangs perishably about him the imperishable? We judge in love, that in love we may be judged. At our hearthsides, we gain more than we dared desire, by mutual mercy; at our hearthsides, we bestow and receive a better love, by this power of soft and magnanimous oblivion. We are ourselves the gainers, when thus we honour the great dead. They hear not--they feel not, excepting by an illusion of our own moved imaginations, which fill up chasms of awful, impassable separation; but we hear--we feel; and the echo of the acclaim which hills and skies have this day repeated, we can carry home in our hearts, where it shall settle down into the composure of love and pity, and admiration and gratitude, felt to be due for ever to our great poet's shade.
In no other spirit could genius have ever dared, in elegies and hymns, to seek to perpetuate at once a whole people's triumph, and a whole people's grief, by celebration of king, sage, priest, or poet, gone to his reward. From the natural infirmities of his meanest subject, what King was ever free? Against the golden rim that rounds his mortal temples come the same throbbings from blood in disease or passion hurrying from heart to brain, as disturb the aching head of the poor hind on his pallet of straw. But the king had been a guardian, a restorer, a deliverer; therefore his sins are buried or burned with his body; and all over the land he saved, generation after generation continues to cry aloud--"O king, live for ever!" The Sage who, by long meditation on man's nature and man's life, has seen how liberty rests on law, rights on obligations, and that his passions must be fettered, that his will be free--how often has he been overcome, when wrestling in agony with the powers of evil, in that seclusion from all trouble in which reverent admiration nevertheless believes that wisdom for ever serenely dwells! The Servant of God, has he always kept his heart pure from the world, nor ever held up in prayer other than spotless hands? A humble confession of his own utter unworthiness would be his reply alike to scoffer and to him who believes. But, unterrified by plague and pestilence, he had carried comfort into houses deserted but by sin and despair; or he had sailed away, as he truly believed for ever, to savage lands, away from the quiet homes of Christian men--among whom he might have hoped to lead a life of peace, it may be of affluence and honour--for his Divine Master's sake, and for sake of them sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. Therefore his name dies not, and all Christendom calls it blest. From such benefactors as these there may seem to be, but there is not, a deep descent to them who have done their service by what one of the greatest of them all has called "the vision and the faculty divine"--them to whom have been largely given the powers of fancy and imagination and creative thought, that they might move men's hearts, and raise men's souls, by the reflection of their own passions and affections in poetry, which is still an inspired speech. Nor have men, in their judgment of the true Poets, dealt otherwise with them than with patriot kings, benign legislators, and holy priests. Them, too, when of the highest, all nations and ages have reverenced in their gratitude. Whatever is good and great in man's being seems shadowed in the name of Milton; and though he was a very man in the storms of civil strife that shook down the throne at the shedding of the blood of kings, nevertheless, we devoutly believe with Wordsworth, that
But not of such as he only, who "in darkness, and with danger compassed round," soared "beyond this visible diurnal sphere," and whose song was of mercy and judgment, have men wisely resolved to dwell only on what is pure and high and cognate with their thoughts of heaven. Still, as we keep descending from height to height in the regions of song, we desire to regard with love the genius that beautifies wherever it settles down; and, if pity will steal in for human misfortunes, or for human frailties reproach, our love suffers no abatement, and religious men feel that there is piety in pilgrimage to such honoured graves. So feel we now at this commemoration. For our Poet we now claim the privilege, at once bright and austere, of death. We feel that our Burns is brought within the justification of all celebrations of human names; and that, in thus honouring his memory, we virtuously exercise the imaginative rights of enthusiasm owned by every people that has produced its great men.
And with a more especial propriety do we claim this justice in our triumphal celebration of poets, who, like Burns, were led by the character of their minds to derive the matter and impulse of their song, in a stricter sense, from themselves. For they have laid bare to all eyes many of their own weaknesses, at the side of their higher and purer aspirations. Unreserved children of sincerity, by the very open-heartedness which is one great cause of their commanding power, and contagiously diffuses every zealous affection originating in their nobility of nature--by this grown to excess, made negligent of instinctive self-defence, and heedless of misconstruction, or overcome by importunate and clinging temptations--to what charges have they not been exposed from that proneness to disparaging judgments so common in little minds! For such judgments are easy indeed to the very lowest understandings, and regard things that are visible to eyes that may seldom have commerced with things that are above. But they who know Burns as we know him, know that by this sometimes unregulated and unguarded sympathy with all appertaining to his kind, and especially to his own order, he was enabled to receive into himself all modes of their simple, but not undiversified life, so that his poetry murmurs their loves and joys from a thousand fountains. And suppose--which was the case--that this unguarded sympathy, this quick sensibility, and this vivid capacity of happiness which the moment brings, and the frankness of impulse, and the strength of desire, and the warmth of blood, which have made him what he greatly is, which have been fire and music in his song, and manhood, and courage, and endurance, and independence in his life, have at times betrayed or overmastered him--to turn against him all this self-painting and self-revealing, is it not ungrateful, barbarous, inhuman? Can he be indeed a true lover of his kind, who would record in judgment against such a man words that have escaped him in the fervour of the pleading designed to uphold great causes dear to humanity?--who would ignobly strike the self-disarmed?--scornfully insult him who, kneeling at the Muses' confessional, whispers secrets that take wings and fly abroad to the uttermost parts of the earth? Can they be lovers of the people who do so? who find it in their hearts thus to think, and speak, and write of Robert Burns?--He who has reconciled poverty to its lot, toil to its taskwork, care to its burden--nay, I would say even--grief to its grave? And by one Immortal Song has sanctified for ever the poor man's Cot--by such a picture as only genius, in the inspiring power of piety, could have painted; has given enduring life to the image--how tender and how true!--of the Happy Night passing by sweet transition from this worky world into the Hallowed Day, by God's appointment breathing a heavenly calm over all Christian regions in their rest--nowhere else so profoundly--and may it never be broken!--as over the hills and valleys of our beloved, and yet religious land!
It cannot be said that the best biographers of Burns, and his best critics, have not done, or desired to do, justice to his character as well as to his genius; and, according as the truth has been more entirely and fearlessly spoken, has he appeared the nobler and nobler man. All our best poets, too, have exultingly sung the worth, while they mourned the fate of him, the brightest of the brotherhood. But above, and below, and round about all that they have been uttering, has all along been heard a voice, which they who know how to listen for it can hear, and which has pronounced a decision in his favour not to be reversed; for on earth it cannot be carried to a higher tribunal. A voice heard of old on great national emergencies, when it struck terror into the hearts of tyrants, who quaked, and quailed, and quitted for aye our land before "the unconquered Caledonian spear"--nor, since our union with noblest England, ever slack to join with her's and fervid Erin's sons, the thrice-repeated cry by which battle-fields are cleared; but happier, far happier to hear, in its low deep tone of peace. For then it s like the sound of distant waterfalls, the murmur of summer woods, or the sea rolling in its rest. I mean the Voice of the People of Scotland--the Voice of her Peasantry and her Trades--of all who earn their bread by the sweat of their brow--her Working Men.
