production of a certificate of efficiency, he received his commission, which com-
mission lay beside him unused till the month of August 17S9, when, upon
application, he was appointed to enter on his duties in that district of Dumfries-
shire where lay his farm of Ellisland.
Of the present poem, Chambers observes: — "The flow of versification and
felicity of diction for which Burns' Scottish poems and songs are remarkable,
vanish when he attempts the southern strain. We see this well exemplified in
a poem of the present summer, in which he aimed at the style of Pope's iforal
Epistles, whUe at the same time he sought to advance his personal fortunes
through the medium of a patron."]
Whex Nature her great masterpiece designed,
And fram'd her last, best work, the human mind —
Her eye intent on all the mazy plan —
She form'd of various parts, the various Man.
Then first she calls the useful many forth, —
Plain plodding industry, and sober worth ;
Thence peasants, farmers, native sons of earth.
And merchandise' whole genus take their birth :
Each prudent cit a warm existence finds,
And all mechanics' many-apron'd kinds :
Some other rarer sorts are wanted yet.
The lead and buoy are needful to the net ;
The caput rnortuwn of gross desires
Makes a material for mere knights and squires ;
The martial phosphorus is taught to flow,
She kneads the lumpish philosophic dough.
Then marks th' unyieldmg mass with grave designs —
Law, physics, politics, and deep divines ;
Last, she sublimes th' Aurora of the poles —
The flashing elements of female souls.
The ordered system fair before her stood,
Nature, well pleased, pronounced it very good ;
But ere she gave creating labour o'er,
Half-jest, she tried one curious labour more :
( 142 )
Some spumy, fiery, ignis fatuus matter,
Such as the slightest breath of air might scatter,
With arch-alacrity and conscious glee
(Nature may have her whim as well as we,
Her Hogarth-art perhaps she meant to show it)
She forms the thing and christens it — a poet ! —
Creature, tho' oft the prey of care and sorrow.
When blest to-day, unmindful of to-morrow —
A being form'd t'amuse his graver friends,
Admir'd and prais'd— and there the homage ends^
A mortal quite unfit for fortune's strife,
Yet oft the sport of all the ills of hfe —
Prone to enjoy each pleasure riches give,
Yet haply wanting wherewithal to hve—
Longing to wipe each tear, to heal each groan,
Yet frequent all unheeded in his own.
But honest Nature is not quite a Turk,
She laugh'd at first, then felt for her poor work ;
Pitying the propless climber of mankind,
She cast about a standard tree to find;
And to support his helpless woodbine state,
Attach'd him to the generous tridy great —
A title, and the only one I claim,
To lay strong hold for help on bounteous Graham,
Pity the tuneful muses' hapless train.
Weak, timid landsmen on life's stormy main !
Their hearts no selfish stern absorbent stuff,
That never gives, tho' humbly takes enough ;
The little fate allows, they share as soon :
Unlike sage proverb'd wisdom's hard-wrung boon,
The world were blest did bliss on them depend, —
Ah, that '■ the friendly e'er should want a friend ! '
Let prudence mnnber o'er each sturdy son,
Who life and wisdom at one race begun,
Who feel by reason and who give by rule,
(Instinct's a brute, and sentiment a fool I)
Who make poor vill do wait ujion / shovid —
We own they're jjrudent, Itut who feels they're good
Ye wise ones, hence ! ye hurt the social eye !
God's image rudely etch'd on base alloy !
( 143 )
But come, ye who the godlike pleasure know —
Heaven's attribute distinguish' d — to bestow!
Whose arms of love would grasp the human race!
Come thou who giv'st with all a courtier's grace,
Friend of mtj life, true patron of my rhymes !
Prop of my dearest hopes for future times :
Why shrinks my soul half blushing, half afraid,
Backward, abash'd to ask thy friendly aid ?
I know my need, I know thy giving hand,
I crave thy friendship at thy kind command ;
But there are such who court the tuneful nine —
Heavens ! should the branded character be mine !
Whose verse in manhood's pride sublimely flows,
Yet vilest reptiles in their begging prose !
