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and yet he lived in an age when the average was sublime. It sometimes seems to me as if the whole Eighteenth century was a constant preparation for a constant working up to the great drama of the Revolution which closed it. The scenery is all complete when the time arrives— the dark volcanic country, the hungry, desperate people, the firefly nobles, the concentrated splendor of the Court; in the midst, in her place as heroine, the dazzling queen; and during lone previous years brooding nature has been producing not merely the immediate actors, but figures worthy of the scene. What a glittering procession it is! We can only mark some of the principal figures. Burke leads the way by seniority; then come Fox, and Goethe, Nelson and Mozart, Schiller, Pitt and Burns, Wellington and Napoleon, and among these Titans Burns is a conspicuous figure—a figure which appeals most of all to the imagination and affection of mankind. Napoleon looms larger to the imagination, but on the affection he has no hold. It is in the combination of the two powers that Burns is supreme. What is his secret? We are always discussing him and endeavoring to find it out. Perhaps, like the latent virtue of some medical baths, it may never be satisfactorily explained, but at any rate let us discuss him again. That is, I presume, our object to-night. What pleasanter or more familiar occupation can there be for Scotsmen P But the Scotsmen who enjoy it have generally, perhaps, more time than I. Pardon, then, the imperfections of my speech, for I speak of a subject which no one can altogether compass, and which a busy man has. perhaps, no right to attempt. The clue to Burns' extraordinary hold on mankind is possibly a complicated one. It has, perhaps, many developments. If so, we have no time to consider it to-night; but I personally believe the causes are, like most great causes, simple, though it might take long to point out all the ways in which they operate. The secret, as it seems to me, lies in two words—inspiration and sympathy. But if I wished to prove my contention I should go on quoting from his poems all night, and his admirers would still declare that I had omitted the best passages. I must proceed, then, in a more summary way. There seem to be two great natural forces in British literature—I use the safe adjective of “British " [laughter and applause]—and your applause shows me that I was right to do so. [Renewed applause..] I use it partly because hardly any of Burns' poetry is strictly English, partly because he hated and was perhaps the first to protest against the use of the word English as including Scottish. There are, I say, two great forces, which seem sheer inspiration and nothing else—I mean Shakespeare and Burns. This is not the place or the time to speak of the miracle called Shakespeare, but one must say a word of the miracle called Burns. Try and reconstruct Burns as he was—a peasant born in a cottage that no sanitary inspector in these days would tolerate for a moment [laughter]; struggling with desperate effort against pauperism, almost in vain; snatching at scraps of learning in the intervals of toil, as it were with his teeth; a heavy, silent, lad, proud of his plough. All of a sudden, without preface or warning, he breaks out into exquisite song like a nightingale from the brushwood, and continues singing as sweetly, in nightingale pauses, till he dies. The nightingale sings because he cannot help it. He can only sing exquisitely, because he knows no other. So it was with Burns. What is this but inspiration? One can no more measure or reason about it than measure or reason about Niagara, and, remember, the poetry is only a fragment of Burns. Amazing as it may seem, all contemporary testimony is unanimous that the man was far more wonderful than his works. “It will be the misfortune of Burns' reputation,” writes an accomplished lady, who might well have judged him harshly, “in the records of literature, not only to future generations and to foreign countries, but even with his native Scotland and a number of his contemporaries, that he has been regarded as a poet and nothing but a poet. Poetry,” she continues—“I appeal to all who had the advantage of being personally acquainted with him—was actually not his forte. None certainly ever outshone Burns in the charms—the sorcery I would almost call it— of fascinating conversation, the spontaneous eloquence of social argument, or the unstudied poignancy of brilliant repartee,” and she goes on to describe the almost superhuman fascination of his voice and of his eyes—“those balls of black fire which electrified all on whom they rested.” It seems strange to be told that it would be an injustice to judge Burns by his poetry alone, but as to the magnetism of his presence and conversation there is only one verdict. “No man's conversation every carried me so completely off my feet,” said the Duchess of Gordon, the friend of Pitt and of the London wits, the queen of Scottish society. Dugald Stewart says that “all the faculties of Burns' mind were, so far as I could judge, equally vigorous, and his predilection for poetry was rather the result of his own enthusiastic and impassioned temper than of a genius exclusively adapted to that species of composition. From his conversation I should have pronounced him to be fitted to excel in whatever walk or ambition he had chosen to exert his abilities.” And of his prose compositions the same severe judge