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THE JOLLY BEGGARS.
THIS spirited and humorous effusion fell into the hands of the Editor while engaged in collecting the Reliques' of Burns. Notwithstanding its various and striking merits, he was compelled to withhold it from publication by the same motives which induced Dr. Currie to suppress it; but in so doing he has, to his surprise, incurred censure instead of approbation. Mr. Walter Scott, in an elaborate essay on the Genius of Burns, has thought proper to introduce the following remarks :
“ Yet applauding, as we do most highly applaud, the leading principles of Dr. Currie's selection, we are aware that they sometimes led him into fastidious and over-delicate rejection of the bard's most spirited and happy effusions. A thin octavo, published at Glasgow in 1801, under the title of · Poems ascribed to Robert Burns, the Ayrshire bard,' furnishes valuable proofs of this assertion. It contains, among a good deal of rubbish, some of his most brilliant poetry. A cantata in particular, called The Jolly Beggars, for humorous de
scription and nice discrimination of character, is inferior to no poem of the same length in the whole range of English poetry. The scene, indeed, is laid in the very lowest department of low life, the actors being a set of strolling vagrants, met to carouse, and barter their rags and plunder for liquor in a hedge ale-house. Yet even in describing the movements of such a group, the native taste of the poet has never suffered his pen to slide into any thing coarse or disgusting. The extravagant glee and outrageous frolic of the beggars are ridiculously contrasted with their maimed limbs, rags, and crutches the sordid and squalid circumstances of their appearance are judiciously thrown into the shade. Nor is the art of the poet less conspicuous in the individual figures, than in the general mass. The festive vagrants are distinguished from each other by personal appearance and character, as much as any fortuitous assembly in the higher orders of life. The group, it must be observed, is of Scottish character, and doubtless our northern brethren* are more familiar with its varieties than we are: yet the distinctions are too well marked to escape even the South'ron. The most
*Our northern brethren. In order to preserve consistency, Mr. Scott is obliged to disclaim his country, and to resort to a ruse de guerre, for the purpose of misleading his readers. To what humiliating shifts must a man stoop who lets out his pen for hire. He appears here like a Scotchman at a masquerade, endeavouring to support an English character; “ His speech bewrayeth him.”
prominent persons are a maimed soldier and his female companion, a hackneyed follower of the camp, a stroller, late the consort of an Highland ketterer or sturdy beggar,— but weary fa' the waefu' woodie !'-Being now at liberty, she becomes an object of rivalry between a 'pigmy scraper with his fiddle' and a strolling tinker. The latter, a desperate bandit, like most of his profession, terrifies the musician out of the field, and is preferred by the damsel of course. A wandering ballad-singer, with a brace of doxies, is last introduced upon the stage. Each of these mendicants sings a song in character, and such a collection of humorous lyrics, connected by vivid poetical description, is not, perhaps, to be paralleled in the English language. -As the collection and the poem are very little known in England, we transcribe the concluding ditty, chaunted by the ballad-singer at the request of the company, whose 'mirth and fun have now grown fast and furious,' and set them above all sublunary terrors of jails, stocks, and whipping-posts. It is certainly far superior to any thing in the Beggars' Opera, where alone we could expect to find its parallel.
“ We are at a loss to conceive any good reason why Dr. Currie did not introduce this singular and humorous cantata into his collection. It is true, that in one or two passages the muse has trespassed slightly upon decorum, where, in the language of Scottish song,
“ High kilted was she,