I presume not to draw their character. But this much I will say, that in the long run they know whom it is fitting they should honour and love. They will not be dictated to in their choice of the names that with them shall be household words. Never, at any period of their history, have they been lightly moved; but, when moved, their meaning was not to be mistaken; tenacious their living grasp as the clutch of death; though force may wrench the weapon from their hands, no force can wrench the worship from their hearts. They may not be conversant with our written annals; but in our oral traditions they are familiar with historic truths--grand truths conceived according to the People's idea of their own national mind, as their hearts have kindled in imagination of heroic or holy men. Imaginary but real--for we all believe that men as good, as wise, as brave, have been amongst us as ever fancy fabled for a people's reverence. What manner of men have been their darlings? It would be hard to say; for their love is not exclusive--it is comprehensive. In the national memory live for ever characters how widely different!--with all the shades, fainter or darker, of human infirmity! For theirs is not the sickly taste that craves for perfection where no frailties are. They do not demand in one and the same personage inconsistent virtues. But they do demand sincerity, and integrity, and resolution, and independence, and an open front, and an eye that fears not to look in the face of clay! And have not the grave and thoughtful Scottish people always regarded with more especial affection those who have struggled with adversity--who have been tried by temptations from without or from within--now triumphant, now overcome--but, alike in victory or defeat, testifying by their conduct that they were animated by no other desire so steadily as by love of their country and its people's good? Not those who have been favourites of fortune, even though worthy of the smiles in which they basked; but those who rose superior to fortune, who could not frown them down. Nor have they withheld their homage from the unfortunate in this world of chance and change, if, in abasement of condition, by doing its duties they upheld the dignity of their own nature, and looked round them on their honest brethren in poverty with pride.
And how will such a people receive a great National Poet? How did they receive Burns? With instant exultation. At once, they knew of themselves, before critics and philosophers had time to tell them, that a great Genius of their own had risen, and they felt a sudden charm diffused over their daily life. By an inexplicable law, humour and pathos are dependent on the same constitution of mind; and in his Poems they found the very soul of mirth, the very soul of sadness, as they thought it good with him to be merry, or to remember with him, "that man was made to mourn." But besides what I have said of them, the people of Scotland hold in the world's repute--signally so--the name of a religious people. Many of them, the descendants of the old covenanters, heirs of the stern zeal which took up arms for the purity of the national faith--still tinged, it may be, by the breath of the flame that then passed over the land--retain a certain severity of religious judgment in questions of moral transgression, which is known to make a part of hereditary Scottish manners--especially in rural districts, where manners best retain their stamp. But the sound natural understanding of the Scottish peasant, I use the liberty to say, admits, to take their place at the side of one another, objects of his liberal and comprehensive regard, which might appear, to superficial observation and shallow judgment, to stand upon such different grounds, as that the approbation of the one should exclude the admiration of the other. But not so. Nature in him is various as it is vigorous. He does not, with an over-jealous scrutiny, vainly try to reduce into seeming consistency affections spontaneously springing from many sources. Truth lies at the bottom; and, conscious of truth, he does not mistrust or question his own promptings. An awful reverence, the acknowledgment of a Law without appeal or error--Supreme, Sacred, Irresistible--rules in his judgment of other men's actions, and of his own. Nevertheless, under shelter and anction of that rule, he feels, loves, admires, like a man. Religion has raised and guards in him--it does not extinguish--the natural human heart. If the martyrs of his worship to him are holy--holy, too, are his country's heroes. And holy her poets--if such she have--who have sung--as during his too short life above them all sang Burns--for Scotland's sake. Dear is the band that ties the humbly educated man to the true national poet. To many in the upper classes he is, perhaps, but one among a thousand artificers of amusement who entertain and scatter the tedium of their idler hours. To the peasant the book lies upon his shelf a household treasure. There he finds depicted himself--his own works and his own ways. There he finds a cordial for his drooping spirits, nutriment for his wearied strength. Burns is his brother--his helper in time of need, when fretfulness and impatience are replaced with placidity by his strains, or of a sudden with a mounting joy. And far oftener than they who know not our peasantry would believe, before their souls awakened from torpor he is a luminous and benign presence in the dark hut; for, in its purity and power, his best poetry is felt to be inspired, and subordinate to the voice of heaven.
And will such a people endure to hear their own Poet wronged? No, no. Think not to instruct them in the right spirit of judgment. They have read the Scriptures, perhaps, to better purpose than their revilers, and know better how to use the lessons learned there, applicable alike to us all--the lessons, searching and merciful, which proscribe mutual judgment amongst beings, all, in the eye of absolute Holiness and Truth, stained, erring, worthless: And none so well as aged religious men in such dwellings know, from their own experience, from what they have witnessed among their neighbours, and from what they have read of the lives of good and faithful servants, out of the heart of what moral storms and shipwrecks, that threatened to swallow the strong swimmer in the middle passage of life, has often been landed safe at last, the rescued worshipper upon the firm land of quiet duties, and of years exempt from the hurricane of the passions! Thus thoughtfully guided in their opinion of him, who died young--cut off long before the period when others, under the gracious permission of overruling mercy, have begun to redeem their errors, and fortified perhaps by a sacred office, to enter upon a new life--they will for ever solemnly cherish the memory of the Poet of the Poor. And in such sentiments there can be no doubt but that all his countrymen share; who will, therefore rightfully hold out between Burns and all enemies a shield which clattering shafts may not pierce. They are proud of him, as a lowly father is proud of an illustrious son. The rank and splendour attained reflects glory down, but resolves not, nor weakens one single tie.
Ay, for many a deep reason the Scottish people love their own Robert Burns. Never was the personal character of poet so strongly and endearingly exhibited in his song. They love him, because he loved his own order, nor ever desired for a single hour to quit it. They love him, because he loved the very humblest condition of humanity, where every thing good was only the more commended to his manly mind by disadvantages of social position. They love him, because he saw with just anger, how much the judgments of "silly coward man" are determined by such accidents, to the neglect or contempt of native worth. They love him for his independence. What wonder! To be brought into contact with rank and wealth--a world inviting to ambition, and tempting to a thousand desires--and to choose rather to remain lowly and poor, than seek an easier or a brighter lot, by courting favour from the rich and great--was a legitimate ground of pride, if any ground of pride be legitimate. He gave a tongue to this pride, and the boast is inscribed in words of fire in the Manual of the Poor. It was an exuberant feeling, as all his feelings were exuberant, and he let them all overflow. But sometimes, forsooth! he did not express them in sufficiently polite or courteous phrase! And that too was well. He stood up not for himself only, but for the great class to which he belonged, and which in his days--and too often in ours--had been insulted by the pride of superior station, when unsupported by personal merit, to every bold peasant a thing of scorn. They love him, because he vindicated the ways of God to man, by showing that there was more genius and virtue in huts, than was dreamt of in the world's philosophy. They love him for his truthful pictures of the poor. Not there are seen slaves sullenly labouring, or madly leaping in their chains; but in nature's bondage, content with their toil, sedate in their sufferings, in their recreations full of mirth--are seen Free Men. The portraiture, upon the whole, is felt by us--and they know it--to demand at times pity as a due; but challenges always respect, and more than respect, for the condition which it glorifies. The Land of Burns! What mean we by the words? Something more, surely, than that Fortune, in mere blindness, had produced a great poet here? We look for the inspiring landscape, and here it is; but what could all its beauties have availed, had not a people inhabited it possessing all the sentiments, thoughts, aspirations, to which nature willed to give a voice in him of her choicest melody? Nothing prodigious, after all, in the birth of such a poet among such a people. Was any thing greater in the son than the austere resignation of the father? In his humble compeers there was much of the same tender affection, sturdy independence, strong sense, self-reliance, as in him; and so has Scotland been prolific, throughout her lower orders, of men who have made a figure in her literature and her history; but to Burns nature gave a finer organization, a more powerful heart, and an ampler brain, imbued with that mystery we call genius, and he stands forth conspicuous above all her sons.
