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Happier still would it have been could he have realized one of his purest aspirations :
“To make a happy fireside clime
For weans and wife,
Of human life."
The question as to the morality of Burns's poetry may be reduced to a simple statement. That he, in his way of life, departed widely from paths which his conscience vainly persuaded him to, in opposition to ungovernable passions, cannot and ought not to be concealed. He never debased himself to a sottish intemperance, but sought convivial excitement, and the worst relief from morbid bodily affections brought on by premature distress. He has uttered a touching appeal for charitable judgments :
“Gently scan your brother man, Still gentler sister woman; Though they may gang a kennin' wrang !
To step aside is human:
The moving why they do it:
How far perhaps they rue it.
“Who made the heart, 'tis He alone
Decidedly can try us; He knows each chord-its various tone,
Each spring-its various bias : Then at the balance let's be mute; We never can adjust it:
at's do we partly may compute, But know not what's resisted.”
His poetry has been charged-falsely, it seems to mewith a contempt or affectation of prudence, decency, and regularity, and an admiration of thoughtlessness, oddity, and vehement sensibility; in short, with a belief in the dispensing power of genius in all matters of morality. Burns had too much masculine good sense ever to fall into that wretched fallacy. He never so deceived himself. Wild words, indeed, often broke from him; and once, in well-known lines, most wrongly, perhaps somewhat impiously, he pleaded that the light which led astray was light from heaven. But he has writteu enough of self-condemnation, self-reproach, to show he did not think so. Who can doubt this on reading that sincere and solemn avowal in the stanzas he styled “ The Bard's Epitaph ?”—as touching a confession as ever was composed :
“Is there a whim-inspired fool,
Let him draw near,
And drap a tear.
" Is there a bard of rustic song,
Oh, pass not by!
Here heave a sigh.
“Is there a man whose judgment clear
Can others teach the course to steer,
Wild as the wave?
Survey this grave.
“The poor inhabitant below
Was quick to learn and wise to know,
And softer flame;
And stained his name.
“ Reader, attend: whether thy soul
In low pursuit;
Is wisdom's root.”
That grave for which this epitaph in fancy was meant has been visited by those who perhaps deemed the poor inhabitant below to have been no better than a miserable drunkard, by others who wrongly condemned him for having perverted his great endowment to the vindication of moral lawlessness. It has been, too, visited phrenologically. The phrenologists, as Allan Cunningham sarcastically describes the affair, disinterred the skull, applied their compasses, and satisfied themselves that Burns had capacity equal to the composition of “Tam O'Shanter," "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and "Mary in Heaven” “Oh for an hour of Burns for these men's sakes !” exclaims a kindred spirit: “were there a witch of Endor in Scotland, it would be an act of comparative piety in her to bring up his spirit: to stigmatize them in verses that would burn forever would be a gratification for which he might think it worth while to be thus brought again upon earth.” All mankind have heard of the malediction which Shakspeare utters from his monument, and of the dread which came upon the boors of Stratford-upon-Avon as they presumed to gaze upon his dust. No such fears, however, fell upon the craniologists of Dumfries. The clock struck one as they touched the dread relic: they tried their hats upon the head and found them all too little, and, having made a mould, they deposited the skull in a leaden box, carefully lined with the softest materials, and returned it once more to the hallowed ground.
The gravè has been visited by those who brought a better power and a better purpose,
,-a poet and his sister. He has described their finding it in a corner of the churchyard; and, looking at it with melancholy and painful reflections, they repeated to each other his own verses beginning
“Is there a man whose judgment clear?”
He, taking the music of that epitaph, has given what is at once the best tribute to the dead and the best warning to the living. I know of no fitter close for this lecture than Wordsworth's lines “To the Sons of Burns, after visiting their father's grave."
« 'Mid crowded obelisks and urns,
With sorrow true;
Trembling to you !
“ Through twilight shades of good and ill
Ye now are panting up life's bill;
Must ye display
Its lawful sway.
« Hath nature strung your nerves to bear
Intemperance with less harm, beware!
But if the poet's wit ye share,
Like him can speed The social hour,-of tenfold care
There will be need.
“For honest men delight will take
To spare your failings for his sake;
Your steps pursue,
A snare for you.
“Far from their noisy haunts retire, And add your voices to the quire That sanctify the cottage fire
With service meet: There seek the genius of your sire;
His spirit greet.
“ Or where, 'mid ‘lonely heights and hows, He paid to nature tuneful vows, Or wiped his honourable brows
Bedewed with toil, While reapers strove, or busy ploughs
Upturned the soil.
“ His judgment with benignant ray
Shall guide, his fancy cheer, your way; But ne'er to a seductive lay
Let faith be given, Nor deem that 'light which leads astray
Is light from heaven.'
“Let no mean hope your souls enslave;
Be independent, generous, brave:
And such revere;
And think and fear!'