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"Though rich is the breeze in their gay sunny valleys,
Their sweet-scented woodlands that skirt the proud palace,
This, on the whole, is excellent; it is bold and beautiful, and has thrilled many thousand Scottish hearts, and filled many thousand Scottish eyes
with tears, whether at home or in distant lands. Nothing can be sweeter in themselves, or by contrast with what precedes them, than the lines———
"Far dearer to me yon lone glen o' green
Wi' the burn stealing under the lang yellow broom."
But the song has faults, and those, too, considerable ones. We doubt whether the reason assigned for loving 66 yon humble broom bowers," is not too exclusively confined to their connexion with the poet's mistress. Surely we prefer the glens of our native land, with their broom and their breckan, before the rich regions of the myrtle and orange, not merely because they are the haunt of a beloved woman, but also because they are the home of our fathers and kindred, the seat of knowledge and piety, the domicile of liberty and peace. If it be said that "Jean," in her character and virtues, is to be regarded as the type of all these excellences, we think the idea is somewhat strained and obscure.
We are certain, however, that if this illusion was admissible in the first verse, it is poorly introduced, and mawkishly expressed in the conclusion of the second. The conceit of the free Caledonian wandering about his mountains with only "love's willing fetters, the chains o' his Jean," is equally cold and commonplace, and wholly unsuitable to the simple and manly character which the song should sustain.
We are naturally led from this last song to notice some of those which are more exclusively devoted to the tender or gentle affections. We shall give the precedence to "Highland Mary."
"Ye banks, and braes, and streams around The castle o' Montgomery,
What we have next to notice is every way more open to criticism.
"There's auld Rob Morris that wons in yon glen,
"She's fresh as the morning, the fairest in May;
"But oh! she's an heiress, and Robin's a laird,
"The day comes to me, but delight brings me nane; The night comes to me, but my rest it is gane;
I wander my lane like a night-troubled ghaist, And I sigh as my heart it wad burst in my breast.
"O had she but been of a lower degree,
We much admire the two first verses, which are well suited in style and sen. timent to a very beautiful and pathetie air; but we think that the rest of the song might, on the whole, have been dispensed with, or ought, at least, to have been remodeled.
"A wooer like me maunna hope to come speed,
The wounds I maun hide that will soon be my dead;"
is clumsy and incongruous. "I sigh as my heart it would burst in my breast," does not please us, and seems to enfeeble a stanza that might have been very good. Somehow or other, a "sigh" is not at all a poetical thing, according to our Scotch customs or pronunciation. The last verse is positively bad. The question in proportion, or the rule of three, stated in the concluding lines,
"O how past describing had then been my bliss,
As now my distraction no words can express!"
is much too formal and calculating, and is destitute of any felicity of thought or language.
Of the same mixed character is the following:
"O poortith cauld and restless love,
An' 'twere na for my Jeanie.
"This warld's wealth, when I think on
"Her een, sae bonnie blue, betray
"O wha can prudence think upon,
"How blest the humble cottar's fate!
We like the first verse of this song; and, although the personification of Fate, taking "pleasure" in untwining life's dearest bands, is not in a style either of Doric simplicity or of Attic elegance, the chorus is redeemed by the touching, though perhaps not very coherent question: Why sae sweet a flower as Love should depend on Fortune's shining? The rest of the song we think is, on the whole, very inferior. Nothing can well be worse than the verse
"Her een, sae bonnie blue, betray
That she repays my passion; But prudence is her o'erword aye, She talks o' rank and fashion."
The next verse, "O wha can prudence think upon?" is vigorous and characteristic, though scarcely poeti
The song of "Gala Water" is simple and successful. The last verse has much in it of earnestness and beauty.
"There's braw braw lads on Yarrow braes,
That wander through the blooming heather;
But Yarrow braes, nor Ettrick shaws,
Can match the lads o' Gala water.
"But there is ane, a secret ane,
Aboon them a' I lo'e him better; And I'll be his and he'll be mine,
The bonnie lad o' Gala water. "Altho' his daddie was nae laird,
And tho' I hae nae muckle tocher, Yet rich in kindness, truest love,
We'll tent our flocks by Gala water.
