« PreviousContinue »
ment, and despair. Years and ages roll of the best poets who write with such over the world, yet the oldest forms fertility in a limited department, the of lyrical beauty are ever new-yet maxim of Martial must necessarily ap. the same field is ever yielding new ply: Sunt bona, sunt quædam mediofruits, with all the unabating fertility cria, sUNT MALA PLURA. We lament which marked its golden prime.
and we condemn this consequence. We The best songs are often produced consider that any system is bad under by those who are not professed, or which poetry of this description is professional poets ; by those who do hurriedly huddled up, and cast into not write at all except when the heart the world with all its imperfections on prompts them; by those whose com- its head, to the injury alike of the positions can never be successful ex. writer's reputation and the depression cept when their power of pleasing of the standard of poetical excellence. is their only recommendation. When There will always be abundance of art or ambition have any share in the clippers and coiners to pass off counterproduction, nature, which is the es. feit money on the unwary. But poets, sence of song-writing, is liable to be like princes, should be niggardly of forgotten or displaced. The apparent their name and countenance, and slightness of the effort required for a chary of depreciating the legal cur. song, creates a temptation more than rency, of which they exercise the conin any other kind of poetry, to supply, trol, by issuing from their mint what by mechanical facility, what can only has not been tried and tested as fine be produced by sincere enthusiasm. gold. If a right standard of lyric poetry be In the two examples to which we adopted, it is manifest that it cannot have referred, the inducements which be hurriedly or superficially composed. led to this fault were not altogether Moments of inspiration, we presume, the same. The Bard of Erin, we are of rare occurrence among the believe, has, in his day, received best poets; and these must, in every for his lyrical effusions no incon. department, be solicited and
improved siderable amount of currency of a by reflection and labour. The com- more substantial kind : and, however parative narrowness of the path, in- much it may have come to, we sindeed, in this peculiar region of cerely wish it had been more. With poetry, increases the necessity of care regard to the case of our Scottish and consideration to avoid running minstrel, we must say, that, after an into old ruts, and to discover any ori- attentive and repeated perusal of the ginal tract of thought and feeling. Thomson Correspondence, we have We should expect, therefore, that no arrived deliberately at the conviction, one man could possibly produce more that pecuniary recompense was not the than a very few of such compositions, incentive, as it was certainly not the and many of our most popular songs result, of his lyric labours. The sum seem to be the unique productions of of five pounds, forced upon him by their authors. The orator of a single the most solemn adjurations at the speech has been considered a pro- commencement of his task, and five digy ; but experience would not lead pounds more given on his deathbed, us to say the same thing of a poet but which, we believe, was not needed, whose reputation rested on a single and never used, amount to a much song.
less remuneration per song than Mr In modern times, however, a va. Willison Glass was in the habit of riety of causes have combined to make receiving from every mason-lodge or fertility, at least, as remarkable a private patron with whose name he characteristic of lyric talent as perfec- might fill up the dedication of his tion of execution. Not to mention in- poetical circulars. This calculation ferior names, Burns and Moore, in our fully exonerates Burns from any susown time and that of our fathers, have picion that he wrote for money; but each produced more songs than in the result was nearly the same as if other ages would have distinguished his motive had been less disinterested. any twenty writers of genius. Burns He was encouraged and urged by is the reputed author or emendator others to write songs beyond the of about 250 lyrics, while the songs of powers of any poet's productiveness ; Moore are as the sands of the sea-shore. and the humility or blind devotion of We strongly suspect, that to the works those to whom they were furnished,
NO. CCLXXXVI. VOL. XLVI.
prevented them from exercising that caution. The comparison between Strictness of control which was neces- the compositions thus found to have sary to correct error and suppress me. been delayed or suppressed, and those diocrity. The idea sometimes comes finished works of genius which have across our minds, that the fortunes of finally received their author's approval, our great Scottish poet might indeed must prevent any injury to public have been very different, if his fate taste, and must even tend to its imhad connected him with a spirit so provement. It is a very different thing frank, so independent, so liberal, and when an author, in his own lifetime, so enterprising, as that which ani. is tempted to put out of his hands.pro. mated a dear and lamented friend of ductions which have not yet received our own, of whose name it can never the last polish of the file, or which be necessary to make express mention may, perhaps, be incapable of taking in the pages of Maga. We should pro- it; and we greatly deplore any system bably, in such a case, have reaped still of things that tends to such a result. richer fruits than we possess from the It is itself a flagrant violation, and its genius of Burns; and we might not have example involves a wide-spread disrehad the pain of seeing his more mature gard of that rule of “ being perfect," productions dishonoured, by an asso- which, in different though not discordciation with many rude and shape ant ways, ought equally to be the aim less efforts that ought never to have of the poet and the Christian. seen the light.