Mark how their lofty independent spirit
Soars on the spurning wing of injur'd merit !
Seek not the proofs in private hfe to find,>
Pity the best of words should be but wind !
So, to heaven's gates the lark's shrill song ascends,
But, grovelling on the earth the carol ends !
In all the clam'rous cry of starving want.
They dun benevolence with shameless front !
Obhge them, patronize their tinsel lays,
They persecute you all your future days ! —
Ere my poor soul such deep damnation stain.
My horny fist assume the plough again ;
The pie-bald jacket let me patch once more,
On eighteenpence a week I've lived before, —
Though, thanks to heaven ! I dare even that last shift,
I trust, meantime, my boon is in thy gift ;
That, placed by thee upon the wish'd-for height
Where — man and natuie fairer in her signt —
My muse may imp her wing for some subMmer flight.
( 144 )
INSCRIBED TO THE RIGHT HON. CHARLES JAMES FOX.
[On 4tli April, 1789, the poet included a considerable portion of this poem in
a letter he then wrote to Mrs. Duulop. He says, " I have a poetic whim in
my head, which I at present dedicate or rather inscribe to the Eight Hon.
Charles James Fox ; but how long that fancy may hold I cannot say. A few of
the first lines I have just rough-sketched as follow." It is proper to mention
that the twelve concluding lines of this poem were not given by Currie, but flrBt
printed in the Aldine edition, 1839.]
How wisdom and folly meet, mix, and unite !
How virtue and vice blend their black and their white !
How genius, th' illustrious father of fiction,
Confounds rule and law, reconciles contradiction —
I sing : if these mortals, the critics, should bustle,
I care not, not I, let the critics go whistle.
But now for a Patron, whose name and whose glory
At once may illustrate and honour my story. —
Thou first of our orators, first of our wits ;
Yet whose parts and acquirements seem mere lucky hits ;
With knowledge so vast and with judgment so strong,
No man with the half of 'em e'er could go wrong ;
With passions so potent, and fancies so bright,
No man with the half of 'em e'er could go right ;
A sorry, poor, misbegot son of the Muses,
For using thy name offers fifty excuses.
Good L — d, what is man! for as simple he looks.
Do but try to develope his hooks and his crooks :
With his depths and liis shallows, his good and his evil.
All in all, he's a problem must puzzle the Devil.
On his one ruling passion Sir Pope hugely * labours,
'J'hat, like th' old Hebrew walking-switch, eats up its
Mankind are f his show box— a friend, would you know
Pull the string — ruhng passion the picture will show hnn !
• Far.— Warmly. t Vu;-.— Himian nature's.
( l-t5 )
What pity, iu reariug so beauteous a system,
One trifling particular. Truth, should have miss'd him !
For, spite of his fine theoretic positions,
Mankind is a science defies definitions.
Some sort all our qualities each to its tribe,
And think human nature they truly describe ;
Have you found this or t'other ? there's more in the wind,
As by one drunken fellow his comrades you'll find.
But such is the flaw, or the depth of the plan.
In the make of that wonderful creature, call'd Man,
No two virtues, whatever relation they claim,
Nor even two different shades of the same.
Though like as was ever twin-brother to brother.
Possessing the one shall imply you've the other.
[But truce with abstraction, and truce with the Muse,
Whose rhymes you'll perhaps. Sir, ne'er deign to peruse :
Will you leave your justings, your jars, and your quarrels,
Contending with Billy for proud-nodding laurels.
My much-honoured Patron, believe your poor Poet,
Your courage much more than your prudence you show it,
In vain with Squire Billy for laurels you struggle.
He'll have them by fair trade, if not, he will smuggle ;
Not cabinets even of kings would conceal 'em.
He'd up the back-stairs, and by Gr — he would steal 'em.
Then feats like Squire Billy's you ne'er can achieve 'em,
It is not, outdo him — the task is, out-thieve him.]
ADDRESS TO THE TOOTHACHE.
[This seems to have been composed about the month of May. 1789, when he
wrote thus to Creech: — "I had inteudeJ to have troubled you with a loag letter;
but at present the delightful sensations of aa omnipotent toothache siljngross
all my inner man, as to put it out of my power to write anything but nonsense.
