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in an appointment as an excise officer; but from these guests no one but himself could save him, and he was too weak or too jovial to shut the door against them.
In November, 1791, he abandoned Ellisland for a little house in Dumfries. It was a moment when all eyes were fixed on France. The Revolution there, as yet unstained with blood, had apparently freed the people from agelong servitude. In spite of the fact that the government in whose pay he was stood on the verge of war with
the new republic, Burns was all aglow with sympathy for the revolutionists. The verses which he wrote at this time are saturated with this feeling. “Scots wha ha wi' Wallace bled " certainly owed its genesis to the parallel, real or fancied, between the Scotch and the French struggles for freedom. To the same cause may be traced the composition of a still greater poem, "A Man's a Man for a' That.” It is for this that Burns has ever since been chiefly valued in those countries on which the oppressor's hand has been laid most heavily.
With these poetical expressions of his political creed, however, the poet was not satisfied. He publicly declared Washington a bet
ter man than Pitt, which was more true than politic; and he secretly bought some cannon and sent them to the French. It is a wonder that he was not cast into jail for this, but he appears to have suffered no inconvenience except that of being severely left alone by Dumfries society, which to most people would have been no great hardship.
He remained a social outcast until 1793, when his sympathies were alienated from the French by the events which are known to history as the Reign of Terror, and he joined the Dumfries Volunteers, a military organization designed to aid in repelling an expected invasion by the French. For them he wrote a stirring patriotic song, "Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat?” which captivated England as well as Scotland, and effaced the disfavor into which he had fallen.
But his work was done. He was a mere shell of his former self. Passion and drink had burned him to a cinder. One night in January, 1796, he sat late at the Globe Tavern. On his way home he sank down and fell asleep in the snow. The shock was too much for his shattered constitution. For months he hovered between life and death. At last, thanks to the tender and skilful nursing of Miss Jessie Lewars, the daughter of a brother exciseman, he began to rally a little. As has been finely said, he had no money with which to repay her ministrations, but he rewarded them with what was far more precious, a song of immortal sweetness. One morning he said to her:
you will play for me some tune for which you would like new words, I will try to make you some.” She sat down at the piano and several times played over the air of an old song beginning
“The robin came to the wren's nest,
And keekit in, and keekit in." In a few moments the poet presented her with the lines, “ O wert thou in the cauld blast.”
This was the expiring flash of Burns's genius. Throughout June he rapidly grew worse. On July 4 he went as a last resort to Brow, a sea-bathing resort on the Solvay. His closing days were embittered by lack of money. One of his creditors threatened him with a jail. He wrote piteous letters to his friends asking for loans. On July 18 he returned to Dumfries. When he alighted from his carriage he could scarcely stand. Three days later all was over.
Then appeared one of the most pathetic phenomena which history records. As soon as this great spirit had passed beyond the reach of human aid, the entire nation which he had loved and served so well awoke from its indifference to him and gave a spontaneous exhibition of esteem which, had it come to him a few years earlier, might have rendered tranquil and rounded one of the stormiest and most fragmentary of lives.
He was buried with military honors on July 24. Ten thousand persons followed his body to the grave. The whole nation put on mourning. A subscription sufficient to maintain his family in decency was speedily collected. An imposing monument soon rose to mark his resting place in the churchyard at Dumfries. The stream of pilgrims who shortly began to set their faces toward this shrine has not ceased to broaden and to deepen with the years. Thither in due time came William Wordsworth and John Keats and Thomas Carlyle and Alfred Tennyson. But the honor of being the most appreciative of all the visitors at Dumfries, like the honor of being the most reverent and loving of the pilgrims to Ayr, belongs to an American. It was Fitz-Greene Halleck who wrote the words that most fitly describe the emotions of all who go thither to do honor to Burns, and that refuse most persistently to leave their memories:
Such graves as his are pilgrim shrines,
Shrines to no code or creed confined,
The Meccas of the mind.”
QUESTIONS AND EXERCISES
1. What do you know of Burns's father? Does he resemble any type of
American with whom you associate ? To Rru 2. How much is there of personal characterization in “The Cotter's
Saturday Night”? 3. What is the significance of Burns having written a poem to a field
mouse? 4. 5. Discuss Burns's mental state when being lionized in Edinburgh. Teda 6. Read “ A Man's a Man for a' That.” Tell the class in a speech of one
minute what it means to you. 7. Why do the Scotch honor the memory of Bobby Burns? Do you think
a great soldier, a great statesman, a great prize fighter or baseball player as important as a poet like Burns ? ?
8. What were those qualities which marked his genius? 9. As a special treat to yourself spend as much of your time as possible
during a period of two or three weeks reading Burns's poetry. At the end of that period in a five-minute speech tell the class what he
has given you that will stay with you. 10. In a five-hundred-word composition, write an account of Burns's life
from your own point of view, not that of your teacher or of the
author of this book. Was Burns a good man? If so, why?
Suggested Readings.-" Tam O'Shanter," "To a Mouse," "To a Mountain Daisy," " A Man's a Man for a' That,” “ The Cotter's Saturday Night,' “A Red, Red Rose,' * Highland Mary' are poems that have become part of the English language and should be read as a beginning. Carlyle's “Essays on Burns and his “ Hero as Poet in Heroes and Hero Worship” are the most appreciative estimates of Burns yet written.
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (1770-1850)
“In honored poverty thy voice did weave
“To feel for the first time a communion with his mind is to discover loftier faculties in our own.”—Talfourd.
SHAKESPEARE by universal consent is entitled to the first and Milton to the second place among English poets. The third is more doubtful; but, though Chaucer, Spenser, Tennyson, and Browning all have their advocates, none of them has a clearer title to this distinction than William Wordsworth. His claim rests, first, upon his imaginative power; second, upon the fact that his felicity of diction is such that, aside from Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope, no English poet has produced more unforgettable lines and stanzas; and third, upon the still more significant fact that he introduced into English literature a new note, or rather several new notes. At a time when verse had become so artificial that it was no longer poetry he turned the attention of men back to Nature. He taught poets to describe what they saw instead of something which they had read or dreamed. He showed how verse may build a princely throne on humble truth. He felt and taught that Nature is not dead but is the body of a living soul. Hence he became and is more than a poet. He is a prophet, a seer. Realizing all this, Matthew Arnold said of him:
“ Time may restore us, in his course,
This is a precise and illuminating statement of the influence which his poetry has had. To the casual reader he is likely, in consequence of his lack of humor and of dramatic power, to appear unattractive.