The Burns Encyclopedia

Memories of Glasgow

Robert Burns,
page 10 of 17

society, Burns, with his western accent and rustic manners, was suddenly plunged. Received with a welcome unexpectedly cordial, the poet bore the honours heaped upon him with a dignity which astonished the accomplished men and high-born women whom he met. Dr. Hugh Blair had preserved sufficient natural taste to be able to appreciate the vigorous description and glowing imagery of the untutored bard. It is said that the author of “Douglas” refused to see the merit of Burns’s verse; but the vision of Home was none of the clearest. Dugald Stewart, familiar with every branch of thought, sounded the intellect of Burns in searching dialogues, discovering to his surprise that he had formed rational notions for himself on subtle questions of metaphysics. The individuals who praised him, patronised him, or merely scanned him with curious eyes, have mostly become undistinguishable shades. Among the more noticeable figures, whom accident or design threw into momentary relation to the poet, it is pleasing to recognise Walter Scott. The meeting is one of those picturesque incidents on which the imagination delights to dwell. Deeply impressed by an engraving of a woman bending over her dead in the battlefield, Burns desired to learn the name of the author of the lines written beneath—

“Cold on Canadian hills or Minden’s plain,
Perhaps that mother weeps her soldier slain.”

Scott gratified the poet by quoting the lines from Langhorne’s “The County Justice” — a poem which has been read by hundreds on account of its accidental connection with this historic incident. The boy Scott was deeply struck by the singular brilliancy of the poet’s eyes, which seemed literally to burn.
Some affectation may have mingled with the enthusiasm which greeted the presence of Burns in Edinburgh. Distracted by the multitude of its interests and pursuits, society at the best comprehends few persons of deep feeling and strong conviction. These are generally developed by minds which brood apart, avoiding the varying currents of fashion and opinion, which sweep men far from their moral and intellectual moorings. At the same time it is evident from all we know that the homage paid to the genius of Burns was in the main sincere. Confined by intolerable conventionalities in religion, poetry, and life, mind and heart craved for emancipation. Burns responded to the yearning with enchanting pictures of rural homes, the freshness of fields and woods, and the gush of genuine emotion. The spirit of his verses permeated deep and far, producing results in literature and life beyond the poet’s most ambitious dreams. From the first, indeed, the literary career of Burns was singularly successful. Never before was a prophet—called like Elisha from the plough—so honoured in his own country. Before leaving Edinburgh he issued a new edition of his works, for which he obtained two thousand eight hundred subscribers, and cleared four hundred, some say six hundred, pounds. Even in the matter of pecuniary reward he was exceptionally fortunate; for the golden age of literature only commenced to run from the appearance of “The Lay of the Last Minstrel.”

Burns had now seen enough of the titled and the great to dispel the illusions which distance lends to high places, and to confirm the truth of his own lines

“It’s no in titles nor in rank,
It’s no in wealth like Lon’on bank,
To purchase peace and rest.”

No writer ever expressed loftier notions of the dignity of man. Never poet sang more tenderly of the sweets of home or more wisely of home-bred virtues. If at this time he had.


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