"It ne'er was wealth, it ne'er was wealth, That coft contentment, peace, or plea
The bands and bliss o❞ mutual love, O that's the chiefest warld's treasure!" The living influences of those localities, that dwell in love's remembrance as the scenes of past happiness, or the lodestars of present solicitude, are fertile themes of lyrical poetry, and Burns well understood and familiarly availed himself of their power. Among the very sweetest of all his compositions is the following example of this topic, which opens in the most natural and touching strain; and, though not altogether equal, has much of simple beauty throughout:
"Of a' the airts the wind can blaw,
For there the bonnie lassie lives,
"There wild-woods grow, and rivers row, And mony a hill between; But day and night my fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.
"I see her in the dewy flowers,
"There's not a bonnie flower that springs
By fountain, shaw, or green, There's not a bonnie bird that sings, But minds me o' my Jean.
"O blaw ye westlin winds, blaw saft Amang the leafy trees;
Wi' gentle gale, frae muir and dale, Bring hame the laden bees:
And bring the lassie back to me
That's aye sae neat and clean : Ae look o' her wad banish care,
Sae lovely is my Jean." Perhaps a still more exquisite and impassioned expression of the same feeling, is shown in a couple of verses to be found in Johnson's Museum
"Out over the Forth, I look to the north,
But what is the north and its Highlands to me?
The south nor the east gie ease to my breast, The far foreign land, nor the wide rolling sea.
Never, surely, was the religion of devoted love more truly, more warmly expressed than in these few but magical lines. We may observe, by the way, that, although furnished less formally and less responsibly, the contributions of Burns to the Museum were often more racy and more spirited than those which were written for Mr Thomson's Collection. In the Museum, for instance, appeared the noble song which we are about to quote, and of which one half stanza would of itself have preserved the name of Burns throughout all time; and would more than compensate, not only for the inequalities of the other lines, though they had been infinitely greater, but for all the commonplaces which Mr Thomson was fain to accept as true poetry :
"Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
"I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
"Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
In the Museum, also, we have "The Posie," which was adopted by Thomson; and which, for its union of the two best and purest affections of the heart-the love of woman and of rural nature-deserves all the praise that it has ever received
But I look to the west, when I gae to rest,
But I will down yon river rove, amang the fields sae green,
"The primrose I will pu,' the firstling of the year,
For she's the pink o' womankind, and blooms without a peer:
"I'll pu' the budding rose, when Phoebus peeps in view,
"The lily it is pure, and the lily it is fair,
"The hawthorn I will pu,' wi' its locks o' siller gray,
"The woodbine I will pu' when the evening star is near,
"I'll tie the posie round wi' the silken bands o' luve,
The last, it would appear, of Burns's communications to the Museum, was the song of " Mally's meek, Mally's sweet," which,in some respects homely enough, has yet much to recommend it. The idea in the last stanza might have been better brought out, but it has the fire of genius
"Her yellow hair, beyond compare,
Comes trinkling down her swan-white neck;
And her two eyes, like stars in skies,
Would keep a sinking ship frae wreck." Is not this a vivid expression of the power of beauty over the darkness and the storms of life? Do we not here see at a glance, as in a dream not difficult to be interpreted, a tempestuous sea, and a labouring vessel with despairing mariners; and then, amidst the severing clouds, a vision of those "lucida sidera," those Ledæan twins,
"Quorum simul alba nautis
Defluit saxis agitatus humor
It would extend this article beyond the length of a midsummer's day, if we were to review all the
songs of Burns which are entitled to admiration. Why should we set down the imperishable verses of" Auld Langsyne," which every reader worth addressing can repeat, as if they were printed before his eyes? or why add a "perfume to the violet," by bestowing on them a vague and unmeaning praise, or attempting to point out beauties that are obvious to all? Why should we notice many other songs to which the observations we have already made may with suitable changes be easily transferred?—some of them being almost unexceptionably beautiful, but the most part chequered with a mixture of error and defect amidst their pervading excellences.
We have always greatly admired the comic songs of Burns, but it is not our intention to enter here on a detailed examination of them. Such compositions do not equally challenge or call for criticism as more serious attempts, and it would not be so easy to find room for observation upon them. Burns's genius was as well adapted for the ludicrous as for the pathetic, and his command of appropriate vernacular language for ludicrous subjects was peculiarly great. Instead of offering the commonplace