Fifty troops of infernal spirits are driving post, from ear to ear, along my jaw-
My curse upon your venom'd stang,
That shoots my tortur'd gums alang ;
And through my lugs gies mony a twang,
Wi' gnawing vengeance ;
Tearing my nerves wi' bitter pang,
Like racking engines !
( UG )
When fevers burn, or ague freezes,
Rheuraatics gnaw, or cholic squeezes ;
Our neighbour's sympathy may ease us,
Wi' pitying moan ;
But thee — thou hell o' a' diseases.
Aye mocks our groan !
A down my beard the slavers trickle !
I throw the wee stools o'er the mickle,
As round the fire the giglets keckle.
To see me loup ;
While raving mad, I wish a heckle
Were in their doup !
O' a' the nura'rous human dools,
111 har'sts, daft bargains, cutty-stools^
Or worthy friends rak'd i' the mools,
Sad sight to see !
The tricks o' knaves, or fash o' fools —
Thou bear'st the gree.
Where'er that place be priests ca' hell.
Whence a' the tones o' mis'ry yell.
And ranked plagues their numljers tell,
In dreadfu' raw,
Thou, Toothache, surely bear'st the bell
Amang them a' !
thou grim mischief-making chiel'.
That gars the notes of discord squeel,
'Till daft mankind aft dance a reel
In gore a shoe-thick : —
(fie a' the faes o' Scotland's weal
A towmond's Toothache!
( 117 )
TO DR. BLACKLOCK,
Ellisland, 2lst Oct.^ 1789.
[The poet had written a letter to his venerable friend. Dr. Blacklock, which
he intrusted to Robert Heron, then a student of Divinity, to deliver to him, but
Heron had proved unfaithful to his trust. The Doctor feeling uneasy at Burns'
long silence, wrote him a kind letter in verse, which brought forth the following
characteristic reply and explanation:] —
Wow, but your letter made me vauntie !
And are you hale, and weel, and cautie ?
I keu'd it still your wee bit jauntie,
Wad bring ye to :
Lord send you aye as weel's I want ye,
And then ye'll do !
The ill-thief blaw the Heron south !
And never drink be near his drouth !
He tauld mysel' by word o' mouth,
He'd tak' my letter ;
I hppen'd to the chield in truth.
And bade nae better.
But aiblins honest Master Heron,
Had at the time some dainty fair one,
To ware his theologic care on.
And holy study ;
And tired o' sauls to waste his lear on.
E'en tried the body.*
But what d'ye think, my trusty fier,
I'm turn'd a ganger — Peace be here !
Parnassian queans, I fear, I fear,
Ye'll now disdain me,
And then my fifty pounds a-year
Will little gain me.
Ye glaiket, gleesome, dainty damies,
W^ha by Castaha's wimphn' streamies,
Lowp, sing, and lave your pretty limbies,
Ye ken, ye ken.
That Strang necessity supreme is
'Mang sons o' men.
" He ventured the Soul, and I risk'd the Body." — Jolly Beggars.
( 148 )
I hae a wife and twa wee laddies,
They maun hae brose and brats o' daddies ;
Ye ken yoursel's my heart right proud is :
I need na vaunt,
But I'll sued besoms — thraw saugh woodies,
Before they want.
Lord help me through this warld o' care !
I'm weary sick o't late and air !
Not but I hae a richer share
Than mony ithers ;
But why should ae man better fare,
And a' men brithers 1
Come, Firm Resolve, take thou the van,
Thou stalk o' carl-hemp in man !
And let us mind, faint heart ne'er wan
A lady fair :
Wha does the utmost that he can.
Will whyles do mair.
But to conclude my silly rhyme
(I'm scant o' verse, and scant o' time),
To make a happy fire-side clime
To weans and wife.
That's the true pathos and sublime
Of human life.
My compliments to sister Beckie ;
And eke the same to honest Lucky,
I wat she is a dainty chuckle,
As e'er tread clay !