From the character I have sketched of the Scottish people, of old and at this day, it might perhaps be expected that much of their poetry would be of a stern, fierce, or even ferocious kind--the poetry of bloodshed and destruction. Yet not so. Ballads enow, indeed, there are, embued with the true warlike spirit--narrative of exploits of heroes. But many a fragmentary verse, preserved by its own beauty, survives to prove that gentlest poetry has ever been the produce both of heathery mountain and broomy brae; but the names of the sweet singers are heard no more, and the plough has gone over their graves. And they had their music too, plaintive or dirge-like, as it sighed for the absent, or wailed for the dead. The fragments were caught up, as they floated about in decay; and by him, the sweetest lyrist of them all, were often revivified by a happy word that let in a soul, or, by a few touches of his genius, the fragment became a whole, so exquisitely moulded, that none may tell what lines belong to Burns, and what to the poet of ancient days. They all belong to him now, for but for him they would have perished utterly; while his own matchless lyrics, altogether original, find the breath of life on the lips of a people who have gotten them all by heart. What a triumph of the divine faculty thus to translate the inarticulate language of nature into every answering modulation of human speech! And with such felicity, that the verse is now as national as the music! Throughout all these exquisite songs, we see the power of an element which we, raised by rank and education into ignorance, might not have surmised in the mind of the people. The love-songs of Burns are prominent in the poetry of the world by their purity. Love, truly felt and understood, in the bosom of a Scottish peasant, has produced a crowd of strains which are owned for the genuine and chaste language of the passion, by highly as well as by lowly born--by cultured and by ruder minds--that may charm in haughty saloons, not less than under smoke-blackened roofs. Impassioned beyond all the songs of passion, yet, in the fearless fervour of remembered transports, pure as hymeneals; and dear, therefore, for ever to Scottish maidens in hours when hearts are wooed and won; dear, therefore, for ever to Scottish matrons, who, at household work, are happy to hear them from their daughters' lips. And he, too, is the Poet of their friendships. At stanzas instinct with blythe and cordial amities, more brotherly the grasp of peasant's in peasant's toil-hardened hands! The kindliness of their nature, not chilled, though oppressed with care, how ready at his bidding--at the repeated air of a few exquisite but unsought-for words of his--to start up all alive! He is the Poet of all their humanities. His Daisy has made all the flowers of Scotland dear. His moorland has its wild inhabitants, whose cry is sweet. For sake of the old dumb fellow-servant which his farmer gratefully addresses on entering on another year of labour, how many of its kind have been fed or spared? In the winter storm 'tis useless to think of the sailor on his slippery shrouds; but the "outland eerie cattle" he teaches his feres to care for in the drifting snow. In what jocund strains he celebrates their amusements, their recreations, their festivals, passionately pursued with all their pith by a people in the business of life grave and determined as if it left no hours for play! Gait, dress, domicile, furniture, throughout all his poetry, are Scottish as their dialect; and sometimes, in the pride of his heart, he rejoices by such nationality to provoke some alien's smile. The sickle, the scythe, and the flail, the spade, the mattock, and the hoe, have been taken up more cheerfully by many a toil-worn cottar, because of the poetry with which Burns has invested the very implements of labour. Now and then, too, here and there peals forth the clangour of the war-trumpet. But Burns is not, in the vulgar sense, a military poet; nor are the Scottish, in a vulgar sense, a military people. He and they best love tranquil scenes and the secure peace of home. They are prompt for war, if war be needed--no more. Therefore two or three glorious strains he has that call to the martial virtue quiescent in their bosoms--echoes from the warfare of their ancient self-deliverance--menacings--a prophetical Nemo me impune lacesset, should a future foe dare to insult the beloved soil. So nourishes his poetry all that is tender and all that is stern in the national character. So does it inspire his people with pride and contentment in their own peculiar lot; and as that is at once both poetical and practical patriotism, the poet who thus lightens and brightens it is the best of patriots.
I have been speaking of Burns as the poet of the country--and his is the rural, the rustic muse. But we know well that the charm of his poetry has equal power for the inhabitants of towns and cities. Occupations, familiar objects, habitual thoughts, are indeed very different for the two great divisions of the people; but there is a brotherhood both of consanguinity and of lot. Labour--the hand pledged to constant toil--the daily support of life, won by its daily wrestle with a seemingly adverse but friendly necessity--in these they are all commoners with one another. He who cheers, who solaces, who inspirits, who honours, who exalts the lot of the labourer, is the poet alike of all the sons of industry. The mechanic who inhabits a smoky atmosphere, and in whose ear an unwholesome din from workshop and thoroughfare rings hourly, hangs from his rafter the caged linnet; and the strain that should gush free from blossomed or green bough, that should mix in the murmur of the brook, mixes in and consoles the perpetual noise of the loom or the forge. Thus Burns sings more especially to those whose manner of life he entirely shares; but he sings a precious memento to those who walk in other and less pleasant ways. Give then the people knowledge, without stint, for it nurtures the soul. But let us never forget, that the mind of man has other cravings--that it draws nourishment from thoughts, beautiful and tender, such as lay reviving dews on the drooping fancy, and are needed the more by him to whom they are not wafted fresh from the face of nature. This virtue of these pastoral and rural strains to penetrate and permeate conditions of existence different from those in which they had their origin, appears wheresoever we follow them. In the mine, in the dungeon, upon the great waters, in remote lands under fiery skies, Burns's poetry goes with his countrymen. Faithfully portrayed, the image of Scotland lives there; and thus she holds, more palpably felt, her hand upon the hearts of her children, whom the constraint of fortune or ambitious enterprise carries afar from the natal shores. Unrepining and unrepentant exiles, to whom the haunting recollection of hearth and field breathes in that dearest poetry, not with homesick sinkings of heart, but with home-invigorated hopes that the day will come when their eyes shall have their desire, and their feet again feel the greensward and the heather-bent of Scotland. Thus is there but one soul in this our great National Festival; while to swell the multitudes that from morning light continued flocking towards old Ayr, till at mid-day they gathered into one mighty mass in front of Burns's Monument, came enthusiastic crowds from countless villages and towns, from our metropolis, and from the great City of the West, along with the sons of the soil dwelling all round the breezy uplands of Kyle, and in regions that stretch away to the stormy mountains of Morven.
