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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 1’’ 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 grave 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 7”
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,
“Through twilight shades of good and ill
“Hath nature strung your nerves to bear
LIN E S T O THIS SON S OF BU R N S. 47
Dut if the poet's wit ye share,
The social hour, -of tenfold care
“For honest men delight will take
“Far from their noisy haunts retire,
“Or where, 'mid “lonely heights and hows,’
“His judgment with benignant ray
“Let no mean hope your souls enslave;
The present age not an unpoetical one— Five names worthy of distinction — Samuel Rogers— The “Pleasures of Memory” — Rogers’s “Italy”—Galileo and Milton — Moore's Songs — Irish patriotism—The true question respecting poetical composition— Lamb's lines on the “Old Familiar Faces”—Scott's career of authorship—Scott the second in rank of Scottish poets—His childhood at Sandy Knowe–His early reading—His interview with Burns— Influence of the Story of the Rebellion of 1745 on his genius— His love of natural scenery—The minstrelsy of the Scottish border —Hallam’s remark on the Scottish ballads — Story of Christie's Will—“The Lay of the Last Minstrel”—Scott's merit as a poet— —Influence of the French Revolution on his mind—“Marmion”— “The Lady of the Lake”—Decline of his poetical powers—“Bonny Dundee”—“Battle of Otterburne”—His pilgrimage to Italy.
THIS course of lectures, so kindly and patiently followed by you, has now brought us to the limit of the poets of a past generation. The lives of those two true poets who were last considered reached the closing years of the last century, the death of Burns having taken place in the year 1796, and that of Cowper in 1800. The mind naturally draws a boundary-line which separates them from the poets of the present century and our own times. The remaining lectures will be appropriated to
PRESENT A G E N OT UN POETIC A. L. 49
some of our contemporaries who have devoted their genius to the cultivation of that vast and noble field of English literature we have been travelling over. It is quite an habitual opinion to characterize the generation of the nineteenth century as unpoetical; and in many respects, it must be confessed, the censure is well directed. But when the philosophic critic of some future age shall seek to judge us, the judgment, will be a different one. We are apt to form our estimate with minds diverted to the countless agencies visibly at work around us, -to the various manifestations of the busy, bustling, superficial temper of the times, which leads men to seek the unsure and brief support of mere expedients, instead of the constancy and security of abiding principles. There are perpetually obtruded on our notice some traits of the times, showing the race occupied rather with the world of sense than with strenuous efforts of thought or high aspirations of imagination. But these—the more obvious characteristics—are temporary; they pass away, and in their place remain those which are more durable. When some future literary historian shall come to write the character of his ancestry in the early portion of the nineteenth century, he will seek for evidences of that character, not in such things as from time to time flash upon us, awakening some admiration or amazement, but in the surviving literature of the generation, and especially in the imaginative department of it, which, gaining a wider and more permanent command of the sympathies, has otherefore a more lasting life. It endures from age to age, and to it men of other times are apt to look as the mirror of the generation to which that literature belonged. It is a somewhat vain and perhaps presumpVOL. II. 4.