And gratefully my gude auld cockie,
I'm yours for aye.*
* Blacklopk— blind from childhood— was boni in 1721, and died in 1791. Dr.
Johnson visited him in 1773. and '• looked on him with reverence." Heron calls
him " an angel upon earth; " and Lockhart eloquently observes.—" The writings
of Blacklock are forsolten ; but the memory of his virtues will not pass away,
until mankind shall have ceased to sympathise with the misfortunes of genius,
and to appreciate the poetry of Burns."
( 149 )
WRITTEN IN AN ENYELOPE,
ENCLOSING A LETTER TO CAPTAIN GROSE.
[Sometime in the autumn of 1789, the poet addressed a letter to Grose, which
we quoted in our note at page SCO, "Vol. I.; and not being certain of the Captain's
address, he enclosed the letter in an envelope addressed to Mr. Cardonnel, a
brother antiquary in Edinburgh, and \nthin the wrapper he wrote the following
humorous lines, which are a kind of parody of an old song, commencing; —
" Ken ye ought o' Sir John Malcolm ? Igo and ago ;
If he's a wise man, I mistak' him! Iram, coram, dago."]
Ken ye ought o' Captain Grose —
Igo and ago —
If he' s amang his friends or foes ?
Iram, coram, dago.
Is he to Abra'm's bosom gane?
Igo and ago,
Or handing Sarah by the wame ?
Iram, coram, dago.
Is he south, or is he north ?
Igo and ago.
Or drowned in the river Forth ?
Iram, coram, dago.
Is he slain by Highlan' bodies ?
Igo and ago,
And eaten hke a wether haggis ?
Iram, coram, dago.
Where'er he be, the Lord be near him !
Igo and ago,
As for the deil, he daurna steer him,
Iram, coram, dago.
But please transmit th' enclosed letter,
Igo and ago.
Which will oblige your humble debtor,
Iram, coram, dago.
So may ye hae auld stanes in store —
Igo and ago —
The very stanes that Adam bore,
Iram, coram, dago.
( 150 )
So may ye get in glad possession —
Igo and ago —
The coins o' Satan's coronation !
Iram, coram, dago.
SKETCH— NEW-YEAR'S DAY, 1790.
TO MRS. DUNLOP.
[The poet seldom failed to address Mrs. Dunlop — either in verse or prose — on
New- Year's Day — alwaj-s a red-letter day in his Calendar. Here he invites her
to join him in moralizing on a favourite theme of hers — the immortality of the
soul. He well knew the art of shaping his discourse according to the complexion
of his audience : —
"The voice of Nature loudly cries,
And many a message from the skies,
That something in us never dies 1"]
This day, Time winds tb' exhausted chain,
To run the twelvemonth's length again : —
I see the old, bald-pated fellow,
With ardent eyes, complexion sallow,
Adjust the unimpair'd machine,
To wheel the equal, dull routine.
The absent lover, minor heir.
In vain assail him with their prayer ;
Deaf as my friend, he sees them press.
Nor makes the hour one moment less.
Will you (the Major's with the hounds,
The happy tenants share his rounds ;
Coila's fair Rachel's care to-day,
And blooming Keith's engaged with Gray;)*
From housewife cares a minute borrow —
That grandcliild's cap will do to-morrow —
And join with me a-moralizing.
This day's propitious to be wise in.
First, what did yesternight deliver?
' Another year is gone for ever.'
And what is this day's strong suggestion ?
' The passing moment's all we rest on ! '
Rest on — for what ? what do we here ?
Or why regard the passing year?
• Major, afterwards General Dunlop, the lady's son. Eachael and Keith were
her daughters: the one engaged in making a paiuting from Burns' Vision; the
other, from Gray's Elegy.
( 151 )
Will time, amused with proverbed lore,
Add to our date one minute more ?
A few days may — a few years must —
Repose us in the silent dust.
Then is it wise to damp our bliss ?
Yes — all such reasonings are amiss !
The voice of Nature loudly cries,
And many a message from the skies,
That something in us never dies :
That on this frail, uncertain state,
Hang matters of eternal weight :
That future-life in worlds unknown
Must take its hue from this alone ;
AVhether as heavenly glory bright,
Or dark as misery's woeful night, —
Since then, my honour'd, first of friends.