Let it not be supposed that, in the It is our purpose, in one or two review of Burns's songs which we are articles, to apply the flail and the fan- now to attempt, the proposal to point ners to the lyrical works of these two out his faults implies any indifference national poets, labouring, to the best to his excellences, or any want of adof our capacity, to separate the wheat miration for his high and manly genius. from the chaff, the solid and salubrious Much that we are here to write, will material of the staff of life from the show how reverently we think of him; husks and refuse with which it is too and a criticism upon that part of his intimately commingled. We shall compositions, which, on the whole, we treat of these two eminent writers in think the most vulnerable, can neverim. connexion, not that we think them ply that weare blind to the innumerable altogether equal or similar to each beauties which are scattered throughother; but because each has justly out his works. The pathos, the huearned for himself the name of a na- mour, the strong judgment, the lively tional poet, as well as a wide posses- fancy, the terse diction, which chasion of general popularity, and each racterise all Burns's masterpieces, and has much in his writings to praise, and which are to be found alike in his best not a little to reprehend.
songs as in other parts of his poetry, We begin with Burns; and we shall make it impossible that criticism, fairfirst of all notice some of those songs ly and impartially conducted, can have which we think faulty or indifferent, any other result than that of raising and which, therefore, we could have the estimate of his powers while placing wished might have mained in the it upon a firmer foundation. It is beauthor's repositories, as conveyancers cause he was a man of high genius, and say, undelivered at the time of his because he exerts over all men, and death. Let it be observed, that we more especially over his countrymen, have not the horror that some people the dominion that genius is heir to, entertain about posthumous publica. that we desire to point out, along with tion. It may sometimes be an evil his merits, those errors from which we when intrusted to indiscreet hands, could have wished him to be free. but, if judiciously, conducted, it is Assuredly, we would willingly accept psychologically curious, and critically of another such man, (though, when very valuable. It is of infinite im- shall we look upon his like again ?) portance to literary students to see even with all the faults which we are the crude conceptions of a man of about to condemn. But if another genius in the very bud, or only half such should ever arise, we would deblown, and thence to learn the degrees sire to make him more perfect than by which excellence may be attain. his predecessor in care, and diligence, ed. From such revelations the timid and taste : and we still more would may acquire confidence, and the rash labour to recommend these qualities
to the poets whom we are more likely To equal young Jessie seek Scotland all to see, and in whom the same ble. mishes, with an inferior portion of To equal young Jessie you seek it in genius, would be far less tolerable. We consider no poet to be exempt Grace, beauty, and, elegance, fetter her from criticism, in the liberal sense of
lover, the word ; and, whenever criticism
And maidenly modesty fixes the chain. speaks, she must speak honestly and frankly, not fearing to touch the best,
Ofresh is the rose in the gay, dewy and still less to touch the next best,
morning, where she sees any infringement of
And sweet is the lily at evening close ; the immutable principles of beauty or
But in the fair presence o' lovely young truth.
Jessie, We must further observe, by way
Unseen is the lily, unheeded the rose. of preface, that, in criticising the wri
Love sits in her smile, a wizard ensnaring, tings of a man like Burns, it is not to
Enthroned in her een he delivers his be supposed that we should ever have to find fault with a total emptiness of And still to her charms she alone is a thought or absence of elegance. It stranger, was probably as impossible for him to Her modest demeanour's the jewel of have written a silly or absolutely dull
a'.” song, as it would have been for Burke, in any mood of negligence, to have
The versification of this song seems conversed in downright drivel. The
to us to be deadened by the absence defects we shall have to detect are of of rhyme in the first and third lines of a different kind, consisting either in
the quatrain, while the ideas generally individual blots disfiguring a form
are tame and the expressions prosaic. otherwise fair, or in an inferior de, Elegance is an attribute of heroines gree of that beauty and finish which that should not be mentioned in song, are essential to lyric poetry. Let it however it may be admired in reality. be remembered, also, that Burns be
6. Sweet is the lily at evening close," came latterly anxious to revise the
will not scan without a mispronunciasongs which he had written a consi.