speaks thus: “Their great and various excellences render some of them scarcely less objects of wonder than his poetical performances.” The late Dr. Robertson used to say that, considering his education, the former seemed to him the more remarkable of the two. “I think Burns,” said Dr. Robertson, to a friend, “was one of the most extraordinary men I ever met with. His poetry surprised me very much, his prose surprised me still more, and his conversation surprised me more than both his poetry and his prose.” We are told, too, that he felt a strong call towards oratory, and all who heard him speak—and some of them were excellent judges—admitted his wonderful quickness of apprehension and readiness of eloquence. All this seems to me marvelous. It surely satisfies the claim of inspiration without the necessity of quoting a line of his poetry. [Cheers.] I pass then to his sympathy. If his talents were universal his sympathy was not less so. His tenderness was no mere selfish tenderness for his own family, for he loved all mankind, except the cruel and base—nay, we may go further and say that he placed all creation, especially the suffering and depressed part of it, under his protection. The oppressor in every shape, even in the comparatively innocent embodiment of the factor and the sportsman, he regarded with direct and personal hostility. But, above all, he saw the charm of the home. He recognized it as the basis of all society. He honored it in its humblest form, for he knew, as few know, how sincerely the family in the cottage is welded by mutual love and esteem. “I recollect,” once said Dugald Stewart, speaking of Burns, “he told me when he was admiring a distant prospect in one of our morning walks, that the sight of so many smoking cottages gave pleasure to his mind, which none could understand who did not witness, like himself, the happiness and worth which they contained.”
He dwells repeatedly on the primary sacredness of the home and family, the responsibility of fatherhood and marriage. “Have I not,” he once wrote to Lord Mar, “a more precious stock in my country's welfare than the richest dukedom in it? I have a large family of children, and the prospect of many more.” The lines in which he tells his faith are not less memorable than the stately stanzas in which Gray sings of the “short and simple annals of the poor.” I must quote them again, often quoted as they are:—
“To make a happy fireside chime
His verses then go straight to the heart of every home; they appeal to every father and mother; but that is only the beginning, perhaps the foundation, of his sympathy. There is something for everybody in Burns. [Cheers.] He has a heart even for vermin; he has pity even for the arch-enemy of mankind. And his universality makes his poems a treasure-house in which all may find what they want. Every wayfarer in the journey of life may pluck strength and courage from it as he pauses. The sore, the weary, the wounded will all find something to heal and soothe. For this great master is the universal Samaritan. Where the priest and the Levite may have passed by in vain this eternal heart will still afford resource.
But he is not only for the sick in spirit. The friend, the patriot, will all find their choicest refreshment in Burns. His touch is everywhere the touch of genius; nothing comes amiss to him. What was said of the debating power of his eminent contemporary, Dundas, may be said of his poetry: “He went out in all weathers ”; and it may be added that all weathers suited him, that he always brought back something that cannot die! [Cheers.] He is, then, I think, a universal friend in a unique sense, but was, poetically speaking, the special friend of Scotland in a sense which recalls a profound remark of another eminent Scotsman—I mean Fletcher of Saltoun. In an account of a conversation between Lord Cromartie, Sir Edward Seymour, and Sir Christopher Musgrave, Fletcher writes: “I said I knew a very wise man, so much of Sir Christopher's sentiment that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” This may be readily paraphrased, that it is more important to make the songs of a nation than frame its laws, and this again may be interpreted, that in former days, at any rate in the days of Fletcher, even to the days of Burns, it is the familiar songs of a people that mold their thoughts, their manners and their morals. [Cheers.] If this be true, can we exaggerate the debt that Scotland owes Burns? He has bequeathed to his country the most exquisite casket of songs in the world—primarily to his country, but others cannot be denied their share. I will give only one example but that is a signal one. From distant Rumania the queen of that country wrote to Dumfries to-day that she has no copy of Burns with her, but that she knows his songs by heart. [Cheers.] We must remember that there is more than this to be said. Many of Burns' songs were already in existence in the lips and minds of the people, rough and coarse, and obscene. Our benefactor takes them, and with a touch of inspired alchemy transmutes them and leaves them pure gold. He loved the old catches and the old tunes, and into these gracious molds he poured his exquisite gifts of thought and expression. But for him these ancient airs, often wedded to words which no decent man could recite, would have perished from that corruption if not from neglect. He rescued them for us by his songs, and in doing so he hallowed life and sweetened the breath of Scotland. [Cheers.] -