On this poor being all depends ;
Let us the important 7ioiv employ.
And Uve as those who never die.
Though you, with days and honours crown'd.
Witness that filial circle round
(A sight, hfe's sorrows to repulse,
A sight, pale envy to convulse),
Others now claim your chief regard ;
Yourself, you wait your bright reward.
SPOKEN AT THE THEATRE, DUMFRIES, ON NEAV-YEAR's-DAY
[Before the close of 1789. the poet had grown sadly discouraged regarding his
farm, and he would often steal down to Dumfries to cheer his gloom by temporai-y
excitement at the theatre or elsewhere. On 11th January, 1790, he wrote thus
to his brother Gilbert: — ''My nerves are in a d — state. I feel that horrid
hypochondria pervading every atom of both body and soul. This farm has un-
done my enjoyment of myself. It is a ruinous affair on all hands. But let it go
to ! I'll "tight it out and be off with it.
"We have got a decent set of players here just now, and I have seen them an
evening or two. The manager of the company, Mr. Sutherland, is a man of
apparent worth. On New- Year" s-Day evening I gave him the following
prologue, which he spouted to his audience with applause:"] —
No song nor dance I bring from yon great city
That queens it o'er our taste — the raore's the pity :
( 152 )^
Though, by-the-bye, abroad why will you roam j
Good seuse and taste are natives here at home :
But not for panegyric I appear,
I come to wish you all a good new-year !
Old Father Time deputes me here before ye,
Not for to preach, but tell his simple story :
The sage grave ancient coughed, and bade me say :
' You're one year older this important day.'
If wiser, too — he hinted some suggestion,
But 'twould be rude, you know, to ask the question ;
And with a would-be roguish leer and wink.
He bade me on you press this one word — ' think I ' *
Ye sprightly youths, quite flush'd with hope and spirit,
Who think to storm the world by dint of merit,
To you the dotard has a deal to say.
In his sly, dry, sententious, proverb way :
He bids you mind, amid your thoughtless rattle.
That the first blow is ever half the battle ;
That though some by the skirt may try to snatch him,
Yet by the forelock is the hold to catch him ;
That whether doing, suflfermg, or forbearing.
You may do miracles by persevering.
Last, though not least in love, ye youthful fair,
AngeUc forms, high Heaven's peculiar care !
To you old Bald-pate smooths his wrinkled brow,
And humbly begs you'll mind the important Now !
To crown your happiness he asks your leave,
And offers bhss to give and to receive.
For our sincere, though haply weak endeavours,
With grateful pride we own your many favours ;
And howsoe'er our tongues may ill reveal it,
Believe our glowing bosoms truly feel it.
* There is a characteristic variation hero in a MS. copy possessed by Mr.
Greenshields of Kerse: —
" Said ' Sutherland, in one word, bid thorn Tur.NK ! ' "
( 153 )
WRITTEN TO A GENTLEMAN WHO HAD SENT
THE POET A NEWSPAPER,
AND OFFERED TO CONTINUE IT FREE OF EXPENSE.
[Chambers considers that this jocular rhyming epistle was addressed in Feb ,
1790, to Mr. Peter Stuart, editor of The Star newspaper, London, to whom the
poet' had previously "sent various contributions in prose and verse." The
closing coupiet does not mean that he returns the paper to the sender ; but that
he gratefully sends back a rhyming abstract of the news. The text shews
moreover, that he had read the paper to some purpose ; for his summary of
the history of Em-ope at that period is most comprehensive and correct.]
Kind Sir, I've read your paper through,
Aud, faith, to me 'twas really new !
How giiess'd ye, sir, what maist I wanted?
This mouy a day I've graned and gaunted
To ken what French mischief was brewin'.