Sons of Burns! Inheritors of the name which we proudly revere, you claim in the glad solemnity which now unites us, a privileged and more fondly affectionate part. To the honour with which we would deck the memory of your father, your presence, and that of your respected relatives, nor less that of her sitting in honour by their side, who, though not of his blood, did the duties of a daughter at his dying bed, give an impressive living reality; and while we pay this tribute to the poet, whose glory, beyond that of any other, we blend with the renown of Scotland, it is a satisfaction to us, that we pour not out our praises in the dull cold ear of death. Your lives have been past for many years asunder; and now that you are freed from the duties that kept you so long from one another, your intercourse, wherever and whenever permitted by your respective lots to be renewed, will derive additional enjoyment from the recollection of this day--a sacred day indeed to brothers, dwelling--even if apart--in unity and peace. And there is one whose warmest feelings, I have the best reason to know, are now with you and us, as well on your own account as for the sake of your great parent, whose character he respects as much as he admires his genius, though it has pleased Heaven to visit him with such affliction as might well deaden even in such a heart as his all satisfaction even with this festival. But two years ago, and James Burnes was the proud and happy father of three sons, all worthy of their race. One only now survives; and may he in due time return from India to be a comfort, if but for a short, a sacred season, to his old age! But Sir Alexander Burnes--a name that will not die--and his gallant brother have perished, as all the world knows, in the flower of their life--foully murdered in a barbarous land. For them many eyes have wept; and their country, whom they served so faithfully, deplores them among her devoted heroes. Our sympathy may not soothe such grief as his; yet it will not be refused, coming to him along with our sorrow for the honoured dead. Such a father of such sons has far other consolations.
In no other way more acceptable to yourselves could I hope to welcome you, than by thus striving to give an imperfect utterance to some of the many thoughts and feelings that have been crowding into my mind and heart concerning your father. And I have felt all along that there was not only no impropriety in my doing so, after the address of our Noble Chairman, but that it was even the more required of me that I should speak in a kindred spirit, by that very address, altogether so worthy of his high character, and so admirably appropriate to the purpose of this memorable day. Not now for the first time, by many times, has he shown how well he understands the ties by which, in a country like this, men of high are connected with men of humble birth, and how amply he is endowed with the qualities that best secure attachment between the Castle and the Cottage. We rise to welcome you to your Father's land.
Mr ROBERT BURNS replied in the following terms:--My lord, and ladies and gentlemen, You may be assured that the sons of Burns feel all that they ought to feel on an occasion so peculiarly gratifying to them, and on account of so nobly generous a welcome to the Banks of Doon. In whatever land they have wandered--wherever they have gone--they have invariably found a kind reception prepared for them by the genius and fame of their father; and, under the providence of Almighty God, they owe to the admirers of his genius all that they have, and what competencies they now enjoy. We have no claim to attention individually--we are all aware that genius, and more particularly poetic genius, is not hereditary, and in this case the mantle of Elijah has not descended upon Elisha. The sons of Burns have grateful hearts, and will remember, so long as they live, the honour which has this day been conferred upon them by the noble and the illustrious of our own land, and many generous and kind spirits from other lands--some from the far West, a country composed of the great and the free, and altogether a kindred people. We beg to return our most heartfelt thanks to this numerous and highly respectable company for the honour which has been done us this day.
Sir JOHN M'NEILL spoke as follows:--My lord, ladies, and gentlemen--We have now accomplished the main purpose of this assembly. We have done honour to the memory of Burns, and have welcomed his sons to the land of their father. After the address--which I may be permitted to call the address of manly eloquence--which you have heard from our Noble Chairman; after the oration--which I may be permitted to designate as solemn and beautiful--which you have heard from our worthy Vice-chairman--I should be inexcusable were I to detain you long with the subject which has been entrusted to me. The range of English poetry is so vast--it is profuse in so many beauties and excellences, and many of its great names are approached with so much habitual veneration, that I feel great diffidence and difficulty in addressing you on a subject on which my opinions can have little weight, and my judgment is no authority; but to you, whose minds have been stirred with the lofty thoughts of the Poets of England, and are familiar with their beauties, nothing is needed to stimulate you to admire that which I am sure has been the object of your continual admiration, and the subject of your unfailing delight. We have been sometimes accused of a nationality which is too narrow and exclusive; but I hope and believe that the accusation is founded on misapprehension of our feelings. It is true that, as Scotsmen, we love Scotland above every other spot on earth--that we love it as our early home, and our father's house. We cherish our feelings of nationality as we cherish our domestic affections, of which they are in truth a part. But while we have these feelings, we glory in the might and the majesty of that great country, with which, for the happiness of both, we have long been united as one nation. We are proud of the victories of Cressy, of Agincourt, and of Poictiers, as if they had been won by our own ancestors. And I may venture to say there is not in this great assembly one who is not proud that he can claim to be the countryman of Spenser, and Shakspeare, and Milton, and Wordsworth, and of every one in that long list of glorious Englishmen, who have shed a lustre and conferred a dignity upon our language more bright and more majestic than illuminates and exalts the living literature of any other land. There is, I think, in the history of the progress of the human intellect, nothing more surprising than the sudden growth of literature in England to the summit of its excellence. No sooner had tranquillity been restored after the long civil wars of the Roses--no sooner had men's minds been set free to enter the fields of speculation opened up by the Reformation, than in the short space of the life of one man--than in the space of seventy years, there arose such men as Spenser, and Milton, and Shakspeare, and Sydney, and Raleigh, and Bacon, and Hobbes, and Cudworth, and a whole phalanx of other great men, inferior only to them in the brightness of original genius. How glorious must have been the soil which could bring to maturity a harvest of such teeming abundance! There are probably many among us who can even now remember with exultation when the first ray of light was cast on their minds from the genius of Spenser--as the first glimmering of day comes to him whose sealed eyes are opened to the light of heaven, discovering objects at first dimly and then more clearly, we at length gazed in wonder and in joy on a creation vaster far, and far more lovely, than it had entered into our hearts to conceive. And if, in our maturer years, we return to live an hour with him in the regions of fairyland that enchanted our youth--if some of the flowers seem less bright, if the murmur of the waters is a more pensive sound, if a soberer light pervade the scene, and if some of the illusions are broken for ever, we still discover in every stanza beauties which escaped our earlier observation, and we never lose our relish for that rich play of fancy, like the eastern fountain, whose spray descends in pearls and in gems. But, above all, when we look upon him with mature feelings, we can appreciate that lofty strain of godly philosophy which he, the father of our poetry, bequeathed, and which has been followed by his successors. When we call to mind the influence produced on a people by the poetry of a nation--when we call to mind that whatever is desired to be inculcated, whether for good or for evil, the power of poetry has been employed to advance it, even from the times when the Monarch-Minstrel of Israel glorified his Maker in Psalms, to the latest attempts which have been made to propagate treason, immorality, or atheism--when we thus think of these things, we may learn how much of gratitude is due to those men who, having had the precious ointment of poetic genius poured abundantly on their heads, have felt and acknowledged that they were thereby consecrated to the cause of virtue--who have never forgotten that there was a time when
Such men are Spenser, Milton--such is Wordsworth. Of Milton I shall not venture to speak. He stands alone in his sanctuary, which I would not profane even by imperfect praise. But it is my duty to speak of Wordsworth. Dwelling in his high and lofty philosophy, he finds nothing that God has made common or unclean--he finds nothing in human society too humble, nothing in external nature too lowly, to be made the fit exponents of the bounty and goodness of the Most High. In the loftier aspirations of such a mind, there must be much that is obscure to every inferior intelligence; and it may be that its vast expanse can only be but dimly visible--it may be that the clouds of incense rising from the altar may veil from common eyes some portion of the stately temple they perfume; but we pity the man who should therefore close his eyes on a scene of beauty and sublimity, or turn back from the threshold of the noble edifice in which he has been invited to survey the majesty of creative genius, and where he will be taught to find "Books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing."
