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Tam o'Shapter. A Tale.......
LIFE OF ROBERT BURNS.
In Robert Burns, a subject is now before us which exbibits a striking spectacle of the prevalence of genius over situation :—of a man, bursting the impediments of poverty and humble birth, and forcing his way to extended and permanent celebrity. To qualify the human mind for those successful exertions of its powers, which command the attention of the world, some degree of education, which may give a share of the accumulated produce of the human intellect as it is perpetuated by writing, seems to be indispensably necessary. As Nature works upon a uniform plan, it cannot be supposed that she has studiously withheld a fair proportion of her bigher gifts of mind from any particular order or class of man; and we may reasonably assure ourselves, that among the millions, wbich constitute the broad base and strength of every civilized society, are to be found the intellectual materials of the poet, the pbilosopher, and the statesman. But ignorance, and the toil requisite for subsistence, either suppress the mental energies or direct them to objects wbich are withdrawn from the general regard. We have, indeed, seen men emerging from the labouring portion of the community, and attracting for a time the gaze of the people: but the result of their ambition (I confine the reference to those who have made poetry
their object) has been ephemeral; and when the wonder, excited by productions apparently above the condition of the producers, has subsided, and their works have been resigned to their intrinsic merit, the pages of the peasant bards have sunk into oblivion, and their names been erased from the records of Fame. We might illustrate what we thus assert by examples drawn from the past and even from the present age. But to recall the names of the dead on this occasion would be idle; to wound the feelings of the living would be injurious; and, after all, the appositeness of the remark to the poet, whose history we are about to sketch, might properly be questioned. He sprung, it is true, from the rustic labourers of society; and whilst he held the pen with one hand, he directed the plough with the other: but he cannot be numbered with the uneducated and ignorant. When he began to write, he was even critically conversant with the principles of composition; and his mind, as we shall soon be made sensible, was richly fraught with the best stores of English literature.
Robert Burns was born in a small house, or more properly a cottage, near Ayr, in Ayrshire, on the 29th of January, 1759. His parents (William Burns and Agnes Brown), who were remarkable for their probity, ingenuity, and industry, were the occupiers at that time of a little farm: but, in consequence of reduced circumstances, the father was soon compelled to accept of a gardener's place in the family of a gentleman of small property in the neighbourhood; and he continued in this situation during the first six or seven years of our author's life. William Burns then took a little tenement belonging to his master; and, uniting with some of his neighbours to provide a schoolmaster for their families, he thus enabled himself to give to his son Robert, the eldest of his seven children, the first rudiments of know