Or what the drumhe Dutch were doin' ;
That vile doup-skelper, Emperor Joseph,
If Venus yet had got his nose off ;
Or how the colheshangie works
Atween the Russians and the Turks ;
Or if the Swede, before he halt,
Would play anither Charles the Twalt :
If Denmark, anybody spak' o't ;
Or Poland, wha had now the tack o't ;
How cut-throat Prussian blades were hingin' ;
How hbbet Italy was singin' ;
If Spaniard, Portuguese, or Swiss,
Were sayin' or takiu' aught amiss :
Or how our merry lads at hame,
In Britain's court, kept up the game ;
How Royal George — the Lord leuk o'er hiin ! —
Was managing St. Stephen's quorum ;
If sleekit Chatham Will was livin'.
Or glaikit Charlie- got his nieve in ;
How Daddie Burke the plea was cookin',
If Warren Hastings' neck was yeukin' ;
How cesses, stents, and fees were raxed.
Or if bare yet were taxed ;
The news o' princes, dukes, and earls,
Pimps, sharpers, bawds, and opera-girls ;
( 154 )
If that daft buckie, Geordie Wales,
Was thresbin' still at hizzies' tails ;
Or if he was grown oughtlins douser,
Aud no' a perfect kintra cooser.
A' this aud mair I never heard of,
And but for you I might despaired of.
So gratefu', back your news I send you,
And pray, a' gude things may attend you !
Ellisland, Monday morniwj^ 1790.
ON THE LATE MISS BUKNET OF MONBODDO.
[This beautiful young lady, to whom reference is made in the poet's Address to
Edinburgh (page 181, Vol. I.), died of consumption ou 17th June, 1790; aud so
far onward as the 23rd January, 1791, we find the poet thus writing to Alexander
Cunningham :—" I have these several mouths been hammering at an elegy on
the amiable and accomplished Miss Burnet. I have got, and can get no farther
than the following fragment, on which, please give me your strictures." This
is sufficient to prove that Burns did not invariably compose without labour. Hia
high esteem for the deceased seems to have imposed this task on his muse. A
few months before her death he thus made reference to her in one of his
letters :— '■ Miss Burnet is not more dear to her guardian angel, nor his Grace ot
Q to the powers of darkness, than my friend Cunningham to me ! "]
Life ne'er exulted in so rich a prize
As Burnet, lovely from her native skies ;
Nor envious death so triumphed in a blow,
As that which laid th' accomplished Burnet low.
Thy form and mind, sweet maid, can I forget ?
In richest ore the brightest jewel set !
In thee, high Heaven above was truest shewn,
As by his noblest work the Godhead best is knowu.
In vain ye flaunt in summer's pride, ye groves ;
Thou crystal streamlet with thy flowery shore.
Ye woodland choir that chant your idle loves,
Ye cease to charm — EUza is no more !
Ye heathy wastes, immixed with reedy fens ;
Ye mossy streams, with sedge and rushes stored;
Ye rugged cliffs, o'crhanging dreary glens.
To you I fly, ye with my soul accord.
( 155 )
Princes, whose cumbrous pride was all their worth,
Shall venal lays their pompous exit hail "?
And thou, sweet excellence ! forsake our earth,
And not a muse in honest grief bewail ?
We saw thee shine in youth and beauty's pride.
And virtue's light, that beams beyond the spheres ;
But, like the sun eclipsed at morning-tide.
Thou left'st us darkhng in a world of tears.
The parent's heart that nestled fond in thee.
That heart how sunk, a prey to grief and care ;
So decked the woodbine sweet yon aged tree ;
So from it ravished, leaves it bleak and bare.
TO ROBERT GRAHAM, ESQ., OF FINTRY,
ON RECEIVING A FAVOUR, IOtH AUGUST, 1789.
[The favour referred to was the poet's being nominated to the excise district
round Ellisland. The date of this beautiful effusion of gratitude is made certain
by the postmarli on the original letter to Mr. Graham containing it, now in
the hands of Mr. Gibson Craig, W.S., of Edinburgh. Therefore this must bo
reckoned the second of four poetical epistles addressed to Mr Graham, instead
of the fourth, as arranged by Chambers. The closing couplet is now for the
first time printed in connection with the poem.]
I CALL no goddess to inspire my strains,
A fabled muse may suit a bard that feigns ;