HENRY GLASSFORD BELL, Esq., advocate, said--My lord, I feel it to be a great distinction and privilege to have been requested to take a part in the proceedings of this day. It is a day which will not soon pass from the recollection of those who have partaken in its admirably-conducted festivities. In assembling to do honour to the memory of Burns, in no idle or frivolous spirit, but impressed with those elevated emotions which have so plainly animated the whole of this mighty gathering, we have a right to feel that we do honour to ourselves as individuals, and as a nation. Our assembling has been prompted by a love of all that is purest and best in our national genius, as represented by our national poet. It has been prompted, too, by that indomitable love of our native land which Burns felt and sang--a love founded on admiration, which grows with our growth and strengthens with our strength, of all that external nature here presents to us--on profound respect for our inestimable and time-hallowed institutions; and in never-dying delight in all that kindred spirits have here shared with us--in all that higher spirits have here achieved for us. No poet ever possessed greater influence in disseminating and strengthening such sentiments, than Burns. My lord, it has been well said that wherever an humble artisan, in the crowded haunts of labour or of trade, feels a consciousness of his own dignity--is stirred with a desire for the beautiful, or haunted with a dream of knowledge, or learns to appreciate the distinction between the "guinea's stamp" and the "gowd," there the royal and gentle spirit of Robert Burns, lion-like in its boldness, and dove-like in its tenderness, still glows, elevates, and inspires. This spirit is also here, and has been evidenced in many ways; perhaps in none more than in this, that in doing honour to the genius of Burns, we are irresistibly led to acknowledge, and speak of the debts we owe to the intellectual achievements of other great minds, not in Scotland only, but in the sister countries. We have just heard, from the eloquent lips of Sir John M'Neill, the well-deserved praises of the English bards. Will this meeting refuse a similar cup of welcome, and of thanks, to the poets of Green Erin? Will this meeting, where so many bright eyes rain influence, and manly hearts beat high, not hail with simultaneous delight the name of one who shines conspicuous as the very poet of youth, of love, and of beauty--the poet, with deference be it spoken, of better things than even beauty--of gentle thoughts and exquisite associations, that give additional sweetness to the twilight hour, and to the enjoyments of home a more endearing loveliness; the poet, too, of his own high-souled country, through whose harp the common breeze of Ireland changes, as it passes, into articulate melody--a harp that will never be permitted to hang mute on Tara's walls, as long as
How many voices have to-day murmured a wish that he were here! But the echo of the acclaim with which we greet the name of Moore will reach him in his solitude, and he will feel, what Burns died too young to feel, that it is something worth living for to have gained a nation's gratitude. Of Maturin and others now dead, I must not pause to speak. But let me be privileged to express, in name of this meeting, our respect and admiration for the best of the living dramatists--one deeply imbued with the spirit of the Elizabethan age--one who has rescued our stage from the reproach which seemed ready to fall upon it--one to whose exuberant poetical fertility, and bold originality of thought, we are indebted for such beautiful creations as "Virginius" and "William Tell," the "Hunchback" and the "Love Chase,"--our valued friend, James Sheridan Knowles. And I might have stopped here, had it not been that I have to-day seen that not the gifted sons alone, but also some of the gifted daughters of Ireland, have come as pilgrims to the shrine of Burns; that one in particular, one of the most distinguished of that fair sisterhood who give, by their talents, additional lustre to the genius of the present day, has paid her first visit to Scotland, that she might be present on this occasion, and whom have myself seen moved even to tears by the glory of the gathering. She is one who has lately thrown additional light on the antiquities, manners, scenery, and beautiful traditions of Ireland--one, whose graceful and truly feminine works are known to us all, and whom we are proud to see among us--Mrs S. C. Hall. My lord, feebly and briefly as I have spoken of these great names, I must not trespass longer on your time, but beg to propose the health of "Moore and the Irish Poets."
ARCHIBALD ALISON, Esq., Sheriff of Lanarkshire, spoke as follows:--We have listened with admiration to the eloquent strains in which the first in rank and the first in genius have proposed the memory of the immortal bard whose genius we are this day assembled to celebrate; but I know not whether the toast which I have now to propose, has not equal claims to our enthusiasm. Your kindness and that of the committee, has intrusted to me the memory of three illustrious men--the far-famed successors of Burns, who have drank deep at the fountains of his genius, and proved themselves the worthy inheritors of his inspiration. And Scotland, I rejoice to say, can claim them all as her own. For if the Tweed has been immortalized by the grave of Scott, the Clyde can boast the birthplace of Campbell, and the mountains of the Dee first inspired the muse of Byron. I rejoice at that burst of patriotic feeling--I hail it as a presage, that as Ayrshire has raised a graceful monument to Burns, and Edinburgh has erected a noble structure to the Author of Waverley, so Glasgow will ere long raise a worthy tribute to the bard whose name will never die while Hope pours its balm through the human heart; and Aberdeen will worthily commemorate the far-famed traveller, who first inhaled the inspiration of nature amidst the clouds of Loch-nagarr, and afterwards poured the light of his genius over those lands of the sun where his descending orb set--
Scotland, my lord, may well be proud of such men, but she can no longer call these exclusively her own; their names have become household words in every land. Mankind claims them as the common inheritance of the human race. Look around us, and we shall see on every side decisive proofs how far and wide admiration for their genius has sunk in the hearts of man. What is it that attracts strangers from every part of the world into this distant land, and has more than compensated a remote situation and a churlish soil, and given to our own Northern Isle a splendour unknown to the regions of the sun? What is it which has brought together this mighty assemblage, and united the ardent and the generous from every part of the world, from the Ural mountains to the banks of the Mississippi, on the shores of an island in the Atlantic? My lord, it is neither the magnificence of our cities, nor the beauty of our valleys, the animation of our harbours, nor the stillness of our mountains; it is neither our sounding cataracts, nor our spreading lakes; neither the wilds of nature we have subdued so strenuously, nor the blue hills we have loved so well. These beauties, great as they are, have been equaled in other lands; these marvels, wondrous though they be, have parallels in other climes. It is the genius of her sons which has given Scotland her proud pre-eminence; this it is, more even than the shades of Bruce, of Wallace, and of Mary, which has rendered her scenes classic ground to the whole civilized world, and now brings pilgrims from the most distant parts of the earth, as on this day, to worship at the shrine of genius.
But, my lord, the poet who conceived those beautiful lines, has himself done more than all our ancestors' valour to immortalize the land of his birth; for he has united the interest of truth with the charms of fiction, and peopled the realm not only with the shadows of time, but the creations of genius. In those brilliant creations, as in the glassy wave, we behold mirrored the lights, the shadows, the forms of reality; and yet
Years have rolled on, but they have taken nothing, they have added much to the fame of those illustrious men.
The voice of ages has spoken: it has given Campbell and Byron the highest place with Burns in lyric poetry, and destined Scott
Their names now shine in unapproachable splendour, far removed, like the fixed stars, from the clouds and the rivalry of a lower world. To the end of time they will maintain their exalted station. Never will the cultivated traveller traverse the sea of Archipelago, that the "Isles of Greece, the Isles of Greece," will not recur to his recollection; never will he approach the shores of Loch Katrine, that the image of Ellen Douglas will not be present to his memory; never will he gaze on the cliffs of Britain, that he will not thrill at the exploits of the "Mariners of England, who guard our native seas." Whence has arisen this great, this universally acknowledged celebrity? My lord, it is hard to say whether we have most to admire the brilliancy of their fancy or the creations of their genius, the beauty of their verses or the magic of their language, the elevation of their thoughts or the pathos of their conceptions. But there is one whose recent death we all deplore, but who has lighted "the torch of Hope at nature's funeral pile," who has gained a yet higher inspiration. In Campbell it is the moral purposes to which he has directed his mighty powers which is the real secret of his success, the lofty objects to which he has devoted his life, which have proved his passport to immortality. It is because he has unceasingly contended for the best interests of humanity, because he has ever asserted the dignity of the human soul, because he has never forgotten that amidst all the distinctions of time,
Because he has regarded himself as the high-priest of Nature, and the world which we inhabit as the abode not merely of human care and human joys, but as the temple of the living God, in which praise is due, and where service is to be performed.--"The memory of Scott, Byron, and Campbell."
