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Greenock or Dunbar will be reckoned a delice. From this propensity in human nature, a musical child, a rhyming milk-woman, a learned pig, or a Russian poet will ‘strut their hour upon the stage' and gain the applause of the moment.
Robert Burns, the Ayrshire ploughman, whose poems are now before us, does not belong to this class of obscurorum virorum. Although he is by no means such a poetical prodigy as some of his malicious friends have represented, he has a genuine title to the attention and approbation of the public as a natural though not a legitimate son of the Muses. The first poems in this collection are of the humorous and satirical kind, and in these our author appears to be most at home. In his serious poems we can trace imitations of almost every English author of celebrity; but his humor is entirely his own. His 'Address to the Deil (Devil),’ ‘The Holy Fair' (a country sacrament), and his 'Epistle,' in which he disguises an amour under the veil of partridge shooting, are his master-pieces in this line; and, happily, in these instances his humor is neither local nor transient, for the Devil, the world, and the flesh will always keep their ground. .. 'The Cotter's (Cottager's) Saturday Night' is without exception the best poem in the collection. It is written in the stanza of Spenser, which probably our bard acquired from Thomson's 'Castle of Indolence' and Beattie's 'Minstrel.' It describes one of the happiest and most affecting scenes to be found in a country life; and draws a domestic picture of rustic simplicity, natural tenderness, and innocent passion, that must please every reader whose feelings are not perverted. The odes 'To a Mouse on Turning up Her Nest' and 'To a Mountain Daisy' are of a similar nature, and will strike every reader for the elegant fancy and the vein of senti mental reflection that runs through them. The stanza of Mr. Burns is generally ill chosen, and his provincial dialect confines his beauties to one balf of the island. But he possesses the genuine characteristics of a poet-a vigorous mind, a lively fancy, a surprising knowledge of human nature, and an expression rich, various, and abundant. In the plaintive or pathetic he does not excel; his love poems (though he confesses, or rather professes, a penchant to the belle passion) are execrable; but in the midst of vulgarity and commonplace, which occupy one half of the volume, we meet with many striking beauties that make ample compensation.”—The English Review, February, 1787.
“We do not recollect to have ever met with a more signal instance of true and uncultivated genius than in the author of these poems. His occupation is that of a common ploughman, and his life has hitherto been spent in struggling with poverty. But all the rigors of fortune have not been able to repress the frequent efforts of his lively and vigorous imagination. Some of these poems are of a serious cast; but the strain which seems most natural to the author is the sportive and humorous. It is to be regretted that the Scottish dialect in which these poems are written must obscure the native beauties with which they appear to abound, and renders the sense often unintelligible to an English reader.”—The Critical Review, May, 1787.
“I have therefore read Burns's poems, and have read them twice; and though they be written in a language that is new to me, and many of them on subjects much inferior to the author's ability, I think them on the whole a very extraordinary production. He is, I believe, the only poet these kingdoms have produced in the lower rank of life, since Shakespeare (I should rather say, since Prior), who need not be indebted for any part of his praise to a charitable consideration of his origin and the disadvantages under which he has labored. It will be a pity if he should not hereafter divest himself of barbarism, and content himself with writing pure English, in which he appears perfectly qualified to excel. He who can command admiration dishonors himself if he aims no higher than to raise a laugh."-William Cowper in a letter to Rose, July 24, 1787.
(389) The Book OF THEL. Blake prefixed the following lines:
Does the eagle know what is in the pit,
Or wilt thou go ask the mole;
Or love in a golden bowl? 14. Cf. Gen. 3:8.
(391) 70. Cf. Rom. 14:7, "For none of us liveth to himself."
(394) THE MENTAL TRAVELLER. " «The Mental Traveller' indicates ad explorer of mental phenomena. The mental phenomenon here symbolized seems to be the career of any great idea or intellectual movement-as, for instance, Christianity, chivalry, art, etc.-represented as going through the stages of1, birth; 2, adversity and persecution; 3, triumph and maturity; 4, decadence through over-ripeness; 5, gradual transformation, under new conditions, into another renovated idea, which again has to pass through all the same stages. In other words, the poem represents the action and re-action of ideas upon society, and of society upon ideas."—W. M. Rossetti. “The babe .... I take to signify human genius or intellect, which none can touch and not be consumed except the 'woman old,' faith or fear: all weaker things, pain and pleasure, hatred and love, fly with shrieking, averted faces from before it. The grey and cruel nurse, custom or religion, crucifies and torments the child, feeding herself upon his agony to false fresh youth. Grown older, he weds her; custom, the daily life of men, once married to the fresh intellect, bears fruit to him of profit and pleasure; but through such union he grows old the sooner, soon can but wander round and look over his finished work and gathered treasure, the tragic passions and splendid achievements of his spirit, kept fresh in verse or color. .... The 'female babe' sprung from the fire that burns always on his hearth is the issue or result of genius, which, being too strong for the father, flows into new channels and follows after fresh ways. .... The outcast intellect can then be vis only by a new love.... Then follow the stages of love, and the phases of action and passion bred from either stage.”-A. C. Swinburne.
