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other Lesis care; and the had been refie
fortunately deprived him of the benefit of Murdoch as an instructor, after he had been about two years under his care; and for a long time he received no other lessons than those which his father gave him in writing and arithmetic, when he instructed his family by the fireside of their cottage in winter evenings. About the age of thirteen he was sent, during a part of the summer, to the parish-school in Dalrymple, in order to improve his hand-writing. In the following year he had an opportunity of passing several weeks with his old friend Murdoch, with whose assistance he began to study French with intense ardour and assiduity. His proficiency in that language, though it was wonderful, considering his opportunities, was necessarily slight; yet it was in shewing this accomplishment alone, that Burns's weakness ever took the shape of vanity. One of his friends, who carried him into the company of a French lady, remarked, with surprise, that he attempted to converse with her in her own tongue. Their French, however, was soon found to be almost mutually un. intelligible. As far as Burns could make himself understood, he unfortunately offended the foreign lady. He meant to tell her, that she was a charming person, and delightful in conversation; but expressed himself so as to appear to her to mean, that she was fond of speaking: to which the Gallic dame indignantly replied, that it was quite as common for poets to be impertinent, as for women to be loquacious.
At the age of nineteen he received a few months'
instruction in land surveying -Such is the scanty history of his education, which is interesting simply because its opportunities were so few and precarious, and such as only a gifted mind could have turned to any account.
Of his early reading, he tells us, that a life of Hannibal, which Murdoch gave him when a boy, raised the first stirrings of his enthusiasm; and, he adds, with his own fervid expression, “ that the life “ of Sir William Wallace poured a tide of Scottish “ prejudices into his veins, which would boil along “ there till the floodgates of life were shut in eternal “ rest?.” In his sixteenth year he had read some of the plays of Shakspeare, the works of Pope and Addison, and of the Scottish poets Ramsay and Fergusson. From the volumes of Locke, Ray, Derham, and Stackhouse, he also imbibed a smattering of natural history and theology; but his brother assures us, that until the time of his being known as an author, he continued to be but imperfectly acquainted with the most eminent of our English writers. Thanks to the songs and superstition of his native country, his genius had some fostering aliments, which perhaps the study of classical authors might have led him to neglect. His inspiration grew up like the flower, which owes to heaven, in a barren soil, a natural beauty and wildness of fragrance that would be spoilt by artificial
1 From his letter to Dr. Moore.
witche Sybelline him the
culture. He learned an infinite number of old ballads, from hearing his mother sing them at her wheel; and he was instructed in all the venerable heraldry of devils and witches by an ancient woman in the neighbourhood, “ the Sybelline nurse of his Muse," who probably first imparted to him the story of Tam o' Shanter. “ Song was his favourite and “ first pursuit.” “The Song-book," he says, “ was “ my Vade Mecum: I pored over it constantly, “ driving my cart, or walking to labour." It would be pleasing to dwell on this era of his youthful sensibility, if his life had been happy; but it was far otherwise. He was the eldest of a family, buffeted by misfortunes, toiling beyond their strength, and living without the support of animal food. At thirteen years of age he used to thresh in his father's barn; and, at fifteen, was the principal labourer on the farm. After the toils of the day, he usually sunk in the evening into dejection of spirits, and was afflicted with dull headachs, the joint result of anxiety, low diet, and fatigue. “This kind of life,” (he says) "the cheerless gloom of a hermit, and the “ toil of a galley-slave, brought me to my sixteenth “ year, when love made me a poet.” The object of his first attachment was a highland girl, named Mary Campbell, who was his fellow-reaper in the same harvest-field. She died very young; and when : Burns heard of her death, he was thrown into an ecstasy of suffering much beyond what even his keen temperament was accustomed to feel. Nor does he
seem ever to have forgotten her. His verses “ To Mary in Heaven;" his invocation to the star that rose on the anniversary of her death; his description of the landscape that was the scene of their day of love and parting vows, “where flowers sprang wanton to be press’d;" the whole luxury and exquisite passion of that strain, evince that her image had survived many important changes in himself.
From his seventeenth to his twenty-fourth year he lived, as an assistant to his father, on another farm in Ayrshire, at Lochlea, to which they had removed from Mount Oliphant. During that period his brother Gilbert and he, besides labouring for their father, took a part of the land on their own account, for the purpose of raising Aax; and this speculation induced Robert to attempt establishing himself in the business of flax-dressing, in the neighbouring town of Irvine. But the unhealthiness of the business, and the accidental misfortune of his shop taking fire, induced him, at the end of six months, to abandon it. Whilst his father's affairs were growing desperate at Lochlea, the poet and his brother had taken a different farm on their own account, as an asylum for the family in case of the worst; but, from unfavourable seasons and a bad soil, this speculation proved also unfortunate, and was given up. By this time Burns had formed his connexion with Jane Armour, who was afterwards his wife, a connexion which could no longer be concealed, at the moment when the ruinous state of his affairs had determined him to cross the Atlantic, and to seek his fortune in Jamaica. He had even engaged himself as assistant overseer to a plantation. He proposed, however, to legalize the private contract of marriage which he had made with Jane; and, though he anticipated the necessity of leaving her behind him, he trusted to better days for their being re-united. But the parents of Jane were unwilling to dispose of her to a husband who was thus to be separated from her, and persuaded her to renounce the informal marriage. Burns also agreed to dissolve the connexion, though deeply wounded at the apparent willingness of his mistress to give him up, and overwhelmed with feelings of the most distracting nature. He now prepared to embark for Jamaica, where his first situation would, in all probability, have been that of a negro-driver, when, before bidding a last adieu to his native country, he happily thought of publishing a collection of his poems. By this publication he gained about £20, which seasonably saved him from indenting himself as a servant, for want of money to. procure a passage. With nine guineas out of this sum he had taken a steerage passage in the Clyde for Jamaica; and, to avoid the terrors of a jail, he had been for some time skulking from covert to covert. He had taken a last leave of his friends, and had composed the last song which he thought he should ever measure to Caledonia', when the