WILLIAM E. AYTOUN, Esq., advocate, said--We are met here to-day not only to pay due honour to the memory of that bard whose genius has consecrated this spot, and the scenes around it, as classic ground for ever, but for a wider, a more important, and even a more generous purpose. I look upon this assemblage as a great national gathering--a meeting not only of the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, but of kindly strangers also, to testify our reverence and affection for the living lights of fame that are still burning amongst us, and our undying gratitude and exultation for those who have already passed away. Thus, though they belong to the sister countries, we have paid due homage to the venerable name of Wordsworth and to the sparkling genius of Moore. Thus the heart of every one that hears me burned within him--am I not right?--when we saw our own noble Wilson rise amidst us, and heard him, with an eloquence the most pure--for it flowed spontaneously from his soul--speak, as perhaps no other man could speak, of the genius of the immortal dead. Thus, too, we have heard the tribute so touchingly paid to Campbell, who now sleeps among the sages, and the statesmen, and the warriors, and the poets of famous England; and to him who has a happier and a holier sepulture still--for he lies within the bosom of his own dear native land--to Scott, the master-spirit of the age, for whom we well may mourn, since we dare not hope to look upon his like again! I have now, in a few words, to entreat your patience whilst I speak of two other Scottish poets whose memory is yet green amongst us--both reared, like Robert Burns, at the lowly hearth of the peasant--both pursuing, like him, through every discouragement and difficulty, the pathway towards honourable renown--and both the authors of strains which bear the stamp of immortality. And first, let me allude to one of them whom I knew and dearly loved. Who is there that has not heard of the Ettrick Shepherd--of him whose inspiration descended as lightly as the breeze that blows along the mountain side--who saw, amongst the lonely and sequestered glens of the south, from eyelids touched with fairy ointment, such visions as are vouchsafed to the minstrel alone--the dream of sweet Kilmeny, too spiritual for the taint of earth? I shall not attempt any comparison--for I am not here to criticise--between his genius and that of other men, on whom God in his bounty has bestowed the great and the marvellous gift. The songs and the poetry of the Shepherd are now the nation's own, as indeed they long have been; and amidst the minstrelsy of the choir who have made the name of Scotland and her peasantry familiar throughout the wide reach of the habitable world the clear wild notes of the Forest will for ever be heard to ring. I have seen him many times by the banks of his own romantic Yarrow; I have sat with him in the calm and sunny weather by the margin of Saint Mary's Lake; I have seen his eyes sparkle and his cheek flush as he spoke out some old heroic ballad of the days of the Douglas and the Græme, and I have felt, as I listened to the accents of his manly voice, that whilst Scotland could produce amongst her children such men as him beside me, her ancient spirit had not departed from her, nor the star of her glory grown pale! For he was a man, indeed, cast in nature's happiest mould. True-hearted, and brave, and generous, and sincere; alive to every kindly impulse, and fresh at the core to the last, he lived among his native hills the blameless life of the shepherd and the poet; and on the day when he was laid beneath the sod in the lonely kirkyard of Ettrick, there was not one dry eye amongst the hundreds that lingered round his grave. Of the other sweet singer, too--of Allan Cunningham, the leal-hearted and kindly Allan--I might say much; but why should I detain you further? Does not his name alone recall to your recollection many a sweet song that has thrilled the bosom of the village maiden with an emotion that a princess need not blush to own? Honour, then, to the poets!--whether they speak out loud and trumpet-tongued, to find audience in the hearts of the great, and the mighty, and the brave--or whether, in lowlier and more simple accents, but not less sacred in their mission, they bring comfort and consolation to the poor. As the sweep of the rainbow, which has its arch in heaven, and its shafts resting upon the surface of the earth--as the sunshine which falls with equal bounty upon the palace and the hut--is the all-pervading and universal spirit of poetry; and what less can we do to those men who have collected and scattered it around us, than to hail them as the benefactors of their race? That has been the purpose of our gathering, and we have held it in a fitting spot. Proud, indeed, may be the district that can claim within herself the birthplaces of Burns and of Cunningham; and proud may we all be--and we are proud, from yourself, my lord, to the humblest individual who bore a part in the proceedings of this memorable day--that we have the opportunity of testifying our respect to the genius that will defy the encroachment of time: and which has shed, and will continue to shed, a splendour and a glory around the land that we love so well! My lord, I am honoured in having to propose "The memory of the Ettrick Shepherd, and of Allan Cunningham."
Sir D. H. BLAIR, Bart., of Blairquhan, said--My Lord Eglinton and gentlemen, I have been requested to give the next toast, which I very much wish had fallen into abler hands. It is a toast, my lord, that is as well calculated to call forth enthusiastic bursts of eloquence as any we have listened to with such delight to-day; but as on that account I feel quite unable to do it adequate justice, I must trust to that acclamation by which I am confident it will be received, without any effort on my part. We all recollect the words of our immortal bard, when, in alluding to the manner in which nature had finished this fair creation, he says--
I am sure every man in this assembly will join me in an enthusiastic bumper to the health of the "Countess of Eglinton, and the ladies who have honoured this meeting with their presence."