(397) AUGURIES OF INNOCENCE. The lines are printed in the order in which they come in the manuscript, not rearranged according to subject matter as in some editions.
(401) TO THE QUEEN. The lines were the dedication of Blake's designs for Blair's poem,
(401) THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL. 17. Meletus: an Athenian tragic poet, one of the accusers of Socrates. 19. Caiphas: see Matthew 26:57-68.
GEORGE CRABBE “It has been already acknowledged that these compositions have no pretensions to be estimated with the more lofty and heroic kind of poems, but I feel great reluctance in admitting that they have not a fair and legitimate claim to the poetic character; nor was I aware that, by describing as faithfully as I could men, manners, and things, I was forfeiting a just title to a name which has been freely granted to many whom to equal and even to excel is but a very stinted commendation. .... A considerable part of the poems, as they have been hitherto denominated, of Chaucer are of this naked and unveiled character. . . . . Dryden has given us much of this poetry, in which the force of expression and accuracy of description have neither needed nor obtained assistance from the fancy of the writer. . . . . It will be found that Pope himself has no small portion of this actuality of relation, this nudity of descrip tion, and poetry without an atmosphere. .... I must allow that the effect of poetry should be to lift the mind from the painful realities of actual existence, from its everyday concerns, and its perpetually occurring vexations, and to give it repose by substituting objects in their place which it may contemplate with some degree of interest and satisfaction: but what is there in all this which may not be effected by a fair representation of existing character ? nay, by a faithful delineation of those painful realities, those everyday concerns, and those perpetually occurring vexations themselves, provided they be not (which is hardly to be supposed) the very concerns and distresses of the reader ? for when it is admitted that they bave no particular relation to him, but are the troubles and anxieties of other men, they excite and interest his feelings as the imaginary exploits, adventures, and perils of romance." -Preface to Tales (1812).
(403) THE VILLAGE. Book I. 1-62. 17-14. Cf. Pope's “Spring," p. 79.
(404) 15-20. For the first form of these lines, before Johnson revised them, see Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, Globe ed., p. 593. 116. Tityrus: see Virgil's first eclogue. 1 18. Mantuan: Virgil was born near Mantua. 127. Duck: Stephen Duck (1705-56), a farmlaborer, who published two volumes of poems that had some success. 149. Crabbe was born at Aldborough, a poor seaport town on the coast of Suffolk.
(405) THE BOROUGH.
(422) 206. Hume's: David Hume's History of England (1754-61). 1220. Guthrie: William Guthrie (1708-70), author of a History of England. 1 222. stall: a fixed seat in the choir or chancel of a church or cathedral, chiefly for the use of the clergy.
(423) 231-33. There is an apocryphal story that Queen Elizabeth gave a ring to her favorite, the Earl of Essex, promising that she would forgive him any offense if he should send her the ring; that when he was under sentence of death for treason against the queen, he tried to get the ring to her by the Countess of Nottingham, who kept it, being the queen's rival for the love of Essex; and that the countess on her deathbed confessed her deed to Elizabeth, who stormed at her and soon after died of remorse.
“It has long been objected to the pastoral Muse that her principal employment is to delineate scenes that never existed, and to cheat the imagination by descriptions of pleasure that never can be enjoyed. Sensible of her deviation from nature and propriety, the author of the present poem ("The Village'') has endeavored to bring her back into the sober paths of truth and reality. It is not, however, improbable that he may have erred as much as those whom he condemns. For it may be questioned whether he who represents a peasant's life as a life of unremitting labor and remediless anxiety, who describes his best years as embittered by insult and oppression, and his old age as squalid, comfortless, and destitute, gives a juster representation of rural enjoyments than they who, running into a contrary extreme, paint the face of the country as wearing a perpetual smile, and its inhabitants as passing away their hours in uninterrupted pleasure and unvaried tranquility. . . . . It must not, however, be denied that the poem contains many splendid lines, many descriptions that are picturesque and original, and such as will do credit to the ingenious author of 'The Library.' "--The Monthly Review, November, 1783.
“It (“The Newspaper'') cannot be considered as the production of a superior genius; but it is not destitute of poetical beauties; and the good taste of the author is to be commended when we see him endeavoring to imitate the natural expression of Pope rather than the obscure sentimental jargon and affected tortuosities of some popular versificators of the present day.” -The English Review, November, 1785.