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back with an uncertain aspect, to his guest. "But his countenance fell; he shook his head, and sighed.
“Wherefore are you sad?” inquired the poet.
"Because," replied Ernest, "all through life I have awaited the 5 fulfilment of a prophecy; and when I read these poems, I hoped that it might be fulfilled in you."
“You hoped,” answered the poet, faintly smiling, “to find in me the likeness of the Great Stone Face. And you are disappointed,
as formerly with Mr. Gathergold, and Old Blood-and-Thunder, 10 and Old Stony Phiz. Yes, Ernest, it is my doom. You must
add my name to the illustrious three, and record another failure of your hopes. For in shame and sadness do I speak it, Ernest
- I am not worthy to be typified by yonder benign and majestic image.” 15
“And why?" asked Ernest. He pointed to the volume. “Are not those thoughts divine?”
“They have a strain of the Divinity,” replied the poet. “You can hear in them the far off echo of a heavenly song. But my life,
dear Ernest, has not corresponded with my thought. I have had 20 grand dreams, but they have been only dreams, because I have
lived and that, too, by my own choice among poor and mean realities. Sometimes even -shall I dare to say it? I lack faith in the grandeur, the beauty, and the goodness which my own
works are said to have made more evident in nature and in human 25 life. Why, then, pure seeker of the good and true, shouldst thou hope to find me in yonder image of the divine.”
The poet spoke sadly, and his eyes were dim with tears. So, likewise, were those of Ernest.
At the hour of sunset, as had long been his frequent custom, 30 Ernest was to discourse to an assemblage of the neighboring in
habitants in the open air. He and the poet, arm in arm, still talking together as they went along, proceeded to the spot. a small nook among the hills, with a gray precipice behind, the
stern front of which was relieved by the pleasant foliage of many 35 creeping plants, that made a tapestry for the naked rock, by hang
ing their festoons from all its rugged angles. At a small elevation above the ground, set in a rich framework of verdure, there appeared a niche, spacious enough to admit a human figure, with freedom
for such gestures as spontaneously accompany earnest thought and 40 genuine emotion. Into this natural pulpit Ernest ascended, and
threw a look of familiar kindness around upon his audience. They stood, or sat, or reclined upon the grass, as seemed good to each,
with the departing sunshine falling obliquely over them, and mingling its subdued cheerfulness with the solemnity of a grove of ancient trees, beneath and amid the boughs of which the golden rays were constrained to pass. In another direction was seen the Great 5 Stone Face, with the same cheer, combined with the same solemnity, in its benignant aspect.
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded
with his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because Io they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was
not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this precious
draught. The poet, as he listened, felt that the being and character 15 of Ernest were a nobler strain of poetry than he had ever written.
His eyes glistening with tears, he gazed reverentially at the venerable man, and said within himself that never was there an aspect so worthy of a prophet and a sage as that mild, sweet, thoughtful
countenance, with the glory of white hair diffused about it. At a 20 distance, but distinctly to be seen, high up in the golden light of
the setting sun, appeared the Great Stone Face, with hoary mists around it, like the white hairs around the brow of Ernest. Its look of grand beneficence seemed to embrace the world.
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was 25 about to utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression,
so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft, and shouted:
“Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!” 30 Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted
poet said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled. But Ernest, having finished what he had to say, took the poet's arm, and walked slowly homeward, still hoping that some wiser and better
man than himself would by and by appear, bearing a resemblance 35 to the GREAT STONE FACE.
Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, was born January 25, 1759, in a small clay-built cottage, which his father's own hands had constructed, about a mile and a half south of Ayr. His father, who was a man of superior understanding and uncommon worth, was the son of a small farmer in the Mearns (Kincardineshire); and owing to the reduced circumstances of his family was obliged, at the age of nineteen, to quit his native place to push his fortune in the Lowlands. He was employed for several years in the vicinity of Edinburgh as a gardener, and afterwards removed to Ayrshire to fill a similar situation, which he held for a few years, and then took a lease of a small farm. In 1757, he married Agnes Brown, a native of that country, who bore him six children, of whom the poet was the eldest.
At the age of six, by which time we learn he could read tolerably well, Burns was sent to school, and by the time he was nine his propensity for reading was so ardent that he read with enthusiasm every book that came in his way, especially poetry.
On the death of his father, his brother Gilbert and he joined partnership in taking the small farm of Mossgiel, near Mauchline; but having been unsuccessful, he gave up his share of it to his more prudent and sedate brother, resolving to emigrate to Jamaica in the West Indies. At this juncture it was suggested that he should publish a collection of
which had hitherto only amused and delighted his rustic companions. These poems were published in July, 1786, at Kilmarnock, and had a wonderful success. They were in the popular language of his country, and upon subjects quite familiar to the common people.