Colonel MURE of Caldwell, said--In obedience to the order of our noble chairman, I have to request a bumper to the Peasantry of Scotland. In order justly to appreciate the claims of this most estimable class of our fellow-citizens upon our sympathies, I must remind you that to it pre-eminently belongs the honour of having given birth to the remarkable man whose memory we are this day met to celebrate. I must remind you, that while the fact of Burns having raised himself from the rank of a Scottish ploughman, by the innate force of heaven-born genius, to the level of the greatest and most original poets of any age or country, is the noblest feature of his history, the peasantry of Scotland, in their turn, may be entitled to feel pride, even in the presence of the proudest nobles of their land, when they remember that from them, and not from the privileged orders of society, our greatest national genius was destined to arise. And, in fact, the most striking, and perhaps the most valuable feature in the poetical character of Burns, is the marked ascendancy which the spirit and habits of the peasant, the genius of the man, as it were, continued to exercise on the genius of the poet, even during the most brilliant periods of his subsequent career. Even amid that rich variety of subjects, in the treatment of which his instinctive refinement and delicacy of taste enabled him to combine, with all the higher powers of the man, the courtly graces of the gentleman and scholar--still his happiest effort, the masterpiece of his genius, in which his own mind is displayed in the most agreeable light, and his inspiration breathes forth with the greatest brilliancy and beauty, will be found to be dictated by the associations of his early rustic days. When I reflect, therefore, how copious, how graphic, how true are his own descriptions of the character of the Scottish peasantry, in all its varieties of grave or of gay, of light or of shadow, I cannot but feel it is a sort of presumption to offer in a company, who must be all so familiar with these descriptions, any crude remark of my own, on the more interesting features of those to which they refer. I shall, however, do my best to season the few comments which I am in some degree bound to offer on the subject allotted to me, by taking the poet's works as my text-book. Were I called upon, therefore, to name the virtues of our peasantry, which chiefly claim our respect and admiration, I should point first to their industry, frugality, and contentment, as those which prominently adorn their own class of society above all others, and also to their piety and their patriotism, as shared, I would fain hope equally, or at least largely, by the mass of our fellow-citizens. Where, then, shall we find a more spirited picture of the influence and effects of the three former qualities--above all, of that most inestimable blessing, contentment--than in the brilliant little poem which bears the humble title of the "Twa Dogs," where, after so graphically describing the honest toils, often the severe hardships, inseparable from the peasant's lot, he goes on to say, that yet
But where are we, after all, to look for the source of this beautiful attribute of contentment? Is it not in the still more admirable one of their piety? It is here almost superfluous to make any close appeal to our poet's authority--to that most sublime description, so familiar to you all, where the old peasant on the Saturday night collects his scattered family, at the close of the long week's labour, around his humble but happy cottage fireside, and, after a few sweet but hard-earned hours of social enjoyment, instils, before retiring to repose, from the open Word of God, into their minds those lessons of Divine wisdom which were to guide them during the next week, and through life, in the paths of religion and virtue. Are not such scenes to this day common in our cottages, still, as of old, I firmly believe, the favourite abodes of the genuine spirit of simple Scottish piety? Then as to the last, if not the least, in the above list of the virtues of our peasants--their patriotism. To whom, I would ask, but to the peasantry of Scotland, does our poet so beautifully appeal as having bled with Wallace? To whom, but to our peasantry, did our national hero look--and never look in vain--for support in his gallant effort to restore the fallen fortunes of his country, at the period when our doughty knights and nobles--happily but for a season--had been reduced, by the intrigues or intimidation of our powerful enemy, to crouch submissive beneath the throne of his usurpation. And can we doubt that this proud spirit of patriotism still burns as warm in their hearts as then, if no longer, by God's blessing, so fearfully or so desperately called into action; or that when after, as our poet again has it,
But I have already detained you too long--if not longer than the interest of the subject, at least than my power of doing justice to it entitles me. I shall therefore conclude by pronouncing a grace over our bumper, also supplied from the stores of the Poet, and the sentiments of which every one here present, I am sure, will cordially sympathize--
Sir JAMES CAMPBELL of Glasgow said--In proposing the toast with which I have been entrusted, I shall content myself by simply expressing my deep regret that, under any circumstances, I could so inadequately express my own sentiments and feelings of admiration--in all the acceptations of that word--of "the Land of Burns." I am aware, however, that I have the honour of addressing an assemblage who can appreciate, who do appreciate, and who, by their appearance here, and the interest so many of them have taken in the proceedings and associations of this day, give ample proof of their high estimation of, and attachment to, "the Land of Burns." I am aware, also, that I have the honour to address not a few of those who have, with the pencil or with the pen, done homage to the classical, patriotic, and poetical claims of that land. I feel satisfied, indeed, that there is not an individual in this most interesting and splendid assemblage, who does not greatly prize and admire the fertile soil and landscape beauty of that land; whose bosom glows not with an honest pride at the intelligence, enterprise, and patriotism of the men of that land; and, above all, who does not honour and admire the beauty and accomplishments of the ladies of that land. And therefore is it, my lord, that, without further preface, I would call upon this assembly to dedicate a bumper to "The Land of Burns."
Lord EGLINTON said--Ladies and Gentlemen, Except the toast which I have had the honour and happiness of bringing before you to-day, there is not one which gives me greater pleasure to see committed to my charge than that which I am now about to bring before your notice--I mean the "Provost and Magistrates of Ayr;" and along with it, though not down on the card, my feelings will not allow me to leave out the Interests of Ayr. On such an occasion as this, and so late in the day, I will not occupy your time by dilating on the interest which I feel in that Town, or of the knowledge which I have of the Provost and the Magistrates. From that knowledge I feel convinced that the interests of Ayr could not be placed in more worthy hands. In addition to the respect felt towards them as the Magistrates of the County Town, we all feel gratitude to them for the assistance, support, and countenance, they have given to our proceedings on this occasion.
Provost MILLER said--Permit me to return my best thanks, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, for the flattering compliment which has just been paid to them. The manner in which the toast was introduced by the noble lord was particularly gratifying to me; and I am sure it will be appreciated by the entire corporation. I beg to assure the noble lord that the recognition of "Auld Ayr" at a meeting so peculiarly interesting as the present, and combining, as it does, so much of the rank, talent, and worth of the land, will be highly appreciated by the "honest men and bonnie lasses" for which it has been characterized by the immortal bard in honour of whose memory we are this day met.
The LORD JUSTICE-GENERAL rose amidst much applause. He said--Ladies and gentlemen, after the uncommon success which has attended every part of the proceedings at this meeting to-day, I am confident that I anticipate the unanimous concurrence of this great assembly I have now the honour to address, when I state that there appears, in addition to many toasts drunk with so much enthusiasm, one that remains as a debt of gratitude due by this assembly. I consider it a most fortunate circumstance attending this meeting, that we have been presided over by the Noble Lord in the chair. I am sure that the most enthusiastic admirers of Burns must be gratified in thinking that the proceedings of this day have been conducted by my noble friend in so admirable a manner. Every person must be satisfied that it was impossible the proceedings of this day could have been commenced in a happier strain. Without further comment, I beg leave to propose that we drink the health of our excellent Chairman.
Lord EGLINTON, in reply, said--My Lord Justice, and ladies and gentlemen, I assure you I feel most deeply grateful to you for the honour you have paid me, as I always ought to be when my health is proposed and drunk at a meeting of Scotchmen. But I assure you I never felt more deeply grateful, or more highly sensible of that honour, than I do at the present moment, when my health is proposed by such a man as the Lord Justice-General, and when it has been received--and, I am proud to say, enthusiastically received--by an assemblage met for such a purpose as to do honour to the memory of our greatest poet. But, gentlemen, I will not at this late hour of the day, and in a temple, as it were, dedicated to the Muses--I will not occupy your time by returning thanks for drinking the health of one who has no merit. But, before we part, there is a toast which claims our especial consideration--"the health of Professor Wilson." Had it not been for the modesty of the Professor, it ought to have been proposed at a much earlier part of the evening. On such an occasion as this, when we have met from all parts of Scotland, to do honour to the memory of the greatest genius Scotland ever knew, it surely is not only proper, but our bounden duty, to drink the health of the greatest genius which Scotland possesses now. The memories of others have been drunk to-night, and have been received with that deep feeling which Scotchmen feel towards the memory of genius, but the toast which I am now proposing is one which has this additional merit, that the subject of it is alive and hearty, and able to continue, as you have heard to-day, in that career which has hitherto so much delighted his countrymen. In the presence of Professor Wilson I cannot dilate, as I could wish to do, on the character of that gentleman. I will only ask you to drink with me his health in a way that will show that you can pay honour to genius alive, as you can do honour to departed worth.
Professor WILSON rose and simply bowed his acknowledgments.
The Earl of EGLINTON then rose and said--Ladies and Gentlemen,
This brought the proceedings to a close.