tion. The images of love sitting in deration which does not dispense with
her smile wa wizard ensnaring," and the duty of observing their defects, delivering his law " enthroned in her but which exculpates him from the een," have not much happiness, and suspicion of over-estimating their are inconsistent with simplicity. “Still merits.
to her charms she alone is a stranger," We now commence our task by se
has as little of poetry in it for a con. lecting some of the most conspicuous cluding thought, as can well be imaexamples of songs which, in our opin
gined. ion, the poet should have been ad
The following song is declared by vised to withhold as unworthy of his
Mr Thomson to be “ quite enchantgenius, at least in the state in which ing." Read it carefully, and say if they appear.
Our selection shall you are of the same opinion. chiefly be made from Mr Thomson's “ Blythe ha'e I been on yon hill, Collection or Correspondence, which, As the lambs before me; from its authoritative and prominent Careless ilka thought and free, character, as well as from the great As the breeze flew o'er me : beauty of many of the songs contained Now nae langer sport and play, in it, ought to have excluded every Mirth or sang can please me; thing that was not excellent.
Lesley is sae fair and coy, What has the following to recom.
Care and anguish seize me. mend it, except one or two smooth lines here and there?
“ Heavy, heavy, is the task,
Hopeless love declaring : "True-hearted was he, the sad swain o'the
Trembling, I dow nocht but glowr, Yarrow,
Sigbing, dumb, despairing 1 And fair are the maids on the banks o'
If she winna ease the thraws the Ayr,
Ia my bosom swelling, But by the sweet side o' the Nith's wind- Underneath the grass-green sod ing river,
Soon maun be my dwelling." Are lovers as faithful, and maidens as fair :
We own we do not feel the power
of any mighty magic in these lines. We “ In each bird's careless song have read them several times, and still
Glad did I share; feel much “ in our ordinary," as the
While yon wild-flowers among,
Chance led me there : phraseis. They appear to us to be poorly
Sweet to the opening day, imagined, and extremely ill written.
Rosebuds bent the dewy spray; What is meant by “ as the lambs before
Such thy bloom ! did I say, me?" Is it in the same sense as “my
Phillis the fair. father the deacon afore me?" the lambs that preceded me? or the lambs in my
« Down in a shady walk, presence? What, again, is the mean
Doves cooing were ; ing of the fourth line-" as the breeze
I mark'd the cruel hawk flew o'er me?" Is it a comparison or
Caught in a snare : a circumstance? Does it mean " while
So kind may Fortune be, the breeze flew o'er me?" or, “ as the
Such make his destiny, breeze that flew o'er me?" In the
He who would injure thee, one way it is idle ; in the other
Phillis the fair.” ungrammatical. “ Sport and play," prefixed to “mirth or sang," are weak
To the song next in our list, our and mean. “ Care and anguish-seize objections are of a different, and, some me,” is veritable Vauxhall.
of our readers may think, of a more cond stanza is to us still less enchant.
doubtful nature. ing than the first. “ Trembling, I dow nocht but glowr, sighing, dumb, despairing,” is melancholy, but cer.
“ Now rosy May comes in wi' flowers, tainly not gentlemanlike ! 'It strongly To deck her gay, green-spreading bowers;
And now comes in my happy hours represents the stupor of a village im. becile. " If she winna ease the thraws
To wander wi' my Davie. in my bosom swelling,” is so poorly
« Meet me on the warlock knowe, and almost ludicrously expressed, that
Dainty Davie, dainty Davie, it reconciles us to consigning the sup
There l'll spend the day wi' you, posed lover to his long home in the
My ain dear dainty Davie. next couplet without a single pang. Let any man attempt to sing this song “ The crystal waters round us fa', in a mixed company, to its tune of
The merry birds are lovers a', the Quaker's wife, in the most pa- The scented breezes round us blaw, thetic possible style, and we venture to A-wandering wi' my Davie. predict that, from the word “glowr," to the conclusion, the whole table, and " When purple morning starts the hare, more particularly the young ladies, To steal upon her early fare, who have by far the surest sense of the Then through the dews I will repair beautiful or ridiculous, will be con. To meet my faithful Davie. vulsed with laughter, beginning with a titter or grin and increasing gra
" When day, expiring in the west,* dually to a guffaw.