Dr. Blacklock, of Edinburgh, whose notice was attracted to them by a copy sent to him, with a short account of the poet, by Dr. Laurie, minister of London, was charmed with the genius exhibited in them, and invited Burns to that city. He was thus diverted from his intended exile, and introduced to the literary and social celebrities of the metropolis, where his reception was triumphant. A second edition of his poems was now prepared, for which he received £500. He again commenced farming, having taken a lease of the farm of Ellisland, in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire, and also obtained a place in the Custom House, which last was a reserve in the event of the farm not succeeding. Previous to this, however, he had been married to the object of his affections, whose personal charms he had celebrated in the beautiful song entitled “Bonnie Jean.” The embarrassments in connection with his farm, added to by his own careless management, compelled him to give up his lease, when he settled at last in Dumfries, depending solely upon his income of £70 in the Custom House for the maintenance of himself and family. Here he died in 1796, amid the universal sorrow of his countrymen, and the many admirers of his genius in every land. His brief life of thirty-seven years was one continued struggle, yet he was able in the intervals of a chequered career, and in spite of the many disadvantages of his position, to give to literature some of its most precious jewels.
His best known works are his poems, “The Twa’ Dogs," "Hallowe'en,” “Tam O’Shanter,” “The Cotter's Saturday Night,” “The Vision,” “The Jolly Beggars,” and numerous songs, ballads and satires, unsurpassed in the whole range of our lyrical poetry.
THE COTTER'S SATURDAY NIGHT
INSCRIBED TO R. AIKEN,* Esq.
NOTE The common people of Scotland seem to have always had deeper, purer, and more reflecting affections than those of any other land. If we knew nothing further of the forefathers of our Scottish hamlets than the pure and loving songs, and the wild pathetic music which they loved, we should know enough to convince us that they were a strong, healthful, happy, and dignified race of men. There can be little doubt that this fine character is chiefly to be attributed to the pervading and profound spirit of their religion, blending intimately with all the relations of their life, and inspiring a habitual reverence for high and holy things.
In the better class of Scottish cottages there was constantly present the influence of the Sabbath and of the Bible, and this from no uncertain or fluctuating influences in the nature of the people, but from a devout reverence, and depth of moral feeling and affection, that emphatically spoke of the fear of God. It is religion, then, that has made the Scottish people thoughtful, simple and pure in morals, and tender and loving of heart.
When we read the “Cotter's Saturday Night” of Burns, we feel that we are reading the records of a purer, simpler, more pious race than we find in any other country, although it cannot be denied that there may be, and is, much of happiness and virtue to be found amɔng the peasantry of other lands. We feel
, however, that we have in this immortal poem a picture of domestic joy so deep and strong, a love of home so intense and real, a faith in an overruling Providence so lofty and sincere, as to stamp it as peculiarly Scottish, and beyond the experience of any other people.
This, perhaps the best known of Burns's longer and more ambitious efforts, is, with the exception of a few stanzas, and an occasional expression or two, entirely in English, and as such it compares satisfactorily with even the best works of acknowledged English poets. He manifests in it the power of a Wilkie in producing a lifelike family scene a picture of human manners, mingled with a fine religious awe, which comes over the mind like a slow and solemn strain of music.
R. Aiken, a solicitor in Ayr, a man of worth, good taste, and a warm friend of Burns.
It may not be uninteresting, as showing the truthful nature of the picture as drawn by Burns, to relate the following anecdote in connection with this poem: Mrs. Dunlop, one of Burns' kindest friends and most ardent admirers, had an old housekeeper at Dunlop House, named Mrs. M'Quistin, who, after fifty-four years' service in the family, had acquired a sort of prescriptive right to have some deference paid to her peculiarities. Mrs. Dunlop had shown much care and anxiety respecting the accommodation and entertainment of Burns (for the new man, as her housekeeper had called him) when on a visit to her, which did not exactly meet her servant's approbation, seeing that he was not like one of the neighboring gentry, for whom she would seem to have entertained a high admiration. To convince her of the poet's claim to every attention, Mrs. Dunlop gave her the “Cotter's Saturday Night” to read. On returning the book she remarked, “Gentlemen and ladies may think muckle o' this; but for me it's naething but what I saw i' my faither's house every day, and I dinna see how he could hae tell”'t it ony ither way.” Now this is real fame, and shows how, in illustrating the breadth and intensity of the national character, he was so marked, so varied, and so faithful a delineator.
Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
The short but simple annals of the poor.
My lov'd, my honor'd, much respected friend!
No mercenary bard his homage pays:
My dearest meed, a friend's esteem and praise: 5 To you I sing, in simple Scottish lays,
The slowly train in life's sequester'd scene;
What Aikin in a cottage would have been:
10 November chill blaws loud wi' angry sugh;
The short'ning winter-day is near a close;
The black’ning trains o' craws to their repose:
This night his weekly moil is at an end,
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,