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The transition from the careless, riotous enjoyment at the warm ingleside, by a different strain, giving one of the happiest imaginative illustrations in the range of poetry;-
“But pleasures are like poppies spread:
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Tam’s midnight ride, and his approach to the haunted kirk, after passing several spots, each having its own peculiar awe in some deed of death likely to leave a ghost behind:-where a pedlar had been smothered in the snow; where a drunken traveller had broken his neck; where a murdered bairn was found by the hunters; and where some old woman had hung herself;
“Nae man can tether time or tide.
Whiles glowering round wi' prudent cares,
“Heroic Tam,” with a drunken heroism, rides on over the haunted ground, his ear beaten by wild, and, thus far, only natural, sounds, the waves of the Doon roaring with an angry flood, the tossing branches of the trees, and the incessant echoing of the thunders, when to his eye, dazzled by quick alternations of lightning and a mirk midnight,
“Glimmering through the groaning trees,
The scene that followed I shall not attempt either to quote or to describe :-witchcraft with all its intensity; what you feel inclined sometimes to laugh at, but, before you venture to do so, a shudder creeps over you at the mention of the Wicked One's horrid playthings; but that hideous image as appalling as any terror in Shakspeare's sorcery :
“ Coffins stood round, like open presses,
That shaw'd the dead in their last dresses;
Each in its cauld hand held a light.” The hideousness of the supernatural scene is aggravated by the introduction of one human being mingling in the spectral revelry,—a woman who had dealings in witchcraft. The scene suddenly changes; for, when Tam’s silent amazement gave way to an impudent exclamation of applause at the agility of the beldame dancer,-
“ In an instant all was dark,
The chase by the witches, and Tam's very narrow escape across the running stream with the loss of his gray mare's tail, bring the poem to an appropriate ending. It won an immediate popularity, for it was circulated among the Scottish cottages, and one peasant did not meet another without one or both indulging in quotations. This had been the case also with Burns's earlier poems. Allan Cunningham mentions the fact of his father's having procured the volume from a Cameronian clergyman, with this remarkable admonition :-“Keep it out of the way of your children, John, lest ye catch them, as I caught mine, reading it on the Sabbath.” One very remarkable evidence of the popularity of "Tam O'Shanter is the fact that it made the churchyard of Alloway's old haunted kirk quite a fashionable burial-place; for the neighbouring gentry began to vie with humbler worth and noteless industry, in finding in its little area room for their last resting-place.
I do not attempt to trace the course of Burns's personal story closely, as it is connected with his poetic career, as in the affecting incident of his love for Mary Campbell, and his pathetic lament over her as his “Highland Mary.” On every leading event his poetic heart spake from its fulness, as when what he called a bitter blast of misfortune's cold “norwest” was near driving him from his native land, and he wrote, in obvious allusion to himself, the stanzas “On a Scottish Bard gone to the West Indies :".
INFLUENCE OF CITY SOCIETY ON BURNS.
“ Auld cantie Kyle may weepers wear,
In flinders flee;
That's owre the sea.
“He ne'er was gion to great misguiding
Yet coin his pouches wad na bide in;
He dealt it free;
That's owre the sea.
“ Jamaica bodies, use him weel,
An' hap him in a cozie biel:
And fu o' glee;
That's owre the sea."
The introduction of Burns to Edinburgh society, and his intercourse with it, were hurtful to the moral growth of his genius. It brought him into a closer contact with life, presenting the inequality of human condition, especially amid aristocratic institutions. His own sense of independence, and of his own intrinsic intellectual worth, was strong enough to make him realize social inequality, but not strong enough to raise him above it to a magnanimous contentment:
“See yonder poor, o'erlaboured wight,
So abject, mean, and vile,
To give him leave to toil.
“If I'm designed yon lordling's slave
By nature's law designed,
Why was an independent wish
E'er planted in my mind ?”
Kindly as the peasant-poet was received in Edinburgh, he detected that often in that kindness there was condescension; and, with a sensibility as tremblingly exquisite as his sense was strong, he suspected, as has been remarked by one of his biographers, “ that the professional metaphysicians who applauded his rapturous bursts surveyed them, in reality, with something of the same feeling which attends a skilful surgeon's inspection of a curious specimen of morbid anatomy.” “I doubt,” said Burns himself, in a private record, “whether one man may pour out his bosom, his every thought and floating fancy, his very inmost soul, with unreserving confidence, to another, without hazard of losing part of that respect which man deserves from man, or, from the unavoidable imperfections attending human nature, of one day repenting his confidence." Happy would it have been could Burns have held his spirit at the elevation which he reaches in another strain :
“It's no in titles nor in rank;
To purchase peace and rest;
To make us truly blest.
Think ye that sic as you and I,
Wi' never-ceasing toil,-
As hardly worth their while ?"