The curtain draws o’ Nature's rest, We are not sure whether the next
I flee to his arms I lo'e best, sample is inserted in Mr Thomson's
And that's my ain dear Davie. Collection, though it is to be found in
“ Meet me on the warlock knowe, the Correspondence. We are sure it
Bonny Davie, dainty Davie, should not have appeared in either.
There I'll spend the day wi' you, It is needless to point out the faults and feeblenesses, which almost over
My ain dear dainty Davie." lay the germs of fancy and feeling which it contains.
There is here a great deal of sweet
ness, cheerfulness, and beauty ; but " While larks with little wing
their effect is not, to our taste, what it Fann'd the pure air,
ought to have been. The opening of Tasting the breathing spring,
the song reminds us, though by a Forth I did fare ;
feeble reflection, of other delightful Gay the sun's golden eye
lines, the offspring of a greater than Peep'd o'er the mountains high ; Burns, and with the whole of which Such thy morn! did I cry,
the slenderest excuse will justify us in Phillis the fair.
adorning our pages.
“ Now the bright morning star, day's harbinger,
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
And welcome thee and wish thee long.' In their own sphere, the verses with which he was designated. But the which Burns begins the song under lady who, in Burns's song, exhibits so consideration, seem to promise a not just an appreciation of vernal scenery, unworthy echo of the May-day melody should have been matched with a lover which the high-priest of the Muses bearing a less vulgar appellation, or had already sounded. But, alas ! the should have kept the vulgarity as delusion is soon dissipated. When we much as possible in the background. find that the great theme of gladness Laying out of view the unfortunate and source of inspiration, in the poem, burden with which we consider it to is to be the prospect of wandering be weighed down, the imagery in the “ wi' Davie," we feel half ashamed of song, generally, is pastoral and pleaour rising enthusiasm ; and when it sing. These lines, further appears that the individual in
“ The crystal waters round us fa', question rejoices in the epithet of
The merry birds are lovers a', 65 Dainty". '- " Dainty Davie"- the
The scented breezes round us blaw,”. affair is involved in still greater em. barrassment. We are of a totally dif
are redolent of youth and joy, and are ferent opinion from Juliet in the mat.
almost every thing that they should ter of names ; and are indeed on that be. The epithet of "crystal" to falling subject of nearly the same mind with waters, however, is of doubtful proMr Shandy. It may be of very little priety, as crystal falling in any shape
is rather a nervous idea. We feel a moment to a young lady in love, whether her hero is a Montague or a Ca stronger, and we think a more substanpulet; but if the alternative lay be
tial objection, to the picture in the last tween one of those patronymics and verse, of day “ expiring, and drawing that of Tomkins, or Tims, we are
the curtain of Nature's rest." We are inclined to think that even Juliet would
not so fastidious as to repudiate all have been staggered. The farce of similitudes that may be borrowed from Mr H., though deservedly damned as
artificial or mechanical objects. We a whole, was at least successful as a
can, without aversion, think of the demonstration of the doctrine for
moon as the “refulgent lamp of night;" which we are now contending. Chris
and would even occasionally, as here. tian names are certainly not less im.
allow the upholsterer to bear his part, portant than surnames, and in songs
To despise the “ curtain-drawing” of are rather more so, as we do not think
Burns, in a simple song, would be un. it is usual to give the surname in a
just in any who are willing to admire lyric. To David generally, even to
in a sacred hymn a metaphor of MilSir David, we have a strong objection
ton, which gives us still more of the except in his proper place, and would
details and drapery of the bed-chamalmost here have preferred Solomon or Samuel. “ Davie," the diminutive,
“ So when the Sun in bed, does not much mend the matter; and,
Curtain'd with cloudy red, on the whole, we think that the gentleman whose image is so intimately
Pillows his chin upon an orient wave. blended with the flowers of May, What we object to in the stanza now would, by some other name, have smelt before us, is not that the curtain should more odoriferously, and would proba- be drawn, but that this should be done bly have been most effective in an by “ Day” when represented as “exanonymous form.
The functions at- piring ; an expression which, in an tributed to the reverend hero of the imaginative passage of this kind, must original ditty, were congenial with be taken in a literal, and not in a the name of Dainty Davie, under
reflected sense. Drawing the curtain