We have thought it due--not less to the character of the meeting than to the sincere and fervid eloquence of the speakers--to place upon our pages an authentic record of the whole proceedings of the day. This "great national gathering," as it was aptly denominated, must be of enduring and not ephemeral interest, and will be remembered, and spoken of, and quoted, long after events of greater apparent importance have passed away into oblivion. The outpourings of a nation's heart are immortal. The tributes that were paid, in the ages long since gone by, to the poets of Greece and of Italy, have outlived the most enduring monuments of marble, and we dare not hesitate now to recognise a triumph which will be as everlasting as theirs.
We feel that little comment is necessary upon the various addresses that are given above. But we should not be justified--and no man who was there that day would forgive us--if we passed over in silence the manly and distinguished manner in which Lord Eglinton discharged the duties of the chair. Scotland, as we have already had occasion to say, is proud, and justly so, of her aristocracy; but there is not one of them all, through the whole length and breadth of the land, to whom she can point more exultingly than to this young nobleman. His opening address would have done honour to one long trained in the schools of oratory, and that was its smallest merit. The emphatic and earnest tone of admiration in which he spoke of the peasantry of his country--his generous and touching allusions to Burns in his earlier years, to what he had done and suffered, and to the honours so long withheld, and now so brilliantly conferred--and the patriotic fervour which pervaded his whole address--carried along with him not only the applauses, but the hearts of the whole assemblage. Lord Eglinton may well look back with pride and satisfaction to the proceedings of that day; for he has secured the affections of thousands who already respected his name.
Of the other speeches, eloquent and impressive as they were, we shall--with only one exception--speak collectively; and the highest praise we can give is to say, that they were every way worthy of the occasion, of the subjects which they celebrated, and of the men by whom they were uttered. There was a delicate propriety in the feeling which excluded from the list of toasts the names of the living poets, with the great and glorious exceptions of Wordsworth and Moore, now beyond all cavil at the head of the literature of their respective countries. Their presence, though ardently hoped for, was hardly to be expected on this occasion; for their advanced years, and the distant journey they must have undertaken, were serious obstacles; but their apologetic letters, full of deep feeling and sympathy, were received, and the reception which greeted their names, showed the respect and love which the Scottish people entertain for the greatness and universality of their fame. Deep also and thrilling was the emotion evinced at the mention of the illustrious dead, who have passed away into their graves in the fulness and maturity of their fame. Strange and powerful is the spell which lies in the mere plain utterance of their names! Scott, and Byron, and Campbell, (just laid in the noblest mausoleum of the world,) the Ettrick Shepherd, and Allan Cunningham--what names for a country to record in its annals, in the brief space of one generation!
But the speech to which all looked forward with the utmost expectation and anxiety, was that of Professor Wilson. His zeal in the cause of Burns, his earnest and reiterated defence of his reputation, were so well known, that on this occasion, when the balance might be held as finally struck, and when the nation, by its own voluntary act, had recognized the position which its poet, through all time coming must maintain, it would have been felt as a vast and serious omission if the last elegy had not been uttered by the greatest vindicator of his fame. It was so uttered, and none but those who listened to that address can conceive the effect which it produced. Elsewhere than in these pages we should assuredly have attempted some comment upon it. As it is, we shall borrow an opinion of the provincial press, from the pen, we believe, of the Editor of the Dumfries-shire Herald, Mr Aird, himself a spectator of the scene, and a man of high intellect and imagination, whose remarks we have been led to adopt, not from the eulogy they contain, but from their just and reverential truth:--
"The remarkable speech of the day was Professor Wilson's. Since the time when in his 'bright and shining youth' he walked seventy miles to be present at a Burns' meeting, and electrified it with a new and peculiar fervour of eloquence, such as had never been heard among us before, how manifold, how multiform have been this man's generous vindications of our great Bard! Now broad in humour; now sportive and playful; now sarcastic, scornful, and searching; now calmly philosophic in criticism; now thoughtful and solemn, large of reverent discourse, 'looking before and after,' with all the sweetest by-plays of humanity, with every reconciling softness of charity--such, in turns, and in quickest intermingled tissue of the ethereal woof, have been the many illustrations which this large-minded, large-hearted Scotchman, in whose character there is neither corner nor cranny, has poured in the very rodigality of his affectionate abundance around and over the name and the fame of Robert Burns. It became him--and he knew it--that on this great and consummating occasion, so full of reconcilement betwixt human frailty and human worth, his address, on which so much expectation waited, should be a last SOLEMN REQUIEM over the grave of the illustrious dead, pronounced not merely to the congregation of the day, but to mankind in general, and to every future age. With those long, heart-drawn, lingering, slow-expiring tones, solemn as a cathedral chant, the whole of this sacred piece of service (for we can call it nothing else) was to us like some mournful oratorio by Mozart, soft at once and sublime. Some might be disappointed that they heard nothing on this occasion of the varied play of Christopher North; but the heart of Scotland, in its calm retirement, will appreciate this holy oration, as worthily hallowing and sanctifying her meeting."
The proceedings in that Pavilion were a just and fitting conclusion to the splendid jubilee of the day. Some no doubt were absent, whom the public would gladly have seen there; for, on an occasion like this, the general wish must have been, that all the greatness, and talent, and learning of the land should have united in the National Festival. But that absence, though regretted, did not, in any degree, lessen the enthusiasm. Indeed, as we looked around the meeting, and saw, unelevated to any conspicuous place, Delta, and Chambers, and Ferrier, and a hundred other distinguished men, not only content, but proud to bear testimony by their simple presence to the genuine purpose of the assembly, it was hardly possible to wish for more. Every individual feeling was merged in the common desire, that the day should be consecrated to its own peculiar object; and consecrated it was, if unanimity, and eloquence, and tears, and the outpouring of all that is lofty, and generous, and sincere, can consecrate aught on earth--where error and frailty must abide, but where the judgment of man in his weakness, may not, and dare not, usurp the functions of the All-seeing and Eternal Judge.
And now we close the hasty record of a scene that will be remembered so long as Scotland is a nation. Some there may be--for there are malignant and jaundiced spirits every where--who may sneer at the solemnities we have witnessed; and it is well that they should do so, for the praise of such men is no honour--far better that it should be withheld. We conclude by again adopting the language of Mr Aird, which leaves no word unsaid.
"Such has been the tribute of a country to her national poet. She furnished him with the rich materials of his song--with her dear victories set in blood; with the imperishable memory of her independence; with the character of her sons and daughters, simple as water, but strong as the waterfall; with her snatches of old-world minstrelsy, surely never composed by mortal man, but spilt from the overflowing soul of sorrow and gladness; with her music, twin-born, say rather one with her minstrelsy; with her fairy belief, the most delicately beautiful mythology in the history of the human mind, and strangely contrasted with the rugged character of her people, a people of sturt and strife; with her heroic faith; with the graves of her headless martyrs, in green shaw or on grim moor, visited by many a slip of sunshine streaming down from behind the cloud in the still autumnal afternoon. These, and all the other priceless elements of 'the auld Scottish glory,' he--the national bard--compacted and crystallized into a Poetry which, by innumerable points of sympathetic contact, carries back into the national heart, by ever-conducting issue, the thoughts and feelings which itself first gave forth to his plastic genius; and thus there is an eternal interchange of cause and effect, to the perpetuation and propagation of patriotism, and all that constitutes national spirit and character.
"THEREFORE it was fitting that such a national tribute should be paid to such a national benefactor."